Well like it or not, I am a traveller and an immigrant of sorts in the USA (‘The Excited States of America’ as my friend Steve Palmer would describe it) and I don’t seem to have the rights of everyone else and yet I’ve always had thirsty boots for this kind of experience. Early Vanguard recordings (Richard & Mimi Farina and Eric Anderson’s ‘Thirsty Boots’) are usually and often the backdrop for my kind of musings as I go about my day. Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band comes into it as well and next month I am away to Chicago to put up poetry posters as part of the Phantom Billstickers Poems on Posters project. I read a lot of Alice Munro and so that kind of plays on my mind each and every day. Then, when I am completely bonkers, I read Thomas Pynchon and I understand him. I think he is laughing with us and not at us as someone once said. Mind you, if you are paranoid you might think something completely different and we are all capable of that and we sometimes get out of whack and we might come down with an emotional plague, too. I am sorry to speak for you and sometimes I just like long sentences thank you very much. That emotional plague is contagious and it’s swirling right around the world like several million drones and we should fix that first and the drones later. You can’t pass out the tin hats and fix the emotional plague.
I am and have always been desperately afraid of any kind of luxury and I was certainly raised in a luxury-less type of environment on Russell Street in Dunedin, New Zealand. They call my country “God’s Own Country” or “Godzone” for short. It is almost certainly the most beautiful country in the world, but I am knee deep in prejudice on that one. Dunedin was once a particularly bleak place, but now the music and the poetry help illuminate it. And it is an achingly poetic city. But I can’t live there and after I have been there for only a few days I begin to feel worse than the weather and I ache inside myself.
In our house in Dunedin, my father had three pictures of Michael Joseph Savage and another two of John A. Lee on the walls of the dining room. I guess they roughly equate to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woody Guthrie in American terms. My dad probably prayed to all four of them every night and every morning, but nothing changed in our house until my brother died when I was fourteen. Then a whole lot of things changed and very quickly too. My brother died in a tractor accident on a road works gang out at Ravensbourne.
I’ve been moving since that point in time and I’ve come to enjoy it. There is nothing in this life quite like out-manoeuvring your past and getting to the point where it just doesn’t hurt anymore. America has always helped me in this endeavour and I have been travelling here since the 1980s and I love the country for its possibilities. When anyone tells you geography doesn’t work as a cure because you are still the same old you wherever you go, then they are bullshitting and they definitely don’t own a travel agency. They are dim spirits and what they need is a good whipping for baffling people with condescension. I say help people be all they can possibly be and there are definitely ways out of almost any trap.
My father’s mood never was very bright and so it didn’t really matter who was governing the country or what new laws were put in place to protect anyone, he was always bleak. I am not bleak and I have grown a lot through travel. I have this feeling that social work is killing us all rather than making us better and my father sat in the same chair and brooded for twenty years about my brother I am sure. When I was sixteen I got into a big 1939 Ford V8 and I drove off. I grasped the full idea of independence and freedom and I knew it was an ‘inside job’.
When I travel I now take my bearings from about five or six writers: Jack Kerouac of course because he liberated many of us (and then I think he regretted it), William Burroughs for the travel across Texas in an old Ford V8 which never let him or his mates down, Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island, and then leading on from that Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia, and lastly Paul Theroux (of course) and this other cat, Andrew McCarthy.
Here’s a quote from Andrew McCarthy:
“…..That to me is something the traveller is always wrangling with…what’s real versus what do I want this place to be…”
I always go anywhere with a whole lot of hope, desire and drive and I just will not feel like my father about the world no matter what it brings me or serves me up. I believe in hope as way of living and not as something any politician can ever give me.
Yesterday I went and put some poetry posters on poles on the world famous Calhoun Street in Trenton, New Jersey. They say the area is dangerous and I guess I am dead lucky for having served a bit of time in jail for drug crimes many years ago. The golden rules of putting up posters in a place like this, or in fact living through jail, are:
2. Stare straight ahead and do your work, but:
3. Look everyone directly in the eye who comes to you.
4. If someone says to you, “Hey, I like your shirt, can I try it on?” Look them harder in the eye and say: “Get Fucked.”
5. Never walk away from a fight. Just never.
6. Be very, very kind because everyone is suffering.
7. Commit to memory your health care insurer and your policy number.
8. Read George Jackson’s Soledad Brother.
When I got back to Princeton, I decided to do my laundry as this is always a good cleansing measure. I ran into a tall and very dignified looking black man in the catacombs way beneath my apartment and where the washing machines are situated. He was dressed in the uniform of a security guard and he was straight off Driving Miss Daisy. As I have said before, these catacombs go for miles and I think authorities have caught on to the fact that someone is running ‘illegal’ Mexicans/Guatemalans/Colombians/Australians in from Canada on a freedom train that is going directly to Philadelphia. Those who would seek to control us, blame us and govern us in this life would say they are keeping out immigrants for our own good, but I’ve never met a bad immigrant, legal or illegal. They are all good souls and I think most people are good souls, bottom line. But I do see what I want to see.
Illegal immigrants accessing the USA from the north is now a very popular pastime ever since Homeland Security put drones and machine guns above the Rio Grande. So my basement is a truly happy and vibrant place and I swear sometimes there’s a goddamn Mariachi band down there. I tell you, it’s mighty difficult to do your washing when everyone is named Juan or Juanita and they’re so damn happy. Immigration brings colour and happiness and people who just want a better life to any country. I think we all need that. I think one of the great problems in this life is that some of the lawmakers have egos the size of Montana and talents the size of Rhode Island….
Hang on a minute I’m being interrupted, there’s someone at the door…
A Tinker’s Cuss started life on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page – it’s a new feature here at Off The Tracks and we’re repeating the earliest posts before carrying on with new words from Jim Wilson.