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BACK TO The CONNECTION

The ROUNDUP                                      “Here’s one, Doof. Read this.”

The letters had been pouring in daily, seemed that everyone wanted to get off of Long Island these days. It didn’t seem to matter that all one’s loved ones were there, all their friends, their roots. In their minds it was all empty. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. This huge, gray materialistic void of pro-Nixon Republicanism. Nixon & Agnew had practically come out and carved a section of the American public out of the main body and discarded them. Here on Long Island was the strength of their will. The sharpening stone for their carving knife, so to speak. All these forgotten offspring had one thing on their collective minds. Escape.

“Yeah, I like these guys already. Call ‘em, Slick.”

“I like that it’s a guy & a girl.” Amy chimed in. She definitely did not want to be the only female.

“Yeah, they sound pretty cool.”

It was difficult, though, so many to choose from. There was Manny from Columbia University, who drew the big, blue, smiling sunshine on the envelope, and added as an afterthought:

“PS - Even if by chance you have picked the people already, you are all welcome to come in any time at my dorm.” 

They felt a union with this guy, but he seemed a bit pushy. Peggy from Williston Park was eliminated when she said:

“I don’t have a photo & if I did I don’t see why you would want to see it, I’m sure you would meet plenty of females on the way.”

“What is that all about?” Slick exclaimed.

Old Les, out of Brooklyn, seemed a good guy, but the trio may have felt a bit intimidated by his on the road experience. He had made the trip three times before. 

“... what would be really beautiful would be just to go camping out on a mountain, or taking a cruise through a desert, & just enjoying it all. That’s really all there is to it. Are you guys into things like just lying out under the stars of a Colorado night - and finally falling asleep with a smile still on your face? That describes the kind of things I dig pretty well. What more can I say?” wrote Laura of East Hills.

“Nothing, that’s enough,” mused Amy, tossing that one aside.

“Jail bait,” Doof exclaimed through an exhale.

“Pass me that.”

Slick inhaled deeply. While still holding his breath he added, 

“For sure!”

“Where’s that letter? What were their names again?”

“Mindy & Steve, I think ... I don’t know.”

Amy continued seeking out that letter they all had agreed sounded interesting. Meanwhile, there were others to be eliminated. One, from a young girl right there in Valley Stream, Jane, simply said:

“Like to get together over tea.”

Far too cerebral for this bunch.

“Try some Jose Cuervos, Janie.”

On it went. Some sounded too young, others couldn’t spell, some had funny little drawings that no one could figure out drawn on them, some had little girl stickers on them, some were just plain weird.

“Here it is, they’re Mimi & Scottie. They’re cool.”

Slick announced, “I like this one. They’re into good music, they sound down to earth. I’m gonna write them.”

And, he did.

*******

When the reply letter arrived at Mimi’s house in early February, she immediately knew who it was from. The return address was simply, “S. A. & D.” The envelope had a combination of about six stamps to cover the 8 cents worth of postage. Mimi trembled as she carefully tore open the envelope. She had a feeling of having just won the lottery as she read the contents. She called Scottie on the phone.

“They want to meet with us. It sounds real good. They sent me a phone number.”

“Call ‘em!”

And, she did.

*******

They got together on a mid-February Saturday morning. Slick, Amy, and Doof were waiting expectantly up in Slick’s room. Abbott & Costello’s, Hold That Ghost, was showing on the little 13” black & white TV set sitting on the dresser. Slick & Doof were mildly high. Amy sat fumbling through some road maps. They were nervous, almost as if they were the ones to undergo the upcoming scrutiny.

The doorbell rang. Slick’s little brother, Ronnie, opened the door and let Scottie & Mimi in.

”They’re upstairs,” he pointed.

They climbed the stairs and faced the brown door. It was covered with peace signs, stickers, & posters. In the center was a little, Do Not Disturb sign.

“Guess we better go,” Scottie smiled.

Mimi knocked anyway.

Slick opened the door.

