Randy Ford Author- LETTERS FROM ABROAD

LETTERS FROM ABROAD
by Randy Ford

Chapter One
The Forks
December 2, 1972
Hi Bobby,
I always thought that I knew the Forks, my hometown. I did know the Forks, every street and block, block by block and from the Main Street to the outskirts. This was a small town, but since I arrived home a couple of days before Thanksgiving it has become apparent that I’ve come home to a different town from the one I left. As you know Safeway where I worked closed its doors for good…and I went by 811 and found some other people living there now. I don’t know them. I’m not sure I want to know them. Hence I feel like a stranger in my hometown, and maybe you could help me out of this funk.

You know that I could’ve easily gotten stuck in the Forks. I don’t know why I didn’t. It isn’t a bad town to get stuck in, I guess. If you have to be stuck somewhere it might as well be here, but being stuck anywhere sucks. I like the word “suck,” but I don’t like the idea of having life sucked from me, and that’s what would’ve happened if I stayed here. To use a cliché the deck was clearly stacked against me.

Bobby, when doors open for you, you’ve got to go through them. If I haven’t learned anything else, I have learned when doors open for you, you have to go through them. Except in my case, I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared for what I would find. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t prepared. We suddenly graduated from high school, and I for one I wasn’t prepared for what came next. I’m not talking about not being prepared for college. I’m not talking about what most people were concerned about when they graduate from high school. What about you? I wonder if you remember … I still don’t know how to approach this … after … I’m not sure … I’m not sure … you’ll remember some things we did together … some things … or remember some things. I’m not sure you want to remember. I’m not sure where you are. I’m not sure we would recognize each other. So it increasingly seemed like I wasn’t getting anywhere. However there were certain doors open to me if I was only willing to open them. Then after all the applause stopped, and I blew a rod of a borrowed Plymouth on graduation night, I knew that I soon wouldn’t have a father (a mechanic) to rescue me.

Say Bobby, if you’re interested, I’ll be in town for a few days, staying at the Best Western. I plan to be in The Forks for a few days taking care of myself, taking care of things, and clearing the deck so to speak. Room 908. Call, leave a message. If you’re interest, maybe we can go bowling or something. Like in the old days … or something. And this is my way of saying that I miss you. I’m not sure how this letter will find you. I hope this letter finds you because brother I’m not sure of your address. Your old friend, Tom … Tom Hayes

Leaving the Forks after graduation was like going abroad. Though I went only a little over a hundred miles it was like going abroad. Going away to college was like going abroad. Going to Baylor was like it because I didn’t belong there. I didn’t belong at Baylor, though I didn’t realize it. I didn’t realize it at first. I didn’t know enough to realize it. There were a lot of things I didn’t know … I didn’t know about myself before I went to Baylor University.

So I sweated out my future. I worried a lot then. I worried a lot before I realized I didn’t belong at Baylor. My parents wanted me to go to Baylor, but this didn’t have anything to do with anything. It was my future, not theirs. It was my future that I was worried about. It was silly, to worry, really.

It was like I landed in a different country. It was a different place.   By then I heard Bobby was driving a truck, and I thought he found happiness as a married truck driver. I heard he ran off and married a waitress. I never understood why he married someone. Out of all the options open to him he married someone. I mean, why he didn’t wait before marrying someone … waiting would’ve made more sense to me … waiting would’ve made it easier for me.

Bobby’s house sat cattycornered to mine and the two houses were separated by a field and a barbwire fence. In back of our property there was a deep ditch we named Dead Man’s Canyon. The row of houses along Lindy Lane (on which Bobby lived) extended on both sides of the street beyond the canyon, and Bobby lived with his brother and sister. A path across the field between our two houses provided us with a short cut. A horse apple tree behind Bobby’s house was still there. Some of same people must still live in our old neighborhood: Mrs. Canady and Mr. Freeman, Mr. Sharp and Mrs. Jones. I looked for Mrs. Canady’s cat and saw how her yard was overgrown and noticed that some of it was familiar … a line on which the stout little woman hung her clothes, a screened-in back porch where she sat and shelled peas, a little plot that had once been her garden, and a stump where her husband paid me to kill three kittens with a hammer.

The Forks
December 5, 1972
Hi Bobby,
During my tour of our old neighborhood I wanted most of all to see what was still standing. Most of it is. And most memories are there. I’m assuming they’re there for you too. It’s how we survive, isn’t it? But they’ve cut down woods at the bottom of our hill. Remember those woods? Our woods! But perhaps you don’t want to be reminded of them. I was reminded of you when I drove past where our woods were. I know now that most of our trouble we brought on by ourselves. I know that now and learned it the hard way. Love is complicated and pretty much should be left alone until at least after high school. I don’t know why I’m writing you now. You’re married with kids. Your old friend, Tom

I don’t remember when Bobby’s family moved to the Forks from Arizona, and I’m not sure I was old enough to be aware of it. At some point, as neighbors, our mothers became friends, Christian friends, whereas some of our neighbors weren’t Christians and consequently weren’t our friends. But no sooner had our mothers become friends than we kids began hanging out together…and Bobby and I would play in my room. Then that was where we did what we did most of the time after school, and that was where … . As I recall we weren’t very old. I don’t think we knew better, or that was always my excuse … an excuse after we sinned.

Waco
November 2, 1964
Dear Mom and Dad,
To try to explain- Brooks Hall lies on the north end of the campus or at the top of the map, with a view of the steeple of Pat Neff Hall, and I walk to class everyday to the sound of church bells. What’s important for you to know, perhaps, is that I hear hymns every morning, reminding me of where I’m going when I leave this earth. On this earth I live in an attic, the attic of Brooks Hall, with (you’ll be happy to note) a bunch of guys who intend to become preachers.

It was pretty grim, we had petitions instead of walls, heavy oak desks out of the dark ages, and lockers instead closets. The lounge area had the only television. Pretty grim. One television, and every morning all the Bible students gathered in the attic for a prayer meeting. And they acted like they had a lock on heaven.

Now everyone is required to go to Chapel, but when I’m not in class I stay close to home because I know I need to study. I know days when I could stay out every night are over, the turkeys have come home to roost; and I’m looking forward to coming home for Thanksgiving. I already need a break. Your son, love, Tom

East of campus the beautiful banks of the Brazos River; so there was a life-source nearby. Great hard wood trees along a walkway under a suspension bridge, and water too deep for wading and there I found peace and solitude and it reminded me of home on the Trinity. My roommates were always praying and truthfully always, so I needed a place where I could breathe. From morning to evening they were either sleeping or planning how to convert lost souls. Their intentions were good, I guess.

So I started looking for a like-minded person and came close one day. We met on the porch of Brooks Hall and started talking. This was one of the first guys that I met at Baylor who didn’t ask me about my conversion. He was alive and was ready to talk about something other than religion. I thought at once of Bobby.

Our meeting led to lunch together, and we found that we had some things in common. We talked about girls we met and other stuff. Funny, that we talked about girls. Talking about girls and a panty raid seemed safe enough. Madness of wearing beanie caps for a semester…I think that sentiment came from me instead of Sport. Sport lived on the west wing of Brooks Hall, on the ground floor. We talked about living on the ground floor verses living in the attic, and Sport wrote down his room number for me. He also told me that he was never a Boy Scout. He seemed perceptive enough. That was Eddie Newman, and he, Sport, saved my life.

Eddie Newman, what can I say about Eddie Newman? We would meet in the Robert Browning Library and discussed Ezra Pound, Thomas Elliot, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens, all poets, all new to me. Eddie Newman was better read than I was and had to pretty much spoon-feed me. Eddie could recite verses and put to memory whole poems. This might seem dull to some people, but it wasn’t to me, and it may be the only reason I stayed.

Chapter Two
Eddie Newman loved pizza, and when we weren’t in the Robert Browning Library we hung out at the Greasy Spoon and ate pizza. To us the Greasy Spoon became our salon, our hideout. We became close friends. My only friend at Baylor. .

I surprised Eddie with how well I understood The Waste Land and modern times, and how I equated The Waste Land to the back row of a drive-in movie theater, with overgrown grass, broken glass, and a jalopy that wouldn’t start, that sort of craziness. The Waste Land- catastrophe or loss of hope with an “Ah” coming from him, “Sport, I couldn’t have come up with a better analogy.” – he called me Sport and said that he couldn’t do any better than me. I hope I haven’t left you behind with all this, but here was a compliment coming from Eddie, even when he knew that I was still struggling with a new language. I was sure then that we would remain best friends, though we had only known each other for less than a semester.

Ramblings
Saturday night (December 4, 1964)
Thus alone, “grow old alone with me,” Robert Browning, and Saul, “Tis not what man Does which exalts him, but what man Would do.” This place was where I was going to spend the whole day, except I can’t study without falling asleep. They were going downtown for something and wanted me to go with them; but I had to study my English Literature and what better place for it than the Browning Library. I went in, selected a bench under a stained glass window and opened my textbook, and it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep. I didn’t know Robert Browning. I hadn’t met Robert Browning, which is not surprising. I didn’t know Robert Browning’s view of the world … ”God’s in his heaven, and all’s right with the world;” and how “Somewhere, below, above” he never quit. I didn’t know Robert Browning wrote his last poem on the day he died. At four thirty I went out and walked by the women’s cafeteria, hoping to meet someone and after eating alone headed back to the library. Uninspired I vainly sat there striving to overcome my sleepiness. Uninspired I wondered what I was doing there. I’d be better off majoring in engineering and equate it to a step up. A step up, I have to think about making a living. “O lyric Love, half angel and half bird. …” Browning again. At last, in comes a librarian and shakes me. I jump. “I wasn’t sleeping.” “You can’t sleep here.” “Oh.” But I didn’t come to college to write poetry. I came to college to get an education. I’m accordingly taking chemistry. Now I sleep through chemistry. I shouldn’t take an eight o’clock class. I imagine myself on the verge of making a great discovery, quote me. I imagine myself having a nervous breakdown. It’s a quark, invented by from James Joyce. Quarks? James Joyce? Who was he? Who was James Joyce? After this we had another round; and then I’m faced with learning another language, a foreign language in a foreign country, Baylor, a hundred miles from home. I ate at Angelo’s and ordered an Italian salad. I hate campus food. Then it dawned on me that it was my fault. I should like campus food. I however haven’t found her yet. I’m not saying I’m looking. I don’t know where to look. Well, that isn’t quite true. You know how college campuses are … how college campuses are at the beginning of a semester. Baylor is co-ed. As far as the use of the word love. To start over with someone else is simply impossible. Passion is involved. I didn’t know before that I was so weak. I didn’t know how much I loved pizza. I’m looking for the prettiest face on campus, I think as I eat cold pizza for breakfast, “couldn’t expect to make a living as a poet.” But why would I have to commit myself? I know all about engineers as a breed. I see them coming out of the engineering building at all hours of the night. I don’t have a mechanical mind. I never had a mechanical mind. I wouldn’t want a mechanical mind. For a while I thought I maybe had a hidden talent, but I haven’t found it yet. What is talent? Can it be hidden? It may come from genes. Maybe not. I know I’ve inherited a lot from my parents, but what? “Don’t use it; lose it” was what my dad always told me. Engineering, I can see where my dad came up with Engineering. He can fix anything. Engineering, I would be wasting talent. It doesn’t fit me. So for no reason at all I had a big argument with myself and it extended from the drugstore to my dorm, and I got rid of the idea of becoming an engineer as easily as shaking dust off of my feet.

Sunday Morning (December 5, 1964)
I’m exhausted and still need to study … study, study for I see the future. Now I wished I’d learned to study in high school. You don’t need to worry about me. Just in case I have a backup plan if I don’t make a poet, but give me until after the English exam. Believe in me.

Your affectionate son.
Tom
Dear Mom,
No laundry money today, when I discovered that I didn’t have anything to wear. There are other things that I could write about, but where has time gone? I haven’t yet found time to think, so what’s new?

Your affectionate son,
Tom

December 15, 1964
Waco
Dear Mr. Watson,
Now I bet you’re surprised to hear from me. (I remembered Mr. Watson because of his special interest in me.) I can’t thank you enough, and you were right to discourage me. As you must know I was accepted into Baylor with a proviso from a dean, and I’ve had to work very hard ever since, and I must add, as you predicted. (Bragging like this gave me much pleasure.)

Yesterday I walked down to the Brazos River, and I’ve been happy ever since. I escape by going to the Brazos, and it’s like when, thinks to you, I first opened my eyes. I remember thinking, “I was blind; now I see.” (Dr. Watson was my English teachers in high school, and he helped me grow up) I walked down to the Brazos this morning with my eyes wide open and found a place to sit down. I sat in the grass and put a blade of grass between my teeth. With a blade of grass between my teeth, I felt felt gay and happy and pleased with myself, so pleased. Yes, pleased. I chose a grassy spot near the riverbank. Mr. Watson, you know more than anyone why this is significant. Sitting there in the grass with a blade of grass in my mouth brought back memories of home and you. You and home. I’m not homesick, but in a sense I never left the Folks. I don’t miss home, but I miss you because of all the things you did for me. It doesn’t matter what I didn’t learn in high school. You instead gave me something more.

“ … practical, rewards that come from speaking and writing English well…” I can hardly keep from laughing. I can’t keep from laughing when I think of me in terms of being practical, and you must’ve seen it.

“… English as a civilizing value …” Goddamn, you must’ve known that this was a stretch for me.

“…English would be something that I’d love…” Now isn’t this ironic! Go ahead and smile. A smile from a wise old bastard who didn’t teach me a goddamn thing. That’s something I’m grateful for. And need I say more? Why didn’t you teach me about comma splices? I still could flunk out because of one comma … one comma slice.

Back to a grassy spot on the Brazos, and here was a place where Whitman might’ve sat with a blade of grass in his mouth and a pen in his hand and enjoyed himself. Well, what am I going to write today? And does it matter as long as I write a poem a day. What does it matter if I’m going to starve? What does it matter if I can’t make a living? What’s a living? What does it matter if after I graduate from Baylor I can’t make a living? Or that my father doesn’t think that I’ll make it as a poet? I can’t help what he thinks. I can’t help it if my mother thinks it’s awful. Yes, you hate it also, but you’d never say so, would you?

Well, on such days it’s hard to think about going to class; and I (when I’m not especially suited for college anyway) must fake it. I learn to fake it in high school. Thank you. I want to thank you, and I’m thankful that along the way that I had a teacher like you. If I could I’d put my arms around you now. Whatever, I’d do it for you. I’ll ace classes I detest, but I need you to tell me, which I know it’s something that you wouldn’t do. Birds and trees are far more inspirational than classrooms. For one iota I wouldn’t trade in yesterday and in spite of my idleness I think I was more productive when I didn’t go to class. You offered me a challenge: write a poem a day and you’d give me an A. No other requirement! A poem a day, and no other requirement! A poem a day and an A.

It’s easy to feel alone in a new place. Sometimes memories are all I take with me when I seek solitude. Thoughts of home give me the most trouble, and trouble and pleasure are often connected. Happiness to me is my mother’s spaghetti; by the way you’re on my list, how you took me under your wing. Now I’m trying to fly on my own, as I wait for a big test. I must pass a big test. Pass it or flunk out. Pass it or flunk out of Baylor. Shit, this is it! I’m in, or I’m out. Either way opportunity is knocking. And if it’s meant to be, it will happen. Baylor wasn’t my choice anyway.

So now I’m caught. Things are not like I expected. I don’t know what I expected, but … . Now I’m learning, if nothing else, what not having a curfew means. Nobody cares if I don’t get any sleep, and this is wrong place if I wanted to drink.

Now I need to get some sleep, or study or both. My eight o’clock chemistry class will be here before I know it, and I should try to stay awake then. Believe me, I have a problem, and it’s chemistry. Because of it I’ve decided that I wouldn’t make a good engineer.

Your friend, Tom Hayes (AKA Shake Spear or Sport)

Chapter Three
January 16, 1965
Waco
Dear Mr. Watson,

I’m now serious about college and have come face to face with the impossibility of knowing where it’s going to lead me. I stayed in that chair in the library all afternoon.  I sat there trying to stay awake and trying to get into Shakespeare. I prefer Whitman. I would’ve preferred to be with Walt Whitman on a riverbank somewhere. Mr. Watson, you gave me courage to become a yawp on top of a chicken coop. Yes, it’s entirely your fault. But I need a break.

Come along with me and when we get a break I’ll recite Spontaneous Me. Whitman- “The loving day, the mounting sun, the friend I am happy with,” and he happens to be black. How about it? And I like Whitman am praising a black man.

Do come with me. I think you’d like my campus.

Tom Hayes (AKA: Walt)

May 29, 1965
Beachcomber Motel, Galveston
Dear Mom,
I know you haven’t read about me in the newspaper lately, which is a good thing I suppose. How are you surviving this heat wave? If it weren’t for sea breezes it would be deadly hot here.

On Friday after class, covered with sunscreen and with the top down, I left Waco with a friend in Shakespeare’s car (my car)and made it to Houston before dark. Next day we came here and I spent all day swimming in the ocean so I’m roasted like a turkey. Why I say turkey is because I feel like one now. Stuff! Stuffing, get it? In the evening we ate our fill of Cajun shrimp and pecan pie and went for a stroll down the Sea Wall; it was quite nice though looking out over the ocean and spotting ships was harder than you can imagine.

That night, Saturday, we stayed up late sitting on the porch of our motel room. Up to the last moment we were undecided whether to go inside or not, and it was only after we discovered that it was three o’clock in the morning that we decided to go in. I wonder if you could’ve slept with the sound of waves and so much traffic. On the porch with me was Sport, a friend of mine and Shakespeare (me!) I’m called Shakespeare. It’s a nickname I’ve acquired. I don’t know if I should be flattered or not. Oh, well! I am having a good time watching surf, we’re of course on the lookout for girls.

Well, Sport and me … or is it Sport and I talked by the hour about going places and seeing things, as Sport smoked his pipe (when I tried it, it made me sick) and we recognized resources we had at hand. At the end of a pier I got to stick a fishing line in the water. I got a bite or two. I got a bite or two before calling it a day. Sport looked at me with great amount of amusement while I fished. I don’t know why Sport found it funny. We’re the same age, but he’s ahead of it. I don’t know how this happened. He’s a sophomore or upperclassman. Most of the time after that we dozed and oh what a waste, but after supper, we get into another long conversations. I do most of the talking; since I’m Shakes-spear, with his characteristic wisdom, mainly listened, so truthfully I don’t know what he is thinking. We’ve toured this island … made it our own. We’ve toured this island, and I’m talking about driving from one end to another, and we soon discovered that it wasn’t that long. At last when I discovered that I put him to sleep with my chatter, I said, “You don’t know what you’re missing.” And it turns out that Sport had been to Galveston before, and that he and his family have spent many summers in Mexico and that they know so and so down there and that he has spent his summers reading novels, and has read every novel I can name, or so he claims. He has read all of Hemmingway. He writes more than I do. Sport writes more than I do and more than my poem a day. I wish I wrote as much.

At last it’s after midnight and here comes jolly Sport. And he’s got a squid and says he caught it, but I don’t believe it. Says he wants to cook it. Room has a hotplate, and by George, he’s going to cook it. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed and laughed. I can tell you that I’ve never laughed so much. It was after midnight, and Sport was going to cook a squid … a single squid he caught. I wouldn’t know how to go about fixing squid. I suppose he got it right when he boiled the critter. I’m sure that if anyone had told us before now that people really ate squid we would’ve frown at him or her. So you see you’re not wasting your money by sending me to college.

Amazingly, no matter where we went … all weekend … I never felt lost. Today was cloudy, and I never felt lost. And we had a steady breeze to help with heat. Yes, it’s the same sun as in Waco, just as it’s the same world in The Forks…ah, this is the life. Our motel is located across the street from a beautiful beach, which means we’re only a few steps from warm water. Your loving son, Tom
June 15, 1965
Waco
Dear Mr. Watson,
Victory has come at a price, though with the same enthusiasm and spirit as displayed at a bonfire and a rally, for I’m still here after almost a semester of labor; but I hope to collapse over the summer, though I know I’ll have to work.

I don’t think I’d want to live in Waco. I don’t know where I want to live. Did you know that in 1916 a black teenager was seized by a mob, mutilated, and burned to death here in the town square? I’m not sure why I’m concerned about this when I’m sure that nothing like this would ever happen here now. Is it conceivable that there are black students sitting in your classroom today, something last summer I couldn’t have conceived of? I remember our annual Christmas program, and I wonder what it would be like to have a black Joseph or a black baby Jesus … and to be awed into silence.

Hey man, how are you getting along? By now you’re already so impressed with my English that you haven’t noticed that I’m not a he-don’t guy any longer. It comes to me naturally now. By all reports I can recognize a comma splice and I’m not flunking English like a dean predicted. Congratulations. I think congratulations are in order. I’m here to tell you that the Tom Hayes that you remember no longer exists. If I go on at this rate, my own mother won’t recognize me … nor any of the babes who used to run from me. If this is true, it must be the fastest turnaround in history.

I may not be Honor Roll material yet, but now when my name is mentioned I can’t be listed among dropouts. All kidding aside, I’ve been trying to think about how I want to spend my summer, whether to come home and work in Safeway or runaway with a circus. I trust that, if you see them, that you won’t tell my parents any of this because I wouldn’t want them to have a conniption; so I can now tell you that I took a weekend off and went to Gainesville to check out the circus there…and what with a little encouragement I’d consider it an option. This weekend was somewhat spoiled by a run-in I had with an elephant … a tamed elephant … who before he or she turned on me exhibited every form of friendliness imaginable until he or she almost pulled my arm off with his or her trunk. I wasn’t however quite clear why I was allowed to get that close to an elephant, for I petted its trunk for more than five minutes without anyone warning me.

I am thinking about … thinking about whether I want to or not … do I want to join a circus as a roustabout or not? I watched the trapeze artists practice, which I loved; and was offered a job, which I couldn’t believe. Imagine me in red tights and red wristbands, but when I climbed up the rigging I quickly found out that I was afraid of heights. The catcher bawled me out when he saw me up there acting like a buffoon.

I owe you so much, but most of all I’ll never forget you telling about how you once met Errol Flynn. Remember you told me how you met Errol Flynn on a freighter bound out of Le Havre. Or was it Hemmingway in a town where the sun also rises? And how you told me what you learned from that experience. You said you learned that there were two kinds of people in this world: those who seek adventure and those who stay at home.

And now what about you?

Have they completed the new high school yet? And who is the top dog this year? Both these questions are interrelated. But they’re not connected with where I’m coming from? What I want is to do is to be named Who’s Who in Letters. And that can be blamed on you, because you got me started. And once I get started on something there’s no stopping me. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Give yourself credit…give it privately for now because I don’t want to be jinxed. Thanks for giving me grades, or having me write a poem a day for one. Write a damn good poem, and I’ll give you an “A.” I happen to know that Alice Meneny was your best English student, and you never had her write a poem.

Now man I’m serious. I finally know what you want from me, but I don’t know why you wanted it more for me than Alice Meneny . Or why I’m still in college, or why I might runaway with a circus. Someday you may want to say that I knew Tom Hayes back when. That’s what you may get from me. That’s what’s the matter with me now. I’m not sure I like college, and I know the circus would be a hell of a lot more fun. Watch for the Flying Malkos! Which makes sense to me, if it doesn’t to you….

I’ll write again when I have more time…and don’t expect anything from you. Yours truly, Tom Hayes

P.S. If you don’t hear from me this summer you’ll know I ran away with the circus and look for me in your town.

July 31,1965
On The Road
Dear Mr. Watson,
You know the feeling after having survived a lightning strike? You know how it is to know aspects of an awakening before you’ve gotten use to the idea? The first baby steps before you’ve gotten your legs? Before you know whether changes are temporary or not, and before excitement has worn off? You’re the first person I’m writing to about this.

While driving one of the trucks last night, of course without sleep because we had to strike the big top first, I faced something that’s bugged me for a very long time. I really hated snobs in school, mainly a clique of football stars … eleven wins last year … you know who I mean. I wanted to belong. I still think of them, but I no longer envy them. Six wins isn’t a big deal. See, now I’m smiling. See, I’ve learned how to drive a big rig and lied about my experience to get a job. That took balls. So I took the plunge. There you have it.

Maybe I shouldn’t’t have lied as I’ve often done before. I can’t find words to express how I feel. You can’t imagine how happy I am. If it weren’t too late I think I’d confront Marty and Denny and Mike … and there’s Mack, Chuck, Larry, Sam, Macon, and yes Larry … confront them all and tell them off (tell them to fuck themselves). Did I leave anyone out? I’m sure I have; but it’s too late, and do you know what? I don’t care because I’ve learned how to drive a big o’ truck, and I now drive one for Gil Gray Circus.

Feeling smug and mischievous football players watched Tom as he entered a study hall and looked for a seat. He stopped at the front of the room and stood looking to see if there was a way that he could avoid a group of football players, a clique, sitting as a group around a long table. Tom felt uneasy. He felt uneasy the instant he saw them. The instant he saw them he knew they were up to no good. They taunted him before. Taunting, they didn’t call it bulling then. They called to Tom and nudged each other: “Hey Jack-off! Jack off! We hear you’ve been jacking off in the restroom!” At the time Tom didn’t know what jacking off meant. He didn’t know what it meant, but he felt shamed anyway and agonized over why he remained outside of this group.

Of course it’s been rough (rougher than hell) on my parents; but what can I say? Of course my parents are worried. They may think they’ve wasted their money. All they think about is money. That’s part of what being a parent is about: worry. They don’t understand me. They don’t understand me and are afraid that I’m goofing off. They think I’ll throw my education away. I believe in an education as much as they do (they never went to college), only they can’t live my life for me: meanwhile I don’t think I’m foolish or wasting my time.

I’ve never worked so many hours in my life, without a day off. With all the driving I’ve had plenty of time to think and feel really sorry for some of the roustabouts who don’t have an education to fall back on. As for now I think I’ll go back to college in the fall and will have to saved as much money as I would’ve had I stayed home.

Tom past the test … aced it; that meant that he could back a big truck without jackknifing it. Tom welled up with pride thinking about this. It increased his confidence and helped him envision a life filled with endless possibilities.
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Now about what else is going on with me. What a (damn) curse I was to myself! As my father has always said, “We’re our own worst enemy.” And as my mother would say, “Sometimes you can’t see the view for the trees.” (Good God, Lord) How true those cliches are! You’re seeing a transformed man. Why how many people can back a semi.
>
I should like to forget it!
>
I think if Sport were along…have I written to you about Andy Nelson and our joking about Shake Spear. My (new) college roommates get their jollies by calling me Shake Spear. (I don’t think they’ve seen me masturbate. I see nothing wrong with masturbation.)
>
Imagine meeting the real Shakespeare, whoever he was. Finding out who he was is the only way to make it happen. If you don’t know who Shakespeare is, how can you ever meet him? Don’t think that I can write about this easily- no. I’m trying to figure things out, why people go down certain paths and choose to do certain things. My parents sent me to a Southern Baptist school (the joke is on them), though now I don’t know why I agreed. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry for misleading my parents.

What will I become? What? Answer: I’ve joined the circus. If that was all the ambition I had, aren’t there things far worse than joining a circus, but my parents wouldn’t agree. They want me to stay in college. Here is something else I haven’t told them, and I’m telling you first so that I don’t carry it alone: Andy and I share a dream. We both want to become poets. We share something else too. I don’t think masturbation is wrong. I don’t think masturbation is a sin.
>
Mr. Watson, if you think that you’re off the hook for what you started, you’re very much mistaken, but you’re forgiven.

To get an A in Mr. Watson’s class all Tom had to do was write a poem a day.
>
If only people would abide in practice by what they so readily say, that a man has a right to choose what he wants to do in life and shouldn’t be judged by his choices. Why it must’ve been equally hard for Whitman, better for Whitman because he’s remembered, and he must’ve written at least a poem a day. Better keep this away from my father and mother for now.

Wait! I don’t have time to write anymore. The audience is seated under the big top, and I have only a few minutes left before I have to get ready for the Spec. Forever searching. Thanks again. Tom Hayes

Chapter four
July 31,1965
On The Road
Dear Mr. Watson,
You know the feeling after having survived a lightning strike? You know how it is to know the aspects of an awakening before you’ve gotten use to the idea? The first baby steps before you’ve gotten your legs? Before you know whether the changes are temporary or not, and before the excitement has worn off? You’re the first I’m writing about this to.

While driving one of the rigs last night, of course without sleep because we had to strike the big top first, I faced something that’s been bugging me for a very long time. I really hated all the snobs in school, mainly the clique of football stars…eleven wins last year…you know who I mean. I wanted to belong. I still think of them, but I no longer envy them. Eleven wins isn’t that big a deal. See, now I’m smiling. See, I’ve learned how to drive a rig and lied about my experience to get the job. (That took balls.) So I took the plunge. There you have it.

Maybe I shouldn’t’t have lied as I’ve ofter done before. I can’t find the words to express the feeling. You can’t imagine how happy I am. If it weren’t too late I think I’d confront Marty and Denny and Mike…and there’s Mack, Chuck, Larry, Sam, Macon, and yes Larry…confront them all and tell them off (to go fuck themselves). Did I leave anyone out? I’m sure I have; but it’s too late, and do you know what? I don’t care because I’ve learned how to drive a rig,  and I now drive one for the circus.

The truck was harder to steer than Tom imagined, and it bounced along as he drove it down the Interstate. He’d passed the test though, aced it; that meant that he could back the darn thing without jackknifing it. He welled up with pride thinking about it. It increased his confidence and helped him envision a life filled with endless possibilities.
>
I think if Andy were along…have I written to you about Andy Nelson and our joking about Shake Spear. My (new) college roommates get their jollies by calling me Shake Spear. (I don’t think they’ve seen me masturbate.’

Wait! I don’t have time to write anymore. The audience is seated under the big top.  Forever searching. Tom Hayes

In spite of feeling overeducated for his job with the circus, Tom felt happier than ever before. He felt free and happy. For the first time in his life he felt free, really free, on his own, and happy. He didn’t dare express to his parents how free and happy he felt, though he knew they worried about him. He couldn’t express it in a letter. He couldn’t express it. He couldn’t express how free he felt.

Even when shoveling elephant poop he felt happier than ever before. He learned to dodge elephants while they were performing. He shoveled poop after they were dumped. He shoveled poop in the ring. He shoveled poop during each performance because one of the elephants had diarrhea. This elephant was named Martha. Even when Martha was dumped before each show she pooped in the ring. Tom didn’t mind shoveling poop. As long as he was part of the show, he didn’t mind. Excitement of the circus stayed with him. It would always be with him. It stayed with him all summer. A rush came from being part of a risky business. A rush came from being part of the show. It compensated for long hours and backbreaking work.

From the very start, as he learned to drive a rig (he was always a quick study and a fraud), he lied about his abilities and bluff his way through doors that otherwise were closed to him. He didn’t feel like a fraud. It felt good to get away with lies. For a summer he was on the road and loved it; and he knew he soon would be faced with a major decision. He didn’t know then whether he wanted to go back to college or not.

Life with the circus had a special appeal for Tom; yet most of the day to day challenges were no different from those that most of us have. And, like for most of us, there were ordinary things that had to get done, ordinary things such as cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing, sewing, and sweeping. Then there was training. Training was something everyone did. As a prop boy, Tom didn’t have to train.

Tom wrote few letters that summer. He wasn’t under pressure of having to write his parents once a week. He didn’t have to write them once a week to receive a five-dollar allowance. He didn’t give a damn about earning an allowance now that he was earning his own money or now that he was paid in cash or didn’t have much to spend it on, but he had to find a safe place to stash it.

Tom quickly learned circus lingo. And when he wasn’t working under the big top, he spent most of his time in the backyard, napping, raking, talking, watering or whatever else Max, the boss, wanted him to do. Of course, he listened to circus stories. How during a show one night, Max’s wife fell while performing as part of an aerial ballet and how Max blamed himself for not meticulously checking the rigging, forcing the family to develop two new acts. Max became Tom closest ally and ran a tight ship.

As summer progressed Tom told himself that it would be foolish to chuck his education for the circus- an urge he fought. Wouldn’t the circus satisfy his urge to travel; wouldn’t it? He talked to Max about it, about what he could do during the winter in the barn (winter quarters wouldn’t be that far from the Folks). It would’ve been easy. He was made for it. They wanted him to stay on. And it was broadening his experience, experience necessary for a poet. Tom soon had the routine down, it was exciting to him, and it put cash in his pocket. But he stubbornly refused to make a quick decision, insisting that he had to make a wise one. And he never let his parents know any of this.

“For two months I haven’t had a day off; I do as many different things as I possibly can, and I get free food from circus families in lieu of tips. I’ve written a poem or two, nothing I’m satisfied with, written when the muse has come around, written while lying in the hay, written when I could hardly stay awake, and for as long as I could,” Tom wrote Eddie.

All the time Tom was with the circus he rarely thought of anything else, of the Forks, of Baylor University, of his roommates and of Eddie Newman; and he tried not to think of high school, convinced now that this was unproductive, and that Larry and the gang were idiots, and that masturbation was healthy. About this he told himself that he needed to be deprogrammed … about masturbation he needed to be deprogrammed. He told himself this over and over again. Masturbation was healthy. It relieved tension. Masturbation relieved tension. He would be careful when he masturbated in the future. And Max and he talked forever about circus life, how it used to be or how it was not the same, because like him Max was working through things. They were both working through things. They were both facing changes in their lives and needed so desperately to find some answers. Tom stayed two months with the circus, and no word came from Eddie, so at some point he would have to get on his friend’s case.

If he didn’t pay attention to traffic in the backyard before the spec, Tom could’ve easily been run over, except he knew where he had to be for the job he had to do. If he paid attention at all, he was probably thinking about what he had to do next because the circus for him was never routine. Or at any rate he couldn’t risk hurting someone.

So far, except momentarily, Tom hadn’t considered becoming a trapeze artist and still considered working for the circus only for the summer.

Chapter Five
Shimmy up that tree! A few weeks later, between shows when no one was paying attention, Tom was tempted and motivated to try something that he wanted to try for a very long time. He walked out to the third ring slowly, walking cautiously with a nervous smile, and when he reached the ladder, with both hands on a rung, he looked around. This was the real deal. As a young boy, he created a pretend circus in the rafters of his family’s garage. Then with slow careful movements, he started to climb.

It was on his grandfather’s farm, and his grandfather who gave Tom Hayes a quarter for shimmying up a tree. Yes, he shimmied up a tree. Now that may not seem like a big deal, but it was. And it was his grandfather who gave him a quarter. Tom didn’t know how to shimmy up a tree until that moment. He didn’t know how he would do it. All he remembered was that he did it and his entire family was there to witness it. Tom amazed himself, and he grinned when he finally reached the first limb. And he kept the quarter in his pocket until he couldn’t stand it any longer in the Forks. It was a quarter he wished he’d kept. And he shimmied up a tree and never forgot it.

I’m enjoying myself amazingly, but today … Oh, well! I feel like kicking myself in the seat of the pants. We’re talking about the flying trapeze; and I’ve been offered an opportunity to join an act. But have no fear … I have no fear. I’m realistic. We’re talking about flying. The flying trapeze! Ah, you say, but it’s dangerous. Could be if there wasn’t a net. Quite high for me.

Here was a blank that he didn’t want to fill. It rather embarrassed Tom, and really his successes over the last two months luckily weren’t marred and they satisfied him. Continuing after a little while with the letter, he skipped that part.

In the meantime I’ve been thinking about the circus I had at home, and I’m not writing about the one we had inside the house. What went on in your room, and what went on between mom and dad, and I haven’t heard from either of them for while. I guess they’ve disowned me. I didn’t write about that.

So Tom was happier than he had ever been before, except … except for The Flying Guillmos. The Flying Guillmos, at last, asked him if he wanted to fly and wooed him whenever they could. They wooed him until he became suspicious. Now what was that about? he wondered. Tom hadn’t been around gay men before, and he became suspicious when he saw the men of the act holding hands … even kissing. Even kissing, even kissing, even kissing, as they came out of their trailer. The next few weeks were filled with apprehension. Tom hadn’t been around homosexuals before, and it made him feel … well, uncomfortable. He wasn’t used to it … to see men holding hands and even kissing. And Tom never told what happened when he tried to climb up to the pedestal board, but meanwhile Max gave him more and more responsibility. The boss kept him busy and put him in charge of a small crew whenever something required one, and, although Tom tried to ignore it, seeing Antonio and Pepe hold hands and even kiss bothered him.

The Flying Guillmos came from The Philippines, and if Tom had known about Philippine customs he wouldn’t have reacted the way he did whenever he watched the stars walk by. He distilled what he saw based on his own experiences. And, now it became a problem for him … a big problem for him, and how he felt about homosexuals. And before he went to Baylor he would’ve called them fags. Tom hated the thought of being touched by a homosexual, and that the Guillmos were homosexual made him shudder. And he couldn’t explain his reaction, but it was there. And he had a hard time keeping from staring. But then it was out of his hands, quickly as that, and he began to feel better when he quickly and dramatically discovered that he was afraid of heights. But of course he was wrong about the Guillmos and homosexuals, but it would be a long time before he found it out. Some people might’ve been offended when the word fag still slipped out of his mouth, but how could he fix everything all at once. He comforted himself by turning the Guillmos down and liked to think that their sexual preference didn’t matter, and that perhaps he could keep his feelings secret.

Chapter Six
Waco was dark and damp; and at night he walked on uneven sidewalks. At night, Tom was almost always cold and lonely. At night he often walked alone. He didn’t care which way he went, as long as he avoided the campus. There was too much light on campus. North took him downtown. He never went south. East was a slum and then the river. He walked on uneven sidewalks, and he once stumbled and fell down. He tripped on an uneven sidewalk. Roots! Damn tree! Skinned his knee. Tore his pants. He helped himself up. Brushed his hands off. He couldn’t see faces of people who passed him or couldn’t have known how they felt. He couldn’t see how they felt. Each night Tom wandered around alone. Tom felt lonely in Waco.

Sometimes Tom wasn’t sure of anything. Sometimes he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t sleep and wasn’t sure of anything. He took pills to sleep. Thirty days went by before he worked through this. He didn’t know what was the matter. He lived like a creature lost in an alien world. To this day he doesn’t know how he got through the semester.

And back when he had been sure and certain, Tom knew where he was heading. But at Baylor he had doubts. Maybe it was healthy to have doubts. He didn’t know. Before … before Baylor he was glib, as Whitman would say “a yarp,” a yarp eagerly waiting for what each day brought him. Then there came a day when he didn’t go to class and tried to trick himself into thinking that it was okay. There came a day when he stopped going to class, and each day he faced perils of not being able to sleep, and then he started drinking. Yes, he started drinking at Baylor. Yes, he drank in the dorm. He drank in the dark. He drank and drank. Tom started drinking and stopped when he recoiled in terror and desolation. He stopped when he remembered his mother’s warning about drinking, “Look at your uncles.”

Then he ran into Eddy Newman, and Eddy asked with astonishment, “Where have you been?”

Tom shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t know. Here and everywhere, I suppose.”

October, 26 1965
Waco
I haven’t had strength to write, and it’s a wonder that I’m trying to now. I’ve never had to struggle as much in my life. This week (a long one for me) I haven’t been able to concentrate; so I’m not sure where I stand or what I’ve missed, and hopefully I’ll be able to catch up before the end of the semester. I’ve spent a whole lot of time walking around town, along the river to Cameron Park and out to the lake and back, walked all day one day and into the night until I thought I couldn’t make it. Surprised myself. I guess I had a little help; and I’m sire I did. It made me question whether it was worth the fare. Indeed, the good news is that faith helps and believing in something helps when you feel the most alone. So a little further on, I don’t know exactly when or where, I remembered (you’ll be happy to note) God. Maybe this was the first time I really turned to God. I crossed the river Jordan then, only it was the Brazos.

I’m very tired and very depressed. Do you know that this past week has been a blur? It seems strange that I should prefer blurredness to clarity, and yet it was a blessing after all. O God, I don’t know how I feel right now. Do I have all my limbs, I wonder? I need to get some supper and a little fresh air. I’m not hungry but a walk might do. I trust you’ll pray for me.

I trust everything is okay with you all. Say hello to Bobby, if you see him, and say whatever to all of your church friends. Forever. Your son, Tom

Tom never wrote his parents such a letter again. He tore up the next two or three letters he wrote to them.

“I don’t know,” Tom said indifferently. “I just don’t know.”

It was a struggle to stay in school that semester and particularly so when memories of the circus were still so fresh. Where would he have been had he overcome his fear of heights and had taken the Flying Guillmos up on their offer? Where would he have been?

And after this, as soon as he and Eddie Newman again began meeting each other every day, Tom decided that he would really listen to his friend and respond, actually respond, with a poem a day. “May I share something with you?” he would say.

What could Eddy say?

In the fall of 1965 Eddie Newman became editor of the Baylor rag THE LARIET, which took an inordinate amount of his time. I thought it was too much time. I was jealous of his time. I have to admit that I was jealous.

“Well, I see you’re still kicking Sport. What do you have for me today?” Tom then would read him his latest poem, and Eddie would either laugh or shake his head. Eddie’s foremost concern was that they both write (that was indeed important to both of them), and eventually both of them got better, and yes better than “The Rock Squash” was:

And of “The Rock Squash?” Yes, it was published in the “Baylor Literary Magazine!” Yet Tom protested that the poem wasn’t any good, and every time they thought of the other poets who entered the contest, all of whom submitted more than Tom’s one poem, Eddy and Tom burst out laughing.

Yet while they often laughed they were serious about their writing. For, as obscure as they were, incredibly and comically obscure, Tom more so than Eddie, they felt sure that that wouldn’t always be the case. And with each passing day, the two friends once again kindled each other’s dreams.

Tom’s memories of his summer working for the circus were a great help to him. He remembered everything. Tom remembered everything, which offered him an escape from the day to day grind he faced at Baylor. Baylor had become a grind. It was a grind before, but it became even more of one now. It was pathetic, and it seemed more pathetic when he thought about it. He was yet to learn the value of science. He didn’t know if he would ever value science. He hated math. He couldn’t do math. He wondered why he bothered with college and swore he would steer clear of certain subjects.

November 13, 1965
Waco
My dear friend, the human mind has a way of adapting if we allow it, and in nothing is this more clearly shown than in how I can escape my current melancholy. I don’t know why I am sad. It’s easy to hate everything. I try to accept sadness and loneliness. I honestly try. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Indeed it’s difficult to keep my mind on a steady course; I’m always procrastinating, generally it’s my own fault, for I can’t seem to study (I must be flunking three courses), and the end of the semester is fast approaching. Yet my brain seems to have to accepted the inevitable and has gotten itself ready for it, so I haven’t panicked. I mustn’t panic. You even might say that most of the time I’m relaxed and happy. Well, where do I go from here? Maybe I’m not cut out for college. Maybe I never was. Maybe I should’ve paid attention to the dean.

I’m more upset about things that happened years ago than my current predicament, but I don’t need to get into those things. We all have our diversions, thank heavens. But I don’t like this side of me. I don’t like not getting things done, and sometimes it makes me think that I’m not worth a tinker’s damn.

Eddie has taken the trouble to be my friend. He’s challenged me to keep up my writing, but I’m not sure yet how that will earn me a degree. I’m not concerned with making a living. I can’t be concerned. I know to earn a degree is why most people go to college, but it doesn’t fit me. Certainly I don’t think I should be in a hurry to commit myself to a particular major, though my mother would like to see me become a preacher and my father thinks I should be an engineer. I have, however, given a whole year of my life trying to decide; indeed I’ve fretted over it.

What a fool I was to try to talk to my parents about it. It ended in a lecture, and the last thing I needed was a lecture when I need patience more than anything else. I know I’ll ultimately find my way. I’ve recently been thinking about joining the circus again.

I’m just going to have buckle down now so that I won’t flunk out at this late date.

During the summer Tom kept referring to having to push himself. It was a long and hard road. Tom never had a day off. All summer long he didn’t have a day off while they crisscrossed the country, and once or twice crossed over into Canada. Though he was with the circus, it was his own journey and no one else’s.

The mountains, as they entered them, were numerous and immense. The mountains, and climbs and downgrades took more skill than Tom thought he had. Giant, slanting boulders along the road intrigued him. He wrote about giant boulders, and had he time Tom would’ve found a record of time left in the walls of canyons. It was already light because crossing the mountains had taken longer than expected, and they had a matinee that afternoon. Maybe they’d have to punt and not bother with a tent. They were always punting. It seemed like they were always punting. For Max, in his detached and indifferent manner, decisions were elemental, and the boss never made them until the last moment. The only thing certain was that the show had to go on. The show always went on. It never missed a beat.

They wouldn’t miss a date all summer long, and now it seemed to Tom like there was something comforting and educational about it. For here, like nothing else seemed, was something he could rely on. Wind, rain, or shine, tent or no tent, from beginning to end the show went on. Dad after day people came together to put it on; here one saw sweat and spectacle, here in a second, a death-defying act. In town after town, circumstance after circumstance, they performed seemingly unperturbed by what was thrown at them.

A week later

I can scarcely breathe just now, so please give me space. It seems like the whole world is crashing down on me. I’m afraid that the dean was right- not that I hadn’t anticipated it, only now I’ve seen my grades. Oh dear God, I don’t know how I can make it up … when I walk around like a zombie … there’s no more possibility of me getting through finals than … I’ve got to stop this.

Chapter Seven
Most of the buildings were dark, and now it seemed to Tom that it was time for a break as he struggled through his first all-nighter of the semester. It was a struggle. He had a big test. He had a big test and couldn’t say awake. For it had come down to the week of finals before he decided it was now or never; before he fell asleep he left the library in search of fresh air and before he returned to the task at hand. A few other students came and went, most of them had finished and gone to bed, and most those who were up were cramming as if their lives depended on it …. but the clock ticked on seemingly unperturbed..

Each student had to find his or her own way. Tom hadn’t found his yet. He hadn’t found his way, though he hadn’t given up. He still hadn’t decided on a major. And he had to come to the conclusion that he was on his own and couldn’t compare himself with anyone else. Early in the evening he claimed a chair on the second floor of the library, accepting the inevitability that he would fall asleep at some point and dutifully started to memorize. Tom couldn’t help but look around. Tom couldn’t concentrate. All of the tables were full. Then after midnight came a decision that he needed a break. Tom was tired of studying. He was doing the best he could, but at that late date would it be good enough. If it wasn’t, he only had himself to blame. He blamed himself for his predicament.

Where to go? Tom knew the old corner drugstore was already closed. If it were earlier he would go there. Nothing would be open at that hour, and he couldn’t take that much time. He planned to take only a short break.

He then saved his place by leaving his books and paper strewn on the table. He wasn’t the only one who did it. He couldn’t afford to give up his place

If he smoked, he might’ve felt calmer. Tom settled for chewing gum and folded a stick into his mouth. Then as he chew gum, he took stairs to the ground floor. He decided to take his time. There was no use killing himself, so he took his time. He’d brought this onto himself and this was the result of procrastination and as a result all he could do was his best.

There were a few other students coming into the library. He didn’t say anything to them…didn’t want to bother them about all that was going on and how it had been really his fault. But somehow Tom knew he would pull through. He always had. Maybe his fears were unsupported, maybe, but he knew fretting about it would only make things worse. Yes, things could be worse, but if he flunked out, Tom knew it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

As he quarreled with himself, Tom turned the corner in front of the drugstore. He hadn’t intended to go that way, so he was surprised to find himself in front of the drugstore. He finally had the sidewalk to himself and decided that he really didn’t need to hurry because he had lots of time and needed air when he turned in front of the drugstore. In the overall scheme of things a few minutes here or there didn’t make a difference.

During the day, particularly between classes, the quadrangle would’ve been full of students scurrying to class. Now there was no one between Old Main and Judge Baylor’s statue, no one on the sidewalk coming toward him, not a soul, and Tom was told Baylor was haunted and his first thought was that it was nonsense. Surely there were greater threats than ghosts.

Tom now had a nagging headache so he could use that as an excuse. He didn’t know what a difference an aspirin would make, but his mother certain believe in them. So if he had aspirins, he’d take a couple. Oh dear God, he wished he’d thought ahead. Cold air helped though. Tom said it served him right, and he knew if he could get through the next week, he’d never get so far behind again. But had he really learned his lesson? Tom couldn’t say for sure because he didn’t know what he wanted to do yet. Tom told everyone that he’d wanted to go to college, but now he wasn’t sure about it. …and that in the end he’d get a good job. If he got a good job, why would he need college? College seemed like something that he heard talked about all his life. But when it came to applying it to him he wasn’t so sure, and doing what was necessary to achieve it … that sort of propaganda. Those were expectations … to take advantage of opportunities that his parents didn’t have. “I thought, he said, it would be easier.” Tom would have to wait now to make a decision. Right then he was feeling too pressured to concentrate on it.

Tom sat on a bench next to a lamppost. He sat there without thinking. It wasn’t any different than any of the other lampposts except for the name attached to it, which was something he hadn’t paid attention to before. He wouldn’t remember the name. It meant nothing to him. It might’ve meant more to him had he fought in a war. It might’ve meant more to him had he gone to Vietnam. Everyday he walked past lampposts hardly paying attention to them. Now he appreciated light from the street light though there wasn’t enough to read by.

I slept in this morning, because I needed sleep, and I’m in no special hurry, and was thinking that maybe I pulled it off. I’m very glad that my finals are finished. Gee whiz, I might live after all. I was going to push on and finish one final paper today. Except I’m not as focused as I should be, but I’ll do my best and have it completed in time. Now if I could only explain to my parents why I didn’t come home for Christmas. But of course I can’t. Now they’re expecting me between semesters.

Now please don’t think I’m trying to sabotage my college career. It’s only the second, third, fourth time that I’ve quit. The worse night I found a lap to sit in, literally. And a knee to cry on. You wouldn’t believe that I felt warn when I almost froze to death. Now I better get to work. Your friend, Tom

My parents and I should be able to put up with each other for two weeks. Just in case you might receive a telephone call from me. I’ll be all right. It’s impossible to keep me down. And of course, if you can’t come to my rescue, I can always go camping. Yes, in the middle of the winter, that is if my sleeping bag still has its loft. I hope it won’t be a waste of time.

 

January 16, 1966
Hi Bobby, it was a beautiful starry night, with a brisk north wind whipping the flaps of the tent and ever once and while straining the stakes. It was perhaps too cold for enjoyable camping, and without a fire, which was illegal in town, it was certainly cold. At any time I could’ve retreated to the house. My mother kept a light on for me, bless her soul. But I think I gained strength from the elements. I gained strength from the wind and cold the same as King Lear did. My sleeping bag truthfully kept me warm, warm enough, so during the night I didn’t even get up to go pee. I’m very happy that I worked hard and passed all of my exams, and I wished I’d been able to study more throughout the semester, then it wouldn’t have been such a struggle at the end. My dear friend, yesterday I went by your old house … you know that I can almost see it from here. I even climb up onto the old chicken coop. It’s amazingly still standing. I sat up there lecturing myself about life and responsibilities and possibilities, a setback or two I guess is expected, and I must admit that I don’t have it all worked out yet. Mamma told me that you’re driving a truck for Holsom Bread Company, and I hope it suits you. Last summer, with the circus, I got a taste of driving a rig, and I loved it. I hope you love it too.

Tom pulled off of I-70 at Landing so that he could really get a sense of the Ohio River as the sun came up, and it wasn’t much of a detour because they were setting up that day in the parking lot of Wheeling Island Racetrack … Wheeling, West Virginia. Tom had to be careful on Route 40 as he geared down the make the sharp curve before the old bridge (near the northern most navigable part of the river) and felt exhilarated on the other side as he climbed through the center of Wheeling. To anyone used to driving the Interstates, the detour would’ve seemed like a mistake, with stop and go traffic, pedestrians and left-hand turns, a semi-steep grade and the realization that now he would be late. Tom was never late. And all of a sudden he felt the weight of responsibility that had been entrusted on him. Max had given him responsibility and knew somehow that he’d have to make it up to Max. But maybe Max would understand. Seeing, really seeing the Ohio River early in the morning made it worth while. Having keys to the truck itself was an unbelievable miracle, and everything about driving it excited Tom. He felt the gear catch as he approached the curves and the river, and he was the one who had his foot on the accelerator. His own sense of worth was tired into how smoothly he downshifted and after crossing the bridge how well he climbed without losing momentum. And all the other things that had to do with driving a truck, such as backing. One had to be careful not to wreck and traffic was heavy that morning, and he’d have to develop a good story as to why he was running late. Max would know he’d dropped out of the caravan, so Tom soon decided that the best thing for him to do was to tell him the truth. Max surely would understand. After all it was the Ohio. Hadn’t Tom shown equal interest in the Mississippi and the Missouri? And hadn’t he stopped at the rest area over looking the Rio Grande? Most of the time they followed Interstates from place to place, at night through the dark, sometimes drugged with No-doze, so they very rarely saw sights; but that morning he had a chance to see the Ohio River with the sun just right and knew he wouldn’t forget it. So he’d just have to face the consequences.

When Tom pulled into the racetrack parking lot, he carefully parked the truck next to the other rigs and immediately jumped out of the cab. At that moment Max was busy laying out the Big Top, barking instruction as he went. Tom tells about running into him later, and….

“Do you know what I did the first time I came through Wheeling?”

“You don’t mean you… I hadn’t seen the Ohio River before.”

“And now you’ve seen it.” Max responded with a smile. “And what about the old suspension bridge?”

“No, I saved it for the next trip.”

“You should’ve seen it. I hear you can still drive across it.”

With such talk the two grew closer. Tom entered naturally into the lives of circus families; although it just was for one summer, and from Wheeling they caravanned down together to near the cliffs overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, and with each stop Tom became more and more a member of this great big family.

Friday

I want to congratulate you, friend. I hear you’re married and have a steady job. You’re certainly ahead of me.

On August 2, 1964 the marriage of Bobby Hall and Jennifer Williams, a daughter of the late James Williams, a bank manager in the Folks, was recorded in Dallas County. The Justice of Peace who married them used the phrase “holy macaroni” instead of “holy matrimony.” This didn’t seem to trouble Bobby. Tom obviously couldn’t attend. Lewis Bone was best man; Linda Miller was maid of honor. Jennifer’s mother was just sick. Because of the marriage, the Williams family was enraged and wasn’t reconciled with Bobby’s family until Jennifer delivered a baby girl. Bobby’s family frowned on their son’s marriage to a Catholic, and such a marriage usually occurred outside the church.

Tonight I had the house to myself, and chilled out. Put my feet on the coffee table and acted like a slouch; I wouldn’t have thought of doing it had my parents been home. I trust you’re happy, but I know you’ll be happier once you get into your own place. I can’t imagine being married and living at home with my parents.

By the way I’m still single; not that there has been time for it (marriage). Appearance is everything, I suppose. I can’t say because I haven’t been there.

8:45 p.m.

I’m buried in the “Leaves of Grass” and still no sign of my parents.

Tom waited in the living room for Bobby and his bride to come out. Mrs. Hall had welcomed him with smile and hurried to a back bedroom to fetch her son and daughter-in-law. Bobby walked with a slight limp, which he had most of his life. Jennifer followed him.

Sunday Morning

My mother went into hysterics this morning. She was bothered because I didn’t want to go to church which she didn’t know wasn’t new for me and the idea that I wanted to sleep in really bugged her, but I think my father was more sympathetic. I’m alone in the house now, so I’ve had a little time to look around. And I see it hasn’t changed. I have been isolating myself in my old bedroom.  Remember my old bedroom?  You should.

I drove around last night after I was surprised that my parents trusted me with keys to their car. And why wouldn’t they trust me? I’m an adult. I however don’t own a car anymore, which illustrates that there are certainly tradeoffs in life.

I’ve been in my room all day because I don’t want to set mama off again while I know I’m disappointing her. I really don’t have much to say to her.

Do you know, I’ve been thinking about our little secret when we use to play in my bedroom and how the whole thing didn’t amount to much because you’re now married. I’ll get married too someday I’m sure, to a fine person to whom I’ll promise to be faithful to. Maybe I won’t send this letter. O God! Yes, destroy it. It’s only when I’m alone in this room that I think about it. I can’t believe that I’ve written this. I’m glad you married Jennifer Williams. I wish you’d sent me an invitation. Was it a-hurry up sort of thing? Do you know what I mean? I know it’s none of my business but did you knock her up? I won’t send this, but there has to be a reason why I’ve written about it.  Remember I Timothy Chapter 1 Verse 10?

As they came into the room, they sat in separate chairs across the room from Tom. They seemed happy enough, and Bobby seemed unchanged … exactly as he was when Tom last saw him…when was it? And Jennifer married him.

“Dog-gone, you went and did it. Hi, there! Well!” And after a long silence, Tom tried to smile. Then it was Jennifer’s turn. Tom hadn’t known her in high school, so her friendliness now seemed strange to him, as her dark brown eyes seemed to look straight through him. And then she reached out to him. In another moment, she said, “Well Tom, I feel like I know you.”

Jennifer was the last person that Tom expected Bobby to marry. But maybe he underestimated his friend. Everyone knew Jennifer. That friendly, bright-eyed, brown-eye girl in glasses who was reporter-historian for the Student Council (if she had been a boy, she would’ve been chaplain, except she was Catholic) had been destined from grade school for a scholarship to a prestigious private college, except she got married to Bobby, which to Tom seemed to prove that Bobby knocked her up.

Jennifer had to have been a lot smarter than Bobby. It was during the summer that Tom worked for the circus. That very summer, in fact, that Jennifer disappointed her parents by marrying Bobby the morning after an overnight romp. How she ever hooked up with Bobby would remain a mystery because it seemed like they had little in common. Obviously they ran into each other somehow, and she must’ve been lonely and college hadn’t worked out for her the way she thought it would. Tom never got the full story. He never knew the full story. Acting on a sudden impulse, they got married after rounding up Lewis Bone for best man and Linda Miller for maid of honor. Sure enough, the marriage was recorded in Dallas County, with Bobby’s parents’ house given as an address. At the time Bobby didn’t have job. He had to have knocked her up.

Sunday Evening

To my surprise I found that we don’t have much in common anymore and this doesn’t helped me very much. If I weren’t a reasonable person, I’d be angrier at the circumstances than I am. Instead I’m thankful that I haven’t lost sight of what’s important and that I made it through another semester. Made it! Made it! Yes, I made it when I didn’t think I would. Now I’m sounding like I’m bragging. I won’t ask what happened to Jennifer. Oh yeah, as if I need to be reminded that she’s a married woman.

