PUNKY WOOD –Part 5– –The Trickster–

As I drove I-95 south through the New Hampshire night I had to shake my head, recalling what an amazing year 1969 was. In April, 1969 I’d been on the same highway, but over a thousand miles further south, hitchhiking to see my Grandparents in Florida. I came to a place where I-95 was not finished in southern swamps festooned with Spanish moss, and had to cut across country to where I rejoined another completed section of I-95 further south, traveling narrower and more curvy roads through a landscape of sharecropper’s hovels where plows were still pulled by mules. I was picked up by a battered, old, green Ford pickup holding a grizzled black farmer and his grandson. It was, (according to my diary), “ride eighteen” of the twenty-six it took to reach my grandparents, but in my memory it stood out as the best.

All the way south northern drivers had warned me about southerners and blacks and especially cops in Georgia, yet this was my second ride with black southerners. The first was three brothers who warned me to watch out for northerners and whites and especially cops in Georgia. (When I eventually was picked up by a cop in Georgia he kindly warned me to watch out for southerners, northerners, blacks and whites.) But the black farmer didn’t warn me about anything, and instead asked questions and told brief tales and laughed a lot. He’d been in the Army, years earlier, and knew not all white people were bad, and seemed to be trying to demonstrate this truth to his grandson, (who silently regarded me with round eyes, as if I was from Mars). But what I remember most is how quickly our nervousness melted to understanding and even friendship, though it was the brief friendship of a hitchhiker.

All twenty-six rides were like that, examples of people’s goodness and kindness, for even people’s distrustful warnings about others were a demonstration of their caring and concern for me. The world seemed full of beautiful people. In my memory the United States was bathed in some sort of beautiful, purifying light.

Some later equated 1969 and its so-called “Summer of Love” with sex and drugs, but the twenty-six rides involved no drugs and no sex. Therefore, in my mind’s eye, I separated 1969 from hippy drug-dogma. When I hitchhiked in 1970 the rot had already set in and the experience seemed different, and strangely tainted by filth. Therefore I cannot claim the evidence that drugs are harmful was not there.

If I’d been wiser I would have quit drugs sooner, but I was a fool. I found drugs very attractive, but even at the start my stomach felt a queasiness, an intuition which should have alerted me. I suppose I needed to suffer to learn, but by the end of 1972 I had become a rabid reactionary, and felt that for every good there is a push-back of evil, and that the purity of 1969 had been betrayed by tricked people, (among whom I included myself), and that drugs were the Trickster.

Drugs were a devious Trickster, for it was impossible to call “getting high” anything other than “high”. I had a terrible time attempting to convince friends that what they could see was obviously “high” was actually a sort of optical illusion. I couldn’t find the words, (even though, where my friends might be excused because they suffered amnesia regarding the “high” they had experienced, I had notebooks full of reminders that prevented me from forgetting, which I could refer to). It was a source of great frustration to me that my reformer’s-zeal sounded so prissy and preachy, and that I was the object of scorn.

One problem was that people desired objective science. They still do, but even after fifty years of research and amazing technological advancements the human brain remains a shimmering, flickering map of a billion pathways, like a busy city seen from above at night. Certain general areas can now be identified pertaining to certain emotions and certain activities, and it can be seen whether it is “rush hour” or not, but the structure of individual thoughts and of crucial insights remain hidden in the complexity. Understanding remains what it was fifty years ago, more subjective than objective. The best way to understand a mind is to use it.

Therefore, to explain the difference between a drug-high and a natural-high, I resorted to poetic symbols and analogies, which are not scientific and can be dangerous. I would say “A drug-high is like X while a natural-high is like Y”, and my observations could be scoffed down in flames with the two words, “Prove it.”

For what it’s worth, after decades I came up with the symbol of an arch with a keystone. Before the keystone can be put in place the two sides of the arch must be raised, and it takes considerable energy, in the form of disciplined concentration, to keep the two sides from falling, but once the keystone is in place all that energy is freed, for the two sides support each other. The sensation of having freed-up energy is pleasurable, a “high”. When a person does something as simple as a crossword puzzle they are presented with a problem and are enjoying the “high” of finding answers.

Often, once an arch is completed, one doesn’t need to think of it any more. Learning to walk or drive a car involves considerable concentration, but later we walk or drive largely on a sort of autopilot, without thinking about what we do. In fact at any given moment our awareness is a laser focus on one spot, even as an enormous amount goes on in autopilot in our subconscious. Millions of individual arches involving millions of keystones are involved, and major arches are built of countless smaller arches.

Besides times of building there are times things need to be taken down. A useful analogy is a desk that gets so messy it becomes impossible to work, so work must cease and a new work, cleaning-the-desk, must be done. While this can be experienced as a pleasurable event like doing a crossword puzzle, it is often experienced as a depression of sorts. We’d rather eat than wash the dishes. We are creatures of habit, and prefer doing what we enjoy, and some of the greatest crises of our lives involve stopping what we enjoy, and doing what we don’t.

