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Leaving the Earth's Atmosphere

 

 

CHAPTER 1

June 1969

   

Suzanne made love to me a day before I knew about it.  The last thing I remember was snorting some PCP.  Angel dust. Elephant tranques.  Gary was about to cut it with baking powder and cap it, but insisted I try some of the raw stuff first.  It must’ve been too much.  He should’ve known.  Maybe he did.  I walked into the living room.  Dean, who owned the house, and Lisa, his lover, who was supposed to be our lover, were watching TV.  Hilton was in a corner of the room thumbing through a stack of albums leaning against the wall.

Suddenly I was scared.  Everything became two and a half dimensional.  Somewhere between a cartoon and a Dali.  My frames of reference dissolved and my ego fought to keep them intact.  I knew from LSD, the worst thing was to fight it.  There was a certain plausibility to the “hallucinations” of psychedelics.  A feeling that but for our limited consciousnesses, they could be recreated naturally.  Why else would Richard Alpert go to India and become Baba Ram Dass?  To fight them was to deny how expansive reality could be.  The secret of a good acid trip was to destroy all frames of reference.  The secret of a good acid trip was not to fight it.  PCP was different.  I wanted to fight it.  Its hallucinations were distortions bordering on the preposterous and it was inconceivable anyone would ever want to recreate them on the natch. 

I called out for help to those people who were in the living room.  I called out loudly, or so I thought.  There was no response.  The guy on the couch turned once when I walked into the room and smiled at me, then went back to watching TV. 

I saw what the problem was.  The words coming out of my mouth were hanging in mid-air spelled out like Superman letters.  They hung there halfway to the people on the other side of the room and then crumbled like crushed cornflakes to the floor before they could reach their ears.   The carpet was thick with letters.  No wonder they couldn’t hear me!

I started sweating.  It was so hot I couldn’t bear it.  I took off my shirt.  I fought my way through the heavy air to the screen door and barely had the strength to open it.  The cool night air helped a little.  The moon was full for all practical purposes.  For other purposes it was a traveling spotlight.  It followed me to the sidewalk.  It followed me following the sidewalk.  It followed me walking but not getting anywhere.  Of course I couldn’t remember that Dean’s house sat in the middle of a traffic circle! 

Eventually I stopped walking.  I looked up at the moon, and rocking forth and back like a Sephardic Jew saying prayers, closed my eyes and fell into it.

 


 

The moon turned into Suzanne’s face looking into mine.  Long brown hair bothered and confused my eyelids.  I was dreaming I was caught in cobwebs when I opened them.  On either side of her were Jimi Hendrix posters.  The posters were on the ceiling and Suzanne was straddling me, her hips grinding rhythmically in a figure-eight motion.  Her breasts bungeed up and down and once in a while dipped into my skin.  I came right after an orgasm shuddered through her and she collapsed on top of me.

She raised herself up and said, “Well, I see you’re doing better today.”

“Better than what?” I asked.

“Better than when Sandy and I picked you up two days ago walking stark naked around Anthony Circle in the middle of the night!” 

She got off me and stepped into a puddle of clothing which shimmied up her body and became a thrift shop 1940s pale yellow-flowered dress.  It hung on her softly and sexily as she walked into the kitchen just a few steps away. 

Everything in the house was just a few steps away.  In fact, I guess it was more of a hobbit’s dwelling than a house.  I rolled my head away from the yellow flowers stirring something on the stove.  My eyes were still having problems focusing.  Jimi Hendrix was much too close.  I was ordering my eyes to adjust when I realized the ceiling was probably only six and a half feet high.  I rolled my head to the right.  I could see a tiny bedroom, a bathroom, and a little porch.  I lifted myself up to my elbows.  I was lying on a foam pad in the middle of a small living room, surrounded by overstuffed pillows and a beanbag chair.  I looked back to the kitchen and sat up when Suzanne brought in some miso soup in a fine china bowl.  Mint tea steeped in a stoneware pot.  Two small cups painted with birds balanced precariously upside down on the lid.  A freshly rolled joint stuck out from between Suzanne’s lips.  She set everything down on the floor next to the bed, poured the tea, lit the joint and after a deep drag, passed it to me.

“Me and Sandy almost didn’t pick you up, you know,” she said through a smoky exhale and stifled cough.  “But then she thought maybe you were a rock star or something because she’s seen you going into Eric Burdon’s house up the street and we didn’t want the cops to get you or anything.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but Suzanne kept right on going.  “And Sandy ’s been dying to have an excuse to knock on Eric’s door.  So we brought you here and you’ve been a complete zombie bore.  Except for those enormous hard-ons you kept getting and I thought maybe what you needed was me.  And I guess I was right!  So eat your miso soup and tell me are we good detectives or not?”  

I told her.

“Well, first of all, I’m not a rock star or anything like that, although I do get to hang out with some of the bands.”

“Like the Animals?” Suzanne asked hopefully.

“Well, with some of them,” I answered.  “Actually, two of them are my roommates.”

Suzanne’s eyes widened with expectations.

“You know where you picked me up?”

Suzanne nodded vigorously.

“Well, that’s where I’m living.  Or crashing at least.  For the time being.  With my friend Dean.  And John and Hilton.” 

Suzanne looked stumped.

“You know.  From the Animals?  John on drums, Hilton on guitar?”

“Oh!  And Eric?” Suzanne asked.  “You know him pretty good then?” 

Naw!  Not really.  He likes my acid.  I like his swimming pool.  That’s the extent of our relationship.”

“So you’re a dealer, is that it?”  Suzanne said.

“Well, if you say so,” not really wanting to discuss it.  “I’m just helping out friends.” 

I stared out the window, finding it difficult to meet Suzanne’s eyes, though I could feel hers looking directly into my brain, trying to find the crosshairs to what might be most vulnerable.  Feeling a need to further qualify my entire life as she knew it, I added, “But I only deal in natural stuff like good herb and hash.  Mushrooms and peyote buttons.  Pure LSD.  You know.  Your everyday stuff.”

Suzanne rolled her eyes.  They said, Oh please, give me a break!  “LSD isn’t natural.  It’s a chemical!” she said, trying to bust me.  “By the way, I love acid!  So don’t get paranoid or anything.  I’m not a cop!”

I chuckled.  “Well, I didn’t think so from the bong on the windowsill over there and the joint that you’re bogarting.  And as far as I’m concerned,” I insisted, “if the acid’s really pure, it is natural.”

“So you’re just the high priest around here?  Is that it?” Suzanne summed me up with a little smile.  “Dispensing sacraments to the canyons’ multitudes, so fervent to receive them?” 

The way she said it revealed a quickness of wit and an intelligence that made her more beautiful.  And I liked her public relations.

  “Well, you certainly put it nicely.  But I’m no high priest.  I just like getting high!”  And we both laughed. 

Then she picked up an invisible medal and polished it on her chest and said, “For putting wings on their prayers, we hereby award the Nobel Prize for accelerating consciousness to… ?”  She cocked her head to look at me and waited for the answer.

“Giacco.  Giacco Giordano,” I said, sticking out my hand, but shaking my head to refuse the award.

“Suzanne.  Suzanne Friendly,” she took mine and shook it once. 

I couldn’t tell whether that was her real name or a handle she gave herself to reflect her personality.  I decided not to ask.

Suzanne poured another cup of tea and took four or five small tokes in a row off the joint while she continued talking.  “But… suck… in Laurel Canyon suck… most of the prayers are… suck… musical.  So I imagine you have a… suck… pretty interesting clientele, eh?”… suck.

Clientele? I didn’t like that word.  Suzanne wasn’t getting it.  It wasn’t a business.  It just was.  On the other hand, she was right.  I did hang out with some pretty interesting characters.  It was no big deal.  You couldn’t help it.  The canyon was riddled with celebrities.  With their groupies.  With the groupies of the groupies.

Frank Zappa lived down the hill toward Laurel Canyon Boulevard .  You could see Joni Mitchell’s house from the roof of Dean’s garage.  Ray Manzarek, drummer with the Doors used to give me rides down the canyon on the back of his Harley.  Papa John Phillips’ house on the ridge above the canyon had an awesome view.  Dean’s house looked like a bull’s eye from up there.  Lee Michael’s wasn’t far and he and I had dropped acid a couple of times together. 

Dropping acid and dropping names.  In Laurel Canyon , it was impossible not to.  I was a drug dealer when the Names bought the acid.  I was a drug dealer when the Names dropped the acid.  I was a high priest when the Names were peaking on the acid.  I was a drug dealer when the Names wanted some more.

“So your friend’s house… Dean?  Is that his name?  I guess that’s a pretty happenin’ place, huh?”

“Yeah!  I’ll say!  Too happenin’ for me!  And if it’s too happenin’ for me, you know it’s gotta be too happenin’ for Dean!  That’s one of the reasons I’m getting out!”

Suzanne tilted her head and wrinkled her nose.  “So where are you going?”

“A friend of mine thinks he can score me a studio in one of those old storefronts down at Pacific Ocean Park .”

“You mean that old dilapidated amusement park down in Santa Monica ?” 

“Yeah, that’s the one,” I said.

“What kind of studio?”

“Oh, just a place where I can move around,” I answered vaguely. 

Suzanne didn’t want vague.  She wanted specifics.  “What do you mean move around?”

“Well, it’s sort of like dance, but it’s not.  It’s something else.”  I tried to end it with that. 

“More.  Keep going!”

“Well, it’s hard to explain,” I began to explain, “But it’s like getting out of your body and becoming the music.” 

“You know, Giacco,” Suzanne said excitedly, “I know exactly what you mean!  I have a friend, Frank.  He’s a great guitarist.  I mean brilliant!  And sometimes we get so high… him jammin’ on the guitar… me jammin’ with my body… that we get to the point where I can play his guitar through my body and he can play my body through his guitar.”

I looked at Suzanne curiously. “You have achieved synesthesia!  The senses trade places.  You hear colors.  You touch music.  You move the notes through the air.”

“That’s it, Giacco!  That’s it!  It’s like having super powers or something!  It’s not like we can’t remember later on what happened.  When it’s happening we both know it.  I mean just with the tiniest look or gesture or sound we can trade places.  It’s simply amazing and a total mind-fuck!  It’s like being a god!”

“It’s like being a Sufi!” I explained.  “It’s like a meditation!”

Suzanne stared at me with an affection that I hadn’t noticed before but could now definitely feel.  I didn’t know it yet, but I was striking all the right chords in her.  And I guess, she in me.


 

 

CHAPTER 2

June 1969

   

From the very first time I took acid, I knew music was my element.  It filled the room like a sea.  I swam in it like a fish.  When a record stopped, I felt like a trout who’d been hooked and brought to the surface, struggling for air.  But when another record was put on, I came alive like the fish being thrown back into the water. 

When I wasn’t tripping, I talked incessantly.  But when I was high, I talked almost not at all.  My body did all the talking.  And I saw everyone’s movements as a dance.  Opening a refrigerator door.  Getting a glass of water.  Sweeping the floor.  Making love.

“Just move around,” I told Suzanne as I got up off the foam pad, walked to the window and pushed aside the curtain.  “Use the props.  Watch what you’re doing,” I said as I let the curtain fall back into place and retraced my steps.  “Pay attention.  When you find a movement you like, repeat it.” 

I sat back down on the pad, got up again and walked to the window and pushed back the curtain.  “Repeat it over and over exactly the same way each time.”  And I did, each time making my movements more deliberate and slower. 

“Pick out one instrument from the music that’s playing and use it to create your own unique rhythm and mood.  Become aware of the locus of points in the movements you choose.” 

By this time I was going forth and back between the foam pad and the window, each time a bit slower, the motions more exaggerated. 

“Meditate on the locus of points.  Become the music.  Be a witness to what you’re doing.  Don’t go into a trance, but stay in control.”  I kept retracing my steps until they were in slow motion.  I was the equivalent of a 45 RPM record played at 33.

Suzanne stared at me, following my body walking forth and back between the bed and the window.  The last few repetitions, my movements very gradually became more natural.  The curtain was pushed aside as I looked out the window for the last time.  Then I turned, letting the curtain fall into place once again.    

“And then witness yourself reversing the whole process until you slowly return to your original starting point.”  I lay back down on the bed in exactly the same position I began with.

“That is so cool!” Suzanne said.

“Yeah!” I agreed.  “Now imagine seven, eight, nine people all doing this.  All picking out their own instrument, their own movement.  Can you see how it becomes a dance?”

“Of course!” Suzanne said.  “It’s beautiful!”

“Well, I’m glad someone gets it!”

“What do you mean?” Suzanne asked.

“Most people don’t get it, Suzanne.  I don’t understand why they don’t get it, but they don’t and therefore most people don’t want to pay money to see it.”  I lifted my head off the pillow.  My neck was taut from the effort and rigid with frustration.  