Last night I started thinking about you and Jennifer again. Yes, Jennifer. But tell me how she fits in? How? And strangely enough I imagined that she asked the same question about me when you first mentioned my name to her. Jennifer seemed warm and friendly enough when we sat and talked. No hard feelings I hope. Without regrets I trust that you feel much the same way. And if I came away with anything it is that I underestimated you. But I still don’t understand how you could’ve jumped into a marriage so quickly and without at least inviting me to the wedding. I was surprised that she had anything to do with you. Just kidding. But my friend, why? It just doesn’t fit.

I don’t intend to sell you short. My reservations have more to do with her than you. Well, my friend, we’ve always been able to confess to each other, thank you very much. And that allows me to say that I’m still astounded and delighted for you and Jennifer. Well, I’ll be damn. Can you fix me up? Does she have a sister? I forgot to ask.

So you’ll have to agree that there was a good reason for me to have been shocked, but she seems sweet. Congratulations. But living with your parents…I can’t see you doing it. I didn’t hear about how you felt about it; but I sense that that’s only temporary. There is no word of Mike; I suspect Uncle Sam got him, in spite of his intentions of going to North Texas State. Another instance of me forgetting to ask. Amen- so be it; next time I’ll try to do better. Shake Spear meanwhile is in a pitiable state. I can’t wait to get back to Baylor.

I hope Uncle Sam doesn’t bother you now that you’re married. Believe me, my dear friend (and this comes from sources that have been there) you don’t want to go over to Nam, but maybe with your leg you don’t have to worry. As long as I stay in college, I don’t have anything to worry about either.

It gets where I don’t care about anything anymore. By now all of our friends are scattered. It all may be nonsense, although it looks like a big deal. Of course I’m talking about the state of the world. And if the Russians are coming, what can we do about it? What? Build a bomb shelter? Don’t worry about me, what I write about may be a concern, but as I indicated what can we do about it? I haven’t given up, though I’m not out of the woods quite yet.

I plan to return to Waco a few days early. You can’t imagine how much I wanted to get out of there, get out of Waco, and now I can’t wait to get back.

Two years ago I thought I knew every street in the Forks and since streets held meaning for me I assume they did for you, many memories associated with all sorts of odd places such as the old bowling ally that they’ve torn down. I sat a long while and brooded on losses, and my own teenage years; and all of that came back to me. It would be impossible to write about it all, what went on particularly inside me; you wouldn’t understand, or perhaps you would. Broadly, I’m sure you can … understand why I have opposite feelings about you and why people I really love are estranged from me now. Long before I totally rejected them I started pulling away. There were little things, little connections that I made that I’m sure no one noticed. There were things that I wished had never happened, that now that you’re married I assume had a greater impact on me than you. Well, those things, involving us both, and what we thought about it all, and what we were afraid of if our families or friends found out … hit me especially hard … especially when I found out that you got married. And it started again, strangely leaving in my heart an empty space, when I saw you and Jennifer together which came with it a great deal of guilt and shame. The room suddenly was too small. And it got smaller. It became small for the three of us and was made even smaller by your mother. The Bible on the mantle, with its leather cover and gold trim, I noticed had the same place reserved for it as it did in your old home. I hope by writing this letter I’ll be able to move on. I doubt that I’ll mail it.

What I hear is that our experience wasn’t that unusual and that some people would dismiss it by saying it was simply exploration. I’ve heard it more than once, but in my case I don’t think it applied. However, we’re all individuals, and maybe urges should’ve been repressed with as much contempt as possible. There would’ve been plenty of trouble had we been exposed, but my feelings for you were certainly sincere. I don’t believe we should be condemned or that anything we did was a sin. I refuse to believe it. It wasn’t sinning.

Mrs. Amelia Hall was a short and slim and intense woman. Her straight, brown hair was already streaked with gray, and she wore no jewelry, rouge or lipstick. But she wasn’t unattractive, and Tom liked her. Tom always liked her. She had been a second mom to him, and he remembered how she would give him and Bobby extra spending money for memorizing Bible verses.

They all sat down together: Jennifer, who was five or six months pregnant by then, and who seemed shy, while interlocking her hands below her bulging belly, Bobby with his limp, and who seemed somewhat out of it, Mrs. Hall, who quickly excused herself, and Tom, who tried but failed to act naturally. At first Bobby asked Tom a lot of questions about Baylor, what the campus was like, how he was doing, and was he glad to be attending a Christian school. They seemed to think that by going to a Christian school that Tom avoided many of the temptations that he would’ve faced had he gone to a state school.

“What do you do for fun, anyway?” asked Bobby.

“Oh, you know,” Tom said, “The usual things.”

“Well, do you have a girlfriend?”

“Who? Me? Me a girlfriend? Why, hell, I hardly have had time for it … with studying all the time. As you know, I never studied in high school, which makes it hard now.” Tom noticed that Jennifer hadn’t opened her mouth. Then, suddenly, he looked at Bobby as if he pitied him and felt self-conscience about it. “But I can’t complain. What about you?”

“We’re here, and as you can see it’s been a great year.” Still Jennifer didn’t say anything. Then Bobby was also silent, before he continued. “But, boy! If I’ve learned one thing, it is that you’ve got to work for what you get. Now to get to work on time I have to wake up at two o’clock in the morning … that’s early, and it’s a long day. Now Jennifer gets up with me. When you haven’t been married, maybe that wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, but it is … that time together has strengthened our bond.”

“Strengthened our bond.”

“But, good Lord, Bobby, you know that I don’t get up every morning! Why the way you rush around most mornings, it’s hardly worth it.”

“Yeah,” Bobby said, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe we already look at things differently.” With that he fell silent again.

“You two look happy and with a baby on the way,” was how Tom broke the silence.

“Sure, sure,” Bobby answered. “But with a baby on the way, you can’t be fooling around. Of course, that goes without saying. We was kind of thinking we would wait. Then…I don’t know. We just … those things happen I suppose…Hell!” Bobby said, and he and Jennifer looked at each other. “I ain’t complaining, no-way. If I had to do it over again, I … we … I think we agree … isn’t it so, Jen? We’re doing all right, aren’t we?”

“And Bobby was there for me when I needed him the most,” added Jennifer, who during the conversation was looking at the floor. “After graduation, I went to East Texas State in Commerce, and I can say now that it was a mistake. I met Bobby shortly after I came home. So I say, ‘it was destiny.’ And he says, ‘I don’t know if I believe it’, believe in destiny, but I do know what would’ve happened to me if he hadn’t been there. So I just look forward to having the baby,” continued Jennifer softly, “and I say, well, isn’t love the darnest thing. Every morning, I ask him ‘do you want me to get up or not?’ You know, generally, he says no. Bobby wouldn’t let me hurt myself. He’s my rock. But he could’ve been the same as other boys I met at college who only wanted to use me. Luckily Bobby wasn’t that way, and I couldn’t have been luckier than I’ve been with a baby coming, not that I think it’s going to be easy. Well, it hasn’t been so far, so I’m not expecting it to change … and I just hope in the future that Bobby will continue to think it’s all worth while..”

“It will be, I’m sure of it!” Bobby smiled. “If it’s boy, I hope he’s like me.”

“Heaven forbid,” Jennifer exclaimed. “Let’s just hope he has ten fingers and ten toes and has enough sense to be himself.”

“I agree!” said Bobby.

Along about then it seemed to Tom that Bobby was gloating. Tom said to him then, “Well, ol’ man, if I don’t get a cigar I’ll throw a hissing fit.” So Bobby said, “You’ll get one.” And Tom asked, “For sure? Jennifer, I’ve learned not to count on him, and something tells me that hasn’t changed.” So I can’t count on him,” continued Jennifer calmly. And Bobby said, “Well, what do you want? Do you want me to hand carry it to you or what? You know that I’d do anything for you.” “Anything?” was how Tom then responded. “I knew that was what he’d say before he said it; I can read his mind. Jennifer, that’s how well we know each other. But you better not dare Tom; what am I thinking? No way, no way. Well, Tom here knows some stuff about me and I know some stuff about him. Guys’ stuff, like what guys get away with at bachelor parties. I think we should change the subject before we get into trouble, but there wasn’t anything to it really.”

“Dog gone, if there wasn’t. Jennifer, you ought to have seen how your husband used to cut his hair.”

“Yeah,” Bobby agreed. “And how I was James Dean.”

“He sure was!” said Tom. “How he had the look down.”

“I know,” Jennifer agreed, “because even then I had eyes on him, out of all boys in our class he had the most cool, rebel attitude. Other girls saw it too, and he never knew it. And as it turns out, I’m the lucky one. I’ve seen Rebel Without A Cause at least a dozen times. He sure did have the look.”

“What about Giant?” Bobby asked delightedly. “I thought Dean was perfect for the part. Especially when he brought in his first gusher and raised his arms to heaven with all of that oil soaking him from head to foot. I was right there the whole time. I knew every word he ever spoke. And he was right on when he said, ‘dream as like you’re going to live forever and live like you’re going to die tomorrow.’“ Bobby said, “we all thought the car wreck was staged but later thought he had prophesied his own death. That was how it felt. I can still walk the way Dean walked. Still seems like he ain’t dead.”

My beloved rebel, ‘Tears! Tears! Tears! In the night, in solitude, tears …. sucked in…” Whitman.

Yesterday a fire went out in me, so I’m looking somewhere else for warmth, except I should’ve known that if I went off to college we’d go in different directions. All this happened almost two years ago. Now we can just be friends. What I didn’t realized was that it all happened without me realizing it; although you had moved on and must’ve known it: hurt is just as real like it happened yesterday. Then last night I saw a shooting star. It was incredible because I’m sure it didn’t burn out before it hit the ground. Someone hopefully will find it. I can hope someone will. Just when I thought that I couldn’t stand much more I saw a shooting star. There was something uncanny about it. It made me wish that I believed in signs; but I was glad when I saw it and the timing was right, as if it were sent for me. All the way home after that I felt a slight glimmer of something, something that resembled hope … something.

I do feel inclined to tear this up, but I won’t. I’m surprised that I’m able to write about such things, but I’m equally surprised about how much it hurts. So I better stop this before I go off the deep end. So for once I’ve been honest.

Sunday

I destroyed my last letter. To have embarrassed you would’ve served no purpose. Now onto safer things.

Then Tom explained the reason why he went to see Bobby and how he felt embarrassed by what he wrote. To which he added: “Oh, well.”

“I’m sure sorry, Bobby.” Bobby wasn’t around to hear his apology or to see his embarrassment. Then, after a few more tears: “God!” Tom shook his head. “I want to get back to Waco! I want to do my best this next semester! Remember how hard it was when you put things off … cramming and burning midnight oil?” Then he shook his head again and said, “I wish that I hadn’t come home.”
Chapter Eight
Then Tom took time out to go to a coffee shop and to listen to some poets recite his or her works. He took time off for poetry. To him, it was a big deal. Poetry was a big deal to him. And when Tom had the opportunity to share something, he wasn’t quite brave enough to get up. He wasn’t ready yet to read a poem of his. He had one memorized.

“Some other time.” And it made him feel safe. To be able to say no made him feel safe. It made him feel safe to say no because he knew that it wouldn’t be a long time before I went got back there. It wouldn’t be long before he became a regular.

This was his big chance. It was cold and raining that night in Waco. There was warmth, however, coming from poets sitting around him and was in contrast with rain outside. Sitting there, he no longer felt alone and isolated. He felt like he belonged. He did belong. This little place offered him a sanctuary when he most needed one; but only Eddie learned what it meant to him. A burst of sunshine on a rainy night, and even in high school when he cruised McKinney Street in Dallas feeling hungry and yearning, and he even then didn’t know what else there was to life. Then he lived without poetry. Now he had poetry, and it didn’t matter if it was raining. Tom stayed there until the wee hours of the morning; sipping hot chocolate and listening to poetry. There was a certain guy there. Tom was attracted to a certain guy there. He was around thirty years old, and Tom was attracted to him, and Tom couldn’t believe that he was paying attention to him. This guy smiled good-naturedly.

Tom later wrote: “Of course, I wouldn’t have gone to his apartment. I wasn’t brave enough. I wasn’t brave enough to go home with him. I just wasn’t brave enough, and besides it was difficult then to accept who I was. I wasn’t … I wasn’t …. Well, I wasn’t then. No amount of persuasion changed my mind, and then on the other hand I might’ve misjudged him, completely misinterpreted him when he placed his hand on my thigh … misjudged the situation. To misinterpret it. To abruptly remove his hand. To be offended by it. And for someone for whom I held in high esteem, to have him fall plumb down in my estimation when he started talking about a girlfriend in an unflattering way. I couldn’t imagine him with a girlfriend.

And this person of fine stature was someone that I might’ve wanted to have as a friend, but the way he talked about his girlfriend changed it and became a mockery for me. I didn’t like the way he talked about his girlfriend. And yet it was a relief. I had to ask myself then what I was afraid of. I don’t know what I was afraid of then. I still don’t know what it was about. How it relates to me. How it relates to us, Bobby. I hope you’re not offended. I hope you’re not offended now that you’re married. I’m a mad man to have written this. I’m crazy.

In resignation, I’ve accepted your marriage. I stand by what I’ve written. I have tried to be honest, and for me it has been gutsy (as I try to move on).

Later
I don’t know what to write, and I’ve stopped thinking. It’s easier not to think about it. It’s easier not to think. I’ve written a few words, but I can’t go on. I know that the communication that should’ve happened before now hasn’t happened, and you’ve seen how seeing you and Jennifer together affected me. You had to have seen it.

I’m determined to leave town and let you go.

What a terribly impersonal thing a letter is. However, I don’t think I could’ve said goodbye in person, when I was as upset as I was and when you were with Jennifer. It really seems like I’m abandoning you, when the reverse is true. You’ve abandoned me. I feel abandoned. I feel you abandoned me. I’ve cursed you, hoping that you would hear me. I’ve allowed myself to fall plumb down, when truthfully I hadn’t thought about you in over two years. It shoots a hole into the idea that I love you; and it only leaves one thing: possessiveness.

Monday

I must tell you the scary news that I heard the other night. Recently the Dallas police framed a gay man. Busted him for possession, possession of pot. Hid in the bushes to catch him. You can’t imagine what hearing this news did to me; and I haven’t gotten over it yet. It’s made me think long and hard about what the Bible teaches about homosexuals. It has made me think long and hard about becoming a homosexual. I don’t want to be a homosexual. I’m not a homosexual. I don’t want to debate this. I’m not going to be hard on myself, so I won’t debate it. I’m okay.

Be kind to yourself, dear friend because. .. As we seek our own happiness in our own way, let me hear from you from time to time. And don’t worry about me: if I’ve learned anything, it’s how to survive. Forever your friend, Tom.

“Bobby, Bobby,” he yelled, “what are you doing? What if a train comes and you’re out there? You’ll get yourself killed. If you won’t think of yourself, think of me.”

“Scared? Scared for me,“ Bobby declared as he balanced on a rail. “There ain’t no train coming. What do I have to lose, anyway. Leastways, it’d be a way to get to heaven, but it ain’t an option since I ain’t gunna fall.” Then after he’s gone out a little farther and past the NO TRESPASSING warning sign: “if I can keep my balance with a bum leg, there’s nothing that’s gunna stop me. And I’ll be remembered because…. But, hell!” he said, as he turned around, “what’s the use. I’m too chicken.”

As Bobby jumped back to safety and in so doing fell on his hands and skinned his knees, Tom saw how angry his friend was. He also watched as his strength and courage melted away. Tom had never seen him so frightened. It wasn’t even close, and Bobby was frightened. It was the first and only time Tom saw it and why after that Bobby put up a brave front. Bobby didn’t like showing that side of him, but, seeing the look on Bobby’s face as his anger turned into defiance, Tom gently shoved his friend in the back and walked on before facing him. That was the best Tom could do.

“You looked good out there. It was me who was scared. It was me who was scared for you. And there was no need for me to have been scared for you. There you were out there without a net. I’m usually scared enough for myself. Hell, you’re good enough to be in my circus, and I’d be lucky to have you. You can walk the high wire, and that’s more than all of those clowns can do. (Tom went on like that) If no train came, I think maybe you could’ve made it clear across the river … if you didn’t let me stop you, you could’ve made it without a net. I was the one who was chicken … not you Bobby. It was me and how I’ve always been. And I’ve got my circus all set up in rafters of our garage … and we’ll make money too! You walking a wire without a net. With you on the high wire and me on the trapeze. So we’ll clear a few dollars, you wait and see. Then we’ll be all set.”

“And you think I can do it?”

“Of course. Of course. Feel better?”

“No.” And Tom could see that his friend was scared.

“More confident? I mean, why couldn’t you Bobby … if you set your mind to it? What’s the matter?”

“I don’t think anyone would show up. We wouldn’t make no money because no one would show up.”

“You mean you’re afraid.”

“Afraid? I’m not afraid. Let’s face facts: we ain’t good enough. We can’t hit. We can’t catch. We can’t run fast enough. We ain’t good enough. We’re always the last ones chosen for a team. But I say to hell with them!” Bobby laughed. “But boy, by the time we’re through we’ll show them … you on the trapeze and me on the high wire. We’ll practice and we’ll practice until we can do it, or we’ll kill ourselves trying. Boy, oh boy.” Again he laughed. “Tom,” he said quietly, “remember when you ran for class president?”

“Yeah.”

“I voted for you,” Bobby said.

“And you threw your vote away.”

“But you went down fighting. I always thought you should’ve won. I got as many people as I could to vote for you. Well, you were good until the election. Until then I thought you had a shot. But now … boy!” Bobby shook his head. “It’s back to the same ol’ thing. It feels like it. It hurts like it. You know it hurts, Tom. You know we’re gunna get teased. Laughed at. Made fun of. When we go back to school. And we’re talking about boys on the football team, those who have lettered most of all, those who get the prettiest girls….”

“Those who get the prettiest girl,.” Tom repeated.

“What?”

“Seriously. It’s a relief. That we’re interest in girls.”

“Seriously, I’ve got to stop feeling sorry for myself.”

“So we take it on the chin and not do anything about it, and when we get up … it hurts like hell.”

“You get up and act tough.”

“I’m beginning to get it.”

“Come out boxing, and they’ll leave you alone. Jim Stark comes to town and stands up to his enemies, and when people try to tell me it’s just a movie I tell them that they’re full of fudge! It ain’t James Dean or Sal Mineo anymore. It’s you and me, Tom. Well, I say they’re full of … fudge. No, full of shit! And they can go to hell. And lemme tell you, it works. They’ll back off.” Then Bobby was silent for a moment. “But unfortunately they keep trying. If I could smack them around and get away with it, I’d feel a whole lot better. So maybe I’ll live another year if I’m lucky. So if I don’t play their game, maybe they’ll eventually leave me … us alone.” Bobby laughed. “So I won’t give up.”

“Or until you don’t mind so much.”

By then the two boys had jumped down into the riverbed. They sat there in the sand looking up at the trestle. Then Bobby laughed.

“Boy, there’s a train now, so I wouldn’t have made it. And that was close because I was so determined. Why, hell yes! I could’ve made it almost all the way across the river, but then again. Say! Let’s count cars. It seems like a very long train.”

They just sat there counting cars of a train.

“Boy, this may be the longest train in the world. Do you think it’s going somewhere?” Bobby asked.

“Since we’re not on it, I’d have to say no.” Until that moment, Tom would’ve said yes. Not just yes, but “Why, hell yes!” And laugh loudly. “Clear across the country.”

“That far? And beyond that? What’s out there?”

“The Pacific Ocean,” Tom answered.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to get away from here? Away from here: I could get use to it. I could get used to being away from here.”

“I’d settle for Arizona.” Arizona where Bobby lived and Tom dreamed of living. “You’ve said you lived in Old Tucson when you were small. Why, what could be more exciting?” Bobby remained silent. “And then your old man moved your family here. He had a job here, as opposed to hanging out in a saloon.”

“And your father?”

Tom grinned, shook his head, and lied. “Oh, he flies. He’s doing what he wanted to do all his life.”

“Well, my father is on television.”

“If you say so.”

Whereupon Bobby looked at Tom with disbelief. At that point they both knew the truth. It was perhaps how they would’ve liked things to be. But for Bobby it was all or nothing.

“He’s on late at night. On WFAA. It’s after we’ve gone to bed. He has his own program,” said Bobby proudly. “He hosts scary movies like ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘The Werewolf.’’

“And he’s Jack, The Ripper, sure.”

“Why, hell no!” Bobby continued with an air of conviction. “The costume he wears depends on what movie is showing on a particular night.”

“Now Bobby, tell the truth.”

“You want to fight? I’m John Wayne, remember! Why would I make stuff up when I don’t have to? When you see my dad, ask him.”

“Okay, okay. You’re father is on television.”

“You’re damn right he is!” said Bobby, nodding his head. But it was worth noting that neither one of them believed the other. “Gene Autry, who used to sit me on his lap, was a friend of ours.

“Yeah, and you’re John Wayne. We went to see “Hondo” together, remember?”

“Yeah, I was in that movie and drove a 1953 Chevolet Corvette.”

“A ’53 Chevy Corvette?”

“Yeah. I drove it into the ground!”

“And Geraldine Page?”

“A lovely woman.”

“And Ward Bond?”

“My co-star.”

“And Glen Ford, “The Man from the Alamo?”

“And Rex Allen…And Tom Mix…And Monty Montana. Do you remember Monty Montana?”

“Yeah … I saw him in a parade twirling a rope.”

“We knew the real Monty Montana, with his trick horse and rope tricks. He came to our school, but I guess he was too busy to come here.”

“But I bet you never touched his hat. Gotcha you:! You’ve got to respect that, respect what Monty did with a rope and love his horse. We watched him in the inaugural parade on TV. They set up a set in our classroom, we watched it all day, and you were there too and pointed out Monty Montana … and that’s true. Bobby swears it’s the truth; nothing but the truth; always the truth. Glen Ford, Rex Allen, Tom Mix, all his friends, and even Monty Montana, but Bobby, did you really know then, or did you just see them in movies?”

“Yeah, man. And your father flies!” And Bobby threw back his head and laughed. “I totally forgot we was talking about becoming sailors, like Simbad, is that who it was? Don’t try to tell me it wasn’t Simbad (another movie a few years later). I swear, Tom! We’ll fight our battles like Simbad.” Bobby put his arm around his friend’s shoulder and yelled, “Hi-Ho! Silver!”

“Yes, Bobby,” for a moment the two boys imagined themselves on a white horse riding off into the sunset together … the Lone Ranger and Tonto. ”And we’ll leave them in our dust.”

February 10, 1966
Waco
I’ve decided to leave Waco for a few days while I decide whether or not to completely abandoned my education. I’m filled with despair over news that Mama Hayes is extremely ill, while the decision to go see her and miss school was taken away from me. I thought (when I thought the decision was mine) that I was certainly capable of making the decision on my own. So I had it out with my parents; I said some things that I regret; they seemed to think that they knew what was right for me. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I just want to disappear from the planet for a while.

I can’t study anyway and can’t do anything while I’m under someone’s thumb. I have to find out for myself and buy time for my head to clear. I refuse to take orders from anyone else, even when they have what’s best for me in mind. My courses oppress me, and I feel restless and impatient. I just can’t sit here, waiting for my grandmother to die, and I feel I need to get on with my life.

I appreciated your postcard. I never expected you to write. So a postcard is better than nothing. I’m so glad that you’re happily married.

I don’t know what day it is, nor (I hate to plan) where I’ll be tomorrow. I know I headed north and didn’t stop in Dallas. I had just seen you, and I didn’t want to see my parents.

I hope that you can see that I need some space. It only becomes difficult when I consciously think of you and love that I still have for my family. Whenever I think of the future I realize how much I owe everyone; and in fact, unlike now and when I’m in a funk, most of the time I feel very thankful.

Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with me and that there’s no need for me to throw everything away. But why does this or that have to be? Why must my grandmother die? Why must I stay in school and not go see her before she dies? Why couldn’t I openly defy my parents and tell them that I’m going … that I’m going to see my grandmother … that I am going to see my grandmother before she dies. I’m afraid of … afraid of what? I know there’s nothing permanent in this world. Everyone has to die sometime. I should know this by now. But does knowing it justify throwing everything away? No. Life is a process, like creating a poem, and death is simply part of it. I’m mourning a great lady, even before she’s dead. It bothers me, and I envy my parents because of their belief in heaven. I envy my parents. For the first time in my life I envy them.

I hope you’re not turned off by my morbidness, as I would be had I received a letter like this from you. Perhaps I would’ve been offended, but you know me and we’ve been best friends for most of our lives.

Tom took a broken down Denco bus north from Vernon during a snowstorm, crossed the Red River, and when they finally made it across the long bridge over the frozen Canadian he knew that he was almost there. In Shattuck Uncle Henry picked him up at the Denco Café.

Waiting for the Denco bus

As a result of an Arctic blast, it’s blowing snow tonight, and I’m not sure if the bus will run. They’re not telling us. They’re not telling us anything. Maybe they don’t know. But they’ve kept the bus station open for a few of us who are brave enough to travel or too stupid to stay home, though it does seem like they’re obligated to keep it open because of the weather.

I have with me my edition of the “Death-bed Edition” of LEAVES OF GRASS, and it seems appropriate given the circumstances. Thumbing through it, I’m impressed by how many poems such as “A Backward Glance o’er Travel’d Road” and “Good-Bye My Fancy” strike home. Take “Twilight.”

TWILIGHT by Walt Whitman
The soft voluptuous opiate shades
The sun just gone, the eager light dispell’d- (I too will soon be
Gone, dispell’d,)
A haze-nirwana-rest and night-oblivion.

So I’ve begun to wish for oblivion. No, but maybe I should still be in Waco. Maybe I should still be in school. Maybe I shouldn’t be traveling … traveling, when there is so much uncertainty isn’t the way I like it. Since busses aren’t running, since it’s snowing hard, I’ve had to rely on my spirit of adventure to keep me from skidding. I’m glad my parents don’t know I’ve taken off and that I’m in a situation that I have no control over. So no one has to worry about me.

February 12, 1966
Vernon
Still stranded! Haven’t I seen this movie before? BUS STOP! At this rate I won’t get to Gage before Mama Hayes dies. When I went across the street for breakfast, snow was still coming down, and I’m not dressed for it. My feet got cold and wet, and as a result who knows but I might catch a cold. I don’t care if I catch a cold. I never felt so lonely as I listened to Rob Orbison on the jukebox: “Only the Lonely” with breakfast. I was tempted to find a telephone and call someone, anyone who’d talk to me. The roads still blocked. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much snow, even in Gage where as you know we always went for Christmas. I found myself thinking about family and simpler days when I didn’t know better. And happier then, perhaps. I tried to analyze this while I sat up all night trying to keep my feet from freezing. It’s cold in here, and I don’t have a blanket. I don’t know why they don’t furnish blankets. Answers appeared faintly on the horizon, and then were gone. Blankets aren’t budgeted for. Lord knows where I’m heading. Perhaps it doesn’t matter now. Who knows said the little red hen.

You can’t picture how beautiful snow was here as morning sun first hit it. You couldn’t beat clarity and sharpness and freshness of air, though I hadn’t taken time to look before. Just as I felt cold I felt warm evidently because of memories I have of Christmas at Gage. I turned back as I returned to the bus station; the morning sky stood out as clouds began to clear and it became clear that the roads would soon open. I hurried and almost slipped on ice.

It seems like I’ll get a reprieve. They’ve called my bus. I’ll just see how far we’ll get. And maybe getting stranded wasn’t such a bad deal, because now we’ll be traveling during the day and I’ll see what I’ve always missed.

As the snow let up, the Denco northbound bus finally left the station. Crossing the Red River, Tom finally relaxed behind the driver. He couldn’t wait to cross the Canadian. Other people were talking or already dozing, and Tom noticed how the driver, though carefully, tried to make up time by overtaking one car at the time. When the bus went past a car that had slid off the highway, Tom recognized that his situation could’ve been worse; so he just sat there quietly, gripping the edge of his seat and sat there unable to get Roy Orbison’s voice and “Only the Lonely” out of his head. Filled with yearning and despair, the song had become his anthem. Yes, it had become his song.

Tom had not been up this highway in three years. By that time Mama Hayes had already been a widow for a decade but hadn’t seemed frail. Tom remembered her, as she was then, a strong, independent woman, and remembered too the small railroad town of Gage, and how the town seemed like it had seen better days. Even then some of the buildings on Main Street were vacant and boarded up. Though there was still a drugstore and a small grocery store, Tom’s grandfather’s businesses … a hardware store, a pool hall and a homemade ice cream parlor all south of the tracks … had long before then died.

XXXXXX  Gage

Made it! Uncle Henry was the only person I could call, and he seemed surprised that I had come all that way by myself. If there’s one thing that I can’t stand, I swear, it’s when I’m underestimated.

The first thing that I wanted to do was to see Mama Hayes. Upon seeing me, she was in such a good mood that I almost forgot that she was very ill, in the middle of an Indian summer perhaps, which confused me.

Today has been very cold, with me coming here without being prepared. I found some extra heavy socks belonging to Daddy Hayes and put them on; I was confused as to why Mama Hayes still had them in a drawer full of his things and after all these years had not given them away. Suddenly, as I was going through the drawer, I was faced with a great deal of emotion, and the past came alive, and I could see myself in my grandfather and see that I’d always have flaws. I nearly cried.

Before I relapse into a pity session I suppose I shouldn’t be so sensitive and remain thankful that I wasn’t involved in a bus wreck. I hope it warms up soon, instead of this cold north wind.

From what I can tell Mama Hayes won’t die today. My coming here has done her good. And it’s the Lord’s day and I may go to church. I’ll walk into town, attend the Christian Church, without anyone knowing whom I belong to. When I introduce myself, I’d like the see what people will say about my family. Of course they’ll be nice. Keep me in your prayers. It may not help, but it won’t hurt, and may do me a lot of good. Who knows? Does anyone really know? Your friend, Tom
Chapter Nine
February 14, 1966
Gage
Dear Mom and Dad,
What can I say? I know you’ve talked to Mama Hayes and know I’m in Gage. I know what you’re thinking, but I’ve been a good ambassador and am confident that Mama Hayes has benefited from my visit.

Uncle Henry picked me up in Shattuck, and so thanks to him I wasn’t stranded. Gage hasn’t changed much, and dad I met people at church who remembered you and asked how you were. There was a very nice couple named Bird, who cornered me; and he talked about Daddy Hayes. I let them do the talking, and they told me that I resembled granddad. Now is it true? Do I resemble granddad? I never thought I did. That must’ve been when he was my age and before he put on weight and lost his hair. Howard is still here. Somehow he knew I was here, and he came by Mama Hayes’ house, but we didn’t have much to say to each other. I didn’t have enough courage to ask him about his parents. I suppose he’ll inherit the ranch. Some people have it made. Not that I’d want something like a ranch that would tie me down. I’m really very appreciative of you two; and, as soon as I can, I’ll repay you. I thought it was necessary to see Mama Hayes while I could, and I told her to expect you two soon. I’m glad I came. Well, I can say that I made it in spite of everything. Next time I’ll go through the City. I know that would be easier than coming up through Vernon.

Thomas Hayes (1880-1957) An excellent machinist who operated a machine shop at his home until his death. A man of many trades, he built the first cotton gin and light plant in Gage and in later years owned several businesses south of the tracks. He married (1911) Patsy, daughter of the powerful newspaper editor J.C. Miller; she died 1966.

Among piles of precious junk, Daddy Hayes’ tools were still in his shop next to the house, tools driven by wide belts, grooving, drilling, turning and milling tools. Here Daddy Hayes worked until the day he died and divided his time between his shop and his gas station. And among the cobwebs were all the tools a machinist might want, and Tom didn’t know what most them were: a lathe, a milling machine, and a drill press. Behind the shop was an old barn with no livestock in it, but it still smelled of hay, grain, and manure. The barn was no longer used for anything. Out front, actually beside the barn, stood a creaky Improved Clipper Windmill, with a tank full of rainwater. The windmill didn’t work anymore. Thomas Hayes, businessman, machinist, dead then for many years, worked at many trades.

Such was the legacy of Daddy Hayes that his grandson Tom Hayes cherished him It was Thomas Hayes … son of a Confederate who as a boy guarded the railroad during the battle of Shiloh. Thomas or Daddy Hayes remembered listening to his father talk about hearing cannons in the distance.

What happened to this man (Daddy Hayes) who was true and honorable and someone his grandson and namesake admired? There was no question that few people could match his skills and abilities. But he was flawed.

Next day (15 February)

Today is very cold so I’ve borrowed Daddy’s Hayes heavy coat, wool socks, and hat with the fur-covered flaps. I needed fur-covered flaps to keep my ears warm. Yesterday I forgot to mention that I know that I’ve disappointed you, sorry.

It shouldn’t be hard for you to understand why I couldn’t stay in Waco when I heard that Mama Hayes was dying. Mama Hayes told me that she told you not to come yet. With her mind still intact I can see why she was so adamant about it and insisted that she wasn’t dying (she hasn’t changed and in that regard seems as strong as ever). It means my stated reason for coming here doesn’t hold water. It even rings false to me. Father, I’m sure that you’re thankful to have me on the ground here in Gage to assess the situation.

As I’ve written, Mama Hayes has lent me some of granddad’s clothing, which feels good, and I spent some time investigating his machine shop. Dad, I can see where you got your mechanical mind, but you’ve got to understand that I was born for other things.

On this one point, out of necessity, Tom became more and more adamant. He always felt he was a born poet.

A Christian (Mama Hayes) lady, who spent her life helping others and whose four children were respectable too, admitted some things that would interest you. It was about Daddy Hayes’ rebellion, and if it hadn’t been for her he would’ve been totally different. She wore the pants then, and Dad, I can’t believe you didn’t know it. Daddy Hayes may have sat at the head of the table, with Mama Hayes at the other end, and with you, Uncle Henry, Aunt Nancy, Aunt Elizabeth and Aunt Dona in between, but she ruled the roost. She (Mama Hayes) is evidently very ill. However, she’s sitting up and is amazingly robust. I’m amazed at how well she’s dong; and I’ll be happy if at her age I’m doing as well. How old is she anyway?

Next day (16 February)
I was talking to Mama Hayes last night, while we were alone. Mama Hayes really is an astute woman. This morning there was break in the weather, and it actually warmed up, so I walked to town, thinking about what Mama Hayes told me. Daddy Hayes seems to have been a very successful man. Of course I know that it takes people interested in preserving the record for something to be saved. Your affectionate son. Tom

Gage
February 17, 1966
Dear Eddie,
Since I didn’t look you up to say goodbye, I feel that I ought to write to you, though you’re so busy that you probably haven’t missed me. Something came up, and I had to leave Baylor suddenly. I’m only gradually catching up, while I’m afraid that I’m getting behind, so far behind at school again that I might as well give up. You’re perhaps asking yourself what happened. It seems like my grandmother is very ill and may even die, and I wanted to see her before she died. However you mustn’t suppose that that was the main reason I came here. Gage I must tell you is a very small town in an isolated corner of Oklahoma; and it has given me the opportunity to wind down, time which I didn’t have all summer with the circus (I’m writing this in the strictest confidence. I know that I can trust you.) and time I didn’t have all last year at school … time to think and sort things out and to learn that I really was bothered about it and it took reconnecting with my grandmother to find it out. There may not be a paradise on earth, but on the other hand I don’t have to hate the world to write poetry. I can simply write. I don’t know if I’m making sense. I hope you’ll stay in touch with me, regardless where I end up. I’ll continue to write you, unless you tell me not to. This is very important to me, and I’m here expressing my gratitude in advance.

If you have any success, for instance have something published, write to me about it, even though it may make me jealous. The saddest thing would be if you chose not to write me, and yet I know that you have other priorities besides pandering to one of my needs. I bet you wish that you had all the time in the world. Aren’t we complex creatures?

I don’t know if I should apologize to you for being so needy or not, which is something that I don’t like to admit; but the truth is, I don’t have many close friends, and my best friend ever got married and is about to become a father. It’s terrible to think like this and to have to risk having people get the wrong idea. It makes me nervous. We however have to keep our options open, the same as why we keep an eye on the weather. I can’t worry about it now, and if people misunderstand, so be it. I’ve my whole life before me. I can promise you, rain or shine, I’ll continue to write a poem a day. Thanks to you I’ll write a poem a day.

Next night (February 18, 1966)

I’m basically ignorant of my family’s history. All I know about my father’s father is that as a teenager he ran away from home. I’ve often thought of the ramifications of it, without placing myself in his shoes, and that may have changed last night. I’m somewhat better informed now. Mama Hayes gave me some background information about Daddy Hayes. You’d find it interesting, I think; which motivated me to turn to Whitman to get a sense of the war. For Lord’s sake I can’t seem to get away from Walt.

The poem THE WOUND-DRESSER from the “Death-bed Edition” of LEAVES OF GRASS
An old man bending I come among new faces,
Years looking backward resuming in answer to children,
Come tell us old man, as from young men and maidens that
love me.
(Arous’d and angry, I’d thought to beat the alarum, and urge
relentless war,
But soon my fingers fail’d me, my face dropp’d and I resign’d
myself,
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead;)- Walt Whitman

When you pick up LEAVES OF GRASS again, you can find this poem and read the rest of it.

I feel like taking on the world today, hopping a train and following in Daddy Hayes’ footsteps. Should I tell anyone? No, they’d just try to stop me. Tell me, what would you do?

The urge is less when I think about how cold it is, but I can’t always restrain myself. I strangely wonder what Bobby is up to tonight. Is he warm as toast in bed with his wife and with me alone up here in a second-story room at my grandmother’s house with the wind banging around outside? A little while ago I heard a train come through Gage.

“How are you, son? I’m glad to see you.” In that simple way Uncle Henry greeted him. “You haven’t changed a bit.” Tom knew that wasn’t true because he hadn’t seen his uncle in a number of years. “You remind me so much of your father.”

“Thank you for picking me up in Shattuck.”

“It wasn’t a big deal. I still go to Shattuck now and then. The hospital is there, and of course that almost guarantees a trip from time to time. “

“I didn’t know but that you had other ties…”

“Of course! Of course!” replied Uncle Henry, and with the same breath he said “other ties.” That was all Uncle Henry said on the trip over to Gage. He was a man of few words. As for the rest of the trip, Uncle Henry spent time spouting off names of people that he knew in Gage and Shattuck. He lived around there most of his life so he knew almost everyone. Though many of them were dead, he still proceeded to talk about them. Then he said, “Well, son! I’m going to miss your grandmother.”

The same thing was true for Tom. He’d miss Mama Hayes, the stern/warm face, the long hugs, the give-away kindness of hers.

February 19, 1966
Gage
Dear Eddie,
I stood a long while warming myself in front of the huge cast-iron stove in my grandmother’s living room letting my socks and shoes dry out. I’ve gotten around, but I haven’t found what I came here for. I’ve tried to piece it together, but I haven’t gotten very far. I don’t understand it.

In Gage, besides evidence of Daddy Hayes’ machine shop and gas station and the combined hardware store, pool hall and ice cream parlor which were located south of the tracks, there’s the icehouse where he worked for Armor as chief engineer. The evidence of Daddy Hayes’ successes is still here in Gage, starting with this house, where I plan to spend the rest of the day. It is pleasant, filled with antique furniture much of which Mama Hayes has had since her wedding day.

Mama Hayes’ condition disconcerts me; it’s like WAITING FOR GODOT; it’s better to put it all out of my head. Moron! Think I’ll ever learn? Rebellion certainly is not the sum total of my existence, but I think it’s essential.

February 20
Today there was a harsh change for the worse in Mama Hayes, and for a while I took refuge up in my room. My Oklahoma cousins and aunts and uncles have started arriving, and my parents are expected here tomorrow. This development wasn’t unexpected, though I must say it does seem sudden. Coming on the heels of almost a week of peace, I’m not looking forward to seeing my parents and however their coming affects me. As my grandmother’s death approaches there is something very strange about it.

February 21
I had to get away; and yet I don’t know what to do with myself. Along with the suspense as to how things stand with my parents I’m faced with a dying grandmother. So far she has died three times … and each time we think this time is it … for two days now; but today I’ve decided not to go into her room until she’s really dead. I’ve been exploring Daddy Hayes’ machine shop while I wait. I don’t even know how to turn the machines on; but I can imagine how they work. At least there’s nothing wrong with my imagination, and if I had to maybe I could learn to work with my hands … maybe. Who knows? And become an engineer after all. I walked to town again; in such a rage with everything I saw, that I felt incline to never return; and only did because of my grandmother. I should give way altogether, and cry, or throw a fit, or something. I went by the icehouse, climb up onto the loading dock, but it was abandoned. I thought of Daddy Hayes getting his start there. I don’t think there’s anything that could help me out; and I didn’t want to go back to the house for dinner and face all of those relatives. There’s a table full of food, casseroles and cakes and pies from church friends on the worst day I’ve had since I left Waco. I’m sad now because I won’t have a reason for coming back here.

I’ve felt lonely because I haven’t had anyone that I can really talk to, but generally happy to be away from school. I’m no longer afraid for Mama Hayes. I’ve seen how she’s facing her own death, and she seems happy about it. I don’t know if you’ve ever faced death, or that what I discovered would be true for you, and that you’d find that facing death actually could give a boost to life. So I’m not asking for your sympathy, as you may have expected. You know me. Whatever happens I know I’ll have you as a friend.

Remember engineering requires the best of a man and the best education. Writing poetry doesn’t require an education, just inspiration. I remember my dad asking me, “have you considered becoming an engineer, son?”

“Oh, no, I don’t know what I want to be, but I see how important engineers are.

“Ah yes, important. It has been said that civilization can be measured by its transportation system, how it was conceived, designed, and built. And who’s responsible for it? Why civil engineers! Don’t forget it!” he cried. “Do you know there is hardly any business or profession that doesn’t require transportation? Why, boy, yes! Note that when our train system or our highways, or our airports weren’t as developed as they are today, we had to rely on mules and wagons to transport goods. So there is no greater profession than engineering. Mark how it’s the driving force behind our nation. You see I’ve always looked up to engineers. It’s not bookkeepers, bankers, lawyers, or surgeons who’s the guiding power behind our country; it’s engineers.”

February 22
It has been a long day for all concerned, when crying in my own way became acceptable. Nevertheless my getting through today with my parents around seems to show that there won’t be a major explosion. Oh, I do hope there won’t be one. I’m so glad that Mama Hayes is not suffering, so glad and yet so sad that she’s still hanging on. It could happen at any time.

February 23
I’m rejuvenated and walked to town again, which probably you’ve gathered isn’t very far. As a natural procrastinator I’m happy my parents are distracted; my instincts tell me that it won’t be for long. You see I’m aware of the inevitable. It was good of you to wire me, though it alarmed everyone; please remember that in the future (I don’t mean I wasn’t appreciative, you know what I mean.), but to hear from you meant so much to me. You can imagine how surprised I was. God knows, it surprised everyone here, if not everyone in the whole town. You must excuse me if I can’t equal it … what’s the point of me sending you a telegram now? Believe me now when I tell you that I’ve learned something. I’ve been given the benefit of a week to figure it out, but don’t let it spoil your life for you. Being a detective isn’t much fun unless you discover something, you see; and I’m not sure that I’m ready for what I found. It’s better to find out now than later on, I suppose. But I haven’t changed my mind about what I want to be when I grow up. I might not amount to much; I know the odds are against me, but I can only be who I am. Therefore don’t let what I’ve learned affect you. I’ve learned … learned that it’s not always possible to gage someone’s success by what they left behind. I also learned that recognition doesn’t guarantee anything. So don’t let me get in your way! Why everywhere I look I can see why my Daddy Hayes was so admired, and I see in his lifetime that he virturally owned the town.

Now that I’ve made your day, mind you, I must say that I’m not totally discouraged; I’m better informed, that’s all. I walked to town and enjoyed a break, and prepared myself to be ready to not be concerned with anyone who dares to debunk the idea of me becoming a poet. However, I’ve decided to tell them that I’ve been thinking about changing my major to journalism, which is a lie, as you very well know. I would never want to steal your thunder. I’m a poet; and I’m fit for nothing else. By repeating I’m a poet over and over again, I’ve cleared the air, and with that sense of freedom, I’ve got my whole life before me. I suppose I’m ready for my parents, and I know that they won’t be content until they’ve discouraged me.

To walk through Gage now and to be conscious of nothing but with who (or is it whom) I am, and with the sun shining today it’s not as unpleasant as it was yesterday. Rejoice!
Chapter Ten
February 24
To know where I’ve been today. I’m sure that this is what grieving is about, this carelessness, this listlessness, this teapot that’s about to boil over. I’ve never grieved like this before. I didn’t grieve for Daddy Hayes like this. Perhaps I was too young to grieve then. I know it’s inevitable now, but I haven’t accepted it yet. Let go Mama Hayes! Let go!

Today has been nice outside; and I’ve avoided my room, which I now share, and walked through grassy fields by myself hoping to scare up a covey of quail. Quail in the bush, through snow but without Daddy Hayes’ 12-gage shotgun. Let’s hope that it’ll be over by tomorrow.

February 25
My dear friend, there was a sense of finality about today. I wish I could say goodbye in person, though it looks now like it won’t be possible. And my grandmother finally passed on this morning, which means there’s both relief and sorrow around here, and a chapter of my life has ended.

I’ve thought a great deal about my future as you can imagine, and the most important thing (and the only thing I think that matters) is for me to remember that I have to be true to myself, and one thing is for certain: I don’t want to return to Baylor. I can live on nothing and give everything I have away. I can do it. I know I can do it.

So please clean out my dorm room and keep what you want and give the rest away. I’ll write the university, giving permission you’ll need. I’ll also write my roommate, giving him heads up. That is the one thoroughly distasteful thing I face, but I’ll face it! It has always been hard for me to buck the current. I usually prefer to wait until I’m knocked down but not this time.

Funeral arrangements for my grandmother haven’t been made yet, so I have a few days before I have to tell anyone here.

You know that I’d like to hear from you now and then, to hear how you’re progressing, but don’t neglect your work. Be very careful not to rob yourself of what is uniquely you. O God, now I’m beginning to hate how I sound. I hope that I haven’t scared you off, or made you think that I’m a quitter. Turn to Whitman’s INSCRIPTIONS ONE’S-SELF I SING. He sings from ‘top to toe’ and ‘utters the word Democratic,’ and let it rejuvenate your day. Remember I come from an uptight family, members who always are critical of someone who doesn’t act or think in a certain way. So I’m looking to you for a little encouragement.

My friend, goodbye. Take care, and don’t necessarily follow my example. I don’t know when we’ll see each other again, if ever. Yours always, Shake Spear

February 26, 1966
Gage, Oklahoma
Dear Mr. Watson,
At last I have something to write to you about. I’ve thought about writing to you before, but I’ve waited until I knew for sure what I was going to do. I must say straight out that I know that you’ll be disappointed with me though perhaps I’ve over estimated your interest. As I thought in silence about what I was going to do with the rest of my life, knowing that the decisions I make now were critical, I have worn out a pair of shoes. (I walk when I think.) Therefore don’t let anyone tell you that my decision was a hasty one. I’ve always been thankful for your encouragement. It’s thanks to you that I’m a poet today.

It seems like my friend Eddie is heading for a distinguished career as a journalist. You won’t find many at Baylor who’d dispute this prediction: he is currently editor of the newspaper there. He’s distinguished himself by satirical attacking the school administration. You and he (ditto) have had a great influence on me, while I’ve been trying to find out who I am. Remember I still live in hope of becoming immortal and would like to develop a menacing bite like Eddie. I do so much want someone to tell me that I can’t! I need it. I need criticism. As you know LEAVES OF GRASS inspires me, and why wouldn’t it, damn?

Not that it matters what anyone thinks. I don’t care. I know that my parents will be sick. Of course, you must keep our correspondence secret, but I do pretend that I’ll somehow get the full endorsement of my parents, or at best they won’t give me any guff about dropping out of Baylor. Yes, I’ve decided that Baylor isn’t doing me any good. Surprise? Then would anything I do surprise you? I doubt it. So be it.

Yes, I am as unpredictable as ever. I am even more unpredictable now. I don’t claim to know what I am doing. I don’t know what I’m going to do or where I’m going. As a rebel, and someone who was born in chains, I’ve broken free. There are those who’d say that I’m suffering from subterfuge wherein I only imagined that I was oppressed and that I’m a bit of a crybaby, if that’s so you’ve probably noticed. Now everything is up in the air, and I want to keep it that way for as long as possible. I’m serious. Indeed I plan to take out of here as soon as we bury my grandmother. ‘With varying fortune, with flight, advance and retreat, victory derr’d and wavering.’ Where would I be without my Whitman? True to my word I keep him close to me.

Oh, I’m certain or as certain as I can be that in my lifetime I won’t win a grand prize. Yet I’m satisfied. As you may have heard, I’m a published poet. The poem that won is called “The Rock Squash.” Now what is a rock squash? You’d be proud of me. I’m giving away all of my possessions except my poetry, which I write and keep in ledger books. (One problem: sometimes I can’t read my own writing.) Lord knows I couldn’t make all this up. And I’m not looking forward to quarreling with my parents. Hopefully I can avoid an explosion. I don’t think they’ll ever understand me.

Go, as the wind blows. Is that your question? Where? Well, it depends, depends on the wind and the ship I take. Are the winds whistling and the waves large and imperious? Hell, I don’t care. You poor devil … no, wait! Mr. Watson, once you were a sailor, and I should rather fancy that you’ve experienced many storms. Yes, when waves could’ve capsized your boat, but you weren’t capsized. Oh, no! So we can commiserate with each other.

Gage must be one of the coldest places on earth, and if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that I have to invest in a heavier coat.

An arctic blast came sweeping down from the north and right down Main. But in spite of it they planned to hold Mama Hayes’ graveside service anyway, and the family waited for everyone to arrive at the grand ol’ house south of the tracks. Most of the Oklahoma aunts, uncles, and cousins came in from the City and would drive back in caravan after the services. No one was looking forward to going to the cemetery in that cold and everyone hoped that it would warn up by then. And as Tom greeted each one of them, and helped with their luggage, he put off revealing his plans. He still didn’t know where he was going.

Now his parents and sister arrived first. They drove the farthest, having driven from Texas and driven all night. Tom therefore had to face them before the others arrived, his worse nightmare, though the greeting wasn’t bad.

“Why? No, we’ll deal with it later” was all his father said.

“How are you holding up, son?” his mother asked before giving him a big hug. “I know it’s hard on you.” She cried, as she held him. “Glad you made it safely.”

Still shaky, Tom reached over and tried to help his father with their bags. The inevitable argument was somehow avoided and almost immediately Tom felt better and the four of them walked into the house together and his mothers started off by saying:

“As you know your father is a good driver, so I let him drive, but I stayed awake the whole time to make sure he didn’t fall asleep.” His sister said she slept the whole way.

“Aunt Nancy and Uncle Henry are here!” Tom said as they reached the door. “I’ve been helping out as much as I can.”

Aunt Nancy and Uncle Henry were both waiting for them with brave smiles. They lived a few miles away, and since Tom’s arrival they had been in and out the house checking on Mama Hayes and saw her lack of progress. And with her death they became even more involved. With neighbors dropping by, the wake had begun, and they had taken charge of greeting everyone and made sure everything got done. As the house filled, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Henry greeted everyone with brave smiles and with varying degrees of affection and obviously knew what to do.
“Hello Nancy!” Tom’s dad said sadly yet excitedly. “She was a brave woman, wasn’t she?”

Aunt Nancy insisted on a hug, and he planted a kiss on her cheek. Uncle Henry waited his turn.

“Well, well, well!” Aunt Nancy continued with the lead. “I wish this was just another Christmas.”

They then spoke about Mama Hayes and about the funeral and about how cold it was going to be. Then with this formality over, Tom took his parents’ things up to the bedroom that he had agreed to turn over to them. (He would bunk at Uncle Henry’s and Aunt Nancy’s home.) The exercise help relieve some of the tension that for days had been building inside of him.

William Allen Watson (born 1932), son of a Texas butcher, graduated from Howard Payne College in 1950.

February 27
Here are my thoughts today. It’d be impossible for you to know them. The funeral isn’t for a couple of days, and during that time I shall try to divine a direction to go.

From here nothing appears certain, and I know that I’ve said that that is the way I like it. Not knowing allows my whole being to come into play. It has sharpened my perception and has allowed me to become acquainted with the faint creaking of the floors in Uncle Henry and Aunt Nancy’s house. I also was hoping to get better acquainted with my Oklahoma cousins, all three who have gone rabbit hunting with Uncle Henry. They asked me if I wanted to go, but I begged off expecting them to argue with me. I thought they’d try to drag me out the door, or not go because of me since we only have a limited amount of time together. Having previously gone hunting with them they know that I’m not much of a hunter. Also given that they live in the same city and near each other and have the opportunity to frequently see each other, I thought they’d want to spend as much time as possible with me and ask me what I want to do. But they didn’t. They only brought out shotguns and took off through the snow. Yes, I’ve hunted with them; and Uncle Henry even promised to give me a twenty-two when I turned twelve. O Lord! How I haven’t let go of that. How I haven’t forgiven my uncle. You see he never gave me a rifle. Had he remembered maybe I would’ve learned to aim.

So I’m left with asking who’s at fault. And my cousins don’t know much about me, nor do I think they care. And I don’t know much about them. Do I care? And that has led to some resentment, you bet. Well, well, I might as well be honest; and verily, I say unto you … I’m resentful. Am I very resentful? Tell me what will they do with the poor rabbits after they shoot them? Eat them? I rather doubt it. I say I doubt it because I don’t see them skinning them.

Anyway I stayed here and stayed away from a crowd over at Mama Hayes’s house. That’s being true to myself, isn’t it? It’s a start anyway. I didn’t go hunting, though I enjoyed trekking through the fields earlier in the week. I enjoy walking. Oh Lord, it’s funny. I know I would’ve enjoyed the outing. And the boundless vistas or if not the mystery of what’s beyond the next hill. If I’d gone I then could’ve skated across Wolf Creek in my shoes. It’s cold enough.

I hope I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Going hunting with my Oklahoma cousins would’ve brought us closer together; but as I inferred, I don’t like to hunt.

I know Wolf Creek is frozen solid. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know how to ice skate. You see I’m rather on the spot because I complain about the cold so much. It’s better to be a wuss and fuss than freeze my toes off, isn’t it? But if I’m going to fulfill my destiny, I know I’m going to have to get used to cold and also to hot. Cold or hot, chose your poison. I don’t know if I prefer the extreme heat or the extreme cold, but I should think that one could get used to almost anything. And then consider it a test.

My Oklahoma cousins and I are sharing a room. They have their things put away in a closet, and I have my clothes thrown all over the floor. They’re successful with good jobs, or they’re studying at OU. Yes, marginally successful; they’re about my age so they haven’t had a chance to advance very far. They have parents who are proud of them and who brag about them all the time. They all are encouraged, these boys, and spoiled, and were given allowances for making good grades. I hear them talking, and what I hear them talk about is themselves. They tell how they’ve won this and that; and their parents repeat it whenever they can; and then they go away, and I don’t see them until next Christmas. Whereas my parents never talk about me, thank goodness. Maybe they just don’t consider what I do worth talking about. I’d rather be somewhere else, if it weren’t for my grandmother. Speaking of her, I won’t have a reason for coming back here once she’s buried.

Dear man, you must get tired of reading all of my complaints: rants of a crybaby, and I wish I could forget it. I should be proud of what I’ve written, though I’ve barely started. If I could but see the surprise on my cousins’ faces when they learn that I’m a published poet, though I’m not going to tell them. And I’m sure my parents won’t bring it up either. Hem!

At some point I’ll send you copies of my poems so that you can see in them what you want. Does this sound familiar? It should. Whitman again.

As you can see I want to be another Whitman. Mr. Watson, I may be a fool to drop out of college, but I doubt that I’ll be worse off because of it. Remember you told our class more than once that there were two kinds of people. I forget the exact quote. Seriously, if I could stand two and half more years at Baylor, I’d graduate, but I don’t think I need a diploma. I don’t need a diploma.

As you know I have friends at Baylor and that in itself is a good thing, though if I stayed I’m afraid I’d become overly dependent on them.

The funeral is set for Saturday, and Sunday will be a travel day, so that those who have to be to work on Monday can get there on time. And Sunday will be launch day for me. Let it be known that I’ve come to this decision on my own, and I won’t let anyone change my mind. There are few things, however, that I know I have to accomplish before I leave, for I’m taking off by myself. The more that I think about it the more excited I get, and I’ve become more certain and excited all over again. If I can get out of here alive, by God, I’ll be home free. There has to be something out there that is far greater than what I have experienced so far in life. I just can’t be afraid of being different. .

Tom

Gage, when I think of you let me not forget memories I have of you, I, inhabitant of the world. Are you surprised that I didn’t say inhabitant of Texas?

They talked about Mama Hayes and about her funeral, which was held at the Christian Church a block north and two blocks west of Main Street. Then, they ate. It seemed like they spent most of their time eating.

Tom met both his parents with a frown on his face, and his mother tried to smooth out the wrinkles on his forehead with her fingers. The cause for his frowning? A war within him that was really being fought without words, a sad, strange war … okay, but death of a love one should’ve brought about a truce. To thee old cause- Whitman. Guilt, contempt exposed! No! Far, far more lay hidden behind a mask. Tom refused to look at his parents directly, and they kept track of him indirectly.

He now longed for Bobby, to whom he’d been devoted. Love had unwittingly come, when he was taught that he should save himself for a woman. Love! He loved Bobby. Children weren’t suppose to know pleasure and sense of that kind of love, the ever changing, enhancing love that was suppose to have been reserved for marriage. It had been brief and friendly, until Tom began to feel guilty about it. It was puzzling, simple touching. Oh, urges, uncontrollable urges, old, old urges. What was he going to do about it? What was he going to do about urges? Tom told Eddie, “To begin with, we were very young.” Now it didn’t matter: Bobby was married and had a kid and Tom was feeling anxious.

While they talked about Mama Hayes and about the funeral, Tom knew that it had come down to all or nothing. Tom had to make a complete break. Tom had to make a complete break from his family. Tom had to make a break from anything he had ever known. Tom saw it, and still frowning, instead of feeling liberated he felt very sad.

“Now she’s with dad!” Tom’s dad George finally said. “At this very hour and forever … that was what she said she was waiting for!”

“What?” said Tom.

