What follows is a myriad of life altering events that outlined my early days as a nomad. From June of 1983 to October of 1984, some 18 months, I was to experience more in that short period of time than most could ever fathom in their lifetime. Each period is a story in and of itself; I am providing a brief synopsis of each. Within the text will soon be links to individual stories throughout this blog. Sit back, relax, and enjoy my early years as a nomad.
High School Graduation, 1983
June 1983 marked the beginning of my first summer as a recent graduate of Daniel Boone Junior/Senior High School, Birdsboro, PA. Four days after graduation, I loaded up my 1972 Datsun 510 with what little I could haul around, and headed towards Central Virginia from my cushy suburban upbringing to seek out my then wild outcast of an Aunt (she had changed her name legally to “Little Path”).
Little Path’s Teepee
I found Little Path just outside of Nellysford, VA on the side of a mountain, inaccessible by even the most rugged 4 wheel drive. Little Path welcomed me at the base of the mountain – she invited me to stay in her Teepee along with her grand-daughter. Although a Teepee is quite large, after a couple weeks she thought it best that I move to the other side of the natural spring water stream into my newly constructed sweat lodge (Little Path was so kind, she lashed at the peak a number of saplings my new ‘home’.)
Living in my car, and God’s shower gone bad
After a month of ‘sweating’ in my sweat lodge, I had the feral idea that living in my car, with my month old golden lab, Rosanna, was a logical next choice of living arrangements. Those sleeping arrangements were such that I resided in the front seat, always trying to avoid the gear shift, while my dog lived in the back seat. I parked my car behind the textile factory where I was employed by Andrew Levine and his slightly neurotic, but granola/crunchy/earthy Jewish mother, where I, and Little Path, laboriously made Futons, and the varied accouterments suitable for any poor college students’ dorm room.
During the two or three weeks that I lived in my car, I was introduced to the finer art of bathing with my clothes on – an inexpensive method to bath while washing my clothes at the same time. The Tye River was my favorite spot for bathing, but one day, lounging about after work on the hood of my car, I noticed a black, ominous cloud approaching over the mountains. Armed with towel, soap, and shampoo, I sauntered off into the woods behind the factory. In a clearing of the pines, I stripped, readied my soap and shampoo, and was rewarded with a torrential downpour. Covered head to toe with soap, my shoulder length hair in a rich lather of shampoo, the monsoon ended as quickly as it had started; the sun immediately cast a shadow through the towering pines across my naked, soapy body. By the time I waded into the Tye River some 45 minutes later, my body itched all over, my hair was matted, and I reeked of sweat mixed with Ivory – God was laughing his ass off that day when he turned off the water!
Little Path’s rustic cabin (Take one)
Sometime during my Datsun 510 living experience, Little Path had moved to an unimposing two room cabin in Arrington, VA. I don’t recall if I was invited or I simply moved in, but that rustic clapboard cabin, light streaking in between the boards to cast multiple strands of light across the worn wood floor, was the new home of Rosanna and I. Fortunately, or not, I had a room to myself. Bare, dirty, and otherwise uninhabitable by anyone’s standards, this room served as my home away from home for a few weeks. Little Path grew weary of Rosanna yelping outside the door into the wee hours of the night. She suggested that perhaps I might find other accommodations once again.
I have no clue how I found the room for rent, but leave it to be said, I loaded up my Datsun with futon in the backseat, Rosanna in the front seat, and moved into a beautifully remodeled farm house in Woods Mill, VA. The woman who owned the house was a rather successful business owner of a carpet installation company in Charlottesville some 30 miles north. Her 16 year old son, Frank, also lived there. My room was of many in her immaculately furnished home that overlooked Shady’s Place; a typical country store that sold beer, pickled pig’s feet, and gas. I distinctly recall being shown my room that first day, beautifully adorned with a stately four poster queen sized bed with canopy, and other high-end furniture reminiscent of my upbringing. She was shocked to no end when I told her that I didn’t like her choice of furniture; that I wanted to clear the room so I could have an empty floor for my soiled futon. She was further shocked when I hauled in 10 full sized cinder blocks and a number of pine planks to construct shelves for my clothes and what little else I owned. No less than two months later, I was asked to leave. According to Frank’s mother, “You’re a bad influence on my son.” Little did she know, but Frank was my primary source of drugs at the time, along with his former neighbor from the wealthy suburbs of Charlottesville (I only ever knew him by his nickname, Bluto.) Right before my departure, I had a wild hair up my ass one day and decided that I was going to venture overseas for a two month tour of the European continent; I booked a round-trip ticket with the long ago defunct airline, TWA. I was to fly off into the eastern skies later that year.
