NONFICTION: BEATLICK JOE SPEER – TREK 55

 

TREK 55

In 1969 four-hundred students at Harvard University seize buildings as part of a campus-wide strike.

I enjoy long flights while looking out the window at rivers and empty ball parks. When the clouds blocked the view at 30,000 feet I read “Uncle Tom’s Children” by Richard Wright. It is right to say he left a rich mark on literature. He introduced a new element into American fiction. He created a tension from the possibility of random violence. H.L. Mencken taught him how to use words as weapons.

In the story “Big Boy Leaves Home” three Negro men go skinny dipping in a lake. There are no signs of trouble until a white man appears with a rifle. He kills two of the men but Big Boy manages to kill the white man. Later, while trying to secure a hiding place, he beats a snake to death with a stick. From a hide-out he watches a friend get burned with hot tar and gas. He strangles a barking dog that sniffs him out and threatens to dis-close his presence. Big Boy is pursued by the vigilante commit-tee but he escapes to the north.

Richard Wright escaped to Paris in 1946. In 1953 with the publication of his novel “The Outsider”, he culminated the work of the Harlem Renaissance and joined forces with French existentialism. Wright died in Paris in 1960 and his ashes are interred at Père Lachaise. He shares the cemetery with other exiles such as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

The stewardess asked if I wanted a drink. Her skin was the color of a cooked pinto bean so I assumed she was a Latina. I replied in Spanish that I wanted a beer. She popped the cap on a Corona and we bantered back and forth in Spanish. She complimented me on my accent and asked where I learned to speak Español. I explained that I read Antonio Machado. My father served in Spain during their civil war. He accompanied Machado into southern France and was at his bedside when the poet died in exile in 1939.

She asked if I was familiar with Federico García Lorca. I told her my mother was a student at Columbia University in 1929. My mom provided the lonely poet with a conversation partner. He gave her a hand-written poem called “La Aurora” which he signed “Federico.” She kept it until 1936 when she showed it to a neighbor who inadvertently spilled a blotch of ketchup on it. Lorca’s name was smeared blood red.

We landed and like Dean Moriarity, I crossed the street into Mexico “on soft feet.”

 

This story originally appeared in Backpack Trekker: A 60’s Flashback (Beatlick Press, 2011).

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