It was in my printing days I met Sharon, an attractive, and assertive woman who I would have fallen for in an instant if she had, had any interest in me. As it was she had a boyfriend who lived across the street from me and a house of her own, which seemed unusual for a young woman with no apparent source of income. I later heard rumors she was recently divorced from one of the city’s biggest property owners. I printed a publication for her called “Hot-Bit”, it was a play on the well-known local literary magazine called “Cold Drill”, which was put out by Boise State University. It was a collection of poetry and short prose written by the local talent. I believe Cold Drill was edited by her own professor. So “Hot Bit” was a bit of an in your face challenge to him.
I printed “Hot Bit” on a mimeograph machine, a much frowned upon printing device. But also the means of publication of any number of early literary publication such as “Fantasy Stories”and 1960’s era break out poetry. “Howl” may have been initially printed on a mimeograph. It was the well known scourge of many school teachers. However “Hot Bit” turned out better than any teacher could have imagined. A mimeograph uses the same printing principal as a silkscreen. It presses the viscous ink through a prepared “screen”, putting ink in the intended places and leaving it blank in the unintended places. It could run only one color of ink at a time. I made the master “screen” using a scanner. This wasn’t the type of scanner that creates virtual, digital files. Instead of creating a digital file, it looked at an original and “burned” it onto a sheet that could then be attached to the mimeograph machine. It was a far cry from using a typewriter to bang little holes in the mimeo “master”. A page could be nicely typeset (I had access to about 6 different font styles) with the lines being “justified”, proofread and corrected beforehand, which wasn’t possible on a typewriter. I also had three different mimeograph machines running three different colors of ink. When I printed the front cover I added color. I achieved this by “trapping” in the manner of silk screeners. When the paper goes through the second machine it doesn’t necessarily line up (register) exactly as when it went through the first time, so the two colors of ink might not match up. However if you give them a large overlap and if the last ink you print covers the first ink, it looks fine. Once all the pages were printed, they needed to be collated, then folded. My binding technique was a simple long throated stapler, I put three staples down the center. It ended up looking pretty “arty” and Sharon was happy with it.
The mimeograph process posed some serious limitations. The paper was expensive and you had to use only special mimeo paper or the ink would show through on the backside or wouldn’t dry properly leaving marks on the backside of every sheet. The paper came in one color of white and some odd colors such as yellow, green, pink and tan. The process caused a lot of “dot-gain”, when the ink touches the paper and spreads a bit. “Screens” of photos came out poorly because of the dot-gain, what was supposed to be grey turned black. The company that made them, Gesstetner switched over to making copy machines at around that time. I wasn’t using mimeo for long before I was looking for an offset printing press. I was told an offset press would cost a minimum of $1,000, for a used one, way out of my price range. So that seemed like a distant dream.
Sharon told me of a meeting taking place at a friends house. Apparently a group of people were working on a new publication they were calling “The North End News”. They were looking for contributors and possibly people to work on the printing. They had already purchased an offset printing press which they planned on using to print their new publication. I showed up at that meeting as did about a dozen other people, mostly people who were interested in being contributors. I felt my contribution would be in the pragmatic realm of helping with the printing. I had nothing to contribute in the way of writing. As the meeting progressed it became clear that this project was mainly spearheaded by Alex and Dave.
At first glance I couldn’t decipher Alex’s gender. She was short and rotund with straight short-cut dark hair. She spoke with the intensity of a scholar. She knew her subject well but clearly felt the need to make known her views regarding literary taste. She had big plans for “the North End News”. It was really going to introduce Boise to the kind of writing only other more hip cities, such as Portland or Seattle already enjoyed. It would be a large format, single fold news style publication, but cheap newsprint wouldn’t be used. Instead it would be printed on a white news-stock more suited to artwork. The ink wouldn’t run off and or bleed through to the opposite side. It would contain artwork, poetry, commentary and the news would have a decidedly liberal slant. The North End of Boise was one of the rare enclaves of liberal leanings in all of Idaho, relatively speaking. The Blaine County towns of Hailey and Sun Valley had their enclaves, but that hardly counted because their politics was driven by so much out of state money.
Alex was a woman of strong opinions but with solid experience of editorship to back them up. She was the editor of “The Boise Magazine” a glossy full color, tourist style publication. I’m guessing it was funded at a loss by one of the local movers and shakers. I’m sure Alex was overworked and underpaid, but she did know her stuff.
Dave was a very different sort of person. He was someone with whom I felt an instant rapport. He was tall, with long straight black hair and wire rimmed glasses. He was very humble when speaking in front of the entire group and uneasy with the feeling of having command of the room. According to their introductions Dave was going to be the art director of the North End News. As he spoke I felt drawn to him immediately. He possessed a youthful, positive spirit, the kind of spirit that seems unfazed by skepticism. He spoke without stridency or impatience and unlike Alex he was open to other’s interpretations of what good Art might be. Though they both had a rebellious attitude toward the stifling mediocrity of Boise. With Alex it felt like she was pushing down with her opinions, with Dave it felt like he was lifting up.
After they had both given their presentations in front of the larger group, I spoke with Dave directly. I liked how he stooped a little as he spoke so as to be more on your level even though I was only an inch or two shorter. His long hair was clean and well kept though it hung down to his shoulders. It was not styled ala Fabio or pretentious in anyway. His appearance and his positive to the point of naiveté manner of speech couldn’t help but make one think of 1960’s stereotypes. If he had experienced the 60’s, he had survived it well with his idealism intact and not beaten down by drugs or the war.
I offered to help him work on the North End News, I let him know I was interested in learning the nuts and bolts of printing. He told me about the printing press they had purchased for the purpose of printing the NEN. It was an offset press; an ATF Little Chief and could print up to a 14×20 sheet of paper. I was envious and really wanted to see it in operation. When I asked him about specifics he was a little vague, saying it was in good shape but still needed some work. He told me that he kept the press in a garage in the North End and invited me to stop in some time while he was working on it. He liked to stay up late to listen to a particular radio show on KBSU; a blues show. I liked that show too, but rarely heard it because I invariably went to bed early.
I felt excited after that meeting, not so much for the NEN but for meeting Dave. I was already beginning to experience the pitfalls and defeated expectations involved in trying to put together a small literary publication. A different friend and I, had been putting out a publication called “The Writers’ Chapbook” on my mimeograph machines. It was a very amateur attempt and I wasn’t particularly proud of it. I was frankly intimidated by Alex and wanted to have nothing to do with working with her. I included some of my own writing in “The Writers’ Chapbook”, however I wouldn’t think of exposing my own writing to Alex’s very critical eye. I did have a sense whenever I met someone, if that person might become a good friend and I had this sense with Dave. I made a mental note of the address where he said he would be working on the press and planned to stop by there at some point.
I walked by the garage Dave spoke of and was lucky enough to find him there on my second or third attempt. He welcomed me in and showed me the press. It was a massive thing compared to my Gesstetners. Standing on its pallet it stood about six feet tall. Dave was happily working away on it. He took time to talk to me even though I sensed he was under some time pressure.
