Digital Tavern: Summer of '81

It was the first year of the age of Reagan, the summer of the Royal Wedding and the infamous PATCO strike. The Raiders were NFL Champions and Hill Street Blues was the top cop show on TV. As a nation we were still clearing our heads of the horrid visions of the preceding ten years; those years having been spent recovering from the even more tumultuous decade before. At the time I was blissfully unaware of all of this deeper context of the times. Though this time did not share the urgency that was felt in the 60s, it was a peculiar time at which to come of age nonetheless. The 70s were not quite over, but the 80s had not yet really begun. That summer my 19th birthday loomed toward it's end, and all of the strange events that would follow. In Franklin County, Ohio this was the summer of Mr. Natural, those 3$ cardboard chits with the Grateful Dead logo printed on them in red. In that 90 day period I probably consumed a sheet on my own. I discovered such wonders as the wave forms trailing a neon yellow tennis ball whacked with an aluminum baseball bat. 

 

At that time I was the youngest member of a crew for a local sign company who fabricated and serviced box signs and neon for a host of businesses in central Ohio. Officially I was an electrician's apprentice assigned to the service crew, but as the young pup of the lot my function was more that of a go-fer. It was my first "real" job beyond the usual teen-aged gigs of convenience store clerk or gas station attendant. The next youngest member of the roster was 33. If you've ever watched That 70s Show here is a frame of reference: I was Eric Foreman working in a shop filled with a bunch of Red Foremans.

 

The grand old man of the place was a fella I'll call Mr. Joe. At the time Mr. Joe was the only neon man for a hundred miles in any direction. He was well into his sixties, I am certain. Mr. Joe was a Marine combat veteran of the Pacific theater in WWII, he lived alone in an apartment in the OSU campus area, drank like a fish, smoked  like a chimney and greeted most who entered his lab with either stony silence or a snarl. I never did partake with the man, but to this day I strongly suspect that he was a stoner. For some unfathomable reason Mr. Joe took a shine to me, calling me College Boy. When I wasn't out with one of the service crews I was in the shop with Mr. Joe.

 

I make Mr. Joe a part of this tale because this entire idea of a digital tavern originated on Opher's thread on his Beat Poets article. I went to school in a time and place where one did not get exposed to such things as Kerouac or Kesey, Ginsberg or Burroughs. I was the eldest of my immediate family and no cousins nearby. No older brother to serve as a bad influence. I had been a 4.0 student, National Honor Society, President of the German Club, part of the yearbook staff; I was a textbook preppie. All of the trouble I found in subsequent years I found entirely on my own, but people like Mr. Joe were key in pointing the way there. I was already well predisposed to the lessons, but he introduced me to Kerouac, Castaneda and most importantly: Hunter S. Thompson. Amidst the various and sundry items scattered throughout his lab there were countless old magazines, many of which were old editions of Rolling Stone. It was here that I got my first taste of Fear and Loathing. I was a little late to the party, I readily admit, but I have been attuned to this type of tortured thought ever since.

 

Another one of the fellas I worked with at the sign company was a good ole boy from a little holler down in east Kentucky, a crazed Vietnam vet we called Crazy Keith. He was the hot shot on the service crew. Whether he was working out of a bucket, off a ledge or on the scaffolding of the Budweiser plant 150 feet in the air, the man was utterly fearless. Never wore a safety harness. Most of the time the guy scared the shit out of me, but after working enough jobs together we became familiar enough to meet at times outside of work. Keith was a stoner, in fact took delivery of a quarter pound a week; half of which he sold, the rest went up in smoke. It was mostly on this basis that I ended up becoming a frequent guest at his place.

 

In appearance Keith was something of a cross between Steve Buscemi and Goober Pyle and yet somehow he had this smokin' hot little wife, Joanne. I never considered for one second anything like making any moves on her. Keith was a guy who almost certainly would and probably had killed men over less, but it ain't no lie friends, she was fine to look at. She was a nurse at a State Mental Hospital about 15 miles outside of Columbus and this alone is how she figures into this story.