“Why, I’ll bet they’re looking down on us right now, after a joyful reunion and dad asking her, ‘what took you so long?’ Dad, Aunt Patsy, Uncle Karl, Uncle Lewis Bone and Granddad Miller … they’re all up there gloating,” he said. “Yes, they were all waiting for Mama. Then it became her turn. And she knew for sure where she was going. She always told us that, and now they’re drawing lots to see who’ll go next.” And Tom’s dad managed to laugh over having said it.

“George!” Tom’s mother interjected. “It’s no laughing matter.”

Then Tom came to the defense of his dad with “It doesn’t matter, mom. Mama Hayes would approve. She’d say we’ve been too serious.”

“Goodness gracious, Tom,” his mother cried. “What’s wrong with you?”

“My guess is that you haven’t heard that Albert just landed a job with T.G.&Y as head of the accounting department. He wouldn’t tell you, but he was hired over hundreds of applicants.” There was pride in her voice, as Albert’s mother talked about her son and continued. “And he had other offers … too many to mention.”

To his credit Albert looked somewhat uncomfortable, but by then he should’ve been used to his mother’s bragging.

Tom couldn’t keep from laughing again and said, “He’ll go far. Not to mention have a nice family.”

“I’m just lucky.” Albert protested. They all grinned, though obviously not for the same reasons. “If I could only add. I don’t know what I’d do without my trusty adding machine. Now David on the other hand is really heading somewhere. Tell them the news, David.”

“Why to be honest,” David answered, showing a modest streak. “I hold no degrees yet, but that’s all right now. I’m having a good time at OU, but of course that’s not the best policy. Okay, I’ve been accepted into law school, “ said David seriously. “I’ve always wanted to go to Yale, and…”

That was when David’s mother chimed in with, “And he’s going; even if we have to work ourselves to the bone, he’s going. Suppose we didn’t help him. Then how would we feel?”

This was how the afternoon went. Tom bore it the best he could, knowing that he wouldn’t have to for long.

February 28, 1966
Gage
Dear Sport (Eddie),
I’m surviving, sitting outside in a patch of sunlight and having to move as the earth moves. I trust I have my science right, which brings to mind all of my weaknesses. Appropriately my dad showed me an old Model T that he rebuilt as a boy, an indication that he expects great things from me, though he knows that I can’t fix anything, while he’s the exact opposite and can fix anything. I have to be honest here. Seeing the restored Model T made me quite angry, and I got all tense and upset like I do whenever I pick up a wrench. There lies a problem…I keep trying. This has not been my afternoon; I’ve had nothing but grief and lots of it. I should be thankful, yes thankful, that my dad didn’t bring up the subject (a problem as far as I was concern) of my riding back to Dallas with them. I’m assuming that my parents think that they have made this decision for me and that I’m going back to Baylor. They always have been pleased that I went to Baylor, and my going there must’ve set their minds at ease, if you know what I mean. I feel like I’m going to destroy their lives as soon as they learn of my decision, but one would only hope that they would learn their lesson. Do you remember me talking about how free I felt last summer when I worked for the circus? Thinking of it fills me with tremendous joy. It gave me a chance to be myself without being afraid of getting caught. God forbid, the people around me then didn’t care what I did, and as far as they were concern God didn’t care either. So I’m sitting here in the sunlight thinking about it, and soon I shall be a wayfarer and starting over when I’m young enough to have a good go at it. Talking about a good start, last night Uncle Henry gave me Daddy Hayes’ heavy parka, an idea that he came up with on his own and something I think was inspirational. Since no letter has come from you I’m beginning to wonder what you think about what I’m about to do, not that I’m seeking your approval. Would you discourage me? Am I making the right decision or not? Be honest.

Wearing Daddy Hayes’ coat makes it easier for me. Today I’ve spent most the day outdoors kicking up the last of the snow and my cousins have gone off somewhere without me again. Quite frankly I don’t give a damn. No, perhaps I do, if I were honest. You know we’re not children anymore, and I could’ve said something. I’m almost twenty; and before long I’ll be able to go anywhere and buy beer, except here in Oklahoma beer tastes like Kool-Aid, or so I’m told because how would I know? Not me said the goody-good boy.

Midnight
I’ve been thinking, and that’s dangerous … since I can’t sleep, I’ll continue where I left off.

Obviously I want and need a change. I’m not quite old enough yet to walk into any place and buy beer, yet I’m old enough to die for my country. I’m an American, and am expected to serve except this leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

One or two of Tom’s high school classmates already were serving in Vietnam. Nothing greater could’ve been asked of them, and up until then there hadn’t been much of a reaction about them fighting over there. That would come later. Rolling Thunder bombing operations had just been resumed, and President Johnson would soon announce that the 205,000 troops over there would be gradually increased.

I did enjoy Uncle Henry’s tour of Gage, but I enjoyed more his stories about my dad. So you see how conflicted I am.

Uncle Henry and I get along very well. I’m glad he’s taken an interest in me, but I’ll leave soon and I’ll be on my own.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone here except Uncle Henry who is really interested in me, though I shouldn’t expect to be the center of attention at a time like this. Uncle Henry told me some good stories about my dad, who wasn’t (as you might imagine) a perfect kid. He told me things that my dad did that I never did. “What were they?” you ask. He tipped over a few outhouses. I’m not kidding. Another story about stink bombs would amuse you, but they’re not very funny. Uncle Henry tells me that my dad used to race up and down Main Street here in Gage in his old Model T. The town’s night watchman would be on the lookout for him … everyone in town knew the Hayes and did business with them … so Uncle Henry says my dad couldn’t get away with anything.

It’s hard to imagine any of this, just as hard as imagining how long everlasting is, if you try to break it down. I do much better experiencing the concrete, such as looking at mountains, feeling soil, picking up rocks, and hugging trees. I haven’t written my poem for today, and what my friend are you going to do about it? Got ya with that one. With me here I’m afraid that there’s not much you can do about it, is there? I’m afraid that from now on I’m going to have to discipline myself.

Then what happens when the rivers run empty? You must be alert for that. I want to know how your writing is going.

How strange it seems that I’m not going back to Baylor. I’d certainly go see you if I got the chance, or sponge off you for a while, and I know I may have to compromise to support myself. We all have to eat. And beside, old man, I can’t expect to be a success over night; but who knows, maybe I will be one someday.

Uncle Henry thinks rather well of my father and why shouldn’t he since my father is stable and fixes cars for a living, so that’s some consolation.

Please address your next letter to me c/o General Delivery Amarillo Texas. Shakes Spear

The Christian Church where Mama Hayes’ funeral was held that afternoon hadn’t changed in many years. The frame structure still stood where it always stood two blocks west of Main. Yet, like Gage, it seemed then smaller to Tom than he remembered it. Now cars lined the street and most of the people had already arrived, having come to town earlier in the day to do Saturday shopping. Many of them stood in front of the church waiting their turns to greet the family who stood in a line just inside the vestibule.
Tom didn’t know most of them; and he didn’t remember the names of those he recognized, but as a member of the Hayes clan, he felt obligated to shake everyone’s hand.

On this cold wintry afternoon they all came to moan the loss of someone who lived a good long life and whose life mirrored the rise and decline of the town. She now lay in a fine coffin down front near the altar. And instinctively, as Tom entered, he knew she’d gone to a better place and in death had won a victory, or that was what he wanted to believe. Yes, she had gone to a better place. Tom knew she went to a better place. Her very songs, the hymns she loved, said as much. Tom now felt he was not unlike “a perennial tree (pulled) out of its roots.”- Whitman. “Resist much, obey little.” Whitman again. Had LEAVES OF GRASS had become his bible?

The minister didn’t help. The last thing Tom needed was a sermon. “Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2.” He went on to talked about how “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God” and equated it to how Mama Hayes planted many trees in Gage. Then Sister Amelia Hayes should be remembered as a sower. This Tom took to heart, but the minister left him cold. And throughout the service Tom kept his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the floor, and became more confused. “Remember, fear not, be candid, promulge the body and the soul, dwell a while and pass on.”- Yes, Whitman.

As the afternoon wore on and the service ended, a procession of cars formed for a slow, short ride to the cemetery. With great relief, Tom escaped the church and the pressure he felt while sitting in it. He rode with his parents and sister so as not to hurt their feelings.

“Why, hello stranger,” his mother said to Tom as he sat down behind her. “We’re planning to get an early start tomorrow. Be sure to set your alarm for five and be ready by six. We can stop for breakfast along the way. I’m glad you didn’t sleep through the service. Wasn’t it beautiful? I wish that we’d recorded it.”

Then as the procession turned a corner and slowly crossed the highway at the edge of town, she turned her head and lit into Tom. Her words pierced him. As she spoke, she shook her head, and her timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate.

“You have to know, don’t you?” she said, adding more tears to a tearful afternoon. “You know what you’ve done to your dad and me, don’t you? How you made us worry, how we’ve worried not knowing whether you were dead or live,” she cried, breaking down even more. “Isn’t that true, George? The nights we haven’t been able to sleep. Why didn’t you phone or something? We wouldn’t have known where you were, if it hadn’t been for your Uncle Henry!” His dad remained silently impassive, and as the procession passed the airport and weather station his mother continued: “At least all last summer we knew what you were doing! Your dad has had to work overtime because you insisted on going to Baylor, and you’ve ditched class, and I don’t know what else. We had people looking all over for you, and if your Uncle Henry hadn’t called … And it seemed to Tom like she droned on forever.

Turning into the cemetery, the line of cars passed through an arched gateway and followed a dirt road to a fork. From there they walked to the Hayes burial plot and a freshly dug grave. But by then Tom wasn’t paying attention and instead was thinking about what he was going to do next. The rest of the afternoon became a blur for him.

March 1, 1966
Gage
Dear Mom and Dad,
I couldn’t say what I wanted to say because of the funeral, so instead of going to sleep I’ll try now so that you can’t say that I simply ran off. The situation in which I find myself is intolerable. You say that I’m an adult, which should entitle me to freedom, yet when I’m around you two I feel like a child. But the scary part is that I could happily remain one … remain a child the rest of my life, and it would be fine with me if I could. ‘When I’m grown’…how many times have I said ‘when I grow up’ I’m going to do such and such. Then I guess it’s time for me to stop thinking of hotrods and babes and dolls and start thinking about how I want to live my life. It may have looked like I made this transition long ago, but I clearly hadn’t.

Hm! Hm! Hm! Too bad, too bad, too bad. I’ve decided I’m not made out to be an engineer. This shouldn’t be a surprise to either one of you.

It’s taken me some time to realize that I can live on my own and then give myself permission to make my own decisions. Mama, how many more years would it have taken me had you not hammered me today on the way to the cemetery? Today something happened that would’ve been incomprehensible before now; before now I wouldn’t have been able to write this letter, and after today I sense that there’s no turning back.

I’ve just decided to wait for you in the morning and personally hand you this letter.

Yesterday, I couldn’t have made this decision and was going to take off in the middle of the night without telling anyone. In that way I hoped that I could’ve avoided a confrontation; I started this letter with that intention and was going to leave it with Uncle Henry and let him give it to you. I’ve argued with myself over this. I’ve told myself that I had to be strong, of course, and didn’t intend to sleep at all. Now I think I’ll get some sleep and set the alarm so that like I said I can personally hand you this letter. I don’t want to talk, at least not about my decision, or any part of the old worn-out script, so I’ll walk out at the first sign of any unpleasantness. Mother it is not that I don’t appreciate your outspokenness. It’s your anger and scorn that I have a problem with. Right now I’m very fragile and ask for your gentleness and sympathy, which I think should be a prerequisite for a mother. Pardon the lecture, but I feel I need to be frank.

My stay here in Gage has been good for me. It was good to have a place where I could land for awhile without feeling pressure of school. It has given me time to think, and surprisingly I’ve come to the same conclusions. Let me say my dream hasn’t changed. However I was almost thrown off and hadn’t realized how much I was struggling with it. Then Mama’s Hayes’ severe illness gave me the excuse that I needed. Up until then the only incentive that I had came from other people. I was desperately trying to conform and was almost ready to take up engineering. I thought maybe I’d change my major at the end of the semester and do my best in a field that I knew in my heart wouldn’t make me happy. I would try to fool myself, but I came to Gage not totally convince. I think I could make the grade as an engineer; and ever now and again write some poetry. But just when I was about to come to that decision, Mama Hayes died and you two arrived on the scene.

I however have to live with myself; and I’ve always been taught by you two, that if I work hard enough that I could become, do, be anything I wanted to be, do, and become. I refuse to think differently. Someday hopefully we’ll be able to sit down for a long talk. I have a great deal to talk to you two about, but it’s not a good time now. At a certain point we’ll have to do it, but I can’t chance it now.

9:30 p.m.
It’s been a long day: however not an uneventful one. I’m glad I’m here and where I’ve been able to go.

It hasn’t been an easy journey. I don’t want you to think that I’m rejecting everything, both in how I was raised or what has been passed down to me. I also don’t want you think that I’m unappreciative. The university hasn’t been a waste and has nothing to do with why I am leaving. I’m not angry, scornful, nor does my detachment have anything to do with my aversion to school, any more than it does with you. I realize that you’re disappointed and that I can’t do anything about it: you are you and I am me. I can’t wait to get on the road tomorrow. Uncle Henry gave me Daddy Hayes’ parka, so I don’t think I’ll freeze. (The coldest weather in Oklahoma is often observed at and reported from Gage.)

What you should tell my old friends if they should ask about me! Tell them that Tom doesn’t know what he’s doing. Tell the truth about how you feel. Tell it how you see it. Make up something if you feel like you need to. The truth is that I’m not sure where I’m headed, but I’m quite pleased with my options. I’m free, that’s all. Freedom! I confess that I’m not quite sure what freedom means yet. I’ve never felt this good before, but it’s been hard. I don’t want to disappoint you or anyone else, so it’s hard when I know it’s inevitable that I’ll disappoint you. And of course I’m afraid, afraid of failure and the unknown. However, I’m confident that I can take care of myself.

Without a direction, I’m not going to follow the wind, though that’s an idea. With Mama Hayes now gone, I have less of a reason for coming back here. Maybe it’s a good thing.

March 2
4:00 a.m.

Today is the big day, and I haven’t been able to sleep. It’s not a good way to start, though I hadn’t planned to go very far today.

Does this mean that I’m having second thoughts, or am I simply afraid? I’m sure that you’d tell me to rely on my inner voice, and I do. But this struggle is disheartening. I wish that this day was over and that I didn’t have to face you.

I hear someone stirring, which I suppose is normal for this house. This certainly isn’t normal for me.

I must be brave; as indeed I know I can be. I wouldn’t want to have to immediately prove to you that I’m worthy of your confidence. Or as my beloved Whitman wrote: “Thither we also, I with my leaves and songs, trustful, admirant, as a father to his father going takes his children along with him.” And I know that a child can be a curse to a mother’s existence, as he or she repays her with disobedience and drives her into hysterics. No wonder you’re angry. You have plenty to be angry about. And today is the day the day of all days. And I hope maybe that you’ll understand. I love you both. Tom
Chapter Eleven
“It’s hard to believe that it’s taken me this long and that I don’t know how to say what I mean without hurting your feelings. No misfortune can make me turn back. Regardless of what happens to me I won’t go running home to mama; all I have to do is stand tall and it won’t be necessary.” Tom stopped with that. He wanted to write, “I can’t look back.”

It was windy outside, just as windy as he’d often been.

I can’t seem to stop. I keep trying to figure this out, as I go blindly forward.

6:15 a.m.
Aunt Nancy knocked on his door to see if he needed anything. Tom told her then that he wouldn’t be going with his family. She didn’t question Tom about it, which seemed odd to him. Uncle Henry told him that he’d give him a ride as far as Shattuck if he wanted one. Tom declined the offer, so he walked to the edge of town. He decided to start out hiking after confronting his family. He could’ve headed south in the direction of Arnett, where his grandparents obtained their marriage license.

This to Tom seemed like a good starting point. It seemed like he had his whole life ahead him. His whole life … it seemed like long enough to accomplish something, and he was glad he made the decision he had, one of many that he knew he’d have to make. And his parents accepted it better than he expected. Straight ahead an open field, south to Arnett and east back to Gage and ahead the highway to Shattuck. Arnett, Gage, and Shattuck …

May 21, 1966
Amarillo
Dear Sport,
A letter from you finally arrived today. I should have it framed. I’ve been trying to find my muse, and my co-workers are very amused. It doesn’t do any good to explain. I’m still the butt of jokes, by the way. I regretfully have to spend all day with them. I don’t have a choice. I have to work. They’re awfully stupid … men I work with. According to them, I survive off of sprouts and nuts. They call me fruity, but I’ve been called worse things.

I found a job at the Acme Block Company. I think Acme Block Company is the gold standard for cinder blocks. At least dotes in the front office act like they are. They know I am not going to stay. They think I’m too educated. I’m the company fool, the over-educated fool. I try to ignore it. I’ve been on the yard for two months now. I’ve learned to work. I’ve learned to work with my muscles. It took a while. Ten to go. On my first day here I told my boss that I only wanted to work for a year, and that was a big mistake because now I’m stuck on the yard.

This then is the life. After what I’ve had to endure I feel like telling them to kiss my ass, but I hold my tongue. I should charge them a fee. Fruity! I’ve been called worse things. It is odd although I feel so smug because the joke is on them. To hell with them! Here is what it has come down to after so many weeks of doing the same thing. I’ll move on, while they’re stuck here. Who’ll have the last laugh then?

So far I’ve viewed my stay here in Amarillo as a vast interminable waste, except for my landlady. I know that I was lucky to find a job and a place to live. I don’t care about the rest of it. I don’t care about what’s going on in the world. I don’t care. As Whitman so apply put it: “See, vast trackless spaces, as in a dream they change, they swiftly fill” (looking at my landlady as a prospect), and no wonder people think I’m weird. All I want to do is write. But we have to play our part, don’t we? I hope you’re surviving the war. Go Bears. Amen. Yours truly, Shakes Spear

P.S. Is God really dead? Time will tell, I guess.

May 21, 1966
Amarillo
Dear Elaine,
It may be presumptuous of me to assume that your kindness means more than it appears to be and that I have a chance. A chance at what, you might ask. Tomorrow why don’t we meet for lunch at Woolworth’s? I think I owe you that much. I’ll own up. I saw Roger bring you home last night; so I’ll be good.

May 22
I had a good time. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed being with you. I’m afraid I didn’t play it cool, and I’m not sure how you’ll view this letter writing kick I’m on. Like I told you I’m a fan of Walt Whitman, and I’m serious when I say I write poetry, though I’m not confident enough to share it yet. It seems almost obscene to brag about my measly output and my one published poem and to then take it from there and think about publishing a chapbook. I know that it sounds so fruity and so foreign to most people. Who reads Whitman anymore anyway? Who cares? Who cares about Whitman? The masses don’t! The masses: “another generation playing its part and passing on in its turn.” Another poet’s words, so it doesn’t exactly flow. You see how I’m trying to impress you, but how can a dropout do it and still create something that will interest you? I told you, didn’t I, that I’m on the run and won’t be eligible to regain what I left behind.

I’m anxious to learn more about you. Maybe we could go for a hike in Palo Duro Canyon and picnic under cottonwood trees. Thanks to my job I’m in very good shape, but don’t worry: I won’t leave you behind,

I’m a little bothered about Roger. I know you see him every Saturday night and like clockwork he stays over. I know it’s none of my business, and I would never have brought it up except you did tell me about your relationship with him; and though he’s not so suave that you enjoy the sex. I was surprised that you would talk to me about having sex with him. I enjoy the confidence, but I don’t know what it means. You don’t have to explain. I appreciate mysteries.
Tom never meets Roger, but they obviously became rivals. For the record, Roger didn’t deserve Elaine.

May 23
Forever and ever, an eternity, it’s fair to say, is a very long time, and how it particularly applies to me is a very long story, and having grown up in a Baptist home, my feelings about the concept are conflicted. You must believe in it. Someday I’ll use the material; for now I’d bore you with it. Or perhaps we’re like-minded. I hope so.

I know you’ve heard me talk about my work. And you know I’m not talking about stacking block. Would you believe it if I told you that I’m seeking immortality? Hogwash! I write poetry for myself and for now for no other reason but someday I might get lucky, but immortality? I doubt it. You must tell me what you think. Whether you believe in eternity or not? Whether you believe in immortality? Am I making sense? I acknowledge a connection between my Baptist upbringing and fire burning inside me, which may consume me. What do you think of Nietzsche? Or Russell? Or Elliot? Of course, you’ve heard of the madman Nietzsche and how he claims “God is Dead.” A very strong, conspicuous stand, and I’m not saying that I agree with him. Russell, of course, was a moral atheist that I don’t yet know much about. And Elliot, born an American, obviously has more in common with me than the other two. Like Elliot, I don’t expect to find happiness or ever become a saint. “Come in under the shadow of my mother, her arms full and her hair wet,” “THE LADY OF THE ROCKS.” Have you read THE WASTE LAND? It makes as much sense as this letter. Whitman again, my true companion, maker of poems, who “had ears of the President, full of weapons with menacing points, and behind the weapons countless dissatisfied faces.” There seems to be a common thread between the four of them and notably in what is now happening over in Vietnam. I hope you don’t think I’m too smart or that I’m bragging. .

May 24
Still here: sort of. Not that I’d rather be somewhere else. This morning I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I’m trying to stick to a routine. I intend to be reliable, pay my rent and conserve energy: that sort of thing. (Tom’s utilities were included in his rent.) Let me know if I can do anything for you. You’ve certainly given me a break, and Scout’s honor: you won’t regret it. I’m trustworthy, loyal, and helpful. Now how about that hike?

Tom had just stayed up all night. His studio apartment abutted Elaine’s home, so he easily could see all of her comings and goings. Tom wrote her: “When I’m home I’ll keep an eye on your place. Just consider me a friendly neighbor and nothing else.”

After work
Received you note, and I’m so happy that we’re on for Saturday. Thank God we have something in common, and I’m looking forward to it. I hope Roger doesn’t mind, though
But I don’t think it’s any of his business. On that score tell him what you want. Whatever! We need to make sure we bring enough water.

By the way, I’m assuming that much of what you’ve told me about you and Roger is true, but not all of it. It’s hard not to notice how you act when you’re around him. Believe me I’m not spying, and what you do is your business, although I must admit that I wish he weren’t in the picture. I know that I shouldn’t tell you this. What you and Roger do is your business. It’s certainly not mine. What astonishes me is how bold I am. You know that all through high school I never dated the same girl twice. Amazing, isn’t it? For the record I don’t think our trip to Palo Duro Canyon counts as a date.

Have no fear: I’ll be on my best behavior and wholly trustworthy. Your friend and neighbor, Tom

Tom easily hitched a ride out of Gage, and it was new experience for him. The first ride, which took him only as far as Shattuck. .. for it was the junction and no more than seven miles away from Gage….was with someone who knew his family. The farmer even remembered his father. It felt good to connect with someone who knew his father. Tom suspected from what the farmer said that he the farmer had soil in his veins in the same away his father was a mechanic. But what Tom noticed most was how friendly the farmer was. Thus reassured, even though he didn’t have much money, he felt sure he would make it but knew, once he got somewhere, one of the first things he had to do was find a job. As the bravado of the morning disappeared, and defiance and glee dissipated, Tom shifted his focus to Amarillo, where he hoped he could earn money. He needed to earn money while he decided what he wanted to do. And he didn’t think that it would take him long. Amarillo seemed like a good place and big enough to retire and retreat and wait and see what developed, and he knew that as long as he lowered his expectations that he wouldn’t be disappointed. He therefore was prepared to enjoy himself, but for him it was a strange form of enjoyment.

Tom didn’t know anyone, so he talked to everyone. He went up to strangers and said, “Howdy! You seem happy!” Or “you seem sad.” “Going to stay for a while in Amarillo?” Or as the old song goes, “See you later,” before he could say that he’d never really left. So he sang a song of friendship (Whitman again), as he walked around and kids cruised up and down Polk Street. And as horns honked and car engines revved, he watched and listened and remembered his own cruising days.

Tom had his heart set on food and ate in at the Double Dip Drive-in and took in a movie before he settled on a motel. He chose the first motel he came to. It wasn’t a very nice motel, but he didn’t care. He was free and didn’t care. As long as it was warm he didn’t care. And his lack of concern showed a certain amount of innocence, innocence as oppose to guilt. People were lined up in front of The Paramount to see Michael Caine and Shelley Winters. He chose a seat in the back of the balcony and slept through most of ALFIE.

To him Amarillo seemed entirely dominated by cowboys, which he threatened to become (a cowboy). He thought about becoming a cowboy. Their hotrods roared through streets reminding him of the car he had before he went to college. He couldn’t say that giving it up had been a mistake, though he dropped out of college without getting a degree, while dropping out may have been a mistake, but not a crime, and right then he felt happy about it. Tom would have to wait and see what it would later mean. Rebellion, after all, could only be digested in stages.

But everyone had to eat. So he was hungry, really hungry. If you didn’t eat you were condemned to die; then struggle to survive was rooted in the fear of death. At the same time Tom wasn’t interested in a free lunch and didn’t see himself becoming a bum. There therefore only seemed to be one rule for him … at least then anyway … and that was that he had to find a job and earn his own way. It was the only way. And along the major streets there were plenty of doors to knock on; and when he knocked on all of the doors on one street, he moved to the next one until he landed on the doorsteps of Acme Block Company.

At that point he had sore feet. At that point in his life finding a job was the greatest thing ever, so having sore feet didn’t matter to him. And he stood in his place when he received his first paycheck and rejoiced. It was something his parents couldn’t dismiss. With what he earned he could move out of a motel. Yes this was when he first met Elaine.

May 25, 1966
Amarillo
Dear Mom and Dad,
I now can write to you with the news that I’m employed and didn’t dare proceed until I was sure that I had a place to live. Now reduced to an eight-hour day, I have time to write poems, but have no fear, I’ve not withdrawn, nor am I feeling abandoned. In fact my landlady and I are planning to hike in Palo Duro Canyon on Saturday. My studio apartment is completely furnished and shows taste of Elaine, my landlady. The bedroom and the living room, as you may imagine, are one and the same, with a sofa converting into a bed when I feel ambitious enough to pull it out. With a small kitchen and bathroom, I actually have more room now than I did in the dorm. I think I can supply myself with all the entertainment that I need, until I have a better understanding of love with all of its sorrow and joy. Most of all I want you to know that I’m happy, happy being myself and that I’m getting along just fine. There’s no reason for you to worry about me, though I know telling you this doesn’t help much because parents always worry about their children. .

Yesterday they had me make cement bumper bocks. They’re heavy, strong and should last a lifetime. As part of my tour of Gage, Uncle Henry showed me a cement fence Daddy Hayes built more than sixty years ago. And here yesterday I made with my hands something just as useful and just as permanent. I hadn’t done it before. I made bumper blocks. Imagine!

It is good. Against the cold I had Daddy Hayes’ parka. I didn’t starve and instead of staying at the Salvation Army I slept in a motel. You would’ve been impressed at how well I did. I hope you’ll come see me sometime.

Don’t expect me to write to you every week like I did in college. It doesn’t mean when you don’t hear from me that I’m in trouble or that I’ve stop loving you. After work I’m dog-tired and sometimes I don’t even have enough energy to cook. Yes, I cook. Your loving son, Tom

So we can assume that Tom thought a lot of Elaine. But did he really think that he had a chance with her?

Tom, poet and follower of Whitman, primarily worked as a laborer pulling cured block off of autoclave trays and stacking them on pallets. He condemned himself to working outside in a lot when he told the company that he planned to only work there for a year. He would come to view this mistake as suicidal. He also was obviously over qualified for this job. His boss said as much during their first meeting: “You won’t like it here. You’re a fish out of water and won’t last a week.” Well, he lasted a year to the day. He did his job, and when he resigned the impression his boss had was totally favorable. “Here,” he thought, “is a very smart kid who for some reason shot himself in the foot.”
It was very cold in Amarillo that winter, and for someone not used to working out in cold, it was brutal. Out of fear of ruining it, Tom didn’t wear Daddy Hayes’ parka to work. It meant that he didn’t stand around and amuse himself by pretending to be working. And he dared to call it heroism.

Drinking and talk of drinking was a major occupation of men Tom worked with. They liked to drink after work. They like to drink before they went home. Happy Hour was designed for them. Cowboy bars where they drank were scattered along highways leading into town. In the center of town there were none. Instead there were cafes, stores, theaters, office buildings, and parking lots. From the top of the Santa Fey Building one could look out upon a vast plain.

Tom remembered going with one of his coworkers into a cowboy bar and ordering a coke. He remembered its labyrinth of tables, and its hardwood dance floor with its obligatory stage, and its smell of cigarette smoke and stale beer. It had a splendid oak bar where regulars vied for stools and where the happy-hour crowd lingered on their way home. Tom could remember, too, friendliness of a barmaid who when she wasn’t busy was stationed at the end of the bar. As a boy he had been taught with dire predictions to stay away from bars. Now here were temptations: whiskey and women. .

June 10, 1966
Amarillo
Dear Eddie,
What are you doing, Sport? Are you so busy, so given up to your summer that you don’t have time to write me? Did you go home? Are you still in Waco? I am well, but sad because I don’t expect to ever see you again.

But look, why should I complain? Why do I need a lot of friends? I have a job, work outside in the blazing sun and with a bunch of guys who pester me. Most of the time I’m left alone. No one bugs me, no one knows where I live, and I don’t have to acknowledge that I’m home. But listen America … I exist! It’s painful to dote on someone who’s involved with someone else. But there’s something else very great; she lives next door. Rearranged my plans: I arranged to take her on a hike in Palo Duro Canyon; filled with mesquite and juniper trees. I arranged for a chuck wagon lunch of ribs, corn, mash potatoes, and beans. For her to share a meal with me was something. Tell me what it means to love a man or a woman because I’d like to understand love. Though I don’t understand it, it’s satisfying.

Now my poor landlady has a choice to make, but I haven’t made a move. Poor soul, she told me all about her boyfriend. I don’t know why she did it. It’s certainly none of my business.

I’ve been reading Nietzsche, though I know my parents wouldn’t approve, but poor Nietzsche. “A subject for a great poet would be God’s boredom after the seventh day of creation.” I still prefer Whitman over Nietzsche. .

God help us all: why do we postpone enjoyment, when we have only a limit amount of time? All of my philosophizing makes me laugh. Doesn’t that beat all? Your friend, Shakes Spear

July 8, 1966
Dear Sport,
I’m up again by an open window spying on my landlady. I haven’t had a chance to talk to her, though contact with her won’t change anything. I see him come and go and know more than I should know. And about sexual acts! What can I say! She’s bored, and I could take advantage of it, but I haven’t. Poor Roger, a boilermaker and a union man, arrived in Amarillo two years before I did. A man of narrow interest and a football enthusiast, in his high school he was voted “Most Likely To Succeed. ” Later Roger took up archaeology, but he never got his degree. Now look here, I haven’t even kissed her. This bothers me a bit, and without a daily kiss, what holds her to me? And meanwhile I don’t have any intentions of becoming a hermit. I’m bored a bit and that’s enough to keep me from becoming one. So you see I’m surviving.

I haven’t had a letter from home since I arrived in Amarillo. I guess I’m banished, which for now may be a good thing because who wants to open carefully bandage wounds. Out of sight out mind, and believe me I’m not in the mood to deal with it now. Surely a twenty-year old should be allowed to do what he wants without parental interference. I’m writing to you because I know you’re sympathetic. Also, please let my old roommates know that I am still alive. I deserted them without giving them an explanation. I will write to them later, but meanwhile feel that I need to put more distance between them and me. .

There’s nothing you can do for me; when I’ve saved enough money, I’ll simply move on.

I can’t pretend that I’ve been happy here, but it’s not horrible. I don’t know what I expected. It’s hard for me to be satisfied, and at the same time know that you’re very successful. For God, make a name for yourself, so that I can say that I once knew you.

July 9
Last night I wrote all night and today paid for it at work. It’s crazy, but to have a spurt like that is a great thing. Who needs sleep?

Yesterday I finally got a letter from my mother, without a word of disapproval or anything mean. I don’t know what to make of it. But it doesn’t matter, any more than the fuss they made when I wouldn’t get into their car at Gage mattered. (Now I’m not sure you know about it.) None of it matters. I was so worried about what they thought that I felt sick; the fact is I thought about staying in bed all day and I think that it would’ve been easy for me to call it quits. I simply allowed myself to slip into the dumps and if I hadn’t done something about it, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Fear was overwhelming, hideous damn fear. You would’ve been surprised. You wouldn’t have known me. I was going to take a cold shower, sort myself out, and Saturday disappear in Palo Duro Canyon. Perhaps hiking the canyon will be the only thing that will pull me through. But I’m so unfit for it. Last Saturday my landlady showed me up. But I’m not as down as I sound. I’m not suicidal, more embittered than anything else, and I have a job. I admit that I was angry and that it has taken more out of me than I thought I had in me.

It’s curious how in some ways we look for troubles instead letting things go. I’m not willing to keep my nose clean. I seem to like pain. It’s odd that I want Elaine when I can see that she’s taken; on Saturday I thought that I had a chance; and then Saturday night came and Roger spent the night. I beg your pardon, you say that I should know better and shouldn’t set myself up in that way. Forget it! There are other fish to fry.

Go ahead and tell me that I made a mistake. I really didn’t mind Baylor. Baylor or going to college didn’t have anything to do with my decision. I already decided to change my major. I knew that I wouldn’t make an engineer, and any suggestion that I could be forced into doing something that I didn’t want to do is totally false. I’ve already had my taste of fame, or rather I’m already a published poet, and have been writing which proves that I can write anywhere: a series of poems influenced by Whitman. So you see, I should be happy. Your friend, Shakes Spear

I plan to stay here in Amarillo a bit longer, if possible. I’m very lucky that I have an apartment close to a bus line, so I don’t have to have a car. I’m dying to see you. I miss our bull sessions, though this way I can dodge your ambushes. This way neither one of us can conquer the other and we’re forced to live our lives with dignity. But O! I’m tempted to give into urges, or be weakened to the extent that I won’t be able to hold up my head.

Roger left Elaine’s home of Sunday morning looking fit. Some of Tom’s talk about pain stemmed from his vanity,

On October 28, 1966 Slim Jim picked up Tom after a Jimmy Page concert at the State Fair Grounds Coliseum. After jiving to “Beck’s Belero,” Tom felt keyed up and had decided to walk home when a stranger abruptly struck up a conversation with him.

“What did you think of the concert? How was it? Never heard anything like it.” Then, without waiting for an answer, Slim Jim declared: “Well, it’s too early to go home. New in town? I’ve never seen you around Amarillo before.”

The snobbery tone of this remark caused Tom to say, “I’ve been here long enough! We’ll have to see how long I stay.”

“I didn’t mean anything.”

“It’s okay.”

“Why don’t we meet somewhere for a drink.”

“I’m on foot.”

“It’s okay. I have a car.”

Lord, it was as simple as that. It’s true. That was how Jim and me met. Never met anyone like him in my life. He’s as crazy as a jaybird, and he and his little T-Bird…he drives like crazy. You can’t reason with him. He’ll say anything.

“Confused?”

“Well,” Tom said, “I’m not sure. I’ve been trying to sort things out.”

“How long have you been at it?”

“It seems like all my life.”

“That long!” Jim cried, laughing. “Confused from the cradle.”

“Blame it on my mother.”

“She doesn’t deserve the blame.”

“I know it. I’m the one who doesn’t know where he’s going,” Tom replied, shaking his head. “I only know where I’ve been.”

“I grew up on cattle and oil, baby”

At once Tom’s manner changed: “Why I work hard and am trying to find love. I’m making a living, and I know it counts. Make over a hundred dollars a week. Why it’s true! But do I have a woman?”

“Forget women!”

“What do you mean, forget women?”

“Who needs them!”

“I suppose you’re right. I suppose you could get along without them,” Tom said. “I know that men have tried. I tell you … life would be a hell of lot easier. Have you ever loved a guy? I have.”

“All right, Tom, it’s possible. I mean it’s possible to love another guy the same as a man loves a woman. You know what I mean?”

“I think I do, but I don’t think I’m really interested. Not now anyway. It’s been a long time for me. I imagine I’ll want to try it with a woman first.”

“Of course! What’s the sense of risking so much until you’re sure. I don’t mean to embarrass you.”

“You’re not embarrassing me. I’m not easily embarrassed.”
Chapter Twelve
Around this time the Black Panthers were born, and Tom started to let his hair grow. He let it grow down to his shoulders. It grew very fast. Soon magnificent curls covered his head to the envy of women who saw him. Had he paid attention, he could’ve taken advantage of it, but his carelessness and slovenly dress was indicative of his acceptance of indolence. He thought of indolence was necessary for a writer. He wrote more than ever, and at the same time he kept an eye on Elaine.

Go ahead and ask her out again, Tom. The worse that can happen is that she could turn you down.

The creature’s face was oval and full. Her complexion was pure … all except for a mole on her right cheek. The mole complimented her the same as a beauty mark. Her constant smile seemed genuine, and when she grinned it warmed Tom’s heart. From the way she acted around Tom it was easy to see that she liked him. From the way she greeted him it seemed possible that she liked him more than her weekly lover. He certainly hoped so.

Some evenings Slim Jim would unexpectedly drop by Tom’s apartment, and riding around in his tiny red convertible met Tom’s idea of personal extravagance and was something he thought impressed Elaine. He wasn’t wrong about Elaine. At the time Tom was more interested in his landlady than Jim, and his respect of Jim diminished after his new friend said he was gay.

As he walked around Amarillo Tom joyfully sung, and while he paused it came to him why he was singing. ”O Whitman, now I can’t think without turning to Whitman.” Walking to a bus stop, Tom looked amazingly fit and felt happy that his relationship with his parents had greatly improved. As he came and went, he also looked over to see if he could see Elaine. He also wrote to her often, perhaps too often for her comfort. “I can’t pretend that I’m happy when I’m not, but I keep telling myself that this won’t last forever.”

November 1, 1966
1201 N. Grant Street
Just a quick note before I forget what I want to say. Autumn is my favorite time of year; colors add to what would otherwise be a dreary street, and waterfowl that fly overhead and winter near here help with blues, though to tell the truth I’ve brought it on myself. I’m really doing okay, and thanks to you I have a roof over my head.

November 2
And nothing could be better than to live next door to you. You’re really nice, and I must say that Roger is a lucky man. But last night you gave the impression that Roger doesn’t mean much to you. Yet you keep seeing him. I have to ask myself then ‘is it fair to him?’ I suspect that you haven’t thought of it in that way, and that you’ll think that I’m prying where I shouldn’t. You’ve been far nicer to me than I deserve.
Night

I am alone again, and I’m thinking of you. I’ve written you so often in an effort to get you out of my mind, and this will be my last attempt tonight I promise. So I must say my say. I know obsessions can be a drag and even scary. So I’ll stop it…again I promise I’ll stop it. Only tonight I’m lonely. I’m glad I landed in Amarillo. I wouldn’t go back to the Forks or Waco for the world.

November 3
Were you thinking of me? I’m enough of an egotist to think that maybe you were, for you know how much I adore you. It’s turning cold again, and soon a northern will bring sleet and snow which reminds me that I’ve been here approaching a year and that I told my boss after a year I’d move on. But now I don’t want to leave. You obviously have something to do with it. I have my Whitman open this morning, and I read “Whoever you are, how superb and how divine is your body, or any part of it.” Man, what boldness! What can I say! It’s how I feel.

In citing Whitman to Elaine Tom really felt that he went too far but felt it was an honest expression of how he felt. By the time he was finished, he was very reluctant to send the letter.

Night
I walked home instead of taking the bus this evening. Flights of waterfowl were passing overhead, and I’m sure they knew where they were going. It must be nice: to be able to go forward with an untroubled mind. To escape an ambush, O destiny! I don’t seem to be able to outrun it, and we have to look out for cars. I think we’re lucky to be alive.

I got my first raise today: I guess they’ve taken me at my word and think I’m leaving.

I wish I could make a living by writing, so that I wouldn’t have to have a day job. You don’t know the pleasure I got from hiking with you in Palo Duro Canyon. To take in the Lighthouse! It’s so unexpected! Too bad we didn’t take a camera. Next time. Hopefully there’ll be a next time.

November 4
What a respite and such a beautiful day! I’m going out tonight with a friend of mine to catch a movie, and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.

Tom intended to ask Elaine out but didn’t have the nerve to suggest that they use her car, something they did when they went on their Palo Duro excursion. He refused to invite himself because it felt wrong to him. Tom still hadn’t gotten over that Elaine could sleep with Roger when she didn’t really care for him. He told Jim laconically: “She’s playing him for a fool.”

A week or so ago I met Jim after the Jimmy Page concert, and he seems to be one of us. He’s very much into Rock and Roll, with a passion for Eric Burdon and the Animals, though I have to admit that the only song of theirs that I knew was the “House of the Rising Sun.” But now, when I think of you, the song “Baby Let Me Take You Home” comes to mind. Brazen me! So you see I’ve lightened up, and it’s very rewarding.

So at last I’ve summoned up courage to ask you out. I wish I invited you before now. By now I suppose you have other plans; after this I’ll give you a few days notice. A harmless friend has agreed to be our chaperon. I’ve landed gold. You may have seen his red T-Bird parked in front of my abode. Your friend, Tom.

Slim Jim had been infamous for a long time. Before Tom arrived, Slim already had gained his reputation. He had always been a showoff. And he could afford to be one. For one thing, because of his car the police knew him, and because of his dad they let him slide. One night, for instance, cops caught him smoking grass and would’ve arrested him had it been someone else. Such incidents increased, until it became known that Jim also was gay. Then cops paid him more attention and finally arrested him, but his dad had enough clout to get him out of jail. Then with a warning, Jim swore off of dope.

From Elaine’s perspective the duo represented a safe date. To her Slim represented a safe date. Both men had engaging personalities, and they treated her well. Yes, she felt safe; that was except for Jim’s driving.

Jim’s red convertible became a fixture around Amarillo. He liked to cruise Polk Street and was easily recognized. Among young people he almost had reached legendary status. He however hung back and hated kids. He mainly just sat quietly inside his car and drove around. He allowed people to approach him. He allowed people to approach him instead of approaching them. He often sat with a dirty face and an open shirt with a cigarette hanging out his mouth. Yes, he smoked; and as for quitting, he suffered complete paralysis, and almost always he apologized for it. To him it was a dirty habit.

Even people who didn’t like gays liked him, and they often went out of their way to show it. Through association, most of them came to accept him, and perhaps it helped that they couldn’t tell at a glance that he was gay, and perhaps it also helped that there weren’t that many other known gays around. Most gays in Amarillo hadn’t come out yet.

After Tom and Jim started spending time together, people also assumed Tom was gay. This didn’t seem to bother Tom. Elaine sometimes joined them, and she was fond of riding between them and working the stick shift. Jim was able to pay for his own tickets and the higher insurance premiums.

“Jim, before I place my life in your hands, I want to know if you still have your license.”

To this Jim would peal off and ask, “What did you say?”

“Drive on! Drive on! What are we going to do with you?”

With these words they’d speed down I-40 faster than they could’ve ever sped down old Route 66 and run through any speed traps that the Texas Highway Patrol may have set up. And if Tom had his way they might’ve kept going; east or west, it wouldn’t have mattered to him.

Yet upon the plains west of Amarillo Tom faced a conflict but didn’t know it yet. He had not come out of the closet, of course, with any of his friends or family, nor would he anytime soon. The question then entered his mind: “Why was he angry with Jim when Jim flirted with Elaine? Why was he attracted to Jim?” No one knew how he felt. And Tom’s own answers were anything but honest.

One day, however, Tom found himself shouting at Jim and Elaine. They had driven west on I-40 from Amarillo, and they were packed tight as possible in the tiny sports car. As usual Elaine sat between them. According, Jim sat at the wheel and couldn’t be persuaded to slow down. Tom accepted the arrangement until Elaine placed her head on Jim’s shoulder. Tom then tried not to make anything of it until he saw that Jim was enjoying it. Recklessly Tom then opened his door. Fortunately he was strapped in. Even Jim panicked. It was at that moment that Tom completely lost it.

So at last he had his answer. He henceforth knew that he loved Jim the same way he loved Bobby.

December 1, 1966
Amarillo, Texas
Dear Mom and Dad,
I don’t know why I haven’t been able to concentrate. I wish someone would explain to me why I haven’t been able to write anything. This letter is my attempt to break through a writer’s block.

Don’t let my dreams dry up now. I guess I really don’t have anything to complain about. It’s certainly a puzzle to me why anyone would knock Amarillo; people here are friendly and godly, and yet people still have fun without drugs and running with gangs. I like my landlady very much. Now don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not about to ask her to marry me. At least, not now.

You always ask about my health. I’m very healthy: I haven’t missed a day of work, and I walk a great deal. In fact, I couldn’t be healthier.

Do you know if Bobby’s baby is a boy or a girl?

Elaine hasn’t spoken to me for over a week, and I’m not sure how to break the ice.

There was a rather nice snow here yesterday. We get more than 20 inches a year. It looks like Colorado.

I hate to think that I may be suffering from a writer’s block.

I don’t know what else to say; so maybe I’ve written enough to get me started. Let’s see. Amarillo! It’s gotta be the best place to live in the whole world. Once I had no money and needed food and a place to live. What was to happen to me? Well the nicest lady came along and rented me a place without a deposit and when I didn’t have a job. She took a chance, and now I’ve disappointed her. Tom

That nice person is named Elaine, and she lives next door.

December 5, 1966
Amarillo, Texas
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’ll attempt to explain some things as best I can. I’ve thrown myself at someone and have landed on my face. She happens to be my landlady, but unfortunately she’s involved with someone else. So I go to work, and come home and eat and sleep. Don’t worry, I also bathe, so I don’t stink. Generally I don’t mind work. I try to behave myself. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned Jim. He’s a friend of mine, who knows how to take care of me. I mean he has more money than I have and is very generous, and my landlady, he and I go places together. I try to pay my own way, but sometimes it doesn’t work. The other day I had a hamburger and a banana split and nearly split my britches, not to mention my budget. I try to tow the line, but sometimes I just can’t help it. Just for an emergency I keep on hand a few cans of pork and beans. Apart from splurging now and then … I love you both, Tom

The Silver Grill was located downtown on Tyler Street between 7th and 8th and was known for pies. When he got homesick, Tom would go there and order a slice of coconut cream pie because their cherry/pineapple pies never lived up to his expectation. If he splurged he didn’t want to be disappointed and told Jim, “I’ll travel a long way for good cherry/pineapple pie; some of my fondest memories are associated with eating pie.”

Now Tom felt like he was being punished. After opening a door of a speeding automobile, Elaine and Jim stopped seeing him and he adopted an explanation as to why. He had become his own worse enemy. For as he imagined the worse, he isolated himself and believed no one wanted to be around him. And as days went by without hearing from either Elaine or Jim, Tom didn’t try to clarify anything. Tom became … for what reason no one knew…filled with self-pity.

Tom tried to escape his plight by smoking pot and grew his own, but at home he spent most of his time trying to catch a glimpse of Elaine. He watched her come and go and saw Roger arrive at the same time every Saturday night. He now believed that their affair had become more serious.

All of this led Tom on December 15 to write her the following:

I’ve been a fool. Now wait a minute! I don’t know how I’m going to write what I’m going write without sounding like one … that is like a fool.

With amazement I’ve watched Roger come and go. No, let’s keep Roger out of this. No longer am I sure of myself and without enough confidence to take my gloves off. I don’t know but I suspect that Roger doesn’t think very highly of you. There! I’ve said it.

I’ve not been well. I haven’t been out in a long time. But I’m not angry or regretful. I wasn’t intending to jump out of the car or thinking of suicide when I opened the door. It was just a reaction. A reaction to what you ask? Well, you must know by now that I like you very much. I see more clearly now how much and how much I’m selfish and how I don’t want to share you with anyone else. I also know that I don’t have the right to expect it. I don’t have a right to expect anything.

You see I don’t think of people in terms of property. I want you, I need you, but you’re not property. It was true though that I sometimes thought that way. About how much someone was worth. Oh my!

I’m so glad that you live next door to me. I don’t know many people who would’ve trusted me the way you did.

Your friend, Tom

After his passionate appeal Tom didn’t hear from Elaine. She gave no evidence that she received his letter. She even stopped associating with Jim. Then he only saw her when he paid his rent and when she came and went next door.

The sight of Roger coming and going obvious still hurt Tom, which he turned inwardly. What was going on? Why had his friends abandoned him? He asked himself these questions. What had he done? Yet he couldn’t confront them. Why? Forget them! But he couldn’t forget them.

Move on, for life’s too short. He started to walk away and deferentially away from the past. He’d be more careful next time before he really gave himself to someone. Instead he risked casual encounters.

“No, no, not Tom. It was someone else! He was not that way! I told you, it was someone else! What’s that? It was someone else. He wouldn’t get caught doing it.”

“Doing what?”

“In a park. Busted in a park.”

“What!”

Tom strode through a park, his face ablaze.

“Did he? Would he? He was lucky. At least he didn’t make the newspaper. It was the biggest mistake of his life, but people who knew him never found out. Busted in a park. You heard, didn’t you?”

“I’m shocked.”

Tom pled for his life, passed his hand through his hair numerous times before they let him go.

“Busted in a park.”

“Yes, I heard.”

He vowed he’d never get caught doing it again. Somehow news didn’t get out, somehow, and though he was lucky, it gave him reason to pause and question his judgement.

I’ll rise above it. ‘I will sleep no more but arise…’ Whitman. Let oceans calm within me! How do I feel? Shitty! Well, yes, what did he expect? He could see the headlines in the Folks: LOCAL BOY EXPOSES HIMSELF FOR THE WHOLE WORLD TO SEE

We understand that he left home, left his own shore for foreign ports.

“Yes, he did.”

“See, in arriere, the wigwam, the trail, the hunter’s hut, the flatboat, the maize leaf, the claim, the rude fence, and the backwoods village…”- Leaves of Grass: “Death-bed” Edition

“Does he intend to continue to write?”

“His life doesn’t end in Amarillo.”

“Well, I would hope not. He’s still young. Now, take Whitman. There was a great poet. Whitman!

Tom swore when he thought of his shame. There was hardly an accurate way to describe it. He felt angry at himself and at the same time felt guilty.

Like so many criminals, Tom claimed he was innocent and was let go, but there was a discrepancy of a hundred dollar fine. Yet one thing about the whole affair was very fortunate. As mentioned before he didn’t make the Globe-News.

As a kid he was taught that homosexuality was a sin, but he’d been accused of propositioning another man. In many ways it didn’t matter what they were going to do to him. An undercover policeman built his case out of nothing more substantial than Tom approaching him in a friendly way, when in fact it was the other way around, and it happened so fast that Tom was totally confused; yet he obviously felt guilty.

Then, too, it was his first time, his first offence, and maybe this was why he received what amounted to a slap on the wrist. But you couldn’t undo the affect of a thing like this to his psyche. It was something he couldn’t easily let go of. And after that, understandably, he shied away from restrooms in parks. And he vowed to never let it happen again. Yet he found solace from knowing that he’d been the victim of entrapment.
Chapter Thirteen
December 20, 1966
Amarillo, Texas
Dear Sport
What’s going on? There’s nothing new with me. This year I’m trying to stay away from Christmas: in other words restrain myself. Without family, Christmas doesn’t mean much to me. As for women, I’ve had a little set back. I can’t figure it out. I’m not sure about the opposite sex. I’ve been thinking about moving on now that my year here is almost up; though I don’t expect to find a sequel to Amarillo, that is to say the town has been good to me and any hint that it has been a travesty. I didn’t think I would like Amarillo. You haven’t written lately. I suppose it means you’re busy. If you weren’t, I’d be disappointed. But as you see, I have time on my hands. I need more discipline, when I know that my writing provides me with a form of happiness. Then I have to admit that I’m not very happy because I’m not writing very much. I still have a goal of writing a poem a day, call it intentional and perhaps unrealistic, as you will, and thus my happiness is up to me, as I still look to Whitman for inspiration. I’ve put together a small chapbook, which as soon as I get a chance I’ll send you a copy of. I plan to send you a copy. Twenty or so poems, some them raw and I’m afraid not very inspired, stapled together in a little book. I call it HANDCUFFED. Whitman again. “It is I let out in the morning and barred at night … Not a youngster is taken for larceny, but I go too and am tried and sentenced.”

Of course you know how easy it is these days to get busted, but you know with me it wouldn’t be anything more serious than possession, though in Texas that can be very serious. Going to prison wouldn’t be nice. Spending time in prison wouldn’t be good, but I fear more punishment in the next world. I plan to launch a tract on legalizing pot and see where that will get me. Its authorship, of course, must be kept secret, or I’d face harassment. I’ll send you a copy, of course, and God help you, if you betray me.

Ultimately Tom wrote his tract but never published it. If it had been published, it wouldn’t have attracted any attention because Tom was an unknown. On the enjoyment of writing poetry he returned to the theme time and time again.

I plan to establish a routine again. I find that I don’t get very far without a routine, but I also must think about moving on soon.

To publish or not to publish: I wonder if I’ll ever reach a point when I won’t be thinking of publishing. And can I escape another ambush? I shall try my best. I seek your advice, and I won’t take anything you say too personally.

Tell me about your writing and your plans after you graduate. Do you plan to continue your journalism, or will you toss it away?

I’m doing as well as I can be and looking forward to the future. Victory elevates us to the heavens, and all that. Your friend, Shake Spear

P.S. Parents have forgiven me. I think. Since the Gage tradition is dead, they may even come see me for Christmas.

Tom couldn’t help but think that the queer young fellow he met in the park was gorgeous, and it bothered him.

There was something that stopped Tom from leaving Amarillo, or there were a number of things. Anyway he made excuses. He made excuse after excuse, and it wasn’t imperative that he leave, really. There was no reason for him to be in a hurry. For one thing, he didn’t have a destination in mind. Sometimes he thought about heading to New York City and other times to San Francisco. New York or San Francisco? This was truer when he thought about his career, but he was afraid that he’d get lost in a big city. So essentially he procrastinated and spied on his neighbor. It didn’t make him feel good to spy on her, but he was right when he told himself that he’d have an easier go at it in the spring. To him spring not only offered warmer weather but also a new beginning. He therefore told himself that he might as well wait. Logic behind it seemed sound, anyhow. The only trouble was that he knew it was an excuse.

His parents disappointed him by not coming for Christmas. They expected him to come home to the Forks, and it made them angry when he didn’t. There was nothing he could say that would convince them that he couldn’t come. The excuse he offered was simply that … an excuse. But truthfully it was the first time that he thought about going home.

Not that he intended to give in. He knew that it wouldn’t make him happy. Tom knew, too, that his parents would try to pressure him into going back to school and would be direct, which would’ve ruined Christmas for all of them. But he wondered how they would take his decision.

After Christmas Tom’s sense of shame, guilt, and revulsion grew. So overwhelming was his revulsion that he stopped going to work. He envied Jim. He envied Jim who to him flaunted his homosexuality … the one person he knew who didn’t care what other people thought … for Tom felt that he committed a crime for which his parents would never forgive him. Tom thought that if they knew it would destroy them. He knew it wouldn’t destroy them, but they would act like it had. Thus he withdrew and barricaded himself inside his apartment. He locked his door, pulled down his shades, and started watching television all night. From his depression there was no escape. And then, out of boredom, he picked up LEAVES OF GRASS and read “Song of Myself” again.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
And this was when he became a wanderer again. But his guilt still was with him. Tom however realized that he could live with it, and he knew that as long as he kept his dreams he would survive his shame.

I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.- Whitman

December 22, 1966
Amarillo, Texas
Dear Sport,
I was thinking the other day about how in tune I am with Whitman when he described wanting to “go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked, I am mad for it.” To me romping naked in the snow seems as absurd as you can get. I’m as likely to join the Polar Bear Club as I am likely to streak across Baylor, and that’s not likely. Or through the heart of Amarillo. That would be as bad as spending the night on a hill far away during a blizzard. With or without a fig leaf, shame and agony would be unbearable. Forgive my moods. I don’t really hate myself. How’s your writing going? Have you raised eyebrows or challenged the establishment yet? I guess religion can’t be overthrown. I know that it’s incomprehensible in some circles

Next day

I think you should try pot; it’ll help calm you down; and in moderation it won’t hurt you. On second thought I don’t think you could get away with it at Baylor. I wonder if you could substitute cow manure.

I’ve made up my mind to leave Amarillo as soon as I can. I don’t want to wait too long and wear out my welcome. Well, the truth is … Now that sounds ominous. I just don’t want to be at the mercy of someone else. So I’m saving my money and seeing how it goes. Maybe at some point you’ll join me.

Meanwhile I have a box full of unfinished poems. At least I’ve put together a chapbook, which I think some people will like and may be something someone will save for future generations. Who knows? One can only hope. Now tell me about your writing. Your friend, Shake Spear

The beat went on… The number of homeless drifters who road the rails and broke the law had greatly increased in recent years, and Tom had mixed feelings about becoming one of them. He read ON THE ROAD and yearned to join Kerouac (in his mind a modern day Whitman), while at the same time he enjoyed security Amarillo offered him.
Of course Tom knew that he wouldn’t make a career of stacking blocks and that he was better than that.

January 3, 1967
Dear Jimmy,
I’ve given up on the idea of you coming over, but I hope to see you around sometime. Do you know, I’m crazy about Jimmy Page now, too, and not Lawrence Welk. I listen to The Yardbirds by the way, and of course I prefer the sad songs; “Still I’m Sad” and “Farewell” are my songs. I have a big poster of The Yardbirds hanging in my room, which is wonderful, as indeed is a photograph of Eric Clapton that I recently bought. But apart from sad songs, I like Bo Diddley’s “I am a man.” Of course, there’s a good deal to be said about the beat, and my first reaction to shouting was to disconnect. When I first heard it I shut my ears. I’ve had to make allowances for it. You first have to really listen and have in mind that it tells a story, but a story is never as important as the beat. I have here by me “Hot House of Omagarashid”. “Roger the Engineer” should be my album. I love the Blues, “Over Under Sideways Down” in stereo and loud (several tracks with slight differences in mixes); and leave it to Jimmy Page to introduce “Psycho Daises.” Have you ever tried to expand you mind with acid and have seen the bright colors and strange forms, much like looking through a kaleidoscope? They say that you can see what can only be defined by your imagination or as defined by our limited ability to see things, but add a little acid. Second. I hear that it’s really fun. Acid or LSD, itself, is not addictive or known to cause brain damage. It’s not a damn bit like other drugs, and shouldn’t be defamed. I know I’m mixed up (it’s not from acid or LSD), so I think it might help me. It shows great promise and shouldn’t be banned. I’m quiet an advocate for acid these days. I love it more than anything, I think, except for Whitman. I mustn’t forget Whitman, when I’m listening to Jimmy Page. Go Huxley! Go Leary! Perhaps you don’t agree with them or me, but why not take a drug that makes your life happier?