He spoke of working as a graphic artist and was eager to get back to doing it again. I got the sense that he was lost when it came to getting the Little Chief running though. He said Alex and he had found an old pressman who was willing to come in and get it running. There wasn’t even a 240 volt plug in the garage though and that was a problem, because it needed to run on 240 volts. So it was mainly cosmetic cleaning he was focused on. He moved around the garage with a little spring in his step and he worked with a smile on his face. He was excited about their new plans to move the press into a space in Hyde Park where he and Alex would start their new venture. Hyde Park was a two or three block zone in the middle of the North End. There was a bar, a couple of antique stores, a cleaners, a natural food store, a restaurant, an antique auction house, and both a used and a new bookstore. My second time meeting Dave reinforced my first positive impression of him as a very likable guy. Someone who I would want as a good friend.
I waited for them to open their doors in Hyde Park, I knew Hyde Park well. I was a frequent visitor to the neighborhood. I lived on 8th St. and Hyde Park was on 13th St. I knew the owner of the used bookstore in Hyde Park well, we worked together in producing the Writers’ Chapbook. I had reason to stop by his store frequently and even worked in his store occasionally.
True to their word Alex and Dave did rent a storefront in Hyde Park. Their landlord was my first landlord when I moved to Boise. He owned that rundown rooming house on Bannock St. and he owned a number of building in Hyde Park. He was one of the early generation Basques who had settled in Idaho working as sheepherders. His family must have bought up some property in Boise, a generation or two ago.
I stopped by to say hi to Dave and Alex and to see if there was anything I could do to help out, I saw they already had the Little Chief inside their new storefront. They had to take out a side wall to do it but there it was, perched on its pallet. During the next few months I spent many hours in this place with Alex and Dave. Much of that time was delicious but an equal amount of it was distressing.
One of the first projects Alex and Dave undertook was painting the front room. This front room I learned, was the very important first impression. It was to have a sign in the window, the yet designed logo of North End News. They already had a desk. This was before the onslaught of personal computers so there was no computer. There was however a very nice light table which a friend of Dave’s had built for him. It was basically a milky white piece of glass with a couple fluorescent lights behind it. It helped you to see through the paper or the film you were working on. In those days a light table was an essential piece of equipment for a graphic artist. It was used for cutting up and laying out artwork before it went to the process photographer. Once the film came back from the process photographer it was used to cut up and prepare a sheet that would be used to burn an offset plate. This final pre-press step was called “stripping”. Dave usually created his artwork at home in his own work area but he would bring it to the light table and put the pieces together there, using a hand waxer to lay it out, applying white-out in the right spots, etc.
The front room was pretty simple and uncluttered so a good paint job was important. After the first coat Alex was unhappy with the results. Some paint from a previous undercoat still lingered beneath the fresh coat. So they did a second coat, but still there was something showing through. Instead of doing a third coat they applied paint to just the areas that needed covering. That worked to cover the spots, but it was as though there was a different sheen to the third coat. It actually looked worse after the third coat. So after some long hours of painting in addition to working their regular jobs, I walked in to hi one evening. Dave was standing and Alex was sitting down in a foraged chair. They seemed happy to see me, and I sat down and talked with them a bit.
Alex still had a bothered look on her face when she looked up at the white on white spots on the wall. I could tell Dave was much more bothered by her being bothered, than he was by the spots on the wall. Dave still had a buoyancy after working all day. He was still smiling and joking around. There was a childlike quality to his conversation an infectious in-love-with-life, kind of enthusiasm. I was beginning to make out the dynamic between Alex and Dave which held them together. Purely by appearances Dave was much better looking than Alex. As couples go, usually there is not a large attractiveness gap. Usually couples are about equal when it comes to looks. But I could see how Alex served as the anchor that kept Dave tethered to reality. Actually it was not so much Reality as a kind of reality that suited the two of them. Dave on the other-hand kept Alex from collapsing in on herself with her tendency to be an obsessive perfectionist. I learned later about some of the other distractions in Dave’s life that made him a less than perfect life partner.
As we talked that evening Dave mentioned how good it felt to work long hours late into the night. He told us about how he and a previous girlfriend worked long hours late into the night at a natural foods restaurant back in Indiana, where he grew up. He had to keep working but she was tired of standing so she wrapped her legs around his waist and he kept on working while carrying her around. The scene sounded like one of those 1960’s youthful attempts at changing the dominant paradigm. Something that keeps re-inventing itself with each generation. But this was my first clue that Dave was as old as he was. He talked about the 1960’s as something he experienced as a young adult. I never asked him directly how old he was but my friend Maggie did, he was 40. Which was younger than Maggie, but still very surprising, because he didn’t look or act his age.
That evening I got to know Alex a little better. I could see past her veneer of intimidation-with-knowledge that had turned me off at first. I got a few glimpses of the fragile inner core that we all hide in various ways. Her boss from the Boise Magazine stopped by to shoot the breeze and probably check out her efforts. I remember them talking about Dick Butkus, he was on some TV show the night before. Apparently he had a bad haircut and they were joking about. Alex showed a bit of her caustic humor saying his head look like a big dick. Her boss thought that was very amusing. She told him about her plan’s for the N.E.N, all of which I had heard before. It was a strained performance for her, the edgy jokes, the conjuring of visions, she was good at it but it definitely took something out of her. She didn’t relax until after her boss had left.
Sitting there in that front room looking out it’s big window at the quiet neighborhood setting of Hyde Park, the North End News all seemed possible. The two of them talked about the logo, how it should be a very simple and classic black and white. Dave had already started on the design. When it was done they would frame his design and hang it in the front window and that would be their sign. They talked about how this was the heart of the North End so it was a perfect place for the North End News.
I left that evening with a good feeling about Alex and Dave. Maybe they saw me as a young and wet-behind the ears, eager to learn what they could teach me. That was quite true of me but that is not what our relationship turned out to be. Like most friendships it was based on mutual need but it was a very complicated mutual need.
I became a regular visitor to their storefront there in Hyde Park. Dave was often working at his light table at night. One evening when I was visiting he had invited an acquaintance over to jam. Dave was a musician in addition to being an artist. He played the bass mostly when he played with others, but he also played the guitar and probably a number of other instruments. I sat in and listened along with Alexander; a local to the neighborhood and fellow artist. They played a few songs along the lines of “Bobbie McGee” and I thought it sounded pretty good. After the other musician left, Dave commented that his repertoire was a little too “white” for him. It seemed like an odd comment at the time because he was white, I was white and practically everyone in Boise was white. He said that back in Indiana he played in a high school band. He enjoy playing with the black musicians the best. He tended to like more of a bluesy style music. Dave was also a kind of musical missionary. He often seemed intent on getting his friends to join in the music. It didn’t matter if they possessed musical skill or not. He mentioned that he wished I had joined in somehow instead of just listening. It took me some time to understand where Dave was coming from. He just had a real love for music and he wanted to share that with others. Getting others to participate even when they thought they had no talent for it was just his way of sharing.
I met up again with Alex and Dave again when they planned on bringing the retired pressman in to get the Little Chief running. The pressman already had the drums and rollers of the Chief spinning by the time I got there. I thought that was a good sign. The pressman; Bill, was a short older man who was hunched over as though he had been operating the controls of printing presses most of his life. Which he probably had. He was a chain smoker and had a habit of tapping his ashes into the “fountain solution” as his cigarette burned down. I gathered that the deal with Alex and Dave was; they would pay him per hour and supply him with beer while he worked. So the beer was already flowing when I arrived. Bill also liked to pour beer into the fountain solution, he said that and the cigarette ashes helped it achieve the right alkalinity, he didn’t put it in those words (I think he said “that is good stuff”) but that is what he meant.
