Soul Highway Interchange

or, “The Winter of My Deep Throat

(The following is excerpted from my memoir in process, Have a Nice Day Man; tales from the dark side of the 70s.)

I don’t know what to call him because I can’t remember his name. So, I’ll just call him scared. It was shortly after New Year’s, 1973, when I met the high-school-aged boy in the Greyhound Bus Terminal, Pittsburgh, Pa., who would trade his life for mine. In the men’s room, that’s where I first saw him—looking nervous, twitching like a rabbit trying to jump out of deep snow when a predator is near. Standing at our urinals (Sloan Valve Co., Chicago, Il) was a strange communion with my dad, two years dead at the time. Dad worked at Sloan Valve when I was born, back in Chicago.

     Over the sudden sound of his roaring flush the boy said, “Are you riding on the bus to Philly?”

     I noted that Philly was a forced-cool. Scared kid. Not a fag. I flushed. “Yeah, but I’m getting off long before the city of Brotherly Love.”

     “Yeah, where?” eager as a lost puppy who’s found a new master.

     “State College,” splashing water on my face, my scraggly beard.

     “You go to school there?”

     “No. I used to. Dropped out. Just visiting friends there.”

     “I’m going to Mars,” washing his hands by rote. Good boy.

     “I always wanted to go to Mars and Intercourse, Pa, ” I laughed.

     “I’m just going to visit my grandmother,” a little defensively.

     “That’s a good enough reason to go to Mars.”

     “I’d like to go to Intercourse some day, too,” he joked, betraying his virginity.

     “Well, I can’t help you with that. But I’ve got this,” pulling out my bottle of Jamaican Overproof Rum, stashed in my duffel bag with a change of clothes, and one quarter pound of Jamaican high test ganja. Traveling light as a feather.

     He reached for the bottle.

     “No. This shit will kill ya if you take it straight.”

     “What’s Overproof?”

     “Means there’s so much fucking alcohol in it, they don’t even bother rating it. We’ll get some Cokes and spike ‘em. Little bit goes a long way,” I said, pulling my outlaw hat down at a rakish angle. Black leather jacket with big buttons, Al Pacino style, completed my get up.

     “Where did you get it?”

     “In Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica.” My dark tan in the dead of East-Coast winter, when everyone else, including him, was white as a ghost, told him I wasn’t lying. “Just got back last week.”

“Man. I’ve never been anywhere. My mom, she’s, you know . . .  since my dad left. I’ve never even been away from home before today . . . What were you doing all the way down there?”

     “Let’s get our Cokes. Then I’ll tell you all about it.”

     Waiting on the ‘Hound, I found out he was only seventeen. A senior, he would turn eighteen next month . . . on Valentine’s Day. I was just twenty, but I had already hitchhiked coast to coast and Canada, dropped out of two Universities, and has just spent a week shacked up with a prostitute in Kingston, where I mailed ten pounds of ganja, through the Christmas mail rush, back to my old friends in Pittsburgh and State College, Pa. I laid it all out for him in the terminal as the rum started to work, and he got that soft and fuzzy look in his eyes.

     Told him how just last month I was living above the bar on Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, Co. All the rooms were long-term, none of them occupied by women, and the ladies room was nice and warm, so . . . That’s where I hatched my plan. No more small time dealing ounces of Mexigrass up on The Hill in Boulder. It was perfectly dropped into my mind like a golden flower top, the way I pictured it. All I had to do was buy a Greyhound Ameripass, good for thirty days coast to coast. Walk into the bank back in Pittsburgh and reopen my unused student loan application. How would they know I had so freshly dropped out of the University of Colorado to deal dope full time.

     Back on the ‘Hound. Miami. Plane ticket. Kingston. Make the connections. And I did. Cabby took me right to her door, down near ‘da harbour.’ Brought me up to her, sitting above the New Apple Bar, like room service.

     She was so fine, she could make the sun blink. And it did. The Queen of East Street is what people down near the harbour called her. Well, she lived on East Street and she was hands-down the best looking working girl near the harbour. From her window above the bar, she thought I was a Swedish sailor she had a special, long-term arrangement with a few years back, coming home to mama. So, she had motioned the cabby to bring me upstairs, pronto.

