It was late-afternoon when the Cadillac rolled into Woodstock. Having never been to the legendary hippie mecca, Red was shocked by what he witnessed. He expected a quaint sort of hamlet, a few writers and musicians meekly going about their business, a few shops catering to such: bookstores, a record shop, a health food store. Instead he was punched between the eyes by a torrent of Day-Glo and tie-dye and murals. Expensive boutiques sat cheek-to-jowl with new-age emporiums. Jack said, "Sheesh! This is like a carnival. Let's ask someone where Elmo's is." He stopped, and Red zipped his window down, leaned out to ask a svelte blonde in a fringed buckskin jacket, "Um, excuse me? Could you tell us where we could find..."
HONK! An angry driver yelled, "Hey, get the lead out, why doncha!"
"So much for good vibes," Jack said as he stepped on the gas. "Better find a place to park." Easier said than done in August, but after a long search Jack spotted a spot and pulled in.
It felt good to get out and stretch, to walk and breathe fresh air. And it felt exhilarating to be in the fabled capitol of East Coast counter-culture. "Can you believe it, Reddy! Woodstock!" Red, loose-leaf binder of his poems in hand, just in case, nodded, too dazzled to speak.
Without too much trouble they located Elmo's Books & Such, entered and wandered the aisles. Jack stepped over to an elderly beatnik manning the register, "Say, has Bob Dylan been in here recently?"
"No, I'm serious!"
"Huh! I can see that you are. You just missed him! Not even a minute ago he left! That's why I thought my leg you were pulling."
"What! Dylan just left! Reddy! C'mon!" Red pulled his nose out of a volume of Corso and the two raced down the front steps. "You go that way, I'll go the other. If you see him, holler!"
Red trotted along the sidewalk, tripped on a cracked slab, almost fell, righted himself and kept jogging, glancing left and right. He had no intention of hollering, but hoped he’d have the courage to approach Dylan and introduce himself, humbly. They were both members of a certain elite fraternity, after all: poets. His poems in hand as proof, his papers. It was as if a member of the Playboy Club were to encounter Hef. A key proffered was proof of their brotherhood.
Jack and Red met up back at Elmo's. "Where'd he go," Jack demanded of the universe. "Beats me," replied Red. "He's like a ghost."
Inside, Elmo watched them from the front window. "Idiots."
"Who's an idiot, Ellie?"
"Those two out there. Happens about once a week. Yokels I get, wandering in, looking for Dylan. As if Dylan's lived in Woodstock in since forever. I always tell 'em, ya just missed him! He just left! Less than a minute ago! Off they run." He laughed a bitter laugh, shook his head. "This town was so much better before that two-bit shyster ever set foot in it. For him, I never much cared. But after that noise at Newport? Done! Fini! Gimme Phil Ochs any day of the week."
"You never liked Dylan?"
"Aaah, okay was the first album, and around the clubs. Yeah, I liked." A shrug. "But a fraud I could smell. I warned Silber, but he was too hot and bothered to listen to me. Like a bobby-soxer swooning over Sinatra he was. Silber was convinced this was the second coming of Woody! Woody reincarnated. Hah! I told him beware this show-biz phony. But Silber's a putz. Hey, why listen to Elmo? What's Elmo know? Idiots. I'm always surrounded by idiots. So, of the Village, I had enough, hightailed it up here to live full-time, escape the insanity. Aaaand? Along comes Dylan. And Snaggle-tooth Baez. And Tubby Grossman. The kit, the caboodle! Oh, and Joanie's baby sister and baby sister's dingbat hubby, dulcimers in tow! Dulcimer? John Jacob Niles no one has heard? Anyhoo, that trash train attracts the media attention. And the teenyboppers flocking. Then Bobby and retinue vamoose. Since then, more and more of the Dylan freaks! A nice town this was, in the 40s, the 50s. Quiet, low-key. Potters, poets, painters, fine looking ladies their stuff to strut. Now? To get a parking spot is murder in the first degree. Folksingers! A folksinger you want? Try Ted Bikel! That is a folksinger, my friend. Not with the rocky rolling."
Elmo continued, "A folksinger? Try Danny Moore! Leon Bibb! They do something real crazy, man! They make with the folksongs! But what do I know? I've only been kicking on this furshlugginer planet for 63 years. I'm nothing. Chopped liver." He shrugged. His friend chuckled. He'd seen this show often, never tired of it.
Crestfallen, Jack and Red slogged their way back to the Caddy only to find that someone had scraped a rock along the shotgun side, leaving a scar starting on the front fender, along both doors, and onto the rear fender. Under a wiper, a note. While Jack danced a dance of fury, Red retrieved the note, a Xerox. "What's that?" Red handed it to him, stepping back, knowing it would set off a second wave of cursing and punching the air. The note read, "What you get for driving a gas-guzzler, you bastard! Earth first!" Beneath that were a peace symbol and a heart.
It was getting dark by the time Jack calmed down enough to drive to West Saugerties. They scouted around until they found a motel. The sign said No Vacancy. "Let's go in here. Someone in the office can direct us to a place."
"A vacancy? In August? Rotsa ruck, fella! Tell ya what, for a twenny, I'll let ya park in the back. Youse can sleep in yer car."
"What! Twenty bucks! Just to park overnight! That's highway robbery!"
"Take it or get on the road, Kerouac. Boss finds ya back there, it's my job on the line. I'm doing you a solid, Ignatz. Do re mi, or hasta la vee-sta, por favor. A twenny's nothing to a guy in a Caddy."
