Roy’s Bioroy-nelson

I was born in 1945, ten days after America dropped an atomic bomb on
Nagasaki. I don’t know that this event had any effect on my
development, but it was very significant in Japan.

My parents had both graduated from Star Valley High School, in Afton
Wyoming the previous spring, where mom had been a cheerleader until
she became too obviously pregnant. Afton being a town of about 500
Mormon families surrounded by alfalfa fields and grazing cattle, this was considered normal and most of her girlfriends were in the same shape. Mom and Dad were married about six months before I was born. My father joined the Army the day after he graduated, eager to shoot some foreigners and become a hero. He was heartbroken when the war ended before he got his chance but he finished out his enlistment, came back to Afton and got a job making cheese at the creamery where his father worked. He’d had a taste of life in the fast lane in the Army, so when he met a man who offered him a job managing a gas station in Palo Alto Calif., he jumped at the chance. I was three, and one of my earliest memories is being in the back of our family car, knowing we were on our way to California and a new life. My father was personable, if not overly intelligent, and he’d developed a passionate interest in Old Crow Kentucky Straight Bourbon while in the Army. These three factors combined to cause our family to move to a different apartment in the slums of California, and later in Salt Lake City on a regular basis, as Dad floated around working in gas stations and tending bar in dives. I went to eight different elementary schools in six years, never staying long enough to make any
friends. I yearned for the summers to arrive, because between age seven and fifteen, I spent them with my cousin Jerry, working on his father’s farm in Star Valley. This was before child labor laws were enacted or my uncle would have been arrested for making us get up at three AM, milk the cows, and then spend the rest of the day hauling

Always being the new kid at school, the bullies were eager to get hold of me, until they did and found out that I could twist them into a headlock with my bale hauling muscles. I never hit anyone, I just wanted to get along.

I began learning to read by studying the funny papers when I was three and was pretty good at it by the time I started kindergarten, so I got into the habit of hiding a book behind the textbook I was supposed to be studying and ignoring what the teacher was saying. I could read and write just fine, so I saw no point in learning the parts of speech. In the unlikely event I should want to multiply anything, I knew I could consult a small card with the table on it, rather than memorizing the table. This caused the teacher to call my parents in and inform them that I was fairly bright and would they please put enough heat on me to at least learn the table. I did learn the multiplication table, but I didn’t do my assignments, so I had a D

I went to a high school on the wrong side of the tracks in Salt Lake City, where they recognized that few of us were going on to college and that we should therefore be taught vocational skills, to, hopefully, keep us out of prison. I took Auto Mechanics, Welding and Machine Shop, and was very good at each.

At 16, I fell in love with a girl from the Right side of the tracks, who informed me that I was going to get good grades and go to college. So I did. I went from D’s and E’s to straight A’s halfway through my junior year, so my GPA didn’t get high enough to earn me a scholarship. My parents scraped together enough to get me through one year of college, but then I had to drop out and get a job. This being 1965, a draft notice arrived very soon thereafter.

I was a pretty good shot and the idea of killing some Viet Cong to save America from the Communist Threat sounded interesting, but my best friend had joined the National Guard the year before, and he convinced me that we could have a great time getting drunk on red wine while driving olive drab trucks around in the desert, as the Utah National Guard did for one weekend per month and two weeks per summer.With a part time job as a welder’s helper, I could also go back to college.

I was good at mechanics and metal work so I’d planned on studying engineering, but I couldn’t do math. It took me two tries to get through College Algebra. Oddly, the first two quarters of Chemistry were easy for me. the form elements take and the way they interact made perfect sense, so I got A’s, until Quantitative Analysis and it’s attendant math became my undoing.

My friends had always been books rather than people and I’d worked at the public library during high school, where I’d had the good fortune to meet people with excellent taste in books. So I switched my major to English and began what’s been a life long interest in authors like Shakespeare, Chaucer and Edward Gibbon. Pretty soon I was discussing J.R.R. Tolkien with my new friends in the liberal arts department.

As 1968 arrived, I had a cute, steady girlfriend named Klaudia. My friends all had long hair and they were spending an increasing amount of time demonstrating in protest of the Viet Nam War. In my Guard meetings, we were getting anti-riot training. They were  eaching us how to move in formation with bayonets affixed to our rifles in order to break up these demonstrations. I began to realize that I agreed with the demonstrators and could not face them over a fixed bayonet.

