We'd come down to New York over the years and he would constantly amaze me. He's telling me once about his salesman travels and says: Jack always be ready. Never unpack. So there I am travelling a lot and in a hotel rooms over many years since, and I think of him. Say it people Never unpack. Guy from little town in Wisconsin just waltzed into New York and made it his own town.
When we did the 39 cent poetry reading on State St. in 1976 in Madison it was a big thing for me. It was Jeff's idea. With Charlie Deming, with Dana Poissin, With Jim Haas, With Natawa. Rob helped with the sound. It was the last time I saw him for a few years. But somehow we were always in touch. He was in the back of the hall, yelling. Cause we were doing it like a trippy goof. The place was pretty full but they couldnt hear in the back. "Production Values!" He'd say! Yknow have amused – half commandeering! Say it people: "Production Values!" It was fun.
Rob took me in. Found me a space. In 1971. Going to Madison was heady. But I was going end up staying in the Y. He was the head of the house. And I had to get his okay. Once I was in I was in!
I asked you to find a place for me. And you looked into my heart. I asked you to find some space for me. The adventure it did start.
My take was that he was a prairie boy who'd been radicalized. See guys like me from Racine we were from the big city. Gangsters. But the prairie boy radicalized - That is most dangerous kind. Cause when he interviewed me for the Dayton St apt he had 4-foot posters of Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale on his wall. Political theatre. He could see I was wondering what he was bout. Yknow The prairie boys came to the school and settled in the dorms and then when the tear gas came wafting in they were radicalized. Famous story as a song:
(Rambling Boy verse) Cops Pulling his cuz in the wagon door. Only trying to stop the war. Rob jumped straight into the fray. And him and Dana got away. Fare thee well my prairie boy. Never unpack. Jump for joy.
Ever sending ''best and love across many miles and many centuries...'' he was always taking pictures from his trips. Everyone ended up in them. Everywhere. From Lalibella to Manhattan to Madison. I have a slideshow of the Madison days it's like a movie directed or a score he orchestrated … this was all maybe a year after the Army Math Research Center was blown away.
So many stories. He told me of the lonely little Jewish lady down the stairs who he and Beth helped. And he told me how he drove a tow truck, and once was the first person at a horrific crash. But he'd paid attn in First Aid Class and, as you know, had the gravitas to take over the scene and start the triage. He jumped off a train in Italy. Pompei. When he found out he was at Pompeii He jumped off cause it was Pompeii man. The picture is here somewhere. He landed in the gravel and he looked gawdawful. I found it! Brusha says its great to see you but you look terrible.
In NY over the years...He called in my OTB bets. He was a patron of my poetry book. Driving the Hollywood tour bus. Getting into the studio by selling lights. (I ran the light in high school plays, he thinks.) Would take me to movies where he's sold them the fake blood, or lights or something. Always stayed for the credits. Ran his truck up and down Manhattan to help the workers at Ground Zero. There for sick friends. Travelled and travelled and kept in touch. Went to the Holy of Holies in Ethiopia. Jerusalem. Further. Never unpack.
Sigh. I talked to him on the phone and we had a nice chat. he was pretty cool about the whole thing. I was at a convention in Las Vegas when I called him: At the pool by the Casino. December light was fading. I said I was at a convention. He said he was retired. I talked about the details of business travel. Some I learned from him. Never unpack. Remember Rob? When you get home – fill the bag up again. Never unpack. I Always remember that - I told him. Yeah says Rob I will get together with my buddies and we will talk about our travels.
He told me to call again saying he could be around for months. Didn't turn out that way. I guess that is good in a way. He said he was tired, so we signed off. I said I saw Phoenix from the air when I came through to Las Vegas . He said I will watch you from up there. Blow the blues Pompeii for our old truly one in a million friend who jumped the train. Who drove the bus. Who unloaded the truck. Did I say one in a million and unforgettable son of Wisconsin? - Jack Vaughan
Excerpt from email last May from Ethiopia...This city of Lalibella is a treat. You have received today's photos.Probably more tomorrow. Folks keep asking me to write words...so....I have a friend who is in the midst of a family medical crisis. Not being one to pray too much, I thought it would be fun to bring in a professional consultant. While at the curtain that hides the Holy of Holies in one of the churches sat a monk. I asked the tour guide (worth the 400 birr-$20.00) to translate my request. The Monk seemed very honored to have been asked. He went through an extended chanting prayer in front of the Holy of Holies. Quite beautiful. He turned, offered my his prayer stick to touch. Smiled, took my hand with an affectioned squeeze. When the ship is sinking, you grab on to whatever floats. I am going back to the churches tomorrow (the $50.00 ticket is good for 5 days) to experience the chanting and ceremonies that go on for the entire day. They also expose the Golden Cross of King Lalibela only two times a month and tomorrow is one of those times...
When we were young and on the train Coming back from fighting pigs.All power to the people
united who will never be divided.