Watching and listening I began to learn some of the terms. There was the blanket, the plate, the ink fountain, the fountain solution, the paper feeding system, these were a few of the most important things to learn. But somehow it was the balance of everything that seemed incredibly elusive. I watched as the pressman worked, first he conquered the battle of getting the paper to feed properly. The intricacy of this simple task which millions of desktop printers now do with apparent ease. was amazing. There were little blowers on the side of the paper stack which fluffed the paper up before small suction feet came and lifted a single sheet off the top, letting grippers grab the paper and pull it into the press where it was crushed between the blanket and the drum. The blanket carried the ink image which it got from the printing plate. The printing plate was only as thick as a thick piece of paper. The printing plate received it’s ink from the ink rollers. The printing plate used chemistry to determine where the ink was accepted by the surface or not. It was based on the principal the water repels ink and visa versa. This was in contrast to letterpress printing which uses a thick metal plate with physical projections that capture the ink. The “burning” process of the offset printing plate created a light blueish image of the thing you wanted printed, the rest was a silver aluminum background. When water (the fountain solution was mostly water) from the fountain solution carried by the water rollers ran across the printing plate it stayed in the silver areas but was repelled by the blue areas. Then the ink rollers did their job of making ink stick in the blue areas but the water repelled the ink in the silver areas. That image was transferred to the blanket and then to the paper. So there were three large powerful crushing drums involved, the one that held the printing plate, the one that held the blanket and the smooth silver one with little grippers that grabbed the paper and held it as the blanket impressed the ink onto the paper. I remember about a half dozen ink rollers of various sizes to help spread the ink out evenly, and a much smaller number of water rollers.
There was definitely an hypnotic quality to this machinery; the various rollers spinning and the paper being expertly picked up and shot through, then neatly stacked on the other end. The different processes were unclear and almost fantastical when you first watched this thing in operation. As Bill who was hunched over in just the right way began flipping switches and turning knobs he seemed to be become part of the Little Chief. We all hung on his words wondering if the Little Chief could become the heart of this fledging operation or if it would become just a very heavy piece of statutory. His comments seemed generally positive but not conclusive. The blanket needed to be replaced and it needed some new roller covers but he wouldn’t know for sure until they had a printing plate ready so that he could try some actual printing. So after a few hours and a few beers we called it a night. The question of whether or not the Little Chief was capable of printing the North End News or whether the North End News would exist at all was left unanswered. It was clear Dave and Alex could barely afford the cost of paper and ink, certainly they couldn’t handle the cost of having the North End News printed elsewhere.
It was around this time that I ran into Sharon again. She thought it important to warn me about Dave and Alex. Several of her friends who had attended that first NEN meeting were disappointed in Alex’s lack of follow up. There were vague implications of broken promises and flaky behavior, but nothing more serious then that. It gave me added insight, but didn’t change my thoughts about Alex and Dave. I had become not a potential passenger on this train, but now a saw myself as part of the crew. At this point in time my empathy lay more with Dave and Alex than it did with Sharon.
It wasn’t easy, but Dave got a hold of a printing plate for the Little Chief. He installed some new water roller covers and replaced the blanket. When Bill came back for his next visit the beer was ready. It was just Dave, me and Bill this time. I had never been a mechanical person growing up. It was my brothers and my Dad who were always fixing things around the house or working on cars. But I was determined to figure out how to operate this thing, so I watched the whole thing. Bill was a little more relaxed without Alex around. He and Dave joked around a little, about women, the normal guy sexual references kind of thing. It wasn’t really Dave’s comfort zone but he could play the part pretty well. There were mention of a hair in the fountain solution “but not the good kind of hair.”
This time Bill got the ink and water flowing and the large sheets of paper moving through the press and being stacked in a neat pile on the other end. Dave and I were both and amazed and excited when we saw there was something printed on the paper. After closer inspection though Dave saw problems. The printing was too light and uneven, you could read it but it wasn’t the best quality. This was our introduction into the difficult balance of ink and water that was essential in offset printing. So Bill tapped some ashes in the fountain solution and poured a little beer in there. Then he worked with the ink flow until the prints were looking better. It was another long night before he reached a point were the printing was looking okay, though the balance seemed very fragile. Toward the end of the night noticed Dave appearing tired and a little beaten down. After all that effort to get the press running, the results were inconclusive.
I noticed that Dave and Alex actually had much more space than they needed at their storefront in Hyde Park. I began to form a plan; I could sublease the back room from Dave and Alex and set up my own little printing business. So I talked to Alex and Dave about my idea and they were fine with it. The space consisted of three rooms, the front two rooms were more than enough space for them, so I used the back room. I moved my Gestetners into the back room and printed an issue of The Writers’ Chapbook.
Dave had finished designing the logo for the North End News and by now it was framed and hanging in the window. It was a black and white illustration of a squirrel with “The North End News” in a circle around it. Alexander had framed and matted it. The only color was a bit of red in the mat border around it. Dave had put so much care and thought into this logo, it was a very fitting first impression as people walked down the street.
The more I showed up to work at NEN the more I realized, neither Alex or Dave showed up very often. There were no posted business hours and that was a good thing, no one showed up expecting someone to be there. But on the other-hand no one showed up at all for anything. I soon discovered that Alex’s and Dave’s lives were so full of unraveling loose ends it left them little time for trying to eek out a living. Alex talked about some parking tickets she needed to pay. A parking ticket in Boise ran about two dollars at the time, and it was lightly patrolled. It was nearly as cheap to just park your car, wait for a ticket and then pay it. But somehow her tickets had reached the sum of over $300 and she didn’t know how she was going to pay them. Dave had an ex-wife and two young boys from a previous marriage. He was expected to run errands whenever needed and watch them for certain days of the week. This was a full time job, and he choose to make this a higher priority than anything at NEN. Looking back I think he made the right choice, but it didn’t seem like it at the time.
I met Dave’s ex-wife on a couple of occasions, she was short and rotund, a little more rotund than Alex. She seemed friendly enough. I remember mentioning watching the movie “Alice’s Restaurant”, which was pretty musty by the mid-80’s but new to me. She remembered watching it when it was still fresh, that seemed to date her in my mind. She was older than Alex, a little more rotund and prettier. Though she was nothing but friendly when I was around, I could sense from her brashness and the way she looked you straight in the eye when speaking, that at certain other moments of frustration she might be a force to be reckoned with. I gathered her attitude toward Dave was that he owed her something. Whatever problems they had as a couple, Dave never had a problem with wanting to spend time with his kids, that was always his first priority.
Dave’s kids were calm, considerate, kind and incredibly bright. Parents can be controlling and self-conscious about their kids because they know their kids are a glimpse into what they are as people. They often expose those hidden traits we adults try to cover over. Dave let them talk without interruption or correction and they did nothing but reflect positively on Dave and their mother. The oldest one was very precocious and possessed a prodigy level of intelligence, but he was also prone to severe asthma attacks, which required a lot of emergency trips to the hospital. I’m not sure if Dave’s ex had a car or not, but it seemed like Dave was on call for all the little and big trips around town. And he did it happily, if it had anything to do with his kids. There were just too few hours in the day.