At this point, the NG had invested three years training me, I had three years left in my term of enlistment and they were absolutely determined that no soldier would be excused from duty under any circumstance. I was scared shit less, suicidally depressed and I had no idea what I was going to do, but I stopped going to the NG meetings. Pretty soon, I got a registered letter from the Army, stating that I’d been discharged from the NG and ordering me to present myself for transfer to an Army combat infantry unit on the front lines of Viet Nam. I didn’t comply. I knew they’d come and get me pretty soon, so Klaudia and I sold everything we could, amassing around $75, drove to Reno Nevada and got married. We arrived in Reno at 4:00AM and discovered that the ceremony could be performed at that hour but it would cost half as much during normal business hours; so
we sat in the parking lot and smoked pot with the pair of hitchhikers we’d picked up until 8:00AM before exchanging vows and a pair of beer can pop tabs for rings, in front of a justice of the peace. We then drove on to San Francisco, where we saw Steppenwolfe, Santana and The Staples Singers at the Filmore Auditorium that night, August 27, 1968.
We spent the rest of our wedding night sleeping in some bushes we found by the side of the road. The next day, we drove back to SLC. I think we were living on bologna and wheat bread with a slash of Frenches mustard, because that’s all we could afford. A week later, I turned 23.

Life in SLC was great that autumn. Klaudia and I were very happy together. We had lots of friends, lived in a nice old apartment near the university and I was earning a decent living selling lids of marijuana and the wide leather watchbands, sandals and bookbags I
made. The Beatles released their White Album.

Early that December, the FBI knock on my door was about due, so with tears and grave concern, Klaudia dropped me off by the side of the highway headed west out of SLC and I stuck out my thumb. I had about $35 in my pocket, a backpack and no idea where I was going other than San Francisco.

It could have been much worse; I was white, 23 and I had long hair, which, in 1968, meant that people would pick me up. They often got me stoned, shared their food and let me sleep on their couches as well. Because, apparently, of all the joints people kept handing me, I don’t remember a thing about the trip to SF. When I got there and my head
cleared, it was raining steadily every day. I wore a heavy woolen Navy surplus pea coat and a watch cap, that shed the rain and kept me warm. I spent the days wandering around that strange city full of hippies, winos, lunatics and ordinary working people, all milling around together.

In 1965, after completing Army Basic Training, they’d sent me to the Presidio of San Francisco, to be trained as a radio repairman. I was living in a barracks there and was free to put on civvies and take the bus downtown after work to partake of the many forms of amusement that SF offered, so of course I went to Haight Ashbury. There was rock and roll in the air, people were dancing in the street and everybody seemed to be happy. Two and one half years later, crowds of ragged, dirty young longhairs with the hollow eyes of drug addiction were begging for spare change and offering a wide variety of drugs, and their bodies, for sale. Most of the head shops that had been thriving were now closed. One of them had a hand made poster in it’s window saying “spare a change?” over a picture of a hog, standing in filth, painted with paisleys and flowers.

Usually, in the course of wandering around in the rain, I struck up a conversation with someone who knew of a dry but dirty couch or mattress I could sleep on. The company in these places was such that I never went back to any for a second night. I spent a couple of nights in a wino flophouse on 6th Street that charged $1.50 per night, but this was a luxury I could not afford.

A stroke of fortune befell me one day, as I was waiting out a heavy squall under an awning on Fisherman’s Wharf. A reasonably clean young man who was passing by paused, sized me up for a few beats, and asked if I needed a place to stay. I soon found myself climbing through an access hatch into the tunnel that housed the heating and ventilating ducts serving the businesses in The Cannery, the upscale tourist mall on the Wharf. It featured a warm, dry concrete floor. The guy had furnished it with a candle he’d swiped from one of the shops and a bag of the bread, cheap bologna and French’s mustard that was the standard diet of the homeless that year, which he shared with me.

This access hatch was located in the men’s restroom, which we used, but were careful to keep clean, so as not to arouse the attention of the management.

