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But all you really need to know is that young Harvey has just gotten back from the army to his hometown of Disdain, New Mexico, and that during a somewhat riotous day and evening two men have been shot dead and Harvey has been hired by the somewhat suspect rancher Big Jake Johnstone to act as a guide for a couple of mysterious and glamorous strangers.
It's September, 1969...
(This episode rated R for lack of plot development and excessive use of stereotypical characterization.)
("I wish I had written it, but quite frankly I'm not that good." -- Harold Robbins)
On the previous day Harvey had slept until about five-thirty in the afternoon, and so he didn’t feel too bad when he got woken up by Tip Bullock turning his whole damn bed over and dumping him on the floor. That was old Tip for you. They’d grown up together, and Tip was Harvey’s only real friend in Disdain.
Tip had quit school at fifteen and gone to work for Big Jake Johnstone as a cowboy. He was thin like Harvey but he was a wiry motherfucker, and he didn’t take shit from anybody, not even Mr. Johnstone. He’d had his brushes with trouble but all in all he was just a good-natured cowboy who only wanted to ride horses all day and then drink beer and chase girls all night.
After they had knocked each other around the little bungalow for a bit, Tip sat and drank from the sixer of Piels he’d brought with him and thumbed through Harvey’s copy of I, Jan Cremer while Harvey took his shit, shower and shave. When Harvey told him his civvies had all got stolen Tip went and got him some nice worn Levis, a blue work shirt and a denim jacket, and his own spare pair of boots and a cowboy hat.
Harvey thought maybe he should check in with Mr. Johnstone, but when they went over to the house Chang the house boy said Mr. Johnstone was feeling poorly and didn’t want to be disturbed. Chang gave Harvey a set of car keys and told him Mr. Johnstone had said he could have the use of the green Corvair in the garage.
Harvey and Tip decided to drive around and drink beer and smoke pot, and they were on the road when Harvey remembered his promise to his mother.
“Shit. I told my mom I’d eat dinner at her place. You wanta come?”
Tip’s dad was dead and his mother was living in New Jersey now, and he kind of liked the idea of a home-cooked meal. So they smoked a doobie and listened to the college station from Las Cruces, the first side of We’re Only in it for the Money, and then they drove on into town.
“Well, hi there, Tip, I didn’t know you was comin’.”
“Hi, Miss Doris, I didn’t know I was comin’.”
“Well, just set right here in the parlor and I’ll get you a cold beer and we’ll just set a bit before eatin’.”
Luke Asquith was sitting there, all herky jerky, watching an I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster re-run, and Little Cleb Parsons stood looking in from the kitchen, holding a big wooden spoon.
“Cleb’s helpin’ with the chocolate mash potatoes. Luke already ate, but I got plenty o’ good stuff for you boys.”
It went okay.
After supper Harvey went into his old room. It looked even smaller than he remembered. His mom had left it pretty much as he’d left it, his sports posters, all his plastic monster models and car models and the fighter airplane models hanging from wires, all his boyhood crap, except now there were also some cardboard boxes filled with Luke’s crap.
He bent down and riffled through the top layers of one of his three big boxes all filled with comic books, everything from Sgt. Rock to Sgt. Fury, from Superman to Jimmy Olsen, to Thor and the Antman and Giant Man, to Herbie and Archie and Veronica and Jughead to the Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt and back again.
All this shit had once been Harvey’s life.
He got some of his old clothes and stuffed them into his old gym bag.
Then they went outside and sat in beach chairs and drank coffee. Luke stayed inside and watched the Dean Martin Show.
Doris said she was real happy Harvey’d gotten work so soon, and that he was going to be working with Tip. She’d always liked Tip, such a happy outgoing boy if he was a little wild. Not moody at all the way Harvey could be. And damn good looking too if you didn’t mind that nose that Doc Goldwasser gave up on re-setting after the fourth time he’d got it broken.
The sun went down over the San Andres mountains and the sky got all crazy for a while and then it got dark, and cool. Harvey said he had to go, made up some crap about how he had to get to bed early to start work tomorrow.
Cleb had said hardly a word the whole time, but he had seemed content, and his eyes lit up in a greenish way when Miss Doris suggested that Harvey and Tip drive the boy and his bicycle home.
Harvey hadn’t ever been out to the Parsons place before. It was all out on the edge of the real desert near the bomb test sites, and you had to take a little winding dirt road through a clump of dead-looking patchy hills to get to it.
The place had once been a small cow ranch, but all the livestock had been dead for years now. Mr. Parsons eked out an existence doing odd jobs like repairing barbed wire fences, and he also fixed watches, specializing in repairing radium dials.
