Fred Filiment's Stolen Novel
From Fantasy to Reality and Back Again...
The Original Fred Filiment
A Candid Survey Of American Life
As Seen Through The Fading Eyes
Of A Hitchhiker Approaching Insanity
The distance between Gettysburg and Bethlehem is about two and a half hours by car, and since I had no car, it was necessary that I resort to hitchhiking. I had developed a certain sense of futility about my ability to get quick rides, even though there were generally a fair number of vagabonds on the more traveled roads steering dilapidated VW micro-busses that were inclined to retrieve long-haired lost souls like myself from the perils of thumbing. On the back roads though, it was a different story. The locals indigenous to Gettysburg fit the stereotype of back hills rednecks, perhaps not quite as extreme as the southern variety, but nonetheless completely averse to picking up hitchers.
I had decided to try a new tactic. My brother Bill had been in the Marines and I had borrowed one of his olive green fatigues. I tied my hair up, buried it inside the green cap and put the uniform on, thinking that this specific attire would have greater appeal both visually and emotionally to the locals. It was a fairly common occurrence to see young soldiers getting rides along the highway from members of the respectable upper middle class or from down-to-earth farmers. With this as my premise, I started early one morning in my disguise from Gettysburg heading north on Route 15 toward Harrisburg.
Almost immediately, a pickup truck pulled over and a gruff-looking Pennsylvania Dutch farmer leaned over and opened his passenger door for me. I hopped up into the cab whose back window was equipped with a more than adequate collection of hunting rifles and shotguns. I had been caught a bit off guard, since it now occurred to me that my uniform was going to solicit a particular conversation that I had not anticipated or rehearsed. He initiated the usual hitchhiking questions:
“Where are you headed?”
“Near Allentown,” I fidgeted.
“I was in the army during Korea. Where you stationed?”
“Quantico.” I lied with as much sincerity and macho as I could muster. Quantico is where my brother had been stationed. Inadvertently, I had decided that the best way to proceed with my charade was to answer these questions as my brother would.
He proceeded to engage me in a deep conversation about the technical differences between various standard issue military handguns, a subject that I knew absolutely nothing about. I managed rather poorly to bluff my way through however, allowing him to furnish the critical details, which he was most anxious to do.
Thank God for that, for had he discovered that I was making it all up, I suspect he might have pulled one of his shotguns down from the rack and sprayed a few rounds upon my backside. What better amusement than to uncover a treasonous pinko sheep in patriotic wolf’s garb?
After twenty-five miles of anxiety and paranoia, I thanked him with a pained look, gathered my belongings and exited the vehicle eagerly onto the busy onramp at I-83.
I barely had time to get my wits together and stick out my thumb, when presto, ride number two screeched over to the shoulder. My strategy was working great and this one was a Cadillac to boot!
After the electric door lock snapped open, I got in and adjusted to the luxury. I thought to myself how nice it would be if this ride were to go all the way to Allentown. As we sped away, he paid attention to the heavy traffic for a few minutes until we were out of the turmoil. He was balding with glasses and seemed to be about 55 years old. I supposed that he was an accountant or corporate executive. His leather brief case separated us on the front seat. I was refreshed at the likely prospect that this bookworm wasn't going to quiz me about handgun specifications. After I explained my basic direction and destination, he said:
“Got a girlfriend?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact that's where I'm headed.”
“What do they pay in the Marines? Are you making good money?” His questions were served calmly like hors d'oeuvres.
“They pay peanuts until you're out of boot camp!” I was beginning to develop some confidence and boldness in my newfound acting role. The precious miles zipped away beneath us. There were long deliberate pauses in our conversation.
“You going to take your girl out to dinner tonight?” I couldn’t quite figure out where this line of questioning was going, but I answered honestly. It was better than delving deeper into the details of my self-imposed masquerade.
“No. Can't really afford it,” I countered casually.
“How would you like to take her out to a really nice place?”
“I guess that would be nice.” I wondered if he managed a local restaurant.
“How would you like to earn a little extra cash for that dinner?” He looked over at me with a sheepish grin. I still hadn't figured it out. I was naive, and I envisioned myself mowing the lawn at his estate – perhaps clipping the hedges, or painting the house trim off-white. I didn’t answer. I just looked a bit confused, since I had no idea exactly what type of job he had in mind. He apparently picked up on my uncertainty, paused to consider how he would proceed, then he continued:
"Do you like to fuck your girlfriend?”
Whoa! This was certainly getting outside the boundaries of accepted hitchhiker/driver conversation. I began to get nervous. I sat there like a frog, ready to jump at the first sign of provocation.
