Peter Case

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Don’t Let Me Down

 

 

Jimmy and I worked it out so we didn’t have to go home. He told his parents he was staying at my house, and my folks were under the impression I was over at his, so everything was cool, we both got out for the night. We made straight for Jon and Mike’s garage apartment on Pleasant Avenue, all ready to go psychedelic.

The cast that night, besides Jimmy and I, included Dennis Bicknell, his girlfriend Donna, and Jon, and they were all older and more experienced in everything than me and Jimmy, who had just taken our final exams for the ninth grade. Bicknell was probably twenty-one or two, Donna, maybe twenty. Jon, I think was eighteen. Dennis was a good cat, kind of a car-guy gone psychedelic, and had just got out of the Navy. He was half-crazy, liked to laugh hysterically and pull outrageous stunts. He’d grown a mustache while he was gone, but his hair hadn’t grown long yet. He smoked a lot of weed, was also big on pills, and enjoyed drinking a bottle of Robitussin every now and again, digging the codeine high. Donna was a tall thin brunette, a hairdresser, quiet, a good kid going outlaw, friendly, good natured. I always felt comfortable around her, we all liked her a lot. She had short cropped hair, was still very fresh-faced and pretty, and wore a beautiful fringe suede jacket that she got from some biker she knew out at the lake, sized way too big for her, giving her kind of a waifish look, in a rough hewn way.

Jon was my friend, a local character already, a dark eyed, denim-clad, gentle but rebellious soul, stubborn to the core. His hair was short because he’d just got it clipped, while serving a week in jail, a few hundred miles away, in Albany. He’d mouthed off to a State Trooper who was shaking him down at the roadside for hitch-hiking. Everybody in town knew he’d run away from home to San Francisco in 1967,  and was there for the big Be-In,  and it’s aftermath. He’d lived in a California commune for months before coming back, hopping freights across the country to Buffalo, intent on getting in his last year of High School, but then he’d dropped out again to go traveling,  in June one week before graduating, and never got the diploma. The teachers just shook their heads. He had his own way of doing things, and though he was only a few years older than me, Jon was someone I looked up to in a big way. We were writing songs together, and starting to play a few gigs.

Everybody there dropped orange sunshine at about 8:30 in the evening, the whole gang except Jon.  I told him what I was doing, and he seemed amused, and said “man you better get some cigarettes!” Jimmy, Jon and I cut through by the old grade school, and walked up to Main Street, to the neighborhood market, as the sun set and the little town revved up in it’s cozy way for another beautiful summer evening. Couples rode by on bicycles, little children played hide and seek in a yard, dodging in and out from behind the giant elm trees that lined the streets. Dogs were running free, playing, too, and some one with a window open was banging out a hymn on an out of tune piano, bright chords floating on the faintly refreshing breeze.

At the store we waited in line behind a crowd of little boys and girls in shorts and t-shirts, buying rainbow taffy, popsicles, jawbreakers and gum. They kept laughing and changing their selections, running all around the store, getting items, and putting them back. I got to the front and asked for a pack of Camel filters and some matches. I was starting to feel strange, a sense of energy was building. I was nervous, filled with anticipation, and a teeny bit of fear. It was like the quiet moments as you climbed to the top of a roller coaster.

On the walk home the sun was nearly gone, painting the houses red, and along the way curtains were still open, the windows and doors giving off the warm and golden living room glows I knew so well, and we could look right into homes and see the family life, people watching their televisions, gathered at dining room tables, or a man sitting alone, in his favorite chair, with a newspaper, under a lamp, smoking a pipe.

Birds settled in their nests, katydids called, some last children were still out yelling, trying to finish one more inning of kickball in the fading light, and soon all I could see was the white stripes of their shirts, floating on the dark air in the vacant lot. A lone dog barked, cars drove slowly by, and the streetlights came on.

Everything was starting to vibrate and shimmer, and a pressure was slowly growing inside of me, like a case of the butterflies but a lot more intense, and I was surprised, as I didn’t think it would happen so soon.

By the time we got back to the apartment I was really feeling it. The others were too. Jimmy was saying goofy things and making stupid faces for Dennis and Donna’s amusement, but I wasn’t talking, I was checking out my walking, starting to feel very strange, preoccupied. They were all talking ’bout something but I wasn’t involved, I didn’t know what they were going on about. I was beginning to feel a very powerful sensation, like being inside my own personal blizzard. The haze cleared up for a second and I saw the others were were gone, except Jon.

‘They went out for awhile, man, we can just stay here and do what ever you want. You ok?’

He was smiling at my gestures, as I tried to talk. I couldn’t seem to put anything into words,’cause the words just wouldn’t hold still.

‘Are you alright, man?’ he asked with a laugh.

‘Let’s go for a walk.’ I managed to get that out. My knees were weak. I felt like I was caught in a wind tunnel. Streaks of light poured down, but the energy was rising up into my head. I was blinded, brightly colored snow was swirling around me.

‘Ok, man’. It took a very longtime to get to the front door of the apartment, about four steps away.

Jon helped me navigate, keeping the humor up, leading me down the driveway. Jimmy, Dennis, and Donna were down the drive, and looked like they were saying something I could barely make out. They’re going somewhere, did I want to go?

Me and Peter are going for a walk. Right, man? Do you want to go for a walk, or leave with Jimmy and those guys? It’s up to you’.

I couldn’t decide, and in a moments confusion, right there in front of the garage, I turned quickly and stepped completely out of my body for a moment, left it standing there as I turned left, towards Jon. Panicking, I jumped right back into it, that was too weird.

