Ah, the simple pleasures of a summer night—
a warm breeze of cricket sound through the house
a cold pale ale and news of
both the Yankees and the Mets
victorious against their closest rivals
—pain pills kicking in.
Dominick is always just passing through. He is a professional house guest of the well-to-do, who follows the sun from resort to resort. If he was once searching for something, he long ago disavowed it. His freedom depends on his detachment, and he tries to maintain that. In each of his inadvertent adventures Dominick’s status as the outsider leads to his being a suspect for crimes he did not commit. These are the obverse of police procedurals. They are perp procedurals, in which the unjustly accused must establish his innocence in order to escape and move on.
Dominick is an observer, an historian, a reluctant participant; but his nomad’s life as a perpetual guest insures that what’s next will always be different.
New Jerusalem News is available in hardcover, Kindle, and audiobook formats. It can be ordered through my website (www.johnenright.us), directly from Amazon.com, or through your local bookstore. Thanks to the generosity of Audible, I have some free copies of the audiobook to give away to the first three Reality Salad blogheads to respond in the comments and ask for one.
Summer reading (or listening, I guess) at its best! Be the first on your block! Order now and you won’t have to order later!
For all you serious language mechanics out there, here, from Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence, is a reminder that, in English, adjectives go in this order:
Opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose-noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.
And also, as a reminder that every author needs an editor, here is one page of T.S. Eliot’s original draft of “The Waste Land” as edited by Ezra Pound (1915):
He called himself Cricket. It was somewhere in Wyoming. Not anywhere in Wyoming, but some town big enough to have at least one saloon, because that is where we met. Cricket was Mickey Rooney size and was carrying his life around in a knapsack on his back, just like I was. Our packs were leaning against the same wall by the door. He had a beat-up old guitar case as well.
Some little men never lose their childlike eagerness to please. A way of getting by, I guess. Cricket made me think of a ukulele. In Hawaiian, uku lele means jumping louse—something small and white that hops around. It was the natives’ nickname for the Cockney Royal Navy tar who introduced them to the instrument. You can imagine someone who would garner a nickname like that. I forget his real name.
I was hitchhiking west. I had jumped my last ride at this town. It was getting on dusk, and I had had my fill of the backs of ranch pickup trucks for that day. I must have had enough cash for a couple of beers and a burger. Cricket was on the road, too, hitchhiking in the opposite direction. We hit the saloon at about the same time and ended up on adjacent stools at the strangers’ end of the bar.
This would have been in the late ‘70s. The golden age for hitchhikers in America was vanishing, but in the west at least we were still accepted. As a mode of transportation it had its negatives, but it was free and I was mostly broke, and going cross-country I could make as good time as on Greyhound. You also got to meet people, and you got to visit places you never would have otherwise, like that Wyoming saloon.
Cricket was an entertainer. In an earlier era he would have been called a minstrel. We were sitting there on our bar stools, sipping our cold draft Coors, exchanging those little trial pleasantries like strangers do, feeling each other out, when he pulled a harmonica out of a pocket and started humming soft little rifts through it as we talked, sort of absent mindedly, really, as if it was the most natural thing to do—carry on a conversation while noodling around on a mouth organ. He was just a happy-go-lucky little guy, kicking back with a beer and his Hohner.
Cricket was also sort of warming up. He played a little blues rift that caught the attention of others at the bar. Then he stopped and drank some beer. Someone down the bar asked if he knew a certain song. Cricket smiled and nodded and played a short version. Someone else had another request, and he played that. Now everyone at the bar was paying some level of attention. The bartender put two free fresh beers in front of us. Cricket went to his guitar case and took out a guitar that had seen many years of service. He went to an empty table near the door and our packs and motioned for me to bring our new beers over. He opened the guitar case in front of the table and started to strum on his guitar.
It wasn’t like he was entertaining. It was more like he was playing just for himself, or maybe for just the two of us strangers sitting at the front table. It wasn’t loud. He didn’t sing. He would pick out the beginning of a tune, then stop to tune his guitar, sip some beer and chat. “Know this one?” he’d ask me and then play the first few bars of some old country standard or Buddy Holly song. The general conversation in the saloon resumed, but at a lower level. I am not musical. I know enough to be just an audience.
We talked about where we were coming from and where we were going. The only pointed question he asked me was whether or not I was a Vietnam vet. “You look sort of damaged,” he said. “Just wondering why.” Then he launched into a fuller version of a tune I didn’t know. He bent down over his guitar to watch his fingers, still playing softly, getting lyrical in his licks.
When he finished, the saloon was almost quiet, except back by the pool table. “Awright,” someone at the bar said. “Give us Ramblin’ Man.” And, after taking another long drink of Coors, Cricket launched into an intricate and accurate, if more ruminative version of the Allman Brothers’ classic. The applause that followed was not loud or long, but it was real. Two more gratis draft beers arrived.
“Enough suds,” Cricket told the bartender who brought them over. “Make the rest Old Grand Dad on the rocks.”
