I suppose the full force of the hoodoo didn't kick in until I'd taken that cheap plastic Indian feathered tiara off the wall and put it on my bald head at the same time Lucky had opened the little ceramic jar that sat on the dusty mantle in our cabin called "Electric Blue." Inside that little vessel were the ominous overtones of our immediate future. Lucky said it was an old lock of hair from a redheaded girl. I opined that it was more likely a cutting from an orange wig brought into the room by a clown. My mind immediately raced to the vision of clowns having sex on my queen-sized bed, with their red round noses dripping tinted snot into each others' mouths and their big-ass shoes extending over the edge of the bed, flapping with each disgusting penetration.

The walls and the roof were made of rusted tin. My bedroom ambiance was enhanced by an old outhouse door someone had clumsily nailed sideways to the wall.

My friend Lucky is many things – a long car trip allows you to find out all you need to know about someone – but what he mostly is is a camera. He's the Master of the Light and he can see a shot quicker than any other photographer I've ever been around. And I've been around plenty.

The trip, for him, had begun in Southern California and taken him on an adventure in his black Mercedes to our new common enemy to the north, Canada, for a relative's wedding (which he had to photograph for them, of course), then to Maine to visit the most brilliant writer I ever harassed the shit out of on this site (my guilt is overwhelming, so don't throw this in my face. Please). Then a stop to see our favorite MD and high school teacher somewhere in Maryland where he was at a conference of some sort. After that, straight South to visit Uncle dannye and check out the blues, BBQ and try to understand our point of view on that War of Northern Aggression.

This would lead us to not only visit as well as revisit Highway 61 at the Crossroads where you make bargains with evil on a full moon at midnight, but ultimately to spend the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in a place called “The Shack-Up Inn.” If Ryan thought it was funny that my wife and I spent time in a place called Tickle Pink in Carmel, California, I can only imagine that he will wet himself when he reads that Lucky and I spent the night in a room called “Electric Blue” at the Shack-Up Inn.

The “rooms” are actually old slave shacks or sharecropper shacks moved to the grounds of an old cotton gin where the office and “lounge” were located. There were other rooms available: the Robert Cray, The Crossroads, etc. But I booked Electric Blue because it had a wall between two bedrooms. I'm jealous of both my sleep and my virginity.

We arrived on Sunday, which was probably not the greatest plan, but he'd lost 5 days in Utah due to car problems, and time was running out for stuff needing done back in CA. So it's Sunday evening and we've polished off at least as much beer as any two white guys should drink in any one session. We began to discuss food which, if not eaten soon was not going to be eaten, leading to an even worse hangover on the Monday trip back to Little Rock.

PROTIP for Travelers: If you are in Mississippi in a recent-model black Mercedes with California plates and lots of expensive-looking electronics and photographic equipment in the car, and it's midnight near the Crossroads and you've just discovered clowns have been having an orgy in your suite with a tin roof and a bottle tree in your front yard; either a.) Call a cab, b.) go to Hertz and rent a Buick with Mississippi plates, or c.) Take your medicine and go to bed hungry.

We passed a place called "Mo's" that looked interesting until we realized we'd be the only white guys in the joint. You can wring your hands and weep and wail over race relations and either the beauty or danger of this current incarnation of that, but sometimes you just have to trust your gut. We went searching for Morgan Freeman's joint which turned out to be closed. But we made the mistake of parking and deciding to walk down Main (not looking for the gal etc.) and were soon approached by a young black man who asked Lucky for a cigarette. When Lucky politely informed the gentleman that he didn't smoke, the young man came over to me. I'm not the most stable of walkers due to recent health issues, but I like to think I can keep up on short hikes on level ground. Anyway, he asked me for a cigarette and got the same anwer. I was told that I was, "a lying motherfucker 'cause (he) just saw (me) smoking one a minute ago. " (I wasn't.) I kept my eyes on his hands as I turned away to stumble off, being a bit shaken. He said, "That's right. You walk away before you and your kind get shot." Lucky told me later that he was circling back to cold-cock the fucker with his expensive but also heavy camera and was watching his eyes. He said that they were pinpoints and he'd just sized him up as a tweaker loser who was probably not all that dangerous. Later, the desk guy at the Shack-Up said, "If that ol' boy had a gun, he'd'a fer sure pawned 'fore he ever got to you two." There were no shortages of pawn shops in the area; being close to Tunica, MS, and the casinos.