“I'll pay you fifty dollars, if you let me touch you,” he paused. I was terrified. His words were stinging like a Bengay massage.
“You could buy her quite a dinner for fifty dollars.” He didn't realize that the conversation wasn't really stimulating my appetite. In fact, I was close to losing my lunch on his dashboard.
“You don't have to do anything. Just sit there. It will feel just like when your girlfriend touches you. You've never done this before, have you?”
“No.” I answered without returning his glance. I was shaking.
“I can pull over and all you have to do is undo your pants.”
“No, I could never do that.” I was losing it completely.
“What about seventy five dollars?” He bid higher, hoping that somehow my greed would displace my revulsion. I squirmed in my seat. “What about one hundred dollars?” This was getting serious.
“Please let me out.” I don't know why I didn’t think of this earlier.
“Don't you want me to at least drive you to the next exit?” I envisioned a pistol in his briefcase, and the electric door locks were down.
“I don't think so. Right here would be fine, please.”
He slowed the car, pulled onto the shoulder and slowly came to a stop. I was trembling. I couldn't look at him. I thanked him for the ride in a monotone. He hit the door lock release and I started to get out. With the door open, he peered out at me with a sad but frustrated look on his face.
“You know, it's not your problem. It's my problem.” I nodded and off he drove. This was my first face-to-face confrontation with homosexuality. I didn’t handle it very well. I was certainly glad that he didn’t handle it either! I walked for about a mile. The whole experience was too much for me. Slowly I regained my composure enough to extend my thumb meekly out onto the highway.
Pow! The first car was a red Toyota whizzing by at lightning speed. The driver pulled over about two hundred yards ahead of me. I ran as fast as I could run. The red Toyota reciprocated by backing up erratically towards me. I got in, huffing. This driver was Oriental. He wore a smile that looked like it would hurt his face.
“Thanks for the ride!” I said, desperate for a normal conversation. “Where are you headed? I’m going all the way to Allentown. Actually Bethlehem. How ‘bout you?” I waited.
He looked at me with the same grimace, nodding repeatedly. That's the way it went for seventy-five miles. He didn't speak a word of English and I didn’t speak Chinese, but we made great time. It somehow seemed ironic to me that at a time when I needed to have a sincere conversation, I had been served such an innocent silence. After much hand-motioning as we approached the Bethlehem exit, he let me off near the top of the ramp. I was about six miles from my parents’ house. I climbed down from the overpass and began walking, relieved that my journey was nearly complete. I was tempted to find a phone and call home for a ride, but in the interim I decided to try the golden thumb one more time and sure enough, an immediate four for four!
This driver was a milkman in a white uniform with a white hat driving a white truck delivering bottles of white milk. I was struck by the absolute purity of such whiteness. My camouflage green was like a patch of Asian jungle in an ocean devoid of color. He felt compelled to tell me that his son had been killed in Vietnam and that was the reason he had picked me up. He drove me the remaining six miles out of his way to my doorstep. Along the way I converted quarts of his pure suffering into gallons of my own contaminated guilt. I think I helped him in some perverted way. I think helping me relieved some of his pain. Naturally there was no way that I could have revealed my disguise to him.
When I got home, I went right to my room. I began writing in the late afternoon and I didn't stop until three in the morning. The words just spilled out onto the paper. In exactly fifty-eight handwritten single-spaced pages I had captured nearly the exact spoken text of the day in play form, line by line, entitled A Candid Survey Of American Life As Seen Through The Fading Eyes Of A Hitch Hiker Approaching Insanity (Part One).
I learned some valuable lessons that day. I learned that if you try to pretend that you are something other than what you are, the rest of the world will gladly participate in the deception. I learned that what you least expect is most likely what you will always find. I learned that what you need the most is what is nearly always denied. I learned that the world is a very sensitive place and that if you take something out of its rightful place, a chain of events is often set into motion that becomes difficult if not impossible to unravel. Each of the four rides created situations that were initiated by my own deception, but reality backfired on me instead. I was proud of the play. I took it back to Gettysburg, and spent many more hours typing it for my creative writing class. I was working late at night on the nearly completed text in one of the Student Union typing cubicles. The manuscript and the original handwritten script were inside the case of the portable typewriter that I was using. I needed a break and went down the hallway for a soda. When I came back the typewriter was gone. The play was gone too. I was devastated.
The next day, I posted notices on all of the bulletin boards around campus offering a one hundred dollar reward for the return of the play. I didn't care about the Smith-Corona typewriter. I ran a weeklong ad in the newspaper to no avail. It was gone for good. Finished. Caput!
