Realizations The Autobiography
of J. Curtis Lee Mickunas / COPYRIGHT
2009 JULIAN LEE
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Hitchhiking in Des Moines circa 1970
My Friend Kevin
The first time I hitchhiked was around the age of 13, in my city of Des Moines. It happened because I was with my friend Kevin Ryan, a very light blond Irish fellow who I'd gone to St. Augustine's school with 8 years.
We were both very influenced by the counter-cultural currents in media and society. We learned the guitar together and were to play together in several loud bands before the end of high school. (I say we were loud, but we were also very artful.) He was more influenced in political directions than I was. He had an older brother named Dennis who somehow ended up a long-haired, problematic, avowed rough-and-ready genuine Communist. I mean his brother espoused literal Communism and attacked everything about the established society. Kevin was a rather mild fellow most of the time, always making jokes and quips. But even at 13, if anything like a political subject arose, he became fire and razors.
At one time we were riding our banana-seat stingrays up 46th street and there were some young men up on a roof shingling. Seeing our unusually long hair, both of them -- likely from the country or the working class side of town -- made a wolf whistle to mock us (as in "look at the pretty girls.") Kevin, only 12 but Irish temper flaring, immediately began yelling "Fascists!"and "Rednecks!" at them.
I didn't even know what a fascist was, and wasn't sure what Kevin was getting us into here. We had just turned the corner and were hidden by tall trees, and I was relieved. But his anger growing, Kevin doubled back toward the house. I followed. Cruising by again he started in with more more political insults and contumely shouted at a now empty roof.
Sudden from the bushes burst the two guys to our back-left. From their high perch they had seen us double back. They were already on the ground from two stories up, to ambush us.
Knowing full well who was the problem, they ignored me and a tall, muscular one with strawberry blond hair went right for Kevin. He grabbed him by his shirt, bringing his bike to an abrupt halt.
"Don't you be calling people 'fascist' you punk!" he grittily admonished. Kevin was right back at him, in his face with stentorian political condemnations.
I didn't know what was going on. I was developing as an aesthetic hippie, not a political one. Their mockery of our hair was probably a more basic drama about masculinity and culture wars, not really political. But a detailed roster of their backward Goldwaterian political views loomed before Kevin's inner gaze.
The two couldn't conceive what his stream of words had to do with. Neither could I, but I was aware that Kevin even at 12 had sophisticated though roiling political opinions. Feeling himself lifted by the top of his T-shirt Kevin went into a more moderate lecture mode. By moderating his tone and dissembling slightly the guy loosened his grasp enough that Kevin could wrest free and pedal fast as a demon.
We both pedaled away like mad. But as the two working class 18-year-olds from the other side of the tracks turned back to their fruitful labors he had to yell back at them one more insult. It was roughly something along the lines of "You rednecks are responsible for all the problems of the world."
Fightin' Irish. They were burnished by the sun and in the prime of manhood. I see now that these fellows were the cream of the crop for men, strapping young men from the working class part of town astounded to see our young degeneracy and arrogance. Looking back on it, I see they were right and we were wrong. They were closer to their fathers and had more of a grip on reality and natural truth. They knew that long hair on young men was a sign of degeneracy.
They might not have bothered. They might have just let the two young blond longhairs ride by without a sound or motion. But they cared too much, and about where it all was going. For they were our racial brothers. In fact, one of them was likely Irish like Kevin. It's amazing how already back then we Europeans were consumed by a pathological altruism -- a pained worry about the 5 billion who we would never know and had no real responsibilities for -- that turned us against each other.
Because of my own fights with my father I sometimes believe that a man only grasps the values of another man by fighting with him over those values. It must have been true for Kevin as well. He seemed to be often in some kind of tension with his father, who was a real estate broker and liked to show us on his eight track how superior was the Tommy Dorsey Band to all this jarring proto-gothic metal rock that enthused us. He intimated to me regularly that he regarded his father as an absurd and annoying character. But he later became much more conservative in later life, with a wife, good job, child, house, and a treasured guitar collection. As all of us finally do, he became finally quite like his dad.
If I lived again I would rather have been more like one of these working class fellows. I had been to their houses before on the edge of town, part settlement and part country, and I envied their lives. The only fault they had, this type of man, was that their naivete made them the most likely types to become cannon fodder for Jews in their various manipulated wars, and to end up crippled and dead, not passing on themselves to wives and children. That was the only fault of these men.
