Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Native Son of the Golden West

This is a piece I wrote foe another blog about an author I respected and who recently passed. I include it here because I can't think about the author or his book without thinking about Vance.
(photo: Greg Pio/Alfred Knopf)

James D. Houston is dead and it came as more of a shock than to hear of the deaths of Jackson, Fawcett, and McMahon combined…. And you’re looking at me like you don’t know who James D. Houston is.

I was flipping through the most recent issue of Poets & Writers and their “Memorium” column caught my eye. It seemed longer than normal, but that may have just been an illusion. Of the 26 or so names, there were three I’d heard of; J.G. Ballard, Phillip Jose Farmer, and Houston.

There are names I think of when I list my writing influences. Names like Hemingway, Cheever, Updike, Carver, Proulx. It wasn’t until I saw Houston listed among the dead that I recalled what an influence he actually was.

Back in the mid-1970s when I was in the Army, I came across a little paperback novel titled “A Native Son of the Golden West.” It was the story of Hooper Dunlap, a surfer, who traveled to Hawaii. It was really a great novel about the westward movement of our country, telling how Hooper’s forbears had travelled a little further with each succeeding generation until Hooper himself ended up going as far west in America as one could.

The story was told in a wonderful manner, with generational flashbacks and cinematic vignettes interspersing the main story. But, honestly, for me, it was the characters who made the story. Hooper Dunlap and his friend reminded me so much of my friend, Vance, that, as I wrote in a letter “I could just shit.” Hooper and friend have an ongoing contest with one another on who can have the rattiest beater truck, the one that could go the farthest with no air-cleaner, or on 5 cylinders, or 3 tires. It was never a blatant competition, nor one spoken about. It was a silent attempt at eliciting awe through the hippest/shabbiest, and a silent expression of that awe. And that was kind of Vance and I—always trying to outdo one another but without making a big show out of it. Even years after we (temporarily) parted company, there was something of that competition in all that I did.

It was that book though, as a whole, that really influenced my future writing. The beautiful characters, the author’s treatment of setting, his intricate weaving of the historical into the tale, it was all amazing and it MADE me want to write, to be a writer.

I lost my copy, I think somewhere in Germany. I may have lent it to someone who left town with it. I’ve searched for another copy for years, though until about a year ago, I could find nothing on it—or the author. Eventually, through the magic of Google, a copy surfaced. I didn’t get it then and I regret it. (It's now $25 to $100 online.) I have to admit a fear of going back and reading it again—what if it’s not as good? Very little of what I considered good literature, cinema, or music has passed the test of time.
Still, can one let go of something that had such an influence? Even if it just sets on my desk as a type of touchstone, I think it will continue to inspire my writing. I just need to find the shabbiest copy there is.

Houston died in April from complications resulting from Lymphoma. He was 75.
A blurb on the book from his website:

The Dial Press, NewYork, N.Y., 197l. Ballantine Books, New York, N.Y., 1972
The native son is Hooper Dunlap. Born on the coast of California, he has inherited a restlessness that kept the generations of his forebearers leapfrogging west, first across the Atlantic, then across North America. For him the next step is out into the Pacific and to Hawai'i of the l950s before it was a state. There he falls for an island woman, but in this young man's adventure story his deeper love is for the sea itself. Both comic and tragic, it interweaves fearless surfers, oldtime song lyrics,brief prose poems, and ancestral flashbacks. (Out of print)

James D. Houston's Website
NY Times Obit
LA Time Obit

Friday, June 26, 2009

Days of thumbing

I can't remember if I posted this photo or not. This was me back in 1977 up in Washington. I used to hitchhike up to Vancouver, British Colombia for a long week-end and have a few laughs. Laughs included nearly getting rolled in a motel room one night by a chick who picked me up and then later picked up another guy who she tried to convince to hit me over the head with a lamp while she thought I was asleep. He didn't, thank god.

This photo is another one of those times of great laughter. I decided to go out to Victoria Island from Vancouver. I was hanging around by the ferry dock and saw a map which I read to say that yonder ferry would take me right to Tacoma. I bought a ticket and climbed on board. While on board, I met a girl that I went to school with in Albuquerque. She was out in Washington visiting her aunt. Her aunt, it turned out, lived out on the Olympic penninsula, which was where this ferry was headed -- many miles from where I needed to be. When the ferry docked in Port Angeles that evening, the aunt agreed to give me a ride to Sequim, WA, but would not let me stay with them. I slept in a fireworks stand and, the next day, walked almost the entire way back to Ft. Lewis -- nearly 100 miles.I may have gotten a ride from around Port Orchard to Tacoma - a whopping 25 miles, but after that, it was hoofing it.

In this photo I can be seen wearing the famous cowboy hat with the cat's tail (I found it in the road) sewed to the band.

Oh, and looky here. It's a map with the route I took.400 miles round trip -- not sure if that includes the ferry travel.

View Larger Map

I did a fair bit of long distance hitchhiking in my day (as well as Greyhound travel.) This was more a result of lack of a car and driver's license than anything. This was my last trip by thumb to Vancouver. It wasn't long after this that I wound up with orders to go to Germany.

Where Vance and I hung out back in the day...

Which day it was, we're not sure, but we seem to remember Michael Jackson on MTV and all of our money disappearing. We weren't washed in the blood quite yet, but our sins were white as snow and smelled like pee.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Wacko Jacko is gone. The Hollywood 'trifecta' is complete. Michael, Farrah and Ed. Is the world ready for this? I remember the "Jackson Five" from way back and their main competition of the "Osmond's". The dude made some great music and all 50 of his next concerts were sold out in hours. I'm sure people will not refund the tickets just to have 'a memento' of Jackson's 'last' tour that never happened. The tickets will be on E-Bay before I finish this post. Peace bro.

Who didn' have this poster?

Wow, we are shaping up for a Hollywood "Death trifecta!". Farrah is gone and all I could think about was this poster. And what about this couple? Good looks and tempers from hell. I bet they had some knock-down drag-out fights in the Hollywood hills.
Anyway, we will miss the 'angel' that graced our T.V. screen all those years ago. Bye Farrah.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Heeeeerreee's Johnny!

To have a nickle for everytime he said that his house would have never been repo'd and he wouldn't have looked at bankruptcy as an option. Prehaps Ed wasn't a financial planner but he was funny on the Carson show. Ed is dead. No more hi-jinks with Dick Clark doing those terrible shows over and over and over and get the idea. Via con Dios mi amigo.

This update is brought to you by our cub reporter out there, Janet. Thanks for another great scoop!

Happy camper...

I can't wait to go camping again (we go on the 4th of July). This is shaping up to be the week from hell, already. I wish I had about 100 bars of this soap to give to "all my good friends". Oh for jesus!
Rick was kind enough to pose for the logo photo. Thanks.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Today I Feel...Moments later...

And now I'm all feeling like this!

Today I Feel...

On this father's day, it's a toss-up between
....and....I'm sorta ambivalent, ya know?

Happy Father's day to all you Dads out there.