By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Sitting on his bedroll, old Magoo calls Meathead over. He hugs him and kisses his brindled nose. No-Nuts laughs and suggests that the two look alike. "Only difference is Meathead combs his hair better," he says.
Later, Magoo sits perched on an overturned bucket with a couple of drunken crusty punks and a pensive-looking Ben. He talks about Vietnam. He was there early on, from '61 to '63, sent not to fight but to "teach." He gestures with his beer can, marveling at the word. "They killed a lot of my friends," Magoo says. "And I got good at killing them. And I got to like it." His eyes are wide with residual wonder, still shocked by this strange fact: "I got to like it a lot." Ben is silent. The drunk punks talk about hitching into town to do some panhandling. "I was there two years without even getting athlete's foot," Magoo goes on. "I wanted to get shot, I just wanted to get out of there, but I couldn't."
Magoo starts in on a story about a reconnaissance mission. It's a bit hard to follow. "They told me to find 'em. 'Find 'em or kill 'em?' I said. 'Find 'em,' they said. 'Okay,' I said. And I found 'em." Ben gazes sadly at the ground; the punks aren't listening at all. Magoo is "four clicks up the crik" when he loses track of the story entirely and gives up.
Catching Out (2)
AFTER TWO DAYS OF LAZING ABOUT AT Black Butte, eating pancakes cooked over a barrel fire on a greased-up sheet of scrap metal, drinking around that same fire beneath a sky perilously heavy with stars, we say our goodbyes. New York Slim gives us a lift back to Dunsmuir in the back of his truck, a tarp pulled over our heads so the police won't have cause to stop him. Seven of us are heading south: Virginia, myself and a schoolteacher from Topanga named Jacob; Steve and Jodie, recently arrived from Portland; Longhaired Donnie and Crazy Angel. Meathead the Dog makes eight.
We miss one train just as we get into the yard, and run up to the Texaco to buy food and water for ourselves and beer for Donnie. This will be, he tells us, his last ride. He's got an appointment in Roseville for an operation on his eye ("a floater"). His liver is bad, and he has a hard time keeping up. "I'm just an old sore, I guess you could call me, one that never healed," Donnie smiles sadly. He started riding in the early '60s, and has done so ever since, sometimes staying put for a while, working, even owning a business, losing everything to drugs and prison. Riding the rails is the only thing he ever found that could keep him off heroin, he says, and thereby out of trouble. "I called my grandma before she died. I said I finally found my niche."
Walking along the tracks through the town with Crazy Angel, I note how quiet it is. "It's nice," he says. "There's no people around. I hope they stay in their houses." He tells me he travels to keep sane, that he doesn't like being around people too often and never learned the skills necessary to rent an apartment, pay the bills and get by in one place. He refers to the house-bound populace as "citizens," and regards them not with hatred ("Hate's a bad thing") but with the mistrust one reserves for unfamiliar beasts, as if they belong to a different species entirely, one possessed of wood and drywall exoskeletons, which they shed occasionally to crawl out and make trouble for tramps. With a sheepish smile he tells me his name for the scent a tramp develops after a few weeks on the road without bathing: "citizen repellent."
Donnie and Crazy Angel reminisce about the old days, before intense corporate security made tramping so difficult, when you could ride from New York to California without a hassle, when you could hop into any town in the country and find 15 of your friends. Even a decade ago, Angel says, you could camp in the yards without trouble from the bull. You could leave all your gear in the jungle without fearing it would be stolen, says Donnie, and you didn't have to worry about young punks wanting to fight you to give themselves a name. They talk about old friends who've died, others locked away for good. Donnie shakes his head. "It ain't nothin' like it used to be. Nothin' at all."
No trains come through that night, and we sleep in a clearing beneath the tracks. Meathead has his own sleep sack, and a hooded sweat shirt for the cold. I wake at dawn to the sound of a whistle blowing. Crazy Angel is up and out of his bag, and by the time he says, "Wake up, Donnie -- southbound's coming!" everyone else is awake too. We pack hastily, and climb the embankment to the tracks. Angel spots an open boxcar, and we all hoist ourselves up and in. "Jump, dog," orders Angel, and Meathead jumps in too.
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