I began to get some paid printing work while working at NEN. With the new space I bought a small offset printer for $400, a Multilith. It worked in very much the same way as the Little Chief only everything was smaller. The biggest piece of paper it could handle was 8.5×14. So I retired my Gestetners and began using the Multilith for the Writer’s Chapbook and some paid printing jobs, such as cards and fliers. Learning how to operate this printer was a torturous process. For my first paying job I thought I would try to use “paper” printing plates instead of the metal printing plates because they were so much cheaper. After several hours of trying to get the paper to feed correctly then I tried to get the ink and water balance down. I never did get it that night and ended up making metal plates for that job anyway. I had a growing fascination for the synchronized parts of the machinery. Watching my Multilith in action was like watching one of those old fashioned band organs, there was a beauty in getting to all work together correctly.
Meanwhile Alex and Dave had talked to another young man about working as a sales agent for our printing services and to sell advertising in a non-existent newspaper. It was a pretty weak sales pitch considering our equipment, our experience level and the fact he had no real newspaper to show to anybody. He actually made a few sales even though we had no way of delivering on his sales. So that faded rather quickly but the unhappy customers didn’t fade away.
As time went by I saw less and less of Dave and Alex. The Little Chief sat there unused and the North End News was becoming a dying dream. But then one day I heard from Dave that they had a printing job for the Little Chief. The North End Neighborhood Association wanted them to put out a small newspaper. It would be very similar to the now phantom NEN in size and appearance. And because of its size it had to be run on the Little Chief. Because it was a paying job, Dave and Alex were motivated to show up and get to work on it. Dave came by with the paper and the printing plates one day. He had the Little Chief all set up and the paper running when I stopped by in the late afternoon. Everything was looking pretty good except the printing was a little light in spots. Alex came by and watched and there was some excitement as the first few sheets looked good. But as it continued to run, it only got worse, beyond what would be acceptable. It was the beginning of a long night. As the night wore on things were looking grim. And the paper was due the following morning. Dave had had the foresight to talk to a friend who worked as a printer at a local business, asking him to stop by. His friend made a few adjustments on the printer and told us that we needed to use real fountain solution not just water mixed with cigarette ashes and beer. So we tried that and things got better but it was still either too dark and blotchy or too light.
Dave’s friend made him an offer which brought us all some relief. Give him the plates and the paper and another $90 dollars and he would go to his work and run the paper on his press. At the time it seemed too good to be true. Alex and Dave wouldn’t have to go back to the Neighborhood Association and admit defeat. But sometimes a slow death is worse than a quick one. Dave’s printer friend came through in with the finished papers. It only took him a couple of hours, when compared to the time lost on messing around on the Little Chief, the concept of us being on a fool’s errand was gradually coming into view. Alex and Dave took a look at the well printed stack of papers wondering if the Little Chief could ever print so well. They took a small stack of papers which they folded by hand to show the to the Neighborhood Association.
In the morning I rigged up a system for folding the papers using an old letterpress that a neighbor was storing in Dave and Alex’s space. That neighbor was O’Leary, he owned a large portion of Hyde Park including the abandoned hulk of an old church which took up an entire block. The exterior looked like large quarried stones, similar to other buildings in Boise, however it wasn’t real, it was faux stone. The building was really one giant fire trap. The letterpress was functioning except for the fact it’s ink rollers needed to be replaced, and there was no type that could be used with it. Those are major obstacles for a letterpress so it was a long ways from being able to print anything. I spent a couple hours folding a large stack of papers for Dave and Alex, but they never showed up that morning. I was given to understand that part of the job was also to get the papers distributed, so I took a stack of about 100 the Boise Co-op.
The remaining stack of newspapers lay around the workshop for about week or so before they disappeared. I didn’t asked Dave about them. The sense of defeat was pretty strong by now. The North End News wasn’t spoken of anymore. Dave seemed to focus more on trying to bring in graphic art work, something he was more comfortable with then printing. I continued to pick up a few printing jobs on my Multilith. I remember doing a collection of poetry put together by a writer from Hailey. It was another art press type of publication. It was called “Climbing the Aerial Staircase” or something similar. It was also a fold over publication stapled together in the center. It had a huge halftone photo of the snow covered hills near Hailey, on the back and front cover. This was a challenge for the little Multilith, it had trouble providing enough ink to the rollers. I also did a few less interesting things such as, business cards and envelopes and flyers for a local political candidate.
He was a democratic candidate running for a statewide office, meaning he didn’t have a chance. Allen was a short hyper-competive type personality. He talked about how he loved to play basketball and challenged Dave to a game of one on one. Dave had about a foot on him in height. Allen said “I’ll be up in your face.” Dave only commented that he was from Indiana and knew how to play basketball. It wasn’t something I could imagine, Dave playing an aggressive game of basketball. Taking a few shots from the perimeter maybe. It was pretty clear who would win such a match up and Dave couldn’t care less. Allen had a knack for saying the wrong things, which was not a good quality in a politician. Right after the Challenger accident when 7 astronauts died in a fiery explosion, he joked “What does NASA stand for?”- “Need Another Seven Astronauts”. I don’t think Dave liked him much but he didn’t turn his work away and he did have some graphics work for Dave. Allen lost his election, getting only 20% of the vote.
One night Allen called me up at about 1 am to say that he had just purchased a printing press and needed help unloading it. Dave and Alex had told him it was okay to store it and use it in the NEN. I’m not sure why but I showed up sometime after he called to give him a hand. I imagined that I would be part of a crew of about four people but it was just Allen and me trying to coax a 400 pound piece of machinery off the back of a pickup truck and into the back room at NEN. There were ramps, rope and metal pipe underneath for rollers, and a lot of pushing and shoving. Somehow it ended up in the right place with neither one of us being crushed in the process.
This second Multilith joined our growing stable of printers at the NEN. Allen’s press was in better shape then my own Multilith and was in fact the one I printed the cover of “Climbing the Aerial Staircase” on. We had four printers now, the Little Chief, O’Leary’s letterpress , two Multiliths, and 3 Gesstetners. With the exception of the two Multiliths it was a nice collection of anchors. That is what the old pressman called the Little Chief in a moment of frustration, “It would make a good anchor”. It gave us the illusion of a growing business when in fact the opposite was true.
Alex almost never showed up anymore, now that the North End News was a lost cause. Dave showed up but his life seemed increasingly hectic. One day he came in with his hand bandaged up. He had been working on his art at home when he got a call from his ex. His oldest son was having an asthma attack and needed to be taken to emergency. Rushing out the door he put his Exacto Knife in his coat pocket, picked up his son and was taking him to emergency. He was pulled over by the police for speeding and when he reached into his pocket to show him his ID he cut open his hand on the Exacto Knife. Hearing his story the police let him go on to the emergency where he got his hand stitched up along with his son’s asthma under control.
I walked in to the NEN one day and discovered the power was turned off. When I couldn’t get a hold of Alex or Dave. I thought I should do a little investigating; I called the Basque Landlord who told me they were a few months behind on rent. I guessed they had been using my share of the rent to pay their personal bills. I also opened a letter which I had no business opening but it looked like a collection notice addressed to Dave. It was a collection letter for the complete amount due on the Little Chief for $1700. At this point my feelings about Dave and Alex entered a negative realm. I moved all my equipment out and into my basement at home. I also took the light table. I did it half out of a sense of betrayal and half out of wanting to protect it. In a commercial rental the landlord had the legal right to impound property to recoup back rent. I figured the Little Chief would be a lost cause and I called Allen to warn him to get his press out of there.