Using my analogy of an arch, this involves removing the keystone of an old arch. Immediately the energy of the two sides is released. One had better be prepared, for otherwise the arch collapses into a heap of rubble and much energy does little more than raise a cloud of mental dust, (which may be a good thing, if the old arch was a bad habit causing serious problems). If one is prepared, one has some sort of new-and-improved arch they are trying out (perhaps very tentatively). In other cases one may backslide, reverting from a better behavior that feels new and uncomfortable to old, tried-and-true behavior that has negative consequences.

Like all analogies, the “archway-keystone” analogy has shortcomings, but one thing I liked about it was that it explained why a drug-high was negative. Drugs removed keystones in a higgledy-pigglety manner, freeing up energy without regard to what arches were involved. I noticed that drugged people were initially very “liberated”, in that they were able to abandon old ideas and accept new ideas, but at times this merely meant they were suggestible, and willing to accept new ideas that seemed downright dumb. The discipline of careful thought was abandoned, and, in the long term, rather than carefully crafted new thoughts they tended to backslide to the old. Consequently they were able to say “drugs haven’t changed me”, when change in fact is a crucial component to growth, and failure-to-change is the fabric of frustration, and even madness.

To be honest, left to my own devices, I would have destroyed my physical brain with drugs in the manner some of my closest friends did, for I would have tried harder and harder to get high and stay high until the damages became too great. I can’t take credit for the fact I could compare being on-drugs with being off-drugs, while reviewing old notebooks, because I wouldn’t have ever quit. The grace of God did the quitting for me.

The first period off-drugs was due to my stepfather, (who could see what drugs were doing to students at Harvard). He tricked me into going to school in Scotland. I thought the school would be “far out” and “groovy” because it was in a castle, but when I got there I discovered it was like joining the marines. In my view there was far too much exercise and far too much study. There were no drugs available and no way to run away, as I couldn’t figure out how to hitchhike across an ocean. Then, when I finally returned to the States, I could see my friends had been strangely damaged, but instead of blaming drugs I blamed President Nixon.

The second period off-drugs was due, strangely, to my incorrect conclusion that what was damaging friends was economic pressures, which could be solved by making heaps of money buying drugs very cheaply and selling them sort-of-cheaply, which involved me in an escapade aboard a “borrowed” yacht, and two months at sea with no drugs.

Even despite the evidence I received by being able to compare periods on-drugs with periods off-drugs, (which was a blessing and likely saved my life, if not all of my brains), I refused to blame drugs, and therefore went to hell a third time, perhaps experiencing what scripture describes as being “given to your sin”. My notebooks show me learning things the hard way:

Even as I insisted upon being stupid I recall my conscience nagging me, and also I kept being quietly harangued by incidents in reality, such as someone walking up to me in Harvard Square and handing me a pamphlet that had been kicking around since 1966:

At that time Meher Baba’s face had a habit of popping up unexpectedly, for example briefly in the movie, “Woodstock“, or midst pictures on the cover of an album by Peter Townsend. Meher Baba was definitely opposed to drugs:

“Tell those who indulge in these drugs (LSD, marijuana, and other types) that it is harmful physically, mentally and spiritually, and that they should stop the taking of these drugs. Your duty is to tell them, regardless of whether they accept what you say, or if they ridicule or humiliate you, to boldly and bravely face these things.”

As I started to toy with the idea of going to India I discovered I would not be welcomed by Meher Baba’s disciples unless I had been off drugs for six months. At first this meant I simply wouldn’t visit them, though it had become increasingly obvious to me drugs were failing to get me as “high” as they once had done. The problem was that I had become completely dependent, and without marijuana I couldn’t get “high” at all. Therefore, (though I knew I could quit as I’d quit twice before), quitting drugs meant I’d face a gray time (I had no idea how long) when I’d have to go without the very poetry which the Trickster had used to attract me to drugs in the first place. The fact I eventually went through a gray period without poetry may not seem like much, (especially among those who deem my poems a good reason to rush screaming from the room), but in retrospect it was one of the braver things I’ve ever done.

I went through this chaos between age sixteen and age nineteen, and it was during this time Audley went through a similar upheaval, and also was the time we became friends.

I eventually decided the Trickster was especially effective right after 1969, because there was a sort of afterglow due to the “natural” event, an event which was some sort of worldwide “revival” or “jubilee” or perhaps what they call a “darshan” in India, and people on drugs noticed this effulgence and gave drugs credit when drugs deserved none. In 1970 I simply and naively decided a “revolution” had occurred and the world was changed forever, and I went wild.

The second half of my senior year of high school turned into one, long, accelerating party, and I barely graduated. The parties extended into the summer, as if everyone knew their time living pampered in a wealthy suburb was drawing to a close, (not one of us could afford to even rent a house in such a town), and everyone wanted to have one final, crazy binge. There seemed to be an underground network that determined whose parents were away, and that house would be where the party was; in a wealthy suburb hard-working parents deserved breaks and could afford many vacations, and therefore many homes became available; sometimes I attended three or four parties a night, unsure what town I was in by dawn. When I looked in a morning mirror, the face I saw I looked nothing like the youth I was in February, when I placed sixth in my weight-class in the state wrestling meet. My face was becoming a papery hue of ashy gray and I’d lost fifteen pounds, though I was thin to begin with.