“Hi, guys!” he sheepishly grinned.

This was it. The big moment. Mimi, especially, had the adrenaline going. This was like an audition. She only wanted to act naturally.

Greetings over, they all sat there. Doof was cleaning a bowl, hunched over, hair drooped over his face. The rest fidgeted, chuckling as white sheets danced across the TV screen, Costello in panic. It was comic relief.

Slick said, “Awkward, isn’t it?”

Mimi thought, during the interminably long periods of silence, “God, we have nothing to say to these people and we plan on living with them?”

It wasn’t long, though, that the quintet were laughing, mingling, and making plans. They had hit it off quickly and well. Scottie & Doof connected almost immediately. They talked of pot. Mimi & Slick, too, formed a bond. They were both practical, and the conversation turned to the realities of making such a trip. They figured some more bodies might be in order, if only to cut the gas expenses. Amy, however, though friendly, began a slow withdrawal, not noticed at this early stage. She began to feel alone and somewhat threatened. It had been fun having Slick & Doof to herself. Who were these new people?

It went on, this roundup did. Letters continued to arrive and be discarded for one reason or another. The realities for these five young people began to sink in. They were going to leave after all. The wheels were there. The people were gathering. Plans were being made. Hours were spent in front of those neatly arranged racks of camping gear on display at Herman’s sporting goods store. It was nirvana. A real rush. To just stand there and figure out what you needed and what you didn’t. Slick & Doof had a lot of what they needed, having hitched all the way to the coast with just their backpacks. So they had a tent, sleeping bags, flashlights, first aid kits, bug spray, even little stoves with fuel that fit in those little side pockets of the packs. It was exciting. More important things were on everyone’s minds, however. They still wanted more bodies and these letters just weren’t working out anymore.

*******

Several nights later, after having met Mimi & Scottie, and full of the zeal fresh ideas propelled in him, Slick was at a little Hempstead bar, Zoli’s, playing with his little country rock band, Friends of the Devil. They were a piss poor little aggregation, playing mellow music no one wanted to hear in a raunchy little, saw dust covered, dive like Zoli’s. Somehow, they managed to receive applause. It must have been the image. These longhaired dudes playing Grateful Dead & Neil Young tunes. Ronnie was the drummer. Slick played acoustic guitar and sang. Marc was on bass. Eddie the guitar player, singing the wistful Neil Young material, and doubling on mandolin. Ben was there on banjo & dobro. Sometimes Hervey sat in on congas.

This night, sitting at a little table in an alcove, was Eddie’s brother, Dink & his girl friend. They had brought along a friend. She sat there in the darkness, enjoying the music. Maybe it just sounded better than the place looked. During a break, Slick sat at the table talking to Dink. There sat this young black woman with eyes so big and white Slick thought them to be flashlights there in the darkness. She had the smoothest skin & widest hips he had ever seen. And this big, beautiful, friendly smile. She was soft spoken and self assured. Conversation with this woman was so easy. Soon they were talking of the great cross country excursion. She said she was interested, though Slick thought it was just something for her to say. He gave her his number anyway. Before he left, He inquired as to this young lady’s name. It was Yonna.

“Hey, Slick, can I play spoons this set?” Doof shouted above the din of the jukebox. He wasn’t a band member, but hung around at all their gigs. He didn’t really know how to play spoons, but he sure did try hard.

“Yeah, in Glendale Train,” replied Slick.

It was time to play. The night went on.

The phone rang the next morning. It was Yonna and she wanted to impress upon Slick just how serious she was about going on this trip. It was something she had always wanted to do. Slick made arrangements to get together with her and the rest of the crew. It was decided upon the following week at her house in Uniondale.