I figured my friendship with Alex and Dave was over, and left it at that. But Dave gave me a call a few weeks later, he was friendly and as optimistic as ever. He mentioned the light table but wasn’t upset about it and didn’t even ask to have it back.
My attitude toward Dave soften after talking to him. Apparently he and Alex had to move out of their home at the same time the NEN collapsed. Of course they probably fell behind on their own rent by spending money they didn’t have on the NEN. Sure they didn’t have to put money out for the press or several months rent, but the small things add up in business. The parts and repairs to the Little Chief, the printing plates the chemicals, the ink, the moving, first and last months rent, parking fines, all those things add up to big money. They never really cheated me out of money either. Maybe they diverted some of my money into these expenses but I did use the space and was about even for rent. Even the landlord didn’t seem too upset and he really wasn’t out that much money. That space sat vacant for months after they moved out. And they did move out. I wasn’t there to watch it but they moved the Little Chief into a warehouse in small industrial area outside of Boise called “Garden City” or “Garbage City” as some locals called it. It’s where Roger Miller was staying when he wrote “King of the Road”. “Trailer for sale rent, rooms to let 50 cents, two hours of pushing broom buys a ten by ten two bit room.”
Not only did they move the Little Chief into the warehouse but they moved themselves into the warehouse. I was impressed and even a bit jealous when I heard about it. This was in the mid 80’s when I was much younger and our society was less stratified. There must have been movies which romanticized living in a warehouse, it was a perfect fit with the punk rock scene. It was a way of showing a real dedication to the artistic life. Why spend all your time and energy, earning money to spend on comforts when you could spend your time and energy creating your art. Now, something like that would be seen as simply being homeless.
Dave called me up and invited me to come visit. It was clear he wanted to continue being friends and his unrelenting positive attitude won me over. I mean after their rather ignominious failure at NEN it might have seemed natural to give up with the ambitious plans and the lofty dreaming. But no, he and Alex both had new dreams in the works which were just as lofty. I was baffled and entranced at the same time.
I visited them, there in the warehouse. It was one huge spacious room without furniture. The Little Chief stood off to the side dwarfed by the size of the warehouse, no longer the center of their plans but more of a ball and chain. Dave had his art table set up in a prime location towards the center of the room. He was happy to see me and show me around. They had created racks for holding their clothes similar to department store clothing racks. The shower was a hose with jerry-rigged plastic curtains over a drain in the floor. It was most likely a cold-water-only shower. Most of their other belongings they kept in cardboard boxes. But right in front center was a set up for band practice. They had microphones, speakers, guitars, and even a drum set. Somehow they had scrapped together enough money to acquire a nice little setup, probably from money saved by not paying rent. It was clear Dave held no malice toward me, in fact he apparently had no trace of malice anywhere to be found. I began to feel bad about my my own sense of malice toward them, though it had been nearly forgotten by now.
It was while we were still at NEN when Dave spoke of putting a band together. I introduced him to my friend Josh. I had not known Josh well but I had known him for a number of years. We had a mutual interest in bookbinding. He had worked for a bit at an old time bookbinder in town. It turned out he had worked a bit at any number of jobs around town. He was a guitar player, Dave and him soon began jamming together. As Alex and Dave were putting their band together Josh became part of it. He even moved into the warehouse with Dave and Alex, it helped them practice together on a regular basis. I was visiting Dave one late morning and Josh was still in bed (or more like in his sleeping bag on a pad on the floor) with his girlfriend. He brought attention to their used condom and was generally obnoxious in an overly enthusiastic way. He was listening on Donovan on his boombox, he loved Donovan. As a visitor I didn’t mind it and Donovan was still new to me, his music seemed like one of those found treasures from the 60’s. But it probably had a way of getting on your nerves listening to it over and over again as Josh was prone to do.
I started to feel bad about having introduced Josh to Dave. Dave was too easy going to lay down the law with Josh. And Josh did have a kind of slobbering dog enthusiasm which was infectious. This might have been a good antidote for Alex and Dave. They could play the practical/rational role for a change. Unfortunately with Josh there was no off switch, it all just came spilling out unedited, especially when he was drunk, which turned out to be be very frequently.
Dave invited me over to watch band practice. To my surprise the drum set was for Alex, she was learning to play. And I didn’t get the sense she was just being a good sport about it. It seemed like something she really wanted to do, though she was hesitant to show what she could do being a bit green. Josh played a loud and bold guitar and Dave created a solid background with his electric bass. But Dave’s friend Beecham played the lead guitar. It was typical of Dave to create a backdrop and let others shine. Beecham acted as the frontman with the others backing him up. I don’t know if he was the best musician but he seemed good to my amateur ear. They played Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane”, with Beecham doing the vocals. His voice was hoarse and tired but it did have the roughness needed for that song. I think Dave was hoping Beecham would become the fourth band member. He was a seasoned short wiry guy who struck me as a classic free agent type. He was a member of the 50% club, meaning that half his salary from working at the local paint manufacturing plant went to pay child support. He didn’t seem like the type to entertain unrealistic dreams of any kind. In the Dylan vs. Donovan debate he clearly favored Dylan like most male musicians. He sneered at Donovan but Josh was not particularly sensitive to such affronts, so they got along well enough.
Alex turned out to be amazingly tolerant of these rough living conditions, Dave’s friends in general and specifically Josh. An uneven paint job on the wall might drive her crazy but taking a cold shower behind a plastic curtain, entertaining rough looking musicians, and listening to hours of Donovan on a boombox; she could handle that. It wasn’t long before life at the warehouse began to lose its luster. At first they had joked about the discomforts of the warehouse. The cold water showers, the lack of a decent bathroom. If I recall correctly they shared one with the larger warehouse complex. Next door to them was a auto body repair shop. Sometimes they worked at night hammering dents out of cars, or maybe spraying them. The fumes would seep under the walls. They soon began plans to move out of the warehouse.
In the process of looking for a new place a few new things became established. If I paid for moving the Little Chief it was mine to use. Josh as part of the band would join them in their new place. And I was to be the band “manager”. Exactly what that entailed I had no idea. As they had no playlist, no well rehearsed songs, no gigs. I figured it was just a way of me being a part of what they were doing. We had even talked about a name for the band “Black Box”, and what kind of stage presence the band should have. They wanted to keep it simple, no flashy stuff, it would be a Bruce Springsteen kind of stage presence. It reminded me a little of when we were kids and we so enjoyed talking about what we would do when we grew up. Just talking and dreaming, it didn’t matter if it never happened just the imagining was what it was about. It was so completely divorced from reality but so delicious in the moment.
Once again Dave leaned on a friend to help find a new place where they didn’t have to pay rent, as they were still besieged by old debts. Dave seemed to have any number of friends of his age in Boise and they all thought enough of him to go out of their way to lend him a hand. One in particular, Carl was a long time Idaho native whose family owned some property outside of Boise. Alex and Dave now included me and Josh as part of the new “band” project. The goal was to find a place where practice could happen on a regular basis and a band would emerge from that somehow. So Carl took the four of us on a tour of his family’s property near Weiser Idaho. Carl was a soft spoken, polite married man. He seemed fairly hip and forward thinking, nothing to betray his background as someone who grew up in an Idaho farming family. The place near Weiser was flat open land with a vacant house and mobile home on the property. The house was in sad shape, with crumbling walls and decaying floors. It seemed subject to flooding from the surrounding property and under constant rodent attack. The mobile home was in much better condition and looked like it had been lived in within the last few years, yet it was very small with barely enough room for Alex and Dave alone without their possessions. Josh was clearly drunk and was on an enthusiasm rampage, talking about how great the place was; way out in the country. He could go running (he was a cross country runner) naked across the farmland, something he had always wanted to do. The impression Carl was left with only he could know, but Dave told him that the place would not work out.
