I had retrieved three copies of my class set of The Motel Life from storage. For several days, I carried them around on my walks and bike rides with the intent of distributing them to Mark the Book Chat Man. Once in his possession, he would distribute them to select street readers and kick off my idea of the Old Crow Book Club right there on Mark’s usual sidewalk where he drinks malt liquor, smokes, reads novels and engages with me in serious conversations about literature.
At last, there he was on an overcast Tuesday afternoon and two of his buddies were in attendance. One of them held a full bottle of Old Crow. The other man, elderly, black, wearing a trench coat and ball cap, walked with a cane in his right hand and fisted a brown paper bag that bore the unmistakable shape of booze in the other. Old Crow Man was introduced to me as Sean. Paper Bag Man was introduced to me as Red. Red was on his way to a bus stop to a ride to somewhere.
Why do I love interacting with this people? Read Cannery Row and you’ll understand.
I produced copies of The Motel Life for Mark and he eagerly accepted them. I told him in roughly a month we would convene on the sidewalk and discuss the book.
Sean offered me a hit off the Old Crow. Last time he offered, I’d declined.
A man can’t pass up that offer twice in a lifetime and still consider himself a connoisseur of John Steinbeck’s books.
John Steinbeck once wrote: “An American writer has to know his land and the people if he is going to write about America.”
Right now, the Americans that most interest me as a writer are those homeless moving or not moving among their land. I don’t know what their land is, or what stake they have in any American land. I won’t pretend I know anything about them or the professionals and advocates trying to assist them, but I am seeing and swimming upstream and downstream in this story. I might even be fishing for something from the bank. Writing as fishhooks, a great nihilist philosopher once wrote.
I took the bottle of Old Crew, unscrewed the cap, and glugged a belt. Jesus, the fire! It all brought back my Old Crow hi jinks in the cheap lazy gray days of Portland in the late 80s when Bud Clark was doing his thing.
I remarked to the gang that I tippled Old Crow back in the day because it was Blutarsky’s preferred liquor in Animal House.
Oh that set them off! We then launched into a spirited conversation about the movie and I told them that years ago in a Newport dive bar, I’d actually met the woman who flew in threw an open window and landed in the horny kid’s bed.
Oh, they loved that!
It was time to leave and do whatever I was supposed to be doing, but the Old Crow burned like hellfire in my gullet and I completely forgot about my destination and didn’t give a country lick. Old Crow is like that.