While I cringe slightly, looking back and seeing debauchery and decay, it is important to remember the Trickster was aided and abetted by older people, (some merely fools but some truly evil), who stated we were “expanding” our consciousness. I truly felt I was a pioneer on the frontier, and that, if I was clumsy, it was because I was inexperienced, and that further experience would result in further learning. Jimi Hendrix’s album, “Are You Experienced” (1967), made me feel a sort of smug pity for those who were not “experienced” (although the hit “Purple Haze” was not about drugs; it was about a dream, and was written before Hendrix tried LSD). The problem was that drugs involved amnesia. It is hard to learn from experience when you can’t remember what the experience was.

The sense I had at that time was that the inner world was especially loaded with inspiration. I could hear it when guitarists freed themselves from the constraints of sheet music and simply improvised. Therefore, on one hand, I wanted to be free from constraints, while on the other I wanted to record the improvisations, which imposed a new constraint. I had fascinating talks with people who wondered if attempting to record, write-down, and in a sense make-a-map of the new landscape was detrimental to exploration of that landscape. Some suggested my note-taking meant I was “up tight” and failing to “go with the flow”, however it was in my nature to keep notes. I asserted the notes themselves were a sort of musical instrument like a guitar, full of poetry and art that spilled onto the page spontaneously. During parties I’d place a large sheet of paper on a table with colored markers, so people could improvise what came into their drug-addled brains, so we could remember later, even after the amnesia set in.

I especially liked getting to know others better. It seemed like I’d spent years on my best behavior, walking around prim and proper and constrained, while secretly and deeply desiring to get the hell out of town to some place where I could be myself; now suddenly people were more open and honest. Even some “people-over-thirty”, (a term-of-scorn originally aimed at old, gray communists at the Kremlin (1964), but later a catch-phrase covering all “square” adults, used by radicals such as Abbie Hoffman)(1968), turned out to be people-over-thirty who were interesting. When parents came home unexpectedly early and discovered their children having a party some surprised me. Where I expected such parents to blow a gasket some sat down and talked, telling interesting stories about how they came to be wealthy. A few even smoked marijuana, which struck me as shattering all rules and preconceptions.

Despite all the joy of all the parties I sometimes felt deep exasperation, because people didn’t all improvise beautiful music or pontificate profundity. Some seemed purely focused on the physical sensation of a “buzz” or “rush”, or on the gluttony of the “munchies”, or on how hard it was to order fast-food when they were so stoned that they couldn’t read the illuminated menu above the counter, (they got lost in the menu’s dazzle), and my exasperation leaks into my notes:

...My friends: They all are saying
Things they've said before.
Deep inside I'm praying
They'll say a little more...

"...shit, man,
We were so stoned,
I mean really wreaked,
And everything was so funny.
We walked into this place
With all these librarian
Type people...
You know.
And they were all
STARING AT US
And we were really stoned,
Fantastically wrecked
And we started laughing
Really hard
And had to leave!"

More more more more!
The stuff they see is such a bore.
Unless they stop to investigate
They'll feel so small
And break and fall
And it will be too late...

For those who doubt the veracity of my claim (that I kept scientific notes which included noting my increasing frustration), I’ll include a picture of the page that held the above fragment. (Proof that the notes were highly scientific is that they were inked onto graph paper.)

Freudians informed me my frustration was due a thwarted sex-drive but, in terms of sex, while I felt sheepish about my lack of experience, I simply lacked the craving others had. I recall walking into a party where everyone was naked and painting each others aroused bodies with day-glow paint under black-lights, and, after watching for a while, I decided the conversation had no intellectual merit and was downright boring, and left to find a better party. I felt no tugging lust or hankering, and while some shamed me, and I myself felt embarrassed for being “sexually repressed”, I was merely innocent. Now that fifty years have passed I think that rather than “repressed” I may have possessed a degree of something called “purity”, and should have been praised for incipient spirituality, rather than shamed.

Not that I was a saint; I did have a girl-friend, and we did experimentally “fool around”, but the petting was secondary to our other problems and disagreements, one of which was that she didn’t approve of drugs and most parties, a second of which was that I often would rather write poetry than talk with her, and a third of which was that I had around seven other girlfriends.

I think these “other women” simply recognized my innocence made me sexually nonthreatening, and a good confidant. They were all a year or two younger, and a few years later might have represented a considerable temptation, but at the time I can honestly say they were more of a bother, like little sisters with problems that seemed to be all fuss and drama. I endured hearing their woes about boyfriends, and also hearing their boyfriend’s woes about them, but I’d rather be out with a couple pals my age, driving about pretending to be full of braggadocio like The Three Musketeers, when in fact we were quite shy. My pals were a year older than I, and sometimes we’d become competitive in terms of physical prowess, or in terms of our prowess in sweet-talking girls from the windows of cars, or in terms of our artistic prowess. I’d often feel inferior to them, which was odd because I had a girlfriend and they didn’t, and I had seven girls seeking my advice, while those same seven girls were a bit wary of my pals.

This all stewed together into what I suppose was our “community”, or perhaps “gang.” It was a precarious association, because we had no place of our own, and there was a vague awareness that the wealthy suburbs wanted us ejected, because we were in fact too poor to live there, without our parents. Perhaps no other community on earth rejects youth to the degree those wealthy suburbs did, (although scripture speaks of a Canaanite god “Moloch” which demanded child-sacrifice). To me going to Vietnam seemed a sort of child-sacrifice, and even going to college involved the shattering of our community, which had existed since kindergarten. All in all we felt unwanted and unwelcome, which in an odd way pushed us closer together and made our community stronger.

