Friday, July 27, 2007

Ken Kuhlken's "The Do-Re-Mi"

Ken Kuhlken’s stories have appeared in Esquire and other magazines.

His novels include: Midheaven, chosen as finalist for the Ernest Hemingway Award for best first novel; The Loud Adios, a Tom Hickey story set in 1943, winner of the St. Martin's Press/PI Writers of America Best First PI Novel award; The Venus Deal, a Tom Hickey mystery set in 1942; The Angel Gang, a Tom Hickey novel set in 1949; and The Do-Re-Mi, a Clifford and Tom Hickey mystery set in 1971, which has been named a finalist for the 2006 Shamus Award.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Do-Re-Mi and reported the following:
From The Do-Re-Mi page 99:

A path rutted with motorcycle tracks led across a field to River Road. At nine a.m., the traffic crawled along River Road and into the parking lot. The grounds were already crowded as a refugee camp.

I worried that upon our arrival at the commune, Quig would interrogate me about the Hound Dog incident. Unless I could lie like the pro I wasn't, he might dash to a phone, call the Cossacks and evict me into their custody. But to deliver me to the bikers, Quig would have stand against Pop. A challenge as arduous as debating Socrates.

The gatekeeper Ava called Whitey broke from a horseshoe game to peer into our car. Ava waved, he waved us through. Mama and Pop, sitting close together in back, gawked at the yurts, lean-tos, A-frames, tarp-covered geodesic domes and tents, and at the residents, blond men with Chinese pigtails, topless nymphs watering the garden, naked toddlers caked in river mud. The residents gawked at Pop’s car. Last year, most of them would've gathered to welcome the newcomers, Cadillac or no. Now they held back, sullen and suspicious.

We parked beside Ava's yurt. I walked with Mama and Pop to the riverbank. We sat on the grass while Ava hustled around until she found a couple who agreed to rent their A-frame for $10 a night. For as long as we needed or until the October rains came, they would stay in a tent across the river. Ava walked us to the A-frame.

Looking this over, I found on page 99, either singly or as part of a group, nearly all the book’s characters. The page also touched on the happenings that led to the story’s creation.

In the early ‘70s, I spent about a week on each of two succeeding summers in a small Oregon town where friends had bought a couple acres. Hundreds of hippies had come to the area and were living on “communes” the more capitalistic among them had bought. The place was as close to the hippie ideal as I ever encountered. A community garden where pretty girls stood alongside the road passing out veggies to whomever came along. Open parties with talented acoustic musicians entertaining. Lovely bodies skinny dipping in the rivers and streams. Plenty of land where folks could camp or build shelters without getting hassled by building inspectors (if the town even had any). And lots of marijuana, with which hippies supported their easy living.

But a year passed, and the place turned into a nightmare, like I imagine Tombstone, Arizona around 1880.

Bikers had moved in, and were poaching the hippie’s cash crop. They wore side-arms, bandoliers, and carried rifles in holsters strapped onto their Harleys. Most of the hippies went around armed, at least with sheath knives.

Observing that, I started to doubt hippie ideals could stand up to reality. Later, I started thinking of that time and place as emblematic of the flaw in human nature Christians call original sin. So, a story grew.
Visit Ken Kuhlken's website to learn more about The Do-Re-Mi and read an excerpt.

--Marshal Zeringue