Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Legend of the Hot Ratzow PT 4

The Legend of the Hot Ratzow

The Harrisburg 8, Nashville Cats, and Short-Haired Girls with Tattoos

                        This is my friend Theresa chatting with Ronnie Stoneman from He Haw.
                                                           It was a very good year!

1976 was a very good year. I was 24 years old and immersed in a persistent boyish immaturity, ready for anything...or so I thought. I was a cook, a dishwasher, a waiter, and a host at Bicycle Jim's Restaurant in Ann Arbor. And let me tell you...there was something special going on. Almost everyone working at the restaurant had earned a college degree or was working toward a degree. I had earned a BS in Psychology from MSU in 1974. I was full of myself, cocky but racked with self-doubt (a classic narcissist) and though I didn’t realize it at the time I was ready for a real psychic enema. I had just dropped out of the Social Work Graduate program at U Of M. And I was in plenty of pain, mired in a stew of unresolved traumas small and large. There were plenty of ghosts in my nursery but they were buried in time and outside of my awareness.

I was living with one of the managers of restaurant. His name was Tom Knapp aka TK, a friend both dear and distant as time would reveal our awkward dance. I was one of the marginal figures on the periphery of the scene - out-of-step and awkward. I was living in the mist of the actors, musicians, poets, visual artists, and me –I was without an ounce of talent or redemptive cool.

This invisible wall played out in different ways. For example, at parties everyone would listen to jazz, Mile Davis, Keith Jarrett or hip singer songwriter's like Janis Ian (At Seventeen) or Dan Fogelberg (Longer) and I would walk in and plop on a tape of the Monkees. The hip and sophisticated would just about S-H-I-T. But I loved the Monkees and Davy Jones just knocked me out with "She Hangs Out" or "Daydream Believer" and Michael Nesmith''s "Listen To The Band" totally blew me away. My friends just smiled and gave me a pat on the back while they led me to the front door .
But I was useful in other ways…

At the time I was barely scraping by, living in the basement of a dilapidated slum with a St Bernard by the name of Bernie Schwartz. I slept on an unadorned mattress on the floor. Bernie slept where ever he wanted. And he craped like an orangutan....there was crap all over the place. Mounds of huge St. Bernard shit. It really affected my quality of life

My three roommates bunked upstairs and we had a total of 5 dogs. I named my dog Snow Puppy in a nod to our interest in cocaine. It was at this time when our lease ran out and I was assigned the mission to sublet an apartment because I looked the most normal. So I was sent out to meet the unsuspecting renters and convince them that I was almost normal.We got the apartment, had they only known...

So, .I guess...maybe I did fit in. And I learned quite a lot. It was a joyous discovery.

One of the other managers of Bicycle Jim's was Joe Gilchrist. He gained notoriety as one of the Harrisburg 8. At the time Joe was preparing himself for the priesthood and he joined Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and others in protesting the Vietnam War. It became an ugly game of protest and incarceration that led Berrigan, Gilchrist and others to make a radical anti-war statement. They chose their target carefully heading over to Pennsylvania the home of DuPont (a manufacturer of chemical weapons) with the intent to destroy the draft records in the entire state. Apparently, they dumped human blood on the offending draft records rendering them unintelligible. Joe was also a member of the Jesuits, the intellectual arm of the Catholic Church, and had been steadily rising in its ranks before the apostasy of a criminal trial. Berrigen was anti-war activist that promoted peaceful solutions to conflict, feeding and giving medical care for the poor, and ending the nuclear proliferation. He warned about the shallowness of our culture and the militarization of politics in Washington and the need for religious discipline to survive it all. Such non-conformist views kept Berrigan on a "hit list" of leftist radicals. And he enjoyed a certain infamy as one of our government's most wanted political criminals. He was tried and convicted of various crimes and misdemeanors and spent considerable time either on the lamb or in prison

Shortly after we met, Joe changed his name to Coleman – only one name like Madonna or Cher. He was experiencing the pain of growth and change (and government oppression) and was consciously reorganizing his identity .I remember Coleman having a terrible time convincing the utility and phone companies to provide service to a man with only one name. He didn't win that battle either. They would forever bill him under his pseudonym, Coleman Coleman. Take that!
Anyway, one drunken night Coleman and I decided to get earrings...the whiskey was flowing and there was some mighty fine Colombian. But we were the ultimate male pussies, scared shitless. We shivered and quaked and worried it might hurt and we thought people would be intolerant.
The "short-haired girls" were there to perform the operation. They were just people we worked with friends. But they all shared a certain perspective. And in one way or another they had each been betrayed by men and by a culture so pervasively hostile to women that sexism was simply a matter of course. They knew this deeply. And as a result of their hard-earned wisdom they did not take crap from anyone. They refused to be treated as objects or parts of an object. And they seriously rejected media images of women as submissive sex kittens, languid and demure. victims. They shot that whole line of subliminal imaging right out of the water. And they started with the physical manifestations of the sexual stereotype. They cut their hair short - real short and got tattoos of various colors, sizes, and shapes. They eschewed dresses and other accoutrements of oppression e.g, lipstick, jewelry(except for the cheapest and tackiest). Don't get me wrong. They loved sex. But they were not gonna be used and discarded by some stupid testosterone-fueled douche bag.