Jack forked over the money to the smirking man. "There's a filling station quarter-mile down the road. Youse can clean up in the men's room in the morning."
"Thanks, pally! Thanks a diaper full. I'll remember you in my will." The man escorted them around back, a weedy patch way behind the second building. "Sweet dreams!"
"Aaaah, blow it out your shorts, ya crumb bum," Jack muttered under his breath.
They walked over to the motel's diner, each ordering a hamburger and fries, figuring nothing could go too terribly wrong with that.
They were incorrect. "This is the worst burger I've ever eaten! Paper thin, leather tough," Jack fumed while chewing with effort. "Flavorless. I think it's just ground gristle and blood." He poured a mountain of Hunt's on his plate, used the burger to mop it.
"And these fries are soggy and dripping with oil."
"Yeah, and it's cheap vegetable oil."
At least their bellies were sated.
That night Jack complained about the scarred Caddy until he conked out. It was going to cost him a fortune to have four panels replaced before Ronnie and Joanie returned. A mint! Regardless, he didn't use this as an excuse to fall off the wagon and take out a drunken wrath on Red. "This is good," thought Red. He slept well.
To sleep, to dream. He dreamt of the slim blonde whom he'd asked directions of. In the dream she didn't speak.
She took him by the hand and led him through a version of his neighborhood, right up to his house, which instead of being gray was black, glossy black. Grandma Mazzo, in a degree of decomposition, sat on the porch swing, knitting. At the sight of Red she spewed green venom.
He awoke with a start. Jack was snoring. Red managed to reclaim slumber, but before he did, he wondered about the blonde. When I'm a rich and famous poet maybe I can come to Woodstock to do a reading, maybe at Elmo's. Maybe she'll attend? And after I've read, I can approach her and say, "I remember you. Do you remember me, asking you for directions last August?" She'll blush and stare at the floor, intensely, then look me boldly in the eye and say, "That's why I'm here. Let's escape this mad crowd, let's get away from it all..." I'll take her by the hand, gently, lead her out the back door, and we'll run down the street laughing. At her place, a little back-street garret, simply but tastefully furnished, a Picasso lithograph on the wall, we'll drink Spanish wine, eat figs and cashews, and discuss poetry into the wee hours. Then... then when we've run out of words...
A cruel sun roused Jack and Red early, slanting and glaring in the front window around six. They made tracks, found the gas station and a greasy spoon. They showed the paper napkin map to their waitress. She laughed and said, "Big Pink? You're close. Toss that scribble out." She gave them directions, wrote everything down on a clean sheet of paper with a sober hand. Red admired her penmanship. She must've gone to a Catholic school.
Elmo entered his shop, but kept the CLOSED sign in place. He liked to brood in his lair, all alone, for a few hours, reading, getting things in order for the day ahead. When reading, there were times he put his book down to reminisce. This morning he thought of Woodstock in 1948 and meeting Naomi. Naomi who quit the Party in 1939. Naomi who could blow authentic blues on a recorder. Naomi who was built of brick, with a butt that would not quit. Naomi in her peasant blouse stretched by an ample bosom. Naomi with a throaty laugh to beat the band. Naomi with kisses sweeter than Manischewitz. Naomi who, in 1953, married a podiatrist, skedaddled to Yonkers. "Yonkers, where true banality conquers," Elmo sighed. He shook his head, returned to his book, but not before thinking, "Aaah, as fat as a stuffed goose by now she probably is. And gray as a tombstone. Then again, some juice maybe still has? Naomi, Naomi, if you had to go square, a mitzvah you could've done me: a shrink on Riverside Drive. A podiatrist? Yonkers? Feh."
The directions were good as gold; they found it, Bali Ha'i writ a rosy ranch. Valhalla! They were speechless. Pulling in the drive, they noticed others had made the pilgrimage this morning. An MG and an Austin Healey sat, four Ivy Leaguers milling about. One held a Kodak Super 8 and was filming his pal strumming cowboy chords on a Martin guitar while warbling, "Hey, hey, Bobby Dylan, I wrote you a song! All 'bout seasons a-changin' an' things what to for went wrong! My ideas are a-comin', hard an' heavy an' stroooong..." The guys and their gals wore Wayfarers. The singer had Bob Dylan hair. They were clad in jeans and work shirts, the singer scuffled about in cowboy boots, kicking up a little dust, "Hey, hey, Bobby Dylan, I did to have me a dream, a dream of number one thousan' an' thirteeeen..." The foursome laughed, passed a joint, paid no attention, not even a nod, to Jack and Red. Then they were gone, on their merry roadster way, tops down. Before they got on the road, Red overheard one of the girls say, "Ugh! A Cadillac! How truly vulgar." Mister Super 8 concurred, "With a capital vee. Figures. Those two look like retards." In reply, the girl laughed, a laugh that was both snide and gay. It resonated, floated, buoyed by centuries of wealth. Varoom! Away they went!
Red felt as if he'd been slapped in the face. He'd been called a few things in his day, but never a retard. Meanwhile Jack, oblivious, went to a door, tested the knob. "Hey Reddy! Look!"
Red turned to see Jack stepping right into Big Pink! As if he owned the damn place!
"Whoa! Wait!" It was too late. Jack was deep in Pink. Frightened, but seeing little alternative, Red followed a minute later.
Inside was dark, deadly quiet, not even a radio left on to scare away potential burglars. Red closed the door behind him. He reached for the light switch.