Saturday, April 10, 2010

Jeff Jones

I spent all morning going through the Laclede Town FaceBook pics looking for Jeff Jones. Jeff was one of my buddies there. Laclede has been called America’s only successful housing project. More than a few of the kids that grew up there thought it was a lot like The Village in the 60s TV series The Prisoner.

Jeff was one of the really great American/St. Louis characters. I’ve never known anyone like him. I’ve already posted a lot of my recollections of him in Laclede Town FB comments but I’d like to bring them together here.

For anyone one reading my posts I urge you to read the comments section. They’re my favorite part and I’m hoping to get a few about Jeff.

When we moved into Laclede Town there wasn’t a school yet. Waring School was boarded up and had been closed for years. Plans were under way to rehab and staff the building and there weren’t enough of us for a whole building anyway. That first year they put kindergarten thru 4th grade and 5th thru 8th in two rooms at Harris Teacher’s College. We only had two teachers. I remember they kept us busy copying the entire dictionary.

I sat at the end of the 1st grade row of desks and Jeff sat at the end of the 2nd grade row so we were next to each other. I was supposed to print my dictionary entries but Jeff taught me cursive writing. I remember the teacher giving me a bag of mini candy bars for my impressive effort.

I used to run through the neighborhood with a single ear bud plugged into my dad’s transistor radio. KXOK was in its heyday. I lent the radio to Jeff and he got the impression I’d given it to him. I was too embarrassed to ask for it back. My dad never asked me what happened to it.

I convinced Jeff I was taking Judo lessons. I remember digging myself in deeper and deeper describing my made up lessons to Jeff’s skeptical dad.

When we all became teenagers it was the golden age of hippies and Jeff, in spite of the fact he was black, was the coolest hippie of all of us. He lived in an apartment with another friend of ours named Tom Quain. Tom had ass length wavy red hair and Jeff had a huge afro. Their hippie pad was a total wreck and it stunk of a neglected cat box. It was a real life realization of Robert Crumb’s Fabulous Furry Freak brothers complete with Fat Freddie’s cat!

I’ll never forget showing the first movie I made in my bedroom at my West End apartment. I must have had 20 kids in there. It was a bunch of shorts with a soundtrack that opened with a fast motion sequence of driving from my apartment to a Steak and Shake on Hampton right up to the grill where a fry cook was flipping burgers.The music was Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sister’s Accentuate The Positive. I thought Jeff was going to fall off the bed in a fit of laughter. He was the most captive audience I ever had.

Drugs were everywhere and we were always on something as we roamed the streets of the Central West End. Streaking was popular at the time. I remember walking down Euclid Avenue and Jeff was totally naked. He didn’t even try to run through anything. He was totally casual and spent the whole evening naked and cops just laughed and shrugged it off. The West End was a different place in those days.

The last time I saw him was the mid to late 70s. He came into Wuxtry, a used record store I was working at. He was very happy. He’d been living off and on in Jamaica. He couldn’t believe there was a place where a person could live without having to be at all conscious they were black. He said it was like a great weight had been lifted.

Jeff seems to have completely fallen from the face of the earth. The last thing he told me was he’d received a call from a wrong number. He kept the caller on the phone long enough to strike up a conversation. They got together and fell in love. He said he was going to marry her and move to Jamaica. Jeff had no fear and incredible social skills. Everyone loved him. He’s probably the only person I’ve ever know that no one had any bad feelings about.

FaceBook has led me to a lot of people I thought were dead or at least out of my life completely. There have been enquiries about him on FB and I hope he responds.

Pic is from a magazine article about Laclede Town in the late 60s. This is the Coach and Four Pub. Both my parents tended bar there. I bet one of those kids is me!


Tony Patti said...

You know, I remember Jeff from the very earliest days of hanging out in the West End. I can see his face, and he's laughing softly about something good.

Tracy said...

I remember him too, his voice and laugh was like a very young Harry Belafonte, I remember thinking.