“And the ones who do get it are as stoned as the dancers.  They’re not such a great source of funding for the arts now are they?  They’re too high to hold a fuckin’ steady job!”

As soon as I said it, I was sorry.  How ironic I of all people should get on anyone’s case for not having a steady job.  Too absurd!  I knew my problems were caused by the United States Government and its inability to fund the arts, its inability to lead the nation in the huge societal change that was coming and that would allow all artists to live if not thrive.  What the fuck was the country waiting for?  A written invitation?

I felt Suzanne’s eyes on me.  I turned and found her looking at me like I had been berating her!  I had been getting all worked up and she felt the brunt of it though she was the last person who deserved it.  She deserved mellow.  So I relaxed the muscles in my neck and let my head fall back on the pillow.  I mellowed out as best I could and tried to change my attitude.

“I need to do something to help the slow learners.”  I laughed, but with a hint of aggravation.

“I was thinking maybe invisible day-glow paint and black lights might help.  The dancers could paint themselves with it.  They’d have to be nude of course.  Broad strokes along their arms and legs.  Maybe a dab on their forehead and buttocks and anywhere else they were brave enough to smudge it on.

“Then when they’re in the groove, I’d bring the house lights down and the black lights up.  The audience would see only the designs made by the day glow paint on their bodies!  

“The designs would repeat themselves over and over.  And when the dancers started to return to their original positions, I’d gradually dim the black lights and bring the house lights back up.  If they started sitting at a kitchen table or whatever, they’d end up in the exact same spots.  And maybe then the audience would get it!  They’d realize that what’d happened in between was the dance!”

Suzanne stared at me wide-eyed.  I thought maybe she thought I was a wacko or loony tune.  But instead she said, “Giacco, you are beautiful and you get me high!  So how many dancers do you have?  Do you need more?”

“Well, so far, I’ve got five girls who I think are runaways and probably jailbait.  That bothers me some.  Then there’s maybe three young hot studs who love to exhibit themselves, and me.  If we take just the right amount of acid, it seems to work.  But there’s really only one guy and one girl who seem to really know what’s going on, who’ve had that ‘aha’ experience and don’t even need to get high.  The others always drift off into some kind of Isadora Duncan free form or whatever and screw it all up.”

“Do you make any money at it?”

“The only time we make any money is when we do rock concerts,” I answered.  “And we owe that to Saul.”

“Who’s he?” Suzanne wanted to know. 

“Saul!  About the only person who appreciates what I’m trying to do.  He caught me dancing at a party one night and told me to do something with it.  To get some true freaks together and turn it into something very far out.  Something he could market.”

 


 

Saul was an establishment impresario by day, undercover hippie by night.  Like Dean, he was what I called a “straddler,” still reconciling truths he experienced on psychedelics with the piece of the American pie he wanted.  He was unable to wean himself of the green-milked teat.  He wasn’t ready yet to give up the material world completely.  And for those of us who said we were… well thank god for the “straddlers.”  It was because of people like Saul that we made any money at all.  He hired us to work rock concerts.  For two reasons. 

At night, when the strobe lights were most effective, we’d dance on tall scaffolds next to the stage that topped the speakers.  Acrophobia was not a good trait to have.  As a safety precaution, we were harnessed to a three-foot tether.  That encumbrance, added to the one square yard of the platform, wasn’t exactly conducive to interpretive dance.  

During the day, our mission was to keep the vibes positive.  Stroll through the crowds, entertain them, keep them mellow.  Mobs can be strange things.  The light and dark forces were always at work.  Keep the crowds choosing the light.  The vibes made all the difference.  That’s what it had come to.  Either go-go dancing on tall, swaying, vibrating platforms, or sweeping through the crowds as jesters.  It was demeaning.  Saul said I was just paying my dues.

He had confidence in me.  It was Saul who was looking for a studio for me.  It was Saul who was going to pay the bills.  It was Saul who introduced me to a lot of well-connected, if not yet well known people.  Some of these minor Hollywood luminaries would hire me to dance for them at their parties, a la 17th century command performances at a royal court. 

Though these rising stars were always very tuned in to my “performance art,” it was probably because they were so high on the psychedelics I had previously sold them.  The same ones I would be dancing on.  So whether they were paying me to dance or paying for the drugs, it was all the same.  They went hand in hand. 

Dropping names.  Dropping acid.  It was all part of the Big Joke.  Life was a lila, a cosmic dance, and it didn’t matter what steps you were doing.  You were just doing them.  All you could really do was watch yourself tango.

 


 

“Saul’s big problem with me is that he thinks I might up and disappear at any moment,” I told Suzanne.  “He’s right. 

“He says, ‘Well all your cosmic jabber is just reeeaaally groovy!  Too far fucking out!  But the fact is that I think you’re really on to something, Giacco!  I think you could really make it if you just showed a little… just a little… perseverance!  You’re onto something very edgy, but you just don’t want it bad enough!  If you would just say to yourself, this is what I really want! and work for it, I know you would make it!’”   

“Maybe he’s right,” I admitted.  “I don’t know if I just don’t care… or if I don’t know what IT is!  And until I do, what’s to care about?”

Suzanne just stared.  I wondered how long I had been talking.  Once again, I was probably running at the mouth. 

What was it about me?  Am I incapable of maintaining a little mystery?  Can’t I learn to dole out information about myself little by little?  Over a period of time?  Be a jig-saw puzzle?  Let people put me together piece by piece, slowly, keeping their interest but not quite satisfying it.  And for godsakes, why am I always chastising myself? 

I made a silent vow to become the deep, quiet type.

Suzanne set down her cup and brushed her long hair off her neck.  She looked up at the sun coming through the window and then back at me.  A contemplative expression passed across her face.

“It’s the old dilemma,” she said with grandmotherly wisdom.

“What old dilemma?” I asked, trying to keep my vow.

 She offered her answer tentatively, looking into my eyes for some kind of affirmation.  “Whether to have a goal and make reaching it the art of your life, or to have no goals and let your life be your art.”   

“Maybe having no goals and letting your life be your art is a fucking goal in itself,” I said, “and when I get to that point I get so confused, I feel like it’s time to pack up and hit the road!” 

Shit, I already broke my vow of lingual celibacy!

The words “hit the road” jarred her.  Just slightly, but enough to make me notice.  The tone in her voice got deliberately lighter.  She leaned forward onto her knees and began gathering up the tea cups and stuff.  Before she rose, she gave me a small kiss on the lips.

“You know for someone who was practically comatose for the past two days, you sure make up for it when you’re awake!”

“Yeah.  I know.  I’m just a motormouth.” 

“You’re just a motormind!” Suzanne corrected.

“No, I’m a motormouth,” I insisted.”

We both laughed and I slurped the last of my miso soup and handed her the bowl.

 


 

As it turned out, the reason for her interest in all my ramblings was that she was a dancer as well.  A topless dancer.  In a club at the east end of the strip.  The Razz and Jazz Club.  To anyone who knew her it was a total disconnect.  It didn’t fit.  Her middle-class domesticity at home.  Her erotic gyrations at work.

Suzanne was a very good dancer.  She dazzled the crowd down at the club.  And she flattered me one night when she went off on a little trip.  She started off serving drinks as usual, but slowly and sensually, exaggerated the locus of points of her movements into an extremely erotic dance.  She was turned totally inward, oblivious to the crowd.  Whichever way she found herself moving, she simply watched herself from someplace above.  She became the music in the middle of a small, raised, oval stage, circled by completely entranced and lusting men.  I thought maybe, just maybe, she was resolving the “old dilemma” right there and then.  She was making her life an art, and her art, her life.

Her job raised the eyebrows of some of her friends and definitely her Mom and Dad who hated me.  She regarded what she did as no more eyebrow raising than being a receptionist, except that it paid a whole lot more.  I regarded it the same way.  And it was ironic, considering who I was, that her profession made me look like a stud. 

It came in handy a number of times when I’d go down to the club to watch her dance.  Some of her customers would shoot the bull with me.  They were such aroused and horny men, they often seemed willing, if not eager, to try new things.  If only they could find someone to take them on a tour of the sexual possibilities.  A regular guy.  Trustworthy.  Like the boyfriend of a hot topless dancer.  Someone like me!  I selectively obliged. 

 


 

But in the meantime, it was primarily Suzanne.  We wound up living together for a couple of months, though I kept a United Airlines “Ocupado” sign on a mattress in Dean’s finished basement just in case.  I divided my time almost equally between the two places, but Suzanne invariably found me in her bed when she got home from work.  Suzanne and I got to know each other very well.  She worked hard at pleasing me.  Sexually and in other ways.  Maybe the qualities she had that made me stick around gave her confidence in her feminine charms.  I should have warned her that gender had nothing to do with it.  All my romantic involvements ended up cerebral ones.

Suzanne was beautiful.  Tender.  Caring and nurturing.  Just short of mothering, which she knew would drive me crazy.  I thought it was surprising that she would so readily take on the role of a middle class wife.  I wasn’t used to it.  But I liked to be indulged, and, in the daily business of life… cooking, eating, washing dishes, straightening up… I was lazy.  She liked doing it.  So it was easy.  I settled into a relationship with Suzanne because it was easy.  And lazy.

I was lazy in making love to her.  But she enjoyed taking the initiative and never complained.  I relished our lovemaking.  But I felt I had to tell her that even I wasn’t sure in which direction I was bent.  Not that I even wanted a direction!

If someone inquired, I’d say, “I’m Giacco.  And Giacco sleeps with whomever turns him on.”  If they insisted I was bisexual, I’d insist more.  “I’m Giacco, and Giacco sleeps with whomever turns him on… and if you’re not careful, it might even be you!  And sometimes it was.  Especially if the someone were attractive and I were particularly glib that evening.

Suzanne said she was cool with it.  That that’s the way it should be.  But Suzanne was full of contradictions like everyone else.  Just when I thought she was a really here-and-now kind of gal, she started setting goals for us.  Scary goals.  She started talking about kids.  About settling down. 

Our relationship was meaning too much too fast.  In her eyes, we were lovers with a future she was imagining, or maybe devising, waiting just around the corner.  I didn’t know what was waiting for me just around the corner and I liked it that way. 

I found myself reminding Suzanne that if the space at the beach came through, I’d probably move down there.  She knew what that meant.  The grieving process we went through over our impending separation lasted about thirty minutes.  It may have been accelerated by this new drug making the rounds called The Peace Pill.  Half heroin.  Half mescaline.  Very useful for conflict resolution. 

Within a month after I left, she was hot and heavy with her guitarist friend Frank.  He was an old high school chum who was always hanging around anyway.  And he loved her.  I knew they’d be good for each other.  As for me, I was up to my old tricks looking for “adventures” on the Strip.  Hanging out at the Whiskey with Miss Lucy, Miss Mercy, Obie and cutie pie Carlos.  Slummin’ the canyons.  Dropping acid.  Dropping names.  Dancing at the drop of either. 

Suzanne and I became good friends.  Up until I borrowed her VW bug and rear-ended some Orange County matron, who, for a measly three-hundred-dollar dent in the back of her BMW, caused both Suzanne and I to lose our licenses.  Except for Suzanne, all my lovers ended up my best friends.  And she promised she would too, upon payment of three hundred dollars and court costs.  I guess it could have been worse.

I never saw nor heard from her ever again.



CHAPTER 3

August 1969

 

 

I set out from Laurel Canyon with hopes of making it to Reno by nightfall.  Fat chance.  I thought Peter would make hitching easier.  I was scruffy with long wild hair, wilder clothes, and a poor excuse for a beard.  Peter was so clean-cut looking he stuck out like an orderly in a loony bin.  At least in my crowd. 

He was clean-shaven and had a buzz-cut, something we always razzed him about.  He had on new jeans and a white T-shirt one size too small so it really showed off his muscular chest.  He had the ideal body as far as I was concerned.  The kind I thought I might have if I worked at it a lot, but didn’t.  He was short, but with a compact gymnast’s physique, every muscle group well honed and defined.  His family had recently moved to LA from New York , but, unlike most refugees from the Big Apple, he was already homesick for the dirt and noise of the Lower East Side . 

Miss Mercy and Miss Lucy discovered him in a juice bar on the strip and brought him back to my house, or rather Dean’s house.  From then on, he was a regular.  It was really all the teenage girls hanging around that intrigued him.  Especially Mimi.  But he soon figured out that he had to be intrigued by everyone if he were going to fit in at all.  That included guys whose sexual proclivities, like mine, were moving targets or works in progress.  Besides, Mimi had the hots for Rod Stewart and was “saving” herself for backstage antics. 

