Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Leaf: A Long Lost Friend

Auto Shop Class: Professor Romero
Student: Peter S. Lopez ~aka Peta
Date: April 22, 2006

The Leaf: A Long Lost Friend

I first met ‘The Leaf’ one drunken night staggering home from Busher’s, our small redneck neighborhood bar by where I lived. After one more for the street, I went to the liquor store next to it. I left the Liquor Store armed with more ‘live ammo’. I was crossing the parking lot when someone hollered out, “Hey do ya’ wanna’ buy a strat?”

I saw ‘The Leaf’, an adult Native-American male. He had a Stratocaster for sale dirt-cheap. Now the Fender Stratocaster is the best electric guitar ever made. It was introduced in 1954, has survived and thrived basically unchanged for over 50 years, being the favored instrument of millions of guitarists including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. We introduced ourselves. He called himself Joey. He was a veterano, from the California Maidu tribe with long grey-black hair and a friendly open personality. So we hit it off as amigos from the start.

I slurred out, “I’m runnin’ on empty, but I’s got an acoustic Gibson at home. I play a littl’ myself. But no amp. Why don’t we gets to my place n’ see what we can bring up? I got ammo!”

He slurred back, “Sounds good ta’ me! Let’s go jam!”

So we walked around the corner, rapping’ along the way. I looked up and eyed the yellowish full moon among dangling clear night stars. Somewhere there’s music how high the moon!

When we got to my place we commenced to playing guitar, sharing licks and really getting deliberately good and drunk. He told he had broken up with a lady friend who drove him nuts. So he had just grabbed his guitar, his backpack and had split from her place downtown. I invited him to crash at my place. “Mi casa es su casa!” It was a Friday so I had the weekend to party carefree

Joey played some heavy blues and sang along with his songs. He was good, one of the best I had ever witnessed. He made the guitar come alive as an extension of his spirit. He was one with its sounds and the new bluesy atmosphere he created. He was good, damn good!

During a ‘break’ we talked about our backgrounds. He told me he was a ‘Nam Vet. The same as all Vets I have known from that God-forsaken war he did not want to talk about it, He simply said he had been a jungle hit man called ‘The Leaf’. We had a short but serious conversation about wars. I told him I was against that insane war, had a phony Honorable Discharge and that the war we needed to wage was here at home inside the United States! He agreed.

The next morning we woke up with hangovers and had to get ‘a hair off the dog’ that had bitten and mauled us. I suggested we go to Busher’s for some warm-up beers. He was the automatic ‘point-man’ and seemed protective by nature. We jammed, talked about secret ‘Indian ways’, tribal wars and other deep stuff. So we swapped war stories and got drunk all weekend.

Early Monday morning I got up and went to do work. At the time I was at the Redevelopment Agency. I told Joey he could stay with me until something else came up. When I got home my place was all neat and cleaned up. I had to go get some medicine for us. I had struggled through the day with a lingering hangover as my slave… as usual.

Sometimes we would have a few local musicians visit and a couple of singers with more equipment. We had some great jam sessions. We had gotten a hold of a huge Gibson amp, mikes and other equipment. We were jammin’ and the whole neighborhood knew it and liked it! Alas, the good times roll but never last.

I use to buy Crazy Horse beer, which has since been outlawed in California. One day, Joey and I were drinking behind the liquor store like a good ol’ couple of drunks and he declared, “You’re Crazy Horse!”

So he gave me my Indian nickname that I carried with pride. Later on I gradually dropped it knowing that the original warrior chief known as Crazy Horse was against alcohol drinking by his people.

One early warm afternoon, when just Joey and I were home we were jammin’ in the front room. Joey sensed something was up and he felt the wall between our place and the apartment near door. “Feel the wall!” he ordered.

I felt it with the palm of my hand and it was hot! Just then there was a banging knock on my back door! I rushed to it and opened it to see one of the most hideous sights I ever saw. A shriveled up old’ white man naked! He told me, “Could you call the fire department?”

I let him in, threw a pair of old faded jeans and clean shirt at him, and then, called the police because of the fire next door. Joey hollered out, “Save the equipment!”

