im Sasseville (now in California) has been a friend of mine since the age of seven. He was born the day after I was, lived two houses away. One day we had a great knock-down, hair-pulling, kicking, scratching, wrestling match over whether my brother Kerry could join us playing in Sasseville's two-wheel trailer. We had a great friendship and rivalry based on a common interest in comic strips, movies, art, sex, football, seriousness, and bicycles. We are both quiet, awkward, hesitant, thoughtful, introverted Virgos; August 27 and 28. When I dreamt that he was in trouble, possibly dying, I must have felt that in Roxbury I had got too far from myself.
Jim's father, Raymond, a Virgo born August 29, worked twenty-some years as a postal clerk, became a clown when drunk, once said to Jim: "You don't have the chance of a fart in a whirlpool."
My first move away from home was a hitch-hiking trip with Jim from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, at the age of sixteen in the summer of 1944. We went to the coast to get work in a war plant or shipyard. Jim provided most of the money, which he had earned ushering in a theatre.
I remember lonely North Dakota highways, someone peeking from behind window curtains to look at the two strangers sitting and standing for hours beside the road.
In Jamestown, North Dakota, police picked us up, asked whether we'd run away from home. They called our folks in Minneapolis to confirm our story. We slept in the jail.
Next morning we got a ride with two young men named Bob and Evvie, headed for the coast. They'd got drunk in Jamestown and lost or spent most of their money. Jim and I talked it over, worrying they might rob us or con us out of our money if we let them know we had any, but finally agreed to pay for gas and food for the four of us.
I kept a notebook, wrote about the trip, drew pictures of the Bad Lands of North Dakota, which then, to me, were the first taste I ever had of the wild country of the west; great, rolling hills and caverns, mountains.
I remember bouncing over a detour in Montana on a dark night, surrounded and delayed by a herd of cattle, lightning glimmering on the horizon, and breakfast, three of us eating ham and eggs, and Jim, now paying all the bills, silently eating pancakes, and tall, thin Evvie driving, short, husky Bob snapping a prophylactic rubber at tall, thin, virginal Virgo Jim, laughing, and going up and down the mountains in Idaho, near Coeur d'Alene, the top down, drinking in the cool, fresh air, looking at the heavily firred hills and mirrored lakes, and Bob talking and yelping and pointing and waving.
We parted company with Bob and Evvie at Wenatchee, Washington, where Jim had relatives. Vaguely remembered: an attractive aunt, and a handsome blonde cousin around our age, and a friend of his, a swinger I envied for his confident, casual erotic enthusiasm, we four boys standing around talking, cousin and friend on the way to a dance, the friend already dancing while we talked, finally said, like old Kay Kyser on the radio, "Let's. dance."
Dancing is a whole trip in itself. (Digression regression progression.) Around my far south Minneapolis neck of the woods, in days of Sunday school, it was thought by some that dancing was a sin, along with drinking. When I was eleven, playing football with midget leader Archie Shand, I fell in love with his kid sister, Lorraine, who already wore lipstick. Shameless little tart. "You don't need a sweater, you've got love to keep you warm." Through a window, she inside, I on my way to the football wars, nothing could be said, only with eyes, that was enough, I was dead, I was alive, and have never recovered. For a year or so I dreamed of kisses I hadn't the courage to beg, steal, or borrow, and conversations I never started. Then one evening, walking with Archie to a party given to us by a Grown Up Couple, I wanted to know, "What are we gonna do at the party?" Casually he said, "We're gonna fuck." Surprised, unbelieving, wanting to believe it. What we did, of course, we drank soda pop, talked, and listened to music. The couple, and the girls, wanted to get some dancing going; but the boys weren't having any. Lorraine approached me, pulling my arm, and I said, "No!" (Laughter from the male department.) And that was the only touch of hers I ever felt. For a few years after that, I saw her now and then, at the house, or on the road, but never talked to her. Other loves have come and gone. Dreams and eyes and voices. Dancing went away, and didn't come back till I was a seaman in the navy (except Elsenpeter girl who showed me and someone how to go "Truckin' on down" with curvy heavy thighs, which seemed a nice, sexy thing for her to do, but not for me.) Drink, whiskey beer gin, women on laps, women in arms, slowly swaying, nineteen-forty-six, in somewhat time to music, up all night, there in hospitable house, slowly growing up toward a woman, but not quite, hot chocolate in the morning, pleased with self I didn't get sick. Then around that time a wild Polish dance in Hamtramck, suburb of Detroit, dancing energetically in a ring till legs burned and lungs grabbed for air, and a beautiful chick who wouldn't let me walk her home ... Then years later, University time, the night I met Lenore Sawyer, somehow danced with her a folksy, robust dance, and that begins a story of rain, kisses, heartbeats, listening to Mozart quintet in G minor, and gathering at Naftalin's house, political science professor now mayor of Minneapolis, myself not talking, Lenore saying, "Don't hide your light under a bushel," and all night parties, Lake Harriet shore, Dave Brown triangle, and back seat of a car, she saying, "Let's have a discussion," myself saying, "No, let's wrestle," (rich gurgly laughter from John Sasseville department in the front seat). AND more conversations, parties, psychology department, no wrestling, no more dancing with Lenore. Glacier National Park, Montana, little blonde in a big, crowded dance hall, winging jazz, and dark-haired, pretty Dixie Vlasak, we along in the same place, she softly humming a tune, motionless dancing in the dark, and small, hidden waterfall to keep beer cold, where she told me she identified with MacBeth, and I said, "Do you mean Lady MacBeth?" and she said, "No, MacBeth." I was Hamlet. And from her I began to learn a little more of what love meant, but not fast enough, more pain than joy. Portland, the second and third times around, I danced off both my shoes, like a teen-age kid with Sofia, like a wild farmer fresh from the country with Bonnie Bronson and Nancy Brown, like a gambler with Jane O'Dell.
But this time I'm still on my way to the coast for the first time, not dancing.
We got a job in an apple orchard near Wenatchee, lasted a couple of days. Going out on the truck the first morning, a weathered worker said, "Where are you from?" We said Minnesota. He said, "That's a good place to be from." We picked a few apples, got bad cases of diarrhea, quit the job, and hitch-hiked to Seattle. It was a busy, smoky place, Boeing didn't want us, so we headed for Portland. Got a ride with a trucker. I fell asleep, and every once in awhile, I'd fall forward toward the gear shift, and wake up with Jim catching me to keep me out of the driver's way. We got to Portland without a penny, sat on the curb at Kaiser's Oregon Shipyard early in the morning, waiting for the employment office to open, wondering if we'd starve. The people gave us bus fare into the union hall in town, put us on as electrician's helpers, gave us meal tickets and rooms in a dormitory with a theater and a pool hall. I roomed with a Russian immigrant who read The Novoye Russkye Slovo (newspaper, "The New Russian Word"), worked with a high school student who'd learned some Russian from Russian sailors, gave me a couple of lessons. I copied down the alphabet on an envelope, saved it for a number of years. All I remember now is Da, Nyet, and Novoye Russkye Slovo.
We came in after the Liberty ships, troop carriers, worked in the newer, slightly larger, better made Victory ships. What we did most of the time was to thread electrical cables through brackets in the overhead, and when we came to the end of a series of brackets, a bunch of us would grab an end and pull it through. Then we'd start threading it through the next series. It wasn't hard work. It took some time for the Leaderman to read his blueprint and get his cable into the right bracket, through the sometimes tangle of dozens of cables, and out again in the right place.