Besides finding houses where parents weren’t home, we found a place out in the woods. There was several hundred acres of overgrown farmland where the towns of Lincoln, Wayland and Weston came together, and, though developers had plans to turn the area into a country club and vast golf course, for the time being we called it our own. We even entertained plans to somehow get rich quick, and buy the land. Perhaps it awoke some ancestral memory of times when the young simply moved further into the woods to start a farm of their own, but we moved out into the forest and had parties out where no one was bothered by us. The parties were wonderful barbecues, with people playing guitars and flutes in firelight, involving long conversations, some deep and some whimsical and full of laughter, until birds serenaded the green light of dawn.

Unfortunately word spread about how nice our parties were, and each party was larger and more successful, until several hundred people showed up. This caused parking problems along suburban streets, and caused suburbanites to be dismayed by long-haired, garishly-dressed strangers entering and departed the woods via their backyard trees. Back in those times a party was deemed successful if the police showed up, but our biggest party had the officers from three towns wandering the midnight woods, meeting lost youths who also wondered where the heck the party was. To me this suggested our “community” had a problem, accented by the fact that after the biggest party the parents of seven young girls strictly forbid their daughters from ever attending such parties again.

I wanted to get away and think about the problems that were surfacing, but got no relief. This was in part due to my being a sort of missionary of the counter-culture, which was in part brought about by the fact my business of importing fireworks from the inner city to the suburbs evolved, in a perfectly natural way, to importing drugs from the inner city. (Suburban marijuana at that time was heavily laced with alfalfa, and a cigarette would barely get one high, whereas marijuana from the black, urban neighborhood of Roxbury was “the real deal” and earned the suburban nickname “Mooner.”) While I saw little difference between fireworks and drugs (they both let you see pretty colors) the law begged to differ, and the risk I blithely faced was considerable jail time, which led me to scrutinizing people and wondering if they were “narcs”. At the same time it became widely known, “Mooner is the best stuff”, and friends were constantly introducing me to strangers, young and old, some of whom had never smoked marijuana before in their lives.

I had a strangely developed sense of responsibility about the mental health of novices, for a criminal. Some novices were as young as thirteen, and I worried they couldn’t handle the “expansion” of their brains. At worst I suppose I was selfishly afraid they’d “spill the beans” and land me in jail, but I’d insist that if they smoked that they first smoke with me, so I could oversee and guide.

I suppose it was because I was a “guide” that it came to pass that when someone was suffering a “bummer” or “bad trip” people brought these suffering souls not to a hospital or parent or priest, but to a seventeen-year-old me. I was cock-sure I could handle such cases, and this arrogant attitude was furthered by the fact I was strangely good at waking people from their bad dreams. I’m not sure how or why, but I just was unafraid of their schizophrenic states, and jollied or bullied or distracted them from the mental ruts they were in. In one case it was as simple as taking the bummed-out person outside to watch some fireworks; the dazzle in their eyes made them utterly forget whatever their nightmare was.

Another time a girl was slouched on her haunches in an incredibly ugly way, with her head between her knees, softly wailing, “I’m ugly.” She was repeating, “Ugly…ugly…ugly” when I intruded, “You’re not.” I was so firm about it she sat up straighter and looked less ugly. “I’m not?” “No, your not.” She smiled, and didn’t look ugly at all, and just like that her “bad trip” was over.

One time, before school let out, some younger students had come rushing up to me exclaiming “Agatha is bumming out! Agatha’s having a bad trip! If the teachers find out they’ll call the police!” I had no clue who Agatha was, but went where I was led, and saw a girl in a chair, her back against a wall and her arm folded, pouting with her jaw thrust out, wearing an olive-green army jacket and looking very militant, as she glared out from under hair that hung over her face. I dragged a chair over and sat next to her and folded my own arms, looking sidelong at her. Her friends all watched anxiously from the distance. After a while the girl looked sidelong at me, and I smiled and inquired, “Something wrong?”

“Yes, They’re annoying me.”

“Oh? How?”

“They keep saying I’m bumming out!”

“You’re not?”

“I’m not bumming out!”

I laughed, And Agatha looked at me sharply, and snapped, “Why are you laughing?”

I said, “I’m laughing because, if you’re not bumming out, it means they are the ones who are bumming out. Just look at them. I think they are.”

She looked over at her friends, who were all gnawing their nails and looking very worried, and then looked back at me, and then a wonderful smile slowly spread across her face, as beautiful as dawn. Then her friends, of course, could see we were both smiling, and all were immensely relieved, and they all started smiling as well. I stood up aware my reputation as a bummer-buster was sustained. Once again I was a super-hero who had saved the day, through doing next to nothing.

