History of my novel, Friday 10:03 (Part 7)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

(This will make more sense by beginning with Part 1.)

Almost ready to begin writing, but not quite . . .

During the summer (1970) between community college and UCLA, I rewrote the novel from the previous summer, and made a difficult—but what turned out to be momentous—decision. If Friday 10:03 is my first novel, then Of Runners and Poets would be my pre-first novel. Like in 1969, I organized my summer weeks into four twelve-hour writing days, alternated with three days of part-time-job, chores, errands, and having-a-life. I wrote in the bedroom I shared with a brother, a detached room behind my parents’ house. We called it the Hilton. While ordinarily, I live life on the run, with possessions and projects accumulating in great, shifting pile-a-mons, now, before I could write, I sorted and organized everything I owned. I constructed a large desk from a scavenged door and my filing cabinets, and I traded in my manual typewriter for a new electric one. The previous summer, each twelve hour day of typing had left my fingers bruised and swollen.

On days I wasn’t writing, much of my energy went into helping a middle-aged fellow named Pat. Pat had emphysema, and needed an oxygen tank by his side. Yet Pat hoped to spend whatever time he had left traveling in Europe. He ‘hired’ me (I never actually saw a paycheck) as a Man Friday to accompany him. He would pay all my expenses and $200/mo. I would stay with him until he died. Then I would accompany the body back to the States.

I desperately wanted to see Europe. We spent the summer getting my passport and getting organized. He was expecting a payout from a lawsuit against the Air Force, but progress seemed slow. He was in frequent contact with Sen. Cranston’s office, and made cryptic references to favors the senator owed him. But May became June, and then July, and as the summer ended, I had to make a decision. The UCLA quarter started at the end of August. If this trip to Europe was just Pat’s pipe-dream, I needed to be in school. Among other things, if I dropped out of college, I became draft-bait. Rather than Europe, I might be touring Vietnam.

I laid it out for Pat. “No problem,” he said as he reached for the telephone. He dialed Sen. Cranston’s office, commenting that this was an opportunity to collect on one of those favors.

Cranston wasn’t available. I had a night to go home and think it through. I wanted to go to Europe, and did not want to go to Vietnam. However, this was not how I wanted to escape the draft. I also had softly-nagging questions about the morality of the friends he talked about in Europe. What if I got over there as his ‘bond-slave’ and found myself in an underworld milieu? I told Pat he would have to find someone else. I was going to UCLA.

Thirty-eight years later, I look back and shudder at how close I came to disaster. Had I gone to Europe with Pat, I would be a completely different person today—if I was even alive to recount it.


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