OPEN ROADS AND FREEBIRDS
by JJ Kinni
When I was ten I took off. The wind scooped me up and took me clear from the backwaters of Louisiana, and propelled me on a path rarely traveled. Just ten and I was already taking to my own way of living. Of course my more formative years were spent running from all sorts of establishment people. Truant officers who attempted to throw me behind a desk and have me learn my sums, Preachers, Priests, Rabbis, Policemen, the Phillips family from South Kansas, a whole gang of social workers, and let us not forget all the rest of the saps stuck in a life they never imagined would be theirs.
You can see it in their eyes. That tired, estranged to the world look in their mechanical faces, going through the motions of life with little to show for it. Checking their monies in the bank weekly, regular check ups for the children, church on Sunday, and a shit boss that gives them no respect and even less pay. They cling to these ideas of a bright future, yet they refuse to leave from under the black cloud amassed above them. They tread through life, hoping for a fortune to land in their lap, or some old aunt out west to die so they can collect her inheritance. Mother was a Preachers daughter, Father was a drunk.
Mother would go to church for forgiveness everyday, Father would go to church to sleep off the night before. They loved each other. Mother wanted to name me Gabriel, Father wanted to name me Boy. They chose Madden, Madden Delacroix.
I was young but I could tell it wasn’t enough for me, that sitting, waiting to die. I was only ten and the world was far too big for me to sit, ponder my existence, and have no say on how my stars turned out. I didn’t know what I wanted, who does at ten, but I knew I wanted out of where I was. So as I said earlier, and I shall say many times, that great wind that came blustering off the Gulf scooped me up and sent me on a path just for yours truly. It has been twenty years since I’ve seen home. That wind hasn’t stopped blowing since.
. . .
I started out as most wanderlings do, the stick and the sack all tied and over my shoulder. I was a real stinking bum back then, a gangly kid, fresh out the bayou marsh, and into a world of unknown adventure and sought after life. Not even shoes for the feet that carried me. Father sold them for a fifth of bourbon; Mother told me Jesus wouldn’t have complained. I told them, “Goodbye” and never saw them again.
A couple of years go by. I spend most of my time stealing from homes. You know, Apple Pies cooling on windowsills, stuff of that nature, nothing bad, just doing my part to stay alive and be my own. I mean sure there were instances that I don’t think were good, and maybe I shouldn’t have done certain things at certain times, but since being on my own, certain laws just didn’t seem to have much control over my behavior. We all have good and bad in us. What happens if we completely bottle up that more dangerous side? I don’t know, but I can tell you I don’t want to find out. That’s why when I have an issue, I act how I act. Whatever it takes to get that poison out. Sometimes I feel bad for the poor bastards who have to deal with me, but that passes like the days in the week.
By thirteen I managed to steal an old rusted out bike just sitting inside some Good ol’ Boy’s garage. This old piece of World War II history just sat there. It was May thirteenth, nineteen fifty and it was three o’clock in the afternoon. The bike was old and beat up. The kickstand straining to hold up the steel bird that’s perched against it. I saw some greasy Patriot riding on one a lot like it. He looked free, and happy. I couldn’t tell by the beard that he brandished, but I could see that his eyes, when they stared at me, had content in them. I wanted to get a hold of something like he had. Father once crashed into a motorcyclist, Mother prayed for the dead in church on Sunday.
That bike may have been rusted and looking rather broken, but I knew it could still sing. I took to the road like I was born of steel and rubber, gasoline coursing through my veins. Sure that Good ol’ Boy came running from his shanty when he heard me give life to the Freebird. But sometimes that’s how it goes. Sometimes a thirteen year old steals your motorcycle. I popped it into first and flew from that garage. The Good ol’ Boy took a shot at me with his scattergun, but that bird was my guardian. I fed it more throttle, and it gave me wings. I didn’t stop for three states. I weaved through Tennessee, winded around Kentucky, and made a beeline across Illinois. I stopped in Chicago to siphon a few gallons off this hot shot gassing up his Cadillac. He was a real smooth cat, reminded me of Slick Eddie, a local hustler and bookmaker from New Orleans. He had a felt hat with the three-inch lapel, pinstriped from head to toe, and boy did he have some serious shoes. I stole three gallons from him on the sly. Mother always put money in the collection plate, Father stole from the church.
. . .