 

One Friday after work Keith and I went to a little local tavern called Renes Lounge for a couple of cold ones and a few rounds of pool. Joanne normally got off work at 4:00 and was supposed to meet us there. When it was nearly 6:00 we were getting half in the bag and she still hadn't shown so Keith decided we'd head on to his place. We got as far as the parking lot when she suddenly pulled up. She was laughing when she got out of her car and explained to us that she had been delayed because a group of cattle had broken out and were being herded over to another paddock temporarily, across the road from where they had been. You could almost see the light bulb form over Keith's head.

 

The field that these cattle had been moved to was only accessible to the public from the parking lot of the post office adjacent. This is a little village that I am sure any of you can relate to, they exist in every state. The sort of place that is often mistakenly identified as Resume Speed. Keith knew this area very well. Later that night, after the shift change, we rolled up in his Ford Econoline box van and parked behind the post office where we were entirely obscured from the road. You didn't need to worry about video cameras back then. We were equipped with a crossbow, a cache of six arrows, a Bowie knife and 50' of nylon rope. Only ten yards distant from where we parked was the low, wide gauged wire fence between the post office property and the herd beyond.

 

The fence was easy to clear and we spent the next humid hour stalking our quarry into the corner nearest the post office. It must have been some time around 1:30 that we finally had isolated our choice and had her lined up in the right spot for Keith to take his shot. He hit the target, though not where he had hoped, piercing her broadside and putting one into a lung. This slowed her down, but it wasn't enough. We ended up chasing her halfway back into that field before getting a solid enough hold on her to finish the deed with the Bowie knife. We ended up gutting her there, about a hundred yards from the fence, cracking the spine and looping rope around both sets of hooves to then drag the carcass to the fence and on to the van.

 

Some time after 3 AM Keith and I dragged our trophy in black Glad garbage bags up three flights of stairs to their apartment and proceeded to carve it up in their bath tub. Joanne was not amused. The next day we had a big BBQ. It was tough as shoe leather, but still some of the best grilling I can remember. It is only by the grace of the statute of limitations that I share this tale. I have been in a state of war with Ohio ever since.

 

I learned a lot at that sign company, but very little of it had to do with signs. At least not the sort hung outside of a business. Six months later I was off on my own odyssey and I owe an awful lot of that to Mr. Joe.

Comments

Stone-Eater Added Sep 14, 2018 - 6:32am
Well....stuff like that can surely not happen here LOL
Jeffry Gilbert Added Sep 14, 2018 - 7:23am
Well, I never! Bunch of scofflaws. :) 
Mustafa Kemal Added Sep 14, 2018 - 9:17am
Hunter S. Thompson, I suspected as much.
Ive seen bats flying over some of your articles for some time now.
 
At the beginning I was naive enough to think we were going on a cow tipping excursion, I always enjoyed those, but then I thought it was going to be an alien cow mutilation false flag attack until the bow came out.  Contemporary Ohio cattle rustlers, you have to love the classics.
 
Uh oh, I think some memories buried deep within the sublimations of 26 years of a Q-clearance are starting to surface. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted
 
Mustafa
 
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 14, 2018 - 10:32am
There are really no good towns for psychedelic drugs. best enjoyed in a more pastoral setting, or mental intstitutions
Mustafa Kemal Added Sep 14, 2018 - 10:44am
"There are really no good towns for psychedelic drugs. best enjoyed in a more pastoral setting, or mental intstitutions"
 
Tucson in the 70s with Castenada lurking behind Saguaro cacti was quite fine. As for mental institutions, Ive always been afraid of Nurse Rachet, so I have steered clear.  My reality is twisted enough.
 
A gut gebentsht yohr
Mustafa
 
Ric Wells Added Sep 14, 2018 - 4:55pm
It seems all if us have memories and realities that we carry gladly as we race towards life's ultimate goal. Each individual yet relatable to each other as the synapses of our brains are awakened to our pasts. 
Flying Junior Added Sep 14, 2018 - 9:35pm
Sounds like something out of the movie Altered States.
 