We got back in the car and went back to the only open place we saw, a Church's chicken joint. It had an armed guard in the form of a skinny older black man, but he had a uniform and a gun, so we went in and got some sustenence. I was still a bit shaken up, and the only other folks in the place were young black men, so it was decided that I'd wait in the car while Lucky got the food to go. Later he would inform me that he got almost everyone's life story while I was in the car and that there was nothing to fear but fear itself. But I was born in Mississippi and I'd come to the conclusion that I'd stayed one day too long.

After a handful of chicken fingers and the greasiest biscuit in the South, I fell asleep to the sound of crickets and the wind whistling through the bottle tree. I had a dream that Lucky was Bob Dylan and I was Robert Johnson. We were both walking down an old dirt road and a dozen crows were walking in front of us, showing us the way. The crows were all regular sized except one who was as tall as we were. Lucky/Dylan asked the tall crow where we were going and he replied, "You know damn well where we goin', fool."

I had an old Gibson guitar in a beat-up case and I remember thinking, "What the fuck am I doing with this guitar? I can't play this thing and it's a pain to carry." I said, "Bob, is this your guitar I'm carryin'?" The tall crow said, "You do less talkin' and more walkin,' motherfucker." It did not seem like a good idea to argue.

After what seemed like hours, we arrived at a place with a sign for Highway 61 on a pole with another sign for Highway 49. Bob found a big flat rock and sat down. “Lemmie see that Gibson,” he said. I handed it to him and as soon as he took it out of the case at least a hundred clowns appeared out of nowhere. The tall crow walked over and sat down behind a Hammond B-3 organ and started playing a tune with plumes of his wings that had become fat black fingers. Bob/Lucky started strumming the guitar and singing I Want You.

After the song was over, the clowns clapped, the crows flew away. The clowns quit clapping and dispersed. Bob turned to me and said, "See, this shit don't cost nothin' if you don't take it so fuckin' seriously." I felt clean like I'd just learned a valuable lesson that would change my life.

The next morning we got back in the Mercedes and drove back to Little Rock. Nothing much had changed, except everything.

or Deep South Rashomon

Biscuithead changed my life, that’s for sure. But that’s what people do, isn’t it? If we’re paying attention? Even if we’re not expecting much from them in the first place?

It had been more than twenty years since I’d picked up a pen. The pen had practically become obsolete, when you think about it. I’d always had the habit of dancing with two girls at the prom: Words and Pictures. And Pictures, being what they are, had pretty much taken over my life, the way a pretty-enough woman you meet one lonely night on the road can make you forget about home for a little while maybe. But then I found this website, and Biscuithead, a guy who loved it and words enough to spend the rest of his life reminding me that what I wrote mattered.

Fact: Anything anybody writes matters. Time matters most of all though, once you realize it goes on forever without you. For twelve years, Biscuithead and I spent the holy gift of precious time together, much of it in righteous disagreement. And for this I consider myself inordinately Lucky. As I always have been.

Lucky.

I was surprised and delighted when E2’s resident curmudgeon said he wanted to go down to the Crossroads with me. Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Robert Johnson’s Crossroads at Highways 61 and 49 were the whole point of this particular cross-country road trip of mine, if you don’t admit the fact that I wanted to see dannye before he died. I was even more surprised, much later in my hejira, somewhere in New Mexico, when he called and said he wanted to write about our adventure, and was that OK with me. Though I’ve revealed some of the most intimate aspects of my life here on E2, I do value my privacy, and I was wary of dannye’s tendency towards indiscretion in the name of “truth.” Which is how the creation of our noms de voyage came about. I was greatly amused by “Biscuithead.” And “Lucky” was the absolute truth.

dannye was healthy and happy up in Santa Barbara the day after my birthday in 2008, the only previous time we’d been in a car together. The radio had just announced that Sarah Palin had been chosen by half-batty, wholly opportunistic John McCain as his Vice-presidential running mate. dannye was ecstatic over the news. I thought he was out of his mind, if not uninformed, and told him so. His wife kicked the back of his seat (he was driving), and dannye chilled. We never spoke about the election, or politics, again.