Slick came down with the flu or something and was laid up for just about that whole week. He lost about 10 pounds and felt emaciated and weak. Only the apprehension about adding another trip member got him up and about that night. He looked terrible. Everyone gathered at Yonna’s house. It was like a party. The camaraderie was unreal. All these people just getting together and yet there was very little of that awkwardness that can arise when strangers are dumped into a foreign setting. It was that common goal. These were all alienated people in one way or another, and there was this bond. It had to be there, to make sure the trip would fly. This was the chance everyone had waited for. They were going to make it work.

“California, huh, I’ve always wanted to go there,” Yonna said. Her longish, thick and kinky, black hair was pulled back and wrapped with a blue bandanna.

“Oh, me too, and we’re going!” added Mimi.

“You’ll love it,” Amy interjected, “The guys ...”

“Hey, you’re going with the best guys. Here we are!” Scottie was prancing around the room, curls bouncing.

“I think we should go across Canada. The pigs are much easier up there.” Slick was adamant. 

“That’s another COUNTRY, I don’t ...” Scottie was interrupted by Doof.

“Man, we hitch hiked right in front of a pig pen! They didn’t say a word. No hassles.” 

Pig pen meant police station in the jargon of the day.

Slick added, “Never got hassled till Tacoma, Washington. It’s the way to go.”

Yonna answered the ringing phone while everyone continued the chatter.

“I’ve got these guys here ...”

“Bring some of that meat over here, don’t hog it all to yourself,” the voice interrupted.

“My friend wants us to go over there,” Yonna announced to all. “Her parents are in Mexico.”

“Let’s go!”

What was now a sextet, decked out in denim and buckskin, flannel and bandannas, arrived shortly at a nearby house. They filed in through the back door into the large kitchen with the separate dining area. There was a dim overhead light hanging over the large oval table. Otherwise, all the lights in the house were off. Sitting there at the table were BugaLady and Serena, bottle of Chivas Regal Gold, a quarter empty, placed strategically between the two. Ashtrays with half smoked Marlboro’s poured smoke forth. 

Sparks flew immediately here at BugaLady’s house, though nobody yet realized what was going on. Scottie took one look at Serena and fell in love. Serena was not one to be overlooked. She had thick red hair, frizzed with tight curls hanging to her shoulders. She had a pretty, shy face, freckled lightly. This night she had on tight jeans, tucked into cowboy boots, and a maroon, velour blouse with three-quarter sleeves. The orange glow of the light made her reddish-framed face all the more beautiful to Scottie. He sat down next to her sheepishly.

BugaLady took one look at Slick, terrible as he felt he looked, and thought, “Who is this guy?” She smiled wryly at Yonna her good, long time friend, who knowingly peered back. Slick sat across from her at the table.

“What’s happening?” BugaLady said to him, though she made a meager attempt to include them all. Yonna made the introductions.

“Hi, mon!” BugaLady uttered in her faked English accent, as she waved, this time looking Slick right in the eye. 

Slick was struck by the beauty of this lady. She was tall & thin, maybe 5’9’’ he thought. She had long, chestnut brown hair, parted in the middle, and halfway down her back. She was lively and footloose. Noticeable at once. Slick looked into her face as she drew from a cigarette. Those big, brown almond shaped eyes were stunning. And there was that little defect in her otherwise gorgeous face that made her so appealing. One eye, her left, had a sleepy little eyelid. It drooped seductively. Slick wished he felt better. He just knew he looked like crap, and this nice-looking lady was sure to notice. He admired the blue paisley top she had on. And those full breasts beneath. He felt pangs of love and forced himself not to stare.

Scottie, though, was staring, at Serena. She felt uncomfortable, but thought this guy was pretty darn cute. BugaLady passed the bottle of Chivas around. The chattering started.

“So, we’re all going to California in a van,” chided Yonna.

“Yep, leaving this wasteland behind.”

“Can’t wait,” Mimi said.

From under the table came a gentle, but persistent, nudging on Doof’s leg.

“What the hell ...”

He peered under the table. Out bounded a small, rambunctious dog. He was mostly white with brown folded over ears, a tan face with a white stripe down the middle. On his back was a black, saddle-like marking. He almost looked like he had a humanesque expression on his face. There was something unique about this dog.