From the ashes of my loss emerged a fantasy in poem form called Fred Filiment's Stolen Novel. Fred was a slightly purified version of myself. Porter T. Packrat was the unknown thief of the manuscript who took on attributes of the redneck farmer and the homosexual businessman, as does the publisher Wally Watts. Mona represents Marty with whom I was deeply involved at that time. The butchers at the supermarket were the art and literary critics, and so on – a fully extended metaphor designed to replace the stolen play with a self-redeeming tale that was several levels removed from reality. Hence the intensely long-winded introduction to Packrat Press’s own Fred Filiment's Stolen Novel:
Fred Filiment’s Stolen Novel
Friendly Fred Filiment fed crumbs to the birds;
A small and a humble man gifted with words.
His dream was to write the best book of his time.
He just needed good luck to put him in line.
For five years he worked in the grocery store
Packing the bags and mopping the floor.
His novel, his job and his lack of a wife
Were all that Fred Filiment had in his life.
The masterpiece novel that he began
Took him practically three years to plan,
One year to polish, one year to name.
His book was his only sidestreet to fame.
In fact, Fred was feeling a little grotesque
The day he stepped up to the publishers desk
To find Mr. Wally Watts forcing a smile
And gawking at Fred’s most unusual style.
The book was a smash though the pages were sloppy
So Watts sent him back to type the last copy.
Whistling and drooling, Fred walked out the door
And bee-lined for work at the grocery store.
Fred parked his convertible under a tree
Leaving his script but taking his key.
Beaming, boasting, and strutting with pride,
He pounced on the magic door..... and was inside.
The clerks were astonished and certainly glad,
Though fearful of losing the best friend they had,
For Fred in his fame might quit packing food
And progress to a new game a little less crude.
When the head butcher asked to take a quick look
At the great work of art to be known as Fred’s book,
Fred zoomed to his car to retrieve his text
But he returned empty-handed; shocked and perplexed.
It Was Gone.....
Earlier that day on the other side of town
Came a messenger named Packrat of little renown
Bearing a briefcase with the stock market file.
His fortune was gathered in greed and guile.
Packrat drove a tank in World War Two.
The Purple Heart was the best he could do.
“Kill or be killed” was the motto he learned.
“Ignite your best friends before you get burned.”
Porter T. Packrat got into his car
And drove to the drugstore to buy a cigar.
Fred Filiment’s convertible was under the tree.
Packrat was bargaining for anything free.....
Especially the package that sat on the seat.
A fresh written novel’s an unusual treat
And who knows the value of items like these,
So Packrat took the package..... and never said please.
It Was Gone.....
A thief or a prankster or a Packrat had come
And in curious greed..... he did what was done.
Two shifty eyes and an odious smirk
Had absconded with five years of Fred’s precious work.
The tragic affair would not have been bad
If it weren’t the only copy Fred Filiment had.
Attempts to remember just increased his rage.
He knew it would take years to remember a page.
With large overdoses of manic depression
Fred lost all need for creative expression.
Burnt out light bulbs don’t shine in the night
‘Cause you can’t fix the filiment.....
without breaking the light.
Porter T. Packrat; pull out your knife
And steal the success you get out of life
From a faceless Fred Filiment discouraged and poor
Consuming his time at the grocery store.
While teaching art at the Stowe School in Stowe, Vermont, I failed so miserably in the winter wilderness survival training that I decided to focus on indoor activities for awhile. I had been given the responsibility of operating and maintaining the school printing press. This was a bit more elaborate than the mimeograph I had operated at Blair; in fact, it was a genuine one-color offset press complete with aluminum printing plates, rubber blankets and printer’s ink. My basic training with Russ Borman was invaluable. After mastering the essentials and stocking up on paper, plates and solvent, I undertook to self-publish my first literary effort since Metamorphosis and Tears: Fred Filiment’s Stolen Novel. To complicate the situation, this little book was supposedly written by myself, but published by the unscrupulous Porter T. Packrat, notorious for plagiarized and stolen manuscripts.
Fred Filiment’s Stolen Novel was amateur in every sense of the word, but invaluable to my ultimate education about printing and authorship. I produced a limited edition of 500 numbered and signed copies and proceeded to market them for the whopping price of $5.00 each. In hindsight, I suspect that the amount might have been slightly less than half of my cost per book. Through this experimentation, the Packrat Press quietly emerged without having to bear the typical encumbrances of profit or efficiency.