For a Man, There’s an Order in Life

It all starts with a good truck . . .

| Mar.-Apr. 2008

  • Truck

  • Truck

After not having a job for two years—Big Sur, sleeping among redwood trees, pot, LSD—it surprised me in early September 1967 to find that all it took to be hired as a substitute teacher in Oakland was to shave off my beard, buy a clean shirt from Goodwill, and fish among my belongings for my teaching credentials from the state of Ohio.

By the end of October paychecks were coming regularly and I could afford an inexpensive vehicle. At a Berkeley impound lot, I found a 1951 Chevrolet Suburban Carryall, a panel truck with windows all around. The color inside and out was military green. It cost me $60 and then another $12 for a battery.

Someone must have stolen the radio, since there was a gaping hole in the dashboard. Aside from looking out of date, the truck had dented fenders, which amused some of the kids in Roosevelt Junior High School, where I was hired as a full-time teacher in January. Roosevelt was predominantly black, so the Chevy, belonging to a young white teacher, served as a kind of leveler. Once in a while I drove a cluster of boys—two brothers who were black and a white friend—home, dropping them at one of their neighboring houses. The younger brother derived consistent pleasure from sliding into the backseat and saying, “Home, James.”

When summer came I was all set to drive back to Ohio to visit my parents, for the first time in several years. The military color of my Chevy didn’t seem quite right for visiting home, so I paid $50 or so to have it painted. I chose a blue that ended up looking too intense. But this didn’t matter. No color on earth could have made that vehicle look like something that belonged in the family driveway.

Having watched me from afar during the previous several years, hurt and uncomprehending, my parents surely had mixed feelings about my visit. At one point, when my father asked me, “Jim, are you psychedelic?” I couldn’t say anything in response. We leaned a lot on silence, but, all in all, the visit didn’t go so badly. Then I drove to the southern part of the state, to Barnesville, the home of my friend John Hutchinson. His friends all called him Lost John due to his monologues about who was lost (all of us) and who needed to begin thinking about overwhelmingly large matters—again, all of us.

John had visited me in California, where he took LSD, an experience that had shifted his concerns from the state of the planet to the state of the universe. Several months before I headed home to visit my parents, he’d written that he was back in Barnesville. The letter ended with: “Come meet my folks.”

5/6/2010 10:13:04 PM

Well, something good needed to come out of Ohio.

Sean Pogue
3/16/2009 6:46:19 PM

I see John around town here in Athens, Ohio from time to time. Pretty well known around here. He may have learned a thing or two since that day, but I will tell you that he is still asking that exact same question, in the exact same way.

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