The winds had died down as quickly as they began. Litter, felled trees and uprooted vegatation intermingled with what appeared to be construction debris were strew across the landscape, leaving Muskrat Flats a humid chaotic mess. Fortunately there was no loss of life.
The Flatlanders did what the could, what they had always done. They went to the Odd Fellows, got the days news with a few home made blue ribbon winning blueberry muffins and some freshly roasted coffee courtesy of Sid Bartelby's wife, Iva.
After breakfast was done they all ventured out to help with the clean up where they could. Some went to the Farm Museum to help tend to the horses and clean up the small live stock pens. Others went to Hawthorne Ave. to help clear the roads for the imposing orange Asplundh emergency vehicles, whose inhabitants in conjunction with the local utilities were steadily working to shore up and finalize the electrical, cable, and telephone connections. They were in contact with Gomer Eckstien who was keeping the folks in the flats informed of what was happening on the ground with his eye in the sky view from his single engined multi-colored bi-plane.
Other residents tended to their own situations doing their yard clean up and organization. That was a week ago. For the most part things are back to normal in Muskrat Flats ... well as normal as they could ever be.
Gomer Eckstien was dressed a little less casually than he normally would have been. After all it was a special day. His Dad, Moe, turned 75 today. Gomer was going to visit him where he resided, an assisted living community on the grounds of the Municipal Hospital. .
Moe Eckstien ended up in Muskrat Flats in the early sixties. Much like his son he was a writer and musician. Even then Muskrat Flats had already developed the reputation for being a more forward thinking an tolerant community which had a tendency for embracing the odd and fantastic, a tip of the hat and lasting legacy to Muskrat Flats founder, Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne.
Gomer pulled his tri-colored primer swatched F150 into the parking lot. He enjoyed these visits with his father but lately they had become tedious. His father was fading. Up until the last 8 months, Gomer had known his Dad to be as energetic and virile as he was. He was a strong, successful man and an active member of the Odd Fellows. He was a frequently published magazine contributor, often writing political satire and social commentary. He had three books under his belt and was working on a fourth, a memoir, with which his son, Gomer was helping him.
Gomer looked about the grounds. They were pristine with perfectly manicured shrubs and lawns. There were no signs that last weeks microburst, they were no longer calling it a tornado, had affected the grounds at all. Gomer thought to himself and said a short prayer. He quietly gave thanks that conditions in the Flats had not been worse after seeing the devastation happening in Texas as a result of Hurricane Ike. He prayed for the strength and the acceptance he needed to get through the next three hours.
He looked in his rear view mirror only to see the hot air balloon gondola he had neglected to unload as he rushed around in the morning trying to get away from the Jump school in time for his appointment with his Dad. He looked in his ashtray and there it was. It was a plump fat joint of the finest cannabis grown in the solar powered shipping containers located somewhere within Muskrat Flats.
That joint had been sitting there in his ashtray for more than three years. It was the joint he kept telling himself he would smoke tomorrow, but every morning he seemed to change his mind and put off smoking it yet another day. It was a silly and dangerous game he played with himself, but it seemed to work.
It reminded him of some old school Alcoholics who carried a pint of liquor in their glove compartments in the instance that they had to go on a 12th step call to bring an alcoholic to a detox. The bottle was there to help the sick and suffering alcoholic, to staved off the DTs allowing him to comfortably bide his time until he was safely bedded in a medical detox facility, much like the facility they had on these grounds. The very same one Gomer had been through three times to detoxify from his drug of choice.
Although Gomer had been a dyed in the wool heroin addict, a situation which led to the demise of his last band Canker Soars, he had been clean for almost five years. He found that joint on the ground in the parking lot outside a venue where his latest band Gomer Shabbos and the Hook Nosed Satans had just played. It was the ultimate test for him. Had he not been where he was in his recovery, he surely would have smoked it. He even considered smoking it. Not being responsible for his first thought, he pushed this thought aside and used the tools at his disposal to work through the situation. He was, after all responsible for his second thought and his first action.
He thought about what his sponsor Jeff had said.
"It is simple, if you are an addict and you continue to use, things are going to get worse. If they don't get worse, then maybe you are not an addict. But only you can make that decision."
Gomer did make a decision, he knew who he was. He chose to keep the joint as a reminder of how it all started. The drug that had taken him down that long, dusty road and garbage strewn road of addiction.
He checked his teeth in the mirror, grabbed his leather bag and walked in.
"Sonny, you are early, so good to see you!" Gomer smile and kissed his Dad on the forehead.
"Hi Dad, how are they hanging?"
"Feh ... they hang, that's about all they do with all of the medication I'm on." Gomer laughed .
"Hey what are you doing on Friday night?"
"We've got a job, a wedding in Eden Prairie."
"Minnesota? Shit that's outside St. Paul, right? We played there once. Garrison Keillor was in the audience that night, I was hoping he would have us on the show ..." He trailed off and shifted in his chair looked pained an uncomfortable.