I recently discovered a dusty, tiny, wonderful bookstore and have been reading Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD. I wish I could see “the scroll,” the endless scroll (120 foot long roll of teletype paper that Kerouac used if you don’t know), and I would try to read it just as I read Whitman’s “Death-bed” Edition…from “the beginning and the end, but I do not talk of the beginning or the end.” But I don’t think I’ll get a chance to see “the scroll.” I realized that I couldn’t wait for Elaine any longer, and I cried. I don’t know why; I just cried. I still watch for her, and she knows it. And it doesn’t matter what the three of us had going, all the fun we had. I shouldn’t be bitter and accept things for what they are. I can’t speak for you, but I’m damn glad that we had the times we had together. I think that I’m glad that I still see Elaine. I don’t think you’d disagree that she’s beautiful.

That would be bold statement for you, considering your preferences. It irks me horribly when people aren’t more tolerant, but you are who you are, and I am who I am, and as long as we don’t hurt anyone, it shouldn’t be anyone’s business. I’m going to write Elaine a friendly letter. I have to acknowledge my true feelings, call it infatuation: call it whatever you will.

I hope to see you soon. Hope this letter finds you. I wish that I had a more exact address.

I wish I had enough courage to have a nervous breakdown. That would clear the air. A nervous breakdown would clear the air, and have Elaine say nothing, then I’d know for sure. But I’m not hysterical, so I suppose I’ll never know. Of course I could follow hipsters such as Ferlinghetti or Ginsberg instead of Whitman, but I’m not sure I’m a hipster. And I should never like to have you as a lover, but I’m damn sorry that you and Elaine have decided to dump me. It’s damn depressing like everything else. I hope you get this. Your friend, Tom

True, there had been times when Tom thought of his friend Jim in what he then considered to be an unhealthy way. That was when Elaine sat between them in Jim’s tiny red T-Bird, which on the road blew most people away. That also was when Jim said, “I want to see what she can do,” knowing that he could afford a fine for speeding. But Tom was far from admitting that he was gay, while Jim had no trouble admitting it. Tom knew Jim was different and when confronted, confessed.

“Can’t deny it,” said Jim, winking at Tom, as though it wasn’t a big thing. “I’m beyond it now!” he exclaimed with pride. “Why I can’t help it, any more than you can help being Tom.” He was now speaking with deep conviction. “We don’t need to wait until we’re old to recognize the truth. It may not be easy. It’s however easier than living a lie. In other words, we have to live with ourselves.”

This, as Jim went on to explain what was known as coming out of the closet. And this concept didn’t mean making a public spectacle of himself. The process had been gradual for Jim, blooming when he got his first car, and Jim still remembered the momentous occasion as vividly like it had been only yesterday. It was with a college student from Amarillo College and in the lust of the moment he found his true identity. After that he couldn’t go back.

Until he met Jim, Tom hadn’t known possibilities that were open to him. It seemed unbelievable that Tom hadn’t known about Ginsberg or Kerouac before he met Jim, particularly since he revealed in Whitman. Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Roger the Engineer … how far he had come. Now acid, acid and love, and all of this before The Summer of Love”…”seemed outrageous …” He could hardly restrain himself. “The beat goes on…”his restraint weakened, and the song then rang true … there was no reason why he shouldn’t allow his hair to grow out. Then came the question for which he had no answer: “Was he really gay?”

Henceforth, the question haunted him. But in the presence of Elaine and Jim it didn’t matter. For now he simply enjoyed the beat. He didn’t know how he would feel in the future and since he wasn’t back in the Forks, who cared?

On January 14, 1967 “The Beat Goes On” entered “The Billboard Hot 100” peaking at #6. Sonny and Cher had each other for a while and sold over 80 million records worldwide. Tom wrote: “I suppose you heard what happened to Sonny and Cher. They sided with Kids on Sunset Strip and didn’t get to lead the Rose Bowl Parade I’m sorry to say. I’ve heard them called fools. But with “I Got You Baby” they ain’t doing too poorly. And based on that this promises to be quite a year, and I just might come out of the closet as an atheist. So the beat goes on.”

January 8, 1967
The Grant Street Hovel
Dear Elaine, I spent all yesterday cleaning my apartment like a housewife, and besides that wrote a long letter to Jim, so I haven’t been sitting around. Last night I couldn’t sleep again. I was kept awake thinking about you, so I didn’t stay in bed. I learned long ago when to give up and would’ve gone for a walk if it hadn’t been so cold. But it being cold was only an excuse: it was my anger that caused me to fret so much; the potential of violence, though I admit this I do so without intending to scare you for I know that I can’t influence you; and what’s more I wouldn’t try. Oh how I hate my thoughts! I’m sure that they have had a great influence over my life; for I remember times when I’ve been stopped in my tracks by them as for example when I’ve said to myself that I can’t do something. More often I’ve thought I could always get my way. Now you’ve brought home that that’s not true. And yesterday, the fury in which I cleaned was for me an impersonation of my anger, as sure as anything. It was my way of working off steam. But have no fear, I didn’t break anything, and baffled, I think I’ve shown great restraint. I just kept busy until I exhausted myself.

My chapbook is stapled, and I’m thinking about creating a second one. It’s very good for me to have something I can hold my hand, for I don’t know when I’ll ever get an agent and/or a publisher, get the first before the other I suppose. It’s always something I’m thinking about, and if I could only find the right person to represent me, but I know that it’s basically a matter of luck. Luck and the weather, that’s what I’m up against. One thing bothers me though, what with promoting my work, I’m afraid it won’t leave time to write. With working, eating, and exercising I find that I have very little time for anything else. And I’d love to take you out. It strikes me as a good idea until I start thinking of Roger. I guess I’m hopeless and pathetic. Of course, I’m not. Of course, I’m half-kidding and perhaps mad.

I say, don’t take me too seriously. Please, please don’t. It’s hardly worth it.

I think I’ll send this through the regular mail instead of sticking it under your door. Your friend, Tom

January 13, 1967
The Grant Street Hovel
Dear Elaine,
Yesterday’s letter to you was a huge mistake. No wonder you’re turned off. I can’t believe that I’m capable of such drivel. Now I’ll try to make amends by amusing you.

I think now I can see my future. I think at some point I’ll be worthy of you or worthy of someone else. If God grants me a long life I’ll amount to something; and showing my best and eliminating my worst, you’ll be impressed, while I’m the first to admit that I’ll never be satisfied.

I can’t quite say why I keep writing to you when you won’t write me back. It’s rather interesting, isn’t it.

I am all right now, having slept last night. I’m not quite sure where I am with you, but what’s new and different. However writing you amuses me, and of course, I don’t know any better.

January 14

Do you know HOWL? I think it will shock you. I must admit that at first it shocked me. The poem, as a poem, I embrace without reservation. It is similar to Whitman, though cruder. However, it’s honest, and that’s something I’d like to achieve with my own writing.

HOWL, I’ve only recently discovered Ginsberg and I must say at first he turned me off. I found a copy in a dusty, tiny bookstore off Polk Street, a hole in the wall really. Serendipitous, was it not? And immediately spent my allowance. There were three books that interested me…ON THE ROAD, HOWL AND OTHER POEMS, and PERSONAE by Ezra Pound, who was obviously influenced by my Whitman. I love it. Stay tuned. Ezra became engaged to none other than Dorothy Shakespear…thoroughly Shakespear. The book ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac to me also seems to be influenced by Whitman. I know you may not see the connections, but I’m convinced that I’m right, but concerning the Shakespear reference I won’t go further. It was Kerouac who found the others. By all means read the novel. He sings of himself and the nation. And I dare not say more because I don’t want to spoil it for you. And I walked out of the bookstore with such excitement that I sang all the way home. People must’ve thought that I was crazy. You know how I am when I’m really happy, and so I skipped and sang and made a fool of myself. I didn’t care.

By God, I wish I’d been one of them. But I was born too late. A propos, now I wonder what I’ll become.

Good night, I’m sleepy. Hopefully, you’ll read this.

If you write me you need not be afraid that I’d share it with anyone else. I’d read it, cherish it, and if you want, destroy it. I’m going to send this to you today while I still have nerve.

“The Beat Goes On” is heading to top of the charts. I think it’s significant, but I don’t need to tell you that. Do you listen to it? Since it’s in my head, there’s no end to it.

Good night, my dear. Your friend and next door neighbor, Tom

Elaine, I wish you would speak to me. If you told me to, I’d go away. Now that I think about it I don’t recommend that you read HOWL.

As if he could Tom tried to control his urges. Something drew him to a park, a particular park, the same park where he got arrested. Tom was again headed to the same park before he stopped himself, and all women he saw seemed eligible, down to the plainest. He felt relieved when he was drawn to women. It wouldn’t have mattered to him, as he looked for a hugging and loving bedmate. Each eligible woman had something about her that was desirable … that is to say he was horny enough to overlook deficiencies that he might’ve attributed to them. At the same time he found men attractive, while a desire for both sexes seemed incomprehensible to him. This mystery bothered him. It bothered him and seemed abnormal and strange, and made him feel different. He felt like an oddball when it came to sex, always sex, and suffered alone with desires, and if he was a distinct sex fiend, how could anyone possibly love him? But every healthy and clean man, however, no matter how unattractive he might’ve been, was for Tom a prospect worth considering: the only thing that restrained him was stigma that he associated with what otherwise would’ve been pleasurable. If he let himself go … if he stopped thinking that it was vile and accepted it, then maybe there would’ve been an appropriate reward. And after each and every shower he took, Tom admired himself in the mirror.

Now he was as strong as a horse and as fit as anyone. So if someone were to approach him, he would’ve been quite a catch. But the stakes were too high. Tom already had his hand spanked and under Texas law was charged with a Class C misdemeanor. Besides this there was the business of disease, real and imagined. Thus Tom found it impossible to seek sex in a public place, and it was more than scruples that got in his way.

January 15, 1967
Grant Street Hovel
Dear Elaine,
“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”- ha, ha! I’ve just come from a concert of the Piano Man and without you I never felt in sync. It had nothing to do with Neil Sedaka or “Stupid Cupid,” an old song, among his best; and I wish you had come along. We would’ve taken a taxi because of snow and because I know that you’re not into walking in this weather. What’s more I know you love Neil Sedaka. And how do I know? Well, I’m your next door neighbor, aren’t I? You know that I’ve been thinking a great deal about you; especially when I come home in the evening and I know you’re around. Elaine, you’re very special to me, and it’s hard to be so close to you and yet so far away. And it’s hard for me to stay away. But I’m strong, and as happy as I can be. Good night, Elaine.

“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” was an up-tempo song recorded by Neil Sedaka in 1962, so it wasn’t a new song when Tom heard it in concert.

So much for Tom’s self-esteem! But what would life be without setbacks? So Tom became his own worse enemy. He couldn’t stop kicking himself. Once he got down on himself it was a struggle for him. Moreover he neglected his appearance, and let his hair grow until it reached his shoulders. And one would think that he got tired of going out alone. While it was true that Tom was never satisfied, it was also true that he didn’t do anything to improve his situation. He turned to watching television on a second-hand set he picked up at Goodwill. If it had not been for television, he would’ve spent his days and nights outside of work engaged in a war with himself. As it was he was filled with indifference, for he suffered from depression. Yes, he essentially dropped out, and even his co-workers began to worry about him and began to ask: “What’s going on with Tom these days?” And their answer: “I don’t know,” and after a while, they stopped asking him to go drinking with them after work. Clearly they lost interest and expected him to leave soon.

January 16
Elaine, I watched for you today and was glad to see that you got home safely. I work at my desk next to the front window (so I can keep pretty good track of who comes and goes) and just wrote a poem about walking through fog. I’m very pleased with it. Last night I went to the Paramount and saw ALFIE for the second time. As you remember, Jim, you, and I saw it together and sat in the balcony. The film teaches a good lesson, if you’re looking for one. Oh, Elaine, as I trip over myself and ask what I’ve done wrong I don’t know what is what anymore. But I feel that I need to be honest. Only I know that I have the tendency to take it too far. Well, all you have to do is tell me to give up, and I will, but I think if you did, you’d regret it.

Tom never had but one way of thinking when it came to loving a woman … the way that was depicted in ALFIE … but that satisfied him, and he couldn’t get beyond it. He went to see the film four times and ended up asking himself, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like that? Women are here and everywhere! God created them!” Tom therefore languished and continued to repeat his mistakes, and he never knew whether Elaine read his letters or not, and while he continued to write her, she continued to keep her distance.

As Elaine and Roger sat on the front porch and talked about experiences they had as a couple, Tom watched them from inside his apartment. Tom wanted to switch places with Roger and knew Roger didn’t fully satisfy Elaine. Tom thought he knew more about Elaine’s feelings than Roger did. Tom also thought that she considered his rival shallow. Roger for instance talked about what he was going do with the raise he was expecting, what he was going buy, and that most of all that he wanted a new car, and not just any old car, but a new 1967 Chevrolet Camaro with the biggest engine. Of course Roger didn’t know anything about the 1967 Camaro yet. The meeting of his dream and reality wouldn’t occur for a few months, and until then the car would be kept under wraps by the car company. When it finally came out, with its twin stripes that went down the hood, the 1967 Camaro caught the attention of everyone, and wherever it performed, the first generation Camaro outperformed competition. Tom was no match for a 1967 Camaro. Up and down Route 66 it was the muscle car of choice and still is. Later on you couldn’t buy one, just as you couldn’t finish the steaks at the Big Texan and eat a second one. For a whole year Roger sacrificed and saved for the car and talked of nothing else.

But as Roger painted a picture of fun that he and his girl would have in his new Camaro, Tom thought if he got a chance he’d serenade Elaine with “Love Me Tender” and stroke her thigh. For instead of a Camaro, all Tom had to offer Elaine were letters and poetry, and by any standards, compared with a Camaro, it seemed paltry. Watching the couple on the porch, Tom became exhausted and overwrought. His nerves were also frayed … frayed to the point that he had to smoke a joint. And he thought grimly about leaving Amarillo, as he began to understand, too, that he couldn’t compete with a 1967 Camaro.

January 17
I stayed inside today till the sun went down. The little snots in their hotrods that raced up and down the street kept me from concentrating. It was mainly their pipes; and when I looked out I saw you, and of course Roger, who hung around most of the afternoon, which was quite a change for him. Not that I care! For a change the sun was out, and the street was dry. I guess that was why you and Roger took advantage of it. And tonight there was a perfect half moon, a crescent moon traveling along just as it has throughout the ages, and I bet few people noticed it. Then was a waxing moon a dream? Nah! Then if not, why was I so perturbed by it?

That evening Tom went for a walk and once broke down when no one else was around. He had a glimpse of the crescent moon as it appeared and disappeared behind vacillating clouds. In the dark the broken sidewalk offered him a challenge.

I see that you’re not lacking in company, and that’s good for you: God I hope he appreciates what he has. And now I think of you in bed, and Roger there. I don’t know why I torture myself so, why I can’t move on, and so forth. I think of you reading this letter and then tearing it up, or tearing it up before you read it. I think this letter says it all. You must sense how sincere I am, and by now you must know that I love you dearly. If only I could change places with Roger, I’d show you how great a lover I am. But since I can’t, what’s the point? I need to grow up.

January 18
Outside, it’s snowed all day. Our yard now has a half a foot of snow. Oh how quickly the weather changes: yesterday was sunny, porch sitting weather, and today you’d freeze out there. I don’t have much use for snow. I didn’t grow up with much of it; maybe that’s why. Some people revel in it. I imagine those people can find the bright side to anything. I don’t think they mean any harm, but I hate it when they act so smug about it.

What a downer this letter is! It’s however an honest depiction of how much I dislike winter. At least I have a warm heart. And I know I’m not as bad off as some people. I have a roof over my head and heat, though it’d be much nicer to have an open fire in a fireplace and someone to share it with.

I don’t know why I keep writing letters, when most people don’t write letters anymore and particularly when you live next door.
Tom

Who knows why a man clings to the hope of having something that he knows he can’t have?

Tom was far from understanding all the reasons why he continued to cling to the hope of hooking up with Elaine. Up until the day he left Amarillo he clung to his obsession.

February 22, 1967
Amarillo
Dear Mom and Dad,
I have been very busy and haven’t found time to write until now. You know how things are. How time flies. There’s no logic to it. It’s a beautiful, clear, windy day. If it weren’t for the wind, it wouldn’t be cold. I’m not as desperate today as I have been because I’ve made a decision that I’ve put off making. I’m learning that procrastination causes unnecessary stress … and more. On Friday I gave a week’s notice at work. No one seemed surprised, and I doubt that I’ll be missed. I’m content now that I’ve decided to leave Amarillo, and it was something that I intended to do from the very first day I arrived here. The idea of staying in one place hasn’t suited me, while I know that all the searching may not amount to much. For all of the obvious reasons, quite likely I’ll miss Amarillo. It’s not easy to pick up and leave, and reduce everything you own to a rucksack, and not be sure where you’ll end up. Yesterday I looked at a map and decided to head west, but I hate the Interstate while I’m intrigued by Route 66, so I don’t know what to do. And now today, in spite of a big blustering west wind, I’ve decided to hitchhike.

I’ll be okay, I think. I have nothing, nothing worth stealing. I’m strong and have God on my side, and I’m quite determined. So please don’t worry. I’ll make it. Your son, Tom
Chapter Fourteen
During the war Tom’s father was stationed in the South Pacific and sent many V-mail letters to his wife. “Well, I’m kinda disappointed to see our son with long curly locks. He looks like a girl. Get that boy a haircut! I’m glad though to at least get a picture of him. I’ve got it thumb-tacked to the wall behind my bunk. I can’t say where I am, or what we’re up to. I read each and every one of your letters a hundred times. I went to see a dentist this morning. That should tell you that I’m relatively safe, safe as you can be in a war. My best buddy is also from Oklahoma. He’s got a picture of his woman too. This sure helps when you’re half way around the world from home.”

Tom’s father departed from San Francisco for destinations unknown. Before then he’d never been out of the country. He just gotten married and disobeyed orders to get married. Many of the men just got married, and courtships were short and hurried because of war. There were reasons to believe that Tom was conceived on the first night that his parents spent together. It was hurried too.

And friends they made then last for a lifetime. This amazed Tom, because he never expected to keep up with his friends in the same way. This proved true, but Tom never reconciled how Elaine and Jim dropped him; a woman he thought he loved and a man he was attracted to. As he wrote to his friend Eddie, “It was something that I didn’t expect.” This was the inexperienced Tom writing, the one who allowed himself to be entrapped. At the same time Tom felt guilty about what he and his childhood friend Bobby did. “Of course we didn’t know what we were doing. It just felt good.”

February 23, 1967
Dear Elaine,
Last night, a friend of mine, who you don’t know, called to tell me about a mutual friend who was sent to Vietnam, a draftee whose wife divorced him, which qualified him for the draft. It was very sad to hear that he was killed in action and left behind a kid, a girl, someone I never met. The last time I saw him was right before I left for college and the poor fellow just got married. Too bad it didn’t work out.

February 23, 1967
Amarillo
Dear Sport, I’ll be leaving Amarillo in about a week. I don’t know where I’m going, but will write you when I land somewhere. I have to get out of Dodge. I haven’t saved as much money as I hoped, so I’ll go as far as I can on a shoestring. I plan to hitchhike, and when I get to a crossroads, I’ll flip a coin. I’ll see how it goes. I’m not into starving, so I expect to work along the way.

Lately I have been absolutely in the dumps, but now that I’m leaving, I feel better. I have never before felt so desperate … though I feel better. And chains were strong until I decided to do something about it. However, I know that I’ll make it, unless Uncle Sam gets me. By the way, what’s your draft status?

We have a lot in common, don’t we?

I still have dreams. I still have ambition. It’s a sad sack who doesn’t have dreams, a wealth of dreams, you know, and besides health and peace, dreams. I’ve been writing my heart out. We’re all learners, I think. Give me credit: every once and while I get a good idea. So you see why I’ve got to get out of Amarillo before I’m total stifled. However, excuses shouldn’t be tolerated.

The road- the road- that’s for me. I’m ready for the next adventure, but it should be indulged in moderation, along with a desperate need for sex. Right now I could screw anything in a skirt … only there are only so many women for any one man, and I’ve just struck out. Now that’s another story. Your friend, Shake Spear.

Write to me c/o General Delivery Albuquerque. That’s in New Mexico. Imagine New Mexico. I’m heading for New Mexico. Remember Albuquerque. I’ll get there eventually.

Grant Street Hovel
Dear Elaine,
No hard feelings. All right, well, I have to admit that I’m disappointed, but not in you. No, no, far from it. I know that I don’t have a right to be disappointed. Years from now I’ll remember you and recall the fun we had together, how we joked, so let’s not quarrel. Never thought I’d stay in Amarillo this long. I was free to go, yet I stayed when there wasn’t that much here to hold me. I wonder if the grass really is greener elsewhere … say in New Mexico. One thing I know is that New Mexico has mountains, which offers me something different. There’s less water in New Mexico.

February 24
Forgive me, couldn’t help myself. Awfully nice out tonight. Thought you might appreciate some comfort, so I knocked on your door until my knuckles bled. Just kidding. You don’t know when I’m kidding, do you? I’ve been thinking about traveling to Somoa till I’ve almost talked myself out of it. My father was stationed there during the war. I hear Pago Pago is a beautiful place, and far away; beautiful secluded beaches, beautiful friendly women, but still America with endless coconut palms and mountains. Somoa is the place to go, if you’re looking for a place without trappings. Ever your friend.

March 1
A week from now I’m leaving for good. Please tell me what to do with my keys. I am very happy, will miss you, but sill happy.

March 3
I haven’t changed my mind. At this point I’m set on going, and nothing could change it. And I don’t think I’ll get lost. I’m not sure though. I’ve been busy cleaning the apartment; with my not having paid a deposit, I think it’s only fair that I don’t leave you with a mess. I do regret all the mistakes I’ve made. It must be me. Situation is enough to drive a man crazy. It’s given me something to write about, so don’t be surprised when and if you find yourself in a book someday. That’s one of the dangers of having a writer for a friend. I’m trying to stay positive, which is a change for me, I know.

March 5
My last day of work, and I’m excited. I think my father is excited too now that he’s retiring. It’s something that he’s been looking forward to, with apprehension is my guess. His service station always has been his baby, and now that it’s sold he must be feeling like something’s missing. It’ll all change now, from full-service to self-serve. No one is willing to work as hard as he was. The death of many things, I suppose. It’ll take some getting used to. And mama’ll go crazy with him around all the time. Before she could count on him being gone all the time and at the same time knew where he was. One of the nicest parts of it was the name recognition: everybody in town knew him and he knew them all by name.

March 7
I’m almost ready, packed and ready to go. You’ll find that I’ve had to leave a few things. Do what you want with them. I’ll miss you. Your faithful, Tom

During his stay in Amarillo Tom wrote at least thirty poems (far less than his goal), fifteen of which he collected in a chapbook. The chapbook is known to have survived because he sent copies to his parents and his friends. But what happened to his scribbling? The ledger books he used to write his verse in eligible longhand? He would not go into that. The subject was too painful, so we don’t know what happened to them. They hopefully ended up in a box somewhere, to be rediscovered when he is dead and gone. The reference to the ledger books is an important one, because by the time Tom left Amarillo he only had one and could easily carry it with him. He packed the book with a ballpoint pen carefully in a plastic bag and stashed it in his rucksack. Vowing to write every day, he wanted to record his journey in verse and leave it for posterity.

The night before he left Amarillo, Tom went over to Elaine’s apartment to drop off his keys. He knocked, and she came to the door. He could hear Sonny and Cher on the radio singing “I Got You Baby.” It seemed sad to him.

Behind the front door he could see her living room. As Tom waited for her to say something, Tom gradually realized that she didn’t have anything to say. First there was awkwardness, something he regretted, and then he sensed silence. Then all at once, “damn!” “Damn” came out of his mouth. He wanted to go in, sit down and talk, and say all of the things he hadn’t said. Then instantly he recognized that he wouldn’t get to and possibly knew that he’d never see her again.

But as he waited he didn’t give up hope. For in spite of everything, Tom wasn’t yet used to rejection, and as he waited for her to say something, he had a sudden urge to barge into her apartment. And what was so troubling was that Tom knew that he was capable of doing it.

Then she finally said, “So you’re heading for the beaches of Pago Pago.” That was when he knew for sure, and as incredible as it seemed, knew that she had read his letters, and this raised his spirits.

Now from behind the door there came a man’s voice. “I’m coming.”

“I’m okay,” Elaine replied.

At first it seemed inconceivable to Tom, and then he became jealous, because he knew instantly whose voice it was. But then what did it matter now that Tom was leaving town. Still Roger’s voice cut into him like a knife.

“What’s the matter?” Elaine asked Tom.

“Nothing. I was just startled. Why I didn’t …” Embarrassed and trouble, he stopped himself, and then … “Never mind me.”

“Well, you’ve been a good neighbor and tenant, and I’ll miss you.”

“Why I…”

“Well, why not! We had some good conversations, and I enjoyed hiking in Palo Duro Canyon. You’ll be famous someday, and I’ll be able to say that I knew you back when. From the first day I met you I knew Amarillo couldn’t hold you. I was right. There’s nothing here for you. You’d die before people would notice you here. And you know that’s happened to a lot of guys like you, don’t you?”

“Why … why I didn’t think you paid attention.

“I’m sorry about that.”

The door opened behind Elaine and Roger came out. When the two men saw each other, they put up a brave front.

And as Tom handed over his keys, Roger showed himself to be amiable by smiling.

“Well, this is it. See you around someday.

Elaine didn’t say anything else. When Tom asked for a hug, she gave him one, and Tom hugged her back so hard that he broke her belt. Tom didn’t apologize. He didn’t say anything. He couldn’t.
Chapter Fourteen
March 13, 1967
Vaughn, New Mexico
Dear Mom and Dad
I’ve been here for three days. Vaughn is a very small place, a highway junction in the middle of nowhere. Wind hasn’t quit blowing. It doesn’t stop here, so it’s March, but I didn’t expect it to be this cold. I never thought that I’d stay here any longer than I had to, but something unexpected happened.

Yesterday, I started working at a service station. Yes, a service station, imagine it! I thought I had my fill of service stations. At any rate the opportunity came along after a very incredible happenstance. Sometimes when and where you least expect it, you get lucky, and to crown it all, there’s nothing here, or almost nothing. The town is no more than a block or two. It was after supper when we got to Vaughn, and I was pretty beat up from riding in the back of an empty horse trailer all day, which meant I wasn’t interested in going on to Roswell. I was very glad I stayed and ended up in a motel called Joy Court. The linen was unused. Modern and attractively furnished. Wall-to-wall carpet. Thermostat controlled heating. A tub bath. Radios in every room. Telephone. A nice place. They advertise “You’re a stranger here but once ‘If you stop-you stay.’ I believe it.

Well it looks like I’m staying for awhile. Yesterday I got hired at the service station connected to Joy Court. Full service dad. I told them that I grew up around a service station and wasn’t afraid to get my hands greasy. Surprising, isn’t it?

Why don’t you write. I have no more to report. Your affectionate son, Tom

Tom didn’t look back. Early that morning he hiked to the south end of town, hoping he could hitch a ride west on US 60. On the Interstate, heading south to Lubbock, there was heavy traffic, so he followed the old highway, walking seven or eight miles to Canyon and a junction. As he stretched his legs, he wasn’t in a hurry and knew that he wouldn’t have much luck until after Hereford turnoff.

As he walked it seemed strange that he didn’t own a car. Everyone owned a car. He wasn’t athletic, and the longer he walked the sillier it seemed that he didn’t own a car. And he didn’t like to plan, so he hadn’t. He had simply taken off, knowing that he wanted to head west and didn’t want to stick to the Interstate.

Then he thought about why he was leaving Amarillo, and why he had taken to the road again. It had nothing to do with Kerouac and had everything to do with Tom Hayes, but so far it hadn’t turned out how he thought it would. He hadn’t planned to live in Amarillo. Tom hadn’t been very brave, but now he seemed determined to change this. His walking alone was the ultimate expression of what he considered important. Walking alone meant everything to him.

And now, once again, he was on the road, and the road now led to Hereford Texas. With his thumb out, he stood beside the highway and looked back for the first time, and right then he didn’t have anyone that he could rely on. Right then he was alone. Yes, he still had Eddy who he’d write to as soon as he got somewhere, but he didn’t have an accomplice or a guarantor, and he worried about it. Then, before he knew it, a cattle truck pulled over in front of him, and he found himself running as fast as he could to the passenger’s side of the cab. Catching a ride had been easier than he expected, and now that he had one he had to determine whether he wanted to accept it or not. He’d have to rely on his instincts, and what were his instincts based on? He had denied God based on his parents’ religion and hoped that it wouldn’t lead to his destruction. He wasn’t so sure, since this was only the second time that he had ever hitchhiked, how could he trust his instincts?

The driver didn’t say anything the whole way to Hereford (the feedlots were just west of town). There was no need to say anything, no reason to get acquainted. Still the driver seemed friendly enough.

But as they drove through town the driver began to talk about cattle feeding, feeding country, and growing grain. But what did Tom care? He was off somewhere else when he was told that they moved over three million cattle through the lots every year, but to Tom it seemed cruel to have so many animals in so small a space, and he couldn’t get past the smell. It seemed to Tom unnatural, and even when the cattleman explained the whole operation was actual clean and sanitary Tom didn’t believe him.

Tom could be forgiven for his feelings about feedlots. He still ate beef then and hadn’t become a crusader. Tom may have been a rebel and let his hair grow down to his shoulders, but he didn’t let people know how he felt about most things … from denial of God to sexual urges that almost drove him crazy. In many ways, he felt that he was ruined and that if he didn’t find some relief he was heading for an explosion.

Before Tom realized it they’d driven through town, but Tom felt he hadn’t lost anything in Hereford. Because of a strong smell he wouldn’t have wanted to stay there. The driver let him out before he drove into the lot and started the process of weighing and unloading. The lots were vast, and the cattle seemed content. They obviously didn’t know what was in store for them.

And as Tom stood by the side of the highway again and knew that he’d have to walk back into town if he wanted lunch (perhaps a steak), he had a long argument with himself over what he should do next. Having yet not decided to push onward if he could get a ride or walk back into town to eat, he realized that in order to have a steak a bull would have to be killed. He suddenly wasn’t hungry, and this was how a decision was made for him. He would then skip a meal for the sake of a bull, and, what was more, he thought of becoming a vegetarian.

And along with this he struggled with his sexual thoughts, and it had already become apparent that he was sex starved. He dreamed of shacking up with someone, but at that point he didn’t really know whether he’d end up with a male or a female. All he could do at the moment was stick out his thumb and hope someone would pick him up soon. Meanwhile he peed in a culvert, did this with haste, because … it seemed to Tom … that someone could’ve been watching him.

As he stood beside the highway and waited for another ride, and traffic was steady, Tom wondered how far he’d get before the end of the day. He worried that he might get caught out in the middle of nowhere. The dreary unpeopled prospect of the highway ahead seemed daunting. Tom didn’t think of the flat and still barren fields being plowed and that the hopes for a bumper crop of grain were high. It wouldn’t be until New Mexico that there would be a real break in a monotonous landscape. Of course, Tom hadn’t been down this highway before and didn’t know for sure what lay ahead.

And this to Tom was what he deserved. This was what happened to boys who went astray. Yes, they’d lose their way … when their logic would become eschewed and lead them into the lawless world of whorehouses and where all of their passions were exposed. Like them Tom would find himself there.

As Tom remembered the home in which he was raised, he thought again of his parents, whose faith had been so familiar to him and whose warnings he off and on tried to heed. Perhaps this was why he was having so much trouble, and why he rebelled and had long arguments with himself. Maybe it was why he was running. Maybe Tom was less and less willing to accept limitations placed on him by society and religion … though certainly, because of what he had been taught and believed as a kid, he hadn’t totally successfully rebelled. Something within him always fought these devils for there were many things about him that contradicted his impulses and passions. He always looked for something better, some warmth, some love, a moment of intimacy, excitement of a touch, and a compliment of a lover. Was it possible that he’d find what he was looking for, and joy and beauty that he had not yet found? Would he find it? Was that why he took to the road? And was he part of a lost generation? No, he was born too late for that … because the lost generation had been the generation of Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, and Eliot.

And yes also too late for the Beat Generation, which might also explain why until recently he hadn’t heard of Kerouac, Ginsburg, or Burroughs, though Tom had to chuckle whenever he thought of what his father would’ve said had he found a copy of HOWL or NAKED LUNCH under his pillow. What was it Tom’s old man said when he found copies of PLAYBOY stuffed under his mattress and pointed to the centerfold: “What would people think if we hung these pictures on our living room wall?” And “Son, let me warn you …” Was then this such a terrible sin? If so, Tom felt he was damned long ago.

Around then along the highway as Tom thought these things, three men in a pickup truck pulling an empty horse trailer stopped for him. There was room for him in the trailer, and Tom was thankful that he could ride inside something that was covered. In there he was faced with an odor of horses … smell of hay and oats and manure. All of this was unfamiliar to him. But it was something he relished and wouldn’t forget, just as lying in hay was (which reminded him of Whitman and LEAVES OF GRASS). And in the space of time between and Hereford and Clovis, and in spite of a jarring ride, he fell asleep. Clovis meant a new state, a gas stop and a chance to stretch his legs. Then Fort Summer and finally Vaughn! He regretted that he missed seeing Billy the Kid’s grave, but he knew that there was no way that he could see everything. And as he bounced around in an empty horse trailer he hoped that some day he’d know and find the peace of mind that his mom and dad seemed to have, but just then he was more aware of his limitations.

Before heading down to Carrizozo and finally the Riodoso racetrack, in darkness now, his ride was suppose to pick up three stallions in Vaughn, and stopped for supper first. Tom would have to say goodbye to them there, leaving behind security of the horse trailer with the now familiar smells of hay, oats, and manure.

Welcome to Vaughn. A neon star, part of the Ranch House Café sign, was shinning brightly, while the highway south disappeared into darkness. Tom looked around for a place to stay. He saw that he had a choice: the Bell Air Motel or the Love Court and gas station. And as he stood there with his rucksack in one hand cold wind hurt him, and when he started to walk he became aware of the altitude. It didn’t look like it, but it felt like he was on top of a mountain, particularly now that he was walking.

There was hardly any traffic. Though it was farther off, and almost out of sight, he was drawn to the Love Court. He liked the sound of the place. He liked the look of the place. He’d look for supper after he checked in. As his heart rate increased and his face heated up, he crossed the highway and headed for the motel. The Love Court, for Tom, brought to mind something that he could only describe as wild and wicked and certainly secret. And he had a hunch that something good was about happen to him.

Then he got to the door and entered the lobby. A young woman by the name of Rosa greeted him.

March 23, 1967
Vaughn, New Mexico

Dear Sport,

Finally a letter from you reached me. I never thought that I’d like it here. I’m guilty of prejudging the place. First off, given that my dad owned a gas station, I never thought I’d end up working at one. I bet my dad’s shaking his head. No, I haven’t found my life’s work, and perhaps someone I met here has led me far afield. Yes, a young woman, with a small child yet. Every time I’m with her I learn something new about myself (or perhaps she knows how to appeal to my ego.) And then again, to be blunt, I can’t get enough of her, enough in every sense of the word. It’s awful that we have to watch ourselves because I feel that I have to protect her reputation. Oh golly, I say to you that it can’t be true that she’s had at least fifty other boyfriends. And to work at the Love Court, you can see why we have to be discreet, and believe me it’s for her sake, but then I never pretended to be good in bed, though you can imagine what it did for my ego when she told me that I was the best lover she ever had. How’s that for a compliment? I feel I’ve hit my stride, and know the game thoroughly. You see what a little encouragement does.

Behind the Love Court Rosa lived with her daughter in a small house trailer. It came with her job. Because of the young girl, Tom never moved in but instead rented a room at the court by the week. Working at the service station meant that he could easily come and go and see Rosa without attracting much attention. Otherwise their liaison would’ve become the talk of the town. Tom always prided himself on the amount of restraint he showed. Chuck, who owned the court and service station, and hired Tom right away, didn’t care what the couple did during their off time.

Meanwhile, when I’m done with Vaughn, I still plan to head west (which was what I planned to do when I left Amarillo and ended up God knows where because I still refuse to plan). Next time I’ll have to land in a place with a decent bookstore; and there perhaps I’d find a copy of HOWL, for HOWL to me is a stretch; I mean, it is stark and yet a breakthrough; then NAKED LUNCH is too, by the way. And so too has my taste changed, and changed forever, as I put LEAVES OF GRASS aside and have hopefully matured … yes, that’s it … matured. Suppose I never leave Vaughn, that seems unlikely but suppose, and then what? Eh? Would it be okay? Would anyone care? I daresay no one would, and perhaps it wouldn’t matter, or have anything to do with real fulfillment. I think it all depends on me. I wouldn’t have discovered Burroughs or Ginsberg had I stay at Baylor, just as if I hadn’t left home I wouldn’t have been ready for HOWL or NAKED LUNCH. I know that I would’ve been shocked. Getting stuck is always a risk. There’s always temptation to lie down and die. And then you won’t have to face a challenge. What do you think of all of this? If I’m happy here, why shouldn’t I stay? Why shouldn’t I stay in Vaughn?

I hope to start writing poetry again. With or without Whitman, that is the question.

As far as my moving on, no, I just got here. And as you might guess, I’m happy. Amazing, isn’t it? I have a cozy room with wall-to-wall-carpet, thermostat controlled heating, a bathtub, and a telephone. I have a job, which pays me over a hundred bucks a week, and nothing but rent and food to spend it on. And oh, yes, a girlfriend, who makes sure I have clean clothes to wear. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way things are going; only it’s still cold here. If it weren’t for wind, it wouldn’t be so cold, so you can see why I count on Rosa for comfort and warmth. Besides Rosa has a ten-year-old daughter, who I’ve more or less adopted. This is my life. All so unexpected, and yes it fell into my lap just like that. So here I am almost afraid to pinch myself, for certainly it’s too good to be true, and as they say, if it appears to be too good to be true, then sadly it probably is. But doesn’t it all depend? We’ll have to see what transpires. So in the meantime, I have a post office box here, and it is much more likely than not, that for the time being I’ll stay here, except for a quick trip to Albuquerque to locate a good book store. I would remind you that it doesn’t hurt to have a diversion or two, and that in certain circumstances calumny, theft, and even murder may be justified, or else life can be awfully boring. An idle thought. Before I left Amarillo I bought a copy of Burroughs’ NAKED LUNCH. I have yet to figure out what is going on, but what is essential is that I’m trying. And at night on the radio I get stations far and wide, even WRR out of Dallas, and of course XERF out of Del Rio. I even took Wolfman Jack’s advice and sent for “some zing for my ling nuts.” It must be doing me some good because I spend five or six nights a week with Rosa, and well, her daughter has gotten used to me being around. We both work late nights and by the time we get home we’re often too worked up to go to sleep, so we turn on the radio to see what we can find. And if we get tired of moondog, we put on “Too Many Martyrs,” “Talking Birmingham Jam,” or “Power and the Glory,” our favorite songs. That’s Phil Ochs, if you don’t know. Which means for me that I’m against Vietnam, because if I’m drafted I won’t go. Hell, no! I’ve made that decision.

I may not have written many poems recently, but you can see that I’ve been thinking. You haven’t told me, by the way, what you’re plans are about graduate school, which I’m sure you’ve been thinking about. The war certainly changes everything, doesn’t it? Keep me informed. Your friend, Shakes Spear.

I say, if there’s a chance of you coming west anytime soon, be sure you don’t miss Vaughn. You couldn’t ask for a better tour guide than me … in a place where there’s not much to see.
Chapter Fifteen
Tom subscribed to the Albuquerque Journal so that he could keep track of the war in Vietnam. He thought he escaped the war in Vietnam, or he hoped he had. He would’ve disappeared had it not been for his parents.

Tom learned from the Albuquerque Journal that American forces were succeeding, but there hadn’t been any large or decisive battles. Then Tom’s first draft notice was intercepted by his father, which he then forwarded to him. This changed everything. This changed everything as for as Tom was concerned. When questioned about her son, Mrs. Hayes usually said something like this:

“Tom never got into trouble. Throughout high school Tom worked almost every afternoon at Safeway (where he ran a cash register and helped out in the produce department). With work and school and all, Tom was too busy to get into trouble. My only regret about it was that he worked most Sundays. I think where I went wrong was that I didn’t set my foot down. He however made enough money to buy his own car, and he told his father that he never wanted to be poor and he’d eat steaks rather than beans. When it came to paying for college, he helped us out with it.”

Tom noticed that his father never talked about his experiences during the war but his father never got around to asking him why he never asked him about it. But it surprised him then that his father would ask him what he thought about the movie Guadalcanal Diary, but was disappointed when it didn’t lead to a conversation, so it didn’t surprise Tom that his first draft notice was forwarded to him without comment. Silence continued until the FBI came calling and during an interview that followed Tom’s father called his son a coward.

Back in Vaughn spring began to take hold. Spring wouldn’t take hold like it did other places, and Tom Hayes got into a groove that if it hadn’t been for Rosa would’ve seemed mundane. He hated working at the gas station. He grew up around a gas station, so he hated it worse than ever, and spent his time there, even with customers, trying to get a glimpse of his girl working at the Love Court. Their romance had hardly more than just begun, but he’d gone further with her than with any other women, and from past experience Tom knew that he’d better enjoy it while it lasted. He didn’t expect it to last. It was too good to be true. In this regard he may have gone overboard. It also made him feel desperate because each day he couldn’t wait until his shift was over. He couldn’t wait to have her in his arms again. It was what he desired and dreaded. He desired and dreaded it, fearing that somehow he’d screw up. And he hoped gods would be kind to him and he could restrain himself long enough to satisfy her. Remember Rosa told him that he was the best lover that she ever had, but this didn’t reassure him: it was better not to put too much stock into it.

Tom was sleeping with Rosa every night, with her daughter Lucy sleeping on a pallet on the floor in the same room, but as long as they were careful it didn’t seem to hamper them. The child was used to her mother sleeping around, and Tom quickly learned how to be discreet in his slow, methodical way. Her orgasms became his cue, and they were in the forefront of his thoughts and feelings. She had to have several of them before he moved onto the next spot. Tom learned this so as not to spoil it, and she was aware of this, and reveled in it, as any woman would. Perhaps that was why she was always ready, while not knowing about a conflict inside him, believing that he had the same desires as her other boyfriends had and that thus their relationship might last. Rosa thought Tom was special. However, it turned out to be a short-lived affair, while in his mind he went as far as to adopt her daughter Lucy.

At some point Rosa began to feel uncomfortable. She didn’t understand why he held back. They didn’t talk about it and she had her orgasms, but she had to coax him into having his. . She didn’t understand why Tom wasn’t like other men she had known. Afterwards he always apologized, which drove her crazy. Why did he apologize? Then he repeated himself, said that he had to be careful and was afraid he would let her down. Why did he repeat himself? She didn’t understand what was going on, and it shook the foundation of their relationship.

But she didn’t want to let Tom go. He couldn’t understand why this was so. “She could have any man she wanted,” he argued unsuccessfully. “Any man! She has shown how easy it is for her and retain her dignity. You really shouldn’t worry so much. You spend too much time worrying,” he chided himself. “It’s self-defeating! Worry is self-defeating. Why not simply enjoy what you have? Enjoy the moment! Enjoy each moment! Enjoy! Why create a problem that doesn’t exist?” he asked, as he lay beside a totally spent woman. “And besides haven’t you made her totally happy? She’s obviously enjoying it.”

In the end, Tom yielded. He didn’t disappoint her, yet for him there was something missing.

So April came and went, and summer was pleasant enough, and Tom still looked forward to being with Rosa after work. During this time he didn’t hear again from his draft board while American attacks on North Vietnam’s airfields began. In Vaughn it helped that it wasn’t too hot.

July 11, 1967
Vaughn, New Mexico

Dear Sport,

Suddenly it feels like summer, very hot, when I didn’t expect it, and I’m not prepared for it. I’m spoiled, no doubt, since it’s generally cool here. I’m not complaining. Other than weather, there isn’t much to report. If you were to ask me the day of the week, I’d be hard pressed: that’s how my days run together. But I’m not complaining. Whenever I do, I’m put in my place. The situation in Nam is not very pretty. I’m sick about it. For your information Uncle Sam has said that he wants me; I’ve been thinking about what to do and thought I’d tell him “no.” But I’m just in the mood to get it over with; for the experience would give me something to write about. I’ve thought about going to Nam … what it would be like. I wouldn’t look forward to it, but I’m not chicken either. Right now it seems like I have my life on hold, not much is happening, and with Rosa … well, it’s pleasant enough. Working, eating, sleeping, lovemaking, and not necessarily in that order, some say is a good life, so let me repeat: I’m not complaining. Nothing too strenuous, so why am I anxious?

But I don’t seem to be able to write; indeed I haven’t written a poem in I don’t know how long, when I’ve set as a goal a poem a day. It’s not a good sign.

I’ve been reading a great deal of poetry: everything I can get my hands on: Oscar Wilde’s Grecian poesy and have wondered what it would be like to be a Grecian woman. Also Ted Berrigan, his crazy energy has opened me up and broadened my scope to such an extent that I’m thinking about becoming a fucking anarchist. A fucking anarchist … I wonder what mother would think. See how Berrigan has given me permission to be pissed off. Is that all? I seem most interest in the Underground Poets, and to keep my juices flowing I’ve established a connection in San Francisco (though I don’t think I’ve lost anything there). After Vaughn San Francisco would be quite a shock, which is not to say that I wouldn’t want to go to San Francisco. It was sad to hear that Langston Hughes died, and I daresay that he and Whitman set the standard. I understand that Hughes’ father got angry over the writer’s queerness (I can see my father having the same reaction). Here I go, and you ought to know that almost every night I’m scoring, which has given me confidence, when confidence often is all that is needed. And what’s more, I’m surer than ever that there’s nothing wrong with me and that I’m not gay. So you see that I’ve been busy, learning and don’t plan to let this heat get me.

This is the first letter I’ve written in months … no excuse. Let’s see how long I last.

You’d be amazed at how much I cherish little things such as wind in grass especially on the range. Except where there’s overgrazing there’s still plenty of grass here, particularly in the springtime. I spend a great amount of time roaming on foot, and it’s easy to get out of town because there isn’t much to it. And I love solitude and like getting lost. I once wandered all the way over to the Pecos (actually hitched and had to backtrack) and was surprised to find water in it. You’d be surprised how much I’ve learned about the West, and how much you can learn if you keep your ears and eyes open. How different ranchers are from tourist and what I’m trying to see is just how I fit in. So what’s new? But so far, after much searching, I haven’t come to any conclusions. Maybe this is a good thing. Here’s something! I’m happiest when I’m alone; possibly sometimes I’m running away from situations and other times I simply want to be left by myself. Who knows what’s going on. God help us all. For in spite of myself, I still rely on God, though I hesitate to admit it and like to consider myself a rebel. You can’t reject something and accept the same thing at the same time, can you? Tell me when you come to a brick wall, does it pay to butt your head against it? I don’t know if I’m making sense or not, so I better quit trying. Sport, I now have to admit that I haven’t given up on God, but other than that I couldn’t tell you what I believe in. I repeat, why even try?
God bless you. I need sleep.

I don’t know when I’ll get to the post office. Tomorrow I’m scheduled to work a double shift, and then I’ll have to take care of Rosa.

Often Tom and Rosa worked the same shifts, so coordinating their schedules was easy for them. Tom referred to seeing her during his breaks. How he did it discreetly remained a mystery. Maybe he wasn’t discreet. It was a small town.

July 16
Forgive me. I’ve had this letter in my pocket and ready to mail for over a week. I forgot about it when I took my shirt off, leaving it for Rosa to find it when she did my laundry. Now I need your advice, but I know that I can’t possibly get to you in time. And I don’t know how to reach you on the phone. Let me just say that what I’m going through is intolerably painful and has knocked me off my feet. I don’t think I can write about it now. And it wouldn’t do any good, so I’ll save it for later. I know it’s mean. However, let me assure you that I haven’t given up. I’m also thankful that I have a couple of days off. So I’ll pack a few things and do a little hitchhiking. To Roswell first, to collect a little moon dust, and then on to Lincoln and a Billy the Kid shootout, and on my way to Capitan, I’ll look out for Smoky the Bear. It should help me get my mind off things. God bless you. Shake Spear

P.S. Keep a light on for me buddy.

Tom went south with his rucksack filled with books and clothing. Then after looking around Roswell, he caught a ride to Bitter Lakes where he spent a day catching up on his writing. He began what he viewed as a major work and hoped that it wouldn’t fizzle.

In EXILED, Tom wrote: “You may run as far as you can, but at the end of the day, you’re still faced with the same person that started the race, and maybe you haven’t run as far as you thought you had.” He was thinking of his family back in the Forks and how his folks weren’t getting any younger.

Tom didn’t understand what he was running from, and after changing his mind a dozen times … including time he spent in Vaughn and thought he was in love, he decided to report for military duty after a short vacation. Soon afterwards Tom caught a bus out of Roswell and returned to Dallas. He did it without considering Rosa or thinking about their relationship. He returned to Dallas without thinking. He didn’t want to think of the consequences. There was no reason for him to hurry, yet he did hurry. He caught an early bus from Roswell, with a connection in Pecas, then through Midland, and Odesssa. And Tom didn’t plan to go home, or tell his parents what he was up. He luckily made a connection in Pecos without much trouble, but the bus was full, and he didn’t get a window seat. Along the way he became friendly with a guy who was also running from something. They talked about the War and LBJ and how the FBI angered Tom’s dad, and how he (Tom) “had thrown in the towel.” With reluctance Tom admitted that he was scared. They both cursed LBJ.

Tom hadn’t paid any attention to when he’d arrive in Dallas. It didn’t matter to him. It didn’t matter to him because he didn’t want anyone to meet him. No doubt the advantage of not planning ahead was that he didn’t have to bother anyone else. He didn’t want anyone to know. He wanted to be on his own, and since he knew Dallas, he didn’t worry about finding a place to stay. He still didn’t call his parents, and since he didn’t feel comfortable staying in the Downtown YMCA, he found a place to shower and lay his head (in an inexpensive hotel) near the Induction Center on Jackson Street. By then, after riding a bus for a day and a half, Tom was pretty tired and wasn’t very choosy. So in August 1967, Tom entered the bureaucracy of the induction center intending to serve his country.

Tom, sitting on a bench in boxer shorts and a T-shirt, was worried for sake of worrying. He took a number and finished and passed his physical. He knew he would pass. At this point draftees were supposed to see a shrink, and Tom still expected to make the cut. When he’d been asked if he had ever been convicted of a crime, he refused to lie and told on himself, and now he had to see a shrink. They eventually rejected him, said that he was unfit to serve, which forced him again to face something that occurred in Amarillo. Just when he was beginning to feel normal again and told himself that couldn’t wait to get back to Rosa, they informed him that he was unfit to fight a war. To her he wrote: “While I was at Bitter Lakes the urge to take care of business overwhelmed me. Now I feel relieved, and am tired, and happy and upset all at the same time. I’m home free now when I wouldn’t have been had I not come back to Dallas. The ringleader of it all, of course, is Uncle Sam. Have you heard “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” yet? If you have, you’d understand what I’ve been through.

Clearly Tom intended to go back to Vaughn. He never intended to give up what he had going with Rosa.
Tom first heard “Alice’s Restaurant” on the radio while in Dallas. His reaction to the lyrics was immediate. It seemed like Arlo Guthrie had him pegged. Only he heard it before Thanksgiving, and he knew by then that he wouldn’t be going home for Thanksgiving. He didn’t know where he’d be, but he knew he couldn’t go home. Not after flunking the draft. After flunking the draft he knew he couldn’t go home.

Tom’s experience with the draft wasn’t different from anyone else’s. With what happened he could always say that he wasn’t a draft dodger. He didn’t burn his card, or flee to Canada. It instead became impossible for him to tell the truth. He never talked about it and he never told anyone but Rosa that he came to Dallas that summer. He instead disappeared for six months and entered what he later described as the underground. During all of that time he was never more than ten or fifteen miles from home.

Tom woke up in the cheapest room he could find on West Jefferson. He didn’t want to get up while at the same time he knew that he had to eat something. He couldn’t remember when he last ate. He was hungry and knew he had to eat. He stretched, pressed his forehead with his fingers, and cursed. Jeeez! He stretched again and tried to remember where he was and vaguely remembered that it was Sunday. Then he thought of his parents, who already would’ve been to church and back, and how it would cost him very little to pick up the phone and call them. This would’ve been easy but would’ve raised questions that he didn’t feel like answering, so stretching again, he turned over and went back to sleep.

Four hours before then he was bar hopping while not knowing exactly what he was going to do. He almost got run over by a truck when he stepped out into a street. He saw the truck in time. A close call woke him up. The truck driver luckily honked before slamming on his breaks. Up the street a little ways was the Texas Theater where Oswald viewed “War is Hell” before he was captured. What went on in the assassin’s head while he watched “War is Hell? To kill a man because of a sudden outburst of passion was understandable, but to kill someone in cold blood was something else. Tom wished he were some place else.

Before Tom tried to cross the street he was thinking about mayhem and murder, but the honking startled him when otherwise he would’ve been dead. While he was a prisoner of fears and would remember the horror of feeling totally alone, he sought solitude before then, but being alone in a city was a lot different than being alone when no one was around.

In a city that he knew all his life, Tom now saw it in a new light. In a bustling city, with streets filled with cars when he was without one himself, Tom walked alone and felt like a criminal; and he was guilty of the worse kind of crime imaginable, a sex crime. All the stores and the offices were closed, and where there was a sidewalk he could follow it. In a dim light (broken by headlights, streetlights and stoplights) suddenly it seemed to Tom, as far as his life was concerned, that he had come to a crossroads.

With impatience he stumbled on an uneven sidewalk and knew he had to get off the street. It was as busy as ever, with the heaviest traffic heading downtown. And everywhere, particularly at night, there was potential danger. He knew people had been mugged and killed in the area, but by the grace of God he hadn’t been one of them … still there was always the possibility, and it scared him. To die in an accident maybe couldn’t be helped, but to look for trouble was something else. He hadn’t put himself in this position before.

In this world of crime, the criminal didn’t feel at home. And in that part of town and at that time of night, the law meant very little. Tom had no place to hide and indeed he couldn’t turn himself in, while he had to pretend to obey the law. “My life,” he thought, “my life is in shambles.” It disturbed him greatly, especially since he could see himself committing other crimes and joining a society of criminals. He felt caught up in it, and as he stood in front of the darkened Texas Theater, he hit a low point and felt like his life meant nothing. .

Tom found that he was drawn to the sordid, the ugly, and things that weren’t meant to last. He rejected wholesomeness and entered hell he created for himself. Tom especially liked dark places where men and women did things that they wouldn’t do during the day. He had to be at least twenty-one to get into most of these places; these joints generally smelled of beer and smoke and didn’t have to advertise. They didn’t need to have signs. Tom didn’t advocate crime, really. He simply found himself in the big middle of it.

Here was a young man without a place to live. Circumstances prevented Tom from going home, though his feelings weren’t totally logically. Even after looking at his situation from every angle, he couldn’t make sense of it, for he knew that he’d made a mess of his life. But first things first: he’d have to eat and find a place to live. It was basic, but there was one problem: he’d run out of money.

Though Tom wasn’t lazy, he now didn’t want to settle for any ol’ job. It was something that he’d promised himself when he left Vaughn, and he certainly thought that he could find a better job than working in a gas station. In the back of his mind he also held out hope that maybe there was some way that he could get along without working at all. Tom had hopes of concentrating more on his writing and thought that there had to be a way. So he set out to find it.

Believe it or not, Oak Cliff had its own counterculture, and there were places where a guy with long hair could go and wouldn’t stand out. Several places come to mind. Of course Tom looked for a bookstore that carried hip literature. There were a few of those in Oak Cliff. Unfortunately he couldn’t buy anything. But Tom asked for a job.

The owner of the Book Nook knew of a crash pad where Tom could stay and could stay by contributing what he could. It sounded good to Tom. With a free place to stay he could breathe easily for a change, even though he had to sleep on the floor. The pad was crowded. It was crowded with a composite of the counterculture, people from varied backgrounds, who amazingly were compatible. Tom couldn’t see how they could be so compatible. There was, strangely, an order to how the place was run and somehow they always managed it without much effort. Tom hadn’t seen anything like it. It amazed him. This incense-laden house filled with music of The Animals, Orlo Guthrie and Phil Ochs seemed to be tonic he needed, and probably he would never have left there except for the drug speed.

Elsewhere it was the summer of Love. Elsewhere in Tom’s mind meant San Francisco, and Tom wasn’t in the mood for his mom’s apple pie. It was longer before he tried acid. Remember that already he used pot. Now all of a sudden speed was available to him. But he stopped. Luckily he stopped. He stopped, but not before an old unquiet feeling overcame him. For one thing he didn’t like needles. He watched people use needles. He watched people share needles. Merely looking at needles made him shudder. When he first came to the pad to live, there hadn’t been any serious drug use, or any that concerned him. That all changed rather rapidly after a 24 year-old drug dealer arrived on the scene, and everyone already was pretty stoned on grass, and before Tom knew it he damn near croaked. The dealer assured them that it was all quite safe, but Tom would be forever thankful that he had an adverse reaction.

Tom didn’t like the rush or the flash, the feeling of being out of control. He liked being in control. It didn’t matter that others around him loved it. He might’ve like it except for needles and if he hadn’t been coerced (something he always maintained, which wasn’t necessarily true). So then, as he sweated profusely and with his heart beat rapidly, Tom experienced an organism, which he would’ve enjoyed had he anticipated it, but instead it frightened him, and he wanted it to stop. And as he started to gag he said, “I’ve got to get out of here.”

By then he had given a piece of his heart to Janis Joplin. Tom would always remember seeing a Janis Joplin concert and heard someone say that watching the Port Arthur babe on stage was like living a dream that all boys dreamed. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” Man ol’ man. Yes, Tom still enjoyed wet dreams. Or he could still hope, find joy, get high, and keep looking. For what? He still didn’t know.