So my best friend Kevin tended to spout edgy political talk. I gradually came to be aware that he was influenced by his brother Dennis, bane of his father's heart and political radical. We never talked about sex. But it came up. There was a scene where Kevin and I were found running for our lives down the center of Ingersoll Avenue around midnight. We were trying, with burning hearts, to outrun Alex Hart, the big brother of Katie Hart. Only twice in my life had I needed to run with such power -- both times my life was endangered.
As Alex closed the gap between us we ran into the center lane of Ingersoll instinctively hoping to use random traffic as an evasion technique: You either place a car between yourself and your enemy to slow them a little, or you might get the attention of a concerned citizen who, driving past us, couldn't miss what was going on. (Later my youngest daughter had to use the technique to evade an unwelcome stranger who pursued her into traffic in one of the 'bad' sections of Rochester, NY. It worked.) Alex had a reputation as a surly sort. I had heard that he had once beat up my older brother Victor, who was perhaps the most formidable of all us boys. This added to the terror for me. He knew I was a Mickunas. We were genuinely affeared, especially the moment we could see in peripheral vision his outreached hand coming inches from our necks. But fortunately he was a bulky, heavy sort and Kevin and I were still lithe and fleet-footed boys.
What was all the commotion about? Kevin for years thought that it was because he had said to Alex: "Would you please repeat that in Swahili?" (One of his standard requests.) The real reason is that I had been snuggling next to Katie, his younger sister and most buxom of the young women of our class. I had put my arm around her, then touched one of her almost mythical breasts. She had forthwith stepped into the screened front porch, spoken a few words to her brother, and out he burst upon us in a rage.
It was only when Kevin was near sixty that I related to him the true reason for the over-exercise of our hearts and the near-death experience of that night. It wasn't because of his nonsensical quip, but because I had made a move on Alex' sister. A true White man, Kevin's response to me was in characteristic deadpan: "You animal."
Well, yea, sitting in the dark with my arm around the shoulders of insouciant blond Katie Hart on her family's porch stoop, with her pouty mouth and devil-may-care attitude -- it was an animal feeling. But beautiful nonetheless. I was just acting like a young man, she was acting like a young woman, and her brother acted like her brother. Thus Kevin and I got a workout.
It might shock my classmates to hear the tale. But I don't regret it. I doubt that any other young man of our class had been so bold. The 13/14-year-old Katie soon took up with a much older long-haired male attracted to her maturity who looked to be 18 who started picking her up from school in his junker car. This was a confusing kind of betrayal for the boys of her class. Then she died tragically young. If it had never happened, it would not have been right. I claimed Katie Hart somehow.
Much later, Kevin ended up hijacking my first girlfriend from me, without knowing it. This was Mubsy, my first kiss (and the only one). Mubsy then became our Yoko Ono and broke up the band. But I digress...
Kevin seemed to be merely comfortable in my presence. He didn't seek me out with a passion, but just for the serviceability of basic companionship. He ended up much closer to others though I wanted to be his close friend. I was, perhaps, a bit of a geek though I didn't know it. There was no money or status to my family. But we were falling into similar interests. One big one was music and the guitar. One day around age 13 he and I had been making a trip downtown to Des Moines Music where we loved to ogle electric guitars and amps, and perhaps buy some guitar strings and picks, or other paraphernalia of the musician. By this time Kevin had picked up on the idea of embracing aspects of a vagrant's life, living as a kind of fringe-dweller, as both a gesture of rebellion against established society plus a way to practically get on with life.
At this time there was this ethos spilling into the 1960's counter-culture, mostly out of New York, about cheating the system, ripping off 'the establishment' (as though 'the establishment had now subverted all metaphysical laws and was somehow all-bad, with no good, beyond duality) and living free and rebelling against all manner of norms. It reached a grotesque flowering later in the book "Steal This Book" by the New York agitator Abbie Hoffman. In the book Hoffman advised all kinds of techniques for chiseling, chicanery, petty theft and larceny, such as emptying out the remaining gas from gas station hoses after hours, to keep your jalopy running. It is unlikely that Abbie Hoffman himself tried many of his recommendations -- they were more for turning Midwestern Gentile boys like us into subversives from our fathers' unhappy point-of-view. "Steal This Book" was mostly anti-European provocateuring by a "New York" type. But Kevin, having an older brother who was a genuine political hippie, had imbibed some of the talk. We young men were affected by so many funny ideas, myself included.