     She had broken her right arm in a roustabout with a couple of robbers, trying to snatch her nightly take. She worked without a pimp or any protection. Her small purse had lipstick, cigarettes, and her moolah. So she sat there on the wilted yellow sheets in the noonday heat, wearing only the white cast, slightly soiled, white bra and panties, deep mahogany skin, and her effortless laugh.

     “You should see them, Erik,” referring to the robbers, and her street-fight toughness.

     I didn’t doubt it, judging by her athletic body. She told me she was a sprinter back in high school. I was a long distance runner.

     Erik, that’s what I called myself back then. But she came to call me Johnny.

     She was convinced,  dat chu you reely are.

     Good for her, cause I had so many aliases going on, I had no idea. Johnny was the name on the driver’s license I cleaned off a guy I beat up on the on-ramp to I-80, heading out of Sacramento. He was trying to take over my spot, and Sacramento is a dog-assed town to get a ride out of. Plus the pigs hassle the piss out of you for “Pedestrian on the freeway.”

     So I stomped him with my Georgia work Boots. Rolled him. His license mug looked a lot like me and said I was  Johnny . . . she cooed to me softly, when I gave her dah purr tongue on soaked sheets, down near da harbour.

     The Queen hooked me up with a stone-rap, dub-reggae DJ called King Faces. He had the shit—hydraulically pressed bricks coated in raw cane juice. No dog odor. Till you break it open. Three pounds went to Pittsburgh—my Jewish high school buddy who worked the swing shift at a bagel factory.

    Telling the kid my story, sitting in the terminal, waiting on the ‘Hound, I  kept scratching my balls. I had just fucked my used-to-be high school buddy’s girl friend a few hours ago. Couldn’t come. She was too bloated and white compared to the Queen, with her sprinter’s body and face like Diana Ross. So I faked my orgasm. But she didn’t. And afterwards, she spilled the bagels. The package, I had been waiting on for almost a week, had already arrived days ago. My former friend told her I was too deranged to be trusted. I might get them all busted. He said I wasn’t right in my mind. Which was true. But still, it was my fucking pot and he was the fucking middle man. And I had dealt dope in far worse condition back in Boulder, I explained to her, dragging on a cig’ and trying to act like I cared about her . . . long enough to get all the information I needed out of her . . .

     “So, we can’t let him know,” is what that asshole actually told her.

     American Gigolo, I fucked it all out of her—every last, lousy detail, including his lame hiding place. He was already selling quarters down on the University of Pittsburgh campus. I found a measly quarter pound, all that was left, stashed down in the basement of his run-down, drafty rental in Shadyside.

     I could feel her sopping wet pussy had dried up prickly. Terminal itch. Hoped she didn’t give me anything nasty.

     “Fuck her. Fuck him. I left my come inside his girlfriend while he was making bagels. She’ll never settle for his lame action again,” I practically shouted into the stale terminal air. Hell wasn’t too far behind me, or ahead of me, out on the highway.

     As we finally boarded the bus for Philly, I noticed the rear tires were bald as my former high school buddy. But I didn’t tell the boy that. Because the sky had turned a tombstone grey etched with the promise of snow. Flurries started to fall as we pulled out of the Pittsburgh terminal, headed east on the old Pennsylvania Turnpike. We settled in at the back of the bus, and across the aisle from each other. I forgot about him, going after that sweet picture in my mind—seven pounds sent to my friend who was holed up in an even smaller town, with no phone, outside of State College, Pa. It’s got to be there.

     Every actor has to have some motivation for his part. And I had mine down. Janna. She left me for a drop-out dope dealer my freshman year at Penn State. I ran into her on New Year’s Eve at my former high school buddies house in Shadyside. She was all fucked up. I told her what I was up to. She didn’t believe me. Thought I was crazy too. And all the while, he had been sitting on my three pounds. So, I was going to show her. Return to Penn State, the conquering hero, with my seven pounds of Jamaican high test ganja. She’d be back at school by now. Fucking Janna, back in the day, was like taking the rocket to Mars. I needed to go there. She’d do anything, say anything, wear anything back in the holy days of our Fuck. I’d been running from her for six months in a non-stop, manic I-don’t-want-to-come-down. She was my first love, high school sweetheart. We went away to college together. Now I was running back to mama. Running scared inside, just like that boy. I had cut myself off from everyone. Outlaw Daze.