Thousands of young men were running from military service during the Viet Nam War. The machinery of bureaucracy turned slowly and one could avoid being crushed by it by remaining in constant motion, but if you got a steady job, or lived in an apartment, the FBI would find you. Groups like the Quakers and the Unitarians had formed draft counseling services, but the Army need soldiers and the only ways to avoid becoming one were to stay in school or have some kind of deferment that I didn’t qualify for. Once you were actually in the Army, about the only way out was to go to prison. I visited one of these councilors and told him my story. He didn’t have any advice for me, but he must have liked me more then most because he gave me Gary Near’s phone number. Gary Near, Attorney at Law, was a long haired, sandal wearing North Beach lawyer who sometimes helped out desperate young draft dodgers. He’d also done some legal work for a certain
Norman Stubbs, who also figured large in my near future.

I called Gary that evening, using the counterculture phone booth tactic I’d picked up on the street: You drop your dime into the slot, and in a flowing motion and timing that can only be learned by repeated experiment, you punch the coin return button with the heel of your hand. When you do it just right, you hear a satisfied gurgle of bells followed by a dial tone and your dime drops through the mechanism in to the return receptacle. It was not uncommon to jar loose several quarters that had become entangled in the workings as well! This being an ear when two eggs over easy, with hash browns and a cup of coffee were to be had a a Chinese cafe for 37 cents, it was a practice I pursued until prosperity enabled me to afford the luxury of a private line and a chair in which to sit while using it.

Gary himself answered the phone, listened to my tale of woe and suggested that I come to his house immediately. I must have been nearby, because he lived near Coit Tower and I’d been spending most of my time walking around North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. He sat me down in his kitchen, gave me a cup of tea and said I was doing the right thing, because the war in Viet Nam was going to continue until enough young soldiers simply put down their rifles and refused to fight. Meanwhile, my best bet was to lay low and wait it out. I asked him if it would be a reasonable plan to get myself arrested for marijuana, spend some time in jail and get kicked out of the Army for being a convicted felon. He said this would be a very bad idea.

I’d been walking aimlessly around San Francisco for about two weeks now, and I was tired of it. I’d talked to the draft counselors, and had somehow gotten a hint that there were other counselors in Seattle that might have some other ideas. In any case,I was bored and wanted some kind of change, so I hitchhiked to Seattle. It was so easy I don’t remember anything about the trip, and next thing I knew is was walking around in the University of Washington district. I found a hip looking coffee house, bought a cup of coffee and soon found myself being treated like a celebrity, simply because I’d recently been living on the streets of San Fran. I got the impression that young Seattlites felt insecure when faced by a San Franciscan. They were concerned that they were missing out on something cool that was going on in California. I let someone know I needed a place to spend the night and a young Psychology major promptly offered me his couch to sleep on. He kept me up half the night telling me about how he was actually very popular but none of his many friends had been calling or visiting him lately. The next morning I started walking around Seattle.

I was wearing a pair of leather boots. It had been raining pretty much steadily, they had not had a chance to dry out and I was becoming concerned that they’d split a seam. I bought a small can of boot grease and was crouching in a storefront smearing it on my boots when a very pretty, serious looking young woman paused, sized me up and then struck up a conversation. She knew what she was looking for, and asked me a few pointed questions about my situation with the military. My answers confirmed what she had suspected, so she told me that she belonged to an organization called The War Resistors League and was committed to convincing young men to sacrifice themselves for the moral benefit of mankind by refusing military service and spending the indefinite period of time in a federal penitentiary that would result from this refusal. Morally, I agreed with the girl, but I didn’t care for the idea of going to prison and was planning to exhaust all the other possibilities before resorting to it. Carmen, as she was named, seemed morbidly obsessed with the idea of talking young men into giving up their freedom.

A year later, Joan Baez and Jane Fonda would both make the news for marrying men who then refused induction and went to prison. Jane even stayed married to hers for a while after he got out.

Carmen invited me to come and stay at the house where her chapter of the War Resistors League was centered and so I went with her.

This large, brick house was located near the University and seemed to be mostly inhabited by earnest young women. There were posters on the walls exhorting the viewer to perform revolutionary, counter cultural type acts, including one modestly seductive portrait of my hostess and a few of her friends over the statement: Girls say Yes to Boys who say No.