It’s been a long haul since that uncertain time. I’ve been through several different hogs. Like a special lady, they’re all close to my heart. I’ve seen every state in the U.S. I’ve barreled through Canada, and stopped several times to fight Mounties. I’ve got dames from San Francisco to New York City. Been shot twice, ended up in the hospital and spent five years in a work camp for sodomy of a police officer with his baton. Got out, got thrown back in for another eight months, for being seen with “undesirables”. Those “undesirables” were a couple of Hog heads I ran into on the way into Humble, Texas just outside of Houston. We painted up the town. Damned beautiful too. The one guy was named Russell or something. Mothers first love was named Russell, Father shot him in a bar one night.
The other “undesirable” I can’t remember his name. Let’s just call him Smith. Well Russell, Smith, and I met up on our way into this Texas town. They had been coming from Missouri, where they were wanted for sleeping with the Governor’s daughter. Governor’s daughters always have a reputation for slumming. It was the smell of gasoline and white lightning that attracted this particular Philly to these two Rough Riders. At least that’s what they told me.
We hit the city like a carnival troop. People stared crossly as we cruised their streets. Primal in our appearance, they didn’t know what to make of us. Big Stetson’s and cowboy ties lined the strip. One look made the toughest Humble Cowboy quake in his rattle skins. We were a different breed. We didn’t stay put in a shit town, running the race that takes you nowhere. We were the ones who made their lives shake. It shook at the bedrock and reverberated through the minds of their children. They were honestly in awe of us, disgusted and shocked. We also resembled to the people of Humble, and all over this godforsaken country, an old way, a way that is true, a way that doesn’t live by laws made by people no better than ourselves. Mother used to pray for peace, Father used to drink to war.
War came to Humble some would say. They would say that we brought havoc to a quiet and just town, that we did all sorts of disorderly things. But that is what we are, disorderly.
Howie’s is where it started. We were unwelcome the minute we stepped inside. Just three ruffians looking for a couple of cold ones and some good laughs. Texans of all shapes and sizes greeted us with silence and general dislike. They didn’t know us, they had never spoken to us, and up until that point we had done nothing wrong. But they hated us nonetheless. So we gave them reason to hate, reason to envy, and reason to love us.
During a rack of billiards, whispers and devilish hisses were constant. The people of these little towns hate outsiders, especially if they ride a bike. They think we’re Jesse James coming to rob their bank.
So to combat the looks and whispers we slammed back the beers, faster and faster. Russell, turned out, was a proficient pool shark. He could handle a pool cue like it was a blonde. Smith watched on as Russell gave me a lesson in billiards.
“Can I get you guys another round?” the waitress in a Shirley Ann nametag asked.
“Yea, I’m gonna need something to put these flames out. Turns out Russell here can do a little hustling,” I replied.
The bags beneath the waitress’ eyes showed a hard life. She went to the bar for another round, and Smith added a round of bourbon as well. The night got damp, outside and in. We were on our forth game when I noticed drunken men with glass for eyes bend and twist their way over to us. Dutch courage made them all He-men. They thought they found themselves a nice little work out. What they found were a couple men with pool cue’s, who were used to wielding them. Fat slovenly hicks, Tobacco spit oozing from their mouths. Cattle rustlers thinking they found a couple of loose calf’s to brand. Russell saw them; Smith was already out with his knife. We caught them fast and they went down easy. Smith knifed one who turned out to be the cousin of the Sheriff. Smith is dead now. Russell cracked several yokels with his pool cue so hard that they lost teeth and courage all in one swish. Me, I threw a few swings and knocked out a couple. Nothing special; it was Smith and Russell who did most of the heavy lifting. We ran for the bikes. The law was on its way.
We headed downtown and looked for a quiet place to relax and lay low. A whorehouse is what we found. Asian prostitutes fresh from Japan or some place, who’ll step on your back for a buck, and suck you dry for a few more. We got more drinks at the Asian parlor, or as Smith called it, the Asian Station. I picked a real cutie for my massage. I’m not sure of her name, but she went by Luki. She had small feet and big tits. Enough for any man, I always say. She walked on me all night. I paid her extra to talk. She spoke English very well and told me of her home in Japan. She called me her Samurai. I called her a beautiful idiot. Told her I was no Samurai, just a loner who had an affinity for the women of her trade. She was looking for a ride out of town and away from her Madame. I left her an extra five for what she did with her tongue.
Russell and Smith were outside waiting. They had been thrown out for disorderly conduct. Even in bordellos there are rules. We passed some of Smith’s grass and got nice and toasty while we devised where to go next. Mother drank the blood of Christ, Father shot heroine twice.
. . . .
