by Charles Warrington Moulton

In the late 40's and early 50's me and Buddy Murdock swamped fruit loading
semi's bound for N.Y., Seattle, San Francisco and waterskied the Turlock
Reservoir waiting for the football season to start.  Young, tough lords, our
families owned by vineyard, orchard and berrypatch a good part of Northeast
Modesto.  We posed and yearned for girls, and when one looked at me I'd suffer
the shock and heat of Rimsky-Korsakov's SHEHERAZADE or if it was a girl I'd
spoken to and she to me, the POLONAISE or CLAIR DE LUNE and if she was
fat, a Straussian waltz occurred in my hands.  I learned truth from lies in the flim
flam of Jimminy Cricket and Pinocchio, my nose growing more fickle as I headed
for the mill wheel.  I learned to dislike Disney --- all that flap, tootle and swag,
slouch, scuttle and tiptoe of animals totally unrelated save the chauvinist
reductions.  "Am I part of the moral potential being made complete on the
pitchfprk of Elmer Fudd?"  And I was so shy that when Bambi's mother got
burned up and Snow White married the last prince in the last village I must have
just pushed myself from the seat and floated off face down in the lily pond of
pity and sentiment.  James Cagney saved me and helped me understand the
rhetoric of puberty.  Just talk the dames down buddy boy.  Always be as artificial
as a rhinoceros, grapefruit in the face, Rhapsody in Blue, sugar in the rhubarb,
but never let the conversation sink to the level of social exchange or you will be
changed into a dormouse, Kewpie doll bent over the sink polishing silverware or
sent from the property humiliated, divorced, unable to claim any part of the law
of nature much less your own guts.  Look up with grotesque condescension at
bigger people, don't let the cops take over the town, and be charming as you take
the lady's hanky, wipe the fingerprints off the automatic before shoving it into
the wet cement, and if you get nicked by a bullet say someting ideal like "You
dirty rat" or "Rotten Motherfucker."

Diligence we learned from Alan Ladd.  We bought trenchcoats, put the collars
up, and didn't look to the side.  We came up with a plan, rehearsed it several
times, and it came off with me throwing ketchup all over the place as Buddy
Murdock stepped from his dad's Cadillac, 38 long barrel with blanks blazing,
yelling "This is from Lucky you bastard!  You shoulda kept your mouth shut!" as
I reached into the trenchcoat for the silver 32 Bob Tankerville stole from the track
coach, shot back, turned to the high school crowd laid back drinking sherry
cokes in front of Bergies Drive-in, my face shot off, and fell into the gutter.
(Luciano was in Quentin probably talking to his mom about a bad tooth over the
phone) (Machinegun Kelly just sitting there dreaming away).  Tankerville pulled
up in his dad's Packard, Maynard and Alan getting out with pump shotguns, the
shells emptied of shot, recrimped, blasting at Doc as he swung around the corner,
Clayton hanging out the back window pounding back with a double-barrel.
They threw me in the back of the Packard, 15 sec. and we were out of there, 2 1/2
blocks to the alley behind Allen's house, parents gone for the weekend, the
double garage door closing behind us, 10 min. and we were back at Bergies, clean
T-shirts, pointing out to the cops that it was their job to round up the bad guys
and put 'em behind bars where they belonged.

I first experienced realism swinging through the jungle with Tarzan.  One minute
he's up in the trees. the next he's being eaten by a giant clam-like plant while Jane
feeds coconut milk to monkeys.  I was frightened for Johnny and yelled out loud
in the theater.  Actually my dreams were legion and lucky as if Judy Garland (or
young Fidel Castro) had whispered something in my ear.  Gene Autry taught me
how to overcome embarrassment.  Just whip out a guitar and keep playing and
singing no matter how bad it gets.  Get a horse with six-gun nostrils so you can
respond to events and never lose.