So the search continued and surprisingly enough Carl offered to show Dave and Alex another property his family owned but no longer used, located on a distant dirt road near Horseshoe Bend. We followed Carl out to his place in the hills near Horseshoe Bend. I drove my old 1961 Dodge Pick-up, Josh rode in the truck bed and Pak (yet another one of Dave’s friends) rode with me in the cab. Dave and Alex rode with Carl and I followed. After driving for about 45 minutes on the highway it was another 45 minutes on a windy dirt road.
The house was a very pleasant looking but small structure, situated in hilly grasslands. There were a few trees here and there but not many. The hills here were grassy with little of the sagebrush the covered the hills around Boise. The house reminded me of some I remember from my early childhood in rural California built without building codes. It was cozy in a homemade kind of way. It had its own well and it even had electricity. It must have used a septic field but as for heat; that might get a little dicey in the winter months. It was still summer and that could wait. Overall it was very homestead-like. There was not another house in sight though there were a few other farms nearby and the road which they used passed very close to the house. Dave had spent a few summer evenings at this place with Carl and his family. They were some very pleasant memories for him. For Dave and Alex this was too good to be true that they could live here rent free. Of course it would be perfect for band practice; no one within earshot.
Meanwhile Pak was offering his low key assessments of the place, he was from a local builder family. Though he looked like a homeless bum with long stringy hair partially covering a face with one blind eye and ragged clothes, he really knew what he was talking about. Josh on the other-hand was busy running up nearby hills and shouting his enthusiasm about how wonderful this place was. He was very drunk again. When we walked out of the house he was at the top of a nearby hill and started yelling “Hey Mr. Ten Percent what do you think?” referring to me.
To me it was a painfully embarrassing display. But Pak thought it was kind of funny and Dave’s only comment about it was that he was disappointed that Carl had never seen Josh when he was sober. Josh did have a very rational but sweet, joyous personality which showed up when he was sober. Somehow Carl was not put off by this motley crew and he gave the keys to Dave and Alex with the full knowledge that Josh planned on sharing the house with them. Behind the house was a very large unused barn. I talked to Dave and Alex about putting the Little Chief in the barn. I had visions of moving my printing operation up into the hills and starting a literary press right in this large barn. Of course the barn had no electricity but that problem could be dealt with later. Dave and Alex had already let go of their printing dreams so they were indifferent and Carl thought that would be fine, sure I could put the Little Chief in the barn.
We pitched in together and rented a moving van with a hydraulic lift back. We needed the lift back to get the Little Chief onto the van, it weighed about 2000 pounds, ramps and pulleys were not going to work. We used a pallet jack to get it onto the lift and it was looking a little shaky even then, tilting forward because the lift gate was at an incline. When the lift gate hoisted it in the air everyone stood back as the Little Chief rocked a little on its perch. But it made it without incident and we placed it toward the front of the van and packed Dave and Alex’s things in all around, Josh also put a number of things on board and even Beecham had a few things he needed stored in one of the outbuildings in the hills. Pak came along to help with the move. Dave drove the moving van and I followed in my pick-up truck with Pak and Josh. Dave had experience driving large trucks, as one of his many short term jobs over the years. He drove the big moving van right up the narrow winding dirt roads without hesitation or problems.
I remember that moving day well, it was a warmish late spring day. The hills were still green with fresh grass and the sun cast warm shadows on the hills as it sank lower in the sky. There was such a sense of camaraderie amongst us, Dave, Alex, Josh, Pak, Beecham and myself. Even Josh was sober. There was a sense the dream had been reborn, with each holding on to there own versions. For Dave and Alex it was the new band, for Josh it was a place to get away to and jam, for Beecham and Pak they weren’t too big on dreaming. For me, I had never let go of the Literary Press dream, I didn’t give up easily, I still envisioned the Little Chief as the center of that dream. Somehow this old ranch house in the hills provided a fresh canvas for several different dreamers.
The unpacking went quickly with so many hands. The last thing we unloaded was the Little Chief, Dave backed the van up and I opened the large barn door. It now seemed routine lifting it with a pallet jack guiding it carefully on top of the lift gate, lowering the lift gate and then using the pallet jack to move it into place. We were done before the sun set and drove back in the light of dusk.
During that summer many of our dreams wilted once again before they bloomed. Soon after their move, I spent a weekend up there visiting Dave and Alex. I pitched a tent in the backyard as there was little room left inside, Dave’s boy were staying over also. I spent a very peaceful night in my tent and I woke up before everyone else. I used the opportunity to explore the surrounding land which I was very eager to do. In the distance I noticed the tallest nearby hill and set a goal of hiking to its top. It looked like less than an hour’s hike. It was an easy hike through the grassy hills, there were no established trails but none were needed. From the top I saw only two or three other ranch houses besides Carl’s. The most interesting thing I saw was a small black outcropping near the top. When I got closer I could tell it was Obsidian, the glass-like stone Native Americans valued so highly for making arrowheads. On the hike back I also found a pond stocked with hundreds of small fish. The fish were all orange and white “Goldfish”. Which are really just domesticated carp.
When I returned to the house, Dave, Alex and the kids were eating breakfast of French Toast. They made a couple of pieces for me. We sat in their small living room talking. It was a weekend so Josh was supposed to show up for band practice, but he had been showing up very irregularly. And when he did show up he often used his time for binge drinking. Dave and Alex were just as happy he was a no-show. Dave had been encouraging me to become a member of their band rather than just a “manager”. Recently I had found an old electric organ in a thrift store. Not the large kind that was the centerpiece of so many living rooms in the 1960’s as a replacement for the piano, but a portable organ, like the one used in a number of rock bands. It came with two huge Leslie speakers which you could flip a switch and they would spin, making that distinctive sound. Dave was so excited about this find, but I think he was even more excited that I had some way of relating musically.
I had brought this organ with me this weekend and wanted to show it off and try playing with Dave and Alex. I was very poor at “jamming”, just listening and adding the sounds that needed to be added. I could read music and play rudimentary stuff on my own but I was lost when it came to “jamming” I could not “hear” the missing parts and even if I did, I wouldn’t no how to fill it in with music. But Dave and Alex were very patient and they tried to help me out. Alex was actually becoming rather good at drumming, she had started from scratch, why couldn’t I. I had worked out a few chords to “Hurricane” but that was about it. “I am just a dreamer but you are just a dream, you could have been anyone to me.” I couldn’t do anything with any other songs. Dave’s elder son who was about ten took a turn and was a natural…it was a very humbling experience.