By summer I was finding the business of doing next to nothing increasingly tiresome. Particularly wearisome was the fact my stepfather’s old house had two wings, a parent’s wing and a children’s wing, and my friends felt walking into “my” side of the house without being invited in, or even ringing the doorbell, was part of the new world, a world without property or borders. I often had dinner with my parents, and would walk down to my bedroom expecting to retreat and write, and instead would discover between three and seven members of my “community” in my bedroom, eager to see me. I never told them to buzz off, but at times I wanted to. I suspected they were using me, because I always had Mooner and was generous, (and in fact my records show I never made money as a “pusher”, because marking-up prices was “exploitation”, and not something one did to one’s friends.) I also suspected they were using me in another way, liking the way I did “next to nothing”, but never doing “next to nothing” in return.

What was the “next to nothing” I did? I couldn’t find the words, and even poetry was failing me, and poetry was “next to nothing” personified. I felt in touch with something hugely important, but unable to grasp it. And perhaps this is the most wicked evil of the Trickster. He allows one to glimpse a shore from a ship moving the wrong way: The energy that allows one to see is gained by knocking out keystones that enable one to grasp. I was unable to grasp what was happening to me, but knew I wanted to grasp.

One event struck me as a sort of final straw, or perhaps as a pebble that precipitated an avalanche. It involved a time I was being one of The Three Musketeers with my two buddies. Lord knows what pill we were high on, but we were on a hill overlooking a small lake, looking down on people by the shore who seemed very tiny as we felt absolutely giant. And while in this exalted state my two buddies became involved in a competition about who was more huge, in intellectual terms. One would say, “Aristotle said…” and the other would counter, “Yes, but Plato said…”

I stood back and felt small, for I knew little about poetry and nothing about philosophy; I knew who Shakespeare and Robert Frost were, but poets like Keats and Shelly drew a blank. Philosophy seemed boring and useless to me, so I had no interest in Camus or Nietzsche, yet my buddies seemed like authorities because they could name and quote people I knew nothing about. I felt younger and less educated and quite inferior, in this boyish competition, yet I had something they lacked. I had “next to nothing”.

There was no getting around a simple fact: No one really liked the poetry they wrote, while mine had won an award. It was handed out during our graduation ceremony. It came with no money and involved more trouble than it was worth, for though my best buddies tried to shake my hand and congratulate me I sensed they resented my five-minutes-of-fame. In the strange, competitive world of adolescent youth I was guilty of a crime, for I had won with “next to nothing”.

I couldn’t fathom what I sensed; I could see but could not grasp. In a troubled mood I just wanted to get away and think, and followed a whim, loading up my backpack and leaving town.

My hitchhiking wandered west across upper New York State and up into Canada, with my aim not a particular place but to “get away.” However I had the definite sense 1970 was not like 1969. Perhaps, because my hair was longer and my skin was less rosy, a different sort pulled over when I stuck out my thumb, but I had the sense some sort of push-back was occurring, opposed to the sheer beauty of 1969. The world did not seem full of beautiful people. The beautiful light was still shining down on the land, but clouds were gathering.

I can’t truly tell of the details of that trip, because the notebook dedicated to that trip was lost, but perhaps my recollection of how I came to lose that notebook will give the flavor of the journey.

Back in those days crossing the border was usually quite easy. The official would ask you if you had anything illegal, you would reply you didn’t, and that was that. However the young driver of the car stuffed with young men I was hitching a ride in, heading back into the United States, became sweaty. He was nervous because he had three cases of illegal beer in his trunk. When the bored border-agent asked if the driver had anything illegal to declare the driver, for some guilty reason, replied in a strangely strangled tone, “No, but he…” and he jabbed a thumb back at me, “…is a hitchhiker”. The border agent seemed to wake midst a yawn, looked at me with interest, and inquired, “Do you mind if I look in your pack?”

What could I say? I very much minded, for I had drugs in my pack. However I hoped he wouldn’t find them, as they were secreted in the aluminum tubes of the pack’s frame. So I said, “I wouldn’t mind at all,” and swung out of the car and handed my pack to the man. And then, before I could reach back into the car for the overnight bag that held, among other things, my notebook, there was a squealing of tires and the vehicle whipped away. The young driver who had demonstrated compassion when he picked me up had run out of compassion, and had left me in the lurch.

As I turned back to the border agent my mind was working very fast. I didn’t want him to search my pack, and my mind intuitively seized upon a way to stop the search. I looked the man in the eye, as he looked after the swiftly vanishing car with a perplexed look, and protested, “They drove off with my other suitcase!”

The man looked at me with a sort of vague horror, as if I was presenting him with a problem he didn’t want to deal with, and his immediate response was to shove my backpack into my arms, swivel, walk into a little office beside the road, and slam the door.

As I walked south from the border, chuckling and feeling a bit smug about the fact the pack I shrugged up onto my shoulders hadn’t been searched, I couldn’t fail to notice that two men, the driver of the car and the border agent, had both turned their backs on me in roughly thirty seconds. Two men had seen me as a problem to avoid.

Not that I blamed them. As I turned to walk backwards, dangling my thumb out at a long string of cars, every car that passed without slowing represented a person who saw me as a problem to avoid. Most couldn’t be bothered, and the cars that slowed were the kindly exception to the rule. But there seemed to be more kindness in 1969 than 1970.

What was so very different? There was something about 1969 which didn’t involve anyone turning their backs on anyone, and instead involved seeing “everyone is beautiful in their own way.” 1969 was like the keystone of an arch that brought both sides together and freed up energy. Was it something so simple as “Love”?