So like most reasonable boys, primarily straight but predominantly horny, he convinced himself that skin was skin, lips were lips, and a blow job was a blow job, and rose to the occasion.  On many more occasions than one.

I liked Peter a lot.  He was different from most of my friends.  He was more judicious in his use of drugs.  He was quiet and introspective.  But when he did get high he displayed a keen wit and wild streak.  It was Peter who turned me on to Woodstock .  His friends back east told him it was going to be an all-out explosion of music and a libertarian free-for-all.  It was going to be so high the place would probably levitate.

To us, though we weren’t cynics, it was hype we could live with.  Peter was more interested in an excuse to head back east for a while.  I was more interested in getting him alone on a backcountry road.  Besides, I was planning to move to the beach in a few weeks and was sort of in a transitional stage.  For me, the timing was perfect.

  The weather was great.  Hitchhiking was in.  It was the hippies’ rapid transit system.  Most of the time.  Hardly anyone who was in the least bit hip would pass you by, depending on where in the country you were.  We were traveling light.  Each of us had a small backpack stuffed loosely with a few changes of clothing.  Peter, surprisingly, didn’t own a sleeping bag and brought just a bedroll.  I think he thought it made him look macho and cowboy-like.  It did look good.  The blanket you could see on the outside of the roll was earth-colored with some wide faded teal blue stripes down it.  Very masculine.  It was strapped to the bottom of his pack and rested comfortably on his nice rump. 

It took a number of rides to get across the San Fernando Valley , but they came one right after the other.  In the little town of Mohave , we had to wait a bit, but we were never bored from lack of conversation.  The next ride let us off just north of Fresno .  It had turned into a scorcher of a day and we raced for the stream at the bottom of the embankment off the road.  We both got naked and splashed each other like six-year-olds in a backyard wading pool.  I admired his body all tanned and sparkling with droplets dripping from his nose, chest, ass and cock.  I couldn’t wait until it was time to crash for the night.

That would happen at a cloverleaf interchange somewhere around Sacramento at around two in the morning.  It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but all the rides seemed to be gone for the night.  And those that were on the road would likely be cops.  No sense in inviting trouble.  So we picked one of the four grassy leaves of the clover, the one that was most in the shadows, and made a beeline for the penumbra. 

The grass was still a little damp from the sprinklers that must’ve been going that afternoon.  Relative to the heat of the day, the night seemed unusually cool.  Peter rolled out his blankets, but I warned him they were going to sop up the moisture and he’d be cold, wet and miserable by dawn.  So we laid out our light, but waterproof, jackets as a ground cloth, put the blankets on top of them for padding, and tried to squirm into my sleeping bag with our clothes on.

We were halfway in the bag, but it was obvious clothes were going to be a major obstacle.  So we wrestled our way back out and quickly took them off and stuffed them in our packs.  When we tried to get back in the second time, it was as if the bag had been coated with oil.  We slid in effortlessly and by the time our feet touched the bottom of the bag, our bodies had done some major exploring. 

We were both hard.  We really wanted to get our rocks off.  But despite the desire, despite the arousal, we were so tired, we just fell asleep.  Spooning.  My front to his back.  My hand across his chest, slipping lazily from his nipple to his stomach.  Had I known then that there would never be another opportunity to get it on with Peter, and that once we got to Woodstock I would never see him again, I would have been more demanding of myself.

We woke up early to the sounds of trucks loudly down shifting as they exited off ramps or up shifting as they merged with the traffic.  Bleary-eyed and in need of showers, we dressed, pulled on our packs and stuck out our thumbs.  Peter wasn’t looking quite as clean-cut as the day before, but after half an hour we got a ride in the back of a pickup all the way to Donner Pass where we were let out in the middle of nowhere.

We waited and waited.  For some reason all the traffic had dried up and the people in the few cars that whizzed by either gave us the finger or just snarled.  We waited for hours.  In desperation, I scavenged a piece of cardboard and penciled the message, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart!”  I admit it was a little schmaltzy, but since the song was on all the mainstream charts, I figured that maybe it would strike a sympathetic chord in somebody.

A car with an elderly couple slowed as they passed to read the sign.  They pulled over to the side of the road.  Peter and I grabbed our gear and ran as fast as we could.  When we got to the car window, the woman rolled it down.  Her husband leaned over and in a loud bark yelled, “No”!  Then he put the car in drive and they sped away.  Peter and I looked at each other flabbergasted and dispirited.  A rude awakening that rural Amerika was not LA or New York or any of the islands of civilization we were accustomed to.

Finally, two teenagers in a Chevy convertible picked us up.  Buddy, driving.  Hank, shotgun.  They were shorthaired country boys living on the outskirts of Truckee .  The area was so thoroughly redneck, the consummate teenage rebellion was to be nice to hippies.  They said they’d give us a ride as far as Truckee but if we got them stoned and gave them some bucks for gas, they’d take us all the way to Reno .  “Friday night, looking for somethin’ to do anyway.” 

Fortunately, I had some stash that Saul gave me as a bon voyage present.  It was one-toke stuff.  Two would get you psychedelic.  I hadn’t told Peter about it yet because he told me not to bring anything.  He didn’t want to have to worry about being caught “holding.”  He was a bit chagrined, but given the circumstances, glad I had brought it along and also glad I hadn’t told him about it.

We got through Truckee with no problems.  Then, as we came down a hill into the tiny town of Boca , the kids recognized some trucks parked in front of the local beer joint.  Suddenly Buddy and Hank got totally paranoid.  They pulled over to the side of the road and asked us to get in the trunk of the car.  Peter was completely against that idea.  So was I.  But Hank begged us to trust them and Buddy begged harder when one of the trucks pulled out and headed up the road in our direction.

Peter and I got in the trunk and the kids hurriedly threw our gear on top of us.  When we heard the trunk latch, we were immediately angry with ourselves for being so gullible.  Something in the kids’ faces had made me trust them, but now that I was in a confined, dark hole, I felt like an idiot allowing myself, ourselves, to be completely at the mercy of these two teenagers.

The Chevy shook as Buddy turned the ignition just as the truck came over the crest of the hill.  It pulled into the wrong lane of traffic and slowed to a stop next to the car.  We could hear them talking outside.

Whatchoo boys up to?” a raspy, deep voice bellowed.

I could imagine Buddy shading his bloodshot eyes, trying not to look up.  “Aw, we’re just comin’ back from the lake.  Tried to get some guy to buy us some beer in Truckee .  No luck though.  How about you, Jake?”

Jake studied Buddy, then Hank. “Then why’s your eyes so red?  Been smokin’ some maryjane?  You been hangin’ with some o’ those fuckin’ queero hippies moved in up the middle fork?”

Buddy started stuttering, but Hank kept it together.  “We just been swimmin’ too much, Jake.  That’s all.”

“You know your Poppa hates those pinko faggots!”  Jake reminded Hank.  “He’s got good reason to bust ‘em as often as he does!  They ain’t nothin’ but fuck-ups living off the rest of us.  Every time I see ‘em pull out some o’ those stamps in the store to pay for food, makes me want to spit on ‘em!”

“Yea, Jake.  If we see any of them, we’ll let them know how you feel,” Buddy regrouped nicely, regaining his composure and lassoing in his drug induced paranoia.

Naw.  You don’t tell them how I feel!  You steer ‘em to me so I can let my fists tell ‘em themselves!  Better yet, you send ‘em down to Elma’s.  Tell ‘em there’s beers on the house waitin’ for ‘em.  And a whole bunch of hard workin’ real men wanna shove some beer bottles up their faggot asses!  That’s whatcha do!”

Hank said, “Hey Jake… a pair o’ headlights aimin’ for ya!  Better flash em’ ‘fore ya get into a head-on!”  I could almost feel Jake giving Buddy and Hank a dirty look.  He put the truck in low, and lurched away down the right side of the road.

Buddy put the Chevy in gear and pulled onto the pavement.  As we passed Elma’s Tavern at a crawl, I could hear Hank and Buddy exchanging friendly expletives and put-downs with guys hanging out in front.  Then the Chevy picked up speed and everything was quiet for a long time.  Buddy yelled toward the back seat.  “You guys OK back there?”

“Claustrophobic!” I yelled back, and then wondered if they knew what that meant.

“How about letting us out, now?” Peter asked, trying to sound firm.

“Few more miles,” Hank yelled.  “As soon as we’re out of my Dad’s jurisdiction.”

Peter and I looked at each other in the dark.  I could hear him swallowing hard.

When the car stopped, and the trunk opened, we were at the far end of a rest stop.  Hank and Buddy smiled at us, proud of themselves.  Peter crawled out first. 

“I think you guys’ve been sneakin’ into too many drive-in movies,” he said wiping sweat off his face.

“Told ya we’d get ya through,” Buddy laughed confidently.  “But ya gotta remember, beatin’ up and bustin’ the likes of you two, especially you,” he said pointing at me, “is the local sport around here.  So be cool!”

As we drove through Reno , happy to be in the fresh air, mocking all the glitter and lights but relieved to be in the middle of some semblance of civilization, Peter and I knew these guys had really done us a big favor.  Their tactics were a bit dramatic, but their hearts were in the right place.  We could tell they felt good about themselves.  As if they had done what one “brother” would have expected of another.  We gave them hearty hippie handshakes and left them a little weed and a couple of bucks for gas.  When they dropped us off at an on-ramp, we were just shy of Sparks , Nevada .

Peter and I were exhausted and stressed out.  It was already past midnight.  The chances of getting any worthwhile rides were slimmer than a speed freak.  We knew from here on we’d have to make sure we only got dropped off in decent areas, not the middle of nowhere.  Worse yet, in the middle of somewhere where the locals would love to pummel us to death and with the sheriff’s blessing.

We found some shelter behind a highway department shed, but Peter was too nervous about sharing my bag.  It was too easy for the wrong people to discover us.  I agreed.  I took out my stash and hid it under a rock a few yards from the shed.  Just in case some cops came along I didn’t want to be caught holding, although I had heard stories many times about The Man slipping something into your back pocket as he frisked you.  We didn’t sleep well.  The cement floor was cold and hard and every car that drove by sounded like it belonged to Jake.

In the morning, not too long after the sun rose, we washed up with cold water from the outdoor spigot, brushed our teeth and combed our hair.  I tried to comb it.  It needed a wash badly.  It was getting all matted and tangled.  I looked like shit.  Peter looked like a hobo.  After packing up our stuff and retrieving my pot, we walked to the on-ramp. 

There stood an assortment of at least twelve hippies.  Men.  Women.  Some outlandish looking, others more tame.  They all stood there, traffic vrooming by, strung out along the ramp far enough apart to tell who went with whom and who went alone.  None of them had their thumbs out.  Our hearts sank when we saw the state trooper parked at the bottom of the ramp.  He just sat there smugly waiting for the first car to stop so he could bust both the hiker and the driver.

Peter and I took our place at the end of the line and waited.  No one had the nerve to stick out his or her thumb.  Most cars whizzed by.  A few slowed down.  They were people you knew would stop and pick you up under other circumstances.  But then they’d see the trooper and speed up again.  Sometimes they’d shrug their shoulders and smile guiltily, sympathetically.

We waited and waited.  Noon passed.  Someone made a run to a store a few blocks away to pick up food for everyone.  Except for a couple on their way to Denver , all were on their way to Woodstock .  It was in Sparks , waiting for a ride, talking to the other hitchhikers, that I realized Woodstock did have the makings of a very special event.  I really had no expectations about this Woodstock thing.  It could be a total flop for all I cared.  Taking a trip with Peter was what I cared about.  Woodstock was secondary, almost inconsequential.  But now, I began to feel a little psyched up about it.

Around two in the afternoon, one of the hitchhikers, hair tied neatly behind him in a long ponytail, approached the trooper and asked him to consider disappearing for a while.  After all, what were we to do?  Give us a break.  Go away and let us get rides and we’ll never come back here again!  The trooper laughed.  Said something about how he had all day.  This was his assignment.  Too cushy to pass up!

I noticed a car pull over about a block and a half down the street before the on-ramp.  It had a flat tire.  By the time I decided what to do and started walking toward him, the driver had the rear of the car jacked up and most of the lugs on the wheel removed.  As he raised his head, I guessed he was a salesman, about forty-five, and not a likely person to solicit.  I tried anyway.

“Need any help?” I asked.

“No, thanks.  Just about got this done.  Glad it happened now though before I get on the freeway.”

“Where you heading?”  I hoped he noticed the hint in my voice.

Goin’ up to Lovelock.  Route 40.  Sorry, I don’t give rides to strangers.” 

He had noticed the hint in my voice.  There was nothing to do but lay it on the line.  I told him what was happening and that all we needed was a ride away from here.  Once we got out of town a few miles, we’d have a better chance of getting a ride.  We were going to take Route 50, dead east, but going north a little bit and then east would do.  East was east.  We were flexible.

