by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
i have a theory that all the lunatics and radical thinkers who just can’t deal with living in the ‘normal’ american mainstream culture tend to run away from the center of the country. they run away from urban centers and small towns and all the homogenous thinking. they run toward the coasts and keep running ’til they can run no further and still live in the untied states. in the midwest, i discovered a slur to describe these people who visit from the coastal areas of the country – “coasties”. it implies that we’re different, individualized, self-defined and a little arrogant. people in st. louis (where i lived for a few years) would often refer to me as a typical ‘coastie’. it wasn’t meant as a compliment. we were sort of dangerous nuts in their estimation.
the corners of these united states are like the corner pockets of a pool table – those backwater wildernesses where you keep running away to until you start to pile up in the pocket and get stuck there until overflowing. you start to fester and get a little ripe, ya know? places like southern california, new england, miami (especially key west) – and the northwest. you can’t get no further before america just stops. of course, if you really want to get out, there is always alaska and hawaii and places out there like that. but, that’s where the professionals run off to. never rank professionals with amateurs.
seattle was founded by outsiders, weirdoes, oddballs, crackpots, visionaries, zealots an the general fucked-up detritus of the proper acceptable america. it’s history is rife with… well, “personalities’ and notable ‘characters’. people like doc maynard, sam hill, austin bell, david denny, asa mercer, henry yesler, bertha landes, nellie cornish, john cage, woody guthrie, imogen cunningham, dave beck, the wobblies, thea foss, frances farmer, red kelley, ivar haglund, theodore roethke, bing crosby, edward r, murrow, gypsy rose lee, quincy jones, noodles smith, bumps blackwell, ray charles, mildred pierce, jelly roll morton, harry smith, betty macdonald, kenneth arnold, wayne aho, ramtha, loretta lynn, buck owens, warren magnusen, henry jackson, dixy lee ray, dasheill hammett, matt groening, gary larsen, lynda barry, j.p. patches, yogi yorgesson, basil wolverton, thomas pynchon, richard brautigan, mark tobey, morris graves, kenneth callahan, tom robbins, pat o’day, jimi herndrix, the sonics, the wailers, louie louie, paul revere & the raiders, larry coryell, boyd grafmyre, bruce lee, dick balch, the black panthers, the manson family, the love family, ted bundy, frank herbert, raymond carver, tomata duplenty, gorilla rose, duff mckagen, nikki sixx, robert cray, heart, the mentors, the lewd, jesse bernstien, courtney iove and even curt cobain. this is an impressive list of oddballs, visionaries, weirdoes and crackpots by anybody’s standards. and this is just a tiny list. i could go on for days. when it comes to ‘characters’ the northwest (and the biggest local city of seattle) has had more than it’s fair share of eccentrics and memorable ‘travelers’ pass through. it’s the fact of geography, i’ve decided.
back in the late sixties a huge man (6’6″) nicknamed “tiny” emerged in the northwest. he was a local notable ‘freak’ that hung out in the pioneer square district of downtown seattle (where the term ‘skid row’ was coined.) back in those days, pioneer square was the oldest single part of downtown seattle and sight of much of the early wilder history. always a slightly seedy and intoxicated part of town, it’s series of flop houses and wino bars and nightclubs and church missions has always been home to the rangier elements of the city. it was home of the local beats, the artists, the ‘sports’ and jazzy hepcats and ‘people of color’ and the asians. it was a melting pot of everything the regional culture stew had to offer – except the suburban mainstream power structure folks. they avoided it like he plague (unless they wanted to have a little illicit fun.) it was later the home of the seattle punks and in the late sixties, early seventies, it was one of the homes of the local hippies.
out of this mix came “tiny” freeman. bushy-haired, ex-wrestler (or boxer. i forget which). he worked the bars as a bouncer and patron as well. a jovial funny man he stood out in crowd like a spar pole in a clear cut. he’d just left the vietnam era army (he’d been ‘agent oranged”.) so, he spent his time just being a local street personality. everybody knew tiny and loved him to death. he was everybody’s pal. he was a music fanatic and had a radio program on the local listener supported FM institution called “KRAB”, where he specialized in bluegrass rarities. on his off time he could be found hanging out in “p-square” (as he liked to call it) showing folks like dizzy gillespie what was happening locally. yeah, he was THAT sort of guy – the stuff of legend.