By the time I got out of a car by the toll booth on the Massachusetts Turnpike, back in my home town, I was aware my trip had been a success, in that it was full of adventure, but an utter failure in terms of “getting away”. In 1969 I had escaped my boring town into a wonderful world of especially kind people (because that is who picks up hitchhikers), but in 1970 I seemed to be seeing the same problem my hometown had, in different people, no matter where I went.

In fact one 1970 ride set the record for the fastest I ever traveled while hitchhiking. A big, burly man had “pegged out” his wide, swaying Cadillac (over 120 mph; 193 km/hr) on I-81 between Watertown and Syracuse, New York. He was jovial, and kept telling me, “Relax, kid. What’re you so tense for? Here, have some more whisky.” The whisky didn’t help. I was tense because I didn’t like the way the big car floated and drifted and was never quite in the center of the lane, and I was also tense because, while 1969 witnessed the freedom of falling shackles and chains, 1970 seemed to be a constant reminder that how you used that freedom might kill you.

The toll booth was about as far as I could get in town from my home, and it was around three AM. I shouldered my pack and faced a six mile walk beneath streetlights, from pool of light to pool of light, up and down hills. Now, fifty years later, such a hike, without dinner and without sleep, would probably kill me, but at the time I disparagingly muttered to myself over what bad shape I was in.

Such disparagement was uncommon in my poetry, but all through my diary entries, which is likely why they required separate notebooks. The poetry spoke of hope and high places, while the diary spoke of how I needed to shape up and stop being such a damn fool. As dawn broke, and I trudged up the front steps of my home, I was in the mood to reform. I felt burned out (partly because the final ride had been from soldiers on leave racing to get back on base before they were AWOL, and they were handing out No-dose (pure caffeine) like they were mints, but the pills were wearing off). I needed food and water and most of all sleep, things my mother was good at providing.

My mother was up early, and, much to my astonishment, when I walked through the door I faced her ire. Before I could say a word I learned that, while I was away, she had heard a noise after she’d gone to bed, and when she walked up to my end of the house she discovered a party going on, and that the air, as she put it, “reeked of marijuana”. When she asked my friends what on earth they thought they were doing, they blamed me, insisting I had invited them. Then she folded her arms and tapped her toe, as if demanding I explain.

I was too tired to explain, and anyway, the only explanation I could think of wouldn’t have sounded good: “When I said I was leaving town they must have thought I said you were leaving town”. I just winced annoyance and shook my head in disbelief and spread my palms. Then I swung my pack from my shoulders and turned to head off to bed.

She added, “Please keep the noise down. A friend of your brother’s is sleeping in your sister’s old bedroom.”

“Oh really? Who?”

“Audley Bine.”

I winced again. The lady made no sense. She got all bent out of shape when my nice friends were in her house, yet felt it was perfectly fine to put one of my brother’s creepy friends into the bedroom next to mine.

In any case, that is how Audley Bine became my next door neighbor.

REBIRTH –Easter and #WalkAway–

One of the best Easters I ever enjoyed had nothing to do with the real Sacrifice the holiday is all about. It was 1969, and I was sixteen, and had an intuitive interest in the Almighty, but no interest whatsoever in church. Church, in my eyes, was a ridiculous waste of time. School was a stifling of my spirit for five days a week, and to accept any further stifling during the scarce two days I had free each week (Saturday and Sunday) seemed a stupid suggestion. Fortunately I was a Unitarian, and one good thing about being a Unitarian was that we didn’t have to go to church unless we felt like it, which, as I recall, amounted to a total of ten times, by the time I was sixteen. (I wish my parents were alive, so I could ask them what prompted them to go to church those ten times. It was an odd thing to do, and I recall being somewhat awed by the weirdness of it all).

In any case, I not only had no idea of who Jesus was, or what Easter celebrated, but also I had no idea of the deep thought behind Unitarianism, (which tends to be skeptical and scientific and to doubt miracles are real ). Unitarians failed to educate their youth, in my case, I suppose. The result was I enjoyed a permissiveness and lack of discipline that left me free as a bird.

But, because my brain is bigger than a bird’s, I did a lot of wondering. In school this was a problem and was seen as a failure to pay attention to the blackboard. I daydreamed a lot, knew such thinking was illegal, and became an artful dodger, when it came to avoiding drawing attention to myself. Self-promotion was not a thing I desired, and if I had any talent in that regard it atrophied like an unused muscle, because my main aim in school was to escape punishment by going unnoticed.

My thoughts existed in a sort of Underground. There were a few mean and repressive  people in my childhood who I suppose I could blame for stunting my growth, but still it seems odd to me that I was so reclusive. For the most part my life was good, but still I withdrew as if Nazis might come down on me, if I thought out loud. Due to this fearful reaction, (and fear must have been involved, to keep a blabbermouth like myself so silent),  I became, at a young age, very aware of what a wasteland the mind can be, without the introduction of ideas outside of your own capacity to “think-up”.

Sometimes my daydreaming would leave me totally dissatisfied. Although I did delight in staying in bed late on Saturday and Sunday mornings, enjoying my slumbering thoughts, by noon the thoughts were becoming irksome. I had to get up. I had to get out. I had to find some other minds.