My Ghostly Experience
Knowing I was to leave in a few months, I made the heart-wrenching decision to put Rosanna up for adoption at the local pound – I cried, but soon got over that decision with a bottle of Smirnoff and a few tightly packed bowls of Purple Haired Sinsemilla (the female plant of marijuana – devoid of seeds…extremely potent stuff!) Once again I was homeless – my Datsun was not nearly as attractive as it had once been, so I sought out Little Path in the hopes that I might move back into the humble cabin. She was not all too receptive to my moving back in, so she suggested I contact a gentleman in the area who had a number of properties for rent. I settled on a 15 acre tract of land somewhere between Lovingston and Shipman. The house was on a dirt road which disappeared into the woods about a mile down; my nearest neighbor was a half mile towards the paved road. I’m being very generous when I call this a ‘house’. Devoid of furniture with the exception of a fold out sofa bed in the living/dining room, the only other remnants of this being a home worthy of any prior residents was the kitchen stove that was directly below a large gaping hole in the ceiling that allowed the moon and sun to cast its light into that room. No running water or electricity, the outhouse was long ago abandoned as the drop time was less than a second. I paid the landlord a whopping $50 a month to basically make sure no one continued to vandalize this sad excuse for a livable home. I left this house late one night to the ghost who refused to share her home with me. I attempted to return in the daylight hours the next day with Frank at my side to retrieve what little I owned – I refused to enter the house…I left everything behind.
Pennsylvania En-route to Europe
It is now late October 1983, and with my European trip looming on the horizon, I chose to return to Douglasville, PA to spend the next month at ‘home’. November 10, 1983 was my departure date for Frankfort, West Germany (this was prior to the German reunification). Driving me to JFK airport, my mother pleaded with me to reconsider my decision to travel to Europe alone. My response was, “I need to find myself.” Little did I know then, ‘wherever I go, I always take myself with me’. My mother handed me an envelope and instructed me to wait until I was in the air to open it. I had some $200 in travelers checks – the envelope contained an additional $450 in cash along with a very tearful letter. I arrived in Frankfort, boarded a train to Hamburg, and over the next two weeks I stayed with my former friend Barbara and her family (she was an exchange student during my senior year in High School.) I overstayed my welcome and found myself boarding a ferry in Bremerhaven, bound for the coastal town of Harwich, UK. Again, boarding a train, I proceeded to London where I befriended a man (Bob) in the Tube my first night who invited me to ‘squat’ with him at his flat. My second day in the UK found me at 187 Grafton Rd, Camden Town, NW5, London; I was to stay there for the next 3-4 weeks before heading north to Bob’s parents’ home at 4 Holmes Close, Thornaby on Tees, UK for Christmas and New Years of 1983/84. Three days before my scheduled flight out of Frankfort, I found myself stranded in London – I lost my passport. My mother bailed me out of that predicament, and once again I was stateside. I stayed in PA for a few weeks before heading back down to Virginia.
Little Path’s Rustic Cabin (Take Two)
I somehow managed to convince Little Path that I was on the straight and narrow – she allowed me to stay with her once again. Early February 1984 in Central Virginia is not too terribly cold. I tagged along with Little Path as she joined a team of folks whose early spring annual work was to plant Loblolly Pines for the large tree farm/paper producing company, WESTVACO – they farm trees on some 2.7 million acres of land throughout the eastern half of the country. This work was far beyond my ability to commit to – I lasted less than a week of the estimated 6 week planting schedule. I came to the stark reality that my stay in Virginia was over – I called my Uncle Tim in Frederick, MD.
March 1984 finds me living with my Uncle Tim, his wife Roberta, and her daughter Andrea in the wonderful town of Frederick. It took some time, but I finally found a job working for Taylor Rental in Frederick. Having overstayed my welcome, I contacted another uncle, Dennis, in a small town just west of my birthplace of Hagerstown, MD – Clear Spring, MD.