Letters show that he left Oak Cliff right after this. They however don’t give details on how he got to Oklahoma City, where he was greeted warmly by aunts and uncles. It’s safe to assume however that by then he needed a shower. It’s also safe to assume he needed money and had grown tired of eating out of dumpsters. And it’s safe to assume one of his aunts called his parents, but there was no reason to think that he wanted to talk about it. By then he knew that he had to call his parents himself and explain. He would have to explain, concocted a story about why he hadn’t written and had just been too busy and happened to end up in the City, and include how much he missed them. His relatives certainly made him feel at home.
Chapter Sixteen
January 11, 1968
Wichita
Dear Mom,
At last I’ve found my way. Don’t think that I’ve been loafing. I know that it’s taken a while, but I’ve found my way at last. I feel guilty for not communicating with you and dad, as I should. I know you worry about me. I’m afraid I’ve caused you and dad more grief than necessary. The hundred dollars you loaned me in Oklahoma City certainly kept me alive. I am alive, and I was hoping to pay you back by now. I also intended to come home for Christmas, but that simply wasn’t in the cards. Do not suppose that it’s been particularly easy for me: on the contrary it’s been very difficult. I didn’t want to ask you for any more help. I wanted to maintain my independence. I’m a grown man and hated to ask you and dad for the hundred dollars, but I felt that I had no choice. I’ve now however found the perfect job, which I don’t deserve: for I think I’ve behaved very poorly and haven’t treated you and dad very well. I ask your forgiveness; and proof of it is this letter.

As for where I’m living, I’ve again rented another efficiency. It’s small, a small efficiency, but it will do. It’s good for now.

It’s snowy and cold here. I don’t know why I didn’t head for sunny Arizona, Florida, or California. First Amarillo, then Vaughn, and now Wichita shows that I’m certainly a glutton for punishment and shows what can happen to someone who doesn’t plan ahead. I won’t go into gory details, what motivated me to turn left or right. I must say that it hasn’t always been easy, but it’s life. And I’ve certainly learned how to cope, and happen to think that I’ve learned how to survive. Looking back on the last few months, I don’t think I would’ve done anything differently. Often times I didn’t have a choice, for I didn’t have total control and had to take advantage of whatever came down the pike. Someday I’ll write about it. I mean a book about the journey I’ve been on; a book that you may or may not want to read; on the other hand I may not want you to read it. No, I’m not trying to hide anything.

Wow, it’s amazing how well I’m doing; and above all how happy I am. I have to be at work by ten every morning, which means I’m generally in bed by midnight. Yes, I’ve settled down to a routine that I think I can handle, so finally I might get something written. If this isn’t progress, I don’t know what is.

I had almost given up hope and was wet and cold and running out of funds. I’ve always frequented bookstores, small bookstores where I often found people with whom I could commiserate. I was desperate when I first walked into Burt’s Old & New Bookstore. It was still very cold outside, but luckily it wasn’t still snowing, and Burt saw my potential as a bookseller (for I knew many of the authors he stocked), and he needed help, and we both hit it off immediately. I’ve also found a pretty woman, which also has helped. Nothing serious mom! Address: 3726 N. Oliver Street Apt. C. Wichita KS 67220.

Tom and Kate had a Western Steer Burger at the Town and Country Restaurant and were so happily drenched in each other that they lost track of time. Later after listening to Audrey Hepburn sing “Moon River” while watching a rerun of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. Tom placed his hand on Kate’s knee and asked, “Are you happy?” Tom went out with Kate, even though he knew that she was married to a test pilot. Tom knew that they were separated, otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten involved. He’d been in Wichita only for a short while and considered himself lucky to have come so far in so short a time. He went as far as to tell Burt that he was madly in love with Kate.

Kate turned out to be a charming woman, and she charmed Tom. He couldn’t get enough of her. Besides eating out and going to movies, they just sat around and talked. Tom was a good talker. Kate thought he was a good talker. Kate was a good looker. Tom thought she was a good looker. They initially had few things in common, but that soon changed. Kate also was a good actor and pretended that she no longer cared for her husband. According to her, her husband was a nasty man, but would deflect Tom’s questions by saying, “I prefer not to get into it.”

Thoroughly awake now, Tom reached out and touched Kate. He liked her huge bed, fresh smelling with clean Paisley sheets and a warm Athens comforter. He preferred her bed to his. For the moment he let her sleep, while thinking having her beside him was too good to be true. He had to pinch himself. Then he remembered Rosa, Rosa and her many men. Now Kate, a married woman, certainly untidy, but agreeable. It had happened so easily, too easily perhaps. An affair, now how would it end? He didn’t have a clue. But why think of an ending? He knew affairs with married women generally ended.

As he stretched out in Kate’s boudoir, Tom decided he would let her get her beauty sleep. He liked the luxury of her condo, the spaciousness, high ceiling and French patio doors that within a few feet led to an outdoor sauna. Tom relished sharing the outdoor sauna with Kate. He remembered the night before when they used the sauna, even though it was very cold outside. He remembered steam from the sauna and shivering before and afterwards. At a crucial moment, just before they decided to dispense with their clothing, he hesitated slightly as he held her in his arms, holding her tightly with his eyes shut, as if he wasn’t quite sure that he wanted to go through with it. Then he kissed her, yes on the mouth. Tom advanced deliberately first with his hands touching her breast and then with his mouth, an open mouth, and Kate responded with her mouth open. She sighed softly, with satisfaction, at the end of the kissing. The evening progressed in that way until she asked him if he wanted to stay. Tom couldn’t resist her hot hands and hot mouth, and afterwards she too said that he was the best lover that she ever had.

And as he stretched out in Kate’s bed Tom was filled with pleasant thoughts, which included thoughts about the time he spent with Rosa.

January 18, 1968
Wichita
Dear Mom,
I know how you feel about God and how honestly answering your questions would upset you, so at first I wasn’t going to respond. It was unfair of you to ask, though over the years I’ve grown use to your straightforwardness, but I can be equally mean. Some people now say God is dead. People saying this I know upsets you. You’ll be happy to know that I’m not one of them. I can hear your sigh of relief from here indeed. Your questions have played on my mind quite of bit, which must please you. So I’ve wrestled with it and have concluded that I’m not ready to declare a death sentence quite yet.

I’ve gone out and bought some things for my apartment that might seem very strange to you. I’m now fond of incense and candles and very much into bright colors. I felt like it was time for a change and have also purchased exotic oils, essential oils if there’s such a thing, chamomile, eucalyptus, and grapefruit…yes, grapefruit. I know that you like Texas Ruby Reds, but I’m not sure what kind of grapefruit we’re talking about here. I’m not going to incriminate myself by saying how I got into exotic oils, but it’s safe to assume that I was influence by a creative woman. There’s nothing to be ashamed of about my having a girlfriend, is there? Her name is Kate.

Yes, I’ve met someone I like. I referred to her in my last letter … about how we’re not contemplating marriage yet. I’m so sorry to hear about of dad’s fall. It must be hard on you. Tell him I’m thinking about him. I send my love. Your affectionate son. Tom

By then Tom was spending most nights with Kate, which may not have been a healthy arrangement. Every once and while she spent a night at his tiny apartment, hence the need for oils.

Tom wrote a detail explanation about why he hadn’t refuted God yet. He would never have signed such a document. Many of his ideas, of course, were borrowed from Nietzche, and if his mother had known it, she would’ve felt a little better. In letters he wrote her about God, Tom never wrote about Nietzche because he didn’t think she knew the philosopher. What he didn’t know was that he underestimated her. It was nonsense because his mother read about Nietzche in a Christian Magazine.

Tom now thought about how he dressed. Because of Kate, he thought about how he dressed. He polished his shoes now, kept them polished everyday. No longer a slouch was he. He wore clean underwear and had his hair trimmed. Every morning Tom showered, choosing with care the right shirt and pants to wear, and before he left for work he planned his evening. It didn’t vary much. He knew that he would do something with Kate and knew that most likely she’d drop by the store some time during the afternoon. He looked forward to seeing her, though he’d only left her or she’d left him a few hours before then. Kate excited him, as did everything about her, while the only problem he saw was that being with her cut into his writing.

For breakfast, Tom sometimes stopped at the Breakfast Club, but most of the time he ate on the run. And to fortify himself he drank coffee several times during the morning. He needed a jolt, given that he never got enough sleep.

The smell of grapefruit oil reminded him of Kate and how she made him feel good. Not used to so much attention, Tom felt unsure of himself. He had never received so much attention from a woman. He didn’t consider himself a great lover, so why would she give him so much attention. He was afraid he would disappoint her. He never disappointed her, but he was afraid he would, and from his perspective he never succeeded. But in spite of flaws, he saw how he delighted her. And he delighted her because he took care of her needs. She said she never met anyone like him.

Kate compared Tom to her husband who rushed everything. Her husband frequently demanded sex without foreplay, and he loved to leap in before Kate was ready. And afterwards, when he was all hot and sweaty, he apologized. So Kate hated it when Tom apologized too. Kate’s husband liked what he liked, just as he liked to nap afterwards. And Kate, more often than not, thought, “Thank God, it’s over.” She never felt like this with Tom.

Kate’s husbands also liked the ruder forms of human nature. He tested jet airplanes for a living, and between wars he flew them off aircraft carriers. Her husband was born of the right stuff, of the school of Armstrong and Yeager, and could’ve been an astronaut had he stayed in the Navy (instead he went to work for Learjet. He tested planes for Learjet.). On occasions when he felt sorry for himself he regretted the move. And he often felt that jets that he tested for Learjet didn’t fly fast enough for him. But Kate’s husband always performed his job to the best of his ability. For though he liked to take risks, and life for him was as he said “a joy ride,” he was also practical.

Kate’s husband was a practical man, so he valued his job at Learjet. What was more important than a stable job and a chance for advancement? Wasn’t he Learjet’s head test pilot? Didn’t he know Bill Lear personally? And didn’t he stay in the Reserves just in case there was a war in some far corner of the world? Then Vietnam came along. You can bet that he wanted to go. He wanted to go to Vietnam and fly jets. You can bet he wanted to fly faster planes. So he took chances. He took chances almost every day. And often he flew to some far-flung place. And he never thought about Kate when he was away. Long absences didn’t upset him. And he wasn’t afraid to push the envelope. That was why he was a good test pilot. That was why he made big bucks, and they could afford a huge condo. And when he was gone he was not likely to forgo perks, or think about what they would do to his marriage: No! No! No! He liked to play and played hard. It made him feel like a man. Every conquest made him feel more like a man.

Tom finished a letter to Mr. Watson before he shaved and showered. He used Old Spice because Kate liked the man-smell of man-fresheners. This done, he jumped into his clothes, after he made sure they were clean.

January 20, 1968
Wichita
Dear Mr. Watson,
It’s been a long time, but what the heck! None of us are perfect. You hopefully haven’t retired from teaching and moved to Florida or something. Well, time certainly flies. As you see I’ve moved on, but haven’t forgotten all you did for me. Thanks to you I’m still into poetry, and you’ll be happy to know that I’m working in a bookstore and in between customers I read, read, read. And I haven’t forgotten your challenge, and when I get time I’ll definitely get back to it. With regards to Vietnam it doesn’t look like I’ll get to go, but I’m sure some of your former students aren’t/weren’t so lucky. Yes, I consider myself lucky, after all manner of troubles and trials, but love, of course, has made all the difference. Still war plays on my mind, when guys all around me are saying “Hell no! We won’t go!” I don’t blame them. Who wouldn’t prefer to make whoopee! And I want you to know that I truly wanted to serve our country. Dear God, forgive me for lying. Yes, I was ready to go … but for a slight problem. Please keep this confidential. I would hate for people to get the wrong idea. For what it’s worth, my parents know nothing about this.

I send my love to all the Americans who have died and particularly Norman Morrison who set himself on fire and became Vietnamese. It will be good to get rid of Lyndon Johnson. Also here in Wichita more and more protestors are carrying signs, but I promised myself that I’d stay out of it. Because of my connection with the bookstore I’m already known, so I don’t have to carry signs and act out in Saigon Puppet demonstrations, but I’m not reluctant to recommend good war protest poetry. What do you think of Allen Ginsberg and the Yippies?

“A monk barbecue”- It had been five years since Madame Nhu’s explosive statement about a monk setting himself on fire in downtown Saigon and three years since Norman Morrison did the same thing in front of the Pentagon. McNamara! People didn’t know that the Secretary was about to leave office or how Morrison’s suicide affected him. He left on February 29, 1968, and the President awarded him the Medal of Freedom. Medal of Freedom imagine!

North Vietnamese troops and the Vietcong attacked more or less simultaneously eighty different cities, towns and military bases and began what would become known as the Tet Offensive. TV grabbed hold the story, and the nation’s most respect journalist (Cronkite) suggested America was losing the war. It was around this time that Tom began wearing a protest pin that had on it what to some looked like a chicken footprint. “Chicken!” The hawks weren’t kidding whenever they shouted, “Chicken!”

Mr. Watson probably you wouldn’t recognize me. It is true. I’ve let my hair grow. And I’m more aware of what is going on than I used to be. I do have strong feelings about the war, and I express myself quite openly about it. But I’m not a Norman Morrison, or… nor have I participated in a peace rally or a riot yet. As for protesting, the least I can do is express my opinion and wear a protest pin. I’m not afraid of being called a chicken. At least people know what I stand for. And then you and I know it’s impossible for us to know what it’s like to fight in Vietnam when Saigon becomes a trap, and afterwards having to retake a city, and fighting hand to hand and house to house, while there is much to lose, buddies, brothers, and our own lives. Hence, Mr. Watson, we should never presume that we’re immune to an unfavorable outcome in a game of dice. Except for a small matter that I prefer not to discuss, I could be over there right now, and for all we know I could be in the middle of a bloody mess, and I can’t imagine what it would be like.

I suppose you’re going to be critical of me and say I should’ve lied to get in. Well, I was taught never to lie. All news from Vietnam is so damn bad that I prefer to shut my eyes and ears. At any rate, I hate it. “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids have you killed today!” To hell with the President! I really, really hate him. And we’re fighting for freedom! In this land I’m free (that means I can say how I feel…no way, Jose?) – not now that we’re at war (about the siege of Khe Sahn, where neither side won a resounding victory). And places I’ve never heard of, places that had to be defended at all cost. (Or at least we have to give it a try, so we shouldn’t forget … but you and I are lucky, and haven’t had to go, when some of those who went will not return.) No more! Make love, not war! Tom Hayes

“Good night Irene, I’ll see you my dreams …” Or “Roll Call” by Johnny Cash. “A captain sadly walked the muddy, bloody battlefield ….”

On February 9, 1968, Time chose for its cover story “The War: The General’s Gamble,” an article describing the bloody attack. Tom was quite shaken and later talk to Kate about it. Kate didn’t share with him that she thought that her husband was somewhere over there. Tom only knew her husband flew jet planes and was expected home sometime by the end of the year.

Lt. Lloyd Bradley, USN Reserve, enlisted in Navy in July of 1954, a year after the Korean armistice was signed. Presumably a brave fellow, Lloyd actually never flew a single sortie over Vietnam but was secretly sent in December 1967 to the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent River, MD. He spent much of the time in the air flying just under the speed of sound. He liked to fly fast.

Most of this Tom never knew, or if he did he didn’t care. He’d never been in an airplane and considered himself lucky. Then, had he been able to enlist, he would’ve gotten his chance, but never would’ve met Kate. In retrospect he felt lucky, felt lucky but guilty that he had Kate and wasn’t fighting in Vietnam. He could turn on and off guilt and felt quite satisfied when he saw himself in the mirror. Tom was in good shape and fairly good looking, a little fat, but he felt confident that he could work it off, and Tom felt sure that he could’ve made it through basic training without a sweat. Generally content he was, especially then. Tom no longer had to worry about the draft and had beaten the system at its own game. In his self-absorption he could temporarily forget about what was going on over there, so he had no excuse for not writing. He just had to find the time.

Okay, looking back on it, Tom should’ve seen it coming, and, instead of her, he should’ve been concentrating on his writing. Tom told her as much, told Kate that he always wanted to be a poet. She even went with him to book signings, but it really didn’t make any difference to her. She wasn’t really interest in his work. She would’ve accepted him regardless; still it disappointed him that she didn’t seem to care.

Tom liked the patrons of the bookstore, many of whom were members of the Poetry Society and students of Wichita State University. He thought about taking a creative writing class from an exiled Filipino and would’ve if he thought he had the time. Tom was then certainly opened to it. All he would’ve needed was a little nudge.

In many ways Kate exhausted him, though he found being with her was pleasant, and had from it many wonderful memories. For instance, when it warmed up they spent whole evenings on her backyard patio, sipping wine to their hearts content. If he wanted to live in her world, yes, he would have to learn to drink. But if he wanted to live in Kate’s world, he had to get used to late nights with little sleep. This may sound like a compromise or something Tom wasn’t ready for, but he didn’t view it that way. True he wasn’t ready for what happened, and perhaps he didn’t see it coming. But if he’d been warned, would he have listened? .

So instead of writing (or taking a creative writing course), he found himself night after night between sheets with a beautiful woman. Tom didn’t worry about her being married, nor concerned that her husband would catch them in bed together. Tom seemed unaware of possible consequences, but he felt uncomfortable because of some other reason, a reason he wasn’t ready to admit, so the young fool indulged himself.

Kate and Tom never talked about it, while he muttered words such as “I love you.” They listened together to “When A Man Needs A Woman” and “Unchain Medly.” Certainly Tom thought he needed her and felt unchained. You betcha! He felt proud to be with her, and he’d show her off. He enjoyed those evenings on her backyard patio and between sheets. They also went to dinner and movies and once they even made love in the backseat of her Lincoln like a couple of school kids. As far as he was concerned, it was too good to be true.

So he liked fuzzies Kate gave him and compliments she paid him. He liked the attention and how she made him feel special. He liked to be seduced, the way she slowly kissed his belly and his chest. He liked late-night bathing in her hot tub, sensual hours with her, and softness of her touch. He liked how she fit in strapless gowns, and he liked to go dancing with her at local cowboy bars. He liked her face, her hair, and her eyes: those eyes sparkling, open, brown, and seductive, and almost everything else about her, everything that drew her to him. He was impressed by her intellect too. Most of all he liked conversations they had, literally about everything, and because of it he thought that they had a lot in common. Yes, he thought they were perfect for each other.

All this time Tom anticipated seeing her while working and at home. He fooled himself into thinking that her husband was out of the picture, and eagerly waited for Kate to announce that she was filing for divorce. Then, he also liked the child that was involved. The child was well-mannered and also bright, and attached to Tom in a way that he hadn’t expected … a little flirt, perhaps because she missed her father, but not enough to cause concern, and far less than Tom saw in other kids.

For Tom complacency, to a certain extent, came to the fore, except he couldn’t afford it. Kay took the initiative and had him wrapped around her finger. But with his self-absorption he didn’t recognize a problem, so when time came for her husband to return from Patuxent River Tom hadn’t expected him to move back in with her. He hadn’t expected the awkwardness or the hurt. Well! Yes, Tom was hurt. All of them were hurt. And afterwards Tom never thought that he’d get over Kate.

But Tom was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve. He would live. He should’ve known better. But the relationship bordered on madness, and he dove into it with his eyes closed. And he would’ve followed Kate anywhere. If she liked to tango, he liked it too. If she wanted to live on the moon, he would’ve wanted to too. Tom joined Toastmasters because she belonged. But if he had wanted to live with her, she would’ve told him that it was way too soon. This may have sounded logical and practical, but not to Tom. Perhaps he was too needy, as she once accused him of being. At any rate, this was all new to him, and because of it he fell for her like a fool.

And Tom liked all things that men who like women are fond of. He no doubt enjoyed himself, and that reassured him, just as the incident back in the park in Amarillo disturbed him. But the most recent events meant everything to him, and it all made him feel normal. Tom’s old fears disappeared. While he forgot about decorum, he considered it worth it.

Therefore, Tom wasn’t ready for rejection. He felt blind sighted. Tom was taken totally by surprise when Kate’s husband appeared at the door. The way Kate handled it was no doubt hard for Tom to bear. Tom was furious, and the bitter lesson was one that he never forgot. As far as he was concerned then, Kate was a bitch. Fool! She’d agreed to go dancing, even though she thought he couldn’t dance.
Chapter Seventeen
February or March 1968
Wichita
Dear Mr. Watson,
I’ve made my peace. It took some doing, but I made my peace. It gives me great pleasure to say that I no longer feel guilty. I don’t know if I’ve fulfilled my obligations or not, or think I screwed up. I could easily think I screwed up. Regardless I feel relieved; and damn it all. I’m not sorry that I’m not more productive. I’m happy to cheer or jeer from the sidelines. And to hell to those who are critical of me: let them throw stones. If I’ve upset you, I’m sorry. You’re the last person in the world that I’d want to offend. Even with my faults, my future looks bright, and I’m back to writing a poem a day and intend to create another chapbook. I know Wichita is not that far away from The Folks, but I have to admit that thoughts of going home frighten me. I don’t quite understand why I’m not up to facing my parents just yet. I’m a grown man. (Please don’t share this with them because it would upset them). I don’t seem to be able to get beyond the past; the past when I was hypersensitive and critical, and blamed my parents for things they couldn’t help. They’re just human. We’re just human. But the future is tomorrow (I wish I could say it was today and that I’ve taken care of it, but I have to be honest). Anyway, today is where we are, so I better get to work before the day is over. So what do I do next? Well, I started by writing to you and I’ve writing almost a page, so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Tomorrow is Sunday, and I was taught Sunday is for resting. Loafing. That brings us to Monday, and only God knows what’s in store for us on Monday. I still have a job, and all the satisfaction that comes from being employed. I’m surrounded by books, and most of them I haven’t read, so I better get started. I value your friendship. You’ve been a great mentor. Tom

Commend me to any of my old classmates that you should run into. I’m looking for reasons to come home. Whatever happened to Nancy Davis?

Tom still hadn’t been to an anti-war rally. It seemed like he was missing out because there had been student riots in London and Paris and Vietnam demonstrations across America, and everyone should pay their dues. He believed everyone should pay their dues. And as summer neared… on March 1, Johnny Cash and June Carter got married in Franklin, Kentucky.

When Tom asked his former teacher to “commend him to former classmates,” he was thinking of one girl in particular: Nancy Davis. Tom took Nancy to the senior prom during which he stepped on the hem of her long purple dress and tore it. He did it twice, and they were beginning to have a good time when he did it a second time. It was an incredible dress, with a side metal zipper, full skirt, sweetheart neckline, and a darted bust, and Nancy looked beautiful in it. When she strode into the room full of grace, her father told Tom to drive carefully because “I didn’t raise her for you to kill her,” a comment Tom resented and would turn out to be ironic. Mr. Watson would later tell Tom in a letter that Nancy was killed on a date in an automobile accident.

Everything that could go wrong went wrong that evening. When Tom stepped on the hem of Nancy’s dress, Nancy looked at him severely and said, “Oh, never mind. It’s as much my fault as yours.” But Tom knew this wasn’t true. And as if this wasn’t enough, he threw a rod in the dream car he borrowed from his boss. Yet Nancy told Tom she had a good time. Needless to say this wasn’t true either.

The night was suppose be special, and Tom had looked forward to it for quite some time. Tom splurged, too. He bought Nancy a corsage, a pin-on type, which unfortunately clashed with her dress. Then he and his friends did something crazy: they took their dates to the Baker Hotel for dinner, which meant he had to drive like a maniac to get to Dallas and back in time for the dance. Tom didn’t want to miss the fun so he put the pedal to the metal and didn’t realized he pushed the car too hard until it was too late. This didn’t sit well with his boss. Some yokel, all feet and awkwardness, a stumbling bumpkin to say the least; it turned out to be a disaster when it was supposed to have been a perfect evening. Tom admittedly wasn’t very swift but it could’ve been worse: Nancy’s father’s worse fear could’ve been realized: the young man could’ve easily wrecked the car and killed his date, instead he felt like a hayseed when a cop pulled him over. There was something in his face that bordered on rage when he was handed a ticket and he was inept with words when he tried to explain it all to his parents, and he felt too ashamed to take Nancy Davis out again.

But enough! Tom wasn’t expecting anything similar to the evening of his senior prom when he approached Kate’s door for the last time. Remember they liked to go dancing in cowboy bars, and he’d asked her to go out on a date, a real date. They liked a particular cowboy bar, and he wouldn’t realize until Kate’s husband opened the door how high the stakes were and how it would’ve been wiser if he hadn’t gotten involved with a married woman. He hadn’t expected her husband to appear.

What a fool! Yes, Tom felt like he’d been robbed, lied to, tricked, and cheated, when Kate had done the cheating. And what about Lt. Lloyd Bradley? Well, there are gentlemen in the world, and there was no excuse for Kate. And where did it leave Tom? Not just out in the cold. He also learned a lot about pain and folly that often comes from jumping in bed with someone else’s wife … it was bad, of course, really bad, but Kate shared the blame. But they were adults and should’ve known better, but it was Tom who felt it the most. Tom felt rotten. He couldn’t believe it.

“Fool!”

When confronted he shook.

“She’s occupied at the moment.”

He should’ve seen it coming, and she should’ve warned him.

Tom was lucky in that it could’ve been far worse than it was and he could’ve been socked in the face. As it was, it felt terrible, and, by God, Tom had half a mind to burst into the house and tell her so! But Lt. Lloyd Bradley stood in the way. “…occupied at the moment.”

Tom managed to get to work on time. Aware of the consequences, he skipped breakfast because he overslept. He hardly slept, so he overslept. It had been hard since his run-in with Kate’s husband. It set him back, and he wasn’t sure that he’d ever get over it.

Then out of spite he went to work, which meant he had to deal with the public. Tom took a deep breath, expanded his chest, and smiled when he didn’t feel like it. The idea of Kate and her husband reunited dismayed him.

How could she? How could she after all the negative things she said about her husband and their relationship: how he left her behind on their wedding night and hadn’t slowed down since? There had been other lovers, but she told Tom that he was the best lover she ever had. “Oh, so good!” That was what she said, as she held him in her arms. How could she go back to her husband?

“What was he going to do?” he asked himself. Where would he find strength to go on! God, how beautiful it was, and how she made him feel normal! Yes, she made him feel normal. So there was nothing wrong with him. His relationship with Kate proved that there was nothing wrong with him. Didn’t she say that he was the best lover she ever had? Didn’t Rosa say the same thing? Kate brought out the best in him in the most wonderful and exciting ways. Hadn’t Rosa? But he now felt like he was left with nothing. At first he tried to avoid Kate’s part of town. It was hard to do; yet he tried. … as if he could avoid it after it had become so much a part of his routine. The difficulty he faced was that he didn’t want to stay away and was often drawn to her street before he realized it … and then his feet took over. He was often drawn to her part of town in hopes catching a glimpse of her. Then his feet took over, and they made a beeline for the alley behind her house, and he would continue walking until he reached her patio wall. There he would stand in the middle of night, hoping to hear her voice while at the same time dreading it. When it came to her hot tub he knew that his chances of getting into it again with her were nil, and there were times with her that he knew he could never equal … because he didn’t want to let go. No! And he had never met anyone like her before and thought he never would again.

Now, having been rejected, he began to consider his options. Could he stay in Wichita and run the chance of running into Kate? Kate had been a customer of the bookstore before he went to work there and would she now continue to come in? Then, if she did, they were bound to run into each other, and if they did, how would he handle it? Would he look at her? Would their eyes meet? As far as he was concerned, there were many different scenarios: none of them pleasant. What would he say? Would he say anything?

“These are the latest titles, and these are my favorite; these I haven’t read, and these I hope to read someday … this is my chapbook. I’ve signed it for you.”

And suddenly, the memory of her filled him with immense sadness, and Tom knew that he couldn’t stay in Wichita. He would have to make up some excuse for leaving, and then try to leave Kate behind. .

March 27, 1968
Wichita
Dear Rosa,
You will do well to forget me: there is absolutely no excuse for me running off the way I did. I wish I’d been more considerate and had told you that I had business in Dallas, for that was out of my control. I have a good excuse ready, a poor excuse really, which I’ll save for now. How I ended up in Wichita is another story, a complicated one, so I’ll skip that one too. The truth is, I haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe I have a bug I can’t control. What’s up in Vaughn? I left my heart at the Love Court in Vaughn New Mexico. Has anyone seen it?

Rosa had a soft, brown face that matched Tom’s sense of beauty. Rosa’s nose was well placed and didn’t stick out too much. There was tiny mole on her right cheek, a beauty mark that men talked about the instant they saw her. She could’ve won a beauty contest. She could win it all. Yet for all of its distinction her face had a simple quality about it, and when she talked, her countenance lit up.

When she was at work, people knew that Rosa meant business and that she had her head on straight, and it was also what convinced Tom that she wouldn’t give him a second chance. Then it seemed strange that he would write her.

I’ve been pushing myself, work, work, work. You know how I am. I have to work to feel like I’m living, and it’s when I’m the happiest … when I’m working. I’m somewhat tired but not discouraged, wish I were over there instead of here, and if I hadn’t been called away… But I know I can’t come back.

When he was alone, Tom brooded over mistakes he’d made with women. It was no longer simple. Tom had fallen for three women, three different circumstances, and each time he’d blown it. As he thought of each of them, he wondered if something was wrong with him and felt a fatal sense of overwhelming grief. Tom felt lost, and in each case, felt like he lost something priceless. Then there was something else that bothered him, and sometimes wore him down, so much so that he didn’t want to think about it.

Read any good stories lately? I recommend Cowboy Love. Okay, I really haven’t read it. The simple fact is that I’m alone in my apartment and sex is fun or hell, and I have open in front of me T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, with which I’ve tried to imagine war, and have to admit that I wasn’t eager to go; another story, I tried to volunteer. That’s why I went to Dallas, after Roswell and Bitter Lakes. I might as well fess up. They wouldn’t take me. Uncle Sam wouldn’t take me. The Waste Land may be hard to follow, but it’s worthwhile reading. Sometimes it’s good to wallow in mire just to see what’s ahead. The Waste Land may not suit your taste, being as bleak as it is, so I recommend Cowboy Love. It’s sure to please an angel with a six shooter, something you could take to bed with you.

Then too, Rosa, I may have sold you short. Cowboy Love, I suspect, is not for everyone in Vaughn. If I learned one thing in college, it’s that you can’t argue about taste. Have you read Love and Other Crimes? ”She comes running!” Give me a break! But I haven’t given up hope, though I could’ve. I trust you’re well and that you’ve kept a light on for me. If you have, I just may come your way. I treasured the time that we had together, and you have to believe me when I say I didn’t have a choice but leave when I did. Consistency hasn’t been one of my better traits, but persistence has been, but if I don’t hear from you I’ll assume that you have another boyfriend. I wouldn’t blame you, if you have one.

I’m in such a funky mood now. I can’t concentrate. I can’t think. I miss you. I’d indeed like to come home. But the decision is yours; so I’ll accept your decision, and never throw myself at your feet again.

Regardless, I’d like to hear from you. Please ask my old boss if I can have my old job back. I know I impressed him. I shouldn’t have run off like I did. I’ll try to write him. I must stop. Got a pot of beans on the stove. Always your friend, Tom Dare I use the word love? Tom

MLK Jr., who had gone to Memphis to support sanitation workers, was assassinated by rifle fire on April 4th. Tom was still in Wichita then, still working in a bookstore. On that day riots didn’t erupt in Wichita, as it did elsewhere, though many of the residents of the city were dazed and confused. The Yardbirds sang the song Dazed and Confused (1968): “I’m dazed and confused, hanging on by a thread, I’m abuse, I’d be better off dead.” Tom remembered the Jimmy Page concert he went to in Amarillo, but he didn’t remember hearing then Dazed and Confused.

April 4, 1968
Wichita
Dear Sport,
Your letter came just in the nick of time. I’m at home. I’ve locked my doors and plan to stay inside. The country is burning, so I’m not sure it’s safe. I must not overreact, though I know it’s bad. I unfortunately know the war is not over and that now there are two wars, one war at home and another abroad, but hadn’t we fought this new war before and the South lost it and the Nation won? So many questions still unanswered. MLK Jr. was a good man. And who is the Walt Whitman of today? And it’s a pretty good assumption that I’m not him. I’ve combed the bookstore. No one easily comes to mind. Dorothy Parker perhaps, though she wasn’t black, and be damn with them, and it’s more important that we’re all human beings: as if I can help it that I was born in Texas and into a white, middle-class family.

I don’t know if I’m really upset; more than anything else I’m confused; and I’m dazed; but as long as I work, I know I’ll make it through this; and as I find strength to carry on, I know I’ll amount to something. That’s what’s important to my parents and certainly me. This is something I seem to have inherited; so as long as I have a job … now I’m sounding like my father. I’m a poor example of Walt Whitman and all this time it seems like I’ve been fooling myself (good grief, I need to give myself a break); so you see this hasn’t been a good day for me, or our country. Indeed, it’s a sad time, when many things for me have come to roost, too many things recently, yet I should be grateful for what I have, even though I realize we live in a mixed-up world. And haven’t I loved and lost, and what’s the old cliché, “it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved?” Oh no, I just haven’t found the right person yet. Or perhaps I’ll be lonely, dead lonely for the rest of my life. Heaven forbid. I’ll just have to learn to love myself, not fret and masturbate. But more importantly I have to forgive myself, as I continue to rebel and accept my blasphemy. Of course, I think I’m right.

The news from here could be better, which means I might be moving. You know me. But why can’t I have it all? Damn it! How’s Baylor? I’m surprised that you’re still there.

Spirit Whose Work Is Not Done is NOT part of Whitman’s Completed Works; the assassination proves it. Keep in touch. Fondly, Shake Spear

That year Glen Campbell released Wichita Lineman. And at the end of the year Tom still lived in Wichita. By then the Paris Peace Talks had begun, Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and Richard Nixon was elected President. During this time, Tom continued to work at the bookstore and waited impatiently for word from Rosa. Tom made a great fuss over her not writing. Tom and Eddie (more often than before) continued to write to each other. Kate managed to stay away from the bookstore

Hush’d Be The Camps Today (May 4, 1865)
As they invault the coffin there,
Sing…as they close the door of earth upon him … one verse,
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.

Martin Luther King Jr. was buried in a white-marble tomb, in the courtyard in front of Freedom Hall, at 449 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, in the state of Georgia.

When Tom was in bed alone, he often thought of the three women he fell for. All three in their own way profoundly influenced him, while at the same time what happened in each case remained a mystery. They were all attractive, but each was different. Elaine was Jewish, Rosa, Hispanic, and Kate, affluent. Elaine loved the outdoors, was spontaneous, and in the case of her features, there was a wholesomeness about her that suggested that she would always be young. Rosa enticed Tom with her unabashed sexuality, which bothered Tom when he thought about it because it was in conflict with a secret buried inside him, and as for Kate, he wondered what happened to the woman that he believed he had come to know.

But he thought of Kate more than the others, Kate at her best when she was most open, honest, funny, and eager to please. Then her face would glow and convinced him that she didn’t need to wear makeup she often wore, and when she greeted him at the door she always greeted him with a warm hug and gave everything she could when she kissed him.

So Tom never understood why she went back to her husband, who she said she no longer loved and gave the impression that she couldn’t stand. Had she misrepresented the truth, had she said things that she didn’t mean, and had she been intentionally guileful? Tom would never know.

When Lloyd Bradley instead of Kate answered the door, Tom immediately started to retreat. Kate’s husband somehow knew all about Tom.

“Yes?”

“Oh.” Tom’s surprise was obvious. “I thought….”

“You thought what? He asked. “The Mrs. isn’t available. What can I do for you?”

“No … nothing. I was thinking she would … this is awkward.”

“I don’t know what you were led to believe.”

“I better leave.”

Now energized and motivated and rather than go to work Tom stayed in his apartment and wrote, now searching for answers, searching while he let off steam. He needed a diversion, or to do something to burn off unspent energy. He needed a substitute for Kate. He missed Kate.

Tom was not by nature an activist. He however allowed his hair to grow down to his shoulders, which marked him as a rebel. His face, had it not been scarred when he was a boy by acne, would’ve been stately. His drooping eyelids, large ears, and long straight nose made him look distinctive. With his Licolnesques features he would’ve made a good politician, yet he didn’t have the drive or stomach for it. It was a trait of his, one he wished he didn’t have, one that caused him to back off and which on many occasions had kept him from going to a party.

No, Tom wasn’t a joiner. Other than through his letters he wouldn’t articulate his rage, and for him, for him it was regrettable. Tom would’ve liked to have overturned a car or set something on fire, but something restrained him. He instead retreated to his apartment. Now he was alone in his apartment, dazed and confused, trying to change … and he saw what he had to do and thought he could do it, but again he lacked gumption. And as he sat in front of his typewriter, Tom also realized that he wasn’t ready to accept blame he assigned himself. And with this hanging over him, he wrote his old friend, Eddie Newman.

Wichita
April 4, 1968
Mr. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Dear Sir,
My employer, a bookstore owner like you, suggested that I submit the enclosed collection of my poetry for your consideration; and I hope it doesn’t seem presumptuous. I wrote these poems over a period of time and have been hesitant to share them with anyone, so this is a big step for me.

Over the years I’ve been a big fan of yours and have admired what you’ve done for other poets hence I respect your opinion. I don’t know where else to turn. As you well know City Lights is one of the few beacons in the country when it comes to poetry, and I assume you get flooded with submissions. I can imagine piles and piles, and how easily an unknown poet could get lost; and so now I suspect I’ll end up on the bottom of the pile. I don’t mind being on the bottom of the pile as long as I reach the top someday.

I’d be dishonest if I were to pretend to have any hope that you’d publish any of my work. For, should I be so gullible, and in many ways I am naïve, I know that I would be ranking myself with you and the likes of Allen Ginsburg, and Ginsburg I’m not. However, if you should decide to publish my work, it would affect how I wrote in the future.

I am afraid that you’ll think I’m silly, but let me assure you that I’m serious. Thanking you in advance for your time and consideration. Sincerely yours, Tom Hayes

My employer (a bookstore owner) says my poems are worth publishing. I hope you’ll agree.

My employer displayed a few copies of my chapbook at the store, and we sold a few.

Irwin Allen Ginsberg enjoyed the reputation of being an outrageous, homosexual poet who depicted in his poetry both heterosexual and homosexual acts when sodomy laws made homosexuality a crime in every state of the Union.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and publisher, was co-founder of the City Lights Bookstore. Ferlinghetti supported and published many of the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beat Movement. Ferlinghetti would later write THE SECRET MEANING OF THINGS, which included “Assassination Rega” about the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy.

Tom, who had been encouraged by his employer, never really thought Lawrence Ferlinghetti, would publish his poetry. Yet he held out hope.

Tom was paid royalties of $9.00 for every copy of his chapbook sold by his employer. He made $90,00.

April 4, 1968
Wichita
Dear Sport,
Broke down and sent poetry to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Yes, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights. Will you drop him a note in my regard and spread a good word? We’ll have to wait and see how it goes. I realized that I’m not Ginsberg.
Shake Spear

April 6, 1968
Wichita
Dear Mom and Dad,
I just want to tell you today how much I’m thinking of you, and how much I love you. I worry that I’ve upset you, which I didn’t mean to do, but I know that there’s no way that I could live with myself if I weren’t true to myself. I am now a grown man, and it’s time that I start acting like one. But please never imagine that I will ever stop loving you. I know that I disappoint you, but do believe me that I don’t set out to intentionally hurt you … that I don’t honor and respect you … and that I indeed would do almost anything for you except compromise myself, which includes my coming home now.

I am afraid this rings false; perhaps it’s one of those no-win situations, so please just try to accept me, and know that I love you. Believe in me, please. You loving son, Tom

Yes, Tom felt it plainly enough. And the longer he isolated himself in his apartment, the more he knew he that he had to move on. He had to put Kate behind him. Not that he could ever forget Kate. And now he couldn’t wait for a response from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, he felt too, that his chances of getting published by City Lights were slim, and that his chances were better if he went there in person.
Chapter Eighteen
On May 8, 1968 Tom traveled to San Francisco by Grayhound. Tom took a bus because that was all he could afford or thought he could afford. He saved some money, so he wasn’t totally broke, but he still landed on the doorsteps of Glide Memorial Methodist Church. At the church, not far from the bus station he stood in line for a half a day to get a meal. Most of the time he spent in San Francisco he spent walking around.

Tom did go by the City Lights Bookstore. He couldn’t miss going by the City Lights Bookstore. Tom went in and looked around but didn’t have the guts to introduce himself. Of course, he had to see Haight Ashbury. He hated Haight and always said that he didn’t want to get trapped there, though there were crash pads in the neighborhood. Tom later remembered hustlers on the corner of Haight and Ashbury who tried to take money from him, and after Texas, New Mexico, and Kansas, he said he couldn’t stand crowds. There was too much going on. We don’t know what really happened … what really happened to make him want to leave so quickly. He said:

Folsom Street was an attraction for me. I was not free to follow my inclinations and spend time on Folsom Street, and, though I was drawn to this street and famous hangouts there, I didn’t have balls to go. I didn’t have balls to go into one of the hangouts, and yet interest and feelings were there. I was certainly interested. But I was too scared to try a bathhouse and could not see myself then making out with a stranger. I of course knew about bathhouses of San Francisco.

On May 12 Tom recorded in his journal: “Enjoying San Francisco. An acquired taste. Feeling pretty ill and pretty sad; went on a walking tour through China Town, up North Beach Street, over Russian Hill, and ended up at San Francisco General Hospital at 23rd Street and Potrero Avenue.

May 13, 1968
Embarcadero YMCA, San Francisco
Dear Mr. Watson,
As you can see, I’ve traveled afar, something that has been educational, and from which I hope to gain more confidence. I took the bull by horns and submitted some of my work to a publisher. Yes, a publisher! We’ll have to wait and see. For the first time in quite a while I feel energized. Air here is invigorating. Sea air. Yeah, I feel like walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and taking a dip in the ocean.

As for where I’m heading next, I still have a job in Wichita; you can still use my old address. I’ll have my mail forwarded. For ever yours, Tom Hayes

Please stay in touch. I value your friendship.

Tom described his wanderings around San Francisco as one of the loneliest times of his life and tried to combat those feelings by talking to as many people as possible. Although many people were in too big a hurry to do little more than acknowledge him, a surprising number of individuals responded positively. This was especially true at the Embarcadero YMCA.

“Lose something? This is the third time that I’ve caught you looking at me. I wonder what is … I wonder what it is that you find attractive.”

Tom didn’t quite know what the sailor meant by attractive, but he felt momentarily attracted to this tattooed man as they sat naked on the side of a swimming pool. They both felt amazingly at ease as they sat around and talked and Tom, at least, felt surprised that the other men in and out of the pool weren’t paying them attention. Tom realized with regret that he might’ve been the only one there who felt to any degree awkward. With a sudden urge to connect with this stranger, Tom was feeling this as he looked at the sailor who had checked into the YMCA the night before, and now for the first time in months was all set to enjoy shore leave he was entitled to.

“What is it?” The sailor continued.

“Nothing. It feels strange to be sitting here like this with a bunch of guys.”

“This is the YMCA.”

“I’m not from here, and not used to being here yet!” Tom continued. “Why, this is the first time I’ve used the pool. Isn’t it great!” he continued enthusiastically, “that we don’t need to wear anything but our birthday suits, and where there are no women. I never felt so free. What about you?”

All at once, as Tom was looking at the sailor with some interest, the guy, with a broad smile, winked at him and made him feel even more uncomfortable. Tom didn’t know what to do, and his face showed it.

“God, it’s hot and steamy in here!” Tom thought, while feeling horrified and disgusted. “It’s god awful! I’ve got to get out of here,” he thought, as he felt even more exposed. “And here everyone except me thinks nothing of it. But no! I have to be offended.”

It was something deep-seated that brought on not only contempt and scorn but also feelings that he hated within himself. Maybe he simply wasn’t bold enough and that was why nakedness embarrassed him. Perhaps he wasn’t mature enough and able to admit that he found the naked sailor attractive. Tom hoped his embarrassment was imperceptible. Then he dove into the pool. But he’d have to come up for air, and he held his breath as long as he could, and when he came up, the sailor was still sitting there.

“Oh, yes, he likes me!” Tom was thinking. “In some ways it’s too good to be true. Oh, me, yes, to be liked. What with me in a city where no one knows me, and just off Folsom Street, where queers are accepted as ordinary people. The way he winked at me you’d think he was queer. And a sailor, now! Yes! And we’re in San Francisco, and that makes it okay. It’s not like I hadn’t wanted to or hadn’t been involved before. Oh, me, God! He is handsome. We’re now swimming together not so innocently at the YMCA. But if it were with some girl skinny dipping somewhere, wouldn’t it be different, now? My! Oh, my! You’re terrible! Disgusting! Come on! And I’m here in San Francisco where no one knows me and no one cares and where it’s accepted. But I’d know! So be careful. It’s better to stay away,” Tom thought as he swam away.

“If people really knew me,” Tom said, “if anyone really knew my thoughts. Jesus, I’d be skunked. But from what I’ve seen here it really doesn’t matter. It’s inconsequential and let the consequences be damned, no doubt there’re be consequences, and with hindsight you’ll regret it … so long as you do it in private, even then I’m sure. Sure,” he thought, as he stood in the pool on the opposite side from where the sailor sat smiling. “It’s a strange world. And I’m the odd ball in it, even here. Thank God I was brought up know the difference between right and wrong… However …”

But no one in his family needed to know. .

“But then, only God knows what’s truly in someone’s heart, so no one knows or can judge,” Tom thought. “What’s wrong with asking his name? No one knows me here. I’ve been here less than a week and away from home more than three years. I should’ve learned something by now. Sure, there are far worse sins, if it’s a sin. Is the chance worth the risk?” Tom asked himself, as he swam back across the pool.

May 14, 1968
Embarcadero YMCA, San Francisco
Dear Mr. Watson,
Enclosed are copies of the poems I submitted for publication. Not quite satisfied. I’m going with a friend tomorrow to Fisherman’s Warf for oysters and shrimp; afterwards we plan to take in Alcatraz, which should be fun. I hope that by tomorrow I’ll know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. However you know how I am when it comes to making decisions. Glad to hear the news. You did a good job, while as for me I never know what’s newsworthy. I may be boring you with this chitchat, and all, which would be different if I weren’t so timid. Have been writing every night, and hope soon to be free again. Next address: for now the same. Give my regards to your family. Tom

Tom kept a complete record of his stay in San Francisco but tried to avoid writing about weaknesses, which was something he’d gotten pretty good at. Poems that he sent to Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Mr. Watson were never published and only survived because Mr. Watson saved them in a box. They were: “My Legacy,” “Green Grows the Grocer,” “Annabelle Lee,” “Skies The Limit,” and “Hip Hop Hop.”

In one of his letters to his parents, Tom described Sam as a kind likeable man with a taste for raw oysters, and with whom he spent time with in San Francisco, because, as he said, “I felt lonely.” He always remembered Sam as the person who first got him interested in traveling overseas.

Sam easily impressed Tom with his sensitiveness. It was easy for them to enter the hearts and minds of each other. This was because Sam was sensitive. Their relationship however didn’t advance as far as Tom would’ve liked and the reasons for this were never clear to Tom. They meanwhile had their shrimp and oysters at Fisherman’s Warf, bought sourdough bread and Girardelli Chocolate, and toured Alcatraz together, and had by then become friends, and later, by the sound of it, had they had more time they could’ve become more than friends.

While this was going on, Tom got use to Sam holding his hand, something Sam said men in the Philippines did. Tom enjoyed holding hands with Sam, and they watched other men hug and kiss each other. And now, as they walked between piers and watched harbor seals bark, Tom faced a perplexing question … just how far was he willing to go. What would they do next, Tom wondered? Where could they go? Sam was more experienced than Tom and knew San Francisco, which didn’t really help because Tom was hesitant. It was something Tom conveyed unconsciously and came through as nervousness, or as indecisiveness whenever the opposite was called for. So now, what came through were negative responses and emotions, self-pity and regret, and he wasn’t in a position to do anything about it.

“That’s why you’re stuck,” Tom thought. He was furious about it. “It’s got to stop. If I keep on like this, I’ll go mad. God! I’ll kill myself!” he thought. “What’s getting in the way?” Now with his big, round face hot even though there was a cool ocean breeze, and his sweaty palms obviously giving him away, Tom was determined to be honest.

This decision made, Tom directed Sam to end of the pier. What he was about to say had been nagging him for most of the day, and now he wondered if he could come up with the right words. Yet, Sam seemed easy going, relaxed even, and it was like Sam didn’t care. This bothered Tom too. Maybe Tom was trying too hard. He was trying too hard. Tom felt embarrassment as he began to speak and consequently stumbled over words.

“Oh, Sam!” he said hesitantly, while at the same time wanting to blurt it out. “I’m new at this.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Sam answered forgivingly.

“Yes, it does. Come on, I know you’re disappointed.

“I’m not.”

And Tom went on quickly, determined to continue now that he started. “I wonder if you were ever caught in a situation that you didn’t know how to get out of?” Tom asked and went on quickly. “It doesn’t have anything to do with you. It’s me. I’m not ready.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. This morning I went through the business of picking out the right shirt. I wanted to … to impress you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Sam, while Tom could see that it did. “I think that you might have the wrong idea about me. I’m easy.”

“I thought you’d be. Okay. That’s it.”

“It?” asked Sam, with a stupid smile, a smile that portrayed his inner thoughts. But even as Tom repeated “okay,” he knew that it wasn’t. Sam would try to reassure him. “Do you know where we are? Of course, you do. By the Bay, and in one of the greatest cities in the world. Yes, here! It’s all here, I tell you. Don’t worry about it. Where does worry get you?”

“I don’t know. But I see how far I’ve come.”

“How far is that? Oh, Tom, you don’t owe me anything. How could you? We just met. Things take time. And you look nice, attractive, to me you do? Do I embarrass you?”

“Don’t be stupid. You know that I chose this shirt for you.”

“I figured you did.” Sam said. “And that’s okay, too. I’m glad that you had more than one shirt to chose from. I didn’t,” he remarked somewhat regretfully. “It shouldn’t be that way. I saved so much money in Hong Kong that I can only afford a few shirts.”

When a cop suddenly appeared on the scene, Sam let go of Tom’s hand and said, “Nowadays, and in America, you learn to mistrust cops.”

“A friend of mine who lives in Amarillo got arrested for walking into a restroom with another man. Ask me what they were supposedly going in there for; you know we all have to pee. There you have a couple of guys who were ruined for the rest of their lives. Oh, God! I’m telling you it was just awful,” Tom cried. “Whether it’s in the Forks, Amarillo, or San Francisco, it seems to be the same.”

“You just have to be careful, that’s all.”

“Don’t I know it, Sam,” Tom broke in. “After Amarillo, I got the message loud and clear.”

“It’s not that way in other places around the world. We can go out and be ourselves and nobody gives a damn.”

“That’d be nice.”

“Oh, damn, what am I saying? There are a few places here, a few bars, a few motels, and one or two bathhouses, if you’re discrete. Still you have to worry. And we’re just the same as everyone else. We want the same things out of life.”

“Yeah. It isn’t like we were going to hurt someone!” Tom said angrily. “I know my parents would disown me.”

“Oh, it’s hardest on our parents! What they don’t know won’t hurt them. There’s no one in my family like me … unless it’s someone I don’t know about … who has kept it a secret all of his or her life! I’m not good at keeping secrets. That’s why I went to sea. Like I’ve said, there are a few places in the world.” Then he took Tom’s hand for a moment again, because the cop had disappeared, and slowly held onto something that felt good. “Good heavens, Tom! It’s not like we’re criminals. You know very well that we’re not. We haven’t done anything indecent. But, you’re right, we have to be careful!” he exclaimed with anger. “I wish it weren’t this way. By now we’d be some place else.”

“And where would that be?”

“Who knows. Not I said the blind man.”

They left the pier and entered a noisy street. Tom was deeply absorbed in what they had been talking about. On the other side of the street, where the trolley cars were, there were families waiting to board: families with children and straight couples who showed affection for each other without fear of public scrutiny. Tom had thought San Francisco would be different. As they crossed the street, swiftly dodging traffic, they now hoped to blend in.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Sam said in a pleasant tone. “It’s just right.” They jumped onto a trolley and found a seat together. “How are you?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“Just okay? On such a beautiful day.” Then Sam did something that Tom would never forget. With his arm lying on the back of the seat, he bent his head down and planted a brief, friendly kiss on Tom’s cheek, and then straightened up unconsciously. It felt good. The kiss felt good, and it came so unexpectedly that it seemed very natural. While Tom still glanced around to see if anyone was looking, Sam looked straight ahead … his face, now alive after such an accomplishment, had a smugness which seemed to say, “There! Look what I’ve done!” Yes, Tom was kissed by a man in public.

Sam sat next to Tom with his hand on the latter’s thigh, treating him in a friendly way as a date. “Well, how is it?” Sam asked, after a few moments.

For an answer, Tom shook a finger for he didn’t have the words to express himself and tapped his forehead before he finally said, “Think if we were living in a different world.”

“No. We can’t escape now. I wouldn’t want to. So you write poetry. Will you recite one of your poems for me?”

Tom was caught off guard. He wasn’t prepared to recite anything.

They got off the trolley, walked through Chinatown, went by the City Lights Bookstore, and were obviously enjoying each other’s company.

Tom brought Sam to the bookstore, where he still hoped to run into Ferlinghetti. Tom had been pacing it, timing it all day with the idea of catching the poet/publisher at an opportune time, that could’ve been anytime. Tom believed in serendipity, or good fortune and luck, more than being direct or asking for something. This would’ve been evident to anyone who’d been around Tom for any length of time. Moreover, Tom had been in the bookstore before and could’ve easily asked for Ferlinghetti, but instead he came back a second time hoping he’d get lucky. Finally he brought someone with him.

Bound in a stiff white paper cover … across the front of the cover a photograph of a statue’s face over which was printed ALLEN GINSBERG ANKOR WAT FULCRUM … the little book caught Tom’s attention and interested him enough for him to buy a copy. Then they left the bookstore.

“So he has given us a poem about a Wonder of the World, a must-see if you’re anywhere near the place, ruins from a lost empire, which are located in the jungles of Northern Cambodia. It’s one of the most spectacular sites I’ve ever seen. Here you can spend a lifetime and never take it all in. It is, in fact, in my opinion, the one place, even with the rain, that I could make peace with myself.” Sam paused and looked at Tom to see how much he was taking in.

“You’ve been there?”

“Yes!” Sam said, his face flushed with excitement and joy. “Been there. You betcha. So I don’t have to read about it in a poem,” Sam said in a definitive way. Then he proceeded: “It’s therefore a pity that it isn’t easier to get to. But the trip is worth it.”

“Well,” said Tom, “I’ve never been out of the country, and this is my first trip to San Francisco … you can perhaps tell…” he shrugged…”sort of green, and that’s neither good or bad, I guess. I’m sort of … you know … But say! We still can get along. I’d like to go there someday. Where does one start? Where do I get a ticket? Don’t I get credit for coming this far? You know,” Tom said, “I’d like to find a place where I can make peace with myself. Of course …” and now Tom began to speak in an impersonal manner …”of course, not many people have joined a circus. Well, I did! Haw! And could’ve joined the flying…but they were queer. Nothing but queers …. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’m not gay.”

“I said it was okay.”

“ Bah! What do you know? Can you appreciate the situation I’m in? Can you? What am I to do? Yes, I could’ve been a headliner.

“I believe you,” Sam said like he understood everything. “I know.”

“Aren’t we pathetic? Listening to us, we no doubt sound like we know everything.”

“We don’t need to feel inferior to anyone,” Sam continued. “Well, how about that? Me! Feeling inferior. I won’t allow it. No!” he cried suddenly shaking his head. “I’m smarter than that. I got away. I’m a human being, nothing more, nothing less. I’m who I am.”

And Tom couldn’t help but agree. For the first time he saw through the lenses of his eyes a foreign world and one that was really different from the one Sam knew.

They stared at each other in amazement. They held hands again, but they still were cautious, as Tom sensed that his companion enjoyed a kind of freedom that he’d never find. For Tom knew that they’d soon go their separate ways and that his newfound friend was a rare human being. His chagrin at not being in the same place as Sam was something that bothered him, but he knew that he couldn’t let go yet.

What a pity! What about? Tom wasn’t quite sure. He had a picture in his mind of his own ruin and how his family would ostracize him.

“Say, does your family know? Do they have any idea? Are they ashamed of you?”

Tom could see Sam begin to squirm as he listened to his questions, and as Sam tried to answer them as honestly as he could.

“Yes, they know. But of course you can hardly expect us to talk about it. There are certainly things we don’t talk about, but on the whole we don’t communicate very much, and I rarely see them.”

When they returned to the YMCA that evening they weren’t in a hurry to say goodnight, and although they could’ve pooled their resources and gone somewhere where they could’ve made love they didn’t choose to do it. They both knew, too, that that was what both of them wanted to do…Tom, as much Sam wanted to. There however was something that was holding Tom back, and Sam didn’t push him. And Sam failed to tell Tom that he had to be back on his ship in the morning.

Sam could’ve easily taken the lead and knew it, as they sat on a deep, cushy, leather couch, and saw, for no reason that he knew, that Tom wouldn’t look at him. And his own heart ached for he knew his new friend’s pain.
“But, Sam! Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel differently. You know this is new to me. But you have to know that I find you attractive. I’d rather take it slowly than jump in feet first. I’ve had my hands slapped before,” Tom confessed without realizing that he was repeating himself.

Sam, having kicked off his shoes and tucked his legs under himself, once again reassured Tom that it was okay: “I know! I know! It’s all right! I’ve been there,” Sam said kindly. Then Sam closed his eyes and seemed to lose himself in memory of his own journey, and he began to ramble on about it. “Well,” he said, “I remember when I was where you are. It might help you to know that I was there once.”

“Oh, I don’t know if anything would,” Tom answered dubiously, feeling all at once afraid. “I think we had a pretty good time, don’t you? It was entirely new for me, while for you… You knew where to go, yet you didn’t press me.”

“I always love San Francisco. I enjoy going to the same places, seeing the same things.”

“Do you know what I think,” Tom said. “It’s true. ‘High on a hill, it calls to me; to be where little cable cars climb …’ Tony Bennett. Like the song says, it would easy for me to leave my heart in San Francisco. Sam, I’ve told you how comfortable you make me feel. The best thing is that you haven’t pushed me,” he said with conviction. “Today was one of the best days of my life … the best, the best ever! Well, I suppose it had to come to an end.”

