Nerve-Wracking Ride to the Abortionist

My attempt to procure an illegal abortion was plagued by adventure.

Excerpted from Our Sixties Abortion

August 29, 1968, 6:30 PM

My neighbor Danny’s front yard isn’t that big, maybe a thousand square feet, but every night dozens of kids manage to squeeze onto it. Guitar strummers, recorder tooters, cigarette bummers, portrait-sketchers, frisbee tossers, Screaming Yellow Zonkers eaters, dueling radio owners, horny lover gropers. And arguers. People were always disputing something—the war, the best guitarist, the latest and greatest acid. Tonight is muggy and foggy, but that doesn’t hold back the crowd. People keep arriving and Danny’s right there, supervising like he’s charging admission at a turnstile. He’s lucky, his parents are consistent: they’re either gone out or booze-gone. Right now he’s talking to a new couple who’ve arrived on the back of a mule, which may be a first, but it doesn’t matter. Nobody notices, nobody gives a hoot. He’s always feeling out new people who show up, interviewing them, making sure they aren’t “rabble-rousers.” (They never are.)

I arrive right on time for our connection, but unfortunately, nobody else does. No Damien, no Ritchie, and most importantly, no Candace.

If Ritchie doesn’t show up, we’ll have to hitch in to Denver. We’d eventually get there, I’ve done it before, but there’s no way of knowing when we’d arrive. I’d have to call the number I have for the abortionist and tell him (or whoever answers) we’ll be late. How late? Who the hell knows? That could be bad. Real bad. It could even spook him and scotch the whole deal.

“Okay,” Danny says, “you can stay. That mule craps, you clean it up.”

“Sure,” says one rider, “but he already did.” Ten minutes ago, I later find out and where? Right next to our driveway. My father must be pissed and out there with a push broom.

Somebody gently shoves me on the shoulder blade. “Hey.”

I turn around. It’s Ariadne. She takes me aside.

“Damien’s not coming. He figures too many people for the car. It’s one of those shrimpy Corvairs.”

So Damien did get ahold of Richie, who’s now ten minutes late. I wonder if this is normal for him or if the shrimpy Corvair broke down.

I’ve heard of Corvairs, but never ridden in one. Couple of years ago this Ralph Nader guy wrote a book about them called Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. I read it for school and it’s not exactly a confidence builder right now.

Ariadne pulls something out of her backpack. “I brought this bedspread for Candace. We can share it if it starts to rain while we’re waiting.”

It takes a minute for this to sink in, since I’m concentrating on spotting Candace the instant she walks up the street. “Wait, you coming too? Not sure that’s a good idea.”

“Sorry Paulie, I think it’s an excellent idea. I’ll sit in the back with her. We won’t make any noise.”

“I don’t know.”

“Too bad. She’s my best friend. Sort of, I think. I mean we’re not official best friends, but I always assume. . . anyway, I’m coming.”

Somebody scratches the back of my head. Why’s everybody always sneaking up on me? “Yeah, she can come.”

“Candace! When’d you get here?”

“Few minutes ago. I was patting Barbara’s mule. Did you know they like sugar lumps just like horses?”

“You smell like dope,” I hear Danny say to some newbee. “No smokin’ dope here or away you go. Cops came once for noise, they’d love it if they found a pound of marijuana on you. No way that doesn’t reflect bad on me.”

“So where’s [inaudible]. Supposed to [inaudible].”

I look past the din and see a short kid with a spotty beard and longish curly brown hair. He’s wearing a paisley shirt, unfaded blue jeans and a double brass belt buckle ring. The kind that looks cool but always goes loose and you keep having to yank it.

“You Paulie?”


“Sorry I’m late, had to get gas. You got a couple of bucks? It wiped me out.” I give it to him and he points to Ariadne. “She the girl?”

“No I’m the girl. Candace.” The two girls get into the back seat.

“Pleased to meet you. And you’re . . .”


“That’s a pretty name.”

“I know. Thanks.”