A “chill” dannye is something not a lot of people here in our virtual playground have ever experienced. “Chill” is what you get when mutual respect has been established after many a spirited disagreement over many hard-lived years. “Chill” is what you get when the rough edges of personality are worn down by time and received wisdom.

dannye was an extremely bright man, some kind of homegrown savant, I guess you might say, which made his always articulate reactionary politics extremely difficult for me to understand. “dannye doesn’t like anything new,” his sainted wife said to me one day in the hospital, where we’d gone to see his oncologist (who certainly didn’t speak in anything LIKE the clichéd “oriental” patois dannye uses in his writeups). She was a 40-year old medical FELLOW there in that big-city hospital, after all. But that was dannye’s way with the world—perpetually bending it to fit his perceptions of the way it SHOULD be.

“We’ll be needing some beer for the road,” said Biscuithead as I pulled into the Citgo station on Mississippi Highway 49.

“Dude! Wha—“

“Relax. You’re in Mississippi.”

“But an open contain—“

“Just hand it to me and we’ll be fine.”

So we bought a 24-pack of some local pissbeer and a styrofoam ice chest from a pretty dishwater blonde, topped off the tank, and got along down the road, me with one eye in the rearview.

For years, before SiriusXM Radio, I’d made a habit of tuning to local radio stations, especially in the South, which is like alien territory to this avowed Yankee. The fire and brimstone preachers and the amateur-produced ads for local businesses are always entertaining, an aural background for the mind-blowing “Christian” billboards and sunny wet landscapes. I was anticipating turning dannye on to some righteous blues—new stuff, old stuff, maybe-new-to-him stuff—But dannye had brought along his collection of old cassette tapes, and insisted on regaling me with a blow-by-blow of every musical orgasm he’d ever enjoyed since his college days. A little of this goes a long way, as any of you who may have had the experience of dannye in the flesh may imagine, especially since I’d gone to school with some of his favorites, Steely Dan, and Terence “Boona” Boylan. His long-suffering wife’s refrain came back to me: “Danny doesn’t like anything new.”

And I am all about the new. Change is the only thing we can count on in this world, and somewhere along the line I’ve come to embrace it utterly. Which accounts for my yearly hejira from California to the east coast and back: in the midst of the familiar, I seek the new. Little Rock was the home of my E2 nemesis/conspirator. We’d both conspired and disagreed in public and private on the site. dannye and I were virtual friends once upon a time, and then real life intervened and things got even more interesting.

Danny (middle initial E, hence his moniker here) was anxious to show off his new house, the town, and the Deep South environs where he’d made a pretty good living for himself in the insurance industry after early forays into lead guitar and documentary filmmaking. We shared “the best ribs in the south” at a joint that was ground zero for him back in the day when he’d go collecting whole life premiums five bucks at a time in sharecropper cabins and shotgun shacks. But the goal, the jewel in the Odyssey, was always The Crossroads. Highway 61 Revisted revisited, the place where the devil makes his deal.

I’ve been tempted to sell my soul to ol’ Beelzebub many a time over the years. The fact that I can’t play guitar worth a damn should be noted here—he’s never been impressed. Which is another reason why I guess I’m Lucky.

Clarksdale, Mississippi, has a torpid quality about it in the heat of the summer. After a hundred miles of sorghum and corn, it’s sun-bleached storefronts and tired municipal buildings are modest relief. We accidentally stopped a minute at the Riverside Hotel, famous as the place where Bessie Smith died and Ike Turner practiced his left hooks as a long-term resident. Once upon a time it was the only “black” hotel in Clarksdale. Right down the street is Red’s Blues Club, basically the last of the old-time honky-tonks in the Delta.

I know about Red’s because I’ve been back there many times since that first visit. On the day dannye and I rolled into town, though, we never got to Red’s. As a matter of fact, we found no blues at all. And this is where the whole “Roshomon” aspect of this shared tale of ours kicks in.

Yes, Danny had thoughtfully booked a room—a veritable suite— at the Shack Up Inn, but that bit about being “jealous of (his) virginity” is fucking weird. Right. It’s a joke. But it’s a joke in the same peculiar way that many conservatives I know make “jokes” about things they say that they actually really mean. I’m “Hollywood” and therefore I’m gay?! WTF?

dannye was a conservative. But he was a conservative cloaked in the residue of 60’s hippiedom. He did ALL the fine funny furry freak stuff back in the day, as I learned on this Odyssey of ours. Sex, drugs, rock n roll, and more sex and drugs. He played fuckin’ rock n roll, and pretty damned well on the guitar too, judging by the tapes he brought along for our ride. But in the end he was a racist who could never escape his dirt-poor southern heritage. Never wanted to, never tried. “It is what it is.” That’s the motto at Red’s Blues Club, as a matter of fact. Red’s is on the other side of the tracks. Literally on the other side of the tracks in Clarksdale, Mississippi, “backed by the river, fronted by the grave.” White folk don’t go there.

