Daily Archives: February 18, 2006

I’m a Rambler, I’m a Gambler

Shambles of a Man



Let’s call him Bob.

I got to know him when I was in my early 20s. It was the tail end of the hippie era. I used to take my guitar down to Recreation Park, a sprawling urban park next to a municipal golf course that butted up against a little salt water lagoon.
continues below…

[As these things go, I think this version of Rambler turned out really pretty well. If you can stomach my stuff at all, you may want to take a listen.]

All the hippies and bikers would get together in snowballing circles of people sitting, crosslegged on the lawns, under towering trees planted back in the days that Long Beach was called Iowa by the Sea. Multiple circles would build like city states. And usually in the center of it all were the musicians. Not me, mind you. I’d been playing a couple years and I was… not a fast learner. So I often passed off my guitar to other guitar players I knew.

Often that was to my friend Tony, a young black guy with spidery fingers and an unfailingly rocking approach to guitar (later murdered in a tragic case of mistaken identity). I never minded loaning my guitar to Tony, since he was always gentle with it and checked often to see if I wanted it back — a rare trait among people who borrow guitars at parties and beaches and parks, I assure you.

While Tony tossed it up with the other fretgrinders in the center of things, I would often sit, drinking wine, looking for girls, talking to friends.

One of them was Bob, who was always around, even when I’d come early on a day off, typically hung over, wanting to simply sit by the concrete flycasting pond and play a little guitar in the morning sun.

Bob would be there. And, typically, as darkness enveloped the park and drunk hippies stumbled through a green forest of empty Red Mountain bottles, Bob would often be there, his eyes barely more than slits and as beatific grin wide across his face.

Eventually, I figured out that Bob lived in the park. He had a small, extremely well hidden home he’d made in a particularly heavily wooded area. The employees who knew about him looked the other way. He was a friendly guy with a sunny disposition. He was in his early 30’s with long, wavy hair that hung mid-back. He was a vet. If I remember, he served in Vietnam in a support role.

Seems to me I remember a failed marriage in his bio. He let go a bit after that. Stopped bothering with things like jobs and houses.

But he was a smart, funny guy. He had, he said, a lot of time to read. And he read all the time.

Over time the scene at Rec Park took a dark turn. As crowds got bigger, the hippies seemed to be getting pushed out of the ecosystem and a hard-drinking, pill-popping crowd seemed to be taking over. Fights were increasingly common and a new intruder threatened the musical ecosystem of the park:

The giant cassette portable, the boombox, the ghetto blaster — blaring funky 70s soul sides or the heavy-bottom, tweedle-centric metal of the era — and the sad phenomenon of blaster wars.

It just wasn’t the same old Rec Park any more.

A new, exotic, and high maintenance girl friend seemed to cut into my park time. I’d moved to the nearby beach and, by then, playing guitar by myself on the beach or on the sundeck of my apartment house with buddies like my pal Rick beat fighting the crowds and noise at the once-sylvan park.

But one day when I was scooping up some cheap breakfast at Egg Heaven, a little corner breakfast joint not far from the lagoon, I ran into Bob. I hadn’t seen him in months.

He looked great.

He, too, had been driven away from the park. He said the crowds ruined living in the park for him. He ended up staying at his mother’s for a while, took a job at the local college at a maintenace worker, got interested in ceramics, earned enough to get a little apartment by the lagoon, and was taking ceramics classes and writing poetry and prose.

I ended up visiting with him a number of times over maybe a year and a half while he lived there. He kept working, taking classes. He ended up buying a van, that 70s symbol of independence and self-containment.

The last time I saw him at Egg Heaven he said it was all falling into place. He was in the process of taking most of the things he’d accumulated at his apartment — and his writing and his ceramics — to his mother’s garage. He was giving notice at work.

He showed me the van. He’d begun to carefully outfit it for what was clearly intended to be an extended road trip. It reminded me of the kind of camping van retired engineers on tight pensions put together, an ingenious and methodical reinvention of everyday items and found objects.

After I’d admired his work, I said, “Well… where ya goin’, Bob?”

And he looked around the inside of the van and out the door and up the street to the east and said, Well, I though I’d start out by leaving — and then just go from there…”

previous AYoS version


Left my home and my woman
about four years ago
mostly don’t know when to quit
but then I packed up my losses
and stumbled out on the road

Well I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler
I’m just a shambles of a man
I’m stumbling; my lifes crumblin
I’m just another loser on the lam

If the stakes are low then the time is right
I’m a fool for a penny-ante game
May be gambling with my life
but it’s just small change all the same

Well I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler…

I’ve been beaten, I’ve been cheated
I’ve been shot at from Arkansas to Vietnam
I been shafted, I been laughed at
I been out-casted but I still don give a damn

Well I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler
I’m just a shambles of a man
I’m stumbling; my lifes crumblin
I’m just another loser on the lam

(C) 1973 TK Major