     You can’t blame a January sky in Pennsylvania for delivering a white-out. Driver must have been doing seventy down the ‘pike—too fast I thought—trying to outrun the storm, coming from the west. I decided to visit the bathroom, spark a bowl, and calm myself down. I was having a kind of culture shock— Boulder, Pittsburgh, Miami, Kingston, Pittsburgh. Bathroom was occupied.

     Oh well. Back to my seat. The boy’s not there. Must be him in the bathroom.

So white outside. Follow my breath by the window, like Guru Maharaji taught us in Montreal just last June . . . seems like years ago. Do a mantra.

     Suddenly I see . . . Janna’s white skin and green eyes. Christ, my last year at Penn State, I saw her in a porno mag’ I picked up at the Smith News in Pittsburgh. Sexscope.

So that’s where those photos wound up that her freshman art teacher took. At the time, I wondered if she knew. Back at school after Christmas break, sophomore year, I showed Janna the pictures. She didn’t say anything. A minute later, she took her clothes off and dragged me down onto my mattress on the floor. We had been broken up, and hadn’t balled in months. That was all the confirmation I needed. And that was the last time we got it on.

     It hurt so bad, after awhile, I burned up the porno pages, clipped from the dirty mag’, in a late night candle ritual with lots of hash and wine. I just couldn’t take looking at them any longer. It was the first time I had been cuckolded. And certainly wouldn’t be the last.

     Her art teacher’s cock was kind of thick. He was dark and hairy, in a Jew way, like Harry Reems in Deep Throat. I’d already checked out the stills from Deep Throat in a dirty mag called Amerisex. Ameripass. The problem with riding the ‘Hound on bald tires in the dead of winter is, You don’t know how to get off.

     Hit a bump. Huh? Look out the window. Bus is going sideways at seventy. “Deeper than deep . . .” Spinning out. Carnival ride. Centrifugal Force Freshman Physics, Penn State, got an A. Tilting. Tilt-a Whirl. Over the guard rail, rolling . . . we are rolling down the embankment. Passengers are flying around inside the bus like gum balls inside a gum ball machine. Everything stops. No sound. Lying flat on my back, the bus on its side, rear emergency door pops open . . . by itself. My God! The snow is carefully, perfectly descending, trying to catch up to its shadow, dancing under the street light on fine powder. China White. Sudden chill shoots up my spine and explodes white moment eternal. Nectar. Not in my body. I’m floating up there in the streetlight descending.

Wham! Screams come from behind me. Pain seizes my neck, my elbow, my knee. I’m lying on top of the bathroom door. Someone tells me to go out the rear emergency door.

I step into purest snow, catching up with my shadow, reassembled, destroying perfection forever, when someone shouts at my back,

     “Be careful. There’s probably broken glass under the snow.”

     Too late. I slip and fall. But come up again just fine, with no cuts and no blood.

     Brave bus driver, with blood drying quickly in the cold, matting his thick black hair to his forehead, lines us all up in this field somewhere in central Pennsylvania. He goes down the line, counting to sixteen. Again, stopping at sixteen.

     Shakes his  head. “There’s supposed to be seventeen passengers when we left the terminal,” he says to anyone.

     The boy. What about the boy!? “There was a boy sitting across the aisle from me going to Mars. I don’t see him!” I shouted.

     “All right. I’m going back in to look. Everyone stay put,” bus driver said, “and try to stay warm.”

     But the bus driver didn’t come back out with the boy. He didn’t see him anywhere. Instead, the bus driver and another man brought out our stuff, best as they could, from the wreckage, resting cold, dark, and still on fresh snow.

     My duffel bag, I almost forgot. Thank god everything was in there. Bottle wasn’t even broken. Good. I would need that later, along with the quarter pound to pay my way if the unthinkable had happened in State College, too.

     But my outlaw hat was left behind in the wreckage, as we trudged across the field to a farm house.

     Thank God we were all ambulatory. No one was injured more than cuts, sprains  and bruises. Bus driver had done a hell of a job laying it down, after he spun out.