I paid no more attention to them as Jon and I walked down the driveway. We turned left on the sidewalk, walking along Pleasant Ave in the dark, and I looked down: we were walking in white flowers, on millions of daisies spread on the ground. I told Jon that my legs didn’t stop at the ground, but continued way down, deep into the earth.

I began laughing, and started running, turning around quickly to watch myself catching up, in a blurry trail, streaking behind me. I could’t stop laughing. It was fun.

Jon seemed a little worried. ‘You alright?’

I was fine, walking through the world of blossoms glowing in the dark, my head a little clearer, the earth breathing, the trees waving, headlights coming down the streets for so long it was like waiting for Christmas.

Back inside, the FM radio was on, tuned to the all night show on WPHD.

The DJ spun the Paul Butterfield Blues Band singing ‘One More Heartache’.

Jimmy, Dennis and Donna came back in. We were all talking at once, trying to tell each other about it. The tag of the Butterfield track came on and I was transfixed. I heard it so clearly I could see him, hear his soul, and I felt like I understood that word for the first time, the singer’s life, the feeling, and the way it came across. Soul. Got it.

The DJ played a Muddy Waters track and I was on my hands and knees, head jammed into the speakers. Then the Doors came on, ‘When The Music’s Over.’ The music got everyone else’s attention at this point. ‘The scream of the butterfly’. ‘We want the world and we want it ….now!.’

Dennis was very excited about this. We all crowded around.

Wow. We want it NOW.

Now.

I didn’t have any idea how much time passed. There was a bright light on, someone was filming. It was Bruce, where’d he come from?

‘Let’s go up to the Host’, suggested Dennis. The local all night diner, the Your Host Restaurant, up at the Village Shopping Center, only a few blocks away. Jon was into it, he wasn’t doing what we’re doing, and he felt hungry. Sounded great to me. Exciting.

We got it together, set out through the door, and started walking, the five of us, a little search party, the night patrol.

I felt like I was on my way to Times Square or something.

We stopped every few steps, to look or laugh at something. Halfway down Pleasant Ave. we noticed a huge old elm. I could see it stretch and breathe, and it felt very alive. A giant’s stalk growing up into the sky. We gathered round the tree, fingering it’s coarse and crumbling bark, smelling it’s musky scent, putting our arms around it’s girth and holding on. I felt the tree’s living presence,  and I sensed that it was aware of mine.

We all loved the tree. We stayed by it for awhile. Even hard guy Bicknell was hugging it, and laughing.

The town felt like a stage set, the houses and business all seemed like facades. All was quiet, no one else seemed to be out, and we could hear the clicking of the traffic lights, changing colors as we crossed.

The shopping center was a giant, empty, grey,  flat concrete field. The stores were dark, there were a few streetlights shining, off at the far end, where a handful of cars were parked outside of ‘The Host’. Slow, soft, and sleepy. We crossed the parking lot laughing and talking quietly.

A sharp squealing noise, then a roar, made us all look up. The world was exploding with light, and screaming with loud engine noise, headlights was bearing down on us, fast, from across the lot. I stood there frozen, as everybody scattered in different directions. I started to run, too, with Jon just a few feet ahead, yelling “Wow, man, someone is trying to run us down!”

The car turned around in the parking lot and came by for another pass, at high speed, gunning right for us.

We made it up to the sidewalk on the other side, as the car jammed by, just missing us. It was coming so fast, we almost got hit. I caught a glimpse of leering faces on the passenger side, hostile eyes watching back at us, a leather jacketed arm out the window, a hand shaking a fist, another face looming larger as they left, burning into my memory. It was a carload of motor heads and hoods, some local gang. Now they were turning around and coming back again.

Carloads of guys acting like this weren’t that unusual here, quite a drag though, and we were pretty shook up.

At the entrance to the Host we saw the green motif through the plate glass, the weary waitresses in their white aprons and hats, the drunken clientele, straight from the bars, trying to sober up on cheeseburgers, or a plate of eggs and bacon before going home to bed. We pushed in  through the glass front door and the whole place stopped eating and stared at us. A Gene Pitney song was playing from the shiny silver jukeboxes on the walls of each booth along the right, and spaced every few feet along the counter, on the left.

I loved those jukeboxes.

The five of us crowded into the third booth from the front. The lights were flashing on my eyes, vibrating. I felt very gritty, everything was moving, the walls were waving, and the waitresses looked like ponies. The carful of guys pulled up out front, and  I could see ’em through the window, their image mixed with our reflection,  as they piled out of their hot rod, and began coming in. They were gonna fuck with us, people were always getting stomped in the Your Host in the middle of the night, it was sort of a regular thing, we’d all heard the stories.

Stay cool. The bunch of ’em, five big tough guys, ugly looking in their mid-20’s maybe, blue jeans and t-shirts, hair slicked back, leather jackets, come straight up to our table and stand, glaring down, crowding over.

The leader looks down at Jon and starts in on ‘If I had a dog ugly as you…’ when Dennis looks up, and his face lights up.

“Big T! It’s me, Dennis…Dennis Bicknell!”

Big T stops, squints, then relaxes, smiles, and laughs. “Dennis, is that you? Shit man, how you doin,’? I didn’t recognize you. How’s your big brother? I haven’t seen him for awhile.”

Everybody cools it at this. Sorry man, didn’t know it was you! Ha ha ha…

I was bumming quarters from everyone as the situation mellowed out.  The jukebox had the Beatles’ new single, it’d just came out and the B-side was my favorite song in the world. I pumped in all my silver and pushed the buttons to play it five times in a row. I was diggin’ the soul, don’t let me down.

 

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