I’d been wearing, and sleeping in the same clothing for the last two weeks, so I welcomed Carmen’s offer to wash and dry them while I took a long hot shower. She provided me with a robe to wear while they were drying and sat me down in the kitchen while she fixed me the first square meal I’d eaten in a long time.

The basement of this house featured a movie projector (which was a big deal before VCR’s and such,) and I was treated to an Indie documentary about Lenny Bruce, the 50’s comedian who was prosecuted for obscenity. Lenny was OK but I didn’t think he was all that funny. He made some off color cracks, but nothing that wouldn’t be aired on prime time TV today. The censors of those times, however, took him to court and threw the book at him. After a long, expensive legal battle, he got off; but he couldn’t crack a joke that wasn’t a bit crude, so he soon wound up back in court. They put him in jail for a while, and after they let him out, he died, of a heroin overdose as I recall, and that was the end of the film. The moral was obvious: Keep doing and saying exactly what you want to do and say until the bastards Kill You! Then, maybe someone will make a documentary about your short, miserable life.

Shortly after the film, I found myself drifting off to sleep in a warm, clean futon without Carmen, who’d been making it fairly clear that she might grant me some extra privileges, after I’d turned myself in and spent a few years in the jug.

I woke up in the morning convinced that I’d better get out of this place and go back to SF, so I broke the news to Carmen as she was fixing breakfast for me. She took it pretty well and even walked down the bus station with me. I’d heard that it was illegal to hitchhike in Washington, so I’d planned to buy a ticket to Portland, where I figured it would be easy to start hitching again. I didn’t know what to say by way of a farewell to Carmen, who’d been walking along reciting all the reasons I should be proud to go to prison, so I just grabbed, kissed and walked away from her. It seemed dramatic, but she didn’t appear to like it. She was gone when I looked back.

The ride to Portland was uneventful. I walked from the bus station to stand on the southbound freeway entrance for about ten minutes and picked up a ride with a call girl. I’d never have known she was a call girl if she hadn’t told me, because she looked like a suburban housewife of about thirty; clean cut and well dressed with horn rim glasses and short hair. I was beginning to notice that the middle aged people who picked me up always wanted to explain themselves to me, sort of like a confession can take a load off of a guilty Catholic’s chest.

This lady took me about five hours south, to Grant’s Pass, which was enough time to convince me that what she was doing, was making a very good living by making people happy. She’d started out a college student. An acquaintance of hers had turned a couple of tricks and told her about the easy money, so she got introduced to the pimp and tried it herself. 12 years later, she had a nice car, a house that was paid for and she was hooked on the easy money. She serviced a small clientele of mostly regular customers, had a good relationship with the man who protected her and didn’t act like she took any kind of drugs. She was clearly an intelligent, well spoken person, and everything she said made what she was doing sound like a wise career choice. Unfortunately, it was unspoken but abundantly clear that she was unhappy and felt terrible about her life. I praised her good sense and told her that she was pretty, which was true. She liked me and went a bit out of her way to drop me off in a good location to pick up another ride.

I’d been standing on the southbound on ramp with my San Francisco sigh for about 10 minutes when a couple of college kids stopped. In response to my query as to how far they were going, they said they were only going to Ashland, 60 miles down the road, but I could spend the night at there house. People were actually that trusting in 1968. Pretty soon the passenger was rolling joints and passing them around. He also rolled an extra one and told me to keep it for later.

By the time we arrived at their house we were pals. I think they were majoring in Business, but I’m sure they had a gallon of red wine, and we put a serious dent in it that night. They must have fed me as well, because I woke up in good shape and somehow arrived at the freeway on ramp.

I don’t remember anything about the rides I got that day, except that they got me near Fairfield Ca., which is about 50 miles from SF. I say near, because the driver dropped me off in an awkward spot to be catching another ride. Soon, a cop pulled up, turned on his flashing lights, got out and started questioning me. He didn’t like my answers, so he started looking through the contents of my backpack, until he discovered the papers the Army had sent, ordering me to report for transfer to Viet Nam. A person who’d never been in the military would not have understood what they were saying, but this cop had recently completed a tour of duty in Nam and he quickly realized that I was AWOL. He was very pleased with himself and told me that he was going to deliver me directly to the Army. I was a little overdue, but I was headed for a unit that knew how to handle problem cases like me. My blood froze. The cop knew exactly what he was talking about and I knew he was right. Armies have had thousands of years of experience kicking reluctant conscripts into the front lines, where they get shot at and might choose to shoot back.