"So, what is happening Friday,"
"Hector and Beaver are coming in to visit. There are a couple of other writers in here. We are going to turn the rec room into a Coffee House. Hector is going to play some guitar, Me, Beaver and a few others are going to do some spoken word. someone is going to read some passages from Howl. We are going for the North Beach Beat vibe."
"Wow, Dad! Lemme guess, it was your idea."
"Well, Larry picked up the ball and ran with it. I just picked the name. Larry wanted to call it the "Hep Cat" but we're calling it "The Incontinent Cat." Gomer laughed hysterically.
"So, how are you doing, sonny?"
"No, I mean how are you doing? You still got that joint in your car?"
"Oh, yeah that. I doing good, Dad. A day at a time, like they say."
"They say that don't they." He leaned in.
"You know the Blackstone kid, the homeless guy?"
"Yeah, I know Coley."
"Tunrs out he is not homelss after all and he's across the yard in the psych ward. they say he is doing well."
"Yeah, everyone in town is talking about it."
Gomer unpacked his recorder and set up the mic. He turned it on and hit the record button.
"So speaking of North Beach. I ever tell you about the time I saw Lenny Bruce?"
"What?!!" Gomer asked wide eyed.
"I was already living in the Flats. I was heading back out West for a few weeks anyway when Beaver called me. He was working at the Fillmore West at the time and told me that Lenny Bruce was going to be playing in June.
"Beaver had been working for Bill Graham at the time. Every now and then Beaver and I would head out to Palo Alto and hang out in the coffee houses near Stanford. We would see Jerry Garcia there. He was playing a banjo all the time. So there was a lot of overlap between the Beat scene and the growing hippie scene. All of the literary greats were around as well. Kesey, Alan Ginsberg ... Beaver and I saw Alan Ginsberg read from Howl!"
"Wow that is soo cool." Moe just kind of drifted off, obviously processing the memory. He continued.
"So, when Beaver told me Bill Graham was trying to get Lenny Bruce's number from Lawrence Ferlinghetti so he could book him at the Fillmore, I knew I had to be there ... The icing on the cake is that The Mothers, you know, Frank Zappa, were on the bill as well."
"I know who the Mothers are, Dad" Gomer expressed with annoyance.
"It was actually kind of a nightmare for Bill. Lenny was pretty heavily into his own drug use at the time and he was constantly being arrested and harassed by the cops for obscenity. Heh, compared to today's standards? Lenny Bruce was a lightweight. But then, Nobody, and I mean Nobody dared to do what he did. He was a warrior for the first amendment. That's why I write the way I do."
"So, the story goes that Bill went to pick him up at the airport in this old convertible Karmaan Ghia at about 3 in the morning. All Lenny did was complain about how cold it was and what a nut Bill Graham was for driving around with the top down, so early in the morning. It was probably Bill's way of saying "fuck you" for having stood him up at the airport earlier in the day. Bill dropped him off in North Beach and didn't see him again until he was two hours late for the gig."
"It was embarrassing, Sonny. So much of what I had heard about Lenny Bruce and recordings I had heard ... it was squashed that night. He was on stage a broken, paranoid, babbling man. He wasn't very funny and was obviously hopped up on something. Bill kept walking around like he used to, repeating over and over and gesturing to the stage, "I'm not responsible for this ...I'm not responsible for this!"
Fortunately, Frank Zappa saved the night, that was intense, I tell you what."
"What about Lenny Bruce? Did you get to meet him?"
"I really didn't want to. Perhaps at one point in my life I did, but not that night. A few weeks later he was found dead with a needle sticking out of his arm." Moe stopped and made eye contact with his son.
"I'm glad I never found you like that Sonny." Moe broke up a bit as a tear rolled down his cheek.
"I don't know what I would do without you, Sonny ... I just don't know." He beckoned for a hug.
Gomer leaned in and put his arms around his father, holding him tightly beginning to weep himself.
"I love you, Dad, I don't know what I am going to do without you."
"I know, Sonny, I know. Just do me a favor ... hold on to that joint." They hugged once again.
The next day down at the Odd Fellows Hall, the regulars gathered to bid Gomer farewell and a good trip. They all sat around listening intently as Gomer related the tale of his father seeing Lenny Bruce. They all enjoyed some finely roasted coffee and some of Iva's blue ribbon winning blueberry muffins with some freshly made butter Sveltie brought along from the Farm museum. It seemed like any other day, but they were there for Gomer. They knew what he may be coming back to.
Disease is a strong thing, whether it be mental or spiritual, those situations, with God's grace, can be corrected. But when they are physical, sometimes there is only so much you can do other than just be there ... be there for support.
Gomer said his farewell's as the rest of the band piled into the van. He looked at his joint which he moved from his truck to the ashtray of the van. As Gomer pointed the van in the direction of Eden Prairie. He thought about his father and said another prayer. He looked at the joint again and said to himself, "I'm all set today. But, I'll puff that fatty tomorrow, I'm sure I will," He put the van in gear and he was ...
Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.