Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Legend of the Hot Ratzow PT 3

The Legend of The Hot Ratzow
Part 111

Snow Puppy. Snow was my buddy and we were inseparable. I use to take him into all the record shops I frequented in Ann Arbor and one cool used record store in Ypsilanti, right off the main campus of Eastern Michigan University. It was at that particular store that I bought my first copy of the Beau Brummels' magnificent LP, Bradley's Barn, to this day, an undiscovered masterpiece (that got me through many lonely moments). Snow was named for his beautiful white fur and for that burning white powder we all enjoyed so much in a brief moment. I bought 20 cases of Strohs for my friends in Oregon. Strohs was still a regional beer and was highly valued out west just as Coors’ was valued in the Midwest. I was recovering from an operation and had to swear off beer and caffeine for the next month. So, Snow and me, well, we picked up stakes and headed down the Highway. It took me 60 hours to drive from Saginaw to Corvallis. It was a marathon session that left me exhausted and almost delirious. I would rest at a roadside stop for a few hours, take Snow for a walk, drink some coffee, and get back on the road again. I couldn’t wait to see my friends, just couldn’t wait

Corvallis Oregon is snuggled between Portland to the North and Eugene to the south. It is the home of Oregon State University and is the seat of arts and culture in the Willamette Valley - plus it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to that beautiful Pacific coastline and just a few hours from the mountains. You can swim the surf, ski down and climb up the mountains, and commune with the migrating whales. For me, Corvallis was a passion play imbued with a youthful vigor and good feeling that eventually gave way to constant drizzle of melancholy, and ended in a depraved act that I – and my friends – have kept hidden for the past 28 years. Maybe it never happened; perhaps it was just a dream, an acid flash of deranged memory, a chemically induced epistle that led me to where I am today, to reveal the truth, the awful truth about the Hot Ratzow.

I was ecstatic when my old roommate from Ann Arbor called me from Oregon. Tom Knapp – TK. He was a mentor of sorts, encouraged me when I was down, hopelessly romantic but quite ruthless. He inspired me with his keen intellect and his boldness. He was a player yet was thoughtful...deep. He loved women in a superficial physical way yet he was gentle and caring. He was a man who was searching for the perfect paradox. But me...I was all nerves and emotions, masking pain with humor and irreverence. I was seeking something I could not articulate. I wanted to be connected yet I pushed others away. I was loving but insecure about loving. I loved adventure and living life on the edge yet I was frightened by the world and my own angry impulses. In other words, I was a mess and I remained a mess for a long time, even today.

TK and I stayed in touch just as we grew apart. He told me that he and our mutual friends Roger Brown, Linda (Lou) Henshaw, Theresa Lockwood, Mary Bentley, and the Hot Ratzow were starting a restaurant in Corvallis Oregon. He wanted me to join them; He told me I could live with him and Theresa. The restaurant was just in the planning stages and the building needed some work. I couldn’t be paid because we were all broke but I could do some roofing and other odd jobs to help out. I even applied for food stamps so we would have food to eat. TK made sure that I was free to come and go as I please. He hinted that once the restaurant opened and we became successful, the profits would be divided between the seven co-founders. I jumped at the opportunity. Not that I was unhappy with Saginaw but I felt out of sorts there. I was conscious of my failures, dropping out of graduate school at U of M, asking my father for a job at White’s Bar when I couldn’t find a job with my degree from MSU (BS in Psychology). I was ashamed of my lack of achievement so I hid my education and just tried to fit-in. I became reacquainted with an old childhood friend Andy Puszykowski and became friendly with his friends. Andy remembered me as a good athlete and asked me to join his White’s Bar softball and basketball teams. I agreed though I had lost interest in sports and felt that I’d moved on to other interests such as politics, music and the arts. But when I began playing and getting some strokes for it, and feeling the camaraderie, I sensed that I was home where I belonged but I still had nagging doubts, my new friends talked sports incessantly and I just never made any sense of it. I tried to watch sports on TV and read the sports section in the newspaper but I didn’t felt a passion for it. My new buddies loved poker but I had never learned card games and was at a loss to appreciate its appeal. Though I was becoming friendly with Potts, Harcourt, Doc, Peaches, and Master Bader we didn’t always fit together well or maybe I didn’t fit-in. But they taught me about drinking beer and laughter. I was gradually adopting a persona of a happy drinker, a goodtime kind of guy - even though I never liked the taste of beer. I discovered that if I  put salt or tomato juice in the beer, it tasted much better and if took a few shots of schnapps or blackberry brandy, it was all the better. The initial numbing was pleasant yet at this stage of my life, I never took drinking too seriously... never drank to get the monkey off my back and never had any tremors or memory lapses. Ten years later I’d be singing a whole other song.