Jackie Cooper with the Dead End Kids pointed a finger to his right temple and
thought of the one great thing to do, an accuracy more pure and merciful that St.
Paul, cheating no one out of a good experience.  Burt Lancaster "Citizen of the
Spirit" showed me how to break out of prison and turn somersaults with
foreigners who spike bad English.  It was then that I began to walk upstairs,
excited by the threat of destiny, having seen Linda Darnel swoon and pass
beneath the black mask into the dark cape of Zorro.  I needed a mask.  I needed a
cape, a sword, and a torch.  I needed something besides a dog that barked at me
when I came home.  I fell in love with Merle Oberon.  I thought like Olivier.  I
could take some small detail and make it significant in epic proportions.  I even
thought I could break it loose with Ginger Rogers.  We would begin dancing
cheek to cheek in a somber dance hall and I would kiss some unseemly lonely
thought and she would respond with the raggle taggle smile and my feet would
start to flutter out across the dance floor.  My vain and boyish frivolity almost
ended with Miss Miniver wishing only to be part of the reflections of Greer
Garson and distant war.  Bing Crosby convinced me that nothing need be for
certain, and I started crooning in the shower and down the carpeted hall.
"Mister Bluebird on my shoulder, it's actual, everything is satisfactual, Zippety-

I floated on the voice wings of Sara Vaughn through deep purple into a  most
casual summertime.

My peer life got pumped up with John Wayne who showed us how to dramatize
what we knew nothing about.  How to swing the shoulders around with
fermented necessity and puzzled condescension making a thing true.

Someone took me to a play by Eugene O'Neil, serious!  I went home thinking that
everyone was an active worker whether he had a job or not.  A lot of people work
against emotional blocks, and that it is consideration and progress but progress
alone that welcomes us into the future.  All public figures are whores.  Jesus
what's his name included.  That year Sinclair Lewis, having watched the petering
out of America, gave up the bother at being and instrument of provincialism,
closed his eyes, and sought another life.  Sainthood, I learned from Stan Laurel.
St. Stan.  Sometimes I got it right.

Sunday afternoons we rode our sorrels on the canal banks and shot frogs with
pellet rifles, cutting the legs off, pantsing them, and frying them for breakfast the
next morning, recalling Nijinsky's dancing in a speckled newsreel.  Sometimes
we'd hole up in the hobo jungle south of Riverdale and maybe choreograph a
few into hobo's slumgullion.  They loved us and talked like no thought oughta be
hidden.  We talked about Joe Louis who circled guys and watched 'em and thought
about throwing the big punch and watched 'em an circled and thought
about it, stopped and threw it.  We talked about Charlie McCarthy sitting on the
throne of Edgar Bergen's knee dictating public health and welfare policy for
decades.  Edgar being so soft of mouth, so disturbed, so yielding.

And then there was the panorama of Paul Robeson turning in the fractured
ruminations of the Mississippi and in a voice like sunrise scrubbing beasts and
barges to the color of roses, entered the nemesis of southern masculine racist
impotence and was crucified for the sake of others.  And Jackie Robinson,
overcoming the resistance, signed with the Dodgers and went into what was
arguably a more ecstatic orbit than NASA.  I remember Elizabeth Taylor riding
National Velvet into the winner's circle and the life of a merry-go-round.
America's widowed queen and "alter-rail" (targeted woman of shame) believed
in ideals and other people's ideals, struggled with, but had her own conscience,
becoming one of America's more certain examples of refusal to compromise.

They said John D. Rockefeller said that America was a rose that just needed to be
pruned---the world a garden that needed weeding.  We laid back in the shade
and watched the mail come by stunt pilot in a biplane.  The hobos talked about
the silent movies; the greatest art of all, your throat welling up with words no
one ever spoke.  Buster Keaton was like a guy in the alley, a funny neighbor
when all America met in the alley after church, a time when big business was just
a nuisance of braggarts hounding the government into a nightmare no one
wanted to give in to.  Keaton touched people with a confection above all that
pompousness and wealth, and Charlie Chaplin the incorruptible obliging loose
foot.  He was like a bubble shot with rainbows floating through the American
mind down the stream of need and pride giving such distinction to the poor and
it shredded high society.  People snickered, people went home and laughed
into their cupped hands until the bottom fell out of the market and the great
hobos climbed the stock fences in Dodge City, St. Louis, and Chicago, relit their
stogies, and watched it from the boxcars.

More Moulton