Titty Bar, three in the morning. The boys and I are up for anything. Miss Asia gave me a taste of the night that made me want more. Russell had some bird in the back. Smith was in the corner like Smith always was, watching. Old Mad Dog Coos Hound was chomping at the bits. Dollars and deadbeats, it was a sea of degenerate mugs sitting in roller chairs or circling the stage with Washington’s peaking from their pockets, and fists full of cash. Tassels on nipples, girls with Leopard print, truckers breaking from all-nighters, divorcee’s missing the comfort of their former Lovers, alcoholics, addicts, deviants, all normal people. The joint showed how close we really are to one another. We differ only in what we portray to the public outside the doors of Briar Patch Titty Bar. Some have children, some are loners, and others just need a good stiff drink and a stiff something or other as well.
Those beautiful dancers applied their hustle gently with their hips. God love them for what they give us. Russell walked out of the back. Lipstick on his collar, he grinned and zipped up his britches. Mother didn’t believe in fornication, Father fucked whores.
If you didn’t see it coming you should have. I know Smith saw it. Smith saw everything. Damned Russell seemed to have gotten his hands on some white powder. Went at it, and forgot to pay. Now we had some big burly cowboys itching to give us a trouncing. But like I said, Smith saw it. Well a brew-ha began and we once again found ourselves running (well at this point stumbling would be more appropriate) out to our bikes. Bouncers, strippers, boozers, and cooks all wanting a piece. There must have been fifty people in the club, and all fifty were looking for a fight. We got out okay, and we were down the road before they had a chance at us. Like I said, always a step ahead.
Red lights flash outside a gas station on the outskirts of Humble. Russell, Smith and I were inside. The three of us (well me and Russell, Smith just watched) laughed and knew what this meant. Sheriff John Q. Law stood with his hometown boys and their deer rifles, ready to unload on the three devils they made us for.
Smith lit a joint and walked outside. The bell rung on the door. Russell and I followed behind. The bell rung twice more. Mother prayed for sinners, Father played the horses.
“You boys have run your course. Now either you get inside the squad car or—” hometown boys with hometown hearts cocked there guns in unison, “Or we dance right here. You boys are going to learn some manners, even if it kills you.”
Smith continued puffing his joint. Russell looked ready for death. I enjoyed the night’s breeze with its nighttime blow. No one moved. Smith spit.
The Sheriff spat back. His bullet blew through Smith’s forehead. “That was my nephew you stabbed, boy.”
Russell didn’t move. He didn’t blink. He died with Smith. His path ended there. That part of him was gone. A true rebel for the cause had died by the law, and now Russell had to mourn part of himself. They threw the both of us in their squad car and left Smith to bleed out at the station. Mother helped at the church, Father went to Angola Prison.
. . . .
Now I’m supposed to tell you about my time in Prison and how I handled it like I handle life. But I hated it. It’s a bad place and bad places bring bad people and bad people bring out the worst in me. It’s my Mother taking over when I’m in those places. She always had a devil of a temper. She used to beat me with a bible if I didn’t clean the kitchen after the Preacher ate over. Meanwhile my Father was off being a good old Dad. He punished a bottle if it got close by. He always drank when the Preacher came calling. Mother took guidance, Father found his own. Sam Driskle was the Preacher to my Fathers perfect religion. He called it perfect, because Sam only sold one-hundred proof. “Blessed be his name,” Father would say. He was a crazy old cook who didn’t have much to him. But my Mother loved him all the same. They would smile, hold hands, and go to dinner at Driskle’s every Wednesday. Mother would drive, Father would drink his dinner. There were no set rules to that home. I was stuck there with false sunlight. I told you I wouldn’t tell you about prison.
. . . .
I got out of prison and sort of kept low for a few years. I traveled and kept on the move, but in the summer of ‘65 I found this real farmers daughter of a redhead out in Wyoming. She was a spitfire and she loved the Duster. That’s one of my other ladies. She kept me smooth and straight for a good while. Matilda (this redhead,) she got real generous when she saw my lady. We played in her Daddy’s barn all afternoon. She served me lemonade, while I ate Apples in the shade. Matilda was barely seventeen, but she sure did love me. Kept my belly full all summer while I hid out on her fathers land. I took her for rides when she was done with her chores. We would take off to this river that I called my Matilda, because like this fiery redhead, it too was full of life and had all sorts of time ahead of it. Mother gave herself only for procreation, Father was lonely with his bottle.