To some degree I could find the other minds in books. But even books grew irksome after a while, and then I was confronted by the fact I chronically avoided involvement in school. I had few friends. I was the youngest in my grade, in some cases by more than a year, which in some cases put me at a great disadvantage, but in one case was a great blessing.

The blessing occurred because I remained a boy as my classmates became adolescents. This was painfully obvious in the showers after “Gym” class, where I could see I had no pubic hair and nearly everyone else did. It was also obvious at school dances, where I was usually a foot shorter than the girls. This resulted in some situations that seemed tragic at the time, but seem funny to me now. If I digress into the details I will write a short novel, but you should be asking yourself, “How could such a situation be a blessing?”

It was a blessing because I could witness what idiots my peers were becoming as the hormones hit, when I was still free of such madness. It altered my mind, so that when the hormones finally did hit me, only a year later, I rocketed off in a direction all my own.

Only a few years later I was six feet tall, and the fellows who had bullied me backed off. I was still a dreamer, but a big one. I still liked to sleep late, but also was propelled by a strange desire to escape my home town, and escape the school where both teachers and peers didn’t think much of me. One form of escape was to hitchhike.

I should underscore how much safer hitchhiking was back then. Not that I didn’t meet a few perverts, but perverts were far politer back then. Once you explained you were not interested in their particular perversion, they’d be very understanding. I’d apologize for not being perverted and they’d apologize for asking if I was, and they’d drop me off at the place where I wanted. Except, in a few cases, we had to sit together for a while longer, before I got dropped off, and there were awkward silences. I never liked awkward silences, so I’d get an interesting conversation going about perversion, before I got dropped off.

In 1967 I began hitchhiking home from school, and the rides were short and the talks brief, mostly with suburban fathers on their way home from work. But some of the same fathers picked me up over and over. But I wanted adventure, and in 1968 I ventured farther afield, down to Cape Cod and out to Nantucket, and then from a friend’s summerhouse on Mohegan Island in Maine to a family gathering east of Toronto, spending a night in the YMCA in Montreal on the way. I was fifteen years old.

Let me repeat that. I was fifteen years old. That is how safe the world was, back then. I kept careful records of my adventures, and in my diary noted every ride, and what I observed in the kind people who picked me up. I was not a dirty hippy at that time, but a smooth-faced youth with short hair and idealistic eyes. Families driving loaded station-wagons full of children would swerve to the side of interstate highways to pick me up, so I must have looked wholesome and innocent. I did my best to totally charm my benefactors, and I seldom waited long for a ride.

One ironic event was that I got picked up by a reporter for a small town newspaper just as it was getting dark, and, (after he asked his wife permission, and she (and two small children) scanned me from head to toe), I was allowed to sleep on his screened-in front porch. I wrote about him in my diary even as he wrote about me at his typewriter. Because I was quite close to the place in Ontario where the family-gathering I was heading-towards was held, his article was seen and clipped from a paper by a family friend, and I actually eventually had a copy sent to me. What is ironic was that he seemed to envy me for being on an adventure, even as I envied him for having a woman who loved him, (and for getting paid for his writing).

When I got back home there were no articles in my hometown paper admiring and envying me. I was back to being just a nerd in a school of snobs. I loathed school more than ever, but God was kind, as 1968 turned into 1969. That winter saw stupendous snowstorms in February which, along with the February vacation, meant that I only had to go to school something like four days the entire month.

March brought the ordinary routine back, and I swiftly was very sick of it. I wanted to stay in bed and not deal with how shrunken and humiliated high-school made me feel, but rampaging hormones made me also want to flee. I had developed a new habit of impulsively blurting stuff, turning from an introvert into a braggart, and, even though I was (mostly) a quiet introvert at school, when I arrived home I talked big. One afternoon I stated I had to write a Social Studies report (untrue) about “researching America”, (untrue), so I was going to hitchhike down to my grandparents in Florida in order to “gather interviews”. (Largely bullshit; I actually planned to spend Easter Vacation sleeping late.)

My home-life was chaos at that point, as my mother had remarried an old, rich Harvard Law School professor the prior May, and the poor fellow, nearly seventy, got hit by such terrible disrespect, (I am one of six children), that he had a heart attack. I felt slightly guilty as he recovered, though I confess I continued to refer to him as “The fossil”.  I just figured he was an old sleaze-bag and my mother was a money-grubber willing to degrade herself and become a “trophy wife”, which may explain part of my desire to leave town, but the old geezer surprised me by actually seeming to care about me. How he survived that first year I’ll never know, but when he died nine years later I knew I’d lost one of those rare friends you don’t deserve, but who sometimes unexpectedly appear in your life right out of the blue.

In any case, I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously when I said I would hitchhike to my grandparents in Florida, in order to get good grades. It was only one idea out of a whole lot of other ideas I blurted out, when I got home from school. I probably also said I’d get to the moon before both the Americans and Russians. It shocked my socks off when my stepfather thought it was a good idea.