It was a plain simple old-style ranch house under the milky night sky. An enormous dead cottonwood tree stood to one side of the house, and an automobile tire hung unmoving on a rope from one of the bare branches. A barn sat dead-looking across the yard.
Harvey pulled the Corvair up in front of the house.
“Thanks, Harvey,” said Cleb, leaning forward from the back, his little hands on the top of the front seat backrest.
“Well, I’ll be seein’ ya around, pardner.” The boy looked so sad somehow that Harvey found himself adding, “Tell ya what, if your daddy says it’s okay we’ll take ya horseback ridin’ some day.”
The screen door of the house opened and old Mr. Parsons came out onto the unlit porch. Well, Mr. Parsons looked old, anyway. He was only about forty.
“Hey, Harvey,” he called, in his dry voice that seemed like it was coming from a lot farther away than it was. He leaned down so he could see who was riding shotgun. “Hey, Tip. So you back from the service, Harve.”
“God bless ya, ya didn’t get yourself killed.”
The screen door opened again and Attie Parsons came out. She and her father were vague in the darkness under the porch roof, with the yellow light from the doorway and the front windows behind them.
“Hi, Harvey,” she called. Just as her father had done, she angled her head down to see who was in the passenger seat, holding her hair back with one hand. “Hi, Tip.”
She’d only been a sickly little thing of fifteen or sixteen when Harvey had gone away, but she seemed beautiful now in the shadow of the porch. Somehow her green eyes picked up a couple of glints of starlight. Her skin glowed a milky white like the color of the desert and the sky.
Harvey waved weakly, and Cleb got out of the car, pulling his Schwinn out behind him.
Harvey pulled the car out and around, and drove off back onto that little dirt road.
“That little Attie’s some looker now, ain’t she,” said Tip.
He pulled a joint out of his Levi jacket and gave it a lick.
“Yeah,” said Harvey.
“Too bad about her though. They’ll all be dead from that radiation poisoning, another five years.”
Tip lit up the joint with his Zippo and sucked it in, then passed it to Harvey.
While Harvey toked Tip turned on the radio, and it was Jimi Hendrix, “1983...(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)”.
“I’d like to see this motherfucker play,” said Tip, and he took the joint back from Harvey.
“Yeah,” said Harvey. “Me too.”
“Too bad you didn’t get back a little sooner, we coulda gone to that Woodstock festival. “Hendrix was there, man.”
“Shit,” said Harvey, and he let out the smoke he’d been holding in.
Harvey had spent the famous Woodstock weekend in a succession of Frisco titty bars and massage parlors. He’d gone down to the Haight-Ashbury one night, but the hippies rubbed him the wrong way. He was dressed in civvies, but he knew he looked like an off-duty soldier. It seemed to him like the hippies were just in another kind of army with a different type of uniform, and if you weren’t in their uniform you couldn’t be in their army; but Harvey didn’t want to be in anybody’s army ever again.
They drove along, toking and listening to Hendrix work it on out.
“Motherfucker!” shouted Tip, pounding his hand in time on the dashboard and rocking in his seat.
By the time they got to town they were wrecked.
Harvey skidded the car to a stop out in front of Enid’s Cafe and they were both laughing and playing air guitar and drums because the college DJ was playing “Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer now.
Tip paused and said, “Shit, this shit’s too intense, man.”
“Excuse us,” called this chick in the passenger seat of a 1956 Buick Riviera that had pulled up parallel to them. Some really clean-cut guy was at the wheel, and she was pretty clean-cut too with this kind of bubble blond hairdo. They had some stuff tied up on top of their car.
“Is there a nice motel in this town?” asked the chick.
Tip and Harvey looked at each other. Harvey turned off the radio.
“You got a halfway decent motel right down the road there, ma’am.”
“Thanks, fellas,” said the guy. “Burgers any good in that place?”
He meant Enid’s.
“Well, I guess they’re as good as you’re gonna get around here,” said Tip.
“Great! See ya later, fellas.”
“Thank you!” called the girl, and they drove off.
Tip and Harvey looked at each other again.
“Why did that seem weird?” asked Tip.
“I don’t know,” said Harvey. “But it was.”
(Continued here. Soon to be a major television series on the USA channel, starring Christopher Lambert, Kari Wuhrer, and Kieran Culkin. Also, coming exclusively to better Woolworths everywhere for a limited time only, a special budget-priced DVD boxed set Sidewalks of Fear: Ten Early Films of Larry Winchester, from Ha! Karate (Yokohama, Japan).
No place like home. And I especially appreciate finding it in wild novels full of exotica: like a pinch of salt.
Manny loved the song and became so nostalgic he's gone off to his secret place with the headphones.
wild stuff, as Johnny Carson used to say.
Hey, I'm in my secret place with my headphones right now too!
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