“What’s it worth to you?” he asked like maybe he was a used car salesman, ready to deal.

Peter and I had some money with us, but not a lot.  I mean what’s the point of hitchhiking if you had to pay for your rides?  That was the whole point.  To get somewhere on almost nothing and meet groovy people along the way.  To me, hitchhiking was better than taking the bus any day, even when I could afford it.  Usually.  Not today.  Not now.  Now I was desperate and wished I were on a fleet-footed Greyhound.

“How many of us are you willing to take?”

“I’ll take no more than five.  And I’ll let you out one at a time along the way.  Ya know, spread you out so you can get rides easier.”

“I’ll be back before you can get your tire on.”  I promised as I ran back to Peter and the others to talk it over.  Surprisingly, only one other person wanted to do it, the only woman in the group traveling solo.  Jamie was her name.  The others were set on Route 50 and didn’t want to take the chance on fucking up their itinerary.  They felt the trooper just couldn’t stay there forever.

Jamie, Peter and I ran back to the salesman.  The tire was on, the jack back in the trunk, and as he slammed it shut, I saw his eyes light up at the sight of Jamie.  She was a bit of a fox with her long straight brown hair and light brown eyes.  She was wearing a longish summer skirt made of some sort of flimsy, sheer material.  Not sheer enough to be revealing, but enough to spark the imagination.  On top, she wore a sleeveless, tie-dyed, silk undershirt.  She wore no bra and the sweat of her breasts soaked through the silk and darkened the colorful mandalas that cupped them as we stood there out of breath.

“So how much did you come up with?” the salesman asked me though his eyes were targeted on Jamie’s breasts.

“Fifteen dollars for the three of us.  As far as Lovelock.”

“Please! Please, please, please, please!” Jamie beseeched so seductively, it seemed more like cooing than begging.  That’s all it took to make the deal. 

“I’ll sit up front with you,” she smiled at the salesman.  “If that’s OK with you guys.”  She looked back at us and winked as she opened the back door for us, slammed it, and slid into the front seat.

As we approached the on-ramp, we scrunched down so the trooper wouldn’t see us go by.  In another 15 minutes, Jamie had the salesman completely in her spell.  In another 20, she had persuaded him to take her all the way to Salt Lake City .  The salesman would exact an added fee.  The price would be Peter and me.  We’d have to get out as planned in Lovelock.  She went for it and we couldn’t blame her.

When they sped away, Peter and I dropped our packs to the ground and surveyed the area.  We were just on the far side of Lovelock.  Nothing to the west but empty road.  Same to the east.  But directly across the road was a dilapidated cafe.  The setting sun brought out the red of the earth and swirls of dust on the fallow fields and the dripping rust of nails that stained the pillars on the porch of the cafe.

  Peter stuck his thumb out into the dry, warm air.  For which invisible car I don’t know.  I bent over my pack looking for the dried fruit we’d been rationed in Sparks , spied the weed instead, and hid it behind a fence post while we waited for a ride.

When I stood up and turned around I saw an old man step out of the cafe.  He creakily stretched up to grab a pillar with each hand and leaned over the porch to spit.  His enormous stomach sagged forward with the gravity and spilled over the top button of his pants.  Each time he spit his distended belly shook.  He stared at us intently with disgust.  Then he sat back in an old rocker, his eyes never leaving us.

We saw an old jalopy of a pickup coming up the road from the west.  A likely vehicle, I forced myself to think positively.  As it got closer, I guessed it was a ‘49 Ford.  My hopes picked up.  Yes, yes, yes!  You are ours!  But when it passed it was filled with young, scruffy cowboys who hooted and jeered at us.  Three in the cab.  Two in the bed.  As it got smaller I could make out one of the guys in the back giving us the finger.  Oh well.

The old man chuckled as he rocked.

A blotch of a vehicle in the distance coming from the other direction got bigger.  When it was a block away, I recognized it as the same jalopy that had just passed.  This time it was going a little faster.

Suddenly we found ourselves dodging beer cans, garbage, and a few small rocks.  I was never any good at dodge ball in grade school, being skinny my only advantage.  I deftly avoided some rotten fruit, but my shoulder smarted when a beer can caught the bone of my shoulder and Peter was bleeding slightly where a rock caught him on his chin.

We looked at each other.  We couldn’t deny the panic in each other’s faces.  I looked to the old man for help, pleas for mercy in my eyes.  Who else was there to look to?  But he just laughed.  The jalopy had pulled over about 50 yards down the road and all five of the young men were scavenging around the truck.

“They’re reloading!” Peter announced in fear.  “What are we gonna do?”

“Call the cops!  Please!” I yelled to the old man on the porch.  “Please, call them!”

“Go fuck yourselves!” he screamed back, and spit off some of the drool hanging from his chaw-filled mouth.

Two of the guys reached into the back of the pickup near the tailgate.  One of them pulled out some tire chains.  The other a tire iron.  Then all five of them walked slowly down the road toward us, taking their time as if they knew there was nowhere we could run or hide and wanted to savor every moment of our fear.

I was so electric I could hardly think.  I felt like someone shot me up with speed and I was rushing.  Part of me couldn’t believe this was really happening, that these guys would really do something serious.  But as they got closer I could see in their faces they were going to go through with it.  They were going to really mess us up.  The momentum was too strong, the peer pressure was too great for any one of them to say out loud that this really wasn’t fair or right, and to stop what they had started.

Peter was shaking.  Literally.  An epilepsy of fear was taking over his body and making it useless. 

“Maintain, buddy.  Maintain,” I said encouragingly, though the words sounded ridiculous even to me.

Both of us knew neither of us would put up much of a fight.  We could leave the packs behind and make a run for it.  But where to?  The guy with the chains started swinging them in a circle.  The old man across the street laughed harder and louder as they got closer.  I tried desperately to change my fear into anger.  If I could just get angry enough, I’d at least go down scrapping.  But it wasn’t working.  It didn’t have to. 

Out of nowhere appeared a brand new, shiny black, ‘69 Jeep.  Top down and black roll bars catching the oranges and reds of the sunset, it swooped down on us and screeched to a halt on the shoulder of the road, directly in front of us.  A thirtyish, but boyish looking man kept the clutch engaged while revving the engine.

“Jump in!  And I mean now!” he yelled.

I threw my pack in the back, abandoning my precious weed behind the fence post.

Peter just stood there, still in shock, and asked plaintively, “How far are you going?”

The five guys were now running as fast as they could toward us.

“For chrissakes jump the fuck in, Peter!” I said shoving him into the front seat.  I grabbed his pack and jumped into the back.  The driver released the clutch and we squealed onto the highway just as tire chains came slapping down hard on the rear of the car, leaving a nice big scratch between the two ‘E’s of ‘JEEP’.  The five guys getting smaller continued to yell and hurl rocks that would never reach us.  The old man had risen to his feet and had his fist in the air.  So much for peace on earth.  But let’s hear it for magic!

The man behind the wheel was a looker.  Short black hair.  Dark blue eyes.  Big white teeth beneath a nicely trimmed black moustache.  His tanned and muscular neck bulged through a light blue sweatshirt.  When he reached for the clutch or accelerated, you could see the muscles of his upper legs flex through his gray sweatpants.  But I was smitten with his smile and friendly eyes.

I tried to get out of my lowest chakra when he introduced himself as Father O’Keefe.  Father Dan O’Keefe.

“Close call, eh guys?”  He looked first at Peter, then at me in his rear view mirror.

I returned his look.  But Peter was still blithering.   

“Thanks!” I said feeling the word was far from adequate, but he saw the expression on my face and I knew he knew how grateful we were.  “Sometimes I’m amazed at how lucky we are.”

“The Lord does work in mysterious ways, you know.”

Uh-oh!  We’re in for some evangelizing.  Well, I guess it’s the least we can do.  C’mon.  Give us your spiel and get it over with.

“You guys must have some really good karma!” he added.

Well, now. ‘Karma’ is it?  Maybe Father Dan is hipper than I think!

Father Dan was an Episcopalian priest.  His parish was Elko , Nevada . 

“I’m just coming back from a three-day retreat with Alan Watts,” he explained.

“Oh, The Way of Zen,” I said.

“You read it?” He turned briefly to look at me.

“A couple of times,” I answered.

His eyes got bright and we launched into a lively chat about Buddhism and mystical Christianity.  We were so engrossed in the conversation, I didn’t remember switching places with Peter.  By the time we got to Elko about midnight, Father Dan and I were getting each other high from the rap.

Peter and I spent the night in a small meditation room in the Rectory.  The room was sparse, but comfortable.  Icons of every religion ceremoniously decorated the room, but Jesus took center stage.

 


 

In the morning, after showering and eating a big bowl of granola, Father Dan drove us back to US 40.  He gave us each a big hug.  Before he drove away, he turned back to us and said, “Remember.  Take no thought for food or shelter… or rides… and all shall be provided unto you.”  He flashed the peace sign and drove away. 

Within 10 minutes of his leaving, a light green van pulled over.  It was very conservative looking, inconspicuous.  Almost non-descript.  But when the side panel door slid back, a lavishly decorated interior appeared, reminiscent of a sultan’s tent.  The smell of incense rose into the open air.  Two young women and one young man sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor.  The driver had blond hair down to his shoulders.  The guy in the passenger seat was the longhair who went for food back in Sparks .  Freaks every one!  We were back in our element!

The driver smiled at us through the door, a shit-eating grin on his face.

“Where you headin’, brothers?” he asked.

Woodstock ,” Peter and I answered simultaneously.

Woodstock ?” he echoed.  “Well get your asses in here, because this is the Woodstock Express!  Can you drive?  Because from here on out it’s non-stop!”

Peter and I cheered, “All right!”  As we climbed in, we made exaggerated gestures of salaam to show our great appreciation.  Inwardly though, I was thanking Father Dan who I was sure had something to do with this.

As soon as we got going, one of the young women lifted up a piece of carpeting in the corner of the van, and under that a piece of floorboard.  She pulled out a bag of weed and a pipe.  Before passing it around, she lit some incense and changed the tape in the cassette deck.  The rest of the trip all the way to Woodstock was pure bliss.  As if some guardian angel wanted us to get there.  Not one bad vibe for the next 2000 miles. 

Our van mates were the best.  Good smoke, good food, good company, good conversations.  Most of which were speculations about what was going to happen at Woodstock .  The more we speculated, the more we believed each other’s stories.  By the time we got to the New York State border, I succumbed to the crescendo-ing Woodstock energy.  I was a convert to the gospel of the impending collective consciousness.  Of what was to be.  Heaven on earth.  Thought made manifest.

When we got closer to our destination, the traffic got heavier.  Soon it was jammed to a near standstill.  Miles of cars on the only major road crept along as if they were part of the grueling afternoon commute from Manhattan to Westchester .  After three nights and two days of non-stop driving, everyone was wasted and anxious to get out and stretch.  Keri and Rich did just that and walked beside the van for a ways.  We had a hard time keeping up with them we were moving so slowly. 

The excitement was contagious.  So many cars.  So many people.  Unbelievable!  What a rush!  It was almost unbearable!  We were all impatient to get out of the van, including Bill, when we saw some cars just pulling over to the edge of the shoulder and parking. 

“That’s it for me!  End of the line,” Bill said tiredly as he pulled off to the side. 

When everyone had their gear together and Bill locked up the van, we joined the parade.  The parade became a crowd.  The crowd became a throng.  It had started.  Tomorrow was officially the first day, but it had already started. 

Someone in front of Bill passed back a cigar box.  Bill dipped a fingertip into it, put something to his tongue, and passed it to Peter.  Peter did the same and passed the box to me.  I opened it and saw thousands of tiny orange barrels.  Orange sunshine!  I moistened a fingertip, nabbed one of those little barrels with my magnetic digit, and put it on my tongue.  For a moment, I imagined myself an anteater.

By the time we walked through what was supposed to be the fenced entrance, there was no fence and the ticket-takers had given up.  The sheer number of people was staggering.  Within minutes, Peter and I lost sight of each other.  I tried to find him for a little while, but as the acid took effect, I gave up.  I never saw him again.  Not back in LA or any of the many places I would find myself.  His whereabouts have remained a mystery.  But I think of him often and I remember the trip that led to Woodstock .  The trip that ended in a place that would change my life.  A place that affirmed human beings create their own reality.  And the reality can be nice if you want it to be.  If you will it to be. 

Of the concert itself, I remember little.



CHAPTER 4

August 15-17, 1969

 

 

I remember clouds and torrential rains and mud.  I remember hearing music coming out of speakers hanging in the woods that circled the outskirts of Max Yasgur’s farm.  It took me a while, probably not until the second day, to realize that the music blaring out of the speakers was happening live just a hundred yards away!  Was I out of it or what? 

