Black Sheep and Bank Robbers
People come to California for all kinds of reasons, not the least being that they were following by kin. My sole California connection was through my first cousin-once-removed, J. Paul Scott, who in the late 1950s was taken to reside in a totally beta loft community in the San Francisco Bay. It was called Alcatraz.
Scotty was sent to the nation’s most notorious federal prison for being a bank robber, and he was sent there for life. But Scotty didn’t like California. Being the kind of person who lives in the moment, he decided to escape. So he and his buddy Darl made a raft out of some clothes, created dummies of themselves so the guards would think they were in their cells sleeping when they came around for night check. Scotty and Darl bent the bars in the latrine window, dropped a rope and rappelled the straight drop into the fatally cleansing chill of the San Francisco Bay.
He scampered down to fatally cleansing chill of the water, and under a double blood moon etc, He swam… okay this is going to be real poetic. Cousin Scotty was almost to the shore when a frigid wave rammed him headlong into a pile of boulders. “We felt kind of sorry fer Ol’ Scotty,” a guard told the show Unsolved Mysteries. “He came closer than anybody t’making it!”
The folks back home in Kentucky understood this. Who wouldn’t want to break out of California?
Nobody, and especially not our bankrobber kin, deserves anything like that.
I tell you this because I think it will resonate with a lot of people who come from small places that are east of the Mississippi, and particularly south of the Mason Dixon. When you tell your people that you are moving to California, they will look at you like you’re about to sail off the edge of the world.
About ten years ago, I got to tour Alcatraz. An actual former inmate was on exhibit there, a nasty piece of work named Whitey Thompson who sat there autographing his book about being a jailbird and scowling like he wanted to bite you in the neck just for practice. I told him I was related to Scotty. Whitey spat out the words like he’d eaten bad food: “Orneriest son of a bitch I ever met.”
Naturally, while everyone admired the boldness of spirit that got Scotty to California in the first place, their assessment of him did not significantly differ from Whitey’s. As I understand it, the family was just as happy that the guards caught up with Scotty and convinced him to stay in California. He was a black sheep and it was ever thus: Black Sheep go to California, and once there, try as they to return from whence they came, are forever branded “Californian.”
I could always kind of relate to Scotty on this point because I think they felt much the same about me.
Anyway, Scotty was long-dead and all I had in the way of friends was Arnsparger, who wasn’t a criminal but his wiring wasn’t exactly up to code.
People come to California to find out who they are. Los Angeles in particular facilitates this because it strips you of any illusion that your history matters. It strips you of your history. You try on false identities until you can no longer see yourself in the mirror, and if you are lucky, you will get completely lost and be compelled to start over from a truer place.
Scotty figured this much out, anyway: he wasn't a Californian. The Federal Government is more sympathetic to these things than you might think, because they eventually transferred him to Leavenworth, and later to Marion in Illinois. But Scotty like it there either, so he broke out again.