in 1972, he ran for congress on the REPUBLICAN ticket (against brock adams, a local gop mainstay of his bellevue district). tiny said he did it ‘just to piss them off.” he even got a letter of encouragement and congrats from richard m. nixon! he lost, of course. but boy, he had a good time. his campaign poster showed a giant bushy haired tiny freeman buck naked, with a small american flag covering his ‘special’ areas – always sporting his trademark derby hat. he even got coverage on the cover of the wall st. journal! not bad for a guy having a laugh, eh?
also around this time, tiny introduced what was to become another seattle passion. when the yuppies invaded seattle and erased all this wonderful deviant culture that made seattle the great town it was, they also brought along with them an enormous amount of popular ‘good taste”. that meant an appreciation of creature comforts that cost a lot and could boost your social status. and, of course, this included WINE. prior to the yuppies swine invasion of seattle, the only place you good buy imported wine was in specialty shops, of which there were one or maybe two in the entire city. when i was working in a safeway store in 1972, the ‘wine’ section consisted of a small shelf over the frozen food section that carried ripple, mogen david kosher wine, liebfraumilch (with the cat on the label) and maybe a bottle of lancers or mateus wine (for the people of breeding.) when zapple and strawberry hill suddenly popped up, you knew the soda pop wine industry was finally starting up to feed all those hippie’s hookas.
tiny freeman began producing his own brand of wine – TINY’S VINO KEENO. this image i show you is from a national advertising weekly magazine depicting was was essentially his entire marketing campaign to promote his new fine wine – a poster. nice stuff, eh? that tiny, always good for a snide social comment and a good belly laugh. he actually sold a lot, t
the funny part is that (i believe) this was about the same time that chateau st, michel started up in the northwest and began what was the REAL wine boom in the regional variants up here. the interesting part is that i think that maybe tiny beat them to the punch. did tiny freeman start the northwest wine craze with his ‘vino keeno”? i dunno. but, man, it makes for a great story hunched over the bar at the central with a bottle rainier ale.
What current Seattle character would call the Central Tavern his campaign headquarters, pose for a poster with only a small flag covering his “pee pee,” and wind up on the cover of the Wall Street Journal?
He ran just to “piss off” Republicans, make a mockery of a system in which a spit-for-brains electorate votes not for individuals but for any old “R” or “D,” and to have some fun chasing ladies in the process while marketing a signature wine called “Tiny’s Vino Keeno.”
“I was told that I had a better chance of becoming a nun than a Congressman,” Freeman recalled.
Even then, it was hard to shoehorn his skills into a sound bite. Along with the tugboat, bouncer, train engineer thing, Freeman was a logger and cat-skinner who also hosted a Saturday bluegrass show on KRAB radio. In his spare time, he hung out in what he calls “P-Square” with Dizzy Gilespie when “Skid Row” still beckoned its welcome. That was before the sports palaces planted their footprints, which “boiled me oil,” Freeman says.
Hard to imagine what fellow Republican Richard M. Nixon thought or knew of Freeman when he sent him a letter wishing Freeman luck in his coming campaign.
Not everyone was as kind. One local journalist mischaracterized Freeman for fun and profit and was promptly told that, if he did it again, the object of his attentions would break both of his hands with a ballpeen hammer.
Still, Grinstead insists Freeman’s rambunctiousness is in no way neurotic. “He is all the things you’d want in a friend,” he said. “He is very ethical, returns favors, and does favors without being asked. And I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t think he’s wonderful after first thinking he was gross.”
It’s because of his intrinsic worth that friends hope that, upon this return, Freeman will find an affordable place to live — a place without what he calls a “moat,” meaning stairs to hamper his wheelchair.
Although post-political, Freeman still does have one burning issue and that’s the spotty, skimpy care vets get at some VA Hospitals. In Montana, he says, access to care is a crying shame. But here, Freeman says, a patient can get a fair shot.