I ventured that hundred yards once, completely overwhelmed by the scene.  Talk about sensory overload!  Smell was the first to overwhelm me.  The smell of sweaty half-naked bodies writhing and undulating all over each other.  Beautiful!  Then the smells became the colors.  The colors became the music.  The music became the smells.  The bodies were pogo-ing up and down.  Breasts were bobbing up and down.  Cocks were flapping up and down.  Hair was tossing everywhere. 

I wanted to join in, to meld with my brothers and sisters, but I couldn’t make any headway.  It was like I was a metal shaving being repelled by the wrong end of a large magnet. 

Then again, it may have been the acid.  Or the mushrooms.  Maybe the mescaline.  Who could tell?  Who wasn’t in a similar condition?  So I made my way slowly back into the woods.  It took forever.  Maybe the sopping wet sleeping bag I was dragging behind me had something to do with it.  I wondered how long I had been dragging it.  I figured I must want it because my hand was attached to it. 

Was there anything else my hand should be attached to?  Do I have other possessions I should know about?  How about a car?  Where were the keys?  Wait.  I think I hitch-hiked here.  I think I… “Think.”  But who am… “I”?  And how long have… “I” been standing… “Here”? 

So I started walking again, backwards, talking to my sleeping bag, pondering the Isness, when I bumped into Jon.  Or Jon bumped into me. 

Startled, we jumped upright and twirled in complete synchronization to see who or what it was.  We each took half a step backwards and stared at each other.  Eyes into eyes.  He was a head taller than me, but we instinctively compensated, Jon scrunching down a few inches, me standing on the balls of my feet.  We circled and sized each other up and down.  Front and back. 

Jon was also dragging a wet sleeping bag behind him.  We must’ve looked like two very strange birds, each sporting the same tail feathers, doing a ritual mating dance.  The sight of each other amazed us.  But it didn’t surprise us.  We were too obliterated to be surprised by anything.

There we were.  Two freaks.  Stoned out of our minds.  Soaking wet.  Standing on a little knoll in a clearing in the woods.  Two brides of Catatonia, wearing bridal gowns of wet skin, damp pants, squishy shoes, and long, flowing trains of North Face’s best down sleeping bags. 

The clouds parted and a ray of sun shone through, dabbing briefly the spot where we stood.  This was almost too much, even for me!  Too dramatic!  Too Hollywood! 

But this was the time of magic, right?  How about Father Dan saving us like that from those rednecks!  Wasn’t he somethin’!  Everything happens for a reason.  You live your life by the signs.  And the signs were everywhere for those who take no thought.  Like I wasn’t!  So shut up already and enjoy the moment! 

And I did.  As I was saying, we were immersed in light and we looked into each other’s eyes. 

At the moment of contact, we burst out laughing.  We laughed as if laughing were the consummate biological function.  Better than farting.  Or eating.  Or belching.  Or cumming.  We laughed ‘til we had to hang on to each other’s shoulders.  And that weight became so heavy, we dragged each other down until we were lumps of jello lounging on clumps of soggy down. 

Jon, with some effort, raised himself to his elbows, looked at me with a huge, loving grin, and said, “It just doesn’t get any better than this!”

For the next two days, we were inseparable.  We never got around to normal conversation, the kind where you learn facts about each other.  But we shared the same experiences.  Jon could turn the most mundane chore into a cosmic event.  While we helped Wavy Gravy scoop bulgur and veggies onto paper plates, Jon made references to Ganesh and Milarepa.  Into a sentence heavy with hippie jargon he’d insert a quote from The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, The Koran, or The Bible.  He could find the cosmic parallel between pulling a booger from your nose and the Jainist principles of ahimsa.

The Hog Farm’s camp became our headquarters, our haven, our refuge, our retreat from the masses of humanity just beyond the trees.  Some listened to the concert from the speakers that were randomly spaced throughout the woods.  Many were content to stay put.

We made brief forays to the edge of the 500,000-ring circus.  And when we did, I imagined that this is what India must be like.  But in our state, we needed the peacefulness of the woods.  We listened to would-be folk and rock stars on the Hog Farm’s small open-mike stage.  We passed chillums and joints with passers-by and patiently listened to them describe inscrutable trips only they could understand.  We watched and enjoyed the carnival and its outrageous characters and wished our heads were on swivel joints.  Everyone was beautiful.  And even when they weren’t they still were. 

One woman really knocked Jon and me for a loop.  She seemed totally out of place.   She was dressed completely in black.  A black sheath clung too tightly to her baby fat body.  Around the hips, it hitched up into neat little horizontal pleats making her stomach look like a halfway-opened accordion.  From her calves to where her hem started just above the knees, sagging black silk stockings couldn’t hide hairy legs.  Her large breasts supported the upper half of her low cut dress entirely by themselves and the two thin straps that draped loosely over her square shoulders looked bored with nothing to do.  A few wild black hairs crept out of her bosom’s sizable valley.  Dark hair shaded her upper lip as well, thick enough to be a moustache a young pre-teen boy would be proud to sport. 

The hair on her head, a mangled mane of jet-black ringlets, was done up in a sloppy bouffant and held there with black ribbons.  Her eyelids were dressed in light blue mascara and outlined with kohl.  On top of her eyes were brows that looked painted with India ink.  She carried her black, mud-caked, stiletto pumps in one hand.  With the other hand, she casually swung a black patent leather purse in a perfectly repeating arc, like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. 

Her face itself was wonderfully full and round.  The skin was smooth, white, and flawless.  Her cheeks were naturally rosy and really didn’t need those daubs of gaudy rouge.  Her eyes were dark, big, and intense.  Her teeth were bright and even.  Her lips were painted harlot red and she sashayed through the crowd as if she were one.  She constantly smiled a Mona Lisa smile.  And despite the garb, the gait, and the make-up, she was completely angelic and at second glance… well, maybe third… really very beautiful.

Most people tried to avoid her.  She stood out so much from the rest of the tie-dyed crowd, they couldn’t help but stare.  If she caught someone doing that, she’d stop and stare right back with the challenge, “Can you handle me?”  She’d wait and if you averted your eyes, she’d move on with a flourish of her hips which said, “Well!  I’m sorry, but if that’s the case, I just can’t be bothered!”  Then she’d resume her stroll, forth and back, scanning the crowd with a sense of aloof superiority. 

Every once in a while someone wouldn’t look away.  Then she’d walk with large, happy, deliberate strides, and pounce on the spot immediately in front of the innocent voyeur.  The staring game would continue with renewed intensity.  A couple of times, I watched her pounce in front of one of the many zombies who were glued by one drug or another to the damp ground.  She and her prey would just sit there, nose to nose, staring at each other.  After five minutes or so, she’d stand up, brush the dust off her cocktail dress, adjust it, and smile down on her conquest as if to say, “It was good for me and I hope it was just as good for you!”  She seemed to know that it was.  Then she’d continue walking her beat, like a lady of the night waiting for a good time.  But only with the right john at the right price.

When she caught Jon and me staring at her, she gave us more than a moment to make up our minds.  Jon and I looked quickly at each other, then back at her.  By then, she was in front of us.  Jon, with a tone of decisiveness about it, as if he had been quickly deliberating the situation said, “Better.  Much better.”

She sat with a graceful and childlike plop in front of us, grinning as big a grin as you can get, her red cheek muscles bursting with glee.  Nothing was spoken.  Her eyes said everything.  We stared for eternity.  Somehow she managed to stare at the both of us without darting her eyes forth and back or ever blinking.  It took me a while to settle in.  To breathe deep and full again.  I know because when she first sat down my chest felt constricted, but after a while, I felt perfectly at ease.  And the three of us just sat there in a little triangle, leaning in a little, making a minor pyramid, Jon’s and my face no more than six inches away from hers.

And then she closed one of her huge eyelids.  There on her eyelid she had painted a tropical paradise.  A stretch of beach with palm trees and gentle surf.  You could tell the sand was warm and the coconut palms were heavy with fruit.  A conch shell lay in the sand and a seagull flew in the blue sky just above a wisp of clouds.  The breeze was just right.  Jon and I were transfixed, then transported.  We went for a long swim.

After what seemed like hours but was probably only a couple of minutes, she lifted her eyelid and broke into another enormous “I told you so” grin.  She stood up and looked at us lovingly, like a mother toward her children.  Then she walked away, turning back just once as if to say, “Now you two boys play nice and be good!”

She was already out of hearing distance when I found my voice and offered a feeble “Thank you.”

Jon looked at me, then toward her, and said, “Better.  Much better!”

Everything was “better” to Jon.  When the clouds got thick and dark and it looked like it was going to dump on us again, Jon would look up and say, “Oh… Better!  Really this is muuuuch better!”  And if the sentence started sarcastically, it always ended convincingly, for himself, and for anyone who happened to be around him.  It was all part of his Better philosophy.

When you get dumped by your lover, that’s better!  When you find out your lover gave you the clap as a going away present, that’s even better!  When the cops knock on your door only to tell you a neighbor’s complaining about the loud music, but you forgot to hide the bong and the cops see it through the open door and you end up busted down at county jail... better!   No matter what happens, it’s better because nothing happened to make it any different.  Because at every moment you must choose the positive or negative universe.  Because all good hippies pick the positive universe.  Because at any particular place, that’s where you’re supposed to be.

Better is beautiful!  For two days, things just got better and better.  Until it was so beautiful Jon couldn’t take it any more.  He left before Woodstock was officially over.  I knew it was hard for him to leave and I knew I would probably leave too rather than face the vacuum that would be left behind.  For me Woodstock was Jon and Jon was Woodstock .  When he left, he said he promised not to bump into me again until the next time.

He knew I lived somewhere in Laurel Canyon .  All I knew about him was that he was from Ridgewood , New Jersey , but was living at a farm in upstate New York .  Naturally, it was called Better Farm.  He left, but not before teaching me how to “walk in the way of the Lord.” 

According to Jon, everything in nature had a perfect pace and proper gait.  The planets revolved around the sun at just the right speed.  Birds flew as fast as they’re supposed to.  Plants grew at just the proper rate. 

Jon looked around to make sure no one was eavesdropping.  Then he leaned close to my ear and shared the secret.  “Walk toe to heel and you join the rhythm of the universe.   That’s how Jesus walked.  Toe to heel.  That’s how a Lord walks!”

“And just where did you get this information?” I asked him totally intrigued, respecting his confidence.

“Aquarian George in upstate New York told me,” Jon answered as if his source were beyond reproach.  “And I believe him!  He’s really into all the mystics and great teachers and the occult and stuff like that.  Think about it Giacco!  You know something’s true the moment you hear it!  You just feel it in your bones!  Or somewhere in the depths of your being.”

I didn’t need further convincing, but Jon must have felt it necessary.

“Think about how Indians walk through the woods.”  Jon said.  Then he demonstrated while he explained.  “Your weight is on your back foot.  The toes of your right foot reach forward for the next step.  But if there’s a stone to slip you, or a twig to crack, jeopardizing your stalk or whatever’s stalking you, there’s still time to retract it and try another place.  When you walk heel to toe, however, take a step and you’re committed to it!  Your weight is on it!  You can’t take it back!  You’re stuck! 

“Ever notice how babies take their first steps?” Jon asked excitedly.  “Toe to heel!” he continued, not waiting for an answer.

“Next time you see a baby, pay attention!  They instinctively point their toes to the next tentative footing.  They’re in perfect rhythm with the universe.  For a while.  Until they begin to mimic their parents and start walking heel to toe!  What are the results I ask you?”  Once again, he didn’t wait for an answer. 

“They’re vulnerable for the rest of their lives.  They’re forever off guard and completely out of balance!”

Jon stood up and started lordwalking in circles around me.  Toe to heel.  Toe to heel. 

“Imagine all the people in Manhattan walking toe to heel.  It would really slow them down,” he said with the medical concern of a real doctor on TV. 

“Stress levels would drop immediately.  And more importantly, when you walk toe to heel you notice everything you’re supposed to.  That’s the human’s proper pace in the scheme of things! 

“That’s how the Lord walked!”

“Which lord is that again, Jon?” I asked.

I don’t know why, but he laughed and punched himself in the forehead.



CHAPTER 5

September 1969

 

 

The Japanese Trading Company.  That’s what the sign said above the building.  Part of a row of buildings, each one representing a different country.  Mine had dragons and Kanji all over it.  All the plate glass windows were painted with psychedelic yin yang symbols and flying Sufi eyes.  The row of buildings was a facade for the Pacific Ocean Park amusement park.  It was built on the pier that separated south Santa Monica beach from the north Venice boardwalk.  Anyone could easily wander under the pier and among the pilings.  But for security reasons, the owners had made it almost impossible to gain access to the pier itself from the beach.  Cyclone fences topped with barbed wire ran the length of each side of the pier.  The only easy access to it was from the buildings that fronted it. 