“It doesn’t have to be over yet.”

“I know,” said Tom. “It’s awful tempting, except as I’ve said I’m not ready, and you know it. And tomorrow I’m planning another big day,” he concluded sadly.

“Stop beating yourself up. We had a great time. What’s wrong with that?”

“Oh, I was … I was hoping to meet Ferlinghetti.”

“Tomorrow is another day. Which reminds me. I’ve been meaning to tell you. I won’t be around tomorrow. I have to go work, be on the ship by eight o’clock, but maybe we can have breakfast together.”

“Breakfast would be nice, but there’s only one problem: I hate good-byes. Consequently I usually sneak off in the middle of the night. But you can see what the trouble with that is.”

“What?”

“It seems like I get closer to people just as we’re leaving each other. Of course, there’s some logic to it … but God!” he exclaimed, “it certainly leaves a lot of unfinished business. Do you know what I mean, and you can’t tell me that you’re not disappointed,” Tom muttered. “God Sam, I wish I could. I wish it were easy. To be easy, and be able to say ‘I’m easy.’ When it should be no one else’s business! Oh, you’re wonderful.”

“It’s okay.”

“Stop saying that. If you say it one more time I’ll…” Before he could finish his thought Tom sunk into silence.

Silence.

“Well I be at sea in a few days. That’s what I’ve signed on for.”

“A boy in every port.”

“I wish that there was something that I could do for you. If only we had more time, but there’s never enough time. I went through the same thing. We all do. We keep repeating ourselves,” Sam said simply.

Then, as they fumbled through their good-byes, Tom asked, “I wonder if you’d do me a favor? Will you send me postcards when you get somewhere interesting? I’d like to stay in touch. I’ll write, if you will.”

“Well, I’ll try, but I won’t promise. I tend to get busy. But why worry. You’ll be alright.”

“Where are you heading?”

“This time Manila and Singapore.” With that, Sam patted Tom’s knee and then excused himself. Tom almost cried.
Chapter Nineteen
May 17, 1968
Dear Sam,
Putting aside happenstance and serendipity, I doubt that we’ll ever see each other again, which makes me sad. I was sad to see you leave. I already miss you. (By the way, if we happen to miss each other in the morning because I’ve overslept, I think you’ll understand why; wherein I told you that I hate good-byes and am basically chicken.) If we’re to make the most of breakfast, I suggest that we skip it entirely. Right now I’m hellishly tempted to knock on your door and wake you up, if perchance you’re already asleep, but I don’t have the nerve. (It just occurred to me that in order to deliver this letter I’ll have to catch you in the morning.) Hells bells, I found you to be a hell of beautiful person. I never expected to find someone like you. Can you excuse my repeating myself? Fool! Prude! That’s what I’ve been when I had a chance to get laid and didn’t take it. I could go on here about being a tease, a juvenile tease when given a chance with a real man, in the one place in America where it’s almost acceptable, San Francisco, together for a whole day and nothing happened. I mean something happened. I don’t know what I mean. I shouldn’t say nothing happened when I really had wonderful time. Wouldn’t it be better for me to go through my baptism with someone who is very nice than with a total stranger, even if the huge step were handed to me, or than pay for it? But what about Act II? And what if it doesn’t live up to my expectations. I want the whole world to know that I’ve had women tell me that I’m the best lover that they’ve ever had, and I have to be honest: I’ve enjoyed sex with women. Does this surprise you?

Right now my mood isn’t very good, sad but good. Right now, and probably for another hour or so, I won’t be able to sleep. I need fresh air and a little courage. I think I’ll go for a walk, before I do something stupid; but will I have courage enough? I haven’t in the past. The last I knew Folsom Street is in the same place. Such, dear Sam, is my mood. I’ve never paid for sex, but let’s see what happens. My, my palms are sweaty, which I’m not sure is a good sign, but fortunately I don’t think it’s a safe thing to do. I feel exposed; and I knew you knew it. But I’ll go to bed. All things work out for the best. But with courage I can get this behind me, jump in with two feet. And I think regardless it’s better than struggling with this for the rest of my life. I may not be expressing myself very well, but I think you get the idea. I never dreamed that I’d have a day like I had today, so I can say that I’m lucky to have found someone who was really ready to accept me as I am. Your friend, Tom

P.S. It would be my luck to end up in Folsom State Prison instead of Folsom Street. “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” Johnny Cash (1955)

Tom landed in Highland Plantation Maine after a trip of over three thousand miles and, after fleeing San Francisco, landed in the woods on a beautiful river (the West Fork of the Carrabassett) because it was as far away, or so he thought, as he could get from civilization. Since he was in San Francisco on the night Robert Kennedy was shot shortly after midnight (in LA), Tom felt compelled to get as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. In a letter to Eddy Newman he wrote, “When I woke up with the news, I felt that I had been part of a melodrama long enough, and I had to find to place where I could literally chill, and rural north central Maine seemed the logical place for it. It doesn’t take much to live here. There aren’t many people, and I haven’t seen such poverty before. I think I’ve found the perfect place, except for black flies and no-seeums. They’re certainly pesky and bite, but when it gets hot enough they’ll burn off. I have what I need, a small cabin, in the woods, on one of the most beautiful streams in the area. One tiny, rueful self-rebuke: until I came here I really didn’t know anything about survival. The only useful thing I knew how to do was how to drive a truck.”

July 15, 1968
Highland Plantation Maine
Dear Sport,
My mother claims that I’ve fallen ‘off the face of the earth’ except I have a post office box in Kingfield Maine, not far from the Canadian border and on the most beautiful highway I’ve ever traveled, indeed I never used to like to fish and hike.

I don’t have much to report. When I’m not driving, I’m splitting wood, stocking up for what I’m told will be a long winter. But I’m strong and can survive it, hence perhaps stronger and more independent than I’ve ever been. I wish you could see me. I’m lean and mean now. And in spite of what my mother may think, I’m not fooling myself. Like Barney on the Andy Griffith Show, I’m learning how to catch and grow my own food and start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, but unlike Barney, I think I know what I’m doing. I hope I know what I am doing. O happy Eddie, happy, happy Eddie, you can’t believe how happy I am. I now stand a chance of really becoming the next Walt Whitman. It’s been a long time since I heard from you. For you never write. For one thing I miss you. The only thing I miss out here is human contact, so a letter from you would be important to me. We are friends and will remain friends I hope. I’m lucky in some respects, and I can introduce her to you when you come up. I’m assuming you will someday. Our friendship will be incomplete if you don’t, but until then, we’ll have to keep it alive through our letters.

Sport, I’ve escaped my problems; left them behind, and I’ve moved far away from the temptations of the big city. And one thing more, I’m healthy. The great outdoors, the crisp fresh air, and the mountains and the woods all agree with me. But if I’m honest, I have to admit that I still have moments, I suppose, as when I think of what I could’ve been, but I’m still young, and I know what I have to do, and that is concentrate on writing poetry.

And I’ve found the place for it: a small, one room cabin. My nearest neighbor is more than two miles away. I’ve learned to love solitude and how to listen to the sound of silence (Simon and Garfunkle), except my silence (here in the Maine woods) is filled with sounds of nature. By the time I arrived here, I’d taken a beaten. The journey itself took a toll. It was a hard trip. I was very tired, sick and tired. But I found my peace beside a clear stream. And above all I learned how to sit still, and I’m trying to concentrate on what’s really important to me. Since I don’t work full time (driving a truck), I have time to read or go on hikes. I plan to learn to snowshoe and ski, since Sugerloaf ski resort is near here. I might as well take advantage of it. Perhaps my interests have broadened; perhaps they were too narrow; and I was too busy rebelling to see that it didn’t really matter. Now at least, I see it. But I don’t want you to think that I have all the answers or necessarily think that I’m on the right path. Let’s just say, for now I’m easy.

Indeed you can’t imagine what I’ve been through. For now I feel I’ve escaped, and do you know I can write about it without getting upset. That’s a first for me. This must be the reason that I’m basically happy. Maybe it’s also because I feel that I can trust you. There’s so much of my life that I’ve left up to chance. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but it’s chancy. At least I see it now. But I still don’t think that I can tell my parents. They wouldn’t understand. They’ve never understood me, and would cut the knot if they knew what I’m struggling with. I also fear what you might think. Forgive me. It’s been so long, too long since we’ve seen each other; but I haven’t given up hope that someday our paths will cross.

I can tell you that I’m back to writing a poem a day, but I don’t think my work is very good. Naturally I find inspiration from Robert Frost (“Tree At My Window” and “Mending Wall”). There’s a small library in Kingfield, and I don’t think it’s going to take me long to read every book in it. In about the same time, I should have finished another chapbook. That’s another story.

None of this should be a secret, but for the time being let’s keep it between you and me. Shakes Spear

In spite of his plea for secrecy, Tom was surprisingly candid about his struggle. On the same day that he wrote his friend Eddy Newman, he wrote his parents: “I’d been chasing my tail long enough, again when I was in San Francisco and during my trip across the country. I got quite sick of it, after sowing wild oats, and you’ll be happy to know that I’ve settled down in a little cabin in the woods and by a stream a la Henry David Thoreau. (Thoreau was someone we studied in high school.) And now I can truthfully say that I’ve gotten away from sins and temptations of the big city, the enemy, but with it came an opportunity to commune with God. I’ve even started going to church in Kingfield, a Methodist Church there. Believe it or not, Methodists got to me before Baptists did. Regardless, this should ease you mind. What next for me, who knows? Truthfully I’m not ready to commit myself to anything grand. So start making your vacation plans. Fall foliage here is supposed to be spectacular. Looking forward to the fall is as much as we can hope for now.”

July 16, 1968
Highland Plantation Maine
My dear Sam,
I’m taking a big chance by sending this letter care of Post Restante in Manila. Chances, indeed! Me! I’ll tell you what … I’ve learned my lesson: that’s what I think. I can’t thank you enough for giving me time to think. You caught me at a weak moment and when I was tempted. It was a difficult time for me, sir, and thankfully you didn’t take advantage of my weakness. I forgot who I was. I’m trying to do better, and hopefully I’ll be able to.

Seriously, you’re a wonderful man. And you had the guts to resist. Why? And when you knew it was unlikely that we’d ever see each other again. Heavens! The willpower you showed! What else can I attribute it to? And with boys in every port! Believe me I’m thankful, and I need to tell you that I cried when you left.

Sam, I’m going to stay here for a while. Write to me c/0 my P.O Box in Kingfield Maine. I check my mail at least once a week, and slowly I’m letting people know where I am. I mean to write often, but I value privacy. And also I’d like to hear from you, keep up with where you’ve been, and learn about places, new places that I’ll never see.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the last statement of mine will not be true. Though as I’ve said I’m totally satisfied now. I’m totally satisfied here. I know next to nothing about Manila, except that we once owned it and gave them their independence, so a postcard or two would enlighten me. A blessing to those of you who become travelers and who enlighten the rest of us. I think I’ll subscribe to National Geographic. So sail on brave sailor sail easily over the seas so isn’t there still a war going on? Oh, my God, I almost forgot. Tom

Mariner, Merchant Marine, World Traveler, Deck Hand, and pure and good man, I do appreciate you.

General Creighton Abrams replaced General William Westmoreland.

Tom’s parents followed his journey from Gage Oklahoma to Highland Plantation Maine with its back and forth without comment. For, in addition to the immense disappointment they felt over him dropping out of Baylor, which first took him to Amarillo, they never really gave up hope that at some point Tom would turn his life around.

Tom’s progress as a writer didn’t interest his parents, though it seemed to his mother, more than his father, that he might have a chance of someday making some money from it. His mother didn’t know how difficult it was. She didn’t know how difficult it was for a poet to make money from poetry, while his father was encouraged each time he learned that his son had chosen to work as a laborer, a gas station attendant, and a truck driver. Not only were these jobs, in his mind, steady and predictable, but they also showed that his son wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty. In Highland Plantation Maine evidently Tom slowed down, and after San Francisco it was an encouraging development for his parents. It now seemed to them that Tom had moved to a quieter and more traditional existence, and when he invited them to come see him in the fall for fall foliage, his parents began making plans to do just that.

Living at the end of a dead end road, Tom rarely had any unwanted visitors, few visitors at all except for birds and critters of the woods. As a truck driver, he prowled roads of central Maine, from Bethel and South Paris to Eustis in the remote north, and experienced extraordinary beauty first hand, and he seemed to be … and was … very happy. Tom seemed to have discovered his compass, like that of men who are truly satisfied … and the direction he was searching for. It also seemed like he found new energy, and it was apparent in everything he did. As he seemed to have stopped rebelling, it became evident to him that he’d been trying too hard. And he looked forward to each day. His anticipation of what lay before him allowed him to face each day with a smile. He liked to sit in the cab of his truck and drive and drive. He could spot game before he could scare it away. He was always on the look out for it. His sharp eyesight paid off, while his round face beamed most of the time, as he looked for dear and moose. He would drive slower than he was suppose to and made up time on the more open stretches, and came to hate State Police troopers.

May 1968
Highland Plantation Maine
Sport,
…cops. Why? Because they want me so badly. Can you give a better reason? It doesn’t follow, of course, that I might be speeding.

I’ve finished enough poems for another chapbook. I’m surprised. A few of them are actually good. One called “A Loon on Little Moxie Pond “… a little more than 20 miles southwest of Greenville; another “The Wire Iron Bridge”…New Portland Maine over the Carrabassett River, a third “The Best Smeller” … of course, we’re talking about Henry David Thoreau. I don’t claim to be original. But each of these, I think, is a keeper. I know a lot of it is subjective. When I get my hands on carbon paper, I’ll send you copies. Please be brutal. I know critics will be.

Thoreau wrote three essays called THE MAINE WOODS over a span of fifteen years. Tom dashed off his poems in a matter of days. He had just moved into his cabin at the end of a dead-end road when he started writing them. For the most part they came to him in the middle of night. “On the 31st of August, I left Concord in Massachusetts for Bangor and the backwoods of Maine…” Thoreau

On June 1, 1968 Tom parked his truck near where the Appalachian Trail crossed the highway because he couldn’t resist the call of the wild.
“Perchance in this wild spot there will be laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.” Thoreau’s Ktaadn

“Problem with me parking here?” he’d ask, should a trooper come by. “I know the shoulder isn’t very wide. You can see that I’ve posted hazard triangles. I’m sure it’s safe.” Sure!

Yielding to a natural and wholesome impulse meant he’d be late. Instead of getting a delivery to Stratton on time, he spent an hour or so following the trail and expected a citation when he got back to his truck. Weather was perfect. What better way to spend a part of a perfect afternoon? Certainly better than in the cab of a truck. It was never a question of how he guided himself into the woods: it was a question of his judgement and his priorities … in conflict with Tom’s pleasure, as he strolled down the trail.
And beauty everywhere around him sustained inspiration he got from his guide, Thoreau, which was someone he rediscovered in the small Kingfield Library. It was a privilege that he couldn’t pass up, a glorious privilege that ultimately cut into his paycheck. Even in Maine he found that he was too tied to a feverish world for his taste. This being so, Tom thought about quitting, and would’ve except for one thing: he found himself a new girlfriend.
Tom met Sarah at a bake bean casserole supper on a Saturday evening at the fire station in Kingfield. Tom went to these suppers, not to meet people, but to get a break from his own cooking. Yet he enjoyed socializing. Tom actually got a kick from it. And still struggling with his sexual identity, he felt relieved when he felt attracted to Sarah.
“Well, what of it? Weren’t there Elaine and Rosa before her? And hadn’t they both claimed Tom was the best lover that they ever had?

Again, he knew that he felt drawn to them. He had always been aware of various members of the opposite sex and had also been aroused. Now he was drawn to Sarah.
But beyond an occasional feeling of excitement when he saw someone like Elaine and Rosa (with her long flowing red hair), his loss of interest, he said, bothered him. When he first saw Sarah at a bake bean casserole supper he forgot about Sam and later took that as a good sign: “Sarah, I have no right to think that we have much in common. I think it’s dreadfully hot in here, don’t you? What do you think we ought to do about it?” She suggested that they go outside.

Other than in gas, it didn’t cost him much to entertain Sarah, but the fact that a considerable part of their dating was spent in her old pickup truck said something of his situation, which in many respects was better than hers was. None of this was surprising for rural north central Maine where neighbors generally lived two miles from each other. And his experience and worldliness wasn’t something he lauded over her. Quite the contrary. He accepted her for who she was, a poor woman who grew up on a farm, in a drafty house heated with wood and connected to a barn, a farm with cats, a couple of cows, chickens and geese, and goats, and rabbits, in one of the poorest regions of the state. And he knew that she would never leave the farm because she felt secure there. He therefore ended up telling himself that it didn’t matter.

Tom married Sarah Foote on September 22, 1968 in the Kingfield Methodist Church, with his parents in attendance. When they stepped outside, Jim and Jill Hayes found the snapping cold to be a little hard on them, though they raved about the foliage. They hadn’t expected their son to marry Sarah so quickly. It came as a surprise, the engagement and the wedding. The announcement in the paper brought out a huge crowd for Kingfield. Unfortunately Tom didn’t have money enough to take his bride on much of a honeymoon.
Chapter Twenty
September 28, 1968

Highland Plantation Maine

Dear Helen and Scott Nearing,

I found your book LIVING THE GOOD LIFE inspirational, since I’ve recently had to come to grips with living on a farm in north central Maine. But isn’t the title flawed when it comes down to winters in Maine. Winters seem harsh to me here. This will be my first winter in Maine, and at this early stage it seems quite daunting. It seems to me that my wife and I are going to have to do more than keep a fire burning. However, having grownup on our farm she is more adapted than I am, so I guess I shouldn’t be afraid. I grew up in a suburb of Dallas, where it rarely gets belong zero, which should give you an idea why I eagerly read your book. It is very good, I think. But how do I know how helpful it will be? I’ve also been reading Thoreau. Thoreau, as a source. Or our neighbors, who ever they are. Thoreau writes about a farmer thinking about his preparedness for winter, but I’m a city slicker? I could weep when I think of it; because living here during the winter I suspect is hard. I’d prefer to be in Hawaii, or on a cruise in the Caribbean. Already my mind is frozen, stuck, and I’m not sure that I’m made for this. But we shall see. I’ve fallen into this kind of life, just as I’ve fallen into most things. Talking about farming, I know nothing about it, so I’m relying on my wife and her mother, who lives here with us. Talking about how to live, as I’ve indicated, you two are a wonder, and I can’t be angry with anyone but myself. I actually love splitting wood too, and I’ve made a long list of your various suggestions, or are they recipes for living? I’m sorry to say, but simple living seems difficult to me. Life has been a struggle, but now that I’m married … newly married, I’m anticipating a simpler life. Like I said I fell into it: that I’m here living in Highland Plantation (I need confirmation every day) still amazes me. Forgive me for assuming that you’d be interested in any of this, my dilemma. It’s just that you two are examples of what’s possible, and I’m planning to use LIVING THE GOOD LIFE the same way some people use the Bible. I’m a wayward city boy after all, you see, and after I’ve beaten my first Maine winter, I’m sure I’ll have more confidence in myself. But until then, I’m winging it, with your help. That’s why I wanted to thank you. You and Thoreau have shown me the way.

You say, “Live hard not soft.” It now looks like I don’t have a choice.

Maybe it won’t suit me. The fact is that we’ll still have to go to the grocery store, and the nearest supermarket is in Farmington, a fair piece away, and Sarah and her mom haven’t stored up enough provisions given I’m an extra mouth. I sort of dropped in, sort of speak. And having written all this, I’m not sure why I’ve gone on and on, but it’s good practice, if nothing else. You see, well, I’m trying to become a writer. I’m trying…Yes I’m trying. I will … I will succeed. Now come to think of it I am a published poet. I’ll enclose a copy of my chapbook. And again, thank you. Thomas Hayes

Helen and Scott Nearing, famous, radical homesteaders, had a cult following after they published LIVING THE GOOD LIFE. Tom never went to Forest Farm, the Nearing’s home on Penobscot Bay, though he and Sarah would’ve been welcome. The Nearings fled New York back in the 30’s and led the back-to-land movement for more than three decades. They recently joined 400 hundred other writers in signing a statement, published as a full-page ad in the New York Post, declaring their intentions to not pay taxes for the war. With his wife’s help (Helen’s handwritten corrections) Scott wrote a paper called “The Making of a Radical.” However they were best known for how they lived, while Helen’s cooking was awfully good. Later Tom would attribute his sanity, if not his survival to the Nearings.

Tom didn’t enclose a copy of his chapbook as he said he would. He decided that he suffered from delusions and didn’t think his poems were good enough. However, while it seemed less and less likely, it was fair to say that he still held out hope that he would still hear from Ferlinghett.

Eddie Newman, Tom’s close friend from Baylor, was now living in New York City, irking out a living as a part-time teacher and a free-lance writer. He was also working on his first novel.

October 1, 1968

Highland Plantation Maine

Dear Helen and Scott Nearing,

Mrs. Nearing, your “horse chow” is delicious. You are an amusing person, unique, uniquiest, though I know unique is unique and can’t be any more than unique. It’s quite beautiful here, which keeps my mind off my main concern: survival. You’ll probably be glad to learn that I’m beginning to feel more confident and that my optimism comes from reading your book. If other people can do it, certainly I can. My despair was yesterday. Today I met one of my neighbors. I walked over there, not knowing if anyone was home, quite a long walk through the woods when I wasn’t sure how far I’d have to go. I don’t know how far it was. A Maineiac greeted me, as I climbed an old rock wall onto his property. He saw me coming. “Lost something?” he asked. He seemed friendly enough. Well, I told him that I was his new neighbor, and he seemed surprised. I explained how I just married the Foote girl. “They’re good people,” said he. The neighbor, Mr. Ives, stood as straight as ramrod, so I tried to soften him up by being neighborly. He (Mr. Ives) held his ground; what I mean is he didn’t invite me into his home, still he spoke in a warm, suffused way, or something like that. But I felt the ice was broken, and that if we’re snowed in for weeks I’ll be able to call on him. I think the idea of our calling on each other, and/or working together will please you. I could see Mr. Ives someday coming over to our farm, and I do plan to tap into his wisdom or mindfulness. But perhaps Frost is right: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Faced with being snowed in for weeks, and when our snow blower is ancient and our snowmobile needs tinkering with, a “purer simpler life” now seems somewhat absurd to me. I’ll certainly need help. I’m discovering that life is no picnic. But I’m here now. I’ve made my bed. And I have a helpmate, and her name is Sarah.

My enthusiasm must seem evident. I envy what you two have done, built a house and created a home. I should be thankful that I don’t have to start from scratch. I’m the master of a New England farm for God sake, and I know a lot of people would be envious. I may seem to you to be silly, but truthfully I feel like an impersonator. Who am I kidding? I’m no farmer. God help us this winter, in a drafty old house, in the middle of Maine, miles from anywhere. What will I do when the pipes freeze? Call on Mr. Ives, a cheery guy to say the least? I only recently learned how to milk a cow. I keep forgetting my wife and her mother. On my word, they’re both resourceful, hard working, and have survived many winters, so I should be all right. I daresay they have all the secrets down pat, and my anxieties are stupid. And here am I writing to you like a stupid fool when I know you two are living the good life. As long as we can heat water and store up previsions to last for several weeks, I know we can make it. I know my anxiety has nothing to do with reality, and I must say Sarah and her mother are in the best of health and are in good spirits, and I should be happy too. I’ll just be glad when winter is over. Actually I don’t think it’s started yet. And when we have children … now I’m rushing things. I guess the good news is, I guess, is that I’m alive. Thomas Hayes

Tom’s letters record that he didn’t get snowed in that winter and that in fact the highways were plowed and salted every day that it snowed, making it easier to get around than when it snowed in his native Texas.

The last line of the Frost poem “Good fences make good neighbors” didn’t apply here because the fence in this case was built more than century before then when the region had a greater population and fences were needed. By now the fence had fallen down and was grown over and beyond mending.

Frost had written: “Something there is doesn’t love a wall, that sends the frozen-ground-swell upon it … but at spring mending time we find” Tom still living there. “Mending Wall” is one of Frost’s most famous poems.

To hear Tom complain one would think that he hated Maine, but it wasn’t true. For he was a victim of a disease that many young people have … a compulsion that keeps them from settling down. It was an ironic fact that he wouldn’t find a more beautiful place to live than around Kingfield Maine, but rather than appreciate it, he complained. He didn’t think of himself as a Mainer, just as he wouldn’t have been accepted as one, but his wife was born and raised there, so she was one. So was his mother-in-law. So when he looked about and saw everywhere things that overwhelmed him, he just should’ve relaxed and “let the river flow.”

Tom’s parents assumed that he would get a college education, something that had been out of reach for them. And if, in any discussion, it was suggested that he’d drop out, they would’ve immediately dismissed the idea because they wanted him to make something of himself … so after he left Baylor and wandered from job to job they were quite pleased when he married Sarah and came in the possession of a farm.
“All right. But I thought he was going to become famous. Let me remind you of it.”

Tom’s father wouldn’t accept that his own vision of success didn’t fit Tom. Jim Hayes prided himself on how he worked hard, which allowed him to build up his gas station business over time. It wasn’t long before he began to question his son’s drive and fortitude, and the direction Tom took was beyond his comprehension. When the young man quit a succession of jobs, his suspicions were confirmed. And out of all of those, he wished he’d kept the truck-driving job (he forgot Tom drove a truck for the circus). Finally, he thought Tom would starve on a small struggling farm in the middle of Maine, but he didn’t say anything.

He agreed to withhold judgement. He and Tom’s mother agreed to wait and see, while it seemed very obvious. He still didn’t say anything, when he saw that the farm was on a back road in the sticks, saw that the house and the barn, though once well-built, suffered from neglect, and thought that the overall prospects of making a living there slim. He looked about and quickly came to the conclusion that the most his son could ever expect to make from the place was to barely scrape by, but since he came from a different generation and hadn’t read Helen and Scott Nearing’s book, his reaction should’ve been expected.

A few months before then, when he was still in San Francisco, Tom stayed for a few days in a crash pad near Haight Ashbury. Tom had to get out of the YMCA when Sam left. At the height of madness, when Haight was starting to turn ugly, and a group of Ants were pooling their resources, there always was the question of where their next meal was coming from, but they never worried about it. Someone always showed up with something, and they’d share what they had. They always could fall back on a produce market where they could collect free food. So they never starved and instantly recognized whoever showed up with a hug and a smile. As it turned out, it worked rather well and was considered beautiful since everyone, or almost everyone, contributed something. Yes, the summer before had been “the Summer of Love … the psychedelic age of Jefferson Airplane and “make love-not war” … and it would be an understatement to say that the pad was filled with “free love” when Tom landed there. Affected by this freedom, Tom still wasn’t sure, but experimented just the same..

“Forget about it, and why I fled San Francisco,” he then would plead. “That’s right, it didn’t cost anything. Yep! Free for the picking.”

But Tom remained skeptical because of his upbringing.

Thus, while he couldn’t escape his parents’ view of life (particularly his father’s), Tom had taste of something far different, but he wasn’t sure whether he liked it or not. Tom still didn’t feel free enough to do whatever he wanted. He instead had to face his conscience, and he had to over and over again … for rebellion proved hard for him. In addition to this, Tom had taken on obligations that he shouldn’t have taken on until he was really ready to settle down. But more than this he felt lost.

And, strangely, for someone who never worked a farm, initially he seemed adept at it, as he threw himself into each project. With winter fast approaching, in spite of often not knowing what he was doing, Tom managed to impress his wife. And this strengthened their bond, a bond he was beginning to forge with Sarah. From the beginning they agreed to more or less share responsibilities and not rely on Sarah’s mother. And they succeeded. For this reason they respected each other.

Such was the situation Tom happily found himself in as he continued to search for his identity. At some point, he would have to be true to himself, but first he’d have to find out what he wanted to do and be. And within a hundred yards of his place where he saw from his door a moose (yes, a real live moose, how special was that?) was his own apple orchid, small though it may be, and perhaps with a little codling and pruning it could yield fruit (except the growing season there was way too short for successfully growing apples). But what he hadn’t paid attention to, and needed to, was deer season. It was just beginning.

Having seen a moose from his front door, Tom should’ve been worried. He didn’t know enough to be worried. He wasn’t aware that hunting or buck tracking in Maine was pursued with frantic madness. This meant that he needed to watch for hunters. Oh, yes, yes, he had lots to learn. Yet, he was willing to dive in. One of the qualities he had was that he wasn’t afraid to try something … even try and try again and never ask for help and never admit that he needed it even to himself.

In the fall of 1968 Tom wanted, even expected, his friend Eddie to visit him in Maine. Eddie was still living in New York City, and New York City didn’t seem that far from Maine to Tom. Tom instead received a letter from his friend in New York City, telling him, in order to get material for his novel, that he planned to hitchhike across the country to San Francisco. Tom naturally felt disappointed. Tom couldn’t see why Eddie couldn’t include Maine. He couldn’t see why Eddie couldn’t easily have swung by Maine on his way to San Francisco but couldn’t/wouldn’t say anything because he hadn’t gone by New York on his way to Highland Plantation. He had the city on his itinerary for later.

Eddie traveled first to D.C. He wanted to see the Wright brothers’ plane, the first one they successfully flew. To save money and to collect material for his book, Eddie almost entirely relied on other people, but occasionally he had to splurge and eat in a restaurant and not seek out the cheapest place to spend the night.

Newman’s own account of his journey formed the bases of the second half of his novel LOST, though some critics claimed that he ripped-off Kerouac. This was not true. He hadn’t read ON THE ROAD.

Eddie Newman would have no trouble getting his novel LOST published (with a small press) because Kerourac had broken ground for it. In Eddie’s work, he has his protagonist stay in a crash pad near Haight Ashbury, and Tom secretly resented it. Tom didn’t think Eddie stayed in a crash pad near Haight Ashbury when he had. Tom usually showed restraint when it came to emotions, but he obviously felt very bitter when his friend didn’t come to see him in Maine.

October 21, 1968

Highland Plantation Maine

Dear Sport,

I supposed you don’t know what it’s like to be overlooked. I’ve never felt so dejected in my life. I feel like no one cares, and as for you, I wish you had come by here. I feel that I’ve lost a friend, though I know it’s not the case. But I’ll carry on the best I can, after I’ve made what may turn out to be a big mistake. I’ve seen my future, and it’s not what I expected. The weather is threatening, and I have a strange, rather horrible feeling that I’ll never see you again. I honestly can say that I miss you, while I can hear you say get real. Oh have no fear, I’m okay. You know how I like to exaggerate. I am very happy, married and happy. As a newly married man, how can I be otherwise? As you know, you’re always welcome here at the farm. God bless you, may the wind always blow your way. Fondly, Tom

Of course, Eddie Newman didn’t know how to respond to this letter, so he carried it in his shirt pocket for a long time.

Tom also wrote to Mr. Watson on the same day. He wrote, “I seem to be in a funk; at the very least I must snap out of it and the best way I know how to do that is to jump in a lake, as in “go jump in a lake” (they’re called ponds here). The mere thought of it causes me to shiver.”

The great rush to harvest the last pumpkins, potatoes, and squash before it was too late was on. During the night the temperature precipitously dropped, and a dusting of snow fell and stuck to the top of beech trees. These were special trees to birds and deer, and the white wood was most often used to make toys, cookware, and furniture. Snow came as a surprise and told them that they should bring in the rest of the crop.

It was just as planned. Squash didn’t really need harvesting until rinds hardened, but they wanted to dig potatoes before the ground froze. That left pumpkins, most of which they’d try to sell for Halloween. Harvesting filled most of a month, going from mid-September to early October.

Their farm wasn’t grand by anyone standards, except maybe to back-to-the-landers. By the time Tom arrived all cultivated land had been worked and reworked. Beyond the potato field there was a stand of beech and beyond that, at the bottom of a gentle slope flowed the West Fork of the Carrabassett River. Here, when he had time, Tom liked to sit in mud or on grass and contemplate his future. Not far from a popular ski resort, the farm actually would be worth more in the future than it was then. Tom’s father’s assessment that his son would be lucky to scrape by there wasn’t far from the truth.

At this time of the year when Sarah and Tom went to bed, they knew they had put in a full day, a day that usually started before sunup and never ended until after dark. Then too Tom tried to find time to read and, of course, write, and sometimes he caught himself reflecting on what might’ve been or what he might’ve been doing had he not dropped out of Baylor and deserted his friend Eddie Newman, but by then it was too late to turn back.
October 22, 1968

Highland Plantation Maine

Dear Sam

I’ve passed my first test with comparative ease, now that our cellar is full of spuds and squash. We could never eat all the pumpkins, so we’ve started selling them out by the road. Singapore seems so far away, but I suppose its not. I plan to go to Singapore someday, and all places in between, only I probably screwed that up by getting married. The experience has otherwise been interesting, a test of sorts; pleasant enough and so far no major hitches, but now we have cold weather; only it’s not as cold as it’s going to get.

Enjoyed postcard from Manila. I’m surprised to see that after the war we (the US) left so many jeeps behind.

I’m sending this c/o Poste Restante Singapore. That way I figure that you’ll eventually get it.

I am forever your sincere, cold and wet farmer friend, praying for a little sunshine before it really turns cold … or at least a warm fire … hopefully we have enough wood to last all winter … while I dream of the tropics. Last night I thought of you but knowing what Sarah would say about the two of us leaving the country … I could cry. I know for a fact that she can’t see herself living anywhere else besides on this farm; that’s why she’s never left the nest, and I feel sorry for her. I guess I’m stuck. Yours Tom

P.S. I’ll try to get some sleep now. I am exhausted enough.

In many respects Highland Plantation was very isolated. To keep up with the political scene Tom subscribed and read Newsweek. As best he could, he followed the National Conventions that year and had mixed feelings over having missed rioting in Chicago. “What a mess!” he wrote. Although he wasn’t sure who would’ve pleased him, he was quite disappointed with the results of the conventions. Vietnam aside, Nixon was too conservative for him, and Humphrey’s rosy outlook made him (the Senator) hard to take. It also seemed pretty sad to Tom that even though Wallace couldn’t win the presidency he (the Governor) was in a position to decide who would.

10/14/68: 24,000 sent back to Vietnam for second tour. This was due to high troop turnover for what was proving to be a very long war.

In a long letter to his parents, Tom finally did something that he never wanted to do. Without giving the real reason, he admitted that he was rejected by the military. He spent a whole day trying to think of a way to explain and finally told them that he avoided the draft by “acting crazy.” His mother thought it was silly, while his father simply didn’t buy it. In response he sent his son a hand drawn peace sign, which he label “a chicken’s imprint.”

Eddie’s journey across America began in New York City on the morning of October 16. Wisely, in spite of the weight, he bought a heavy overcoat for the trip and decided to take the southern route.

A little before seven o’clock that October morning, Eddie, who had grown tired of the city, emerged from a subway near the east end of the George Washington Bridge, ready to walk to Fort Lee, New Jersey. There was no fee to cross the bridge on foot.

October 22, 1968

Highland Plantation Maine

Dear Sport,

I’m sitting in my kitchen with a view of our farm. Built in a clearing in the vast Maine woods. We live in an old Cape Cod Style house with a huge red barn attached, so I don’t have to walk outside during the winter if I don’t want to. When I stop and think about it, I’m lucky because I almost literally stumbled into Highland Plantation with hardly a penny to my name. I never heard of it before I arrived here. So here I am, with not much left to do before we’re hit with the full force of winter, which, as you can see, gives me time to write. I plan to hibernate and write. What ever happened to the idea of getting up early every morning to go to work: as a truck driver I had to report to work on a regular basis. This is now Tuesday the 22nd, and the race continues between Humphrey, Nixon, and Wallace. It’s a strange comment on our times, when in good conscience I don’t think I’ll be able to vote for any of them, and thinking of you, I wonder where you are right now. We have half a chance that Nixon will be our next president. Maybe he will be our next president. My family has always voted Democrat, so where does that leave me? Maybe I should be happy that I’m prepared for the worse with enough potatoes and squash stored up to last the winter. If we’re lucky the world will last until spring. It feels strange to be a farmer, as I hope you can appreciate. I wonder if this will reach you in San Francisco, since that was where you said you were heading (“via the southern route”). I remember my own trek across the country, and it looks to me as if our routes would intersect somewhere near Scranton, Pennsylvania. To stay away from as much congestion as possible, as you head south to D.C., (I followed the Susquehanna north from Harrisburg.) follow the river, which is the easiest way to traverse the state. Not fighting traffic will give you peace of mind. I’m doing all right. I know sometimes, from my letters, it may seem like I’m not, but everyone has his or her ups and downs. I have my health. I’m a happily married man, and I sleep at night. And it doesn’t look like I’ll starve. What more could anyone want? Say, I know that this isn’t New York City.

What’s the matter then? You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You just married a gal and live in a beautiful place, and already you’re thinking about chucking it all. Only the other day you saw someone on the road trying to catch a ride to Quebec. A big fellow, with a backpack and a bedroll, and as strong as you! Sure, he could work the same as you. It’s gotten where this life isn’t fair. Having thought these thoughts, so full of outrage, regret, and self-pity, Tom, feeling somewhat better, continued his letter writing.

What it is to be an unsatisfied farmer let those who haven’t been in his shoes know. I slept in this morning, hesitant to open my eyes, which could become a habit. All day I’ve sat here and allowed Sarah to wait on me, on the pretext that I’ve earned it. Sarah (or her mother) shouldn’t complain though because I did my share around here when there was plenty to do. I hope you stopped by the little town called Gettysburg, a straight shot south of Carlisle. I spent a whole day there (Gettysburg) getting to know every ridge and field, every sad corner of the battlefield, but I can’t explain my interest. I confess that I’m not a Civil War buff, but it’s pretty overpowering when you think of how many men died there. The time was worth it, I guess.

Don’t miss Harpers Ferry. On my way to D.C., I went by Harpers Ferry, a place famous for John Brown’s raid, a place I’ll remember because of its rugged beauty. You see I’m a sucker for rugged, beautiful places.

Tom recorded that he traveled the old National Road across Maryland. He remembered this route from his circus days, the same route that held the country together. He assumed his friend took it.

November 4, 1968

Highland Plantation Maine

Dear Sport,

Monday. Election Day. Here is another curious beginning, and it’s too early to tell who’ll be our leader for the next four years. For someone who says he doesn’t give a damn, I’ve certainly fretted over this election more than any other. A loser might be the winner, though I hope not. You see the loquacious Minnesotian is known as “the happy warrior” and given the war it seems incongruent to me, so much so that I’d follow him like a messiah.

My life is pretty calm now. I am, I hope, cured of the itch, yet I often enviously think of you as you travel across the country and when I do I suffer as much distress as ever. I recall my own travels. Your experiences will be different, but hopefully no less eventful. I don’t deny that I miss you, but I’ll survive, for I’m basically okay now. All I have to do is look on the bright side. I haven’t heard from you since you left New York City, partly I suppose because you’ve been on the road; yet; don’t blame me for not having more letters waiting for you in San Francisco; if you knew how busy I’ve been, you’d understand. Most mornings I go to town for mail, since all roads are still clear.

I should say, if you were a praying man, pray for our country. I’m obliged to be thankful that I didn’t have to flee to Canada, though I’m now close enough, if things go south, I could easily slip across the border. From my hideout, Shakes Spear

I reckon by the time you read this I’ll have written you another letter. Must assume no news from you is good news.

Eddie arrived in San Francisco in the middle of the day on Friday November 22, crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge (not on foot but in the cab of a truck) and then got down on Harrison Street and walked across Folsom without paying much attention. He didn’t even go by Haight Ashbury. Soon afterwards he wrote to Tom: “I’m not sure why I’m here, but I am.” Once again Eddie felt isolated in the midst of a great city. A week later he wrote Tom again: “No new news. Nothing new! I’m thinking that I’ll go to Vietnam, that’s all. No, I’m not enlisting. We’ll see.”

The Ritch Street Baths had just opened at 330 Ritch Street, close to Folsom and east of the Interstate. Even for a day, Eddie showed no interest in joining the Ritch Street Health Club. Instead Eddie always felt it was ironic that he saw the film Right on! Poetry at the Palace Art Theater in San Francisco and not while he was in New York City. In the film, director Herbert Danska captured Gylain Kain, Felipe Luciano and David Nelson, performing their revolutionary beat poetry on the rooftops, fire escapes and back alleys of Harlem.

In May, shortly after King’s assassination and on Malcolm X’s birthday, the three poets formed a group known as The Last Poets. Joining music and words, with the fervor of the Black Panthers in poems written for black people, they gave voice to “the kina nigger you don never wanna meet!”(Leroi Jones). Two years later, with the release of their first album, they dropped a bomb with their (ready for this?) “Muthafuckas ran f’ cover.”

David Nelson, the Poet, shouldn’t be confused with David Nelson, the actor, of the Ozzie and Harriet TV show that both Tom and Eddie grew up on.

December 8, 1968

Highland Plantation Maine

Dear Sport,

Thanks for the long letter, which more than makes up for the long silence. I have never heard of The Lost Poets, but why would I know them and it sounds like I’ll never find copies of their work in Kingfield or Skowhegan. I know you’ll frequent City Lights Bookstore, and the next time you do I think you might find some of their poetry there: hint. Hint! This would inspire me. One thing I do have is Ginsberg, and that is HOWL. Again when you go by City Lights, see if you can meet Ferlinghetti, and if you do, write and tell me what he is like. (You know I sent him my poetry, but please don’t mention it.) I twiddle my thumbs daily. Sarah and I went to Quebec for the day, and guess what? They don’t speak much English up there. Proud bastards, snobbish even. (First impressions probably are wrong.) We have some of those people around here, not as bad, mostly work as sawyers. From here it’s less than a hundred miles to the border and the most beautiful highway I’ve ever seen: on our side all woods, on their side all neat cultivated fields. It should be featured in National Geographic, if it hasn’t been. (If you haven’t been to Maine, you ought to come someday.) That’s all from the Chamber of Commerce of Highland Plantations. Do keep me in the loop. You’re the only one who writes me.

At times the idea of running into a writer’s block frightens me. I try to trick myself by always stopping before I finish something so I won’t be faced with a blank page. It seems to work, except it slows me down because I often stop while juices are still flowing. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been prolific, and my legacy probably will be small. That wouldn’t surprise my dad; and so, so far, I have little to show anyone. God, now I’m sounding like a loser. I mustn’t think that way.

What’s this about you going to Nam, which scares the hell out of me? Are you crazy?

As I hinted, I keep hoping that I’ll see you soon. Unlike San Francisco, it looks like Christmas here. Believe it or not we’re going to cut our own Christmas tree. I’ve my eye on the perfect tree in our back lot. For a share of it, a guy suddenly appeared and helped us cut and store hay for winter. It was prearranged. I didn’t have to deal with him, so I don’t know what really transpired. We also produced some of the best pears you’ll ever eat. Yesterday I milked my first cow by hand (we have two cows). I felt proud of myself. It was wonderful. I vaguely remember in my reading of Faulkner about some character falling for a cow. I understand it now. I also had a near escape with my life with a goose; it chased me, and I ran, which choked Sarah and her mother up. Sometimes we can’t win.

This is really a beautiful place, which I’m growing to love. I can see why winter for many people is their favorite season. Everyone here has a snow blower and a snow machine, and the trails are endless. When Sarah and I ride our machine to Kingfield we don’t come upon a road but once or twice, and then not until we’re almost to town. I was wishing yesterday that we could turn back the clock. What I mean is that I wish Sarah and I lived by ourselves in my old cabin at the end of the road where we wouldn’t have to deal with traffic. It’s funny how I now call the few cars and trucks that roll past here traffic. You see solitude has become more and more an obsession for me. That’s when I hear the sound of wind blowing through treetops. That takes me to the foot of a waterfall, which freezes like everything else here; and where I find myself standing in the heart of wilderness. I never thought that I’d tout these wonders the way I am, but the mountains around us are really breathtaking. I’ve been looking for aurora borealis, but she hasn’t shown her head yet, or maybe I’m asleep when she’s about. Like I said, I go to Kingfield for my mail. There I’m beginning to get to know people, and there I’m linked with Sarah and her mom and it helps. It’s a short stroll across the Carrabassett River to the center of town where the businesses are. We live on the West Branch of the river; so west of town off of Highway 16/27. This part of the river contains many rapids with huge boulders put there so that water can cascade over them. (We have to go all the way to Farmington to catch a movie.) There’s a new newspaper in town, called the Irregular, an appropriate name because it comes out irregularly; so when we can get one you’ll see us installed in Longfellow’s Restaurant reading our paper. It’s warm, yes warm and cozy in there. In the 1890’s, we might’ve run into the Stanley twins, identical of Stanley Steamer fame, but today perhaps it’s Francois, a French/ Canadian sawyer from Quebec; or perhaps Jason Jordan, the Town Clerk, and always Molly, always our smiling waitress. If you haven’t guessed, this is Longfellow country, Longfellow Mountains and Longfellow this and that. Then home to our farm, our quaint and charming farm, with our attached red three- story barn and with a front porch, and a second story with a pitched roof and gables. We all sleep upstairs and don’t try to heat the whole house at night during the wintertime, and Sarah knows how to manage it without having the mess of our pipes freezing (truth is heavy snow seems to take care of the problem). By God, you’d be amazed. And so am I? I’ll have plenty to tell my grandchildren. Now I’m rushing things. I forget if you asked me any questions, and I’ve shared some parts of your letter about San Francisco with everyone here. We’re all envious, though I don’t think Sarah or her mother would ever act on it. Hopefully you’ll follow up with more letters. Have you seen Ferlinghett yet, the celebrated Ferlinghetti? When you see him, shake his hand for me, will you? And how about you? I do miss you.

And do you not know that I still can’t stand cold. I don’t know why I always end up in cold places: Amarillo, Vaughn, Wichita, and now Maine. And four women! How about that Sport? Four women, and each different, and I’ve learned something new about myself from each one of them. I’ve rarely been so loquacious as I’ve been in this letter, which is complimentary of you. I still like to get published, but my guess is that every writer would like it. One of these days I’ll send you a copy of my latest chapbook. I’m proud of it. Forever your friend, Shakes Spear

When Tom began this letter he didn’t think that he had anything to write about. He didn’t think Eddie would find it very interesting. Still Tom held out hoped that his longtime friend would be intrigued enough that he’d head his way before taking off to somewhere wild and crazy like Vietnam. It was improbable that Eddie would come, but he still held out hope.

Both were Southern boys. Eddie was born and raised in Shreveport, the son of Centenary college professors. In spite of growing up in the South, somehow Eddie had escaped Southern prejudices. One would have to say that he was liberated by his parents, who you could say without hesitation came from the North, in his mother’s case, Long Island, and in his father’s, New Jersey. Eddie mostly didn’t even have a distinguishable Southern accent, or anything that could be recognized instantly and unmistakable as Southern, and the little he did have he could turn on and off.”

In most circles Eddie came off as an erudite upstart. He had the manner and the confidence of one- a lean, engaging, studious personality that insured him a post on the Lariat, where he soon became editor, but he was inflexible when it came to choosing a college (his father preferred Princeton, while his mother lobbied him for Columbia). But to Eddie the Ivy League was as toxic as poison ivy, and he simply wasn’t about to go where he was expected to go. Eddie had his choice of schools too. He could always go to Centenary, a Methodist school. He could’ve gone almost anywhere, and, since he wasn’t particularly religious, almost anywhere would’ve made more sense than Baylor, the largest Baptist University on the planet, where he never pushed himself so academically he wasn’t much more than an average student. Of course, his parents expected more from him. Both had their Doctorates, his father in English (Old English) and his mother in Social Work (abused kids). What one first noticed when they entered their home was a clutter of books, so Eddie grew up reading and writing, though for a time he appeared to read nothing but comics. It was his way of declaring his independence. He actually loved to read and could write well, but as a boy he concealed it when he could. In comparison to Columbia or Princeton, Eddie figured that if he went to Baylor he could coast.

But that wasn’t evident because being editor of a daily newspaper, on top of everything else, meant that he had to push himself. He was actually a bright, outgoing fellow, a year ahead of Tom, with a campus-wide following. Why he chose Tom for a close friend, the freshman never knew.

“Well, what do you say Shake Spear?” bellowed Eddie, as they met where they usually did on the steps of Brooks Hall. “How about a shake?”

The grin on Tom’s face widened, as they immediately headed cross campus to the drug store. Neither young man dated. Neither thought about it.

And, while they saw each other everyday, about once a week they went for a shake. They both liked chocolate shakes. Chocolate, and not vanilla. Who didn’t like chocolate?

And they talked about all sorts of things: music (the Beatles and with Eddie coming from Shreveport, Leadbelly and the Louisiana Hayride), television (Mister Ed), film (Lolita and To Kill A Mockingbird), sports (the Dallas Texans won 20-17 over the Houston Oilers in double overtime), and poetry (Tom’s beloved Whitman).

By this time they would’ve finished their shakes, and Eddie would’ve had another deadline to meet.

“Ah-h, Sport, you’re always filling my ears with something new. I’ve never had a better friend.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

Eddie wrote a review of the movie Lolita, staring James Mason, Shelley Winters, and Sue Lyon: “Seldom among students here at Baylor has a movie drawn so much attention as Lolita…still because of the quality of the acting I consider it worth seeing, though I admit that many of you will be turned off by it…Throughout the movie there are expressions of passions and tenderness, and of suffering and distress, that seem very genuine.

From San Francisco, Eddie wrote Tom: “Since coming here, I haven’t had a real conversation with anyone, but the effect on me hasn’t been bad. There’s too much to see and do for that. And yours truly yesterday went to Alcatrez. It seemed like the thing to do. By the way, the fresh air has kept me healthy.” Eddie went on to describe The Rock as “brutal and punitive.” “Now I know what it felt like to be a Louisiana slave, standing on the auction block.”

Eddie knew Shreveport once had a slave market and thrived on the backs of slaves. A lot of them worked as stevedores on the Red River, which had been opened for commercial traffic, after previously being blocked by a logjam.

Eddie grew up around Negro help, or the Help, as they were called, and if he’d lived on a farm, they would’ve been called Hands, Help or Hands rather than slaves, yet somehow he escaped without thinking that he was superior. Eddie instead went out of his way to be friendly with Blacks and was often seen in their company, while embracing them in whatever way and whenever he could. So that was the kind of guy Eddie was, and it made him popular. If he’d decided to run for office, it was something that he could’ve hung his hat on. Okay. But remember Baylor was just intrergrated, and there were only a few Blacks on campus then, and other students weren’t quite sure what to call them. Eddie however felt uneasy about the Civil Rights movement, so whenever it came up, he often let it pass without comment.

Eddie?

Yes, Eddie.

Randy Ford

 

Chapter Twenty-one
Eddie asked Tom if he ate at the Cliff House, with the Terrace Room and view of the ocean, and Tom told his friend that watching the sunset from Land’s End gave him a high. It helped Tom forget winter in Maine. And after seeing LSD: TRIP WHERE? Eddie decided to go to Land’s End. And no, he didn’t end up thinking that his hotdog was screaming at him.

“Quite a view.”

Eddie didn’t answer. He wasn’t going to answer. And he wasn’t concentrating on the view, his mind was elsewhere, and Eddie never looked at a stranger standing next to him. Both of them wore sweaters because it was windy and cold. But it wasn’t like Maine.

“From here you can see the remains of three shipwrecks,” the stranger said.

Eddie looked at him for the first time and asked, “Where?”

“There. Over the edge. And there. Over there.”

“If I look, I’ll miss the sunset.”

“Yes, the sunset.”

“It’ll set in less than a minute,” said Eddie.

“Smell the air and the sea. Enjoy the surf. A fantastic place.”

“Yes, Land’s End is.”

While he spoke, Eddie’s gaze was transfixed on the horizon, frozen even, fixed. This seemed to annoy the stranger standing next to him, but Eddie didn’t care, and there was no mistaking this hostility. Eddie didn’t appreciate being bothered

“Water, wind, smells … perfect.”

“Is that so?” Eddie seemed indifferent.

“Yeah, it’s so. And I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t appreciate it.”

It appeared that Eddie actually ate at the Cliff House, though it was pricey for him. It meant that he had to skimp and ate many of his meals in sandwich shops and hole-in-the-walls. Of course, he had to have Dungeness crab and sourdough bread at Fisherman’s Warf. The safest place to hold a Dungeness crab is its back. Dungeness crab is named after Dungeness Washington. Eddie also sent his parents chocolate from across the street from Fisherman’s Warf. .

Highland Plantation, Maine
December 7, 1968
Dear Sport,
Lands End, the Cliff House, and I shall not hesitate to ask- where are you going from there? Hawaii? God, don’t tell me you don’t know. Perhaps Hawaii, for its beaches, or perhaps Tahiti for its women! Oh, how I’m jealous. Of course, I’m happy where I am, and I know you don’t like women, though I can say it now, married life is not bad, not bad at all; and who can testify to it better than a married man. I don’t mean to rub it in. So go to Tahiti and have the time of your life, but stay away from Vietnam. You haven’t lost anything in Vietnam, and you could lose everything there. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I won’t come to your rescue. I won’t leave my wife.

I’m having an awful time. I get a letter from you, and I feel jealous. No, I didn’t eat at the Cliff House or take in the air at Lands End. Do you remember what day it is? December 7th. AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. This same day my dad decided to sign up. Thinking of it makes me cry. If you’re looking for misery, there are plenty places to find it besides Vietnam. Don’t sign up. I know that you said that you wouldn’t but you say you’re going. You’re terrible. But please think before you jump off a cliff.

Please tell me what’s going on. I’ll be very nervous until I hear; as you know I’m 4-F. God had a hand in it, no doubt. May God be with you, poor God! How God weeps for all the dead. I don’t know how I’ll make this winter. It already has dropped below zero. Imagine what it’ll be like in January.

Smooth sailing. Yours truly, Shakes Spear

For Tom it was never a question of him not paying his dues. For one thing he clearly was as much against the war as anyone else was, even when his dad said, “Where do suppose we’d be if everyone ran away?” Hadn’t Tom’s old man served his country in the South Pacific? Where was Tawara anyway?

Tom now was as far away from dangers of the war as possible and still be in the country. But when Eddie again wrote that he was thinking about going to Vietnam that caused Tom to pause. Tom had already lost a classmate over there, at least one that he knew about, David Morris, a genuinely nice kid.

It made Tom squirm every time he told someone that he was classified 4F and, rather than the truth, for physical reasons rather than something immoral. He felt guilty, not only because of a lie, but also because it somehow suggested that he was a coward, or in his own father’s words a “chickenhawk,” and whether or not he deserved the disdain in light of what happened remained opened to debate.

Tom’s father never talked about his own war experiences and felt frustrated but relieved when he learned of his son’s “faked” status, partial because he knew there couldn’t have been anything seriously wrong with Tom. “Well, Honey, let it go,” Tom’s mother said. “It’s Tom’s life. He has to live it.” Yes, as far as his father was concerned, Tom was a draft dodger, and though he didn’t go to Canada, he might as well have. And nothing would’ve made Jim Hayes change his mind. Nothing!

Tom never expected he would. He knew his father. So his dad thought he was a “chickenhawk,” someone obsessed with the war, as long as someone else fought it. So that was the kind of guy he thought his son was. So he didn’t believe him when Tom told him he had a heart problem and wouldn’t have believed him on a stack of Bibles. To him it proved that his son was all talk. That was the kind of boy he raised. What was he going to do with him, anyway? So let him be.

“Yeah, that’s what he is … a chickenhawk. I never thought we’d raised one,” Tom’s old man said, as he shook his head doggedly. And at that point, had Tom tried to come home, he would’ve told him no. “And I don’t believe him, anyhow. I never did.”

Highland Plantation, Maine
December 8, 1968
Dear Sport,
Along with this, Nixon is president, a poor choice after Kennedy, and I hesitant to think how many kids died today. When will it end? God knows. Perhaps Sport, you should go, and perhaps I should go with you. There’s no need to be scared. It is the young who are paying. I hear that it’s not bad at that, though don’t tell anybody; it’s war, of course, but not bad, and now that Kennedy and Humphrey are out, who else is there better to lead us now but Nixon? I still think we can impress the Viet Cong. Still there’s Paris, if all else fails. Rollling Thunder is our hope.

I’m now writing you from a café while waiting for Sarah. Yesterday I wrote you hoping to change your mind. This is not something I can do, is it? And I must own up and confess that I’d like to go with you. If I could, I wouldn’t worry so much. But I blew my chances, without knowing it at the time, the last chance I’d have, or maybe not, only God knows, while now it’s a mute point. But I trust something can be worked out, if you have your heart set on going, so that you’ll be safe, or by God they’ll hear from me. You see I’ve dug myself into a hole; since I’m married and now must live with it. I’ll behave myself and uphold my vows; and of course for whatever reason we were in a hurry; and now I’m stuck here; and damn it’s cold. I’ve never been so cold in my life, and to keep warm, I stay as close to the fire as I can. We don’t have much, if you don’t count the farm, which I know for some people (and counting Sarah and her mother among them) it would be huge, and everything costs, and daresay more than you think; yes, much more. I may sound like I feel sorry for myself. Truthfully, we have all that we need, making all the allowances for all of our expenses. Well, now that I think about it, we’re not so bad off. I know that we’ll survive. Well, yes, if I thought that we wouldn’t I’d do something different. Oh, we will manage and manage the winter, and when springtime comes, we’ll plant more potatoes and squash, and hope to have sweet peas by the Fourth of July. God, how well You provide for us. Lemme see. War; well, it will surely end soon. And our boys will come home. And for all those who won’t, well I say damn war.

Oh, Sport, you don’t know how much I miss you. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m afraid to come to any conclusions. I should be happy, and I am. My life here is so much better than I dreamed it would be. But I’ve had to lower expectations; and here it is December, my first December here, and I don’t know what January will bring. But please take care of yourself. I’m told we had a great harvest. It means for now I won’t have to drive a truck. As for my writing, I’m not breaking records, nothing worth sharing, only personal stuff, or entries in my journal, or trivial perambulations (God, that’s a big word) … perambulations of thought. It’s what I call automatic writing. I jot down the first thing that pops into my head and go from there even though it may not go anywhere. By the way, I’ve tried reading NAKED LUNCH, which was confusing to me, or maybe I’m just not in the right mood … but I’ll try again. It’s something I want to read, and something I picked up at City Lights, but don’t blame me if I’m not in the mood. I still haven’t heard from Ferlinghetti, and though I really didn’t expect to hear from him, I’m disappointed … but then you wouldn’t want my head to swell. You haven’t written me about whether you’ve visited the bookstore or not.

