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Donkeyland, Minnesota (Part Five – Ace, Or the Big Bopper)

Jerry Bird was a large man of pert-near, six foot six inches tall, with a drooping mouth, no teeth, broad shoulders, weighted perhaps two-hundred and twenty pounds. He always wore wrinkled cloths-so it appeared dirty waistcoats, hidden in his pockets sticking out were cheap cigars when he moved about they showed-known as stogies. His false teeth were seldom around when he needed them, he’d forget them, have Roger Landsmen drive him home, pick them up, so he could eat, although his gums were as hard as nails: he had irregular eyes also, something strange about his eyes. The lids of the eyes twitched, more often than not, perhaps too often; it would close, tightly down and snap back up as if mechanical; it was exactly as though the lid of the eye were sunken headlights, window shades.

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Ace, had a liking for the boys, I mean, hanging around with the boys, he was ten-year Chick Evens’ senior. Actually, he was everyone’s in the neighborhood senior. It began when Chick had become one of the boys, and started his drinking, I can’t put an exact date on it, but it was around 1960, when Chick started his light drinking, and Ace, Big Bopper, was buying booze for the boys, and getting drunk with them: at which time, Jerry was an acquaintance with most of the self ruled gang, but it was simply a matter of time, in the making, before he’d be one of them. He was, for the most part, short witted, that is to say, slow minded, or slightly backward. A good ole boy though. Often at up at Rice School, when the boys were drinking, behind it, he’d dance and sing “Twenty-four black birds…baked in a pie,” and he’d dramatize it, and it was a hoot buy lsd.

In the late afternoons, Roger Landsmen, or Doug Swords, would drive Ace to the liquor store on Rice Street; Cayuga Street was off of Jackson, a main street in St. Paul, across from the Oakland Cemetery. And Rice Street was parallel, but on the other side of the cemetery. Roger, lived across the street from Evens, and his brother Ronny was the same age as Evens, Roger being three years older than his brother. In any case, the owner of the liquor store got to know Ace pretty well in those days, and when the booze was gone the boys went to the two corner bars off Jackson and Sycamore, saloons some of the boys would spend their whole lives in. And when the place closed up at 1:00 p.m., Ace would slip in at the backdoor of the saloon and buy a number of six-packs for the boys, of course with their money, Ace seldom had money, but he had the assets to buy it, and so he was always welcome to come along and drink it, and he surely did drink his share of drinking.

Ace, and a few of the other boys, began drinking wine and at times combinations, with sloe gin and soda water, and so forth. They even got to breaking into trains down by the steel company, in back of Roger’s father’s apartment, breaking the Federal seals, off the cars, and taking a weekend supply of beer, finding a hole to drink it in, and that was the weekend.

Jerry Bird liked women, like everyone else in the neighborhood (if there was anyone to the contrary, no one knew about it), but seldom found a lasting relationship, he was not the most handsome guy in town, and had reached the age of thirty. He imagined one of the neighborhood girls to have fallen in love with him, in which she didn’t, but it renewed the youth in him. Mary Aldrich most sensualist, she enjoyed talking to men, and was not all that honorable with keeping a relationship, and for a season for hours at a time, she lingered about at parties and at those two local bars, playing up to Dan Wright, and-you got it, Big Bopper.

The saloon keeper was a short, broad-shouldered Italian with peculiarities, and would slip you Mickey into your drink (LSD or something of that nature) if you got too mouthy. That flaming kind of sense of humor got him shot one evening, when he opened up the backdoor to sell a six-pack of beer.

In any case, Mary was playing one against the other, she liked men fighting over her, and as I said, sensualist she was, but plain looking. As they (Mary, Ace, Dan and David Rye) stood outside an apartment having a party with several other guys and girls, arguing and fighting over Mary-David trying to calm the situation down-rubbing his hands together from the cool fall air. Dan grew more and more excited it was as though his mind had been dipped in blood that had dried and washed out, he wanted more, and it was called revenge for being pushed aside by David Rye, and Mary for telling him to go his own way, and it was Ace he was mad at. Dan was a small plumb man, often called “Crazy Dan,” and thus Crazy Dan, went home, and pulled out of his father’s closet, a shot gun, ran back to the party, and aimed it at Ace.

As David Rye stood by looking at the red faced Dan Wright, as Dan tried to talk to his woman Mary Aldrich, who really was not his woman, she wasn’t anybody’s woman, and she sat looking out the apartment window, frightened. And the shotgun went off, but it wasn’t Ace who got shot, it was David Rye.