I never did see the park when it was operating, but it must’ve been wonderful.  The tiny back door of my studio entered directly onto the pier.  I used a madras tablecloth as a wall hanging to hide the door so no one would know it was there.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t need a secret place.  And there were plenty of them out on the pier.  I explored them a lot and knew them inside out.  Every nook.  Every cranny.  Every spook in every haunted house.

When I opened my little back door the first sight that greeted me was the carousel.  Most all the rides were still intact.  The horses and elephants and giraffes on the carousel still retained the depth of their colors despite the salt air.  Beyond the carousel was the roller coaster.  Enormous.  The cars on the loading platform waited to fill up with imaginary daredevils talking excitedly, waiting their turn.  None of the rides was functional.  All power had been turned off to the pier.  Yet on moonlit nights you could easily throw a mental switch and turn everything on.

After rehearsing late into the night and when the last of the dancers had gone, Saul and I would slip out the back door and find a nice ride to sit in.  The Tilt-a-Whirl cars had the most comfortable seats, but an old ferris wheel chair had the best view of the ocean and stars.  Every now and then you could hear teenagers, girls and boys, running under the pier or smell a waft of whatever they were smoking.  Then we’d follow the sounds and smells and when we were directly above them, we’d lay on our stomachs and spy on them through the cracks in the timbers.  Watching them trip and fuck and listening to their stories made me realize how sheltered my own teen-age years were, and envious of all the “good times” that were probably right under my nose and that I never took advantage of because I was such a dunce when it came to sex and sin.

One time we spied on a group of five young surfers who frequented the waves next to the pier.  I recognized them because they used to meet at dawn in front of my studio and their chatter would wake me up.  I’d peek through a postage stamp size scratch in the painted plate glass window and let my early morning hard-on admire them as they passed by bare-chested in their low slung board shorts.

Yep.  It was the same guys.  Saul and I could make out some words between the crashes of waves against the pilings.  “Fuck the crack of dawn.”  “Mick Jagger.”  “How far can you shoot?”  “Round pound.”  One of them started imitating Jimi Hendrix miming a guitar above his head and wailing lines from “Purple Haze”.  When he got to the part that should go ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky, he sang ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy.  None of the other kids skipped a beat.  Fuck!  It was Hendrix!  It must be OK! 

Saul and I immediately straightened up and cramped our facial muscles trying not to laugh.  When we got control of ourselves we resumed our spying. 

We could just make out the highlights the moon made on their bodies standing in a circle.  Sometimes their faces would fall into a shaft of light.  Some had their eyes open, others tightly closed.  Some even tilted their heads back and looked directly up at us but never saw us on the other side of the timbers.  Their oversized trunks either hung at their knees or had slipped all the way down around their ankles.  Some of the stronger waves made it up to where their feet and trunks were sinking into the sand and you could see the foam glowing with phosphorescence, heightening the movement of their hands pumping furiously up and down. 

Without saying a word, Saul and I looked up at each other.  He rose to his knees, unzipped his pants, and pulled out his “pecker” as Saul liked to call it.

“What can I say?” Saul whispered as he stroked. “It’s contagious!”  He looked up at the sky with the expression of someone whose desire has passed the point of no return.  When he looked back at me, his eyes were glazed over.  I felt myself stiffening.  I rose to my knees, unzipped my pants, and joined him.  We watched each other intently.  We watched the boys through the rough wood.  Voyeurism at its best. 

Saul and I never got it on together, except for vicarious sex such as this or mutual masturbation.  We were never embarrassed by it.  We never talked about it.  When we were both through we chuckled mischievously.  I wondered if the pools of cum would drip over the edge of a plank onto the young skin of a surfer.  I got my answer when I heard one of the guys below say, “Fuck, some bird just shit on my shoulder!”  We put our “peckers” away, zipped up, and headed back to the ferris wheel. 


 

Saul always had the best dope.  That night we smoked some Gambian Red.  Smuggled in peanut shells that had been slit with a razor, the peanuts replaced with the pot, and the shell meticulously, seamlessly, glued back together.  Saul had been given two shells.  One was more than enough to send us soaring.  Such a treat to have that light, airy, expansive, intelligent smoke fill your lungs rather than the dense, heavy and dopey Mexican bud that had been around the past few weeks and only made you sleepy.

The more stoned we got, the wilder the ideas we’d come up with.  I needed a black stage with a black cyclorama.  The cyc should rise at least twenty feet and have hand and footholds all over it.  With proper lighting we would be able to give the audience the illusion of levitation.  We would defy gravity and blow their minds.

Saul, being more practical than I, was more concerned with the Free Press concert happening that Saturday.  It was supposed to be a love-in/anti-war gathering.  Right there on that expanse of beach between Pacific Ocean Park and where Venice proper started.  The line up consisted of Spirit, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Taj Mahal, interspersed with anti-war speeches.  For a change, we would be on the stage itself and not on scaffolds.  Still, it was just more go-go dancing.  And we’d be doing it for free just like all the other entertainers.  Saul said the exposure would be good for us and the Free Press would mention our name.

Saturday morning I awoke to the sounds of people walking, running, roller skating past the studio.  Hardly unusual except for the numbers of them.  I peeked through my window and saw a steady stream of bare chests, tie-dyed halter tops, beach towels, ice-chests, picnic baskets, banners and signs.  The concert didn’t start til one, but the crowds were arriving early.

My gang arrived around eleven.  We warmed up with sun exercises and calisthenics.  Then we each took a half a tab of acid and headed for the beach a block away.  It wasn’t Woodstock , but it was as dense.  The stage was about twenty feet from the boardwalk and faced the ocean.  A small crew was finishing up and a skinny, balding, bearded guy was doing a sound check.  On the far right were the pilings of the pier and the skeleton of the rollercoaster silhouetted by the blazing sun.  On the far left was a massive, partially buried pipe.  The part that stuck out of the sand was a good three feet high.  It ran from god knows where in the bowels of Venice or Santa Monica to spill god knows what into the ocean.  In the hundred yards or so between the pipe and the pier, the boardwalk and the ocean, were thousands of people arranging blankets, putting on lotion, smoking pot, tripping out.

It was a real family affair.  Nuclear and otherwise.  Lots of kids of all ages.  Young hippie moms breast-feeding their newborns.  Young hippie dads sporting their tots on their shoulders.  Lots of short-haired liberals who sympathized with the drop-outs, but hadn’t yet themselves.  Who maybe wanted to, but couldn’t. 

They were the people who had complied with two of Leary’s suggestions.  They had turned on.  They had tuned in.  But the dropping out was left to the hippies, the flower children.   These were the stoned, young, left-wing members of the establishment, who enjoyed the fringe element of the freaks.  Who counted on them to bring fun, color, and diversity into the culture.  And who would fight passionately for their right to express themselves as free spirits.  They knew that by securing the rights of the fringe, they were securing their own. 

These were the young blue-collar and white-collar workers who relished the uninhibited cavorting but who were too shy to cavort themselves.  These were the modern politicos who wanted the freaks to be the scene while they worked behind the scenes.  These were the peacemakers, environmentalists and civil rights activists who worked within the system.   These were the true revolutionaries who were the salt of the new earth we were going to make.  The pillars of the future society that would bring in the Aquarian Age.  The freaks, the hippies, the flower children had already dropped out and were leaving the earth’s atmosphere, creating lifestyles, language, fashions and issues that would, they hoped, become part of the mainstream culture in following years.

It was a wonderful day.  Everyone was on a high.  Spirit really got everyone on their feet.  Dancing.  Swaying.  Gettin’ down!  The speeches were empowering and solidified the crowd’s resolve against the war.  They knew that the threat from the outside was now and forever a lie.  They knew that the country had better start thinking in a new way.  And they knew that these rallies were meant to attract the media and make people pay attention.  They needed a venue where their opposition could be clearly seen and loudly heard.  So they rose to the occasion and hooted and whistled and hollered at the top of their lungs in response to buzz words that echoed through the loudspeakers.  But the crowd was there as much for the music as they were to make a statement.  They were there to have a good time and have some fun.

The vibes everywhere were great, and though I and the other dancers had dispersed among the crowd, there was no need to work it.  So when the next band walked on stage and began tuning up, I started back toward the stage and hoped the rest of the crew weren’t too stoned by now to find their way back.  I was flashing my badge at one of the security guys in front of the stage.  That’s when I saw them.

All along the boardwalk, from the pier to the sewer pipe, stood an impenetrable wall of LA’s finest decked out in full riot gear. 

Where had they come from?  All of a sudden like that?  Didn’t anyone see them approaching?  Was it possible an entire stadium-load of people could collectively be so oblivious to their arrival?

I followed the wall of chest-shielded, head-helmeted, face-masked robots.  They just stood there at the ready, most holding clubs, some lightly bouncing them in their open palms.  Legs slightly apart, solidly grounded, black leather chaps catching the glare of the sun, they looked like a thick wrought iron fence.  I looked to the right and saw the crowd begin to notice the fence extending quickly along the length of the pipe almost all the way to the surf.  A wave of bad vibes crashed upon the crowd.

The negative energy was palpable.  It cut through the crowd quickly like a scythe through grass.  The panic in the air was razor sharp.  You could feel people working hard to keep their acts together.  Trying to be calm.  Buddies continuing to drink their beer and assuming forced poses of macho nonchalance.  Boyfriends telling their girlfriends to be calm.  Mothers calmly gathering up their kids.  Dads calmly, but firmly, persuading them it was time to go.  But the kids knew something was wrong.  Like a dog sensing an earthquake.  Like a gull sensing a hurricane.

One of the anti-war speakers grabbed the microphone.  She tried to keep the crowd, now on the very edge, from falling off.  She tried reason.  She tried humor.  She tried sarcasm.  Someone from the Free Press was talking with a riot squad honcho.  The cop had his arms impatiently akimbo, while the Free Press guy used his hands and arms freely, gesturing first toward the crowd, then to the police, then back to the crowd, trying to communicate reason over mayhem.  The colorful shirt he wore made him look like a sailor flagging semaphore.  I could tell he wasn’t getting anywhere when he threw his hands into the air.  In the meantime, the crowd was becoming more anxious and vocal.  A verbal assault on the cops was gaining momentum from the braver souls, while others were, as inconspicuously as possible, trying to make their way off the beach.  An empty pop bottle soared over my head toward the boardwalk and before it fell short of its mark, I saw the head honcho look toward his men, nod slightly, and yell, “Clear the area.  Now!”

Suddenly it was chaos.  Clubs cracking skulls.  Kids screaming and being trampled by both the cops and the crowd.  Some people putting up a fight.  Guys trying to rip the masks from the cops’ faces to get something to punch at.  Feisty women kicking and biting their assailants.  Kids trying to hang on to, but then violently bucked off, the bronco legs of police who were trying to pummel their dads.  Lots of bleeding.  Lots of pleading.  Lots of stoned, dazed acid-heads trying to get a grip.  People running every which way trying to escape.  Many were backed up to the ocean and more than a few began swimming out into the water beyond the reach of the incessant swinging clubs.  The rest scrambled blindly trying to reach the pier or zigzag through the police to the boardwalk.  A typhoon of colors.  A tornado of demons.  A torrent of pathetic faces, their expressions disfigured by anger and fear and panic.  A tsunami of nightmares in the blazing California sun.

I ducked under the stage and when the first row of cops charged the beach, made a run for the boardwalk and ran as fast as I could toward my studio.  I looked behind me.  Close at my heels were another forty or so people and a half block behind them about 10 of the storm troopers.  I fiddled with the keys and got the door to my studio opened just in time, but not in enough time to prevent the crowd from rushing in behind me.  When we were all inside, we locked the door and started piling everything we could against it.  As we pushed the piano into place we could see the silhouettes of clubs on the other side of the painted plate glass windows. 

The silhouettes got nearer and darker and crashed through the glass sending shards and slivers everywhere.  One of the cops lobbed in a canister.  The gas quickly permeated the air.  People were screaming.  The cops batted the remaining glass out of their way and entered through the windows.  The people inside were either blindly confused and tearfully running right into their clutches, or lying in a frozen crumple on the floor.

At the first sound of the breaking glass, I ran to the very rear of the studio, lifted the madras wall hanging and scurried out the little back door onto the pier.  I made my way as furtively as I could to the Tilt-a-Whirl.  To the car that had the loose seat cushion.  The seat was hollow and I used to hide my stash there sometimes when I had a paranoically large amount.  I scrunched in and fiddled with the cushion until it fell back into place.  About a half hour later, I heard two cops walking around, talking, turning over barrels and crates.  Then silence.  I stayed in my hiding place until late that night. 