I’ve written myself into a funk. But I’ve been without Sarah for over an hour now; she must be talking. Quite a talker, I declare. Your last letter left me hanging … no, that’s not what I wanted to write. Well, have I told you about a friend I met in San Francisco? His name is Sam, and he was very generous with his time, and good for me …a sailor. The last I heard Sam was in Singapore, and I sit here in a small café in Kingfield, Maine. I received a postcard from Singapore from him. And much better off than most. Shakes Spear

If you look for Kingfield Maine on a map, if the Rand McNally Atlas that I have is correct, you’ll find it south and west of Moscow. Now I can say I’ve been to Moscow.

Moscow Maine Population 728 Incorporated 1818. Tom had driven through Moscow many times, which means that you have to assume that he’s been through The Forks, The Forks Maine. “I suppose if you told people up here that I came from The Forks, they’d either be totally confused, or wouldn’t believe me because I certainly don’t sound like a Mainer.” And the idea that there was more than one the Forks wouldn’t have occurred to them. And only a few of them would remember that Tom’s folks came from Texas for his wedding. Remember Tom moved from Wichita, as in Kansas to San Francisco. To have traveled so much and lived in so many different places was unheard of in Kingfield … but for Tom, it made no never mind.

Tom sent Eddie copies of poems he sent to Ferlinghetti. Eddie failed to mention that he got them, so instead of confronting him, Tom brought up that he still hadn’t heard from Ferlinghetti.

William Burroughs, the author of NAKED LUNCH was a friend of Allen Ginsburg and various cats. Pick any chapter of NAKED LUNCH, and be prepared, or else it may freak you out.

The Forks Plantation had less than fifty people residing in it. The skinny about the place revolved around logging and the Kennebec River Brewery.

Every time Tom received a letter from home he learned of something big happening in The Forks Texas, his hometown, and it seemed to him that it left him with less of a reason to go back there, but to keep the peace, he never mentioned this to his parents. There never arose a reason to talk about it; even with his parents’ displeasure and disapproval, and indeed disappointment over Tom dropping out of college and his dodging the war, many feelings were left unsaid. Tom suspected his hometown had changed so much that he wouldn’t recognize it. At least, Main Street would’ve remained the same. And with new Freeways, which bypassed the town and he’d have to negotiate, he wouldn’t have had to go down there and know that the new grid hurt his dad’s business, but his old man didn’t say much about it.

Highland Plantation, Maine
December 9, 1968
Dear Sport,
The Mrs. has gone to town to exchange what she bought yesterday. I’ll never understand women, but I reserve further comment. I don’t expect her back anytime soon.

Tom gets up any time between eight and nine, and it was considered sleeping in. The gentleman now has this luxury, since there was surprisingly little to do, or maybe he relied on his wife and mother-in-law too much. They were use to doing things, and they acted like they own everything. Perhaps they did. He descended to the kitchen, went into the barn, and found their chickens had laid fresh eggs, no less; and with the hog they slaughtered last week and their own cows and fresh milk, they had what they needed for breakfast. Just think they didn’t have to go to a store for anything. In the kitchen Tom sat at a table made of oak; and a pampered menial wife had already baked fresh bread for him. She laid before him the bounty of her labor: a cup of coffee, two fried eggs, a slab of bacon, toast, and pure maple syrup, excellent. Did Tom fail to mention that they had maple trees? A neighbor had a sugar shack.

As he wrote Eddie, Tom’s face was flushed. Tom couldn’t explain why his face was flushed. Yes, he had opened a door again, and memories were great. Would he let Sarah get in the way? He’d have to see and would continue to write his friend.

Half an hour later, after a country breakfast, Tom went the woodpile behind the barn for split wood. He does this routinely because it’s his chore and a necessity. He preferred to avoid wind and cold and didn’t understand why wood couldn’t be stacked in the barn. It amazed him how his wife and her mother didn’t always have an explanation for why they did things and said that’s the way we’ve always done it. Their reasoning didn’t always make sense to Tom, while it made perfect sense to them, and nothing else mattered. Wood therefore was stacked outside and exposed to weather except for a tarp. Yet he didn’t complain. He knew better than to complain for if he complained it wouldn’t do any good. And his mother-in-law remarked several times a day as he came and went to and from his attic, “There goes Shakespeare!” Could it be that she was in on the joke, while Tom had made the joke his own?

Tom came down from the attic after spending half the morning up there as his mother-in-law came in from the barn. He had grown use to her curt manner and curt remarks and didn’t expect her to say anything kind.

“Have you seen Sarah?” he asked.

“Why?” was her flat, expressionless response.

“I was just wandering … that’s why! I didn’t see her leave.”

“Don’t you know that she always goes for a short walk in the morning? It’s something she got from me.”

His next appearance was around lunchtime, when he was expected to appear and knew what would happen if he didn’t. A bowl of chili, with beef, beans and garlic, was plopped in front of him, and it was painful to watch the speed with which he gobbled it up, and moved onto Apple Crisp made with his own apples. This was explained because he wanted to get back to his writing. Tom was again armed with a book, so he seldom looked up while he was eating. When last observed, he was climbing back up to his attic, where he tried to work. He hoped he could finish this work by spring.

Then late in the afternoon he finally felt a need for exercise; where he would go he wasn’t certain; sometimes he walked to the river; other times into the woods or along the highway; it all depended how much it snowed. But before sunset, he went back into the house, and it was then that he engaged in a conversation with his wife, sometimes a long one while she and her mother prepare dinner. After dinner he returned to the attic to write and read, and by eleven he was in bed. He rarely changed this routine.

“Listen, you know what’s going to happen if you don’t give your wife more attention, don’t you? The mere contemplation of it should be enough to scare you to death; imagine ramifications of a divorce. Imagine what it would mean, with all the loathsome details and the hurtful results. But let’s hope that it would never come to it.”

If he weren’t married it would be totally different; he wouldn’t be tied down, but it wouldn’t be something he would want; though we wished they were happier. Happier? They didn’t quarrel and seemed happy. On the surface they seemed happy. On the surface there didn’t seem to be anything wrong. But, as you see, they didn’t spend much time together. Tom thought his work was more important than she was, and she had enough to do around the farm to keep her busy. Don’t want to make too much of their differences; and if they didn’t, they would make it. This was their first winter together, and winters were rough up there. You can expect a fight or two; while they claim they didn’t quarrel, and in their quiet way they seemed to get along. The worst thing was silence; it was suspected that quality time they had was in bed.

Tom wrote every day, maybe not a poem every time he sat down, but by God, he was trying. If he could finish NAKED LUNCH, he would feel like he really accomplished something.

Sport, I’m afraid that I’m boring you with my chatty letters. I’ll try to shorten them; but you see, I really don’t have anyone here that I can confide in, and I don’t know how to make the most of what I have. I’m beginning to learn that up here they have a solution for everything.

Keep in touch. Shakes Spear

Doing better, I think, but afraid to hope for too much. If you don’t recognize a good thing when you have it, you know what’s going to happen? You’ll lose it.

There was a voice, an unyielding voice that Tom tried not to pay any attention to, as he sat in his attic. And it wouldn’t be cheap or fair. It was early for him to be thinking in those terms. He’d only been married for a short while. And he hoped that he could weather it. He felt like a worm.

Tom would try harder. He pretended there wasn’t a problem. Oh yeah?

Yeah.

Highland Plantation, Maine
December 10, 1968
Dear Sam,
It was a blessing to receive your letter. I should be well and happy in comparison to someone who doesn’t have what I have. A lot has changed since we last saw each other; it’s the best of times, though I’m not going to lie and say that I’m completely happy. Happy! How I hate the thought; yet happiness should be everyone’s goal, as, e.g., have whatever you want. What’s wrong with me, apart from complaining about being cold, something that I’m learning how to cope with. I’m served good food, which is great and a credit to the cooks. And it’s beautiful up here, and they say it’s a winter wonderland, and I’m married to a woman I love. (I guess I wrote you about it.) To this day I don’t know how it happened, for it happened very quickly. But any regrets I have are minor, while I hope that it’ll get better and better. At least we have the bases for a good marriage. I don’t know many wives who are more loving than Sarah. I don’t deserve her, so I permit myself to think that it will work out. And how do I feel about men? Well, I enjoy women. I enjoy women, so I no longer have a cloud hanging over my head. I think I know you and think you know what I’ve gone through, known my struggle, and my fear, because we talked about it … about what happened to me in Amarillo. It was a close call, nor will it be something I’ll ever forget; it’s easier now. I was afraid that stigma would hound me and that my parents and friends would somehow find out, since it’s on my record and it kept me out of the military. But we don’t need to go into all of it, other than to say thankfully it’s behind me. It’s so sad that I’m concerned about what people think and that I blame myself, and yet I don’t think it’s wrong, or, I might add, a sin. I get angry when I think there aren’t places, except maybe San Francisco, where a couple of men can meet and have sex, yes sex, without running a risk of getting arrested. So I leave it with the Lord. That’s what my parents would do and say were they to find out, though they would never approve. And I don’t think I’m selling them short.

Now you know what I going through, in some ways a private hell (on the farm we’re early risers, except I never go to bed before eleven), while busy with milking cows, feeding chickens, and collecting eggs with a fair hope of making it through winter. Strike that last bit because we’ll make it because my wife and her mother have always made it. I’m none the less thankful for your continued interest in me. I suppose you never get tired of foreign lands, and I have to admit that I’m sometimes envious. So please continue to send me postcards; I don’t insist on photographs. Someday maybe we’ll meet again, or arrange to meet. Let’s say in Bangkok or Manila. Your friend Tom.

Sam’s ship often anchored in Singapore. The frequency is unknown. Even back then Singapore, if not the busiest, was one of the busiest ports in the world, and it was not unusual for Sam’s ship to be anchored there for days at a time. In December, Sam wrote to Tom: “Singapore feels like home. We’re here so often, so often that I’ve been thinking about renting a flat. It’d give me more freedom. Freedom is something I crave.”

Tom, alone in his attic, wrote a despondent letter to Sam on December 10 and sent it airmail. Sam immediately sent a warm and friendly reply.

“Why do you sound so down? But I’m not one to give you advice. Here I’m someone who thought that he had his life figured out, only to discover that I’m marooned on an island. Singapore is way too regimented. You can’t even spit on the sidewalk without being afraid, much less be yourself. I prefer Bangkok, but Bangkok isn’t the hub of the world. How can you say that you’re not happy? You said yourself you live in a winter wonderland. How can you be unhappy in a winter wonderland? And if my memory of the Maine coast is correct, you’re not kidding. It is beautiful. Whether it’s tomorrow or next year, I think you’ll see we live in an imperfect world. We can only do the best we can with what we have. So stop being so hard on yourself. Marriage isn’t the end of the world. I often wondered what it would be like to be married. To have a wife to keep me in line, and she and I and everyone else then would know it. The alternative can be difficult. At least you have a roof over your head.

Tiger Balm Gardens, Singapore. Or the Tropicana Theater and Restaurant. Friends met Shirtless Australian Sailors. Partying.

On December 15, Sam wrote his friend…”I never intended to dismiss your feelings. I feel like I sounded like I did. If I’m correct, forgive me. I admit that your position is awkward, that’s putting it mildly, and let me stress again that I don’t know what to advise. But it’s not like I don’t know what you’re going through, I do. I’ve been there.” Tom found solace in Sam’s “I’ve been there.”

As a postscript, Sam wrote: “Singapore is rigid. It has led to more of the same. They evidently want us to cruise back alleys, pubic parks, and toilets and act sissified for tourist. Like you, it’s not for me.” Tom wrote to Sam on the same day expressing his delight over having found an outlet. “Snowshoeing. A switch for me. Even on a cloudy days. And we have more cloudy days than anywhere else.”

Sarah generally came down from the bedroom before Tom did and started her day by calling to her mother, who would be up. Animals wouldn’t let them sleep in, and long experience in these matters taught them not to try. As her mother tended the fire, always the first task in the winter, Sarah grabbed her parka before entering the barn. First things first. Animals came first.

Would she see Tom? Would Tom appear before noon? Sarah sometimes worried about him. To her, he kept strange hours. Or had they already slipped up somewhere? It was 5 a.m., and she was already beginning to resent it.

Snowed in Sarah wouldn’t wait to be plowed out. They owned an old snow blower, but it wasn’t reliable. She also hoped their old pickup would start. It generally did and was highly reliable as long as it was parked overnight in the barn. While she thought about going to town later, Sarah would be impatience, and she was filled with scorn, especially when she thought of her husband lying bed. Yes, yes, she knew! She knew that he had spent half the night writing. She assumed that was true because he wasn’t in bed beside her. She had grown used to him spending long hours in the attic. What could she do but accept it? She quickly learned that she couldn’t depend on him. So, as she pulled on her high felt-lined boots, she made a mental note of all the things she had to do.

“I hope he remembers I’m here today,” she was thinking, when her mother came in with an armful of wood.

“Oh, Lord! It really snowed. And that husband of yours! Where is he? I’m not saying anything, of course, but God, he’s lazy. And you! You married a lazy fool! Well, at least, we don’t have to depend on him, but still we could use his help. And if you try to tell him anything, he gets huffy and begins to act like he’s wounded. Then you wish that you left him alone. As for you … well, you married him.” She shook her head. “You’d think you would’ve realized how well off you were without him. You remember I tried to tell you,” she said. But almost instantly she was touched with a feeling of compassion for her daughter and wished that she could take back her words. “Poor thing! I suppose he’s good for something. All you can do now is make the best of it … and we have to realize that the only way we can get anything done around here is to do it ourselves.”

December 18, 1968

Highland Plantation, Maine

Dear Sport,

The encouragement you gave me did me a world of good, but I’m still not as productive as I’d like to be. LEAVES OF GRASS, I’m afraid to say, no longer interests me as much as it once did, though after delving into HOWL I don’t know which way to turn. I still haven’t heard from Ferlinghetti, and I don’t think I will, so I’m beginning to think that I’m not ready for the publishing world. It’s not that I don’t have faith in my poems because I do. I believe they’re good. I no longer think they are bad. I’m enclosing them, at the risk of having you reject them as garbage, but regardless of you opinion … I don’t want to put you on the spot, so please tell me what you really think. I want the truth, and regardless I’d never hold it against you. I don’t trust anyone else, particularly anyone around here. Besides, Sarah and my mother-in-law don’t read poetry, and I think they resent time I spend in my attic. Life here doesn’t vary much. Truly, I’m truly going through a period of adjustment. I’m glad you like San Francisco. I did too and wouldn’t have left, if the temptations weren’t so great. I could live in San Francisco. And when I die, you can put on my grave: A WEAKLING. Amen.

Those who pass judgement, put aside harshness, forego prejudice, and remember I’m human. So it wasn’t easy, but I didn’t expect it to be. While I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t set out to disappoint people either. Most of all I wanted to live my own life, without interference. And that’s how I got here. Who knows, Sport, but I may become a farmer yet? Meanwhile, I’ll continue to write poetry. Shake Spear.

By this time in the evening Sarah was ready to kick off her shoes and relax in front of the fire (an old Franklin wood-burning stove). By then her work would be done, and she wouldn’t be worried. Tom sometimes stayed downstairs after supper and let her have her way by offering her companionship she desired. Hadn’t she and her mother been kind to him, and wasn’t Sarah now the object of his love?

The room already had a few of his things in it. As best as she could, Sarah tried to incorporate them into a rustic décor which hadn’t changed within her lifetime, but it was all so cluttered that the few things of Tom’s were lost. Sarah put them up in an attempt to please him, and in a sense it did, but it didn’t give him a sense of ownership. Almost everything else in the room belonged to his mother-in-law. And tables and chairs had been handed down to her. She bought the carpet years ago over in Rumford, and it had become worn over time. A couch sagged, and on the mantel there was barely room for an additional picture or two. And over the mantel hung a rather unflattering portrait of Tom’s mother-in-law and her diseased husband. It would take a while before Tom learned what happened to Sarah’s father. The rest of the furniture had been collected at different times.

In many ways there seemed hardly to be any room in the house for Tom except in the attic. He and Sarah obviously shared the master bedroom, a concession her mother made when they got married. And Tom had his side of the bed, and Sarah had hers, each had their own dresser and nightstand with a lamp on it, so that if they wanted to read themselves to sleep they could. But there wasn’t an extra bathroom on the second story, which bugged Tom. At least he didn’t have to contend with an outhouse.

The Franklin heated the house, except at night when the temperature sometimes plunged to forty below. Man was that cold, and it was when Sarah and her mother made sure the fire didn’t go out. And these were the days before cable, so their television reception wasn’t very good. Because Tom had his books, he said he didn’t mind, though he had to admit that he missed his favorite shows, “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” and Red Skelton, shows he tried to wean himself off of before he moved to Maine. Indeed all they mostly did in the evening was read, Sarah, her mysteries and her mother, her magazines, and Tom, his poetry, when he chose to come down from the attic. This time together fused a surprising amount of compatibility and harmony with the warmth of the stove. It is no wonder, therefore, that Tom was fooled into thinking that he might yet make it.

“Ah, this is the life,” he thought once he settled into a routine, “it’s what I’ve been searching for. And God! How beautiful” he thought. “Stunningly beautiful … how true!” Picture Tom standing next to a gage house with beech trees all around. “Not just another river. No! It was the short but mighty branch of the Carrabassett. Yes, he could learn to like to fish, soon you’d think he always loved it and loved those goofy moose that would sometimes wander into town. Yes, there was something grand and simple about the direction his life had taken.

And life there might’ve been possible for him. Life there that was certainly simpler than any place he ever lived. He never thought that he’d like to live for any length of time in a place so far off the beaten track. Even further off than Vaughn, (Vaughn was at the crossroads of two major highways and had enough traffic to support least two gas stations). There truly was something about a farm in the woods, beside a river, and surrounded by mountains that inspired the poetic side of Tom.
Chapter Twenty-two
December 20, 1968
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Mr. Ferlinghetti,
It occurs to me that one reason that I haven’t received a response from you is that you don’t know my whereabouts, or that you might be flooded with so many submissions that you can’t respond to every one of them. I usually wouldn’t be impatient. I’m not impatient, but if I’m at fault I need to apologize. If I don’t hear from you now, I won’t sweat it. I will know that I did my part. I don’t want to seem pushy. I hope I don’t seem pushy. I don’t have expectations. I’m certainly not a judge of my own work, or anyone else’s. I’m not sure I have a critical eye. Some days I like Ginsburg. Other days I like Whitman. I rarely like both of them on the same day. Some like to fight, some like to flee; I tend to be in between.

I recently read NAKED LUNCH and have started reading through other works from the Beat Generation. I also want to thank you for publishing the Pocket Poets Series. “Encore! I’m hungry for more. Respectfully, Thomas Hayes

The Pocket Poets Series (launched August 1955) is a series of poetry collections published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The City Lights Bookstore (San Francisco) had been open for only two years when Ferlinghetti started his publishing business with his own book PICTURES OF THE GONE WORLD.

Kenneth Rexroth (translator), THIRTY SPANISH POEMS OF LOVE AND EXILE, 1956, Pocket Poets Series.

Kenneth Patchen, largely ignored because of his pacifist views, caught Tom’s attention because this poet was against US involvement in World War II.

Tom knew Allen Ginsberg better than the other Pocket Poets. This wouldn’t change.

Marie Ponsot (poet, critic, essayist, translator) and Denise Levertov (British-born poet). Ferlinghetti also published both women.

For most of his career Robert Duncan (poet) hung around San Francisco and became prominent in the gay community. Before Stonewall, Duncan became well known as an advocate and specifically for comparing the plight of homosexuals with that of African Americans and Jews. In 1941, he was drafted and declared his homosexuality to get discharged. In 1943, Duncan flirted with heterosexuality and that ended in a short, disastrous divorce. Learning this about Duncan made Tom think of his own marriage.

William Carlos Williams (modernist and imagist poet) KORA IN HELL, 1957. Pocket Poet Series. He also practiced medicine. He later became a mentor of younger poets and hence significantly influenced the Beat Generation and San Francisco Renaissance.

Tom asked Eddie more than once if he went by the City Lights Bookstore. When he visited the bookstore himself, Tom bought as many books from the Pocket Poets Series as he could afford. Tom’s letter to Lawrence Ferlinghett was dated December 20, 1968.

December 21, 1968
Highland Plantation
My Dear Sam,
You haven’t answered my last letter, and I know you’ll croak when you hear that I’ve surrendered. As you know a month or so ago I was full of doubts about my commitment to Sarah and our marriage. It bothered me all the time, and several times I was on the verge of walking out. It was not the first time. It was not the first time I went through something like this or the first time I struggled with the issue of who I am. Other times I ran, but the idea of running is insidious and accomplishes nothing but seems like part of my nature. I thought running away was in my blood, though I still have the travel bug. I have the travel bug like you, but my dear friend, I caught it way before I met you. And I suspect it may be incurable. Like a drug in a sense, and if it’s true I may be fooling myself now. I’ve been sick, very sick, on the verge of a breakdown. I could’ve said something to my wife, something that I would’ve regretted, but thank God I didn’t and avoided the ugliest circumstances. I have cause to bless God that I have a wife who knows when to leave me alone and thanks to her I have come out of this, and appreciate what I have. I’m truly blessed and, believe it or not, I’m looking forward to Christmas. Yet, without upsetting the apple cart, I still get the itch for traveling whenever I think of you in Singapore and my friend Eddie in San Francisco; but a man pretty much has to accept where he is at the moment. With a beautiful wife and my obligations, I don’t dare walk away now.

Highland Plantation, Maine
(Two days later)
Three days before Christmas, and we’re ready. Here we are Sarah and I and her mother in a lovely spot in the northern woods, and I’m looking around and wondering what else I have to do. Have I forgotten anything? This is the first Christmas in a long time that I’ve been around family, not since my last Christmas at Gage, where as a kid we went every year to be with my grandparents and other kinfolk. It’s pretty humbling to think that I’m now the head of a household, but I don’t dare make too much out of it, it feels good. I’ve emerged from my attic to do my share of work. But, though I do it willingly, I’ve yet to do it freely, which bothers me. It’s hard, and I hope in future that Sarah and I can reach a compromise so that I won’t end up totally neglecting my writing. Time is so valuable to me; yet I’m happy with the results. But I’m certain we can work something out. And I haven’t heard from my friend in San Francisco and cherish memories of our time there. It was a blast, our time together in San Francisco, lucky for me to have run into you, and at the same time I regret that our time together was too short. I’ve connected with so few people on the same level. I’ve basically only opened up to you and Eddie, and to some extent to an old school teacher. Our time together was very special; our meeting, very auspicious and it’s impossible to express my gratitude. I often think of you and Eddie. I look forward to reading about your adventures, those that are worth narrating, and I’ll try to do a better job writing about my life, though often there’s not much to it. And, after seeing how it feels when I focus on the dark side, I’m trying to look on the bright side of things. I don’t know whether I’ll put together another chapbook soon. I have quite a few poems that I’m not very satisfied with. Eddy has been pushing me, and I haven’t heard anything from a specific publisher (not even a rejection slip), and don’t expect to. But one can always hope. We hope to have a wonderful Christmas. What’s Christmas like in countries that are not Christian?

I send you greetings and pray you’re safe. Love (I hope it doesn’t bother you that I use the word love?). Ever yours. Tom

Tom’s parents had begun to feel better about their son. They went to Maine for his wedding and saw for themselves life that he was making for himself. His mother still tried to write him every week, though her letters were far from satisfying: “My dear Son, I’ll telephone you with any important news. Bobby was almost killed. You can imagine what it did to his parents.”

Tom sent Mr. Watson his address and in his note wrote: “I’m waiting for the muse. I last saw him last week.”

Tom and Sarah celebrated their first Christmas together with Sarah’s mother. Sarah no longer described herself as a “widawoman.” After stockings were emptied and gifts were exchange, they shared a huge dinner with all of the trimmings and were stuffed.

After staying several months in San Francisco, Eddie headed north through Napa Valley, stopping at wineries. To give him more freedom, Eddie bought an old car and hoped it wasn’t a mistake. His journal contained entries about this, “I don’t know why I bought a car.” He used his journal to finish his novel.

December 26, 1968
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Mom and Dad,
Sorry for the belated Christmas greeting, but I’m not as much to blame as it may appear. We never got around to sending Christmas cards, but I bet you’d drop you jaw if you received one from me anyway. As you can imagine, with Christmas we’ve been very busy, and guess what? I’ve participated and enjoyed it. Sarah wanted us to do our shopping in Waterville. Waterville has the biggest selection around here …. I’m compulsive, I’ve discovered, and Sarah and her mother are less so. I have to keep reminding myself to include Sarah’s mother, and you can’t imagine how easily she gets her feelings hurt (it’s really sad). It’s like she’s trying to hang onto Sarah, yet with Sarah clinging to her, it’s probably the other way around. I don’t know which it is, who is in charge and who owns the farm. I don’t really care. It’s sad how little I know and how I haven’t paid attention. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be, or otherwise I’d feel stuck. I can’t believe I used the word stuck. Of course, I’m not. However I can see how getting Sarah out of here, even for a vacation, will be a problem; I see how she’s tied to this place and how she’s tied to her mother, not that I’m thinking about leaving here without her. I understand why you might not believe me …. But have no fear, I’m staying put, because for once in my life I’m really happy, and it’s a remarkable thing. I’m tired of moving around … something I never thought I would say .… Still I there are tradeoffs. But when I think about all I’ve gained, I realize how lucky I am. When I see Sarah, I see a very giving person, and the things she does for me, makes me love her all the more. And there’s a farm involved. Your loving son. Tom

Tom’s father recently had his first ever colonoscopy exam. Though he complained, he was glad that he did when the results from a biopsy came back negative. The polyps that were removed weren’t cancerous.

Highland Plantation, and specifically an isolated farm on the west fork of the Carrabassett, wasn’t a place Tom’s parents would choose to live. The journey alone from the nearest major airport to there was long, so they had to rent a car.

Jim Hayes: “As you know, I know what it’s like to live on a farm. Some people are cut out for it and others are not, and Jill I’m afraid to say it but our son is not. As far as I can tell, he can’t fix nothin’, and something’s always breakin’ or needin’ fixin’ on a farm.” It appeared that he was right, though he wouldn’t say anything to Tom. Even before the wedding, Sarah had a long honey-do list.

The wedding in Kingfield was nice enough.

Jim and Jill Hayes felt relieved when Tom told them that he found the right girl and when they received an invitation to the wedding. By then, they thought it would never happen and that Tom presumably would remain a gadabout. In a friendly, and for her a long letter, Jill wrote, “I hope you both understand that I’m not losing a son. No, no I’m gaining a daughter. Tell me more about your life in Maine.”

It wasn’t only a matter of Sarah putting up with Tom. When he came to live on the farm, Tom also had to have his future mother-in-law’s approval. Although he never said anything to the contrary, Tom apparently accepted the arrangement of having Sarah’s mother live with them. He apparently got along with her, and though it seemed strange, she got along with him. Yes, it seemed strange even to him, and he never would’ve thought when he left San Francisco, and especially after San Francisco, that he’d ever like living in Highland Plantation.

It was a huge meal. Sara and her mother out did themselves. Tom hadn’t seen anything like it. A king’s table only they weren’t royalty. They had plenty of leftovers, so maybe that was their plan. Yes, there was certain amount of excess involved, but at the same time everything was produced on the farm. Well, not everything, but most of the fixings were … turkey, bread for pudding and stuffing, and peas and squash were. Cranberries, for the cranberry sauce, and the sugar, tea and coffee weren’t. And desserts! Man, desserts! Sara and her mother both suffered from a sweet tooth and put their hearts and souls into making desserts. Cheesecake, pudding, pies and triffles … and don’t forget potato candy.

After making sure nothing was missing, Sarah’s mother invited them to the table and asked Tom to say the blessing. “Dear Lord, bless this food and bless this family.” Then she said a blessing of her own. “With grateful hearts, O’ Lord, we come before you this day as survivors of another year, and Sarah and I thank you for Tom. Amen. Dig in!”
And they ate and ate until they were stuffed.

After eating so much, Tom suggested that they leave the table without clearing it, leave leftovers, dirty plates and bowls and all the silverware, but he was overruled. It wouldn’t be until all the dishes were washed and dried and food was put away that any of them could think about taking a nap. They worked as a team, and to Sarah’s mother it didn’t feel right. Not that she was unthankful; but she hadn’t expected help from Tom. As Sarah washed dishes and Tom dried them, he could see his wife’s face. Working beside her, close to her, curiously close felt good to him.

“Oh, my!” he thought. “I could grow to like this. But I mustn’t let them know. I love her … but can I live the rest of my life with Sarah? Yes, yes, yes. No, no, no! He just didn’t know. And how they both love this farm! If only he could love it with same intensity as they did!”

“Oh, Tom!” Now Sarah spoke loud enough for her mother to hear her. “Now we know!”

“What?”

“You can dry dishes. And this has been the most beautiful … the most beautiful Christmas ever. And it’s not over.”

And as Sarah’s mother first chuckled and then smiled, Tom, with satisfaction, said, “Yes, Mrs. Hayes, I certainly agree. It’s been great! But I couldn’t have eaten anything else. And I have you … and your mother…what more could I ask for?” And later, reflecting on what he said, he wondered why he asked what he asked so emphatically.

Then they spent the rest of the afternoon together, which was easy enough. Tom, Sarah and her mother passing time, relaxing, letting food settle, and sure enough, taking naps … everything turned out perfectly, better than any of them expected. A day to remember. Christmas day, Highland Plantation, Maine, 1968.

January 3, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Sport,
Another year gone by! We’re alive; all is well and good with the wife … and the mother-in-law too. I can’t complain, but it wouldn’t do any good if I did. We live in a valley among dancing trees on a farm next to a stream. I know that I’ve written about this, but you don’t know how I’ve changed. I now brave cold, and it’s good for the soul. And it feels like I’ve been an outdoorsman all my life and had forgotten my natural inclination! I don’t know what made me dismiss this part of me. Today give me a pair of snowshoes and you can’t hold me back.

I’ve enclosed three poems of mine, which I think you’ll like. One is quite long. I don’t know what got into me and should know better. Women in my life inspired it, and I dedicated it to them. It tells the story of how I chased Sarah and never restrained myself as you might suppose. You see I like women and find them most congenial. I accordingly wooed Sarah. The other poems require no explanation. You can keep them, but until they’re published please don’t pass them around.

My parents are after me to visit them in Texas. Meanwhile I’ve tried to explain that Sarah doesn’t feel that she can leave the farm even though she has her mother here. I don’t think they buy it. We expect a storm tonight, so what’s new? I still haven’t heard from Ferlinghetti, and you know how disappointed I was when you didn’t see him in San Francisco. But that’s how the cookie crumbles, but sadly it’s the public’s loss, not mine.

I’m dashing off this short letter in hopes of getting it in the mail today because tomorrow we might be snowed in. Enjoy Crater Lake for me. I understand they have more snow than we do, and we have more than 200” a year! Tom

Eddie spent Christmas at Crater Lake, stayed in a cabin outside the park because on his budget he couldn’t afford the lodge. 35, mixture of rain + snow = sleet. Eddie slipped on ice and bruised a hip. Cheerio! Lucky he didn’t end up in a hospital.

Eddie sent Tom a copy of FATHER FOX’S CHRISTMAS RHYMES.

During the week between Christmas and New Years, Eddie saw the Rogue River and, remembering what Tom had written him about the Carrabassett River, he teased him with: “Walked along the Rogue River Gorge today. It has to be the most beautiful place in the world.”

The dedication attached to the long poem Tom sent Eddie mentions both Sarah and her mother. Tom rightly honored them and described them as best he could. As a result it helped him improve his relationship with them.

These poems were never published, but Eddie kept them as evidence of what he called Tom’s susceptibility to women and later kidded him about it. What did he expect of Tom? Was he to join a Trappist monastery?

January 5, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Mr. Watson,
Here I am an old student and you’ll be happy to learn that I’m still writing poetry. This is a perfect place for a writer and what more could I ask for than the support a wonder wife and a wonderful mother-in-law? We live on a farm and hence grow our own food, or almost all of it. I’m sending you a picture of our house and barn, which you’ll note are connected. Believe me such an arrangement is appreciated this time of year. You better give yourself credit, for it was you, if you remember, who dogged me into writing a poem a day. You also better add that I had a long way to go and, while I haven’t gotten there yet (wherever there is), I’m on my way. I can truthfully say that I’m a lucky man. I landed on my feet, but I’m not sure I deserve it. I regret that we haven’t stayed in touch, and if you and your wife ever decide to vacation in Maine, we have room for you here. You’ll adore our geese. Thanks for everything. Tom Hayes

January 16, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Mom and Dad,
You’re too good to us. Received your Christmas check, and it was deeply appreciated. You spoil us to the extent that you make me feel guilty, but you’ve always spoiled me. We had the money spent before we got it, and I’m sure you’ll approve of what we bought. I saw a typewriter I wanted, and Sarah needed a new winter coat, the one she was wearing should’ve been retired years ago. You can’t imagine what it’s like here during the winter without a proper coat.

In spite of the war both Sam and Tom, though able-bodied, were rejected by the military. Then instead of accepting a stigma (as a “moral defect”), Sam found peace as a sailor. Tom looked for peace on a farm. Eddie Newman, freelance journalist and friend of Tom, toyed with the idea of joining the press corps in Vietnam. He also avoided the draft by also admitting he was gay.

Throughout his letter dated January 16 Tom offered Eddie cautionary advice about going to Vietnam. He didn’t want to lose another friend. Tom also wrote that if he could he would go with Eddie to Nam in a heartbeat.

Images in LIFE Magazine brought the war closer to home than ever before. For journalists the work was hazardous.

January 16, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Sam,
Many thanks for the postcard from Hong Kong. So it’s a real place. Will you think it crass if I question you about your stay there? Possibly you were able to stay away from temptations that I’m sure exist there, but my true concern isn’t as much for your safety as what you got away with. I imagine British brigs are nicer than say Thailand’s. I’m just guessing and kidding at the same time. My guess is that you know how to take care of yourself and can spot trouble a mile away.

And the mere fact that a man has gone places doesn’t make him a good traveler. I’m saddened when I think of what I left behind in California. But let me assure you that I’m not disappointed with Maine. However there’s big part of me that will always be pleased to hear from you, and even more pleased to see you in person. And by the way, we have plenty of room here. The best time to come is early fall. Tom

Remember the Cliff House and the sun setting there. It was like a huge orange. There one minute, gone the next. How romantic and also sad!

“Yes, that’s him. I never forget a face. Hm! But perhaps he went by a different name. Hm! The Foreign Correspondents Club wouldn’t be the Foreign Correspondents Club without intrigue.”

“Again, are you sure it’s him?”

“Yes. Again, I never forget a face. He was sitting where you’re sitting, and I was as close to him as I am to you.”

“Are you positive?”

“I’m positive.”

“It’s important. The photo isn’t a very good one.”

“Yes, but it’s the same guy. I’m sure of it. He’s been here before, but he’s not a regular or a member. I’m sure of it. An American, an American sailor. How do I know he’s a sailor? He told me. And I can spot an American without him or her saying a word. Anything else you want to know?”

No, you’ve been a great help.”

“Hm! Spies spying on spies. Spies and journalist. I love the dance.”

“I said nothing about spying.”

The Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, next to and in the same building as the Hong Kong Fringe Club sat on Ice House Street and had a striped façade. You couldn’t miss it. Yes, Sam Ives had gone in there more than once.

Chuck Burner, San Francisco newspaperman and spy, was a member of the Foreign Correspondents Club and a close friend of reporter Michael Herr. Sam never crossed paths with Herr; however he did with Burner. They first met each other quite by accident in San Francisco and in much the same way as Sam met Tom. Sam wrote Tom about the Foreign Correspondents Club and fostered in him an interest in the place before it became a popular setting for novelists and moviemakers, he also wrote about the colony of Macao. Macao (China), like Goa (India), and Malacca (Malaysia) were colonized by Portugal, and Sam had been in and out of all three places. But Sam was seasoned enough not to get too excited about them. He liked to say (a quote from the Pope) “Blessed is the man, who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
Chapter Twenty-three
January 17, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Dad,
Here is a quiz for you: a list of islands and ports in the Pacific that you might’ve seen during the war. Please circle places you’ve been and add those I missed and send it back to me. I then will take the list and learn as much as I can about the places you saw. I have a friend who is a sailor who may be able to give me current information. You never talked about your experiences during the war, and I don’t expect you will, but I want to fill in the blanks. Knowing that I’m more interested in geography and people than fighting hopefully will make participating easier for you. I now find myself with time on my hands.

1. Mariana Islands
1. Saipan
2. Tinian
3. Guam

II. Solomon Islands
1. Shortland Island
2. Bougainville
3. Guadalcanal

III. New Guinea
1. Port Moresby
2. Jayapura
3. Ambon

IV. The Philippines
1. Leyte
2. Manila
3. Olongapo

V. Other Places
1. Singapore
2. Malacca
3. Batavia (Jakarta)
4. Bengkulu

Note: My friend has written to me about Singapore, Malacca, Batavia (Jakarta), and Bengkulu, which is why I included them. .

I don’t expect you to know all these places: the list is only a starting point. I don’t know much about the war, so I pulled out an old Atlas and took it from there. Your help is deeply appreciated. Your son, Tom

January 17, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Mom,
I feel ambitious tonight. Hence this letter. I surprised myself yesterday and snow-shoed all morning. I’m amazed at my endurance. Sarah wanted to take out our snow machine, but I didn’t trust it. I mean I don’t trust myself. I could see us breaking down… I trust Sarah, but I don’t trust myself, so I chose to snowshoe instead. From this you need not suppose that I’m insensitive to Sarah (or her mother); they have been my rock, and I continually rely on them. I’m not blessed with self-assurance that you and dad have, and what everyone should have, and hopefully my offspring won’t be like me (if we’re fortunate to have children). Why I’m not mechanical like dad remains a mystery. It bothers me, and I often think about it. It’s unfair, but I know I shouldn’t fret over it. I can hear you lecturing me, “son, there are many talents, and the world would be a mess if we all had the same ones.” I wonder if you and dad will ever accept me as I am. I’m not handy with my hands, and I’m … not handy with my hands. Fixing a snow machine is out of the question for me and is but one example that I’m faced with everyday here. Yes, I’m afraid to try, afraid I’ll screw up and won’t be able to put the darn machine back together again, whereas for dad it wouldn’t be a big deal. He can fix anything. I thought maybe working at a gas station…a gas station other than Dad’s…would cure it, or fix me. But no! Enough! I’ve worn my self out. Your son, Tom

January 18, 1969
Mom, forgive me for rambling. It may sound like I’ve sorted things out, and I have to an extent. However I’m still struggling. It’s not clear to me why it’s so difficult for me to get my head straight; but there must be answers somewhere, however I’ve never been able to wait. I know what you’d say. You’d have me pray about it. Meanwhile life goes on. Do you know that you and dad amaze me? It’s true.

I regret how I’ve mistreated you and dad over the past couple of years; and I think about it from time to time, especially now. I’m glad you like Sarah. I can’t tell you what a change it is for me. I’m blessed. May God bless our union, and may we have a happy, long life together. I send you both my love … all my love except what I keep for Sarah. Your son, Tom

Yes, Sam was a shadowy figure. He was a member of a secret world, and the extent of this network in Asia was amazing. Not to know what he did was par for the course; officially it was like he didn’t exist, and Sam might not be his real name. It was around this time that Tom lost track of Sam and never knew what happened.

During the many years of this war, many people on both sides lost their lives while the deaths of people like Sam were never acknowledged. Deaths, indeed, were numerous during this critical time, and all of them didn’t take place on the battlefield. So Sam played a deadly game and may have lost.

January 20, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Sport,
My mood is not what it should be. After experiencing a high over the holidays, I’ve hit bottom … bottom … and I haven’t been able to climb out of the hole. I don’t know what’s wrong. Sarah has noticed it and has tried to cheer me up. And her mother these last few days has insisted that I drink St. John’s Wort tea, while she stresses that it’ll take time for it to work. But I’m determined to beat this on my own. To tell you the truth I’m not sure how long I can stay here. I’ve been thinking, and since we’re best friends, I believe I can trust you with my thoughts. I don’t want to unnecessarily worry anyone, and telling people about my wanderlust would do it. I’m most afraid that I’ll lose what spontaneity I have; and I don’t know what else. Or maybe I do. There is something inside me, in my blood perhaps, that bugs me yet it seems essential and that is I’m never satisfied.

I purposely did myself in. I feel sorry for Sarah. I led her along, and I alternate between showing her affection and totally ignoring her. I can be brutally cynical and indifferent, and yesterday I didn’t leave the attic except to go to the bathroom. I can’t blame Sarah or her mother. They’re kind to me. I can’t blame anyone but myself. I know depression. I know depression can be dangerous, especially with hopelessness. I suffer from cabin fever; it hasn’t gotten above zero in weeks, and we can have snow through May. And Sarah doesn’t complain. But I do a great deal, and I know it upsets her. I think it would help if I got out more (I enjoy snowshoeing), but it’s so damn cold. It’s too damn cold. Where is the Indian summer everyone talks about? Perhaps if I were to walk out, Sarah and her mother would be better off, I suppose, yet I’m not sure. So much for that idea. Let’s hope St. John’s Wort tea works.

It makes sense that you would go back to San Francisco. Sam and I…pardon me, have I written to you about Sam? You’ll have to meet him … except I haven’t heard from Sam recently. “I’m never satisfied.” Two weeks in San Francisco couldn’t cure me, and with someone I loved to be with … Okay, I admit I fell for Sam, as much as I’ve fallen for anyone … crying out as a hurt child, I admit that I was attracted to him, and it was beautiful. He was gentle and kind and funny. I see, the attraction is just as strong now as it was then, and by golly, I feel the same way when I think of you. God! I know that I shouldn’t admit it. Now you’ll think that I’m … I’m terrible. I miss Sam.
I was struck as much as you were with the openness of San Francisco … in some ways it was shocking. I recommend the Cliff house and the sunsets from there. Share it with someone, if you can.

I wasn’t going to spend the rest of the day here in the attic vegetating. I don’t think St. John’s Wort works. I’m glad I can be honest with you. I know my own depression better than anyone else; it’s not fatal, I’m sure of it. Yet if I could only see you, I believe I could be myself again. It’s not like I haven’t reached out because I have. I write letters almost constantly, but I’m rarely honest. Consider yourself lucky, and thank you for your letters. I know you have a lot on your mind. I hope something hasn’t happened to Sam. But please stay in touch. Your affectionate friend, Shakes Spear

The effect of reading your letter on me was better than St. John’s Wort tea. Though your letter made me happy and peaceful, it also left me sad; but I can live with such sadness.

Sarah sends her love.

By then Tom had told Sarah about Eddie.

Eddy left Crater Lake in January while he still enjoyed snow. He took in the red wood trees along the coast before he returned to San Francisco.

In January 1969, Richard Nixon became the President of the United States vowing to bring an honorable peace to Vietnam. “An honorable peace,” indeed, was still far off. Chemistry for it wasn’t yet right, as the Paris Peace Conference opened with the U.S., South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Viet Cong in attendance.

And the cause they were sacrificing for? There was no obvious starting point or ending to the war. And there was a great deal more to it than men and women who fought in it ever knew; it was rather a mess, during which the Americans compared the spread of communism to the spread of a contagious disease. All right then: why should the boys care when their lives were on the line?

January 20, 1969 … cabin cuckoo … woods-nutty…

January 21, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Mr. Dear Sam,
I’m stuck up here in Maine, where it feels very cold again. Sarah doesn’t seem to mind it, but I’m not so sure. I sadly don’t know how she feels. How do you ever know? It seems to me that she thrives on winter; the darker and colder it gets the more she likes it. She now gets out of bed before the sun is up; she acts like she’s going on a great adventure, but of course she’s not. Kingfield is as far as I go these days, and my idea of excitement is a cozy evening spent by the fire. Yesterday Sarah brought home a carton of Carrabassett Winter Ale and some Carrabassett Winter soap, and ran me a nice warm bath. The bath with Ceadarwood and Siberian Fir scented soap and strong English ale lasted until the water started getting cold, and then Sarah brought me my warm winter robe. You can see how well I’m taken care of. So where does this leave me? You tell me. I certainly don’t know. But meanwhile I need to be civil, civil above all to my wife to whom I’ve made a commitment … forever more. So I now concentrate on one thing and that’s how to keep my socks dry and my feet from freezing, which isn’t easy; but I know not to go outside without felt liners in my boots, except then my feet sweat. So you see the problem, and without dry socks I’m miserable. I’m waiting, meanwhile, for the January thaw that they say will come. We’ll see.

I haven’t heard from you in a while; but then I didn’t expect you to write me every day. The last I heard you were in Thailand, where it seems like you go quite often. You don’t seem to hate it, or as if you’re playing it safe, but I only know what you’ve written to me.

Sam sent Tom postcards of the Emerald Buddha and the front of the temple housing it. Under the pretext of neutrality the Americans set up air and ground operations in Laos. They did it in order to counter the Communist, but the Geneva Convention Accords (signed by U.S) made this illegal. The CIA with Airforce Commandos got the job. Sam volunteered and would have to live with the consequences.

It got very confusing at times. Sam realized that he couldn’t be there in any “official” capacity; hence he could be shot as a spy. He always wore civilian clothing and carried a bogus passport. In a letter during this time, he said he was willing to be disowned by his country.

February 12, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Mr. Watson,
I hope, then, to hear from you. If not before spring, then sometime during the summer, and perhaps you’ll consider vacationing in Maine.

And now let me bring you up to speed. I’m no longer trying to be the next Whitman. LEAVES OF GRASS is however a wonderful work. “I love him though I don’t know him.” Chapter II for me has to be Thoreau. Yes, Henry David wandering around the Maine Woods. He came here three times, and I can follow in his footstep if I want to. Chapter III past and present here in Highland Plantation … a little Thoreau and a little Whitman … some of it is good but judge for yourself. I’ve enclosed a copy of my latest chapbook. Chapter IV. HOWL. “Who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy”…I’d hate for anyone to know how close to home this hits. Chapter V. It isn’t written yet. But I must not tell you what I’m thinking. I’m thinking it will be my first honest effort, but I know that getting completely away from Ginsberg, Thoreau, and Whitman will be hard for me. I also owe you a lot. And to Maine, where I live. And to Sarah my wife. You see I’ve started Chapter V. And if I like it, I’ll never look at the other chapters. I’ll have to rewrite it, because like you told me poems are not written, but are rewritten.

I’m clearly suffering from a disease called cabin cuckoo (or woods-nutty); that’s why I’ve thought about going back to school. If I do, which I probably won’t, maybe I won’t feel so trapped. Nice thought. There is an academy nearby, and I like their philosophy. They believe in developing equally the body, mind, and spirit. Body, mind, and spirit … no one should argue with that; even someone like me, who has basically lived all winter a sedentary life. It would mean I’d have to get up early and drive a fair distance, but right now we only own one vehicle.

I’ve never asked you what you think of HOWL. Since you teach high school, you might not be able to introduce Ginsberg to your students, teach high school in Texas; but believe me, your students may be more enlightened and sophisticated than you think. Glad you’re still teaching. The world needs more teachers like you. Yours truly, Tom

Cabin cuckoo (or woods-nutty) is specifically a Maine disease.

Mr. Watson appreciated Allen Ginsberg, and if he thought he could get away with it, he would introduce his students to the poet’s work. “Tom, you’re right about him,” he wrote. “But you don’t know complaints I got when I first introduced Whitman. The poets are similar in many ways. And I’m not just talking about their homosexuality.”

Mid-February 1969
Highland Plantation
Dear Sport,
To address a few things. I didn’t mean to sound so despondent. I’m not. Sarah has told me I need to take responsibility for my moods. Isn’t she right? Tell me what you think. She says that I can talk myself out of a bad mood. And as for keeping my socks dry and my feet warm, it’s not as big a problem as I made it out to be. I love to complain, and I complain a lot. The biggest disasters I’ve experienced have been my most memorable times. This from someone who would do anything to avoid pain! I’ve had to wait all day in the rain for a ride that never came. And I nearly froze to death, and you know how much I hate freezing.

I want to thank you for your comments about my work. It was just what I wanted to hear. Writing without feedback is next to impossible. The thing I fear most is that my writing will not improve. How can I judge? How can I know? It’s impossible.

I hope you are well, and that you’re enjoying life. Have you decided where you’re going next? How’s your novel coming along? I would like to know, though I know I can’t influence you. I was sure you’d stay in San Francisco longer than you did, but what right do I have to say anything when … when I had a chance, I didn’t stay in San Francisco very long.

Several of the passages you objected to, I agree, were pretentious, and so I’ll cut them. And as for the two titles you don’t like, I don’t like them either. I’m now willing to trash whole poems when they’re dishonest. Words are no longer precious to me, though I know words can kill. Goodness, it’s taking a long time to learn to write. Shakes Spear

February 20, 1969
Highland Plantation
Dear Sam,
Winter is winter, the war is war, and besides that life goes on, sir.
Sincerely

The chickadees are still coming to our birdfeeder. I’m afraid they’ve become dependent on us.
Sincerely

Carrabassett Valley is beautiful this time of year, but you’d have to be here to appreciate it. Good Lord!

The highways are plowed so we can get to town whenever we need to.

Sincerely
It’s overcast more days than not which leads to sun worshiping.

Sincerely
I’m told spring will come. Hallelujah.

Sincerely
We will all welcome you when you come. Sam, why don’t you write?
Sincerely
Sam, You’re witnessing my intellectual demise.

Sincerely
And Sport … Nothing’s left of me but a shell. Nothing! This at least shows I’m trying to express myself. It shows thought and sweat. Represents an hour or so of thought and sweat. I hate people who suggest that I have talent. Obviously there’s no such thing. Obviously there is no such thing as talent. Obviously, they are wrong.

Information about Carrabasset Valley comes to you from developers of the ski resort (or possibly the Chamber of Commerce of Kingfield).

Postcard to Eddie Newman
Postmark February 21, 1969
Carrabassett Valley
This allows you to see our beautiful valley without you having to come here. Fishing the Carrabassett Valley, Maine. This area is located near Rangely Lakes, Stratton, Eustis, and Kingfield, Maine. I look forward to seeing you. Tom Hayes

On February 20, Tom sent another one of his chapbooks to Ferlinghetti. It was one of a series with poems about Maine. Tom also thought about creating a series of postcards to show off the beauty of the Carrabassett Valley. If he did he would have to take up photography. The postcard he sent to Eddie didn’t really suit Tom.
Tom looked for a camera in Kingfield. He didn’t get very far because of a poor selection and because he didn’t know about cameras. Even back then, Kingfield was becoming commercialized. When Tom went to buy a camera there, he came out of Tranten’s General Store empty-handed. He still wasn’t disappointed, and it was a reflection of why people wanted to live in the small town. He explained: “Kingfield is prospering from an influx of people from far away. For the most part everyone is congenial, and if the trend continues, and I see no reason why it wont, the town will continue to be the ideal place to live.” In contrast, Tom seemed sadly weak, easily tired, and generally in a bad mood. Most evenings he sat in the attic in front of his typewriter. And Sarah usually didn’t see him after breakfast until the evening when he came down to dinner. He thought Sarah was very kind not to bother him and to have accepted that he wasn’t bringing in any money.

March 2, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Sport,

For the first time in life I know what I’m doing. I’ve finished a major work (for me), and more works are on the way, but for once I’m not sweating it. For the first time in my life I’m purely letting it happen. I sent Ferlinghetti a copy of my latest chapbook, but I don’t expect a response.

I know I won’t be totally happy here until I’ve embraced winter. You’ll be surprised to learn that I’ve bought a camera and a stack of magazines about photography. I intend to learn as much as I can on my own, but like anything else I know it will take time and lots of practice to be any good. The real test will come later when I’m bored with photography and haven’t sold any postcards (just as I haven’t sold any poems). I plan to illustrate my poetry with pictures I’ve taken, or vise versa- write poems that fit my pictures, and use pictures and poems to create a line of postcards, and somehow make money. Making money is a real challenge. Now that’s what I’m up to, damn it! A couple of postcards later and I’ve been pleased with the results (I’ve always been result oriented). The trouble is I don’t have a darkroom, which means trips to Kingfield and I have to rely on someone else- a photographer without a darkroom is like a writer without paper. But persistence will pay off.

March 3
Another day. And I’ve taken a break from writing and have been tramping around in snow with my camera. And Sarah approved, and her mother was totally surprised. It’s quite rewarding and fun. What I’m always looking for is the best shot. But what I never know is where I’ll find inspiration: from words or shots. For now I rely on instinct. I hope I’m not boring you.

Maine photos I’ve taken. New snow. Maine winter brook 1. Maine winter brook 2. A winter marsh. March snowy woods. Snow covered dirt road. Rock in the snowy woods. Maine winter brook. Pines in a frame. Culvert in March. Pool in the woods. New snow pond. New snow path. New snow marsh. Snow clear road. That’s all for now. How am I doing? My focus, as you can see, is on snow. If I can embrace snow and get use to cold, I’m almost home, and besides I don’t have a choice, do I? Not since Sam and you abandoned me. I haven’t heard from Sam, and any mention of him drives me mad. I hoped nothing has happened to him. Sam is beautiful Sport, just as you are special. Still a poem a day, and now my photography; and I’ll have to sell a few postcards to impress Sarah and her mother. Then they won’t be able to complain, though I suppose they will. It seems like I have a knack for photography. We’ll see. No sweat. Easy now. The only difficult thing is how to turn it into a profitable business. I don’t intend to get rich, but every little bit helps. I’m playing it by ear. Shake Spear Photographer par excellence
Chapter Twenty-four
So it’s not impossible. How about “impossible”? Isn’t impossible a word that should be struck from our vocabulary? I finally received word from Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

April 5, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
City Light Books
Dear Sir,
I am satisfied with the terms of the contact, as long as I retain copyright to my poems. I think your royalty rate seems fair. Yours truly
Tom Hayes

April 5, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Sport,

The next time you go by the City Lights Bookstore, for God’s sake Sport, look for Ferlinghetti latest title (it actually won’t come out until May) by a rebel poet from Maine. His name is Tom Hayes; I should think you’d recognize the name; it’s what the world has been waiting for; and if the poet were dead, they’d still be clamoring for it. Extraordinary! While the poet may have changed, the world hasn’t. You know that it had to be read, so it had to be published. It’s called ALONE ON THE ROAD, buy it, and read it aloud in your best deep voice. Yes, the poet may have ripped off Jack Karouac. Enjoy.

The poems in question, by the way, are my latest; no photography however … writing poetry is my first love … but if it weren’t for you and Mr. Watson, my old high school teacher, mentor, and friend I wouldn’t have discovered it. You both deserve credit. There must be a lesson here.

Observe, at this moment, how your poor friend is still alive, how he never gave up (he may have come close several times), and now how he goes forward with confidence. But my card business may be a casualty. We’ll have to see.

I wish I could see you. I now have an excuse to go to San Francisco. Maybe I can see you over there. It is now plain that I must seize the moment; I may not get another chance; I mustn’t blow it. The world is full of surprises. I never expected to hear from Ferlinghetti, and may not have had I not borrowed from Kerouac. Talking of him, in Heavens name, reread ON THE ROAD. There’s a time in one’s life when it’s the right time to read it. You may not realize it, but there is. I have never felt comfortable being a farmer or a husband … no Sport, I haven’t for one moment.

Sarah and I have both been sick in bed and relied on Sarah’s mother. It has given us a chance to talk (so I don’t think any of this will surprise Sarah); she knows how I feel about you and Sam. It’s hard, isn’t it. I am forever yours,
Shakes Spear

Notice I have returned to the name Shakes Spear. It is something I’ve never shared with anyone else. It has been our private joke. Seriously, I’m fond of you.

On one of his postcards
April 5, 1969
I want to crow! Hip, hip, hurrah! I’m a publish poet. ALONE ON THE ROAD, you know what it’s about. Your close friend,
Tom Hayes

Don’t think I’m bragging. I haven’t change. I just wanted to let you know the good news.

April 5, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Mr. Watson,
I don’t know where to begin. Sarah doesn’t understand my obsession with poetry and poets, so she’s not as excited as I am about my joining the ranks of Ginsberg. God knows, I’ve tried long enough.

The news from Highland Plantation Maine today is that I’m a published poet. I finally heard from Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

ALONE ON THE ROAD
O the lonesome road
An ode dedicated to Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, and of course you, my friend.

April 6, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear family,
My father generally knows where he’s going … forgive me for rambling before I even start … which sets him apart from me, and, having no destination in mind, I’ve often ended up somewhere I never intended to. That’s why I live in Highland Plantation Maine, something I haven’t regretted anymore than I’ve regretted living any other place.

Dad, dad, you were so right, but had I followed your advice I would’ve been absolutely miserable.

This is merely to prepare you for good news. No, you’re not about to become grandparents.

Mother, mother, thanks for never losing faith in me, and Dad’s predictions I’m happy to say will never come true.

I wish you were here when I received a letter from a publisher in San Francisco and seen my face as I opened it and seen my face again as it changed as I learned good news. And I wish, I wish, you realized how big a deal it is. I’m at last a published poet and it means I’m no longer a failure, since getting published has meant everything to me.

As always, I thank you for your sacrifices.
Now a published poet
Your son, Tom

April 20, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Mr. Ferlinghetti,
Shortly I will send you another collection of poems called WILD OATS, all about growing up except for the last poem, which is a transitional piece. If you think these poems need work, I respect your opinion and will make necessary revisions. I’m not a proud man. But I don’t want you to think that I’d do anything to them in order to get them published. This isn’t true, or at least I hope it isn’t. And as soon as I get proofs for ALONE ON THE ROAD, I’ll make corrections and send them back to you. This process is pretty special: before I only dreamed of it. Mr. Ferlinghetti, you know, since you’re investing in ALONE ON THE ROAD, I thought you might want to know a little more about Tom Hayes.

Life on the farm for those who haven’t been to Maine. This morning we had a breakfast consisting of buttermilk pancakes with wild blueberries and pure maple syrup. It was not what we normally eat, but good news from you called for a treat. So forgive us for indulging.

I spend most my time indoors reading and writing poetry. This is very sad, when I should be outdoors; Whitman would be. But what do I care now that I’ve discovered Dylan, Jack Kerouac, and Charlie Parker? I also feel at home with you and your friends (Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg). I know I’m not of your generation, nor do I expect to be soon, even though you’re publishing ALONE ON THE ROAD.

