As J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote: “This is a tale that grew in the telling.”
I began The Wrelkny in spring semester of my junior year at Marquette in 1967 when I was 19.
I did an all-nighter 22-page single-spaced mimeographed version for a “Creative Writing” English class.
One frat rat jock Sigma Chi guy voiced his hatred of it as “amoral hippie bullshit.”
The professor, Dr. Cunningham, said that he loved it and gave me an “A” for the assignment & the course.
In 1980-81, I went back to it.
I restarted from scratch doing ten typed pages per month on a kind of a C.S. Lewis-J.R.R. Tolkien reciprocation with another writer from Marquette who I had shared that class with.
But we petered out after about 20 months, alas.
In 2009, I restarted it.
I have notes for Ch. 4, and I know how it will end.
It’s partially based on my friends in The Heard, Croe (Jim Croegaert of Peoria), The Drummer (Ron Bednar of Streator), and another Spalding Institute 1964 classmate from Peoria, Bird (Paul Burson, RIP Dec. 22, 2013).
None of the events depicted herein actually happened.
I know how it will end.
It is how it begins.
By Mike Foster
So you say that if I write this out and think it through, I might be able to understand why I got here and why I am having to write this out.
Frankly, I am so damned bored flat-backed on this bed that a tablet and a ballpoint are paradise. If I have to watch one more minute of Nixon election shit followed by Vietnam rah rah, I’d rather go blind. At least in this room, now that the cougher’s gone, it may make some sense.
But hey. Sense for you? As if you’ll read this. It already makes sense to me. It always has.
I am supposed to list negatives and positives for a start. For one thing, I don’t need you to tell me how to start. For another, what negatives? Besides Nixon.
And when can I get my guitar back, please? Just the Martin. The Ricky and the Tele, I understand. Too loud for this place. I understand that. But please, ask my mom and dad to bring in the Martin. I need healing. Beyond with what you stick in me here.
Okay, you want me to identify myself. I am that shaky-legged skinny kid that nurse Susie takes to the john here when I ask her to. Brown hair, nice and long and wavy too, before you thugs cut it off when I got here out cold.
I was born in St. Clare’s in Peoria, Illinois, Dec. 28, 1946. The Feast of the Holy Innocents. Of which I am one. Wholly innocent.
That makes me exactly twenty-one and in thirty days, twenty-two. Chuck sang I’m gonna give you thirty days to get back home. But Ronnie sang forty days. Much more Biblical. But the reason we played that version because it rocked harder.
Parents, yes. Race, yes. Sex, yes.
Positives: the cougher is gone. They won’t tell me if he died. He was old. Made me glad I didn’t smoke cigarettes. Except for the skinny ones the Drummer made. Tee hee.
And if you roust this room I’ll know you are reading this. And you won’t find doodah. I keep my ends out for the ties that bind.
Positives: the view from the window. Cars chugging up the long hill over the river. At night, it looks like a rosary of light going up to heaven.
Positives: nurse Susie. She is so very kind and funny. She understands, sort of. Her husband is a lucky man.
Positives: the food here. No, honestly. The chicken salad and tuna salad are both great. I could live on the mashed with brown gravy. You guys even do Jello great.
But the coffee…
Negatives: I am here. It is almost 1 a.m.
I am Stephen Michael Francis Earheart. My friends call me Stevie. You can call me Mike. The first song I learned how to play on guitar was “Take Her Out Of Pity.” That should have warned me.
I heard that butthole doctor reading my charts yesterday say, “Oh, another want-to-be Beatle.”
Munch me, doc. I was wanting to be long before “All My Loving.” I wanted to be Bo Diddley. I wanted to be Dion. I wanted to be Don Everly. I wanted to be Lennon only because that came later and seemed easier.
I just looked down at my left hand after getting a Kleenex. The 12-string fingertip grooves are losing their hardness. But they will not fade away.
The winky-dink-shrinky-dink doctor was anxious to fill out his half-hour so he asked me why I played a 12-string guitar. So I said, “Because it’s harder.” He said “How?” I said “To fret it and to keep it in tune.”
He thought that was very revelatory and yammered on about the symbolism of that for his last ten minutes. And I almost cried for the first time in days from missing my Ricky. Please,God, if you are reading this. Don’t let my Ricky be lost. Tele gone I can take, even Martin. But not Ricky.
Positives: The meat loaf here. Crow in the band used to say, “Everybody makes meat loaf differently and everybody makes it good.” To which me and Bird and Drummer would say, in harmony, “Except you.”
Did Crow make it? Why won’t anybody tell me anything?
Can I please have a real pen? I’ll pay you the $3 plus ink for an Esterbrook fountain pen like the one I used at Lancaster and on the road. Any ink color but red.
I woke up this morning hearing The Angels’ “Wow Wow Wee” on fire in my brain as the hospital coughed. We were the only damn guys’ band to play that one. But we changed the gender pronouns, like we did with “My Girlfriend’s Back” and “Then She Kissed Me.”
Positives: Tapioca makes me feel like I am five and Jane my sister is four and we are in the big house on Prospect.
Positives: Thank you for my books from my road bag. Catch-22, The Once and Future King, Candy. Maybe I will finally get past the house of Tom Bom in Tolkien.
Negatives: Why won’t any of you look me in the eyes? The shrink is the worst. Nurse Susie does but that is just because she is such a kindly soul. She looks everybody in the eyes.
Positives: The Gideon guy came around when I was awake after breakfast. He offered me a little Bible, just New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. About three by four inches. He started to give me a red one but I asked for a green one instead. Packers’ colors and hobbits’, too, Crow said once. I’d give anything to hear from him or Bird. Or, please God, the Drummer.
Drifting up out of sleep about, maybe, 4 a.m., all I saw was all these red lights swirling and flashing across the river near the top of the hill. I was dreaming when I woke and I thought, “Am I looking down from heaven?”
But then I realized I was looking down and out from this bed.
Positives: Woke up hearing “Sally Go Round The Roses’ by the Jaynettes in my brain jukebox. I just laid there and smiled. Susie has started bringing me three grapefruit halves with cherries and two pieces of buttered toast for breakfast, as I had asked her. She said, “You look happy this morning.”
I said, “It’s a beautiful day in a wonderful life.” We both laughed. Just then the shrink walked in.
Negatives: a new room-mate. Gerald is his name. He is a gasper. Maybe 50. Hates the Beatles, I can tell without asking. He and his wife and daughter reek of nicotine. I hate it but then wistfully it reminded me of the other guys in the band, especially Crow.
I’d been keeping the television off. Idiot box. When they started rah-rahing President Fucking Nixon and slagging on hippies, I rang for Susie and she pulled my curtains closed. She told them to turn the news down and then bent down to my table to give me The Fellowship of the Ring. Really lovely deep breasts cleaven tanned under her bright white uniform. She saw me looking but said nothing. She smiled. I feel like she is my only friend. Not a girl friend, she’s too old and married, and I am neither. But just someone who seems to care just a little.
So when the gasper’s family left and he wheezed off to sleep, I read Tolkien. Golly. It’s so cozy and free and bygone. Only got as far as Bilbo’s birthday fireworks before lights out.
Cold. Slept all day. Tried to call Bird’s house but no answer. Where is everybody? I understand mom and dad but it still kinda hurts. It’s not like I stole anything or that. Mom would say I stole my education and my future.
Hey. I got an education. I am in my future.
To be continued.