Matilda would usually pack a nice lunch, sandwiches, fruit, pie, and a jug of her Poppa’s Moonshine. Did I mention she drank? We would trade shots between loving, eating, and swimming. We’d be loaded on the ride back and she loved to put her hands over my eyes. She was my muse and my poison. And I could have loved her.
But her Poppa found out and chased me off his land. Once again the wind blew and sent me on my way. I kept Matilda’s panties and a few dollars she stole from her Poppa. The law chased me, but I made it safe out of that prairie. Took the road down to San Francisco. Heard of the Warlocks and how they were welcoming all. Haight Ashbury called me. They said it was free, a little utopia devouring a whole city.
Cruising over the rolling streets of the Bay City was constant anticipation for what was ahead. With every block the storefronts began to change. Pet shops became Pot villas. Jeans ballooned at the bottom. The straight-laced Spade’s loosened their ties as they crossed into the colorful. Entire groups of women became sexual panthers after passing the expanding barrier. Everyone and everything changed. A growing revolution that was destined to shake the earth, making waves, and leaving destruction and love in its wake. It was a mix that I needed.
This sweet old Duster roared between my legs, rumbling past the pools of people. They saw me and they know what I’ve come for. They sympathized with me, they had seen so many like me, pilgrims on a last ditch effort for peace of mind, and a holy land that could thrive. We all were real optimistic. God bless us.
This old Joe that I bunked with for a time during my eight months spent as a guest of the state, told me of a friend he had out in San Francisco, and how that’s where he planned to go if he ever got out. He was doing fifteen years for manslaughter. He would miss Haight-Ashbury. Well, Joe told me that he would drop a line to his friend out there. All I knew was the guy’s name and a place were I might have a chance at finding him. Rex Gillespie turned out to be the guy’s name and I was told to look for Dr. Lazarus Lucidities Looking Glass. There I would find a blind man who knew everyone in the Haight-Ashbury district. I knew no more, but it was better than nothing at all.
To get to Dr. Lazarus’ I had to cruise through a good portion of Haight. There were people younger than me, and some my own age. They all had starry eyes. Glimmers of hope and serenity they all seemed to be. Dancing down the streets paved in colorful flowers thrown in the air by buxom and beautifully complacent women. Free of the walls that blocked them in everywhere else. It was a living parade that was full of life, and inevitable death. It was too good for anyone to enjoy forever. I loved my new home.
. . . .
The good Doctors’ shop was on Staryan Street just before you come to Golden Gate Park. It was a sight to behold: a band playing on his rooftop, people hanging out front of this peculiar shop, droves of them, all outer worldly, and an entirety of bliss. Love everywhere. They were in Happy Land, and the Doctor seemed to be a mayor of sorts. Women dressed as cherubs dropped flower pedals from the roof falling splendidly on top of locals and outsiders alike. Everyone felt the love.
Mixed in were tweakers, benders, puffs, and scallywags. Many of the dropped out teens missed these types. I knew them too well. They blended in and put on a good mask, but I could see their villainy. They were like me.
I parked the Duster in front of the storefront and headed into the bizarre world that Dr. Lazarus ruled. A very pretty young flower girl stuck a Sunflower in my nappy hair and gave me a passionate kiss to welcome me to this enchanting place. She did the same to every person (man or woman) that entered. It was free love.
Inside there were all types of books, records, a large collection of ukulele’s, spun glass pipes to smoke the Doctors magic, Hemp clothing on display, young adults dancing in the aisle’s of merchandise, and a man who must have been Dr. Lazarus himself. Around him on the floor sat close to a dozen young people listening to him and the music he strummed from his ukulele.
As I passed by the circle Lazarus said, “Please come and sit with us, take up Nana and feel her aura, she is waiting for you traveler.”
Nana was lying back in the circle looking up at me, offering herself up; it was doctors orders after all. She moved and arched beneath me. She purred as only the most seductive temptress could.
“You are among others. Be as we are and you shall be at peace. Drink in that feeling that pulls you. It is glorious light and freedom. There is so much beauty in you and this world. You are the world. Be a part of this universe for a time.”
I sat for a time and Nana caressed me. She scaled my road-worn body with her delicate touch. The good Doctor gave me some of his good medicine. The crazy Shaman had me drink from the cup that was passed in the circle, followed by some very intoxicating smoke. The music in my head took over completely. Lazarus played his ukulele while synthesizer sounds came over me from the speakers projecting music from heaven. I was at peace with Nana in my arms, as the room pulsed, and the good Doctor kept strumming.