“I can’t get in,” I say. The front seat’s occupied.

“Gimme a minute,” said Ritchie. He clears off the McDonald’s burger boxes, the jumbo McDonald’s French fries bag, two McDonald’s apple pie boxes, and a huge cup of Coke, ice rattling in it. “Supper.” He puts this trash into a huge bag and wedges it against the transmission tunnel.

The smell of hamburgers mingles with the smell of French fries and catsup, and it sticks to the car like . . . like we’re stuck in McDonald’s parking lot. Maybe they spray the bags with l’eau de hamburger so the smell’ll get everybody all hungried up.

In less than ten minutes we’re on Route 25 heading south to Denver.

“I really appreciate you doing this. We had to hitch in, no telling when we’d get there. We gotta be there by 7:30.”

“No prob. Just got these wheels and they’ve already been broken in. Wanna see something?”

He looks at me when he talks and I feel like warning him “eyes front.” But I don’t. Turns out Ritchie has more notable driving habits to watch out for. He pops the clutch and the car peels out faster than any I’ve ever been in.

“Pretty cool pickup, huh? Guy owned it before me souped it up some, sure of it. I took a look at the carburetor and it’s different, you know… all silvery looking.”

In about ten seconds, we’ re going seventy miles an hour in a fifty-five mile an hour zone. Funny thing is, we’re not the only ones. He’s riding right behind somebody going slightly faster. I’m holding on to the front dashboard with both hands. I force myself to let go, because I don’t want to insult the guy or imply I don’t trust his driving. Which I don’t. He sees me doing it anyway.

“Calm down. The trick to not getting stopped,” he says, “is follow somebody else going faster. Cops’ll catch him first. I know, seen it happen ohhh, least three times.”

The road makes a sharp bend and Ritchie handles it like a stock-car driver.

“So, Candace. Hear you’re getting an abortion,” he says like he’d say “hey, hear you’re getting your hair cut.”

“Yeah, lucky me,” she says. “Real fun.”

“Heard it’s not so bad. My cousin Angie had one last December. Didn’t even have to pay for it. Like somebody gave it to her as a Christmas present? Sorry, bad joke.”

“What’d she say?” asked Candace.

“Ran into her at a holiday party and we’re out for a walk. I ask her about it, she goes, ‘I’m here, aren’t I?’ So I go, ‘Angie, that tells me nothing. What was it like?’ So she goes, ‘Better than throwing myself downstairs. Which I also considered.’ That’s all I could get out of her.”

“That’s real comforting,” said Ariadne. “You’re a regular Dr. Kildare.”

“Hey, if it was bad, she woulda said.”

“How come your steering wheel’s all fuzzy?” says Candace. “It’s got brown fur all over it.”

“It’s not fur, it’s called shag. Keeps it cool. Looks cool too, don’t cha think?”

No response, so Ritchie shuts up for five minutes. When Route 25 expands into three lanes, he suddenly adjusts his driving. He speeds up and passes three cars on the right. The windows are closed and the blower’s on, but so’s the heat. In August. Ritchie probably thinks the blower’s just blowing fresh Colorado air. I almost tell him to flick off the heat switch, but I don’t. I don’t know him well enough. It’s his car. Maybe he likes it that way. Plus he could get pissed off.

Great. We’re zipping down Route 25 with a guy who has yet to figure out his car’s heating system.

“You like jokes?” Before anyone can answer, he says, “How come hurricanes are named after women?” Nobody says “I dunno, why?” but he spills the punchline anyway. “Ever heard of a ‘himmicane’?”

Nobody reacts, either because they don’t get it, or they’re too keyed up, or, like me, they think it’s pretty much the lamest joke they ever heard. But in the tradition of Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield, he ignores his bomb and presses on.

“How about elephant jokes? You like elephant jokes? How do you get down from an elephant?”

One of the girls says “We don’t know. Tell us.”

“You don’t! You get down from ducks.”

A lone chuckle from the back seat, and I say “Geese.”