But that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the weekend. I got to spend a lot of time talking with Dave and Alex. Alex was definitely growing on me, she no longer intimidated me at all. Outside of her professional realm she was really very likable. Her humor was very scathing but she never used it against anyone close to her. She never even spoke poorly of Josh, though she had every right to. We listened to some of the records Dave was listening to at the time; Frank Zappa “Mothers of Invention” the cover with close ups of their mustachioed lips that looked very much like pubic hair, Eddy Grant “Romancing the Stone”, Peter Tosh “Legalize It” (Dave occasionally imbibed in the Ganja out of sight of Alex), Neil Young “After the Gold Rush” and a number of dub style reggae recordings, some very experimental sounds with almost no vocals. It was something I learned that many musicians do, listen to many varying and different styles of music, maybe picking up an idea here or there before moving on to the next style of music.
I spent a second night there in my tent outside. I planned on leaving at about noon so I didn’t hike far in the morning. We had breakfast in the large kitchen/dining room. Dave showed me some of the art he had been working on recently on his drafting table in the kitchen. He was working on a large drawing in colored pencil (a very frowned upon medium). It was about the size of a full sheet of watercolor paper. He spoke of it with such conviction as he described what was going on in the picture. I could see that it was his way of telling a story. The theme was based on “cruising”, the practice of teenagers driving around in circles in their cars for hours on Saturday nights. They did this on a regular basis in Downtown Boise. Dave depicted the teenagers as whimsical animals standing on the sidewalk or hanging their heads out their car windows. In the center there was a small group of anthropomorphic wolves leaning on their car and looking very much in heat. It was a commentary without a prescription more an observation then an analogy. His technique was very professional, much like a well executed book illustration. It left me with kind of a soft feeling the next time I saw the cruisers in Boise. I had always found them to be incredibly annoying but afterwards I saw it as kind of a fun mating ritual, almost disappointed I didn’t belong to that pack.
As the summer wore on and fall approached the sense of isolation was wearing on Dave and Alex. I began working at the Frame Job so it was rare I had the energy on weekends to visit them. Josh stopped visiting the ranch even for a drinking binge. Their car broke down and they picked up another $200 car, one of those old luxury cars that was in its last stages of life. It was funny to think that this was the kind of car my grandpa bought new; cleaning it and pampering it for years. But they needed a car for the long drive to work everyday. Alex was still working at Boise Magazine and Dave had gotten a job as a “stripper” (the kind that used to lay out the prepress work at a magazine or newspaper) at a Boise printer. It paid $10 an hour which seemed like fabulously good money to me. He had turned down a job from a nearby farmer who had wanted someone to help maintain his irrigation lines. It was hard back-bending work with a lot of reaming dead rodents out of the lines. It would have paid minimum wage which was close to $4 an hour at the time. But his job as a stripper was only temporary, their car was unreliable and winter was coming. With their car, the dirt road would be impassable with even a light snow and there was still no way to heat the ranch house. The fall evenings were becoming very cold.
I went up to visit Dave on one of the last weekends he spent up there. His car was having problems so he had taken the carburetor apart and was soaking it in gasoline. He stuck his hands in the gasoline trying to clean off the various parts. It reminded me of how he used to finish a printing plate after it had been “burned”. He would pour huge quantities of the finishing chemical all over the surface of the plate and rub it with the special pad made for the purpose. Sometimes getting it on his hands. He didn’t wash the pad off afterwards and used about 4 times the amount of chemical needed. It would drive me crazy to watch, just as it drove me crazy watching him stick his bare hands fully into the gasoline as he cleaned the carburetor parts. The ranch house was already too cold to spend the nights in. He and Alex were mostly staying at his Mom’s house now in the North End only about 4 blocks from where I lived. I offered to help them move when they found a new place.
It wasn’t long before they had rented a new place in Nampa, a small town just outside of Boise. I helped them load up a moving van once again. But this time we left the Little Chief behind, I had nowhere to put it and I couldn’t afford the extra money required to pay for a liftgate van. Josh had already come to pick up the few things he had left up there and Pak was busy that day. So it was just the three of us. I helped Dave and Alex load up the van and bid farewell to the ranch. It was really a goodbye to another set of dreams more than anything. The band “Black Box” would never be spoken of again and I would never be referred to as “manager” again. I can’t say that role was ever part of my dream. But my own dream of starting of literary press up at the ranch was looking like it was at an end as well. Thankfully I hadn’t invested too much heart and soul into it.
Together I helped them first unload Beecham’s things in Boise. He was upset because a particularly nice small wood burning stove was missing. Apparently it was stolen from the unlocked outbuilding on the property. He seemed unwilling at first to accept this explanation so we got no thanks from him. I stayed in Boise while Dave and Alex unloaded their own things in Nampa.
As the months went by we maintained our friendship. Their rental in Nampa didn’t last long which was too bad. It was a spacious old Victorian house much nicer than any cramped apartment they could find in Boise. It was the beginning of a series of moves for them. For a short time they even stayed with Maggie and me in her spacious house on 8th St. until Alex wore out her welcome when she “borrowed” Maggie’s car in the middle of the night. It was around 1:00am and a light snow had just fallen that evening so there was a couple inches on the ground. It was so quiet and so cold and so white. You could clearly see the car tracks in the snow. Maggie and I assumed she had some deadline at the Boise Magazine but we never confronted her. Just as I never asked why they used my name to get their water connected at a small rental unit. If they had asked we probably would have said “no”. Dave would have very politely asked first, but Alex was much more for unilateral action. In retrospect the only harm done was to the trust between us and mostly we held it against Alex not Dave.
During those few weeks they stayed with us at Maggie’s house I spent a lot of time with the two of them. They really were a close couple, they chose to spend all their free time together, they were the kind of couple that would sign all their letters “Dave and Alex”. Sometimes we just sat around the living room table talking or Dave might show me a few musical things such as how to play a few chords on a guitar, once we went out to dinner at a Chinese Restaurant in Garden City. A homey Chinese restaurant with a juke box and a total of about six tables it was one of their favorite places. A place where you could talk to the cook and the owner while eating at your table. Alex’s scathing humor was really quite funny if you knew it wouldn’t be directed at you. And Dave had his own brand of much softer style ribbing, which was gentle enough to direct toward friends. When the ribbing was directed at me I almost felt like it was a compliment. We joked about other people a lot but we knew it was really about ourselves, trying to make light of our own failures to meet expectations.
Sometimes Alex’s cutting remarks hit an unintended target. I remember once when she called Carly Simon a dilettante not a real musician because she came from a wealthy family. Dave bristled at the idea that people from wealthy families could not be good musicians and defended Carly Simon with surprising energy. It exposed another clue about Dave’s background; the politeness, the above the fray attitude, the nurturing of close friends, these were all traits of someone who got a lot of positive attention from his parents growing up. They were the kind of traits that could belong to any income level but somehow Dave wore them as someone from a wealthy background. It was clear Dave still carried with him that same egalitarian spirit that hit its peak in the 1960’s but sometimes his highbrow attitude showed through.
When they were planning to move out of the warehouse, they had actively sought out a place to live on a ranch or a farm. Dave hoping he could trade some of his labor in exchange for rent. Dave described to me his meeting up with this old time Idaho farmer who was looking for some help on his farm. They began to talk and the man had a pretty nice spread to rent, very cheap if Dave could do some simple farming tasks, watching cattle or something like that. They got to talking and the old farmer got more and more animated until he “hunkered down”, picked up a stick and started drawing pictures in the dirt. That is he squatted down. The unspoken assumption was that Dave needed to “hunker down” as well and take a closer look at what the farmer was drawing in the dirt. Dave wasn’t going to have any of this “hunkering down” so he stayed standing and just looking at the farmer’s scratches in the dirt from a distance. Needless to say the farmer didn’t make Dave an offer.