I had never before referred to cops as “pigs” even though at the time it was a perfectly politically correct thing to do.  We are all divine.  I always tried to remind myself of that.  I made a habit of saying it to myself when I got mad.  The same way other people counted to 10, that’s how I said we are all divine. 

We are all divine.  We are all divine.  We are all divine.  We are all divine. 

I worked hard not to slur anybody.  But this night, I learned the meaning of the word “pig” and knew many things would have to change before I stopped using it.

I sneaked back to the studio but was afraid to turn on any lights.  I leaned my mattress against the wall and stuffed a narrow piece of foam under it.  There, in that little cave, I huddled until dawn, wondering how the world would react when it learned of my early retirement from The Dance.    

It didn’t take much light of day to see that practically everything was destroyed.  The piano, the stereo, the few furnishings.  All my records lay smashed and strewn across the floor. If I stared at them without blinking, I could imagine they were part of the design of the tile.  I threw a few pieces of clothing in my backpack, walked to the highway, stuck one thumb north and the other thumb south.  That’s how I ended up spending the night in Laguna with Josie. 



CHAPTER 6

October 1969

 

 

Josie reminded me of the perfect California girl.  The kind evoked by the Beach Boys.  In her dark green Dodge Dart convertible.  Her head leaning back against the head rest, her long, sun-streaked, dirty blonde hair hanging over the back of the front seat.  Sparkling blue eyes.  She was a beach beauty for sure.  Actually a woman of 32, she passed easily for a petite bombshell 10 years younger.  When she pulled over she said, “I’m only stopping for you because you look completely unintimidating.  Hop in.”

I said, “Thank you.  I think.”

She’d heard about the “riot” on the news.  But when I told her how the cop-attack had affected me personally, it became more real to her and she felt compelled out of a sense of hippie charity to offer me a place to stay for the night.  That would be at the home she shared with her husband Tyler in the Laguna hills overlooking the ocean.

The house was early 60s.  Modest.  Immaculate.  The furnishings, the decor, everything about the house looked straight and middle class.  The only decoration that belied anything but a wide-eyed Keene culture was a God’s eye hanging over the TV.  And that could easily be taken for token folk art.  Upstanding and wholesome people lived here.  The kind that make good neighbors.  The kind that never are the center of attention.  That’s just the way Josie and Ty wanted it.

Tyler was out of town on business.  He was a pilot.  Flying a few tons of marijuana from Mexico into the states.  They were personal friends of Timothy Leary.  In fact, they were at the forefront of the League for Spiritual Discovery and I gathered they traveled in a circle of friends concentric to, but beyond mine.  When Josie pulled her hair back into a ponytail to start dinner, I realized this whole scene of the tastefully dressed housewife living in a respectable subdivision was a well-planned facade to enable them to perpetrate cosmic conspiracies.  I imagined Ty walking in wearing a dark blue captain’s uniform with epaulets, upon which were embroidered the Dead’s skull and roses, but he wasn’t due back until the next afternoon.

Of course I found all of this out much later, after Josie and I had shared an experience that made us completely trusting of one another. 

The way she juiced the carrots.  The way she checked the steaming rice and veggies.  The way she moved.  The way she talked.  It was as if she were operating on a different plane.  She was high, but not on drugs.  She never offered me any.  And I had nothing to offer.  But as we talked I was getting a contact high.

It started off with references to Arjuna, but by the time we finished dinner and the moon was rising, we had covered everything from Joel Goldsmith’s The Infinite Way to Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inyat Khan.  It excited us that we both had read so many of the same books.  And we found our conversation addicting.  Everything we said to each other made perfect sense.  Her sentences spiraled into mine spiraled back into hers spiraled back into mine, each time getting a little higher.  When we got around to the Evans-Wentz translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, we were soaring. 

I told her about some of the experiences I had had experimenting with breath while tripping on acid.  How I would gradually slow my breathing and make the time between exhaling and taking the next inhale longer and longer.  Eventually I’d reach a point where the time between breaths was so long, I would wonder if I could accidentally asphyxiate myself.  As soon as I began to wonder, it was over.  I was back in my mind.  And I’d start gasping for air, frightened.

“That’s where free will comes in,” she said tingling.  “I know what you’re talking about.  I’ve had the same experience.  If I could just choose of my own free will to have the faith to surrender... I’m sure somewhere in that space between the breaths is the answer!”

We were standing when it happened.

The room suddenly darkened like I was about to black out.  Without warning, I was thrown across the room and landed at the foot of the sofa.  I looked up at Josie and she was immobilized where she stood, inside a blinding aura that was glowing yellow and white.  I rubbed my eyes when she started changing, first into an old lady, then into a baby, a child, a young girl, an old woman again.  Over and over, faster and faster through all the phases of a human body’s life.  Like a film run at such a high speed you no longer see frames that make any pictorial sense, she turned into a constant blur of rotating light.

I was paralyzed when a disembodied voice floated across the room.  It was distinguishable as Josie’s but sounded like it had been run through a sampler and processed.  A couple of octaves lower with a reverb.

“I have absolutely nothing to do with what is happening,” the voice said.  “I have merely been chosen as a channel of grace for you.”  And then Josie raised her arm and pointed a finger at me.  And I was filled with information.  Not verbal.  Not visual.  But the message was total and complete.  It was perfect.  I had never experienced such direct communication.  There was no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation.  It was clear and precise and perfect.  And though I can’t verbalize it either, it was an affirmation that the truth we’d been skirting around was just that.  The truth.  And all the books we had talked about were true.  And all the intimations of truth we had experienced were true.  And the truth was closer than your own breath.

As the room brightened and the aura faded, Josie dropped to the floor and I collapsed against the sofa.  Neither of us spoke or moved for at least fifteen minutes.  Finally, Josie, looking exhausted, got up and said, “I think I’d better go roll a joint.”

When she came back, I said, “Josie, I think I just had an acid flashback.  I never did know whether there really was such a thing, but I think I just...”

“No, you didn’t just!” she interrupted.  “It really happened.  I was there too!  I can’t explain it.  I can’t account for any of it.  But it did happen.  We are not going crazy!”

We smoked the joint and came down.  We both felt drained.

“I’d like to sleep with you tonight,” Josie said quietly.  “I mean really just sleep with you.  Next to you.  I love my husband.  But I just feel I need to sleep next to you tonight.  OK?”

And that was fine with me.  But after we got in bed and started cuddling, Josie threw her long hair over my chest and started kissing my stomach.  She worked her way down and when she felt my cock getting hard against her body, she worked her way back up until our lips met.  She slowly and gently slipped her tongue in between my lips and parted them, reaching in further and further.

I ran my hand along the side of her body, caressing her breast and ribs.  When I got to her hip I went to reach under it and she accommodated by lifting and giving me enough clearance to explore her vagina.  It was so sweet and moist and comforting.  And we comforted each other all night.

Before I left the next day, Josie gave me her copy of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.  I gave her a brotherly kiss on the lips and neither heard from nor saw her ever again.

I walked down the curving roads to the Pacific Coast Highway .  It was time to go home.  But I didn’t have one.  And I didn’t want to go back to Venice or Suzanne’s.  So I hitched north a little past Malibu and when one ride told me he was taking Topanga Canyon Boulevard over to the valley, I told him to let me out at the Country Store in Topanga.  At the phone booth outside, I called Dean.  Collect.



CHAPTER 7

October 1969

 

 

When Dean finally pulled into the gravel parking lot of the Country Store, I was beaming like a little kid, happy to see him, my first love, my patron, my big brother, my father.  But Dean was just shaking his head.

“Look, Giacco,” he said getting out of the car.  “I just can’t keep going on like this.  Bailing you out all the time.  Putting up with your antics.”

“Dean...” I said, ignoring his opening statement.  “Last night I had the most incredible experience.  I got a ride to Laguna with this woman who...”

“Shut up and listen to me for once!” he interrupted sharply.  “Lisa and I are leaving.”

“What do you mean, you’re leaving?”  I asked, taken completely off guard.  “This is really out of the blue!”

“No, it’s not completely out of the blue!  Where have you been?”

“But Dean!  It was always me and you!  The three-ways with Lisa were just for fun!  I thought we all understood that!”  I could tell from the resolve on his face, guilt-tripping wasn’t going to work, but I continued.  “I thought she understood that.  I thought you made that clear to her!”

“Giacco, it hasn’t been me and you for a very long time.  It’s been you and Peter.  It’s been you and Suzanne.  It’s been you and every runaway waif you rescue and bring home at my expense!”

My mind was reeling.  Dean was waiting for a response.  But I was rewinding my life to the few months when I briefly became an adult, according to my parents.  But then what did they know?

 


 

It was the final summer before being conscripted into the “real” world.  1965.  I had just graduated from college.  I didn’t want to jump into any old job.  It had to pay well and require extensive international travel.  In addition to that, my “unauthorized” junior year abroad in Europe had raised a lot of questions about myself.  And I barely managed to make it through my senior year, compulsively looking for sex, not getting any, and hanging out with poets and other weird people down at DuPont Circle . 

Even then I feared the trap of the real world corporate lifestyle I was expected to follow.  I just felt it wasn’t me.  So I went up to New York and took a job as a soda jerk in an off beat ice cream parlor in the West Village .  The Cliché.  Just temporarily.  Just to give myself time to find the perfect position.  I guess I was just stalling.

Dean arrived in New York with a brand new MBA in his back pocket.  He was in town for job interviews.  I had just finished my shift at the Cliché and was already out on the sidewalk when I passed Dean walking into the cafe.  As the door closed, we both turned to look at one another, then turned away.

Across the street, I turned to look once more just for the hell of it.  Dean, with his short but tousled blonde hair, gray three-piece suit and briefcase, was standing outside the cafe looking back at me like an ad for Gentleman’s Quarterly.  He started to cross the street.

I looked away and walked up Barrow Street .  Before I turned the corner, I looked back again.  Dean was at the far corner, quickening his pace.  I wanted to believe he was following me, but I could hardly believe it.  He was too good looking.  Too WASP good looking.  Too well-bred good looking.  It must be a coincidence.  What could he possibly want with me?

Before I turned the next corner, I looked back again.  He wasn’t there.  He wasn’t following me after all.  I was right.  He had better things to do.  And then when I turned, there he was, out of breath, standing right in front of me.  He had run all the way around the block.

“Should I just take it that you don’t want to meet me?” Dean asked.

I was flustered and I thought about what to say for too long.  When I finally said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” it didn’t ring true for either of us.  I was busted.

Dean laughed.  “Let’s go get a coffee or a drink or something.  How about it?”

I nodded and smiled, a little uncomfortably.  And off we went.

He bought me a few drinks and later, over dinner, we exchanged life stories, or at least the parts that made us look our best.  Then we took in a movie, I can’t begin to remember what it was because my mind was doing cartwheels.  When it was over and we were back on the street, he asked if I wanted to spend the night with him in his hotel room.  I thought about it, trying to make the thinking process obvious on my face, trying to play hard to get, and said “OK” like my heart wasn’t really into it.  The problem was my heart was too much into it.  Dean just laughed, quietly, almost politely.

Dean took his clothes off first.  His body was as handsomely put together as his face.  He got into bed and pulled the sheet up to his navel.

“Well, c’mon.  Hop in,” he said, screwing up his face.

I was nervous.  I had done plenty of mental acrobatics rationalizing the desire to sleep with men.  I found plenty of reinforcement in all the philosophies and histories I had chosen to agree with.  I had even in my own mind regarded the Classical homosexual experience as somewhat noble.  But I was short, very short, on experiences. 

I sighed.  “The truth is, Dean, I’ve never slept with a man.  I’ve never slept with a woman either.  I’m nervous and I feel awkward.”

Dean looked at me more than a little askance.  “It’s true!” I said.  “Don’t be mad.  Don’t think I’m weird.  But I think I’d rather leave now and have a cup of coffee with you again tomorrow, than to spend the night and never see you again.”

An expression of frustration passed across Dean’s face.  “I think you’ve been working at the Cliché too long,” he said sarcastically.

“Well, I know maybe it sounds corny, but that’s the way I feel!”  He looked at me with wonder in his eyes.  “And I’m a little afraid,” I added.

Dean softened and said, “Well maybe you can have both.  The night with me and coffee in the morning. 