“Come again?” he says.

“You get down from geese. They’re bigger. You can’t get enough down from a duck to make it worth it.”

“Gee thanks, I’ll remember that at my next club appearance.”

A quarter of a mile ahead there’s a flashing police light. Somebody’s just gotten pulled over and I tense up like I’m about to get a booster shot in the ass.

“Watch out Ritchie, cops ahead.”

He giggles and pushes the pedal to seventy-five. “No prob.”

I know I shouldn’t complain, but I do anyway. “Whatdya mean ‘no prob?’ Why’d you just speed up? We coulda gotten nabbed. Great, that’s all we need.”

“Cool it! This the best time to take on a little speed. They’re pulled over, they already nabbed someone. They’re not going to let ‘em go to chase me down. Plus you know there ain’t no more fuzz-mobiles around. Because why, you say? They’re stuck in their own territories.”

We speed along for another five minutes and he says, “Okay, ‘nother elephant joke. What’s red and white on the outside and gray on the inside?”

“No idea,” I say.

“Campbell’s cream of elephant soup.” That gets a guffaw from the backseat.

“Okay, so that one’s funny,” I say.

We go over some toll bridge whose name I forget, I toss in the quarter and in five minutes we’re cruising near Denver City Park. I can’t believe we made it in less than a half hour.

Ritchie scans the wide expanse of the park. It’s still not quite dark out. “Hey, what happened to all the freaks?”

Doesn’t anybody read newspapers anymore? “They’ve been hassling people lately,” I say. “The cops and the cowboys. No more hanging out. Nobody smart hangs out here. You look hard you’ll see some still do, the stragglers. But they’re not smart. Over there’s the bunch I saw two nights ago.”

“Them?” said Ritchie.

“Yeah, right over there.”

“Okay,” he says, “meet you back here in . . . Whenever.” He gets out and we change seats, then he disappears into the tiny crowd. They welcome him like old friends and we’re off to meet our man.

The Power of Poetry

Sometimes the power of poetry is literally a life or death situation.

To Douglas Arnold, who knew how to rhyme poetry with philosophy earlier than anyone.

When W. H. Auden read at Bartley College in 1967, he said “Poetry makes nothing happen.” This pronouncement so distressed David Ramsdell he made plans to burn his own poems on Payne Hall’s front steps. But would there be enough of them for a decent fire? Should he, instead, write Auden? Demand how the famous poet could thrive in such futility and when the great man wrote back, David could tack up the response on his door. But flaming poems would be so much more dramatic. He could stoke the fire with textbooks and term papers, and later tack up the newspaper photo of himself getting arrested for arson. Both were great ideas. Why not do both? Continue reading “The Power of Poetry”

Putting What Where: A vintage book review of for GIRLS only by Dr. Frank Howard Richardson (1953)

Vintage sex education manuals for young people were silly and ignorant back then. We’re much better now. Right?

Why am I writing about a seventy-year-old sex education manual? Everybody knows they were conservative back then, and that lapses of information were more the norm than the exception. It would be like writing a movie review of a typical sword-and-sandal Bible epic like King of Kings (1961), which features literal enactments of the New Testament. So why bother? The cockeyed ideas in for GIRLS only certainly couldn’t still be with us today. We’re so much more enlightened now. Or are we? Let’s look into it. Continue reading “Putting What Where: A vintage book review of for GIRLS only by Dr. Frank Howard Richardson (1953)”

I Owe It All to John Carpenter

He made me the videographer I am today. Sort of.

Let’s put the blame right where it belongs. Straight on John Carpenter’s film They Live. Released back in 1988, it was lambasted by many mainstream critics. Although not exactly spelled out, their antipathy was never about artistic failings or lack of box office appeal. Most likely, it was about appeasing the watchdogs in the Reagan administration. As Gertrude chided her son Hamlet, “Thou hast thy father much offended.” Continue reading “I Owe It All to John Carpenter”

My First Condom

June 7, 1968

I’d rather be in so many other places than here. In line to see the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Waiting for Jimi Hendrix to go on at some festival. Prowling through a used book barn in Wyoming. Instead, I’m standing at the counter of the only drugstore in Windsor, Colorado. I’m almost 21 and home from school for the summer. The store’s empty except for Mr. Mercer, who’s leaning on the counter reading a newspaper he’ll probably unload onto the next customer. Not me.

