Friday, December 14, 2012

Tommy Sprague 1951 to 1968, RIP.





I was never good or bad really, I just wanted experience. If I thought it would get me high, I ingested it.

In 1962 Henry was 9 years old, everyday he and his pal Tommy would ride their home made mini-bikes to Catholic school, down the street from Linden Station, north of Chicago. The boys would do what they were told, full of wonder about everything in the world, caring little about the nuns lessons; Latin, phonics, priestly virtue, nuns laying a heavy hand on those wondering off the Lord's rail line, the two boys wondering if everything that felt good was bad?

Some days, Henry would cut class and go talk to his pal Leo who ran a small newspaper stand at Linden Station, the last stop on the electric train line. Leo was from Skokie, a holocaust survivor. Leo would sell illegal fire crackers to kids, selling  contraband was a habit he picked up in Auschwitz, who could blame him? He had earned his sainthood already. Leo would collect coins for papers all day long, he would stand hunched with slight shoulder bones, starved by the Nazis, maybe one of the mussel-men, his eyes smiling with something underneath as though he had seen too much. Saying hello and smiling to the suits' passing, speed walking to catch the electric train. Young Henry and Leo, small, insignificant, secret hearts as big as deers, pounding, full of hope, shadows to the suits in-transit with heads full of gray souless calculus.

Henry and Tommy quite high school at 15 in 1966. Tommy was a basketball star in high-school, being a star in school meant nothing to Tommy, Henry and Tommy just hell bent somehow, throwing out the things handed down, rebelling against the strong arm of the catechismal propagandist, the Penguins (nuns), fat mayors and big shots with money.

The two young friends weren't dangerous or a threat to society, just different. By the mid 60s they heard someting new, the circus train was coming down the pike, mainstream whites listening to evil music, blues, rock n roll, music that would upset the Penguins, send them into convulsions.

The reprobates ignored their parents and didn't give a flying shit. Henry and Tommy, powerful young dudes with balls the size of grapefruit. They would stay out all night, go to Chicago, hitch hike or take the train, buy Benzedrine at truck stops, go to Old Town where flower power was gaining momentum.

Henry and Tommy left home one day and never looked back,  it was in the cards, only 16 years old. They put together some money selling dope to semi-drivers at a truck stop on Route 70 and renting a basement apartment on West North Ave. in Old Town.

Speed changed Tommy, he took to it fast, it grabbed him straight on. Henry didn't particularly care for speed, preferring hallucinogenics and booze. Tommy took a job on the night shift at the Safe Way on Clarke Ave. He began to boil down and shoot speed, it was only 1968, Henry was shocked to see Tommy fixing himself. 

Henry opened a head shop in Old Town, it was a ridiculous place he called 'Jasmine Curry,' a 6 meter by 7 store front painted sea green with posters from San Francisco on the wall. Henry with his long hair would sell posters and incense, he had a  20 record albums on display for sale, a selection of 3, 'The Doors' by The Doors, 'Surrealistic Pillow' by the Jefferson Airplane and 'Are You Experienced' by Jimi Hendrix. 

A new live improvisational theater opened next door to Henry's head-shop, "Second City." Years later he recognized  people on Saturday Night Live he saw walking passed his head shop to Second City, he was no thespian, and the future stars looked like suits to him.

Henry would spend hours in Jasmine Curry, with a big shit eating grin on his face, tripping on acid, drinking tea, burning incense, playing Hendrix giving away free purple haze. His shop was more of a statement than a capitalist venture. Just totally absurd, the world was beautiful and love was going to save society and the universe from itself. The magic age of quicksilver, magic and alchemy, Henry figured that people would just transcend in place and leave empty shells behind,  avatars in a magic land. 

One friday night after closing Jasmine Curry, Henry and his  old lady, Lotus, hip, replete with beauty, smelling of musk, a Chinese  artist and dropout from The Art Institute, headed back to the basement apartment. They were looking forward to listening to the new Grateful Dead album. Tommy off to work on the night shift. It was a cold Chicago winter night, dark, below zero, Henry had a few bottles of Boone's Farm Wine and some Acapulco Gold. The couple were going out to hear Muddy Waters play later that night at the Chess Club on the south-side.

Walking down old metal steps reaching the basement, it was freezing, feeling a strange vibe, something dark, smelling death, walking into the brick apartment, maybe Tommy had forgotten to turn on the heat. Then Lotus screamed,

' My God, Henry' 

Tommy sitting still, frozen in place in an old easy chair the two friends bought at the Salvation Army. Henry told Lotus to go upstairs to the landlords' and call an ambulance. Henry ran to the toilet and turned the shower on, running hot water, turned the heat on high, thinking Tommy had frozen up and the heat would warm Tommy and bring him back to life.

When the medics arrived they saw Tommy's belt was still wrapped between his elbow and his shoulder, he had overdosed. It was 1968, Tommy was only 17, he had to be one of only a hand full of suburban white kids to die of an overdose that year in Chicago. 

Henry went to Tommy's funeral in Wilmette. Everybody was shocked, the Penguins showed up too, looking as though they had lost face, as though they had failed Tommy, praying for his soul as last maneuver, never doubting for a minute, that Tommy an innocent would make it through Limbo or Purgatory into Heaven. They knew these things better than most. 

Henry went to Linden Station, sorrowful, disconsolate, a 17 year flower child who didn't know shit about life, shattered, dumbfucked, knowing if anyone had the final word on death it was his friend Leo the Auschwitz surviver. Leo knew Tommy and said,

"Death, Henry dear, OK you want to know? I saw Rabbis headed into gas chambers, naked, humiliated, robbed of humanity, beards shaved off by the SS, their Torahs burned,  miraculously, with warm heart's still soft, knowing in a few minutes they would see paradise, comforting others in line"

Leo shrugging his shoulders as he sold papers to the suits in a hurry, heads full of dumb calculus running to catch the train to capitalist OZ, the walking dead, hypnotized. Leo, Tommy and Henry, knowing allot more now, just shadows passing through.  

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