|I used to hide from the snow. That was port of
growing up. But even now I sleep with the electric blanket on in Summertime. Sometimes
when I travel there are no electric blankets where I stay and so I bed down with last
year's or lost night's memories. Those times when I'm wrapped up in love I push aside the
memories and build on what is happening now, knowing now must be worth remembering every
tomorrow. I am not a collector of people, I am a saver of places and things, I know
they'll bring the people back for me when they're needed.
My step-father was a cat skinner , levelling hills into highways. We never stayed
in one place long. Portland Oregon. Skamania Washington. Alamo, Nevada. When he worked we
had a Model T or a second hand Chevrolet. When he didn't, it was thumbs up along the
highway for the family to get to where the work would be. (My mother looking beautiful and
getting us rides.)
I learned my first four letter word from fellow
hitch-hikers in Winemucca, Nevada. The second one I learned was "love " because
I needed it. Today that word is used as a noun, pronoun, verb and catch-all word for a
generation coming up that isn't getting much of it either. You see it chalked on men's
room walls and leading every slogan used in every protest march. They're even writing
books to tell us how to go about it now; technology is so advanced the Kama Sutra's
nothing but a comic book and Pompeii's hardly worth the extra dollar for the hidden rooms.
That word will bury us before hate does, if we're not careful.
Lonesome Cities ? I've known some. Some of them are here.
Cheyenne - my camera catching blood speckled cowboys on white speckled horses. Gstaad- I
liked the snow that time and all the views from the Gondelbahns that gave a not-so-Disney
look at cows and countryside. Paris - ah the maids in the rooms of the Hotel Crystal...
quoting everybody's business but their own. And roaches lined up in cinema seats along the
bathtub, arriving so frequently I almost gave them each a name.
London has a heart if you can find it, and I almost have.
Mijas is a town in Spain. The day they laid Bob Kennedy to rest I sat upon my roof and
listened to a folk mass ringing down the mountainside and mixing with the goat bells. The
birds were speaking Spanish but I understood. I got to wondering where all of us are
going. "We're on a treadmill to oblivion" Fred Allen would say. Maybe so. But
there must be one lonesome city somewhere where a man can go and not see children throwing
rocks at one another while the elders burn their heroes in order to insure their memory.
I'm in Los Angeles right now amid mid-August sheep-dog
days. Tonight I'll sing some songs where once I thought I had a friend. He smiles now and
counts the money that my craggy face and creaky throat bring in, but never sits through
one performance. He's changed, as have so many who wish me not success but a kind of limbo
where a friend or foe might come and gape.
It was a climb, God knows it was (He's about the only one
who does) up hill all the way. Here I am, as the poem goes, my cardboard suitcase traded
in for leather. I've put a few more pounds on but I don't live too much better.
Tomorrow off to other cities. Lonesome? Some of them. To
fill another book with the observations of a man who's come to love (that word again) all
people but who prides himself on saving just enough dislike to heap on those for whom that
second four letter words is tied upon a yo-yo string and snapped back at convenience. You
know your names. Stay away. I've little enough time and love to share with sheep-dogs and
civilians in Grand Rapids or off along the coasts of France.
I've some friends in Caliente I haven't even met. If I get
through one more winter here I might get to know them yet.
Rod McKuen, August 1968