by Michael Yonchenko
(Swans - November 7, 2005) Richard Jones was a barrel-chested man. He wasn't very tall, nor was he a specimen of any particular physical aesthetic. But he was big. He had blue eyes that were hard not to notice. He was fair-skinned and had shiny, golden blond hair that was fairly long. He kept it parted on the side of his scalp and combed over (though he was not balding) covering the opposite ear. He looked like a portrait from a 1967 Hollywood High School yearbook.
Jonesy had a very deep voice. He spoke softly, and with his huge resonating chest could make himself easily heard. His command of language was remarkable, especially for a man who never went to college or studied literature (although he was an avid reader). He used them rarely, but when he did, his four-letter words had an impact that was quite noticeable.
This was a man who was a magnet for other people. Jonesy never met a stranger and always showed genuine interest in what everyone said to him. He was a remarkable storyteller. He would take an hour to tell a five-minute story and never lose his audience.
His intimate knowledge of automotive devices was matched only by his interest in keeping them running like Piaget watches. There wasn't a car he could not repair and he welcomed any opportunity to do repairs on a friend's. But it could be infuriating to let him change your sparkplugs because this ten-minute job would take him all day to accomplish. He would be exquisitely deliberate in his work and he would not stop telling stories or positing a philosophical dilemma that clearly needed to be discussed. He enjoyed repairing and maintaining cars so much that he would often come visit my car late at night to change the oil and coolant. He would leave the empty cans on the floor of the front seat along with a note that read, "Mysterio Mechanico was here. Take care of your car." You could expect this stealth service if he knew you were about to leave on a long road trip.
His interest in car maintenance was an extension of his desire to drive, anywhere, at any time. He would think nothing of getting into his car and driving to Arkansas to say hello to someone he had recently met. His car of choice was a 1965 powder blue Checker Station Wagon. This was a roomy tank of a car that was virtually indestructible. It was not pretty, nor streamlined in any way. It was built for work. It was built to haul people all day long, all night long, all week long. It was the car of choice for New York cabbies. A Checker was the perfect car for Jonesy. He once drove it to Texas and blew out a tire on the way. He hitchhiked back to California to get another tire that he had in his garage, then hitchhiked back Texas and put it on the car. Upon his return he told us about all the interesting people he had met hitchhiking. Jonesy compensated for his lack of funds by collecting people.
If you asked Jonesy how he was feeling, his reply was always positive in one manner or another. But if he said he was feeling "quite excellent" we knew he was in big trouble. Jonesy's friends knew that he suffered from serious depression, often verging on being suicidal. More than once we had to take a gun...a .45 caliber pistol or a .22 caliber rifle...away from him. It was quite apparent what was about to happen when Jonesy, in his meticulous manner, would start cleaning a gun. Where he got these guns or how many he had was always a mystery.
Jonesy's depression stemmed from an unspeakable horror that he had experienced as an Army truck mechanic in Vietnam in 1966-'67. One would think that a mechanic would not experience combat, but in Vietnam if your boots were on the ground you saw it all.
Jonesy was not capable of self-forgiveness. One night, on his way back to his base camp, Jonesy was driving a "deuce" (two-ton truck) with the headlights turned off. He drove "without eyes" because he was ordered to do so by a chicken-shit lieutenant who was afraid of "The Gooks." Because it was so dark, Jonesy could not stop the truck in time to keep from running over a Vietnamese family of four. This horror was trumped when the Lieutenant ordered him not to stop.
"Don't fucking stop, Corporal. They could be VC. Fucking Gooks." Jonesy told us this story countless times. He was always thinking about it. He obsessed about it when he was smoking a joint, which was virtually all the time.
He spoke of vengeance. His favorite fantasy was to take a .50 caliber machine gun to the grave of Lyndon Johnson and shoot into the ground and into LBJ's casket. This was quite chilling because we had never seen Jonesy do anything that approached violence. But we knew it was in him. The dicey moments were when Jonesy encountered someone in uniform. Particularly officers, commissioned or non-coms. He did not discriminate.
On a Saturday night, my old friend Russ Frank, Jonesy, and I were enjoying the mayhem in a San Francisco waterfront bar called Pier 23. It was a very old merchant marine, dockworker bar that was friendly and welcoming. Everyone was made to feel at home. You would meet fishermen, lawyers, soldiers on leave, and grad students. If you weren't comfortable in Pier 23, you were wrong.