San Diego isn't too bad for psychedelics.  We've got the beach, the mountains and a beautiful painted desert.  Today when I revisit these places I remember the trips that I took in the 1980s.
John Minehan Added Sep 15, 2018 - 9:29am
I once worked for a while on the Grounds Crew at a County Old Age Home. 
 
In addition to mowing lawns and painting, there was, every week, regular as clock work, there was cleaning out the grates by the cafeteria where the ventilating fans were. 
 
This involved going down into the grates and killing the rats with brooms.  Some how, your article brought back this very pleasant memory.  
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 15, 2018 - 11:40am
FJ - Paddy Chayevsky, yes! A fine piece of work!
Leroy Added Sep 15, 2018 - 1:42pm
Nice story.
 
After all but being kicked out of Band for having zero music talent, I changed to an Agriculture class.  Yes, I was a member of the Future Farmers of America, believe it or not.  Our teacher took us out to a farm one day.  We were walking in the field when a herd of cows approached us.  We took off running and jumped over the fence, scared we would be gored to death by the cows.  The teacher just shook his head and cursed us as city slickers, after he finished laughing.  I'm afraid we wouldn't have made good partners in the cow caper.  
Katharine Otto Added Sep 15, 2018 - 1:43pm
Burghal,
I guess confession is good for the soul.  I don't blame Joanne for being annoyed.  She probably had to clean up that bloody mess.  The whole affair sounds very unappetizing to me, but I can't even kill a mosquito without apologizing.  Since I got chickens, I can't eat chicken.  Please don't anyone ever give me a live cow, pig, or fish.  
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 15, 2018 - 1:46pm
While you were enduring that treacle I was already deep in the alternative universe. I stepped off of a subway car on a cold winter night in Toronto in 1982, in my boots and jeans, flannel shirt, army surplus coat, beard....big dumb Ohio farm boy looking like Jon Fogerty and I am greeted by a chic in leather with green, spiked hair and a pair of handcuffs. One end was shackled about her wrist and the other end had a chain which was connected to a piercing in her girlfriend's nose. The girlfriend sneered at me and said "What the fuck are you?" I instinctively turned around to see who she was talking to. 
A week later I was at the infamous Club 999 on Queen Street, and no it was not what you think. All of the "queens" hung out over in Don Mills with the rest of the freaks. The music I experienced in a two year period was stuff that I either never heard on US radio, or if I did it was on a two three year delay. For most of the country there was no alternative radio outlet other than campus radio, which IMO was in its heyday in the 80s
Flying Junior Added Sep 16, 2018 - 1:33am
KPFK Los Angeles had a bad-ass show that started every Saturday night at midnight which played nothing but punk and alternative all fucking night.  Like anything else, it's where you find it.
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 16, 2018 - 2:10am
FJ - so true. The coasts and larger urban centers had this, but at that time in flyover country ( you know: <gasp> red states) I think the  field of radio was still dominated by a more conservative school of thought. Consequently if one lived outside of these larger orbits you found this scene only through campus radio. The advent of MTV and programs like Night Flight had a large role in changing this
opher goodwin Added Sep 17, 2018 - 5:50am
AaaH - the memories and confessions are coming out thick and fast. The poor cow!!
This digital Tavern is sure breeding tales! It is good to hear about the exploits and past lives of the people on here. I think it makes us real.
Tales breed like flies and memories rise from the deep!
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 17, 2018 - 6:16am
We saved that cow. Instead of becoming waste in the plumbing of a mental institution she became waste in a municipal water treatment system
opher goodwin Added Sep 17, 2018 - 6:33am
We all become waste! I'm sure she appreciated it!
Ward Tipton Added Sep 17, 2018 - 10:48am
My first thought with a field of cattle would have been mushrooms ... and the old abandoned insane asylum off 33/119 up in Beckley ... 
 
Jes sayin' ... 
 
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 17, 2018 - 3:13pm
I thought you were a florist. No? I'm shocked....
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 17, 2018 - 3:14pm
Beckley, eh....hmmm
Ward Tipton Added Sep 18, 2018 - 1:08am
Good shrooms, haunting environs ... hehehehehe All the makings for a grand old time! 

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