“Don’t fear the purple people. They are pacifists and delicate like love bugs on evening dew. Caught in the same web that we all try to see our way through. Open your heart to them and let them fill your mind. They need nothing, and you need nothing. You need only to be and be you shall. Love.”
Hours passed and the world kept turning. I made love to Nana in a back bungalow of the good Doctor’s. She washed me and then we made love again. She was the sexual panther that other sexual panthers wanted to be. She was free and full of life and ready to accept what passion I had. She fell asleep fully, curled up like a newborn. She even purred when she dreamt. Mother loved the Holy Spirit, Father was second to him.
The thought of Rex was deep into some space in my mind. The medicine had put him off. He was no longer what mattered. Just being here, that is all that mattered. I awoke to a round mother moon shining in from between the hanging drapes. Nana kissed and rubbed my scars, battle wounds from different days than this, and a different time.
“The Warlocks are having a show tonight,” she kissed me. “They are going to blow the minds of the dropped out masses,” a lick. “Let me take you,” kiss.
. . . .
The house of the Warlocks was the cornerstone of this world. It was the White House, the Vatican, and Alcatraz living together in chaotic harmony. Nana and I walked with some of her friends. The good Doctor never left his Looking Glass.
Thousands flocked to the home of the Warlocks. The show went on in their basement, but speakers were run throughout. On the porch, in the living room, up the stairs, they found every crevice of the grounds. The good Doctor’s medicine was in the punch. Cups for everyone and people shared everything. They were communal in their survival. Mother was greedy with her lover; Father never caught the Holy Spirit.
The sounds from underground grew as Nana, I, and the rest of the good Doctor’s congregation arrived at the riotous occasion. Women under the night’s moon glimmered with a sweet air, young and full grown men howled at the sight. It was sure to be a feast unlike any I’d experienced. A few people swung from the trees with acid pops in there hands. Everyone tugging at the night like petulant children hoping for some extra candy. And the good Doctor always gave treats to the kids.
The basement spanned an eternity. The cosmos erupted on the walls and on the people floating in space around me. Nana was off twisted into a mix of love and magic while a light show propelled the space with a band that came from a different universe. They were the Gods being looked to for guidance. I liked the singer’s chops. He reminded me of Smith. Mother sung in the choir, Father was a blues man.
More of the good Doctor’s brew; a potion for the ages. We all were being bent by the music the Warlock’s gave us. Some Merry Pranksters were shifting about among the crowd handing out candy and spliffs to all. This underground venue shook and rattled as these Gods of the future battled to breakthrough to the wind swept youth. The medicine kicked in.
. . . .
Heaven was around me. Dark, yet, perfect heaven. I was in a sea of others. We were fluid. We splashed every which way. These perfect ladies mixed with the awestruck men. We were all in love.
I saw my Mother. She was burning a bible with a smile. My Father sung into the microphone. He cried words that rocked the bedrock of our minds. I haven’t cried since I left home. His words cradled me in his arms. With Mother beside, Father showed me to the masses.
Lost now on the country miles in his Cadillac. I can tell by the way you smile he's rolling back. The world swayed. We felt passion you could never get from any Presley. We were a part of something new. There was peace.
Come wash the nighttime clean, Come grow this scorched ground green,
I was born again into the arms of a band that opened me up. We all were open vessels dangling in a threshold suspended over a new day. The times were changing. The medicine was working.
Blow the horn, tap the tambourine Close the gap of the dark years in between You and me, Cassidy...*
I smiled. Euphoria grabbed me and so did Nana. We danced with open arms to the world. I had found a home. Everything was together and separated all at once. People molded together and spread apart. There were close times and there were alone times. But together we were, like the grass under a naked redhead and the brotherhood of a couple of outlaws. Nana and I merged with others. We moved to the music, letting the words burn us. We were perfect the way we were. Neal would be proud.
*Bob Weir (The Warlocks aka Grateful Dead)
In the author's own words:
My name is J.J. Kinni I’m a writer who is always attempting to challenge myself. I started out writing fiction in college. It came very naturally and almost immediately I had found what I wanted to do with my life. Plus I’m horrible when it comes to math. I currently reside in Chicago. I grew up in South Florida, and have spent time abroad in the UK where I spent several months working on a novel that remains unfinished. I also am an MC who goes by the name of FolkRhym and have been making my bones in the Underground Hip Hop Scene of Chicago for over a year now. I have a solo EP coming out soon and used to belong to the Hip Hop group Awe N Compass. Recently I have started a blog entitled The Events of Simon Lovelace, which is where I (Simon Lovelace) write reviews of all things that interest me and that are local to Chicago.