     As we approached the warm yellow glow, and warmed up inside, I started to suspect . . . underneath the fresh snow . . . and say it in my mind . . . He went . . . couldn’t say it out loud, or picture it, or really think it for more than a second, till the crane came and actually lifted up the bus. He went through the bathroom window and was crushed underneath. I was lying on top of the bathroom door when the bus stopped rolling. I would have gone in the bathroom to get high. But he was in there instead—never saw it coming, and nothing to grab onto—maybe sick, woozy, because I spiked his Coke with overproof rum. He was only seventeen. His first time away from home.

     He passed up through me, and took every idea I had in my mind. I was gone too.

     TV crew came out from Pittsburgh. Film at eleven, Christ they got there fast. They wanted my reaction, because I knew him, talked to him back in the terminal and on the bus before he died.

     And I said, “Fuck you!” to all the maggots back in Pittsburgh, wanting to feed on that boy’s flesh. And fuck you! to every day of my life lived up to that moment. That was it. That was the split. Forever more. There would be my life up to the second the bus stopped rolling and my life after. I owed it to him . . . Or so the story about myself played in my head.

     They brought out another bus to take what few passengers wanted to go onto their destinations, instead of going to the hospital and the hotels in Indiana, Pa. I made State College around 2:00 a.m. Phone booth waiting on my dime in front of the State Theater on College Avenue. Deep Throat was playing there.

     Stepped into the phone booth, dropped my dime, and dialed the last number I had for Janna, still memorized.

     “Hello?”

     “Janna, it’s Erik.”

     “What are you calling me for. I can’t talk now . . .”

     “I was in a bus accident . . . maybe you saw it on the news. The boy sitting next to me died.”

     “I’m sorry. I’m with someone,” slow deliberate speech like cartoon words filling up a balloon. Smacked out of her eyeballs.

     “Jesus Christ! I say I’ve been in a bus accident, the guy sitting next to me died, and you say . . . Fuck! Never mind!”

     “I gotta go,” she slurred.

     I hung up the phone and never saw her or spoke to her again.

     So, I took a room in the State Hotel, above the marquee, and over the theater where Linda was going, “Deeper than deep…” White room, white lace curtains, white bedspread, clear overproof room. When I came to the next day, the storm had dressed the sleepy college town in fresh, white gauze bandages wrapped around me . . . the invisible man.

     I went back down to that same phone booth and called up a friend of my friend. I told him what happened. A few hours later, my friend came and got me. I had told him I would wait inside the theater. Why not. I paid the price of admission, two bucks, and slipped inside the celluloid shadows. Christ. The friend of my friend had said my package never arrived. And it didn’t matter at all.

     And there for the first time, I saw Linda going for that fabled orgasm in her throat. Spiked my coke. Why not. Feeling no pain. Laughed with everyone else at the scene with the smash edits showing the rocket taking off, while Linda was going “Deeper than deep . . .”

     I took my rocket to Mars. What else could I do. Sold the quarter. Scraped up the last of my money, and came up with a new idea in my mind.

     I made it all the way back down to Kingston.

     And she was waiting for me, leaning up against a stucco building that had been there since the Spanish built it, back in the 1700s. One foot propped up against the wall, cracking canvas for her dusty, worn-down pumps, bare legs, tight black skirt, and effortless white blouse, open at her taut throat, to reveal her “Deeper than deep . . .” cleavage.

     And I want to go there. Leave the dying fields in Pennsylvania forever. And I did. Never stepped foot in the Keystone State again.

     She had her Diana Ross wig hat on, framed by the last gasp of sun rushing down East Street like Cortez’ Gold. Out to catch a man.

     “So you come back,” is all she said.

     And you will become a fisher of men.

     Martyr. Christlike. She reeled me in like so many sailors, sons and boys who lost their way.

     He just wanted to go home.

     Her cast was off so both her arms could circle me for the first time, breathing her sweet dark rum, perfume, and cigarettes. I drank from her mouth. No more outlaw in my mind. Scared straight for three weeks, starting at my friend’s farmhouse in Bellefonte, Pa.

     The boy had delivered me to my last safe harbor . . . in the winter of my “Deeper than  Deep Throat.”

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