So it was with grave misgivings that dannye and I, drunk as punk skunks after a day-full of highway beer, ventured into nighttime Clarksdale, looking for food. True it was that what looked like good places to me were full of young black kids, dancing and carrying on. It’s what kids do everywhere, for chrissake, but there was no way dannye was gonna let me park my black Mercedes THERE! “This is the SOUTH!” he kept saying to me. I didn’t get it. Still don’t. Is there some criminal delimiter that segregates this little burg of sixteen thousand souls from Harlem? From Compton? East St. Louis, Southside Chicago, fucking Palm Springs, California for crying out loud? Crime is crime is crime, and it happens everywhere. I had eight thousand dollars worth of camera stolen off a table in an upscale restaurant in Buenos Aires just last summer. It is what it is.

So, later, this completely stoned BLACK man hits Danny up for a cigarette down there on Main, where there ain’t no cocaine no way no more, yes. He could barely stand. He had a filthy mouth. In the end he was harmless, but the incident, mostly off of dannye’s reaction, kept us from following the seductive stream of music coming from a club just two minutes down the street. It was dark in Clarksdale. Fear. Paranoia. Alcohol. Racism. Mutually excluded from the Blues of the Mississippi Delta. Or maybe not.

There’s a Church’s Chicken joint right in the middle of middle-class Pasadena, California, not far from KFC and a couple ethnic rib places. I’ve been to Church’s. Church’s is commonplace, but that’s where we ended up that night. It was well after midnight and there were half a dozen young black men fussing over the very cute counter-girls and cooks in back. They did not appear to be strapped for a subsequent crime spree around town, but they really were…black. I really did scoot dannye back to the car, because he was giving off a really weird vibe, and it was starting to freak everybody out. Once he was gone, I got to talking with these guys. They were beyond harmless. The oldest, the one with the “prison tattoos” (dannye informed me later), had run his auto body shop down the street for fifteen years. Two of the other guys’ girlfriends worked in the joint, and they were waiting for their honeys to get off. The way you do.

I opted to chat with the old brother outside with the uniform (shirt: old) and gun (pistol: tiny). It really was a tiny little pistol, the sort of thing “ladies” must’ve carried in the olden days, on the way to and from the Birdcage Hotel and Social Club.

“Nice night,” I said.

“Ain’t they all?”

I nodded agreement. This is the sort of thing a vet might offer, just a reminder you know, nothing heavy. Just an acknowledgement. We stood there listening to the night for a while.

“So what’s with all this?” The gun. The uniform.

“They likes me here. Just in case.”

OK. I guess I get that.

“Ever have any trouble?”

“Nope.”

Two of the kids nod to him as they leave. He half-salutes them.

“How long you been working here?”

“Comin’ up on about six months now.”

“Really?!” You’d’ve thought longer, him being old and with an even older shirt and gun.

“Ah needs d’ money.”

“Oh?”

“Gonna buy me another house.”

Another house?”

“Aayep.”

“Well how many houses do you own?”

“Six.”

The chicken was great. dannye and I drank more beer. The Shack Up Inn was spectacular in its cut-rate Disneyfied approximation of the Old South (hint, hint), and I slept that night like a little black blind baby boy out front his tar paper shack on his gramma’s knee.

But I didn’t get a great story out of it, my friends, not like dannye. I saw no clowns. Giant black crows did not gather at the Crossroads for me in my dreams, just to sing “I Want You” in C Major.

But that’s just the way art is, isn’t it? Art can show up when you least expect it, and it ALWAYS shows you where your shit is.

I loved Danny E. Wildman, here and in real life too. I always will. Our Odyssey that fine summer weekend has become one of my fondest memories, and I hope I’ve done it modest justice this glorious Bloomsday 2018.

Rest in eternal inquisitive demonstrative artistic peace, my friend….

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