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  • I lit out from Reno, I was trailed by 20 Hounds
    Didn’t get to sleep that night until the morning came around.
    Set out running but I take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine
    If I get home before daylight I just might get some sleep tonight.

    Ran into the Devil, babe, he loaned me twenty bills
    I spent the night in Utah in a cave up in the hills.
    Set out running but I take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine
    If I get home before daylight I just might get some sleep tonight.

    Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night
    First one’s named sweet Ann Marie and she’s my heart’s delight
    Second one is prison, babe, and the sheriff’s on my trail
    And if he catches up with me I’ll spend my life in jail.

    Got a wife in Chino, babe, and one in Cherokee
    The first one says she’s got my child but it don’t look like me
    Set out runnin’ but I take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine
    If I get home before daylight I just might get some sleep tonight…
    (Friend of the Devil – by Robert Hunter, for the Grateful Dead, from “American Beauty” album)

    This song always reminds me of Ramon. He was different from anyone I’ve ever known. Ramon kind of introduced me to a whole different world. I met him on my second ship – he had the rack right under mine. I showed up on the ship all renewed and ready for a fresh start, after my enlightening Nova Scotia journey with my buddy Dave. Dave immediately met and fell in love with Tracy upon arriving in Virginia from that journey, and they got married the following year. He always attributed our Nova Scotia trip for preparing him to meet Tracy. I got back and made friends with Ramon.

    With a new attitude, and feeling all full of the light that I’d found in Nova Scotia, I showed up on my new ship full of positive energy and optimism. I think Ray found me kind of amusing. Shortly after reporting onboard, we headed down to Guantanamo Bay, “Gitmo”, to play War Games for a month. I played a lot of softball on the base there, discovering the ship had a pretty damn good team, and I was really on top of my game, playing some of my best ball ever. I had quit doing everything but beer-drinking, and was determined to keep myself on the relatively straight and narrow. I was hoping to woo Martha back, an old flame I had run into on the way down to my ship, in Connecticut. She was a real straight arrow, and I wanted to straighten my act up, and hoped to win her love back, somehow. After playing ball all day on a day off on the base, we’d repair to the enlisted men’s club in the evening to drink beer and watch movies outside under the stars. It was really nice. I really bonded with a lot of the guys on my new ship on that cruise, especially the ballplayers, and we had a great camaraderie going the entire Cuba trip.

    Then, upon returning to Norfolk, everyone kind of went their own separate ways, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I went over to Newport News to look Dave up over there – his ship was still being built in the dry docks of the shipyard there, so he had an apartment there. He’d already met Tracy, and they were clearly in love, and that got pretty boring pretty fast. I ran into Ray and a bunch of guys over there, and he offered to give me a ride back to the boat. He offered up a joint, and against my better judgment, I took a hit. Thus would begin a great dope-smoking friendship. I was reluctant at first, as I was really trying to leave that whole lifestyle behind and clean up my act. You could say that I was searching for a heart of gold, as Neil Young sang. But, damnit, Ray always possessed the best damn weed, and was most generous with it - resistance proved to be futile. He never pressured me – he would always just laugh, and say, “Sure, man, no problem. Just more for me to enjoy!” I would always eventually come around.

    Ray turned me onto Carlos Castaneda. He knew all about the stories, and he explained the whole thing to me. I found it fascinating. I didn’t understand it all, but was very intrigued by it. As our relationship developed, I kind of played the Castaneda role to his Don Juan. Ray was unflappable, and deeply self-assured, and really seemed to be tuned in to a whole other dimension. He didn’t talk about it much, other than talking about the Castaneda books, but I picked up that he was really into all of that stuff. I thought it was kind of a dark world, but it fascinated me. Ray also got high a lot, and when I hung with him, so did I. In fact, once I got going, I would just keep getting more and more wasted. He’d get to a point and just mellow out. I kept going.

    Coming back from cruises on the ship, we would take off in his International Step Van, with the steering wheel on the right-hand side instead of the left, with a case of beer and a bag of weed, Dylan playing continually on the 8-track tape deck, and just spend the weekend driving all over the state of Virginia. We’d drive out to Smith Mountain Lake by Roanoke and do some fishing, up to the Shenandoah Valley and over to Richmond, checking out Civil War Battlefields, just cruising the country roads telling tales. We always told tales. Ramon could spin a tale with the best of them. His always seemed to have some strange, offbeat message to them, a lesson of some sort, and he would quiz me about them, to see if I got it. I usually didn’t, and he would just laugh, and say, “No problem, man, you’ll get it one day, paco.” He had the most infectious laugh.

    We eventually went into an apartment on the bay in Norfolk with another sailor, a place to crash and to take any ladies we happened to get lucky with. Ray made the best Pinto Bean dish I ever tasted. It was incredibly hot, but unbelievably tasty. He’d say, “Hey, Pete – wanna do a burnout tonight?” That meant he planned to whip up his signature Pinto Beans. You had to drink a lot of beer with them. I never said no to a burnout.

    I did wind up using drugs quite heavily while I hung out with Ray. I developed quite a habit, and quite a tolerance. Ray always had the good stuff, and I was always well supplied. On one Caribbean Cruise, a lot of our shipmates thought for sure I would either O.D. or die of alcohol poisoning. I consumed huge amounts of both, the entire time we were in the Virgin Islands. It never seemed to affect my ability to go my job in the engine room, and I rose to a position of leadership there. I worked hard and played hard.

    When I went home on a week’s leave before a 7-month Mediterranean Cruise, I went through some unexpected withdrawal symptoms, as I didn’t have nearly as good drugs with me as I always had with Ray around. I was relieved to get back to the ship, where I knew Ray would take care of me, of my habit. I had really become dependent on him for the good stuff. I’d become a full-blown addict in a little over a year’s time, despite my desire to straighten my act up. It was 3 days after the nation’s bicentennial celebration that we were pulling out of the port of Norfolk to head to the Mediterranean. Ray had gotten busted in his van about a month before, when he had fallen asleep by the side of the road, just outside the base, with a bag of weed just sitting there for the world to see. It had been questionable whether he’d make the cruise with us, or not. I was so relieved as we pulled away from the pier. I couldn’t imagine what I would do for 7 months in the Mediterranean, without Ray to score the good drugs over there. I had no idea how to find it, let alone negotiate and score the stuff. By then, I didn’t have many other friends on the ship.

    Just as I was feeling relieved, I heard them call for Ray over the P.A. system, to report to the Quarterdeck with all his gear, immediately. They’d sent a boat out to pick him up. Just like that, he was gone, and I was on my own for an interminable 7 months in the Mediterranean. My heart fell through my stomach, knowing that I was completely screwed.

    I never saw Ramon again after that. My friend of the Devil.
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