Over the next few hours the drinks did keep coming, and Cricket kept playing as he drank. Sometimes he put the guitar aside and played the harmonica. The saloon got livelier as the evening progressed. I was getting drunk, and I had only paid for that first beer. At some point, a waitress brought us two bowls of chili with crackers, and we ate. As people left, they tossed folding money into Cricket’s open guitar case.
We were both staggering a bit as we left the saloon with our packs on our backs, Cricket carrying his guitar case. Even in his cowboy boots he was a foot shorter than I was. It was well after midnight. The last saloon patrons’ cars and pickups were driving away into the night. We hiked out of town on the highway. We knew we wouldn’t be going too far—far enough out of town and far enough off the highway to find a clear place in the sage brush to throw down our sleeping bags. Beyond the lights of the town the stars came down close. It would be a clear and dry night.
“It ain’t natural, sleeping alone in the wilderness,” Cricket said, as we cut off the empty highway into the brush. There was half a moon rising, enough to walk by, I didn’t say anything. I thought the opposite was true, that the reason for being out here was to be alone. We came to a spot where previous sojourners had stopped, a circular clearing that smelled of old campfires and urine. ”Home sweet,” Cricket said, dropping his guitar case and slipping his arms out of his knapsack straps.
“I’m going on,” I said. “This space isn’t for me.”
“Suit yourself,” Cricket said, “but you’ll never stop being a lonesome loser.”
I hiked a long ways that night, trying to get lost in the high desert.
The historical fact of the Vietnam War seems unavoidable, especially if you were an American male of draft age in those years. It was like a Berlin Wall that held you in on one side, limiting your options and actions. The only approved gate through that wall led to induction, boot camp, and jungle warfare in a bullshit cause. At an age of dubious choices, to serve or not to serve had a crisp Nietzschean either/or clarity. Yes, part of the decision had to do with authority—whether your life belonged to you or to some other, outer, abstract, if very enforceable, power. But an even stronger factor, I think, was the conviction that the whole American escapade in Southeast Asia was just fucked up from the start to whenever enough innocents would die to make it end. There is resisting authority and there is questioning authority. Not that the authorities can tell the difference.
While an undergrad in night school at CCNY I worked for the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee, organizing the first mass anti-war protests in New York City. I volunteered my after-midnight hours to turning out flyers on the Socialist Workers Party’s mimeograph machines (remember that smell?). I was a Manhattan group leader for the first March on the Pentagon, where Allen Ginsberg and others tried to levitate the building, and instead hundreds were beaten senseless by redneck federal marshals with four-foot batons, as a line of soldiers with fixed bayonets behind the seated protestors pushed them forward into the gleeful G-man gang of blood-splattering pigs in cheap Sears suits and fedoras like my dad used to wear. I was there. I saw it. I escaped by flashing my Newsweek credentials at a freaked-out National Guard lieutenant no older than I was who let me through the line of bayonets. I wasn’t there to be a martyr. Back in New York, I filed my eyewitness account, which the editors totally ignored, reporting instead on the amount of trash the protestors had left behind. I quit Newsweek.
I was a draft-avoidance counselor and an efficient draft dodger myself. But I really didn’t like the mechanics of the movement—the meetings, the manifestos, the egos, the whackos, and the FBI spies. The Socialist Workers Party gang were especially gruesome and humorless, no, make that witless, the dogs of dogma. I think they were mostly undercover agents who didn’t enjoy their jobs very much. It is interesting that in those years I made no friends inside the movement, not a single lover.
Well, I did turn one offer down. We were doing a sit-in/sleep-in occupation of an auditorium on campus, a sanctuary action for two AWOL draftees who didn’t want to go back to Nam. I was working logistics, getting food and water into the now police-cordoned-off protestors. Everyone was trying to keep the scene peaceful. Everyone knew that sooner or later (probably sooner) the protestors would return to their regular lives and the two AWOL dudes would be duly arrested and punished. For the third or fourth night, tired of protest rhetoric and sectarian rants, we arranged a read-in and invited as many sympathetic authors as we could muster. Our star attraction—the media took notice—was Allen Ginsberg.
After the reading, after the cameras had left, those of us remaining, a couple of hundred committed kids on a camp out, spread our blankets and sleeping bags on the auditorium floor. Allen came over and asked me very nicely, sweetly really, if he could share my sleeping bag. I had to say no. He held my hand for a minute, then kissed me on the cheek and ran his fingers through my hair the way a girl would. Then he smiled and left. There were plenty of sleeping bags there he could share that night.
The night that Lyndon Johnson went on TV to say he would not run for re-election, I got cosmically drunk on rum at Michael Joyce’s place then walked—stumbled—the streets of the Upper West Side, becoming soberingly aware of how little any of this really had to do with me.
A couple of years later, in Berkeley, a fellow anti-war activist had her purse snatched on campus. When she reported it to the campus police, they showed her photographs of possible suspects collected in several large photo albums. Later she told us, “You were all in there, all of you guys, all of my friends. Photos taken with telescopic lenses on campus. From the top of Sproul Hall at demonstrations, in the Plaza handing out flyers, talking to people at rallies. John, they even also had black and white photos of you from back in your New York days, very complimentary.”