The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Friday, December 26, 2008

Beggars and Choosers

A psychedelic Christmas story.

Kesey and grandson.

Skid Row Santa
by Ken Kesey

At the finale of the Christmas show last year in Eugene, Oregon, I came out as a skid-row Santa, complete with rubber nose, plastic sack full of beer cans, and a pint of peppermint schnapps to fortify the holiday spirit. I also borrowed my wife Faye's blue egg bucket and labelled it "Homeless." I'd jangle the cans like a bagful of aluminum sleigh bells while I worked the main-floor aisle seats: "Hey, come on, buddy. Put something in the bucket, for Chrissakes. Don't you know it's Christmastime? Hey, that's better. God bless you. You're beautiful."

I ended up with only about seventy-five bucks. Not much of a take for a full house at a Christmas show. But even seventy-five bucks was a wad too big to pocket.

So after I got out of my red suit and rubber snoot I drove off to seek a worthy recipient. I spotted a likely assortment of candidates in the 7-Eleven parking lot, corner of Sixth and Blair. I swung in and held the bucket out the window.

"All right. Who's the hardest-luck case in this lot?"

The candidates looked me over and edged away - all but one guy, ponytailed and slope-shouldered, his chin tucked down in the collar of a canvas camouflage jacket. "I got a streak of hard luck runs all the way back to New Jersey," he said. "What about it?"

"I'm on a mission from St. Nicholas," I told him. "And if you are, in fact, the least fortunate of the lot"--in the spirit of the season, I refrained from saying "biggest loser"--"then this could be your lucky night."

"Right," he said. "You're some kind of Holy Roller? Where's the string? What's the hustle?"

"No string, no catch, no hustle. I'm giving. You're getting. Get it?"

He did. He took the money and ran, taking Faye's egg bucket into the bargain. The last I saw of him, he was scurrying away, looking for a hole.

Since then, I've wondered about him. Did that little windfall make a difference? Did he rent a cheap room? Get a bath? A companion? Every time I found myself passing through one of Eugene's hard-luck harbors, I kept half an eye peeled for the sight of a long tail of black hair draggling down the back of a camouflage jacket. Last week, a year later to the day, I made a sighting.

I was in town with Faye and our daughter, getting in some Christmas shopping before we rendezvoused with my mom for supper. We'd done a couple of hours in the malls, and I was shopped out. I announced that I wanted to make some private purchases, and slipped off into the rainy cold - alone. I was headed for the liquor store on Eighth, thinking the spirit could use a little fortification.

But the trusty peppermint wasn't powerful enough. These home-town streets are just too strange, too vacant, too sad. Corner of Sixth at Olive: empty. The great Darigold Creamery that my dad built up from a little Eugene farmer's cooperative: bulldozed down. I ducked my head and kept walking in the rain.

When I reached the city center, I noticed that the thing people had finally given up trying to call a fountain was newly disguised with pine boughs and potted plants. But to no avail. It still looked like the remnants of a bombed-out French cathedral. Then, when the rain eased up, I was surprised to discover that the ruins were not quite deserted: I saw a loose black braid hanging down the back of a camouflage jacket. That seemed right. He was in the old fountain's basin, bent in a concealing crouch at one of the potted pines.

I came up from behind and clapped my hand on his shoulder. "Whatcha doin', Hard Luck? Counting another bucket of money?"

He wheeled around and had my wrist clamped in a bone-breaking grasp before I could finish the word. I saw then that this wasn't a chinless street rat standing down in the basin after all. This was a block-jawed American Indian built like two fireplugs, sitting in a wheelchair.

"Ouch! Man! Let go! I thought you were somebody else!"

He eased the hold, but kept the wrist. I told him about last year's longhair and the matching jacket. He listened, studying my eyes. "O.K. Sorry about the twist. I was taking a leak. You surprised me. Let's get out of the rain and see what kind of medicine you've got sticking out of your pocket."

We retired under some scaffolding. He was less than enthusiastic about my choice of pocket medicine.

"I'd rather drink something like Southern Comfort if I have to choose a sugar drink," he said. But we passed the pint back and forth and watched the rain.

He leaned to spit and a folded Army blanket slipped out of his lap. His legs were as gone as the main gut of my poor home town. He was a part-time fillet man from the Pike Place Market, up in Seattle, on his way to spend Christmas with family on "the res," outside of Albuquerque. His bus was laid up for a couple of hours: "I think they're getting the Greyhound spayed before she gets to California."

When the pint was about three-quarters gone, I screwed on the lid and held it out. "I gotta meet the women. Go ahead and keep it."

"Ah, I guess not," he said.

"You're pretty choosy for a thirsty man, aren't you? What would be your best druthers?"

"To have the money and make my own choice."

I reached for my wallet. "I think I got a couple of bucks."

"And a quarter? If I had two bucks and a quarter, I could get a pint of Ten High. With four and change I'd go on to a fair-to-middlin' fifth. Cream of Kentucky."

I hesitated. Was I being hustled? "O.K. Let's see what we've got." I emptied the wallet and pockets onto his blanket. He added a few coins and counted the collection.

"Nine seventy-five. If I come up with another two dollars, I can get a bottle of Bushmill's Irish. Think I can panhandle two dollars between here and the liquor store?"

"Without a doubt," I assured him. "With both panhandles tied behind your back."

We shook hands goodbye and headed off in our separate directions, strolling and rolling through the rain. At the restaurant, my mother wanted to know what I was thinking about that gave me such a goofy grin.

"I was just thinking, if beggars can't be choosers, then it must follow that choosers, by definition, are not beggars."

This is a flyer from 1980 advertising what was new at the time with the Grateful Dead - a new tour, a new album and a new book. (click to enlarge)

Here's a picture of me taken in the 80's.

Back then the old queers used to whimper with lust when I walked by. Of course I was as cold as ice towards them. As karma demands, now I'm getting old and if it wasn't for college boys with daddy-complexes I wouldn't see any action at all with guys under thirty. What goes around comes around indeed. The gay community is very tolerant, and has but one unforgivable sin.

To grow old.

The children of Amherst are taking full advantage of the recent snowfall by sledding on Memorial Hill at Amherst College.

After the terrible ice storm earlier this month the video camera that constantly broadcasts online from Amherst College captured this stunning image of the Holyoke Mountain Range buried in glistening ice.

You can monitor the mindblowing beauty of the view from Memorial Hill all year long from the Amh-cam by clicking here.

Oh my, these UMass girls have had way too much to drink! Filmed in Cashin, the dorm I used to live in.

This kid puts them to shame!


Don said...

One of the unintended negative consequences of Keez' trading the pen for the bus was that America lost one of its great writers, so rare pieces like that are always to be treasured.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tommy, what goes around comes around. Now you can go down to the Springfield bus station looking to get some fresh meat like you used to be back when you were hustling the old men. I wonder if you knew paul greene, one of the biggest most arrogant faggots to ever stalk young men in western massholechushits.