Our poor mothers. I remember him very cool and casual informing me he'd gone without washing his pants for three weeks. I answered that I'd made it a similar number of days.
This actually excited us. We felt we were forging like pioneers into some new Enlightened Rebel World. Our poor fathers. This is what happens when our fathers have too much success trying to make life easy for their boys. We yearn for a gritty side to life, to risk somehow. Or just break the boring, repetitive pattern we were in.
Presently a bus showed up. We stepped on, dropped .35 cents in the money machine and sat down for a cool, pleasant ride on Establishment transit. At some point in our journey to or from the Music Store, while traversing some intersection, Kevin had stuck out his thumb and said "Let's hitchhike."
Kevin, who I'd first begun to speak to between 5th and 6th grade, tended to be a leader among the boys. He was often first at things. We began to teach ourselves the guitar around the same time, and one day when he had a guitar he did an amazing thing: Fingered a full bar chord. I had never seen one. I was amazed. He seemed to think I could do it too, so I tried it. Soon I was doing them. It followed that he and I would often master guitar techniques at the same time, sometimes me showing him, but more often he showed me. Often he would show me a trick and I'd end up doing it better than him.
On another day he dragged the edge of his pick down the rough edge of his D string and made an exciting sound. How to describe it? It was like a jet coming down at you. Or a WW2 bomb buzzing by. A sound yonug males like. Somehow getting close to battle! It was a sound we had heard in some of our favorite rock recordings, and was not sure where he got this arcane knowledge. Later I noticed that he would sit at the front at various rock concerts and keenly watch whatever the guitarists were doing.
We had a favorite band, a retro rock'n'roll group from some small Iowa town named Wire. Their guitarist was our local guitar-hero, and Kevin was constantly grabbing hand tricks from the long-haired, bespectacled guitarist. I was a lazy student. It was easier to just get the inside tricks from Kevin. In other instances, he was first to be an altar boy; I followed him into it. First to join the Boy Scouts and go camping. (I heard about the phenomenon from him and immediately joined up.) And now he was the first person to show me the prospect of hitchhiking about Des Moines.
Under his leadership and confidence that day on the mean streets I happily went along for this strange new adventure. I am not even sure if he'd done it before. Quite possibly it was walking with me that gave him the confidence to try. A leader needs a follower. Having any follower brings out one's "leader" all the more. We must have been picked up and made it home, because I had an assumption by age 19 that hitchhiking was a serviceable technique that basically worked.
Kevin had a lust for life, made all the more back-firming by the fact that he'd developed Type 1 diabetes at at early age and had been oppressed early by the thought of the Reaper. On one hand, he had an angelic ivory countenance and California-boy blond hair, on the other he had a basic manliness. In one instance hiking the Geode Trail, a 20-mile trail through beautiful mountainous country, Kevin had carried one of our classmates, John C, across a difficult bridge when John developed bad blisters on his feet. That meant young John plus two full backpacks as well.
Kevin also became a regular on the school basketball team by the 8th grade. He was an energetic player and seemed to love the team experience with his close friends such as Bob D. and Bob G. I see clearly in my minds eye his flushed face, absolutely animated, body jumping into the air, eyes darting every which way for the opening, doing a feint, commanding the ball, blasting through a wall of enemies, and going for a score. It was a kind of warriorship. Heroism!
Sports became something that separated us, because I was untrained in sports. So you can see my friend was a strange mix of counter-culture and traditional things such as basketball and Scouting. I was a similar strange mix. I wanted my hair long but eschewed drugs and drink. I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star, but I considered hippie ideas about "free sex" to be mere degeneracy. I liked to dress like a glam-rocking fop, but I was unafraid to get into a fistfight. I would have liked to get into more of them than I did! I was shy and very Beta-like compared to the other boys, but I made a brash Arien move on the ravishing Katie Hart and was, I think, the only owe who did.
Off-and-on since then, whether for going on a long shopping jaunt or getting home from work, I had occasionally hitchhiked. The only time there was any trouble was when the driver, or other car occupants, were smoking marijuana.
They would have been confident I was their type because I wore my hair fairly long. When I declined to also smoke it they would sometimes get nervous or vaguely offended. I became adept at blandly passing it up without much ado, or even pretending to smoke his reefer in the case of a very stoned driver.
