Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Legend of The Hot Ratzow - A True Story


The Legend of the Hot Ratzow, Part I

Bicycle Jims, Jackson Prison


The Pursuit of Hope Versus Despair


                                                                    The Hot Ratzow

I met the Hot Ratzow in late 1975 when I applied for a job at Bicycle Jim's Restaurant. I can't remember why I chose that particular restaurant but I recall eating there a few times and sensing a good vibe. I was attending graduate school in Social Work at the University of Michigan and having feeling a nagging ambivalence. I had just completed a one year field placement as a psychiatric social worker at Jackson Prison, just barely passing. I was a 22 year old vegetarian, weighing 145 pounds and wearing my hair down to my shoulders. The convicts took one look at me and licked their lips and rubbed their hands together and they made no bones about eyeing me up and down and blowing me kisses…hmm, this was going to be a real test of how much I can endure while I try to learn psychotherapy. I didn't have a clue. Several of the cons asked me for sex therapy.  One prisoner - all 6ft 5in and 300lbs of him went so far as to ask me to make a referral to University Hospital for a sex change operation. In session he wanted me to call him Donna. So I did.My supervisor Ron Gilles only laughed...the prick. It turned out that Donna just wanted to get close to me for some sex therapy.

Before I stumbled my way out of Jackson Prison, I presented a case to a prestigious team of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. One of the expert was a researcher from Michigan State University who had developed a Rorschach card (ink blots used in a projective psychological testing). I was nervous presenting to so many knowledgeable clinicians and researchers. I stumbled and stammered through my presentation. patient was more composed than me. He was a self-mutilator, a cutter, with at least a dozen tattoos. I can't recall the outcome of this important pow-wow except the Rorschach man had the furriest eyebrows I've ever seen. All he had to do was look in the mirror for the perfect Rorschach card. He reminded me of Jack Elam doing his best Dr.VanHelsing with a huge auto-erotic hypodermic needle that had more than a passing reference to phallic symbolism.

Anyway, my student loan didn't come through and my father refused to help. We were fighting.
I was lonely broke and depressed - a fatal combination for an aspiring graduate. I recently broke up with my girlfriend also a U of M student after a particularly intense acid trip. At one point I told her that I didn't really love her. As I continued tripping I curled up in a fetal position and tried to re-enter her womb. She wasn't having any of that so we ended our relationship.

I felt the void and realized something was missing...just didn't know what. The era was imbued with a fine paradox so pure in its contradictions that I existed in a vacuum of questioning authority and experimenting with choices. I was breaking out in a wildfire of heat and frenzy as if I was afraid the dancing would stop and life would fall silent and dreary. We all had grown up with bomb-shelter cold war paranoia and the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations. Many of us protested the Vietnam War and were horrified by the government brutality of Kent State. We were stunned by Watergate but smug in Nixon's disgrace. We laughed at President Jimmy Carter's lust in my heart statement as just a bit disingenuous. A Playboy interview was just too hip. Billy Carter became a marketing pawn with his Billy Beer. He was all the rage along with Punk rock and the Sex Pistols
The legacy of violence and betrayal left us a little cynical and even slightly embittered. We celebrated America's Bicentennial with our tongues-in-cheek as we sang along with Loudon Wainwright III on his big hit Dead Skunk hit and his cool-strange "T-Shirt" album. He seemed the perfect vehicle for our particular fear and loathing. I guess it was destiny or dumb luck that led me past Steve's Lunch and up the stairs to 1301 S. University. I noticed the Bicycle Jim's Restaurant marquee. I walked up the stairwell to the front door of the restaurant. The first person I met was none other than the Hot Ratzow's sister. I filled out an application and she hired me on the spot. She told me to report back on the next day and trained me for a position as a host. I would greet customers, seat them, and cash them out. I would also help bus tables and trouble shoot. Ms. Ratzow was friendly in a cold efficient way and was so fastidious about money that she would arrange all the dollar bills so they faced the same direction...north, I think. Eventually I met everyone...the management team of Joe, TK, Ann, and Kate as well as the revered head chef Roger Brown, Cathy, Linda Lou, Mary and the Hot Ratzow. 
This is a photo with me and the real Nell Carraway
I'm asking for more beer

How can I put this delicately?
The Hot Ratzow was the most beautiful man I ever met., tall but not too tall, lean yet muscular, His incredible physique was naturally sculpted like a Greek God. He had naturally curly blondish-brown hair and deep blue eyes that were penetrating and kind. He was gifted with a soft voice and manner that revealed a genuine appreciation of others. He was intelligent without preening. He did not have to state his point-of-view. He listened to others.

The Hot Ratzow and I become friends and even lived together like we were the odd couple. We hung out...Roger, Tom Knapp (TK), Hot Ratzow and others. I was more of an outsider. I never quite fit-in with anyone, not totally.
They listened to jazz and Janis Ian. I listened to the Monkees
But I loved them all. And we had several wonderful adventures...

                                                       This is my buddy Roger Brown            

In the spring of 1976, Michigan encountered an ice storm of horrific force and dimension. Ice blanketed the state. Power outages were reported from Detroit to Copper Harbor. The storm caused millions of dollars of damage. Towns and cities were shut down for several days. It was declared a natural disaster. So what did we do…we tripped on some sweet windowpane. It was better living through chemistry… Roger, the Hot Ratzow and me. It was the journey of a lifetime within the brace of an afternoon. It only seemed like a lifetime. So we dropped acid over at Roger's home on Division Street. I had just moved out of his basement and moved into an apartment with TK where I lived modestly with a mattress and blanket and a few prized possessions. I shared the space with St Bernard who shit all over the floor and - even worse – he was a sloppy kisser. I was the only one with a car when I bought a '64 Chevrolet Impala for $300. It was prized possession.
I would lend it out freely to my friends and between me and everyone else who drove it, I accumulated a mountain of parking tickets that eventually landed me in jail but that is another story.