In 1969 Easter occurred on April 6, days before “Easter Vacation” actually started. There was no attempt on my stepfather’s part to subject me to church, but he did subject me to some tradition of his own, some egg-hunt his family always held, and which now involved his grandchildren and not his children. I was annoyed, as it was beneath my sixteen-year-old dignity to hunt eggs. How dare this fossil (who was saving my family from poverty) ask me to attend a stupid egg hunt? Did this silly business of hunting eggs end the Vietnam War? Did it end poverty in the inner cities? With the sneering scorn only a sixteen-year-old virgin can glower, I did attend the egg hunt, but I was not helpful.

As I stood disapproving of children hunting Easter eggs, I could not help but eavesdrop on what the “grownups” were discussing. I was taken aback when one topic was “my trip to Florida”. One grownup was saying, “But what if the police think he is running away from home?” My stepfather stated, “My stepson will produce proof of my permission, with a permission slip, written on Harvard Law School stationary.”

To be honest, my response was to silently think, “Oh, shit”.

It is one thing to just blather on and on about political manure, but quite another when you actually have to shovel the shit.

One part of my sixteen-year-old diary makes me chuckle. It admits what I really wanted to do over Easter Vacation was to sleep late, and wonders why on earth I was getting up early the next day to hitchhike to Florida.

I am so glad I did it. It opened my eyes to the sort of Americans who care enough to pull over for a sixteen-year-old kid hanging his thumb out on the side of a highway. All I can say now, a full fifty later, is, “God bless them, bless them, and bless them again.”

It took me some three days and thirty rides to get from Massachusetts to Florida. For some bizarre reason I calculated my miles-per-hour, as a hitchhiker, and it was nearly sixty mph the first day. But back in 1969 Interstate 95 quit in the Carolina’s,  and  a hitchhiker had to go slower, hitchhiking smaller highways through swamps where Spanish Moss hung from every branch of every tree, and sharecroppers still plowed fields with mules.

My grandmother very much wanted to see my Social Studies report  after I wrote it, which was very embarrassing because I’d made the “assignment” up, as an excuse for my wanderlust. She kept asking to see it, even years later. Now I am thinking perhaps I’ll write it, fifty years later. I still have the old diary, with every ride carefully listed.

I have one paragraph completed in my head, a sort of statement I’ve spoken so many times that my kids roll their eyes slightly when they hear me again becoming garrulous. I just say how kind all the people were, and how they advised me to be wary of other people who might be dangerous. I say,  “Northerners told me to watch out for southerners, and southerners told me to watch out for northerners. Whites told me to watch out for blacks and blacks told me to watch out for whites. Absolutely everyone told me to watch out for the Georgia police, and the Georgia police told me to watch out for absolutely everyone. And everyone was beautiful and kind.”

Something odd was occurring in 1969 that many recall. It was called “The Summer Of Love”, which seems a bit odd considering there were anti-war riots and drug overdoses and bad trips, and over the years I’ve heard many do their best to belittle the rare mood which flavored pretty much everything. But no amount of denial can completely erase how special it was, even though it is nearly impossible to describe.

In the Bible there is something called a “Jubilee” that occurs every fifty years or so, where all your debts are forgiven. In Hinduism there is something called a “Darshan” where God or a saint reveals divinity to the ignorant and undeserving. Something along those lines occurred in 1969.  In the strangest manner I could see God in every person I met. I got a glimpse how beautiful this world could be.

How far we have fallen. I can sink into a dismal mood nowadays, where it seems everyone is whining, and claiming they are a victim, and blaming everyone else. Rather than God I see a jerk in everyone. I yearn to go back to 1969, when everyone shone with a beautiful light.

Another year’s under my belly’s belt
And another spring startles with warm wind.
I wonder if I’ll feel as I once felt,
Or did last winter make me so thick-skinned
That I can’t smile. Bitter men own logic
That pounds its points with harsh effectiveness
Even through healing palms. And so sly, so slick
Is this sick debate that one avoids the mess
By washing ones hands. Why try? And why get
Mixed up with the doomed? I don’t even want
To turn on my radio. No saint breaks a sweat
Striving, for it’s easier to taunt,
Yet my heart knows Christ saved fools who had sinned,
And it’s then spring startles with warm, washing wind.

I fell into a sort of sulk last November, due to shrill Democrats winning the House of Representatives here in the United States, and also because I became aware my blog was being censored in certain search-engines due to the fact I am a “Denier”, regarding Global Warming. I felt a divisive and even fascist power was arising and oddly accusing everyone else of being fascist. It felt totally different from 1969, when people sung, “everyone is beautiful, in their own way.” I just wanted to turn away from it all, but that just made me feel marginalized and alone.

It was then I discovered the #WalkAway videos on YouTube. Apparently I was not the only one who felt as I felt. Although the videos are political, (in that they are people who are “walking away” from the Democrat party), they also had the feel of a support-group, wherein one becomes aware one is not alone. It is a relief to see others feel the way you feel, even when they are from very different backgrounds, of different religions and nationalities and age-groups. Men and woman, whites and blacks and Asians and Latinos, young and old,  all disliked the division. None liked being told they should hate fellow Americans. All preferred a unity, and felt “all men are created equal”.

It gave me the strange feeling I was sixteen and hitchhiking again, and a stranger’s car had stopped to pick me up, and that for a short while I sat beside a new and interesting friend.