Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Legend of the Hot Ratzow Part 2

The Legend of The Hot Ratzow Part II



I had just returned from hitchhiking to California. It felt good to be back in Ann Arbor. My trip was a mixed bag of self-discovery and disappointment…major disappointment. I teamed-up with Hugh Orlins for this cross country adventure. We became buddies at Bicycle Jim’s, a most unique and wonderful restaurant, where everyone seemed to possess something, almost intangible but involved courage and risk taking. We were young and many of us had already earned college degrees. Higher education didn’t seem to do us too much harm and we were, for the most part, free from the bourgeois trappings that many of our counterparts embraced whole heartedly. We avoided the corporate rat-race and delayed adulthood for several years. Some were artisans; some were performers. We were straight and we were gay and we embraced our differences. We saw ourselves as part of a counter-culture. It was here that I met the Hot Ratzow, the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. And he may have been the kindest man I’ve ever known. I know that he was more than patient with me. And somewhere behind the gaze of his steely blue eyes, he seemed to know that which is unspoken, the arrow that is never sent. And he approached life calmly, mindfully as if each perfect moment existed for a reason and should not be neglected or ignored. The Hot Ratzow didn’t rush through life multi-tasking and getting’ strung out, uptight, and in a bag. He embraced life with an inward smile that accepted everything, joy and sorrow, equally without hesitation. He taught me so much without ever trying to teach. I became friends with Carol, Theresa but mostly (in my mind) with the real Nell Caraway.


  Nell and I seriously flirted with something more intimate and loving but we just stopped, smiled and said goodbye. Soon after she moves away to another state. I never heard from here again

 By the time I returned from my time on the road, Bicycle Jim’s was in an uproar. The four managers Ann, Kate, Coleman and Tom, walked out when the owner refused pay increases to the two women on the team. In sympathy, most of the staff followed. It was a strategy that didn’t work out and most of us were left without jobs. The Hot Ratzow and I hired on as cooks at the Little Brown Jug, just down the street on South University. The owner Pat was a high strung man of Greek descent and was taken to push his cooks off of the grill so he could prepare a “special dish” for friends. He also propositioned my girlfriend at the time - $100 if she’d sleep with him. She had to accept the offer, she was broke and in debt…eventually we broke up. It was probably inevitable. She insisted she was schizophrenic and she told me that she sang occasionally with the Tubes. But it was all that in your face pathology that I found so alluring, it was her keen sense of the bizarre that I really liked about her, that ability to live on a thin line, and teeter off at any moment.

Carol and I goofed around but were unable to take it seriously. We laughed at ourselves and it was cool.
As always, the Hot Ratzow made the most of a bad situation. He never let the owner penetrate his Zen-like emotional armor and his uncanny ability to stay in the moment. I must admit we had a ball, despite the craziness. And though we didn’t really date, we met some wonderful girls, many of whom were beautiful – just like the Hot Ratzow. I dated a beautiful red-head but only briefly. She became enraged at me for not spending the night. Little did she know that I was embarrassed by this monstrous tumor-like zit on my back. It was the size of a ping pong ball or a third eye and it hurt like a bitch. I just didn’t want to be in the awkward position of her seeing it and then making fun of me or thinking I’m some kind of mutant. What if she touched it and it oozed gobs of poisonous yucky stuff while I’m screaming in torturous knife-in-the-back pain? I’ll never know for sure, she wouldn’t see me after that but I’m pretty sure that she thought, at the very least, that I was some kind of unfathomable, undeserving scum sucking idiot...or worse. I told the Hot Ratzow about my dilemma and he just shook his head and smiled. It wasn’t too long after that when everyone began picking up stakes and finding their own way home. Tom (TK), The Hot Ratzow and Theresa (one of the short-haired girls with tattoos) moved to Jackson Hole Wyoming, Roger Brown moved back to Royal Oak and I returned to Saginaw.


 It was a time of personal accounting, a reorganization of friendships...of goals. It was just a few months before my "prodigal son returns to Saginaw" act that we all got together for one last adventure. It was something I never dreamed of doing but it symbolized my quest for adventure and my uneasiness with life. I forget whose idea brought us to that modest Tecumseh airfield but I never questioned why.  I just went along with it, feigning fearlessness but all the time scared. We took a few hours of instruction and then we were going to parachute that same day, only the winds were too strong and we had to cancel our jump until the next available slot. Two weeks later the winds were right and we did take the jump. Everyone did just fine...Theresa, the Hot Ratzow and the others. But me, well I just lost it. At 3000 feet, the side door opened and I followed the commands…put your feet out, get out (hands on the top strut, feet firmly placed on the lower strut), go! I went sailing out of that plane like nobody’s business. It was exhilarating and sexy. My eyes were shut until the safety line engaged the chute. It opened like a charm. I began screaming and laughing hysterically, not listening at all to the radioed instructions from the ground below. As a result I ended up off course and landed in a farmer’s field nearby. The Tecumseh staff was none too pleased with me and invited me to never come back. Not to worry, I wasn’t going back. Still as I look back that jump was the perfect metaphor for my life at the momentand for a long time to come. I just didn’t have a clue. I rushed through life without plan or reason, as if the winds of change could blow me like a leaf and I would scatter away to satisfy its whim and fancy. And I would find myself like Dylan’s rolling stone, with no direction or conscious thought that I was so far from home and from the people I loved in Ann Arbor when I moved back to Saginaw.


 Saginaw seemed foreign to me now. I didn’t feel like it was a good fit, until, that is, I began working for my father at White’s Bar. The old timers (my grandfather's friends) accepted  me easily and the men who grew up with my father remembered me to be a good athlete in high school and embraced me for my athleticism and because I was my father’s son. I met up with an old neighborhood chum Andy Puszykowski. He was a few years older and seemed like a brother to me. He really helped me adjust and made me feel that I belonged. He captained the White’s Bar softball team and enlisted me to play, I jumped at the opportunity. It reminded me of my past, a good past of glory days and good friends.


At summer’s end in 1977, TK called me up. Something was brewing. He and a few others from our Bicycle Jim’s days were starting a restaurant in Corvallis Oregon. Would I like to join the project? I never blinked. I packed up all my stuff including my best friend Snow Puppy. Snow was my buddy and we were inseparable. I use to take him into all the record shops I frequented in Ann Arbor and one cool used record store in Ypsilanti, right off the main campus of Eastern Michigan University. It was at that particular store that I bought my first copy of the Beau Brummels' magnificent LP, Bradley's Barn, an undiscovered masterpiece that got me through many lonely moments. Snow was named for his beautiful white fur and for that burning white powder we all enjoyed so much, for such a brief moment. I bought 20 cases of Strohs for my friends in Oregon. Strohs was still a regional beer and was highly valued out west – just like Coors’ was valued in the Midwest. I was recovering from an operation and had to swear off beer and caffeine for the next month. So, Snow and me, well, we picked up stakes and headed down the Highway. It took me 60 hours to drive from Saginaw to Corvallis. It was a marathon session that left me exhausted and almost delirious. I would rest at a roadside stop for a few hours, take Snow for a walk, drink some coffee, and get back on the road again. I couldn’t wait to see my friends, just couldn’t wait. And when I left Saginaw on that muggy September morning,


 I thought I was leaving for good...

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