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'A Good Customer, With Honest Reputation'
Ron West's Queer Chicken Dinner. pages 67-70


5

Chapter 5 opens with Kerouac’s mom telling him he’s “wasting his time hanging around with Dean [Cassady] and his gang” but Kerouac decides she is wrong.

Ginsberg is in the picture now, dishing out an amoral set of philosophical questions for Kerouac and Cassady, a sort of ‘what does it all mean’ demand that they discover a purpose and he is not talking about any purpose having to do with living intelligently. For example, as Ginsberg demands they come to terms with their plans and predicts they will come back from a mad adventure to the philosopher’s ‘stone’, in the same moment he is doing a threesome in bed with Cassady and Henderson, recalling the previous times in Denver and Ginsberg instructing Cassady in the concept of ‘freedom.’ Next, it is Cassady and Kerouac in bed together with Henderson. Then Cassady beats Henderson black and blue, what did you expect, with Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg, a woman is a cover for other issues, she gets fucked in every sense.

By the time Kerouac, Cassady, Hinkle and Henderson leave New York on this new leg of the ‘adventure’, Ginsberg’s apartment looks like an amphetamine junkie den and likely it is just that, as Kerouac notes [on top of Cassady’s classic symptoms] Ginsberg “wasn’t sleeping anymore these days.”

No one will tell you, nor is it in any official literature that, at least up to the 1970s, the Coram Experimental Forest outside Marten City, Montana, concealed a geophone network in a restricted area, on account of the Hungry Horse Dam having been built on a fault which had since become active.

Coram had been around since the turn of the 20th Century, Hungry Horse had been simply known as place on the trail where a starving horse had been found before that, and Marten City came into existence in the late 1940s with the beginning of Hungry Horse Dam’s construction and all three had boomed. For five years it was a construction workers bonanza, bars and business flourished, post offices had opened and then it went bust with completion of the hydroelectric project. Hungry Horse, Montana, ½ mile west of Marten City, had suffered the larger decline as many laborers had been housed in barracks as opposed to people who’d built houses in what became Marten City, or built or lived in existing structures at Coram. The Bureau of Reclamation owned barracks had been emptied by 1954 and pretty much so was Hungry Horse.

By the 1960s, Marten City and Coram had become a Montana version of Al Capp’s ‘Dog Patch’ in the Li’l Abner comic strip. What had been left behind were largely people with no wherewithal or motivation to move on, located in ½ square mile or so of mostly dilapidated structures, in each of the locations.

In those days Marten City was largely a populated by Whites and Indians with the occasional Mexican in the mix. A half-mile to the east on U.S. Highway 2, Coram was a similar demographic circumstance. There were more Indians in community those days than in the present time, Blackfeet, Cree, and Chippewa (Plains Ojibwe) and Métis (a kind of northern Creole) mostly, with a few Salish-Kootnai and Assiniboine, probably about 30% Indians mixed in with the Whites. This area is the heart of ‘up the line.’

I would suppose it is because the White and Indian kids grew up together, children are truly color blind and racism is a learned cultural phenomena, we did not know the bigotry you might encounter in other adjacent but off the reservation communities such as Havre, Montana.

Montana had seen several waves of White supremacists immigrate into the state, because there is no historical Black community to offend their bigotry, first following the Civil War, again with affirmative action in the 1950s, and now recently again but, I expect these more recent migrations will be largely absorbed and defanged over time because they are a minority in a ‘live and let live society’ that’ll turn on them if they go to making serious problems in a mountain culture that largely believes people should mind their own damn business.

I recall, when a kid in the 1960s, my dad had come home laughing at some local Whites who were an exception, not the rule. They owned a café, I won’t say which one because it has changed hands since and it’d not be fair to pin the present proprietors with the sin, it was the previous owners were racist (and did not last.)

As it happened, some Black African engineers, I recall from Nigeria, had come to study Hungry Horse Dam. The Black engineers went into the café to eat, my dad was present, and the Africans were informed by the woman on shift, “We don’t serve niggers.” One of the Africans had replied in perfect English: “There should be no problem, we won’t be ordering niggers, we are here for something to eat.” My dad had laughed out loud, invited the Africans to sit at his table and that was the end of the stupid stuff. A good customer, with honest reputation, was more powerful than any racist attitude.

For us kids, it was heaven because for the most part no one really cared about this sort of idiocy, and we had a one eyed deputy sheriff who pretended to get after us but actually believed we had to party because there was nothing better going on for kids to do, and our partying could be amazing events. We were wild, we were free, sometimes we crossed a line we had not ought have crossed, but there is no way Neal Cassady and company could be representative of our character. We had people like Kerouac’s crew migrate in, but that is another story.

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