 Well our acid trip was gradually altering our perceptions, I drove us a few blocks down the road and parked at the Arboretum. We disembarked and started our journey as the acid began to hit. I remember thinking how lucky it was that I was tripping with such acid veterans. I felt safe...for awhile. Suddenly I feel an intense rush of anxiety. I looked up into the sky and I see Roger Brown’s face and his face is laughing at me. As he continues to laugh, his image increases in size until it covers the entire sky.
I'm freaking out. So I look over to the Hot Ratzow and Roger for some kind of comfort and assurance that I hadn’t lost my mind and lo and behold they're freaking out too!.
So we are all shaking and moaning and we are beginning to understand that we are all too high, maybe the acid was cut with some poison or something. Our solution was simply brilliant. We lighted up a joint and drank some beers. In our mind bending state we thought dope and booze would help us come down and it did seem to help. We regained a trembling semblance of composure as we continued our amazing journey. It seemed likehiked for miles until the Hot Ratzow pointed out that we were walking in circles and getting nowhere. We were hopelessly lost despite the fact thatwe had all spent countless hours at the Arboretum, walking our dogs, throwing Frisbees and playing hacky sack. We gradually made our way back to the beginning but not before we encountered the carnage left by the storm, dead birds were everywhere, on the ground and stuck in unnatural and gruesome positions in the trees. Hitchcock couldn't have done it any better. Wemade it to my car.. As I slid into the driver’s seat. I told Roger and the Hot Ratzow that I was too high to drive. But they insisted they were too high to drive. So we compromised. We all drove. I'm in the driver's seat but for the life of me I can't reach the pedals and the steering wheel is three times its size, street lights are melting before my very eyes so Roger and Hot Ratzow helped out. Ratzow gave directions and operated the gas pedal. Roger filled-in with the over-sized steering wheel and the brake pedal. It was all very cozy.
We made it home but I was still in bad shape. So I called TK over at Bicycle Jim's and Theresa was dispatched to help me come down. She was an angel!

Theresa Lockwood (T) and Ronnie Stoneman
@ the Possum Holler

It was during our time at our apartment at North University that we got to know an infamous Weatherman. The Weathermen were a radical faction of the Students For a Democratic Society (or simply SDS). The SDS carried some heavy political currency with an intellectual leadership that included Carl Ogelsby and Tom Hayden (later married to Jane Fonda). However, in 1969 at the SDS National Conference, a militant faction calling themselves the Weathermen released a position paper entitled, "You Don't Need A Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows (a lyric from Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues).” They advocated for urban guerilla cadres to carry out the revolution with sporadic acts of violence. This led to the dissolution of SDS influence and signaled the beginning of the end for the New Left.  By 1976, the Weathermen were only a memory even though a few surviving members soldiered on in solitary pursuit of the working class struggle. So it was an unlikely alliance when we met a former disciple of the Weathermen. It started with Ann Arbor passing a leash law. Students and others would often allow their pets to run free in the Arboretum and other public places. In fact, some students would simply abandon their dogs before returning to their home towns. This resulted in packs of wild and hungry dogs that were sometimes quite menacing.
It was a problem.

Snow Puppy and I were use to going everywhere together - stores, record shops, coffee houses without a leash. No one seemed to mind. One sunny day the Hot Ratzow and I decide to walk our dogs at the Arboretum. We lived close-by and had to only walk through a small cemetery and squeeze through a fence. It was a glorious day until an animal control truck screeched to a halt right behind us. The Hot Ratzow and Taurus ran off with the Dog Warden and his deputies in hot pursuit, stun guns drawn and ready. They attempted to drive after them but Snow and I blocked their way. I was detained and issued a $50 citation. I gave my real name though I didn't have identification on me... duh! Several hours later everyone is at home. The weathermen dude was present and angry about the oppressive leash law. He suggested taking action such as putting a pipe bomb or sugar or something in the gas tank of a police car as a sign of protest. We unanimously declined.
I never heard from him again.
It seemed like things were getting a little strange. By this time the Hot Ratzow and I worked at The Little Brown Jug Restaurant.a pale comparison to Bicycle Jim's. In an unusual turn of events, the owner of Bicycle Jim's refused raises to the women of our management team (TK, Joe, Ann, and Kate) and in a show of solidarity, the entire staff walked out. I was hitching across country to California at the time. So I joined the strike in absentia. We all lost our jobs
and our friends and colleagues dispersed to the four winds. By now I lived with TK across town in an apartment complex. It was getting strained. We had a Dionysian  party complete with steaks, salads, cheesecake, and a huge mound of cocaine. It turned into a fiasco. Too many people taking the spoon...we had to move on. I moved back to Saginaw and worked for my father at White's Bar. I would get an occasional letter from my former roommate TK. He assured me that energy was building for a reunion of souls from Jackson Hole Wyoming to Corvallis Oregon. My friends were opening a restaurant in Corvallis.
Would I like to be involved?

Stay Tuned for Part II


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