Anyway, I got my earring that night but Coleman - even drunk as a skunk - chickened out.

Another chapter began...

The short-haired girls were always up to something, little trips and adventures and such. And this time they came up with a doosie. It was something so unlikely for a group of gypsies like us that it was too cool. It was our magical mystery tour to the Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville Tennessee.
But the short-haired girls were dead broke just like the rest of us. So they began the process of shining up Coleman to put up the moneyfor a trip. Coleman was easy...too easy

He liked the idea of a psychedelcized journey to the capital, the very heartbeat of country music. But in keeping with his tendency to back out of things, Coleman backed out and into a different diversion. This left the short-haired girls in a quandary. They still wanted a man to drive and provide "protection" as the tested the Nashville skyline...and I just happened to be available.
And away we go...

Nashville was pretty cool for an aging city. But it was in the nascent stages of re-birth and things were shaking out. Our hotel was nice enough. I slept on a couch with a roll out bed that I shared with the others. I would sleep with a different girl each night.
But we never had just wasn't part of the deal.

On our first night we dropped acid and tripped over to the Grand Ole Opry. I didn't know it at the time but it was a radio show! No kidding'...The Opry is the longest running show in radio history and has been on the air since the 1920's. In 1974, it moved from Ryman Auditorium to its current location at the Opryland Complex, just outside town. I entered the complex expecting something akin to a rock concert(a format I was used to). But a radio show?...I was freaking
...cycling from a laughing irreverence to a frightened culture shock. The apparent boredom of the studio musicians puzzled me and the crowd - older and sedate - would only clap when prompted by the host/deejay. When I giggled at some blotter-induced internal stimuli, people would turn around, stare, and give me "the look."

At the moment, I was sensitive to such things

                                                   Left to right  Mimi, Theresa, and Cathy

It was a great show even by my skeptical and unknowing perspective. Hell, I didn’t  know jack about country music then. In fact, I knew so little that I summarily dismissed it as hillbilly-stupid, unable to see the nobility in the music and the truth in the message. But that night I got a real education. Many of country's greatest stars were there; Johnny Cash and June Carter, Flats and Scruggs, Roy Acuff,  Skeeter Davis, Barbara Mandrell, and Mel Tillis. Despite our altered consciousness, we left without incident, chastised by the stared response to our chemical silliness and baptized by the considerable yet humble gifts of the performers.

The next night we skipped down to Printer's Alley. It was named for its early connection to Nashville's printing and publishing industry (that flourished in the early 1800's). By 1976, it had fallen on hard times, a decayed shell of strip clubs and hard core juke joints. There was one shining exception - The Possum Holler. George Jones owned the nightclub and gave it an authenticity reserved for only the very elite...the few artists still alive that had a link to country music's glorious past. Jones was connected to Hank Williams. They had actually played together once.

The circle was unbroken...

Ronnie Stoneman was playing that night. You may remember her as a comedian on the TV show Hee Haw. She was always ironing pa's shirts, her hair up in curlers and teeth missin'. Well, that night she was shinin' and beautiful. She was a great singer and could pick the banjo with the best of 'em. She sang "Rocky Top", "Tiger By The Tail", "End of The World", and many other classics...a superb show!

One of the short-haired girls, Theresa was particularly taken by Stoneman's charm. I took a picture of them together, arms wrapped and smiling (I hope it survived).
Anyway, Theresa, being all thin and sexy, caught the eye of a table of Nashville cats. They were obsessive about their pursuit, not taking Theresa's "not interested" cues and after awhile she was tired (and a bit frightened) by their persistence.
So she asked me to help
Well, I have to admit that I was not-to-keen on the idea.

But Theresa was a friend. And I was part of this journey under the pretense of being a man.
I sauntered up to the offending table and in a deep and unfamiliar voice I said,
"Excuse me guys, this is my woman and I'd appreciate if you would leave her alone".
I didn't have a clue to how they might react. I was standing there twitching and squinting and expecting the worst. But I was totally unprepared for what happened next
A big burly guy (who gets bigger with each passing year) dressed to the nines in rawhide and wearing a cowboy hat gets up slow...real slow...and gives me a long, hard look. He takes a step forward lunges toward me...
And gives me the biggest good-ole-boy-handshake like I'm a "brother" or something and says, "We're sorry man...didn't know she was your Philly
Well, we all had a big nervous laugh and some sweet relief.
We even bought each other a few rounds.

I will always remember that trip as a moment of purity where I came face to face with my impulses and my fears and did the right thing. I remember the short-haired girls fondly

I wonder what their memories tell them

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