He ordered me to get in the back of his car and then he got in the front and started filling out his paperwork.

Waves of horror were crashing in my brain. I didn’t have time to think about what I was doing, I just figured if I was in enough trouble with the law, I wouldn’t be turned over to the Army; so I pulled the joint I was carrying out of my pocket and asked the cop for a match! He stared at me like I was insane as I started telling him about how he really should smoke this thing with me because he would relax, lose his paranoid/aggressive mindset and become a better person. I kept it up for a minute or so, as I gradually realized that he had a huge grin on his face and he was writing down what I was saying just as fast as he could.

As you would expect, when the cop had caught up to where I’d stopped talking, he took the still unlit joint away and drove me to the Solano Co. Jail, in Fairfield Ca.

They let me make two phone calls. My first was to Gary Near, who acted disappointed with me and said he’d do what he could if I sent him $300 for a retainer. The other was to my mother, who cried a bit but wanted to do what ever she could, so I asked her to send $300 to Gary and let Klaudia know where I was. Which she did.

The cops strip search you and they take your belt and shoelaces away before they lock you up, so you can’t hang, or garrote yourself with one or the other. You start getting used to being in jail after a few days. Until them, along with the queasy sensation of being unable to carry on with life as you’ve always known it and not knowing how much longer they’re going to keep you, you know you fucked up. Maybe you feel that you didn’t commit a crime, but you can’t stop replaying the scene that led up the the cop slapping the cuffs on you in your head and thinking about what you should have done, but didn’t. It’s unpleasant enough that many people would commit suicide, if they could, so the cops make it impossible.

For a start, they stick you in the drunk tank, which is a windowless concrete box, with a floor that slopes down to a drain in the center of the room. There’s a light in the ceiling, that’s too high to reach, and nothing else but a toilet. You are free to beat your head against the wall if you so choose, or they might put some lunatic in there to do it for you. I assumed that they had a secret peephole, where they could watch, or maybe bet on what went on, but I don’t know. It’s cold, you’d like a blanket, the minutes crawl by very slowly and you have no idea of time or how much longer they’re going to leave you there, but they do leave you in there for about 24 hours.

After about a week in jail, they sent me to the Army. The Army locked me in the stockade at the Presidio of San Francisco, and that’s where I spent Christmas of 1968. When my pretrial hearing came up, they gave me a bus ticket and sent me to attend it in Fairfield. I thought this was strange, but that’s what happened. When the judge read what the cop had written about me trying to get him to smoke the joint, he turned purple and started hollering about how he was going to put me in San Quentin for a few years. Then he threw me back in the county jail.

I imagine I’d have gone to Q if Gary Near hadn’t talked Norman into hiring Klaudia. She moved to a furnished room in SF and started visiting me in jail and appearing at my hearings. This was enough to convince the judge that there was hope for me, so he wound up sentencing me to the the 70 days I’d spent in jail. Then I went back to the stockade. The Army finally decided I was worthless and kicked me out with an Undesirable Discharge in September of 1969. Norman hired me the next day and I went to work on Castro Street with the only military haircut in the shop.

I worked at East West for a couple of years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but I was more interested in boats and steel work, so I went to work as a welder in a small boatyard near Hunter’s Point. I was good at this sort of thing and along with becoming proficient at the trade, I rented a lot in the yard and built a 26 foot sailboat with an inboard motor for myself. I named it Luscinda.

After a few months of sailing my boat around on weekends, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to be a yachtsman. Also, my daughter Emily was born.

I quit my job, put the boat up for sale, flew to Seattle, bought a 1951 Studebaker for $100, drove it to Westport Washington and started pounding the docks looking for work. I got hired as a temporary deckhand on the Orbit, a 58 foot wooden crab boat. The skipper had a welding machine and a cutting torch in his gear shed, and when I’d done some repairs for him, he realized that although I was too old (31) to ever make a good deck hand, (as they say, a good one is 18, fills out an extra large sweat shirt and wears a size 5 hat) I was a good man to have around.

