Norman Westbay passed away a few days ago. Truth be told, I never talked to him all that much, just a few times in passing really, but the news of his death made me very sad. Later on in life, we became Facebook friends and found out that we kind of thought alike on a lot of things. This was probably because we grew up within two blocks of each other on the Southside of Corcoran. We didn't live out there because our ancestors were manor borne and bred or had staked out a claim centuries before. We came from migrants, people who moved into the area in search of better times; people who didn't mind getting blistered, sunburned, and dirty to find them. Yet, at the same time, my dad was probably the first person who ever broke the ground of our yard in order to plant something in the entire history of the world.
Norman and his friends were a few years older than me. He was older than my brother too. We were of that generation when the young men were being shipped off to the jungles of Asia with the admonition that it was, "Kill to be killed" out there and our leaders didn't seem to be overly concerned over which one happened first. On the home front, a lot of the drugs that were floating all over the place at the time happened to be provided by our own government. They didn't us tell that at the time. I only found out about it much later, read about it in a book.
I came out of the Southside with a chip on my shoulder. Most Southside kids did. It's still there, by the way. It's the how the good Lord's going to identify us Southside kids when we get to heaven.
My dad once sent me to a parts store to get a piece of packing because he was working on fixing our water pump. He was all greasy and didn't want to put his hands in his pockets, so he told me to just charge it. I went and got it, and it cost thirty something cents. There were four men there when I told the man behind the counter to put it on Dad's bill, two on one side of the counter and two men sitting on stools. I will remember until the day I die how those men looked at me when I told the man to charge it. I feel no hatred for any of the men; I never hated my dad for it either. It was just a moment of great clarity where the universe let a young boy know his exact position in both the world at large and the smaller hierarchies of a small farm town. There were probably times in my father's life when that thirty something cents could have been the difference between success or failure.
Lawns were manicured on the North side of Barnum Avenue. The only curbs on the Southside ran around Mark Twain School. Men over there wore white shirts and ties in the middle of the week. The only time men wore a shirt and tie on the Southside was at a funeral or at church on Sunday.
The differences were often very subtle, and even almost non-existent at times. Yet, there was no getting away from the fact that some of my immediate family had eaten possums and squirrels when they were young, and anybody who would eat one of them nasty ass critters would have had to have to have passed down something special in their DNA, something that distinguishes us from those whose ancestors were several generations removed from that particular source of protein. I'm seventy years old and I can still sense the condescension in someone's voice when they are talking about completely unrelated, and I can see it their eyes from across the room.
Norman and his buddies were our heroes growing up. They rode around in cool looking vehicles with good looking females at their side, but mainly because they they didn't appear to take shit from anyone, especially those people wearing white-shirts and ties in the middle of the week. They taught us in their cheerful defiance, that it wasn't wise to trust an over-zealous preacher any more than a car salesman with a drinking problem. My brother told me that when he was a freshman, he had to sneak around the high school to keep from ending up being stuffed in a trashcan. Once in his PE class, the seniors were surrounding him, and it was Norman who stepped in and told them to leave my brother alone. That's pretty much what it took to become a hero on the Southside, to identify as one of us when the cool thing would have been to step away.
Most people are mistaken in their understanding that consciousness works like a river, constantly flowing. It's more like a collection of individual photos moving so rapidly that their projection seems seamless. As one scene appears, the next is already hovering above it, and they transition at such a fast rate that they actually dissolve into each other with only the minutest change taking place. Eventually though, those changes add up and you find yourself in a completely different scene.
As baby boomers, we shared a world with the likes of such diverse characters as Theodore Cleaver, Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, Davy Crockett, Mick Jagger, John Kennedy and his brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendricks, Buzz Aldrin, Robert Young, Minnie Pearl, Red Fox, Elvis, Richie Valens, Martin Luther King Jr., Jane Fonda, Malcom X, Willy Mays, Cesar Chavez, and a whole host of others, fictional and real, who helped shaped our perception of reality.
On the Southside of Corcoran, we shared a seemingly smaller world but one actually much bigger because of its proximity, wherein people like Pops Ramirez, Polly Payne, Mr. Coffman, Howard Loo, August Baker, Sixto Miranda, Ruth Dougherty, James Reed, and Mr. and Mrs. Reed loomed large. Their family stories were our stories, and their struggles to survive became our mythologies.
There's a young girl who was recently offered, if I remember correctly, four million dollars to sell a T-shirt brand that basically dismissively called for my generation to hurry up and die. We are doing exactly that, but not because of the efforts of one stupid little girl. It's just the way that this world works. My dad was a part of what was known as the Greatest Generation. He lived just long enough to witness a world that not only didn't have a clue as to what that meant, but one that actually somewhat ridiculed his generation's efforts to save the world from tyranny.
I hate to see any of the people of my generation die, especially the ones I knew personally. Dylan warned us early on about the harsh nature of this living, he was talking about our parents, but his words were an ominous prophecy of the current state of affairs, "Don't criticize what you can't understand," and "Get out of the new one [road] if you can't lend a hand." I guess we were never meant to understand any of this current insanity anyway.
I hate it even more to see someone pass on who shared in what it was like to grow up back then on the Southside of Corcoran. Especially someone I looked up to and admired. It makes me feel pretty fucking lonely.