So, in mid-September 1977, I left for Oregon with 20 cases of Strohs beer, a few select record albums and Snow Puppy in tow. I was recovering from surgery (to correct my shitty outlook on life) so I couldn’t eat spicy or fatty foods and couldn’t drink alcohol or carbonated and caffeinated beverages – all the things I loved. So the beer was a not-so-subtle appeal for acceptance. It took me 60 hours to drive from Saginaw to Corvallis. I stopped occasionally to rest but I couldn’t sleep…too excited. Couldn’t wait to see my friends from Ann Arbor and renew my search for meaning and identity. I drove straight to the restaurant upon arriving in town. Though I was close to delirious, I stayed up for several hours talking with Theresa. She told me that it was a bad time for me to visit. She and TK were having problems. She wondered if I could stay somewhere else. I was immediately deflated and wondered if I was more of an unwanted intrusion than a friend. I fell into a fitful sleep – I was falling, tumbling wildly head over heals into a bottomless eternal void, screaming and kicking in the darkness.
But no one heard me.

The next day TK welcomed me with open arms and Theresa was friendly too. Tom explained what they were up to and mentioned that his folks and some of the other partners’ folks put up the money for the project. He suggested that I apply for food stamps, rules were pretty relaxed in Oregon, and I could contribute to the household in that way. In no time I had my food stamps and we had plenty of food and more than enough beer. Gradually, the remodeling work was folded into my routine. We all worked hard. It was great to see everyone. Linda and Roger were in a long-term relationship but seemed to be on the outs and the Hot Ratzow was glorious, mindful, and always available for a kind word or a helping hand. There was quite a contingent of Michigan expatriates that joined our circle, friends of friends. I kept busy working on the roof and the air ducts. I helped TK on a few road trips to Portland to buy equipment and had quite a few beers at Bogie’s Place – a themed tribute to actor Humphrey Bogart that I found odd, but then again, it seemed to be popular, why not…

The Valley Restaurant was located at 136 SW 3rd St around the corner from OSU. The building was a modest looking affair and needed some TLC. All of us got busy according to our talents and inclinations, a socialist dream. Theresa and Mary were already busy making some of the best homemade bread I’ve ever tasted and they had a growing catering business that included stores on the coast. Somebody had to make some money. Bob, Roger and Linda Lou lived in the country on the outskirts of the city and became farmers, hoping to develop a cash crop that would supplement their restaurant income. TK’s neighbor was a carpet installer and offered me a job. I was broke and tempted but I declined, preferring the freedom of coming and going as I pleased. We eventually put in long hours as we got busy on the renovation. At the end of the day we would walk across the back alley to a little bar that had tasty sandwiches and a friendly atmosphere. I got to know the owner and even joined his basketball team, and I discovered the wonders of 3.2 beer (beer with lower alcohol content). At first, I didn’t drink – due to my recent surgery - but I made up for it in no time. I was drinking that crap like it was water and laughing about how weak it was...that is, until I stood up and fell on my butt. That 3.2 beer could sneak up on you. My friends were cool but I was stinging with insecurity and wracked with doubt about where I was heading. Friends and family from home would write appeals for me to return to Saginaw. I felt confused and a bit lonely. At one point Peaches and Potts traveled from Saginaw to visit. We had a night on the town. It was cool. Linda Lou joined us and I was blown away. After knowing each other for a few years we suddenly seemed to connect. Propinquity. She was a beautiful girl with dark eyes and long dark hair, slender but curvy, quiet yet wickedly funny. I thought to myself, “I just might have a future here”. For a moment I didn’t feel so lonely. I had dated a girl in Saginaw but it wasn’t working. Her father was a regular at White’s Bar and he was righteously pissed that we were dating. She was a homecoming queen, smart and popular, a million friends or more and I was just so awkward. Her father just about shit when I asked him if I could take his daughter up north for a weekend to visit one of my Air Force buddies. But in an unlikely turn of events, he agreed to let her go, on the promise that I would not do anything wrong and make sure she was safe, the pressure was on. We had fun just knockin’ around the base, touring the airport etc. But at night things changed. Seems my friend was into wife/partner swapping. He explained that when he first heard about it, he thought it was perverted but after he got into it, he found that he had a lot more friends, it was exciting and that everybody was doing it, and it made his sex life better, much better.
I declined.
Our friendship was never the same after that, though I’ve reached out on several occasions years later. But now I might have a chance with Linda.


       Snow Puppy was my best friend when we lived in Ann Arbor. He also lived with me in Oregon.