We hauled the amp and guitar out onto the front lawn. To hell with saving clothes and stuff! Save the equipment! We thought the wall was going to explode open any moment!

The fire department came, axed through the roof next door and put the fire out. The neat appearing neighbor had his place full of newspapers and porno magazines up to waist level so he was living in a firetrap. Thank God, they put the fire out before it did worst damage to the other apartments, but the man’s apartment was gutted out.

Later that day, Joey and I cracked up drinking’ booze over our priority: Save the equipment!
So the hot summer wore on, I struggled to and fro to work, then, after my slave I would make it home, we would jam our music and get drunk together. No worries!

He stayed with me for a while, then, one day he had gone into town, ran into his old gal and went back to live with her. Later on, I lost my job behind my drinking’, lost my place and eventually ended up going into the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter or what we call Sally’s.

I worked my way out of there, then, rented a little room by 18th and P Street upstairs. Joey use to come by at odds hours, whistle up from outside, call out, “Crazy Horse! Crazy Horse!”

I would poke my head out the window to check and had to go downstairs to open up the door. He was still street homeless and usually had an ol’ grocery cart with him he left on the side of the building outside.

We would do what we would do. Play guitars, drink booze and jam the blues. He had sold his ‘strat’ but usually had an acoustic guitar that was his or he was holding onto. Sometimes people would just give him a guitar after hearing him play for his booze, but he mainly played because he loved to play the blues. Playing the blues was his primary motive for staying alive!

He made me realize that it is the guitarist, not just the guitar through which the guitar really comes alive. The guitarist makes manifest the potential in the guitar, but he has to be gifted with the talent to bring it out. You can’t fake it. It is the singer, not just the song. It is the writer, not just what is written. It is the artist, not just the work of art. Without the hands of the artist the sculpture just remains a glob of clay without art form or meaning.

I quit by job at Sally’s and got a nightshift job at the CATC (Comprehensive Alcoholism Treatment Center) or what is commonly known simply as De-Tox. At De-Tox the police paddy wagon drops off street drunks or public inebriates. By State law, people are put on a 72-hour hold being ‘a danger to themselves and/or others’. My Sobriety Lesson: if you are supposed to be in recovery do NOT get a job at De-tox.

One time my old drinking’ buddy Joey {aka The Leaf} was dropped off. I was a little surprised to see him. He was not a regular client. I helped take special care of him. He told me his diabetes had been getting worse, his kidneys were shot and that he would probably kick the bucket before long. Routine sermons on the evils of alcoholism were not enough to save him until he wanted to save himself and salvage what life had left for him. So after his little vacation he was released back out into the mean streets.

Predictably, due to my recurrent alcoholism, I lost my job at De-tox, then, I went back into Sally’s, got straight, got back into recovery and was accepted into a two-year transitional housing program called Mather Community Campus out by Rancho Cordova, away from my usual stomping grounds. Alcohol-drug addiction can be a vicious cruel cycle!

In 2002, I left Mather and moved into a one-bedroom apartment downtown. One evening I went to Tower Records just for an evening stroll and met an old’ guitarist named Johnny Guitar Knox. He told me Indian Joe had been killed sometime before behind a $10 dollar beer run by a White heroin addict. An argument had turned lethal and the hype had stabbed and killed him. A few months later I found out by a Native street brother that the White hype had been set up with a hot shot of a heroin-overdose and so he was dead in revenge. Thus, a brief story of ‘The Leaf’, a long lost friend who I wish was around today.

The Leaf once talked about his past and said that what he missed most of all was when him and his Dad use to go fishing, lay back with their heads on a log and talk about life among the living. The Leaf was actually a tree in his own way. Sometimes he could get rowdy coming from rough times, but he had a caring heart of gold and stood up for his principles.

I really miss The Leaf and his ways. I wish he were alive, just to strum on more tune, to see his big smile and hear him cracking up. At times when I am walking downtown and turn a corner I almost expect to see him pushing his grocery cart with a stashed bottle of cheap wine and a guitar strapped around him, smiling and singing out loud.  He was the best blues guitar player I ever knew and one of the finest gentlemen I will ever know. The Leaf is one of the many good reasons why I just stay sober, try to help others and keep it real.


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