Clear Spring, MD (Emergency Exodus #1)
I move to Clear Spring, MD in the early summer of 1984, some 40 miles one way to my employer. Uncle Dennis was able to secure a garage apartment for me that I managed to fill with my childhood furniture (I distinctly remember the multi-colored dresser that I grew up with as a child.) That summer, working un-godly hours, and smoking a rather potent street drug known as “Lovely”, or sometimes referred to as “Love Boat”, I was quickly spirally out of control. ‘Lovely’ was low grade pot sprayed with PCP – I smoked a pin joint nearly every day, sometimes stoned beyond measure on my trip home on Interstate 70. I made a very bad decision to share my ‘Lovely’ with my landlords’ 16 year old son (he was all too kind to share his drugs with me – any self-respecting pot-head will share their pot with friends.) Arriving home one evening, I was flagged down before entering the town limits by a girl who said, “They’re looking for you.” I had a warrant out for my arrest by the local sheriff for supplying drugs to a minor. I quickly packed what I could into my mint condition, cherry red, ivory leather interior, 1970 Volkswagen Square Back Station Wagon and hit the road that night for North Carolina – once again, leaving what little I owned behind. This would be the first town/state that I was being run out of in the next two months – this was mid-October 1984.
The Luxury 13th Floor Suite
I had heard that Frank (from Woods Mill, VA) had moved to a small town in North Carolina – Old Fort. His mother had carted Frank down there to live with her parents. I arrived un-announced, and to Franks pleasant surprise. My first full day in North Carolina was catching up time – drugs, alcohol, and generally raising hell. Less than 24 hours in town, Frank, a friend of his, and myself headed off to Asheville, NC to celebrate my arrival. My last memory of that night was coming to in an all night diner east of Asheville on old US Route 40 eating pancakes around 3 am. My next lucid moment found me parked along the side of the road so the friend in the back seat could take a leak – I had pulled over on a double set of active railroad tracks, parked perfectly between the poles that allowed the gates to come down. No sooner than I turned the engine off, the red and blue lights of the County Sheriff’s squad car were flashing in my rear view mirror. Four hours had lapsed since my failed field sobriety test (the County Mounty allowed me to drive my car forward so I was not plowed by the freight train that arrived some 10 minutes after I pulled over), but even over that lapse of time, I still managed to blow a .10. I spent the next 3 days in a cell with a man who had just murdered his second wife – my luxury jail cell suite was situated on the thirteenth floor of the Buncombe County Courthouse in Asheville; commanding a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A couple weeks after Frank was able to scrounge up the $200 bond for my release pending my court date, I was unceremoniously kicked out by his grandmother; homeless once again. Finding refuge in some guys garage, I slept behind a few sheets of plywood leaning up against the wall – each morning he would start his car for work, I woke up to begin another day looking for yet another low paying temporary job. At my court appearance, I lost my (Franks) $200 bond, regained my license, and was sentenced to 200 hours of community service for my misdemeanor charge of DWI.
I Will Shoot and Kill You (Emergency Exodus #2)
Walking aimlessly around Old Fort one day in late October 1984, I turned to find Franks grandmother pulling up alongside me in her dilapidated Chevy Station Wagon. She said, “Get in.” Of course, I did so, but as she was speeding out of town heading east, I asked her, “Where are we going?” She leaned over, opened up the glove box, and while I peered inside to see the snub nosed .38 revolver, she said, “Shut the fuck up, you are nothing but a bad influence on my baby.” Of course, she was referring to Frank – like mother, like daughter…Frank had his entire family convinced he was an angel. Driving in silence for the next 30 minutes, we finally arrived at the next small town. She stopped at the town limits, pulled over, and reaching into the glove box, she grabbed the .38, and an envelope. Pointing the .38 directly at me, she handed me the envelope and said, “Get the fuck out of my car. If you so much as step one foot back into my town again, I will shoot and kill you.” I no sooner stepped onto the shoulder than she did a U turn and sped off into the distance. After I stopped shaking, I opened the envelope to find a one way bus ticket from that small town to my home town in Pennsylvania; I was standing next to the Greyhound bus station – my bus was leaving in 10 minutes.
The United States Navy
I found a pay phone in the few minutes I had before the bus arrived, and called my mother. I begged to come home – she cried and told me “No.” Crying uncontrollably, both of us, she finally acquiesced with the response that would turn my life around forever, “You can stay one night, but the next day you’re going to the recruiters station. I don’t care what branch you join, but you’re not coming back to stay any longer unless/until you have a signed enlistment contract.” I left North Carolina – never completing my sentenced 200 hours of community service.
It took a few weeks to finalize my enlistment, but on December 12, 1984, I signed my delayed entry contract – my first full day of enlistment with the United States Navy was February 12, 1985.