Renovation was nearing completion and we were preparing a menu and we were rehearsing for opening day, preparing and tasting most of our menu items. I agreed to be a breakfast cook as I had some experience with the Little Brown Jug in Ann Arbor – me and the Hot Ratzow had worked there. We were quite a team. The women there loved us, especially the Hot Ratzow, for all the obvious reasons - the “Hot One” was absolutely the most beautiful man in Ann Arbor but he didn’t seem to know it. He was kind, gentle and thoughtful and just wicked enough. And I was outrageous. We were Yin and Yang or was it Arnold and Danny - remember Twins? Anyway, the big day came and I absolutely blew it. My untested pancake batter turned out to cook up like rubber and I was unable to flip my over-easy eggs without breaking the yokes. The more I tried the worse I got. I panicked. I must of trashed 5 dozen eggs before TK took over. It was a nightmarish experience. I was mortified and I didn’t recover until years later. I was a failure. I briefly took solace in some of Roger’s and the Hot Ratzow’s cash crop. They harvested a magnificent crop of smoke, filling an entire van, front to back, floor to ceiling. We had a party after they dried and cured the leaves. It was cool to have everyone together. I wasn’t much of a smoker but I agreed to a few puffs, didn’t think much of it, even said it wasn’t very potent smoke, until an hour later, I was under a complete paralysis, sitting in the corner away from everyone else, with just a hint of drool edging around the corner of my mouth, I mumbled something like, “goo sheet mon”. Oh well. I think it was TK but maybe it was Roger but someone suggested that we head over to Eugene (University of Oregon) to party with John Belushi of Saturday Night Live fame, seems they were making a movie there. We could take some Strohs and some smoke and maybe they’d put us in the film – or just get ripped with us. It never happened. At the time I wasn’t listening to the radio and I wasn’t watching very much television so meeting John Belushi was not a big deal, not then. But I was into music and I listened to crap I loved such as 10CC’s I’m Not In Love, The Trogg’s Strange Movies, Big Star’s September Gurls, Do Ya by the Move, Les McCann’s version of Compared to What, Michael Nesmith’s The Prison, or any of his releases with or without the Monkees, and the Sex Pistol’s God Save the Queen. I liked Punk but despised disco – though I secretly loved How Deep Is Your Love by the Bee Gees and I thought the new and improved Fleetwood Mac (w/ Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham) was an absolute travesty. I was still reeling from Nixon and Watergate, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys and I was in no mood for more crap. I felt the Bicentennial in ’76 was an exercise in mind control almost as bad as Saginaw’s All-American City award in 1968. Both seemed to resonate with a calculated appeal that was disingenuous. There was just too much deceit at the highest levels of government and business for me to embrace that self-congratulatory blather, except Jimmy Carter was just elected President and he was kind and spiritual and perhaps the most intellectual President ever elected. I thought, "maybe we have some hope after all".

I was deeply immersed in my own reflection, angst-ridden and insecure - walked out when a "guest" chef was invited to cook during my shift, even ripped out a bread shelf that I clusmily assembled; they all laughed at my fumbled attempt at carpentry (though the Hot Ratzow had patiently guided me through it). I generously gave Theresa a back rub but then constantly fantasized about her in an impure way. But that was nothing compared to what I did on that fateful day, the day that forever caused me shame and doubt.
I never recovered.                  

It was like any other day in Oregon, moderate temperature, pleasant, not too windy...just right. We all decided to close early on Sunday and get together, just like we used to do in Ann Arbor. We had plenty of booze, smoke, and psychedelics along with a vegetarian dinner and my made-from-scratch cheesecake. We were getting plenty lit, when the Hot Ratzow began talking to us, it was more like a prophecy as he gently led us through the four doors of perception. He talked quietly, in a gentle rhythm like a summer rain; he lulled us with his melody and his words. He seemed to be speaking the wisdom of the ages, of cabbages and kings, of enlightenment and love and peace. We formed a circle and embraced each other. When suddenly the Hot Ratzow, lay down on his back and whispered, "I am with you and I will be part of you forever". With that, he took his last breath and closed his eyes, he was gone. We sat beside his body for what seemed to be hours, until one by one, with knife and fork, we began to slowly consume his body, and gradually our pious reverence gave way to a frenzied ritual, we sensed that his soul would be reborn in each of us. When I awoke the next day, I couldn’t remember eating the Hot Ratzow. But the others remembered and TK said that I ate more than anyone else, that I should be ashamed. I became incensed and vowed to leave and never come back. How dare he or anyone else claim I would eat more than my fair share of the Hot Ratzow!

So, I left and returned to Saginaw. But for 28 years I’ve kept this awful secret and I never told anyone about my repeated dreams of sweat lodges and vision quests and that I long to have just one more bite...

Thank God he’s still on the menu

Peace & Love... and fine dining

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