Because I’m not here for newspapers.

Continue reading “My First Condom”

The Night That Opera Saved My Ass

“A priest, a minister and a rabbi are discussing when life begins. The priests says, ‘It begins at conception’. The minister says, ‘Life begins at 24 weeks gestation’. The rabbi says, ‘You are both wrong, Life begins when the kids move out of the house and the dog dies.'”

Family friend Wally forks his last piece of tenderloin steak and washes it down with Chivas Regal from my father’s store. He guffaws at his own joke, like Red Skelton. Continue reading “The Night That Opera Saved My Ass”

Three Excellent Films about Abortion

Although hard to find, there are good movies sympathetic to abortion. Here are three.

YOUNG MAN. Wow! Look at that sunset!
YOUNG WOMAN. Yes, so pretty. I have something wonderful to tell you.
YOUNG MAN. Don’t keep me in suspense. What is it?
YOUNG WOMAN. You’re going to be a father!
YOUNG MAN. (surprised but smiles) Are you kidding?
YOUNG WOMAN. No. Even though I’m four months pregnant, I’ve saved telling you for the right moment. We’re going to be parents.
YOUNG MAN. Hurray! Even though we’re not married and still living in a tiny room at my grandparents’ house, this is the best news ever!
YOUNG WOMAN. Even though neither of us are working because of the town’s 15% unemployment rate, everything will work out fine.
YOUNG MAN. Even though I’m just eighteen and you’re seventeen and we’ll have only 80% of our brain synapses until our mid-twenties,1Bill Bryson, “The Brain,” The Body. we’ll have no problems making informed, adult decisions on matters affecting the rest of our lives.
YOUNG WOMAN. Even though I’m still in school, there’s always home schooling. People are so willing to help!
YOUNG MAN. Even though my grandparents can’t get around that well, they’ll be overjoyed to babysit for hours at a time.
YOUNG WOMAN. Even though the sonogram revealed problems with our child, we will give thanks for him every day.
YOUNG MAN. No way else to say this. It was meant to be.

What’s missing from this touching discussion? Continue reading “Three Excellent Films about Abortion”

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    Bill Bryson, “The Brain,” The Body.

Book Review: Notes from the Column of Memory by Wendy Drexler

Some poets never peak. Leonard Cohen never did. And unlike those who churned out clunkers late in life—William Wordsworth with Ecclesiastical Sonnets (at 52) or Bob Dylan with Together Through Life (at 68) —Wendy Drexler shows no sign of peaking. Through her latest volume, it’s clear she continues to improve her poetry in metaphoric complexity and thematic scope. Her first book, Drive-in, Gas Stations, the Bright Motels was a kind of poetic memoir of her childhood. It captured the quirkiness of her family through humor and poignancy. Before There Was Before delved into self-reflection, focused on guilt, and used experimental techniques like dramatic hard-hitting endings. An amateur photographer herself, she also began writing about photography, ruminating on its imagery and implications.

Continue reading “Book Review: Notes from the Column of Memory by Wendy Drexler”

Book Review: LIST FULL: List Poems of Necessary Orderliness. By bart plantenga

A book with a new type of poetry. The poetry of the found list.

By Peter Bates

War. Pestilence. Global warming. Layoffs. Financial ruin. Lawsuits. Bad hookups. There are random forces poised to get you, most of the time when you least expect them. Some of us organize our lives in patterns that create a sort of balance. We forge schedules, we label stuff, we categorize, all to squeeze this mad mad world back in line.

Continue reading “Book Review: LIST FULL: List Poems of Necessary Orderliness. By bart plantenga”

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