We were drinking scotch (Scoresby, a world-class cough medicine) and enjoying the house band, Jack "Jive" Shafer and his Rhythm Rascals. Jack was a 74-year old, balding, fat, almost blind trumpet player who could swing when he was asleep. He had a "girl singer" named Melody Ann who was drop-dead gorgeous. She had a smoky voice and could play two tenor saxophones simultaneously, all the while twirling a long string of beads around her neck. She would play white-hot solos (remember...two saxophones) on Nagasaki (where the fellas chew tabbacy and the women wicky wacky woo).
Melody Ann drove a pearlized cream-colored 1970 Chevy Impala convertible. It had her name stenciled in script on the driver's door. She parked it on the sidewalk right at the door of the bar. She never got a ticket.
I got up to stand by the jukebox and dance floor so I could get a better view of Miss Melody. The place was lit like a Roman candle. Everyone was tuned into Melody's melodies when a Master Chief Petty Officer comes through the door, and as necessary to get to the bar, walked past the front of the stage. Russ and I immediately looked to Jonesy. The fleet was in and this meant there were going to be many chances for Jonesy to vent. The Chief is a very easy target because his uniform is crisp, or in Navy parlance, squared-away. He has gold hash marks up his arm. I counted 24 years of gold stripes. This man owned the Navy.
Russ was trying to keep Jonesy in his seat. I started looking for the best exit needed for a quick post-fight departure if it were necessary. Jonesy sauntered up to the bar and sat down next to the Chief and introduced himself. They shook hands as Russ and I watched them carefully. But they were clearly having a friendly conversation. We knew that Jonesy had something unusual in mind. More sailors were coming into the bar. They were loud, happy and in the mood to do some serious alcohol-induced self-abuse. They were in their dress blues, and like the Chief, they were squared away. These were baby-faced men looking good according to regulation.
The new pals at the bar were animated and happy. Jonesy's behavior was quite unusual. Typical of Jonesy, he was being very friendly, but what was not usual was that he was paying for the drinks. He was pumping the Chief full of cheap Irish whiskey. Was Jonesy going to commit date rape? Their laughter was very loud and they were trading war stories. This worried us because Jonesy's war stories were not fond memories of camaraderie.
The Chief became wobbly in his seat and Jonesy was rock solid. Alcohol had no effect on him because the marijuana consumed all his capacity for inebriants. In his brain, there was no room to be drunk.
The Rhythm Rascals got up on the bandstand to start their late set. When Jack introduced Melody Ann the bar seemed to tilt to one side. People were dancing, sailors were yelling at Melody Ann, and Jonesy and the Chief were reeling. Literally.
Jonesy had conned the Chief into dancing with him. They cleared the small dance floor and were in full embrace, cheek-to-cheek swinging to the music. Jonesy was wearing a smile as wide as a slice of watermelon. He fondled the Chief's ass and they were grinding their hips into each other!
The yelling and cheering almost muted the band. But Jack was playing to Jonesy and the Chief. This lifer was in a whiskey stupor and having the time of his life. He was oblivious to his men, his crew screaming, laughing, and worst of all, taking his picture.
"THE CHIEF IS DANCING WITH A FAG!!! CHECK IT OUT! A FRISCO HOMO IS DRY-HUMPING THE CHIEF."
With this the Chief returned to sobriety. This was the denouement, the moment that Jonesy had acquired with a large bar tab. Russ and I expected the fists to fly and were getting out of our chairs to grab Jonesy so we could make a quick departure. But Jonesy bowed his head to the Chief, paused for a very brief moment, and with his contrabass pipes thanked him for a lovely evening. He swaggered back to our table.
Jonesy's art was live and improvised and spectacular in its execution. It was an act of vengeance brought to a quiet fever pitch. The Chief has danced with the Golden Bear in front of his crew. There will be snapshots passed around to back up the story. This will not be scuttlebutt. There has been a major and sudden change of course in this Chief's career. He will be sailing alone for the rest of his tour off-duty.
We laughed with Jonesy as he took a sip of my scotch.
"He's ruined. Let's go smoke a joint, gentlemen. I have completed my mission and need to take my leave. Let's walk past Melody Ann. I want to look at her Chevy again."