O the honor! What a surprise it was to everyone here! I was the most surprised. I walked around with head in the clouds to be sure, and the bookstore here in Kingfield has promised to put it on display. But I know, however, I mustn’t lose my perspective, even over such an honor and lose sight that I’m only beginning. And I have several boxes of poems, and they all need work. So I’m up by six in the morning, break for lunch around twelve, and stick with it until dinnertime.

Your book A CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND should be on the list of required reading for all fledgling poets, along with MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM by William Shakespeare (with his bottomless Bottom), the HOLY BIBLE (The King James version) by the Holy Ghost, and the ODYSSEY by Homer (which reflects our endless journey home). I’m sure that I’ve failed to mention works that you consider essential, but these are few that have influenced me the most

I also feel I need to mention that I have over the past few years lived in a number of unrelated places and worked for a circus one summer. I’ve moved back and forth and around the country searching for myself.

O confusion! Where to start … something autobiographical or my poetry? What sport my secrets would be-what scandal! If only I could be as free as Kerouac, Cassady or Ginsberg and as honest as any of them! Living in San Francisco, too, would help. I should’ve stayed in San Francisco or moved to New York City; instead I now live on a farm in rural Maine; but didn’t Ginsberg recently buy Orlovsky a farm somewhere in upper state New York? And of course we can’t ignore Robert Frost … born in San Francisco … a jack of all trades … worked and wrote his poetry here in New England. “Mending Wall” and “Birches” to me are among his best. And “Ghost House” … ”I Dwell in a lonely house”…I’ve been there, and like “In a Disused Grave Yard” (because I’ve been there too), which means we don’t have to stray far from home. Like Frost I could write about living on a farm and life, but how is it compared with the interior landscape of the likes you, Corso, and Ginsberg … your generation, sir? (I keep thinking of Ginsberg buying a farm.) But what would’ve happened if you hadn’t stayed in San Francisco and had moved to Detroit? And you say you were only temporarily a tie salesman, but what if it hadn’t been temporary? Here I’m facing my fear of getting stuck and indeed will not be convinced that it couldn’t happen. I am not pleased with WILD OATS yet. It’s clearly an inferior work, but it’s a start. Nothing groundbreaking like HOWL. I’m not destroyed by madness. I am destroyed by boredom. Ah, there’s nobody like Ginsberg. I really like it that he had balls to write “scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may.” Don’t you he think he did all of us a service? You must love Ginsberg as much as Peter Orlovsky does. Mutual love. And Allen recently bought Peter a farm in upper state New York.

I enjoyed “Coney Island of the Mind” very much; “Autobiography” is as good I think as anything I have read recently; “I landed in Normandy in a rowboat that turned over.” I could relate to so many of the images. My great grandfather owned a billiard hall; I join the Boy Scouts, and I had a baseball glove and an American Flyer Bike. “I once started out to walk around the world and ended up in Brooklyn:” it sounds like me. I once rode a subway from Times Square to Coney Island and back again and was so lonely that I started talking to everyone. So “I’ve wandered lonely as a crowd.” How good, too, is the rest of the poem, and so is “Baseball Canto,” or the harmonies of confusion unscrambled by the “Moog Synthesizer of Time.” Who’s you favorite…John Keats, Dylan Thomas, or Ambrose Bierce? “Alone. In contact, Lo!” Yet maybe you’re rooting for me. Maybe you’ve seen how hard I’m trying, as I share with you some of the works I have cherished secretly alone. So I won’t give up. .
Sincerely, Tom Hayes

April 22, 1969
Highland Plantation, Maine
Dear Sport,
I’m going to San Francissco! . Only intending to go to San Francisco, not move there. You will come and help me launch my book, won’t you? In answer to your questions that’s all that’s set for now. When? It all depends (meaning I don’t know). I don’t know when it will be, but I assure you I’ll be there. I insist on you being there and with a bottle of champagne because it’s entirely your fault. See what you got me into. I’ll have to show up, the young poet with a pipe in his hand. As you well know, showing up is the hardest part.

Ferlinghetti is a decent fellow, by the way; I say this without having met the guy. I’m just not saying it because he’s publishing my work but because of all the good he has done for American literature. But if the truth were known, I’m really going to San Francisco to get away from here. I’m telling you this, but I don’t want anyone else to know.
I know it’s safer here in Maine, sitting in an attic in a big o’ chair, now putting together something new, and from time to time walking in the woods for inspiration. There’s a moose … by golly a real moose … and he’s in town as loony as a loon. I saw my first loon near here on Flagstaff Lake, and I haven’t been the same person since. Meanwhile up comes the “moose-man, wood-eater … clad in a sort of Vermont gray, or homespun” (Thoreau) and conflicted, as you can see, and again it’s entirely your damn fault. And remember when we first met. Here we were a couple of high-and-mighty, know-it-all mucky-mucks sitting on the steps of Brook Halls. Thanks to you I came out of my attic then, and thanks to you I may come out of my attic now, and by God, if you don’t show up, I’ll track you down.

Given the circumstances we see little of each other. I suspect it’s a plot. Yours forever, Shakes Spear.
Chapter Twenty-five
August 2, 1969
San Francisco
My dear Sarah,
I wish you were here, which also goes for your mother, who I know will keep you line. I mean that between the two of you you’re managing the farm without me. You managed it before I came into the picture, so I know you’re managing it now. If you came, you could manage me in San Francisco.

And if you were here, we would have to buy you a pair of walking shoes or else you’d start complaining. I walk everywhere I go, and much of it is up, or so it seems. But if you had come with me, you wouldn’t like crowds after living in Maine all your life; that’s what I think

Everything costs more here, so I was lucky to have found friends who were willing to give me a place to stay, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome. O that hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t think it will soon.

I hate to think how it would’ve been if you hadn’t been so understanding. You would’ve been proud of me over how I handled myself at my book signing. I held my own and sold a few chapbooks; but I would’ve been happier if you were with me.

With thoughts of you, I close this letter. Your loving husband Tom

Something else: I’ve had to be friendly. And I’ve had people ask me: “Where is your wife? Her name is Sarah, I tell them. I am alone and my life is a drag. With my wife far from me, I feel adrift.

Tom left Waterville Maine for San Francisco in early July 1969 and traveled by bus because he couldn’t afford to fly. He missed Eddie somehow, and of course Sam was somewhere in Southeast Asia, but he decided to stay in San Francisco for a while anyway. There he found a group of friends who hung out at the bookstore (this was a month or so before Stonewall riots in New York), and loved “company” but it took (in his words) “some getting use to.” (He wasn’t used to intimacy, casual intimacy.) After a short stay in a commune (which was too chaotic for him) he at last discovered “the right balance” (and a place where he could write) with three friends, and moved in. He tried to describe this arrangement to Sarah in a way that wouldn’t upset her too much. He wanted to let her down gently, rather than tell her the flat-out truth.

Back then you could still find a reasonably priced home in San Francisco. Maybe not on Nob Hill, or a neighborhood like it, but Tom’s friends wouldn’t have wanted to lived in those areas anyway. They instead chose The Castro, where they could be themselves and go almost anywhere and feel welcomed. The Castro: what was once dairy farms and dirt roads had become a vibrant community. There, amid a bustling shopping area with shops and bars and everything they’d ever want, stood a charming old Victorian house which Tom’s friends somehow managed to buy. It was painted a bright orange, had huge rooms and high ceilings, and view of downtown was tremendous. Nearby, Douglas Street steps led up Kite Hill and to an open space overlooking the city.

As his letters showed, Tom loved this neighborhood and thoroughly enjoyed living there. There was perhaps no period of his life when he was happier, and he would later say, “I’ve was only happy once in my life and that was when I lived in The Castro.”

August 2, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Mr. Watson,
I am enclosing a thin published book, autographed by its author (me). As you can imagine, I’ve gotten big headed over receiving my first royalty check, which I haven’t cashed. I don’t know if I will cash it. If I do, it’s so small that it would be gone in a flash, so I may hang onto it for posterity. My wife sadly is not with me. She stayed home in Maine, and I’m out here in San Francisco; we’re more than a thousand miles apart. Honestly, I don’t know why I’m here. It may be folly and amount to nothing. We’ll see. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying myself and have also met some interesting people, other writers, some famous and some not. I’ll write you about it later when I’ve had time to process it. But unfortunately, assuming you can read between the lines: it’s still hard for me to believe that I am any good. Doubt seems to cloud whatever success I’ve had. I know no remedy for it except work, work, work. Tom

August 2, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Mr. Burroughs,
I have just put down your book. I’ve wanted to read it and QUEER every since I saw copies of both books here in the house. The title hooked me, because I can visualize me and my friends (all male) sitting around eating without our clothes on. I find myself, however, having to admit that I couldn’t follow your book very well. Much of it went over my head, but I found myself glued to graphic parts. To understand this you’d have to know my background.

I’m also married, though I think I’m queer. (Seeing this confession on paper is shocking, in the same way, as your book was shocking.) This may or may not mean anything to you, but it’s a big step for me.

I want to also say that I’ll try to read your book again, and I hope that you’re sympathetic and haven’t been put off by my response to NAKED LUNCH. Also to be fair, let me say that I think I’m still in love with my wife. It’s complicated and messy, just as your book is. Yours truly, Tom Hayes.

August 3, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Mother,
Please send any letters intended for me to our Maine address because I don’t know how long I’ll be here in San Francisco. Sarah will know where to forward them. You can bet she’s keeping track of me and she and I are on the same page. Now that may seem odd to you, but it’s true. She knows why I am here in San Francisco and approves of it. I’m staying with friends I met at a bookstore, the bookstore my publisher owns. What a change from when I was in Maine! For obvious reasons, San Francisco was a better place for me to launch my book than Kingfield Maine. I considered staying in Maine. I have nothing against Maine. Maine has been good to me, and of course Sara is there, which made it hard for me to leave. I was perfectly happy living on the farm in Maine and will happily go back there soon. Only Kingfield is not San Francisco, but you don’t have to remind me that little over a year ago I fled San Francisco, trading San Francisco for Highland Plantation Maine. Farm life for city life, married life for bachelorhood, so there’s still reason to believe that I’ll soon get tired of San Francisco again. Twenty years from now, we’ll all look back on this situation and smile. By then we ought to have made sense of it. I think change has done me a great deal of good; however I miss Sarah. I wish she had come with me. I stay mostly out of trouble and mostly eat right foods. I’m clean and sober. I do love Sarah and plan to go back. Still I had to leave, for the sake of my book.

I am sorry dad wasn’t very impressed with my modest success. That is why I am writing to you instead of to him. Don’t worry, I’ll forgive him. You know you don’t have to worry about me.

My best wishes to you both. I send you my love Tom

August 4, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Mr. Watson,
Thanks for you congratulatory note. It is true, man, God’s truth, what you say about Ginsberg. Ferlinghetti himself alleges the he (Ferlinghitti) is not a beat poet, but prefers to write what he calls “wide-open” poetry. That’s broad enough to include me, Mr. Watson, and leaves the door open, though there are those, if they could, who would try to slam the door shut. Ginsberg may be a better poet … who am I to say … but without Ferlinghetti where would he be? Nowhere, but none of us would be where we are without Ferlinghetti. (Notice how I’m now included.) How many poems have I written thanks to you? Enough for another chapbook, and thanks to Ferlinghetti they may soon see the light of day. There then will be another book signing (book signings are big here), and I would like for you to come. And inside the cover of my new book there will be a title page, and low and behold on the page there will be a dedication to you. And you’ll get a signed copy. Man, it’ll be grand. So you must come.

I am alone in San Francisco, and it’s hard to be alone in San Francisco. How could someone feel alone here? Yes, I sometimes feel alone, but damn I’m also recognized, which I can say was not the case the last time I was here. It’s easy to get lost in a big city. The Castro, in case you don’t know it, is a homosexual neighborhood, and there are certainly many homosexuals living here. It’s like a small town. I even think that men I’m currently living with are homosexuals. They don’t act like homosexuals, but I think they are. I think it, but I don’t know because it’s their business and not mine. I’m safe, I believe. San Francisco is a safe city compared to other large cities. But I’m still careful. I don’t want to push my luck, so there are some places I stay out of. You see there are gay bars, particularly here in the Castro, and since I’m not gay I’d feel out of place in them. But homosexuals are harmless, and it’s certainly not catching, and the life they live is certainly their business. As a writer, I’m simply an observer, while my roommates make good company, keep me from being lonely, and all the while I’m the butt of their jokes. But they’re good to me, good Lord yes! They make me laugh. I met them at my book signing, and I guess they could see that I was a bit lost for they took charge of me and in some ways sometimes they’re worse than my mother. Sure hope you come and help me launch my next chapbook. Tom
August 4, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Family,

How are my parents? Nothing has been said about you coming here for my next big event. The trip might do you both good.

I am still gloating over success. But I promise it won’t change me. Published I’m on my way now. There’s talk about bringing out a second book of mine, which gives me a reason for staying here a little longer. I have calculated that my last one has brought me all of two hundred dollars, which I know is not much for all of the work, but honestly it is more than I have a right to expect. Once I’m better known, sales ought to pick up. These days I’m optimistic.

I’m taking care of myself. Sarah sends me egg money, and of course we have enough savings to last for while. I don’t know what I would do without Sarah’s support. I miss her. Your son, Tom

August 4, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Sport,
This is to inform you that I’m not happy over missing each other. My parents are planning to come here in the fall for the launching of my next book; we’ll have to see. I’m not sure this will get to you. Because I don’t have a firm address, I’m writing you c/o General Delivery Portland Oregon.

There, Sport, I’m finally published. The launching was a huge success. You don’t know what you missed. Newspapers also missed it. I thought the bookstore could’ve done more. But if it hadn’t been for Ferlinghetti, I wouldn’t have been there, so I shouldn’t complain. But next time I’ll know what to expect. I’ll make Ferlinghetti hop! But truthfully I was immensely pleased. Did I tell you we had champagne, and I finally met Ferlinghetti? He showed up, I behaved, and by and large I was impressed. City Lights Books sponsored the appearance of Tom Hayes, the next Walt Whitman. The Haight-Ashbury Festival in Golden Gate Park was competition. We persevered; got a few handbills out, and about 100 people showed up. Better than nobody and I had a good time. Bob Kaufman came. Let me drop a name, in case you have heard of Bob Kaufman. The “American Rimbaud”, a black man, we talked and got to talking about Paris (he’s big in Paris) … it didn’t go any further … but I’m convinced and will not in any way be afraid of other poets. But what if I ran into Ginsberg!

San Francisco is incredible; my heart sings; I’m not sure now if I can ever go back to Maine, though I love Maine and have Sarah to think about. She broke down, as I knew she would when I left. Why does life have to be so complicated? It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to Sarah. With luck I’ll be able to steer through this storm. I now know that I shouldn’t have rushed into such a relationship, but at the time, as you know … how could you know since you weren’t around? I know it would’ve been handled better if you had been. I’m tempted to place the blame on you, but I know better. I miss you and hope to see you soon. Shakes Spear.

August 7, 1969

San Francisco
Dear Elaine,
You must think and quite justly that I am one of the most shiftless cads in existence. But though I haven’t written you (which I have no excuse for) it by no means follows that I have forgotten you, Roger, Jimmy, and the Grant Street Hovel. Those were happy days, but the beat goes on. So it’s natural that I should’ve thought about you when I came back to San Francisco. I’ll never forget that it was in Amarillo that I first discovered HOWL and ON THE ROAD in a dusty, little bookstore and how I shared those two works with you (though I never knew whether you really appreciated them or not). Well, I just thought that you’d like to know (besides I wanted to write and say hello) that perhaps by now, or very soon, you’ll be able to go to our favorite, dusty little bookstore and find or order a small little book of poems by me (published by the way by the poet and publisher who published, yes published Ginsberg, yes author of HOWL). I think you’ll relate to several of the poems because they were written in Amarillo when I lived next door to you. (In case you weren’t aware of it: I had a crush on you then.) Of course, I keep hoping that I’ll run into Ginsberg., since we now run in the same circles; but I still have a long way to go to reach his standing as a poet. I’ve thought of sending you a signed copy of my book, but for all I know you have moved.

There are many things that I should’ve said before I left and many things I should’ve done rather than simply leave (it has always been easier for me to runaway than to face my daemons). I may have seemed ungrateful for all the things that you did for me, some things that you’re aware of and some things you’re are not. This little book, it is fair to say, would’ve been entirely different if I hadn’t been infatuated with you.

Do you know that I couldn’t have stayed in Amarillo, anymore than I could’ve gone back to the Forks? But if Roger hadn’t been in the picture I might’ve been tempted. How is Roger? Do you see Jimmy?

I am now very happy; but my wife (yes, I’m married) has to be sad, since I left her in Maine (yes, Maine). It probably comes as a surprise that I’m married, as it amazes me when I think about it. So you see my stay in San Francisco probably won’t last long. I would love to hear from you. All the best, Tom Hayes.

August 10, 1969

San Francisco
Dear Mr. H. R. Bean.
Thank you for your kind words and I am quite pleased that you took time to write to me. It’s quite a change to come from not having a fan to being recognized as a poet: hallowed be the ground that Mr. Ferlinghetti walks on! Without his confidence in me I wouldn’t be in San Francisco today, which means I wouldn’t have had my poems published and all that has followed, like the book signing and meeting other poets like you. Well, I’m assuming that you were at my book signing. Too many people were there for me to have kept track of everyone.

I am very pleased that you like my poems. I started writing poetry out of boredom. It pleased me to finally get a break, when I have worked so many years without recognition except from a few friends and one particular teacher. The other day I saw my book in a catalogue along with a list of works of other poets who are way more accomplished that I am. It is easy to get disillusioned, but it is even easier to be swept away by recognition. But, no, I won’t allow my head to swell. I won’t forget that I am Tom Hayes, from a small town in Maine. There is no guarantee that the success I’m now enjoying will continue, so it’s important for me to remain grounded. .

I don’t intend to move again soon. I have only lived here a short while, but this place already feels like home. I’m basically a shy person who likes to disappear into crowds; but I enjoy the hustle and bustle of a city like San Francisco and enjoy living in The Castro where I feel (maybe for the first time) free to be myself. By day I am content to stay home, basically in my room, where I spend the day writing; but at night and when the parade begins, I am as restless as I can be. That’s when I want to explore and at the same time take advantage of my obscurity. I’ve yet to be hurt or robbed, though more frequently than not I end up in bed with someone I just met.

I am now a person with an open mind … a huge heart … and am obviously a risk taker … a shy risk taker, imagine it … a room in a home with three gay men who think I’m straight … a reputation I still think I have to keep because I am married. Otherwise, I am very much the same as you, I guess; and if I were to come out of the closet, this is the place to do it. So you see how I’m torn; almost thirty, married, and stuck; and yet I love my wife, I think. And I haven’t yet written my masterpiece … not conceived it yet. But I’m lucky: I’m here, lucky I’m published, and not just published but published by Mr. Ferlinghetti, and Maine seems farther and farther away. I don’t know what Sarah (my wife) would do if I told her that I was gay (though I suspect she knows it). I certainly know what the paralysis of living a lie is like and find it extremely strange that I’m able to write about here in a letter to a person I met once. Several years ago, as I recall, I confessed my soul in a similar way to a stranger in a bus station. I should’ve been careful then, as perhaps I should be now. And once before, this time here in San Francisco, I met someone (while staying at the YMCA off of Market) … someone I could talk to. (And I had another friend, a friend from college, who was supposed to meet me here in San Francisco, who hasn’t shown up yet.) But I know that I can’t have everything. I, of course, would like to hear more about you and I don’t mind telling you that I sometimes go by the nickname Shake Spear (a private joke between my college friend and me). As far as my writing goes, I know that I’ve just started and that whether I live here or where I’m came from in Maine really doesn’t matter. It is a blessed thing that the art of writing can be pursued anywhere, but living here in The Castro is certainly exhilarating.
Tell me something about your work, or better yet let’s get together. How often do you come to town? We could meet wherever. One of my favorite places is the Cliff House, and one of my favorite times is right before sunset. Haven’t heard from Sam, the friend I met here, in quite while. He is somewhere in Thailand, and I don’t know when my college friend, Eddie, will surface, so you can see that I’m in the need of another close friend. I hope that. I’m not being too forward. I’m really easy, and hopefully not as needy as I perhaps sound. Pas, Tom Hayes

Tell me about what you’re working on.
Chapter Twenty-six
August 15, 1969

San Francisco
Dear Mr. Mr. Ferlinghetti,

This is to inform you that I have been feverishly working on my next collection of poems, now numbering more than a hundred, which I’m sure need editing. But here are my ideas, to make it clear.

I don’t assume you would want to publish them all (or for that matter, any of them). I think, however, (if you like them) that they all go together. As for a title, I need your help. I have given each poem a title, but titles aren’t set, so again I’m open to your suggestions. I think we’ll have 80 or 90 pages, depending on which poems you accept and depending on illustrations. I’ll also leave that up to you.

This should give you an idea of what I am thinking, but let me repeat: I’m open to any and all suggestions. Of course, I know you have the final say. The illustrations don’t need to be grand. Simplicity is usually better.

I forgot to mention that I would like to dedicate the book to my wife Sarah; it will please her and help make amends for my absence. I know she misses me. It’s too bad she’s not here with me in San Francisco.

I will stop here, not knowing whether you appreciate my boldness or not. I wish I knew what kind of interaction you have with other authors. It would give me an idea whether I’m on the right track or not.. .

August 17, 1969

San Francisco
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know you worry about me. I’ve often given you reasons to worry, which I can’t help. But by now you should know that I am resourceful and have learned how to take care of myself. I believe this time that you’re also worried about Sarah’s and my relationship because she is in Maine and I am San Francisco. I wish I could reassure you but I can’t. Can we ever predict the future? No—well, for my part I’m doing well. As for Sarah, she writes me every other day. Separation isn’t wonderful. We remain good friends. We still love each other. But I have to be honest: I’m not cut out for the farm. I’m too restless, and it gets too cold in Maine. I froze in Amarillo, froze in New Mexico, and froze in Wichita, so I really froze in Maine. As for you two, I know that hearing this news won’t make you happy.

The weather here continues to be perfect. After Maine, it’s perfect … continues to be cool, chilly maybe, but never cold. But really, in spite of many reasons why I’m happy here, I still have a heavy heart. And I don’t have the heart to tell Sarah yet. I’m not saying that I won’t go back to Maine, or that Sarah and I are getting divorced, or anything drastic like that ..you can be assured that I still love her. I like the farm, I even like the idea of farming, but I just don’t like the idea of being stuck there. And of course I can do without Maine winters. It is awful to be caught in such a dilemma, caught between San Francisco and Maine. I’m happy here, and it’s a safe city. O that this may last.

As you know three men have taken me in, and they’ve agree to take the little I make for rent, and believe it or not, Sarah sends me an allowance every week and has agreed to continue to do so until I’m better established. Doesn’t this bring back memories of my Baylor days when you sent me an allowance if I wrote you a letter? In high school poems for a grade, in college letters for money; now I’m making a little money by selling my poetry and by reciting my poems on Fisherman’s Wharf. It beats begging. Now I can hear Dad say, “Son, you’re weird.

I hope you both are well.

What am I going to tell Sarah? I don’t know. Your loving son, Tom.

It has been another good day. Let me know how your days are going.

August 20, 1969

San Francisco
Dear Sport,
I haven’t heard from you in a while, but I assume from your letter that you’re still in Portland. I’m tempted to come your way since I miss you and I’m freer than I have been in the past.

I’ve had to assume responsibility for myself once again: Sarah has written and told me that she can no longer send me an allowance, but that was inevitable. I expected it; so be it, I don’t quite know why, but it’s okay. Without a patron, I no longer have the luxury of spending huge chunks of my time writing: yet write I must. I’ve had to spend most of my days down around Fisherman’s Wharf where I work the tourists by reciting my poetry for 50 cents or a dollar a poem. I mostly ask for a dollar because I’m now published. Tourists seem to enjoy it, while I make a fool of myself. But I’ll run out of steam soon because hustling doesn’t suit me, so it’s once again decision time. I’ll soon have another book on the shelves, but it won’t bring in enough money to live on so I may have to get a real job. I’m certainly not afraid of getting my hands dirty, which I think I’ve proven in the past.

By the way, you should come to The Castro, or San Francisco, not just because I’m here, but because it’s a lively place. Man, I keep forgetting you’ve been here. Sport, I don’t suppose you would consider coming back because I’d love to see you. I love you. Now I’ve said it. And I’ll say it over and over again. Not that you’re the only one. I suppose Sam is still in Thailand. I haven’t heard from him. Now you see why I feel abandoned. Will I ever make enough money from my writing to live on, I mean without having to hustle the way I do? O pooh!

In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t like having to support myself. I hate stress and strain, and having to worry about where my next meal is coming from. But I don’t think the world owes me anything. So you see how I could easily become someone’s housewife?

Now I must put on my costume and scoot. O the sacrifices I make for my art. But I should be happy because I’ve come up in the world, though I’m not where I want to be materially. I just have to keep my anxieties under control. But now I must go. Tom

August 20, 1969

The Castro

Dear Sport,
It was good to hear from you. Only you and God know what I told you in my last letter.

I feel detached, a little more so than yesterday, so I try to get out the house every evening. When I knew you at Baylor I had no idea that I was gay. I knew I was different, but there was no way that I would’ve admitted it. Sport I think you knew. Then I came to San Francisco and met my good friend Sam, and he was so self-assured and gay … the perfect gentleman and gay, while I hated myself. I hated then to face the obvious. I don’t hate myself now. God, I’m thankful, though Sam was gay he didn’t try to push me. He wouldn’t because he was a perfect gentleman and gay. At the time I was still suffering from guilt over the incident in Amarillo (it was, thank God, what kept me out of Vietnam) and scared me to death. Well, I don’t remember whether I told you about it or not. (I tried to keep it a secret from everyone, except I couldn’t keep it a secret from Uncle Sam. I have a record.) It was in a restroom and I got busted. At the same time I felt an attraction for a woman next door, and around then too I started to get intimate with a guy I met who drove a T-bird, so you see I was so confused that I had to move away from Amarillo. Then came an affair in New Mexico, which taught me that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. Yes, from this affair I discovered that I could perform well…better than any or most males because the gal there told me that I was the best damn lover that she ever had. That was when Uncle Sam tried to get me. Then came a long, long winter in Wichita, which I’ve put out my mind because I thought I was in love with a woman there, and to my horror she was quite satisfied with me. Now that brings me to Maine and why I married Sarah. When a man who is gay marries a woman it is usually hopeless. I feel I have cheated Sarah, though I don’t think she felt cheated until she realized a few weeks ago that I wasn’t going back to Maine. And here you were waiting in the wings while I’ve gone through this, and remarkably you still consider me a friend. The three men I live with now know; in case I haven’t told you, they’re gay, but I don’t dared join their threesome. Instead I frequent bars around here, not to drink but to socialize. I’d otherwise get really grouchy. You must’ve had similar experiences, so I feel quite comfortable writing to you about it.

I wish to thank you for remaining my friend. Where would I be without you?

Lord, let’s get together. I don’t think it’s good for us to be apart. O but to look back and remember all we’ve shared, all the times, when we would sit and talk for hours on the steps of Brooks Hall (Baylor University). You would encourage me, me a lonely lowly freshman, and you the editor of the Lariat (Baylor’s daily newspaper), and what did I get out of it? I’m still writing poetry … well, well, how about it? Last night I dreamed of you and it felt good. I hope you’re not turned off by any of this.
Whenever I am in a funk, I try to write myself out of it. What else am I to do? Spend time staring out the window and feeling sorry for myself?

Yes, looking back, I think of you as the one person at Baylor who noticed me, though sometimes I was a pest. You were practically the only guy I felt comfortable with. You always encouraged me; you were always laid back; there was always a gentleness about you. And while you were editor of the school newspaper you were certainly modest. But I never associated any of this with you and me being gay. I know, I know none of it has to do with our being gay, or (as we would’ve looked at it then) our feminine side. We’re both very masculine. Dear, dear, what a mess; and yet how lucky I am to be married to someone like Sarah, who understands in spite of hurting. Or at least she says she does, and I hope she’s just not saying it. It is strange how things seem to work out.

It is strange that two men that I love never imposed themselves on me. It’s a miracle that you found me among all the other students, and you were a writer and editor of the newspaper (to you it may not sound like a big deal, but it was to me). You were above me; we were not equals. I couldn’t write then. Yes, I was writing poetry, and yes my high school English teacher also encouraged me (as long as I wrote a poem a day, he’d give me a A. It wouldn’t have mattered if I slept through Mr. Watson’s class, as long as I wrote him a poem a day.) Well, first Mr. Watson, then you, and now Ferlinghetti.

Come to think about it, I don’t know what I wrote to Sarah that would’ve made her think that I wouldn’t be coming home to stay. Could she sense it? Could she be that sensitive? There is so much about her that I don’t know, and we’ve been married for so short a time, but yet she somehow caught on. I guess I couldn’t hide it as well as I thought I could. She seemed satisfied sexually, and I should know from how she responded. Remember I have experience with women, and I’ve had women tell me that I’m the greatest lover that they have ever had. Someday you’ll have to clue me in.

Anyway Sarah and I continue to love each, and she continues to frequently write me. Sometimes I can’t keep from crying; that’s when I sit down and write. I’ve been going though this since our Baylor days, remember, so it’s not new. I’m surprised that we’ve stayed away from each other. What is it with you? Love, Shakes Spear

I can’t express how happy I was to hear from you and to know that you received my letters. What does Portland have over the Castro? I can’t see how it could possibly beat this.

As much as I’m out and about now, I have yet to meet anyone the likes of you and Sam, nor do I expect to. Book signings lack intimacy. Sex with strangers doesn’t do it either. We never really talk.

I never knew that the love between men could be the same as the love between men and women. Until recently I hadn’t thought of gay love without a stigma attached. A curse was on me. It’s the same while it’s different. Even friends didn’t know and if they had some of them would’ve teased me. I’ve even joined in on the “fun” of ridiculing queers when I was trying so hard to belong, that I never knew one day that I could be on the receiving end. And as for cruelty kids can’t be equaled. What would’ve happened if they had found out that I was gay.

Well, no one found out, though I’m sure now that one of the reasons that I didn’t totally fit in was because I was secretly gay, and boy, if my parents had found out, I hate to think what it would’ve done to them. I can hear them now. Yet they’ll have to be told, or they’ll find out some other way, so I better tell them. We have so far to go, but we shall overcome. Write and tell me what you thought of the recent riots at Stonewall in New York City?

Well, I’m basically happy; that I know, though I’d be happier if we had around the country freedom that we have here in the Castro. As you know we don’t. Yet we see progress is being made, and memories of what it was like make me not want to go back. Hopefully I won’t have to.

You don’t know how handsome Sam was. At twenty-five, he was a hunk; then too, he was poised and graceful. He was totally male, and you had a sense that he knew exactly where he was going, but he never imposed himself on anyone. You knew that he believed in himself and he always validated others. In many ways he was like you and always treated me the say way you did.

Of all the wonderful things here the strangest to me is the openness of gays and lesbians. You can actually see and feel pride. It’s good to see, but I have a ways to go before I’m free. The last time I saw Sam before he left for Asia … it was sad for both of us…we went to the Cliff House and watched the sun set. “My God,” I said, ‘the earth is round.” He laughed and agreed. He said “yes!” like we made a new discovery. A silly remark and the affect that it had on us, as we stood there and watched the sun sink in less than a minute can not be exaggerated. Sadness, after brave words and pretense that we’d soon see each other again, I think was equally felt by both of us. When I heard he was shipping out the next day, and I realized that I might never see him again … it could be…I was pretty upset, but I tried not to show it. We sat for the longest time, in the lobby of the YMCA where we were staying, and when we finally said goodbye, we said goodbye with a kiss. My friend, Sam Ives, I hope you’re safe. But Sport, I also worry about you. But worrying is the price I pay for love (a small price I might add), and now I’m beginning to doubt that I‘ll see either of you again, which makes me feel sad. I’ve lost too much time. Hopefully I’ll gain it back. We live in an uncertain, scary time, but what choice do we have? Shakes Spear

I don’t want to go back, but we don’t have total control of the future either, and we never will. But I think that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to worry. What I worry about is irrational. I still don’t know how to manage love that I have for two men.

It is essentially my background that is the source of the trouble. It is the source of my hang-ups. I’ve rarely talked about them, but I haven’t had the opportunity except a few times. Our friendship is indeed precious … precious to me and I hope it is precious to you. I am looking forward to renewing our intimacy. Shake Spear

Last night I went to sleep thinking of you, and this morning I came out of a dream during which we were holding each other. It is not as far fetch as you might think. I think I’m ready. Come see me in the Castro and find out.

September 2, 1969
The Castro
Dear H. R,
Admittedly I live a double life. I am married, and there isn’t an hour that goes by that I’m not reminded of it. There came today a letter from Sarah (my wife). Even after everything she still frequently writes newsy letters to me about our farm, but she’s stopped sending me an allowance.

I’d feel terrible if she sent me money, which she did at first. I don’t know why I’m writing to you about this, except maybe it’s because I have so few friends and you have obviously taken an interest in me.

Who am I? Who is Sarah?

And where are we?

Listen, as I pointed out, I live a double life. I have made compromises along the way, and I continue to make them. My wife knows I am gay. Good thing. The more people who know the better, but I haven’t been able to tell me parents yet. It may take a while.

To live here in The Castro, even in poverty, is a joy for me. I feel good. Since moving here my stride has literally quickened. I’m full of energy whereas in Maine I slept a lot and rarely left my attic.

I have written to you in this way because I trust you and trust that you will not spread any rumors about me.

Until we meet again, Tom Hayes

I don’t know if you are gay. It doesn’t matter to me if you are or not. I’m not looking for another relationship. My life is complicated enough.

September 3, 1969
The Castro
Dear Sport,
I’m glad my last letter got to you because I wasn’t sure it would. Freedom and joy after riots at the Stonewall; come join the party. Now I’ve decided to look for a real job. As you know, I’ve always worked and have grown tired of a penniless existence. I am not a hippie and am lucky that I don’t look feminine (though I don’t think if I did that it would make as a big difference here as it would elsewhere.) Thank God times are changing, but in most places they haven’t that much yet. So we fight on. What choice do we have?

I’m not sure I want go to Portland as you suggested, but I won’t just arrive on your doorstep. Now that I’m settled here the idea of leaving The Castro actually frightens me. Image me being hesitant when I want to be with you? I don’t know why I care so much what the world thinks. Besides here is the center of the gay universe.

If Sarah comes for a visit, as she has threatened to do, I’ll have to be on my best behavior, but I really don’t see her leaving the farm even for a few weeks. She would really have to be motivated.

The arrangement I have here precludes her staying here. If she comes, we’d have to find a hotel that we could afford. There are plenty of hotels, so I’m sure that we won’t have trouble finding her a place to stay. Then I’d have to decide if I wanted to stay with her. Knowing Sarah, she would want me to but I’m not sure I could do it. Indeed sharing a bed with her is no longer as appealing as it once was.

You can’t help me with this, so for God’s sake let’s focus on something you have control over. For years now I have been urging you to come see me, and I’m sure that if you did we could get along. We both know how to live on a shoestring. I’m not sure if we could make it on $10.00 a day, but I think we could come close. I’m planning to get a real job soon, and I have no idea how you manage to get by, but you seem to manage. I’m tired of not having any money anyway. Now and then I get a few dollars from my writing. But damn, I can’t count on it, and most likely that’s not going to change.

O, I don’t know. I don’t know old friend; I don’t know. I was most struck by what you’re not telling me, and I’ve realized that I don’t know it all. I don’t know. I don’t know anymore where I’m heading. I thought I was making progress, but I don’t know. That’s progress, isn’t it? I don’t know my friends from my enemies anymore, I don’t know. When I’ll be no longer ashamed? I know I’m gay that I know. That’s progress isn’t .it? I don’t know. I know that I can count on you, but I still don’t know. I don’t know about Sam. O, I don’t know. After I admit that I’m gay, all my old friends will go with the wind except you. I wish I knew about Sam. With the wind, they’re all gone. But with friends like that, who needs friends? When I’ve got new friends, I don’t need them. I don’t know. O, discrimination and hate! I’m afraid I’m going to be discriminated against. I don’t know. O, I don’t know. I don’t know old friend, I don’t know. I don’t want to hear anymore that everything is going to be all right when it’s not. I don’t want to hear it. You hurl things at us, hurtful things, you don’t know but they’re hurtful. I make you feel uncomfortable because I’m gay. You laugh at me because I’m gay. You say things, make me the butt of your jokes because I’m gay. We dare to hope that someday we’ll know.

Were you to re-read HOWL, answer me this! Would you recognize yourself in the poem? And if you met Ginsberg, would you know him? Would you know him before you met him? Without ever having seen a picture of him, could you pick him out of a crowd? And without knowing it for sure, would you know he was gay? And what is holy about the Bronx? It is astounding that after re-reading HOWL that I think I know why The Bronx is holy. And why The Castro is holy. And why holy shit is sacred. (Yes, I had to throw that in.) It is astounding to someone with my background that places like The Bronx and The Castro to him are holy places. O, I don’t know. I don’t know old friend. I don’t know.

But I’ve turned a corner and seen off in the distance something I’ve got to have, and this time I recognize it. And I want it so badly. I know what it is, but I hope I don’t want it too much. I went to Maine to escape shame and found a mate. I found a mate to prove that I wasn’t gay, but it was a mistake. I don’t know much, but I know I love Sarah. I love Sarah for what she’s done for me. I won’t ever forget Sarah. Everyone should be so lucky as to have someone like Sarah to love. I saw Sarah, and wanted her, or wanted what she represented, but now I know it was a mistake. And as it turned out, I wanted her so much that I couldn’t see it. Now I know I love you and Sam more. Now I think I know what you’re not saying. I think it is that you don’t necessarily see what’s right in front of you, that it might be as familiar as the “familiar you” in this sentence and you still don’t see it. Then with it still way off you begin to see and recognize it in stages, as changes occur, and then in pursuit of it, and not by looking for it, you finally are sure that you know what you knew from the beginning. And in the beginning there was a gay man. And it’s not by staying at home or in your case by looking for it on the top of Mount St. Helen’s that you finally find out who you are. And surprise, it puts fire in your veins! And with fire in your veins, you can run forever, as evident by this letter. Love, Shakes Spear. O, I do know that I love you,

September 6, 1969
The Castro
My dear Sarah,
Certainly, who else could there be? You can be assured that I am not involved with another woman. After becoming furious with you for having suggested it, I still haven’t gotten over it and still feel sulky. You have no idea how big a struggle it has been for me, so I have an idea what it has been like for you.

I am still writing, but lately I haven’t been happily inspired. Perhaps there are too many distractions here in San Francisco; everything here is too new for me; and some of my happiest hours have been spent exploring this great city. You have been good to me. I can’t imagine that there are many women who would’ve stood by their man the way you have. There can’t be many. I’ll never forget my time in Maine with you. It was one of the best times of my life. Read some of my poems written then and you’ll see what I mean. Do you remember how geese chased me? What a coward I was, but it was child’s play compared with what I face now. I know … I know I should’ve warned you, but I wasn’t ready to face it myself. I am aware that you should always be included in the equation because believe it or not I take our vows seriously.

Yesterday I had a very bad cold, and today I’m still fighting it. It’s been a busy week, with little sleep and me wandering around, and not eating right. No wonder I’m rundown. So could you please send me more Gypsy cold care tea? I haven’t been able to find any here.

I wonder why some people are such asses. They should be more tolerate. That’s why it’s easier for me to live here in The Castro than to live back home in The Forks. I consider myself lucky because I read in the newspaper yesterday about a gay man in Dallas who was framed by police and sent to prison for possession of pot. Sent to prison for possession of pot … can you believe it?

But here I don’t have to always watch my back. I’m not sure how it would be in Maine. In Maine I was just another married man; and if I wasn’t happily married, it didn’t seem to bother most folks. Was there another way out? Well, these things are beyond our control; since we’re born the way we are … which, I fear, is something a lot of people don’t want to hear. Well, here I don’t have to worry. Here I can go up to a man and tell him he’s adorable and not have to worry about who may be listening. And go after the young, blond, buff and beautiful guy next door and not have to worry if I’m being set up. But if you send me Gypsy cold care tea, I ‘d be very appreciative. Not that I can’t live without it; only I like the stuff, and I know it works.

Please remember me to your mother and all our friends. Please tell them I haven’t disappeared off of the face of earth. And believe me, I love you, Tom
September 7, 1969
The Castro
Sport, Sport, Sport. Got your letters, not one but several. I do think that I deserve attention but just imagine my surprise to get not just one letter but several, but does this mean that I won’t get another one for a while? It is extraordinary how similar our views are; and these letters are proof of it. I have read them several times. Here are some of my ideas. See how they suit you.

1. I love cut flowers. I frequently buy flowers on Castro Street.
2. So you don’t always like company; well, I feel the same way.
3. I currently sleep on a single bed, which reminds me of the bunk bed I had as a kid. If and when you come here we’ll have to invest in a queen-size bed and rename my bedroom THE LOVE NEST. .
4. I don’t care what the world thinks of me. I used to care when I pretended to be straight.
5. Bewildering is okay. It’s better than not having said it.

6. For my family I’ll modify some of my statements, but my core beliefs will remain the same. I don’t care what people think, as much as I once did.

I plan to keep your letters. You can share my letters with almost anyone, but I don’t know why you would. I am not too proud.

So you agree with me about NAKED LUNCH. I don’t ask you to agree about everything, but I’m pleased that we’re in agreement in this instance. But I won’t give up on it. I’ll try again to read the book after I’ve desensitized myself. I must take one step at time as I adjust. My life is enough of a puzzle, so I won’t try to complete the puzzle that is NAKED LUNCH. I don’t think it’s necessary to enjoy the book. Now I bet you wish I’d lighten up and stop trying to find meaning in everything. I would if I could.

September 8, 1969
The Castro
Dear Mr. Watson,

I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth yet. For a while I thought I would, but I managed to hang on. I think that I’ve written you since I moved to San Francisco (more specifically to The Castro). O such a disgrace it is to live in The Castro! When, if anything, I was taught to be careful! As if homosexuality was catching, Mr. Watson; and O how I wish it was that simple! But no: no, I think I was born with it.

Well, the other day, up comes a group of men singing “God Save Us Nelly Queens” to the tune of “God Save the Queen.” “Mister,” said a policeman standing beside me on a street corner, “Do you think it’s my duty to tell them that they have the words wrong?”

“Sir,” said I, “why would you want to harass them? What’s it to you?”

“What’s it to me? I think it’s a shame, but it doesn’t make any difference what I think. It’s an old, old story, the same old weary thing that went on yesterday and the day before. And we can’t do nothing about it. But it comes at a cost. Think of our children.”

Whatever, I saw that he wasn’t going to change. Then I told him that I was one of them. “Well, I think you’re a pitiful bunch, and that’s giving you slack, a whole lot of slack. Noo, I’m born-again, and I can’t condone it. With all we see, it’s hard to be a born-again cop. The same old thing here, and if you want my opinion, we should lock them all up, and it would include you, but nobody has asked me, so I guess you’re safe unless you jaywalk or something. But I tell you that I don’t like it. Not out in public like this anyway. What you do in private, I guess is your business, but I don’t have to like it. All this in a so-called Christian country. Mercy me!”

I couldn’t believe it, Mr. Watson. Tom Hayes

September 8, 1969
The Castro
Dear H. R.,
Very comfortable and happy thank you. Since coming to San Francisco, I’ve come a long way. I am enclosing one of my latest poems, one of my favorites and one of the most popular with tourist in and around Pier 39. We have to survive the best way we can, but I am none the less pleased to be able survive on my poetry. I don’t think many poets can say it. I am very appreciative of your interest in me. Maybe we can meet for coffee someday soon. And may I also suggest meeting at the Cliff House. Of course my favorite time is around sunset. I don’t know how many times that I’ve gone there to watch for ships. The first time I went there I went there with a sailor and he was very handsome and very kind to me. He didn’t have to take an interest in me. No. Neither did I have to go with him. But we spent the whole time he had here together. We ate and played together, and he made me feel at ease. I knew that he was gay, and I felt at ease with him. Are you gay? From what you’ve written I suspect you are, or you’re very open-minded. Then grant me your company.

Your hopefully not wooden, and dull, and no fun. Forgive me for being bold, but I can’t afford to be timid. Yet the next thing I expect is for you to tell me to forget it. It would disappoint me, but I would live. I’ve been wrong before, so I wouldn’t take it personally. Yet I’m human and can’t say I won’t hate you for it. Let me then remind you that I’m new at this. Still my heart is in the right place. I mean no harm. I’ve never written to anyone in this way before. I know it’s a risk I’m taking. I however think that there’s no gain with risk. Risky or not, to be free like this though has been an aspiration of mine.

And I prefer to go Dutch. I’ve discovered some places with cheap grub around here. I also recently discovered the Black Cat Café and the gay drag review they have there. It’s a hoot. Tom Hayes.

September 10, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Dad,
Perhaps neither one of us is to blame. I suspect we can’t help how we feel any more than we can change who we are. I’m glad you wrote to me: now I feel free to write you. I was pleased to learn that you’re in good health. I am, on the whole, doing well, though I’m occasionally homesick and I miss Sarah, but I can’t turn back.

I know you don’t understand, which is understandable, since it has also been hard for me. It is worth noting that it has nothing to do with you or mom. I imagine this is hard for you to accept, but believe me I think you two did the best you could by me. Thus you shouldn’t blame yourselves in any way. I’m totally capable of making my own decisions and have been doing it for a very long time. If I’ve learned anything it’s that I’ve learned to accept consequences for my actions while knowing at the same time that I can’t control everything.

How easy it would be to readily accept what comes my way, but I have too much of you inside me for it. I can no more be satisfied with myself than you can be satisfied with your business. It doesn’t seem to be enough for either of us to simply trust that things will get better, so we have do our best and wear a happy face. But there are no guarantees in life. Sometimes the hardest workers fail and slouches win. This doesn’t, of course, help you accept me as I am. All I can say is that you’re not to blame, and mother isn’t either.

Sorry, I thought I needed to clarify things. I hope I haven’t muddled them more. Your loving son, Tom

September 12, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Mom,
I don’t know if dad will ever understand. I gave it a try and tried to tell him that you and him are not to blame for choices I’ve made. And I can see that he’s not taking it very well. I’m sure he’s shaking his head and is gloomier than ever. I give up. I don’t know what else I can do or say. This is not something that I wanted to happen. But I have no choice. I wrote him personally trying to explain, but I’m not sure now what I wrote.

Here I am again in San Francisco, which I seem to be drawn to. Here I am again feeling like I’ve disgraced you, which I know isn’t justified; here I am married and not living with my wife, and I’m sure Sarah is thinking about divorcing me. There she is in Maine, and I’m here in San Francisco, and I guess you and dad are wondering what I am doing here in San Francisco. Here I have opportunities. There I have none. Tell me that I’m wrong. I expect it. Tell me anything you want, but please don’t reject me.

I appreciate your prayers more than ever. Mother, mother, do you understand? I was very unhappy in Maine. I love Sarah, but it would be dishonest to claim that I was happily in love. Even though I tried and tried, pretended and tried, I couldn’t make it work. What was I to do? I couldn’t make Sarah happy and be true to myself. Do you think she would’ve been happy for long? Stand up coward! It was better to cut bait than chance it.

I have been most unjust to you and dad. I think I might’ve sold you short; and my mind was filled with ugliness. It’s a place that’s never easy to move from. But this letter and my letter to dad are beginnings.

I have been putting this off for weeks and wrote no letters. I have now decided to stop avoiding the issue. But I don’t know how receptive you’ll be. And will you ever be receptive? But it’s a chance I have to take in order to be free. What would you do if you found out that I was gay? What would you think? Don’t be depressed mom. Basically it doesn’t change who I am. Your loving son, Tom

Particularly thankful for Sarah letting go.

September 20, 1969
The Castro San Francisco
Dear Bobby,
Recently I have had many thoughts about the past, many about you, and have wondered how you’re doing. I had in mind to write your mother first, but I thought it might set off alarms that you would like to keep silent, and decided it would be better to write directly to you.

The way life separates people is often too final for me. How many years has it been since we played together? Regardless how long it’s been I haven’t forgotten what we shared, and I don’t think I ever will. I’m hesitant to bring it up now, thinking that it is something that you’d like to forget, or perhaps you’ve forgotten and wouldn’t like to be reminded, or maybe it didn’t make an impression at all. Once only that I can remember did we do it, and as I remember you took the initiative. So my question to you is, what did it mean to you? I heard that you got married and had children, but I don’t suppose that you’re secretively gay, are you? Perhaps you’ve heard that I’m married; and though we haven’t been married for very long, we no longer live together.

Please excuse this blundering attempt to pry into your business; understand I wouldn’t be interest if what happened between us hadn’t happened, and accept from me an apology if I have brought up something that is uncomfortable or unpleasant to you. Still I would like to know. Please write. Your old boyhood friend, Tom Hayes

Installment
September 20, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Mom and Dad,
I send my love. I keep thinking about you two and how I should get back to the Forks before long. However don’t count on it because I’m not sure of the kind of welcome I’ll find there after you’ve read this note. I’ve been struggling for a very long over how to do this, and I had thought I should break the news to you in person, but it seems too risky now. I don’t know why I should feel ashamed that I am gay. There I’ve come out, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Tom

The news about me just in; of course it dooms me in some circles, but I hope it won’t with you two. I don’t think God cares one way or another. I’d rather be doomed than continue to live a lie. I give up pretense. I think you can now see why I wouldn’t feel comfortable living in the Forks.

October 1969
San Francisco
Dear Mother,
I feel compelled to appeal to you for understanding and explain all that I can. I am in love with two men and hope to establish a relationship with a third. To you and dad this may seem sordid but it’s not. I haven’t consummated my love with either of the two men, and with the third, so far it has been surprisingly puritanical. So we’ll have to see, which leaves me with a desire without an outlet. And I have only temptation to contend with. Only! I can’t believe that I’m writing to you about this. I don’t mean to disgust you, shock you, or worry you. It’s just that I need to be honest with you. Hopefully it’s not a mistake.

I’m not prepared to give an opinion about my mental health. Physically I’ve never felt better. I’m eating right, exercising every day (thanks to hills of San Francisco), and I’ve stopped writing all night long. When I think of Sarah, I know what I’ve lost though I believe it’s for the best. It was the hardest thing that I ever had to do, but I’m getting better. And from what I hear, she is getting better too. If I had stayed in the relationship, I would’ve only gotten worse.

If you feel like it, you might drop Sarah a line. I know she’d enjoy hearing from you and still considers you family. Surprisingly, she doesn’t seem to hate me. We have now made peace between us; each of us pledged to stay in touch.

I now hope that you better understand me. I never intended to hurt anyone; anymore than I can help being who I am, from birth, and I’m not suffering from an illness. I’m not suffering mom. It feels, in fact, like a burden has been lifted off me. I’m gay and happy and wouldn’t want it to be any other way. I know it will take a little time for you and dad to adjust to the idea, perhaps a long time, but I hope not. So I think it’ll be too soon for me to come home for Christmas. And as far my love for you both, it hasn’t changed. I love you both very much. You’re son, Tom

November 3, 1969
The Castro
Dear Sport
You must’ve received by now a not very coherent note from me; so you have an idea of what I’ve been going through. I think, however, you deserve more of an explanation.

I’ve tried to ignore the political turn of events after the assassination of Robert Kennedy. About Stonewall, I couldn’t be happier; it does seem like progress. We don’t seem to be so badly off, but maybe my perspective is eschewed because I live in The Castro. Here it seems like we have a majority, and if it’s the only majority that we have in the country, it’s still good to see and a major step. And I’m a part of it. Goodness! It is amazing considering where I came from.

I am today, thanks to having come out (even my parents know) in good spirits. Money doesn’t seem to be a problem. Sarah and I have come to an agreement. Of course, she keeps the farm, and I get my freedom. Why did it take so long? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter now.

Exchange the word “queers” for “inseparables” (queer and inseparable have in a sense the same meaning), and it shows that today we’re still fighting the same battles. So here we are, but lust alone isn’t sufficient. Of course, we want more.

I don’t suppose you’ve spent much time reading the frank love poems of Allen Ginsberg? Light-years away from Tolstoy, I know, but I’m sure they’re not that far removed. It’s the same passions and the same struggles. “Why Is God Love, Jack?” “Message II,” “Chances ‘R’,” and “City Midnight Junk Sounds” are examples of Ginsberg’s poems that I particular like. “Because I lay my head on pillows, Because I weep in a tomb studio, Because my heart sinks below my navel.” I keep waiting for Ginsberg to walk through my door, but so far, no such luck. It’s when he sinks below the navel that I’m pulled in. When he gets pornographic, I want to go there with him. I prefer him with all of his frankness to someone subtler. Come on, I don’t believe sex sins are worse than other sins. Excuse me. Where we came from, respectfully people didn’t talk about sex, or if they did, sex became something that was dirty. But here sex is in the open. Here sex is filled with sunshine, and it’s beautiful and wonderful. All I have to do now is find a partner. It is of course now a dream, a worthy one, but a dream nonetheless. I’m not interested in simply getting laid, which is easy around here. If I were simply looking to get laid, I could simply go out and find me a prostitute (male, of course) and not have to worry about complications. Of course there are all the complications that seem to come with commitment, and the question arises, is it worth it? I think I’ve answered the question when I wrote I’m not interested in simply getting laid.

I’ve also recently discovered gay porn but wouldn’t admit it to anyone else but you. I know it’s silly, not porn but my attitude about it is. I buy books with pictures, pictures that go with text, which helps me and drives me mad. Don’t try to figure this one out. They try to be more artsy than they are, which is astounding to me considering who buys the stuff. Do we really care if guys are wearing makeup or not? I’m looking for a real man and not a pretty, made-up doll. Enough! Shakes Spear.

November 3, 1969
The Castro
Dear H. R,
Your wild and suggestive commands were received; but please give me time to think about it. I know I came onto you, but I’m really quite a novice. I didn’t expect it to turn out how it has. Problem is not you, but with me! I’m not as ready as I thought I was. I’m not sure what I want, and I don’t want you to take me for a flirt. I don’t think I was flirting. It may have however seemed like I was. Truly I’m sorry. Truly, like I said, I am a beginner. I am still very careful. I have had a few bad experiences: ugly things have happened, things that I’d rather forget, and now that I’m free…I’m married, yes married to a woman, but we’re getting a divorce, so you see it’s too soon … way too soon. .

I don’t know if you knew that I only recently moved to San Francisco and that I’ve just gotten my start as a writer. O the height and depth of my ambition. O that I’m privileged to have talent to reach those heights. Then could one get in over one’s head? That is the question that I’ve continually asked myself. I used to know my boundaries, but I don’t know what boundaries are in this new world. At one point I was anchored to something pretty solid, or I fooled myself into thinking I was, but now that I’ve cut the rusty chain from around my neck, I haven’t gotten my bearings yet. So please be patient. I don’t know that I’m making any sense. Forgive me if I’m not, but I’m only trying to be honest. For so many years, I wasn’t … honest. Ah, but you know, until a man says no in a way that it’s not objectionable, he’s not accomplished.

Come let us see where we go from here. I cherished the time we spent at the Cliff House. Yes, maybe it proves I am a flirt. Tom Hayes.

November 4, 1969
San Francisco
Dear Mr. Watson,
I’m glad it turned out the way it did; if it hadn’t, I’d still be back in Maine. Do you know how much simpler my life would’ve been had I not moved here. I was respectable, married and all, a gentleman farmer, and you and your Mrs. could’ve come and met my Mrs. and she would’ve cook for you one of Maine’s culinary wonders, something like baked beans and brown bread. I know that you and the Mrs. would enjoy San Francisco too, and I know that you think that I’m a decent enough fellow, but I need to warn you that I’ve changed. Well I have and I haven’t: I’m the same Tom Hayes, but I’m thinking that there are those who knew me before ….

Ship Ahoy! Walt Whitman. “In dreams I was a ship, and sail’d the boundless seas…” Your influence on me has been immense. Have you, like Whitman, dreamed dreams as boundless as the seas? I think you were preparing us for when we’re swept out to sea. Now when one of us (I use “us” because I’m sure you’ve inspired a fraternity of poets) first flounders and then reaches some unexpected shore, you must feel gratified: what would you say about a student who became a published poet, published by the man who published Allen Ginsberg? May I drop his name? Allen Ginsberg is a homosexual, if you haven’t heard, but I don’t think he cares what people think. I recommend “Howl”, which shouldn’t be despised, as I’m sure it still would be in the Forks.

For the special students who like me you’ve inspired and nurtured … having me write a poem a day was certainly better than making me stick to the book … it took me further … wanderings without a compass and side trips without a map were invaluable; and it worked for me. If you could see me now; you’d smile, I know you would. It is San Francisco for now, and it wasn’t a bad spot to land. And it is a good place for a man of letters, who wants to be recognized.

I am not doing much, working only when I want to. My work, which has been so elusive, is far from finished, although I am encouraged. I have worked very hard at it and chose the easiest path sometimes. There is a maxim: thus the harder one tries the further behind one gets. Work is for us, pleasure is for the reader. Does that sound right? We have a couple choices? To settle for conformity or stick out like a sore thumb. We also sometimes forget that art, and particularly poetry, is a luxury that many people can’t afford. Tom Hayes.

November 22, 1969
The Castro
Hey H.R.,
I beg to inform you that after our stroll last night I caught a cold. I know you’re not to blame for my cold and I hope soon to learn to not go out in the night air without a rap. I can handle it; I can, and now must wait for a chance to prove it.

I wish that you had told me that colds are catching. I believe then that I would’ve been more careful when you told me that you had one. As much as I enjoyed the trading, I think I would’ve avoided it. After all we haven’t known each other very long when considering how far we’ve come.

You may be surprised to hear that I am now in love with you, that is, however, an excuse that I’ve giving for staying here. I have the hots for you now like a red-hot lover would, and faith if I’ll live until I’m forty at this rate. Someday I’ll have a bunch of filthy verses like Ginsburg. Really I have gotten some of my inspiration from you and have already written three or four pieces. If you’re nice to me I’ll read them to you. They don’t embarrass me, and I like them.

If I miss something, please tell me because I am new at this. Glory be, I’ve never felt happier. H.R., you ought to be thankful that you came along at the right time.

Randy Ford

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