My sailboat sold for $8000, I bought a tiny house near Westport for $10,000, Klaudia and Emily moved into it and I stayed busy repairing boats and fishing Dungeness crab for a few years.

I bought the little house next to ours, Klaudia fixed it up as a dance and aerobics studio and became a local celebrity teaching tap dance to the kids and aerobics to the ladies. It’s cold and it rains almost everyday on the Washington coast. the locals are ignorant, hard working loggers and fishermen, Klaudia hated the place and I could see why, but we were prospering. My ambition was to save enough to retire young and spend the rest of my life puttering around as a metal sculptor and writer.

The big money was being made in Alaska. Even so, I didn’t want to go because the guys who did came back half crazy from the lifestyle. I wound up going, because the boat I was working on got a contract to catch Alaska Pollock and deliver them, at sea, to a fleet of Korean factory ships; where the fish, and more importantly the roe, was processed and frozen. My boat, the Mary Lou, an 86 foot steel stern trawler with 700 horsepower, stayed in Alaska and sailed with an alternate crew, while the crew, after spending 4 months at sea, would fly home for a few months of vacation.I was on vacation when the boat sank in a storm, killing the whole crew.

I then got a job on one of the first American catcher/processor ships, the 162 foot F/T Aleutian Enterprise. She carried a crew of 40 men and I worked 16 to 20 hours a day as the chief engineer and first mate. The ship operated 24/7. I ran it for 8 hours each night while the captain slept and then spent as much time as it took to maintain and repair the mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and refrigeration systems. I didn’t get much sleep.

In order to succeed as an Alaskan fisherman, your ship has to come first and foremost. Everyone who has ever tried to fudge on this rule has failed and usually died as well. Very few marriages survive.

I was making lots of money. Klaudia moved back to Salt Lake City and we didn’t agree on much of anything on my time off, so I started spending most of my time at sea, where I felt comfortable, valuable and in control. After a couple of years, I was made captain of the ship.

Given my choice, I’d have spent the rest of my life as a captain. It’s sort of like a cross between being the king of a small island and a God. It can be snowing and blowing on the trawl deck, but you are warm and dry on the bridge, three stories above the deck. You move a pair of slender chrome levers and 3000 horsepower comes to life with a guttural roar. Six husky, bearded deckhands pay close attention to your voice coming through the loud hailer and then leap to do your bidding. At sea, you are the doctor, the priest, the judge and the mother to every man on board, and they respect you.

Early in January of 1986, I ran the ship on the rocks at the west end of Kodiak Island. I was lucky enough to get her afloat again, but she took a terrible beating. Nonetheless, we finished our season and turned in a total of 9 million dollars forth of fish for the year. The company had paid 7 million for the ship. I took her back to Seattle that spring and had her drydocked. When the owners saw what had happened, and learned that it would cost 2 million to repair her, they fired me.

I decided to give up the sea. I went to SLC, got divorced and moved to Moab Utah, a sleepy little town in the desert, about as far away from the ocean as you can get. I was 42, couldn’t afford to retire and didn’t care to work as a bartender or shovel salt at the local potash mine. Reality sank in, so I went back to Seattle and got a job as Chief Engineer on the F/T Valiant, a 235 foot ship with 4000 horsepower. I held that job for 5 years and retired at 47, with my house, 5 acres and tractor paid for and a roll in the bank. While I was on the Valiant, The Aleutian Enterprise sank, taking 25 men to the bottom with her. I could have been one of them.

I seriously considered moving to Mexico in the 90’s. I traveled around most of the country and spent 3 winters in Oaxaca, going to school to learn Spanish. I came to the conclusion that America is a better place to live.

Moab is boring, but it’s OK. I’ve done a lot of running around hoping to find a place I like better, but I haven’t come up with one yet. I’ve been here going on 30 years now, so I guess I’m a local.

And yes, I do miss the ocean. The desert is a dry, brittle fossil record of the ancient past, whereas the sea is a roaring, wet, fishy smell of the here and now.