Once, I was riding with Dave and his friend Pak across town at night. When a police cruiser drove past us, Pak rolled down the window and yelled “Fucking Cop”. I looked over at Pak with his long stringy hair covering his bad eye wondering where that came from. It was as though that lovable old hound dog sitting on the porch had suddenly transformed into a snarling hyena. He went on for a bit about how much he hated cops, because it was their mission in life to harass poor people. Dave was visibly upset but not with anger so much as worry. He probably knew this about Pak already and just wanted to calm him down. Dave said a few things in defense of the police but Pak wasn’t having any of it. I was just glad it was a dark rainy night and the police probably didn’t hear Pak or if they did they couldn’t tell where it came from. I wasn’t eager for another ride around town with Pak.
There was no talk of new dreams; no talk of newspapers or bands or anything else. There were a few more jam sessions where I sat in pretending to join in but really just trying to be there as an observer. Dave never gave up on encouraging me play along. Once, another one of his musician friends sat in on our jam session they played “Daddy was a Rolling Stone. Wherever he laid his hat was his home.” And Dave started singing. I saw a little peek at the “Old Dave”, the young single guy jamming with his buddies back when their was one kind of music. The Music industry may have called it; Blues, or Jazz, or Rock, or Motown, or Folk, or R&B but to those who played it, there was really only one kind of music.
Through all the moves Dave always had his art table and his instruments and a space to use these two things. If he had those two things he was complete. And he always had some kind of transportation, so he could stay in contact with his kids. He may have been out of a paying type of job for much of the time I knew him, but he was almost never at rest. If he wasn’t driving his kids around or spending time with them, then he was fixing something around the house, or working on his latest art project, or playing music.
The winter passed while the Little Chief sat alone and neglected up in the dilapidated barn on the ranch. It now belonged to me and it fell on me to get it out of there. It was no longer a useful part of my dream, but I was still stuck with disposing of it. I arranged a Saturday and Dave offered to help. When we went to the truck rental place the only one available with a liftgate (which was a necessity) was a huge long flat bed with a manual transmission. I wanted to be the driver because I knew I was licensed and insured but I knew Dave probably wasn’t. I drove it for a bit but when I got on a straightaway and needed to get it into third I just couldn’t get the timing right, then it wouldn’t go back into second. I ended up stalling it on the side of the road. I let Dave take over because of his truck driving experience, and sure enough he was able to get the timing of the clutch/RPM/shifting down just right.
It was a quiet spring morning, we had the road to ourselves. The hills were green with newly sprouting grass which would only last a few weeks. The ranch seemed eerie and forlorn. There was no sign of anyone visiting since I had helped Dave and Alex pack up in the fall.
We drove the truck over the barn and opened its large door. The Little Chief sat on its pallet looking like a piece of forlorn farming machinery. It had crossed my mind just to abandon it up there but I couldn’t do that to Carl. The two of us went to work right away, we lifted the pallet jack off the truck bed and slid it under the Little Chief. We raised it up and moved it onto the Liftgate. Both Dave and I were veterans of the Little Chief move, we knew how much it could be pushed and how much it could be rocked. It could take a surprising amount of rocking without falling. It took us about an hour to get it on there, record time for our moves.
Once it was on the back of the flat bed I tried tyeing it off as best I could. But I could only tie straps to the bed of the truck. When we stood back to look it was looking very vulnerable perched up there. I imagined the pallet acting like a springboard, just launching it over the side of the truck, the straps snapping like kite string as we went around a corner. Dave was a steady driver but still we had some rough road, some steep hills and some tight corners on our way out. I looked out the back window and watched as it rocked precariously. My stress level was very high as I watched, it almost seemed that if I worried hard enough nothing bad would happen. Dave on the other hand seemed quite calm and unaffected.
When we got to the top of the hill looking down towards Boise, I breathed a bit easier. In a brief moment of self reflection I considered the absurdity of hauling around this one ton “anchor” from place to place. When it had never even printed a single useful sheet of paper. I told myself that this was something I should write about someday. We arrived in Boise and dropped it off in Maggie’s garage. It was a little tight but it still had room for her car.
This was one of the last times I saw Dave. I had already made plans move back to California, I was busy getting all my many possessions disposed of or packed up during the next few months. I spent a few days working on the Little Chief. I bought new ink rollers, new damper covers. Using an old printing plate, I even got it to print a few sheets of paper. They looked great with none of the problems of the past. I had learned to diagnose and fix problems from my trials and tribulations on the Multilith.
Though I still harbored my Literary Press idea like a bad cough, the Little Chief had no part in it. I planned on keeping my Multilith which was easier to move. I quickly found a buyer for the Little Chief at $1,000. Which was more than I put into, even including the $200 per move. The buyer was a professional printer who worked out of a shop at home. He and a helper backed in with a low rise trailer, let down a sturdy ramp, swung a pallet jack around and had the Little Chief in the trailer and tied down in about 15 minutes. As I bid farewell to the Little Chief I felt a huge weight being lifted from me.
I said my goodbyes to Dave and Alex, they were at his mom’s house with the two boys playing in the backyard listening to some music. They happened to be listening to “California Dreaming” on the radio. It was some version that had become re-popularized. It was one of those late summer nights in Boise when the sun wouldn’t set until after 9:00pm and the air was still as warm as it was during the day.
I did come back the following spring for a short visit. When I went by Dave’s Mom’s house, I talked a bit to her and to Dave’s younger brother. Dave’s brother was a slim, attractive well-kept man with a penchant for order. He liked to go on road trips with his bike. He once showed me a series of photographs he took of all his bicycle gear, he had displayed in neat squares, before leaving on one of his road trips. He called heterosexuals people “breeders”. Dave’s mom was fairly young and still quite active. She still seemed to enjoy the role of being forever a mom to her two boys who were still not completely independent. I once framed a “fishprint” for her. She had laid a thin piece of paper over a salmon and then used a soft pastel to pick up the texture, later adding color. It made for a nice looking piece of art, though I was always bothered by the fact that I didn’t mount it well, it was thin paper and ended up with a lot of wrinkles in it.
The two of them had some surprising news for me. Alex was pregnant and about ready to give birth. Dave according to his mom had taken up with another woman. Alex was staying with Dave’s mom and the two had taken up a united front against him. They couldn’t tell me where he was. It didn’t actually surprise me about Dave seeing a different woman. He and Alex never seemed like a perfect fit, but somehow Dave abandoning her while she was pregnant didn’t seem like him.
A couple weeks later I ran into Pak. He told me that Dave and Alex were down at St. Lukes the local hospital, Alex had given birth. So I went to see Dave at the hospital. When I arrived Pak was there. I talked with him in the waiting room until Dave came out. He was very bouncy and glad to see us, but so happy about the new babies, Alex had twins. There was no talk of him seeing another woman or anything besides just him and Alex. Maybe Dave had strayed for a bit but I know that the two of them spent many more years together raising their kids.
I knew that this was the one friendship from Boise that I would miss the most. Occasionally I would play the organ part of “Like a Hurricane” of my electric organ and it would remind me of those scattered, struggling days and those reckless dreams. “You are just a dreamer and I am just a dream. You could have been anyone to me.”