My First Big Quest for Truth -- I Hitchhike to Montana and Find Rick
Throughout the 1930s and 50s hitchhiking was a common practice in America for young men trying to make it, or coming home from the military on leave, or even returning home from college. It got a resurgence in the 1960s as young people embraced an various simplicity ideals plus, as with all men, began trying to get a start in life. In only occasional places was it outlawed. During one journey I later took I was told by a State Trooper that he didn't mind my hitchhiking if I stayed on an off- or on-ramp and not on the open highway. In another town, it was not banned on the city streets, but was banned on the on- and off-ramps. Thus one would need to stand a bit away from the ramps, perhaps carrying a sign indicating the intended direction.
I am glad that I was able to touch, at least, that simpler time when people were that kind and that safe to a young traveler. The racial homogeneity of America was another factor that made it possible. People are more trusting of their own, and more willing to look after their own natural people. It was safe enough that you would often see young women doing it accompanied by males, or even by themselves. There were only just beginning to be horror stories, in the 1960s, about murderous drivers or murderous hitchhikers. As I set out that day I was in the embrace of a long-developing culture that was basically moral and sane. I could easily start riding the human currents of our nation towards the land of mountains, Montana.
Thus God, you could say, decided my route rather than me. The next night I found a hedge near the highway with several rows. I maneuvered a few times to locate myself such that turning headlights at-a-distance did not unnervingly pass across my body. I ended up needing to penetrate deeper onto this land, and happy found tall grasses there. Simply lying down I was utterly hidden from the world, ensconced wonderfully by the quiet grasses. Getting up in the morning light, I would begin my hitching stand again. A letter that I wrote to my father during the trip states that I rarely could stand out there more than 5-10 minutes before getting a ride. I do remember some longer stands than that. But those long stands in lonely places, all quiet, with a vast view of the sky and the land -- are now among my exquisite memories.
It ended up that I went through Nebraska, then Wyoming. Around Casper Wyoming I was snagged by a brown-haired fellow with medium long hair and a mustache. He was on a long journey to a new work site in northwest Wyoming. He had picked me up, in part, to help him drive because he was trying to do a marathon drive and stay awake. He had even told me that he was trying to stay awake and that it would help if I talked with him. I obliged. He himself was not very talkative, but I knew how to make conversation, having read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" in Ames. You just ask people to tell you about themselves. It turned out he had been the original drummer for one of my favorite rock groups, which made the conversation all the more interesting. As I informed him of how successful the group had become later (without him), and he was heading for some dreary construction job, it seemed to make him sad. After a while he had me drive a long stretch of highway, and I was to inform him when we reached a certain lake.
During that long ride through Wyoming I saw my first mountains. I was immediately enraptured. In retrospect they were not large mountains, but to me they were mountain magic. I had never seen any mountain up to then except in pictures. Astrological lore states that those with Capricorn planets appreciate mountains. I can attest to this in my case. I thrilled to them.
We drove on and now it was now dark. He drove onto a smooth, sandy beach of this lake, the stars above it in the fresh air. He simply laid down on the sand and went to sleep, not even a pillow. This was apparently a place he had slept before. I did the same, feeling pretty safe sleeping beside his station wagon and him. I remember how he woke me up. He just kicked me gently with his boot, and we were back in the car. Looking at a map now, this had to be the Boyson Reservoir at the Boyson State Park in central Wyoming. His destination was Cody, Wyoming. Thus he wanted to head up the 20. I wanted to continue west on the 26, so dropped me at the changing roads, and I continued on my way under the Wyoming sky. Unbenownst to me, I was now on the Wind River Indian reservation. What I remember about this next stand was the untouched quality of the land, the great spreading fields, the white clouds in the sky, and the utter quiet. All these places where I stood, where there was no other soul or house in sight and no sound of any car, still live in my memory as pure places, where it was just me, God, and the world I wanted to learn about. Around this place I remember standing also on rising road, a little hill. Beside me were some trees, and a ravine. Down the ravine was a rushing stream. Now and then someone would drive by. I was aware that all the people who drove by here barely noticed this place, and they couldn't look down and see what I saw. These pure and wild places still live in my today; I can go back there in my mind and be standing there again. Since that time I have often thought of the wandering saddhus of India like Nityananda, as they wandered through a more natural and ancient India, and all the magical places they must have seen and loved -- the groves of trees, the secret places in the mountains, the village outskirts.
Jesus was a Wanderer -- The American Saddhu Ideal
Two Canadian Sisters
My next ride was two Canadian sisters in a van...