“Oh, that’s Brahms. He’s a wire-haired terrier. The vet tells me they’re all crazy!”

They began to discuss the details of the trip, the probable departure date, possible routes, plans to maybe rent a big house on the west coast and live together.

The level of excitement was so great, so obvious, BugaLady & Serena could only sit and listen in awe and wonder and wish that they were a part of it. Finally, BugaLady could contain herself no longer.

“I’m coming, too!” she blurted.

Serena, more reserved, would have to be prodded, but like Scottie a couple of months back, the seeds had been planted. The night wore on and all intermingled freely. Plans were made for everyone to accompany Friends of the Devil down to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital next weekend. Slick had used that as an excuse to invite BugaLady. She was more than willing to oblige. Everyone was having fun, in direct correlation to the sinking level of scotch in that bottle.

It was time to go. Everyone departed with their own thoughts and fantasies.

“ I love that girl! I love that girl!! I’m going to marry that girl!” Scottie said to Mimi on their ride back to Queens.

“Sure you are, Scottie, maybe she’ll even come with us on the trip. I saw that look on her face.”

“You like that chick, don’t you?” Doof said to Slick on their ride home in the VW van that would soon be there home on wheels.

“You noticed? Yeah, what do you think of her coming along?”

Doof shrugged.

“But no more. The van won’t be able to take anymore weight.”

Everyone was pleased and happy, and mildly drunk. All but Amy. She felt an increasing jealousy over all these women taking over her ‘boys’. She kind of liked Doof & Slick, both. Now, all these women were coming into the picture. She wondered should she even go.

Only one more piece to the puzzle of participants was needed to be placed. It was found soon. On the ride to Philadelphia the following weekend. The eight were traveling along the highway, the band’s van following behind. It was like it would soon be every day once they left. Serena & Scottie were making moves towards each other. BugaLady & Slick were already a couple. Slick had never moved so fast in his life, but this time he was head over heels in love and no amount of shyness would stand in his way. BugaLady was most responsive. Yonna & Amy had become closer and were planning on tenting together. Mimi, though, felt uncomfortable about being paired, by default, with Doof.

“My friend, Roy, might want to come.”

She paused, waiting for a reaction.

“Roy?” Scottie inquired. “I didn’t know that.”

More out of convenience than anything else, Mimi had become romantically involved with this guy and invited him along. She didn’t welcome the awkward situation that was bound to develop if she and Doof and one tent became a threesome.

“Thing is, he can’t leave until after his classes, like mid-June.”

“I don’t really think we should delay past June 1. Maybe he can meet us somewhere. Does he have a car?” Slick inquired.

“We got to get going, man, the van is gonna be too crowded anyway. No car, no come!” Doof insisted.

Diplomatically, Slick posed the question to all,

“Well, what do you think?”

Amidst a flurry of shrugs and raised eyebrows came the answers,

“No problem.”

“Fine with me.”

“Sure, the more the merrier.” 

Mimi was thrilled. Though Doof insisted on Roy’s car coming along too, the cast was now set. The nitty-gritty planning, and the countdown, could begin in earnest. It was mid-April. Much needed to be done. From this point on, the trip was all anyone would think about.

There was one more minor point. BugaLady’s Brahms. He was a crazy old dog. Full of unbounded energy. He had hand picked her as his owner, following BugaLady home one day from the movie theater she worked at. He was cute, smart, loyal, and gentle. His one defect was that he loved to jump out of open windows. Wire haired terriers are known for their enthusiasm, but Brahms far exceeded that of most. He was a true character, and BugaLady insisted that he had to come. No argument from Slick. Doof hemmed and hawed a bit, but relented to his friend. Scottie thought the dog an animal version of himself. The rest were agreeable as well. Brahms was an official member of the entourage. Now they could move on to other things. The cast was set.

The IDEA || The CONNECTION || NEXT: The LEAVING

 


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