So I undressed and climbed in next to him and spent the night.  He made love to me so tenderly and sensually, I felt every inch of my body had gone up to heaven.  And he never tried anything that might cross boundaries that would scare me off.  We did have coffee together the next morning, and I spent the next night with him.  And the next.  When he flew back to Chicago , I was miserable.  But he called often.  He’s one of the few people I’ve ever known that could give me a hard on just talking on the phone.  Not that the topics of conversation were erotic... they weren’t.  It was just the sound of him.  If that’s not a first love, what is? 

During one phone call he told me he was accepting a position with NBC in New York and would be out in a couple of weeks.  I liked to think he took the job because of me.  A few days after he arrived, we found a basement apartment on Barrow Street , just off Sheridan Square .  Deciding to live together was a pretty big commitment, considering it was based only on a three-night stand and a bunch of phone calls.  But that’s how sure we felt about one another.  And we wound up living together for the next few years.

Dean came from money and culture.  He was a blue blood.  He had gone to the finest prep schools and Ivy League colleges.  I came from the opposite.  Immigrant parents.  A scholarship to a decent university which looked with scorn upon my unapproved year abroad in Europe , though that year proved to be the most enduringly important.  Nevertheless there were embarrassingly large gaps in my social education.  Dean filled them in.  He was only a couple of years older than me, but decades older in understanding the lifestyle of a sophisticate.

He taught me by example how to dress and introduced me to Brooks Brothers.  He insisted on letting me buy stuff on his account.  He introduced me to New York ’s finest restaurants and turned me into a gourmand.  We went to many plays and musicals.  Museums and symphonies.  We hobnobbed with his colleagues from NBC, met for oysters after work at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central, and went to upscale Upper West Side parties.  And he persuaded his uncle to give me a job writing ad copy for Columbia Records.

In return I gave Dean, with help from Richelle, a glimpse into the “other” worlds, and a lot of trouble.

 


 

Delia, Dinah, and Richelle were our best friends.  They lived across the street on the second floor, and from our basement window we could yell up to them and they down to us.  Delia was a social worker.  Dinah and Richelle were flight attendants for Pan Am.  Richelle had a boyfriend named Jack.

We spent a lot of time together.  Especially with Delia and Dinah.  They were great friends to us.  And great fun.  We did most everything together.  We’d take walks through Washington Square Park and listen to beat poets and folk singers.  One of them was a guy named Bob Dylan.  He had a strange but captivating and passionate voice.  A few nights later, we caught his act down at Gerte’s Folk City .  We’d take in obscure off-off-Broadway plays followed by ferry rides to Staten Island and back.  In the summer, you could find us all at Rockaway Beach . 

We spent wonderful weekends at a 200 year-old farm we rented in Vermont during the ski season.  Rick Lavigny was the owner and as it happened, mayor of West Rutland .  He always thought we made the nicest foursome, but he could never figure out if Delia was with Dean and I was with Dinah, or vice versa.  He’d look for hints, but he was too yankee to ask.  It was reassuring to Dean that the right combination never entered his mind as an option.

Back in The City, Dean and I made perfect dates for Delia and Dinah when they didn’t have any, but wanted to go somewhere, like the Doors concert at Hunter College or Ramsey Lewis at the Rainbow Room or concerts at Fillmore East.  Likewise, although it wasn’t premeditated, they were a great cover for us when we needed it.  Like when Dean’s father came out for a visit.  Or my Aunt Cecille and Uncle Carl came up from New Jersey .

One day, not long after we met them, Richelle came over to borrow some exotic spice Dean had picked up in Chinatown .  She looked at the book I was reading.   It was Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen. 

“How long have you been into Eastern philosophy?” she asked.

“Well, I guess since I was a sophomore at college,” I replied. 

“What brought it on?” she continued.

“You mean the Eastern stuff?”  I asked.  “Well, really it was sort of by accident.  I went to a Catholic college and if you’re Catholic, they make you take Theology.  I knew after two semesters of it I couldn’t take any more, so when I went back my sophomore year, I registered as a Buddhist so they wouldn’t make me take it.”

“And they went for that?”  Richelle asked, rummaging through our spice rack.

“Well I knew they’d eventually doubt my sudden conversion to Buddhism so I started reading up on it.  And one book led to another.”

“Giacco, why don’t you come over Friday night.  I think Jack might have something you’d really like!”  Richelle found the spice she was looking for and poured some into a jigger.  Dean was going to be entertaining some friends from work Friday night, so I said, “Sure.  How can I resist now that you have me so curious?”

I had noticed some recent changes in Richelle.  She was letting her hair get frizzy.  Dinah was worried because she had reneged on working a couple of flights.  If you did that too often, you were gone.  But Richelle never seemed to worry and outwardly she seemed more vibrant and cheerful than ever.  My curiosity as to what Jack had for me limited itself to the realm of books or at most a secret chant.

Instead, that Friday night in the girls’ apartment, he handed me a sugar cube and told me to let it melt in my mouth.  Delia and Dinah hovered over me, making faces and telling me I was crazy, but too curious to protest too much.  Richelle kept reassuring me, promising me that Jack was an excellent guide.

“Guide?”  I gulped.  “A guide for what?”

“Just let it melt in your mouth,” Jack cajoled.  And he and Richelle each popped a cube into their mouths to prove its safety, to lead the way.

500 grams of pure LSD 25 eventually coursed through my brain.  When it was scary, Richelle and Jack were there to talk me through it.  When it was funny, we laughed so uncontrollably, Delia and Dinah would look completely perplexed and their expressions would make us laugh even harder.  When I started getting atomic, Jack read to me from The Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Richelle played all the right records at just the right time.  And when I peaked I saw God in a bottle of Mazola oil, just standing there next to the red and silver baking soda on the shelf.  And then I stood up and began to dance.

 From then on Friday night was trip night.  Jack lived on the first floor of an old brownstone two blocks away.  On weekend nights, a line would form from his apartment door at the top of the landing, all the way down the stairs out to the street.  In 1966, LSD was still legal.  No laws had yet made it contraband.

  When you got to the open door, you were greeted by Jack standing behind an ironing board with a bowl of sugar cubes on it.  Immediately to his right was the refrigerator.   When you forked over your three bucks, he’d take a vial out of the fridge, suck up some of the liquid acid into an eye dropper, hold it over a sugar cube and let it sponge up the 500-milliliter drop as he squeezed the bulb.  Then he’d wrap it in aluminum foil and hand it to you.

Sometimes experienced heads would have him drop it directly onto their tongues.  Sometimes a real renegade would have him drop it directly into their eyes!  And if you were a friend of Jack’s, it wasn’t unlike him to double the dose.  A thousand mics of pure LSD. 

When it was my turn at the ironing board, I would smile at Jack and say, “I’ll take one on the tongue and three to go.”  I’d stick out my tongue and Jack would always put two drops on it.  Then he’d slip the wrapped cubes into my shirt pocket, pat my chest brotherly-like and I’d leave, hoping to make it the two blocks home before I started coming on.  Jack’s was the best take out in New York !

One time, Dinah came with me.  Just to chaperone.  Back then, it was always nice to have someone straight around just to be sure.  Acid wasn’t for partying.  Acid was for ego death.   And rebirth.  By the time we got to the corner, on our way back to my place, the acid completely overtook me.  The sidewalk became soft and spongy and my legs kept falling into it.  Dinah had to support me the entire way.  She was half scared, half laughing, as she tried to give me instructions on the basics of walking.

Eventually even Dean got into acid.  It became a ritual Friday night affair for all of us.  During the week, we each put on our workday uniforms and went to work.  But when Friday evening arrived, we turned into spacemen and spacewomen.  And like astronauts, we were well prepared.  All the albums were arranged in order of their ability to induce relaxation or insight.  Munchies were stocked for the trip down.  And we always kept a couple of caps of Thorazine around in case of a bad trip.  Though a lot of times you can learn more from a bad trip than from a good one.

When “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” came out, I bought it on a Monday, but it stayed wrapped in its cellophane until Friday night.  We were saving it.  And we put it in our play list of albums right after Donovan and the Moody Blues so it would be ready to listen to, to travel with, to learn from, to become, just about the time we’d be peaking.  It didn’t disappoint.


 

I had been tripping a couple of months when I had my first toke of marijuana, about the same time that I first cheated on Dean.  When he found out, he sat me down and calmly lectured me.

“Listen Giacco!  Remember those first nights in my hotel room?  You’ve created a history for me based on those nights alone and the ones we’ve shared since.  But you’ve taken me out of context and no matter what I tell you, you shine it on.  You just don’t get it!”

I squirmed a little.  I didn’t like being reprimanded, though that’s not what he was doing.

Dean continued.  “I am only gay for you,” he said slowly, methodically, emphasizing each word.  “You’re the only reason I’m gay.  I don’t want to sleep with any other men.  If you should leave or give me cause to leave you, I’d be straight.  Because the straight world is easier for me.  Because I do just fine in the straight world.  Because I really like the straight world and I really like women.  You are an anomaly in my life.  You are unique in my life.  Even I don’t understand it sometimes.  And I think you don’t believe me... and I love you very much.”

I just sat there.  I didn’t respond.  I loved Dean very much, too.  But it was also true that I didn’t believe he was gay only for me.  I didn’t believe him for a long time.  And when I eventually did, it was too late.

“I love you too,” I said and reached over to give him a hug.  “It’s just that for the first time, I like myself.  And for the first time, I feel desirable and attractive.  And for the first time, I feel free and want to experience everything.”

“And the fact that I desired you and still do isn’t enough?” he asked, wincing a little.

He had me there.  I didn’t have an answer for him.  But he must’ve loved me a great deal to put up with my shenanigans.  Dean was dedicated to the double life and succeeded at it.  But the more stoned I got, the harder it was to keep up pretenses.  I went from one job to the other.  My circle of friends became more and more radical and extreme.  I was becoming more and more radical and extreme.  I would spend entire acid trips dancing.  I couldn’t bear having to get dressed in the morning and make believe I was eager to get ahead at some job that, when stoned, seemed ridiculous.

Dean was always there for me.  The crazier I got, the more stable he got.  When I lost one job, he’d help find me another.  When I was broke, he paid the bills.  He paid for weekends in the country.  He paid for the drugs.  It was Dean who allowed me to explore inner space while taking away all the risks.   I took it all for granted.  And to me there were no risks to be taken.

Until a mid-week party we went to in the East Village .  Third story loft in an old warehouse.  Some Japanese artist was having a happening.  The loft was small and packed.  But the only people I knew were the ones I had come with.  Dean.  Dinah.  15 year-old runaway, Bobby, who turned into an ancient sage when you tripped with him.  His 14 year-old mistress, Monique. And Dennis Taylor. 

Dennis was a beauty.  About three years younger than me.  A Midwest country boy with a perfectly proportioned body that glowed with health.  Dennis had just arrived in the city.  He had gotten my address from his parents who had gotten it from my parents.  The Taylors had become friends with my folks while vacationing in Florida and renting a condo in the same complex where my folks lived.  I was upset when my dad told me he had given them my address.  Mom had assured Mr. Taylor I would help get Dennis settled in the big city.  My mom and dad didn’t have a clue as to how I was putting to work the degree they had sacrificed so much for.  And I didn’t want any intruders spilling the beans about my lifestyle.  But when Dennis finally showed up on my doorstep, I secretly thanked them.  The innocence he was so anxious to give up made me anxious to help him.

Bobby, Monique and Dennis were all tripping, but Dean, Dinah, and I would wait as usual for the weekend.  The happening was called “Self Immolation.”

The room and everything in it was painted white.  Six or seven people, including the artist were all in white.  In a corner was a huge aquarium with 10,000 frogs in it and a couple of microphones whose cables led to an amplifier.  When the amp was turned on, the sound of the frogs croaking was deafening and disturbing.  Then the lights went off and black lights came on.  The artist, a woman of about thirty, started painting green fluorescent polka dots everywhere.  First she started with the walls.  Then the furniture.  Then the floor.  She was scrupulous in not leaving any space untouched.  She took forever.  The room was getting hot and filled with cigarette smoke.  Dennis walked over, opened a window, then walked back and stood next to me.

The frogs were really getting to me and I wasn’t getting the message the artist was trying to send.  I was tired and I was bored.  But when the environment was completely pointillist and after the third person in white was covered with dots, it became clear what she was doing.  She was making everything disappear!  As she got closer to covering everything and everyone with fluorescent dots, that’s all you could see.  Glowing green dots.  Every direction.  Up.  Down.  All sides.  Dots everywhere and only dots.  When the last person in white was ‘immolated,’ she started on herself.

She was almost through putting on the last dot when I noticed that Dennis wasn’t watching, but had his back to her.  He was just staring out the window, a serene smile on his face.  And before it registered what was happening, Dennis took a running start, put his arms in front of him, hands overlapped, and swan-dived out the window to the pavement three stories below.

Monique screamed.  But it was only after the artist had completely immolated herself with polka dots that people realized what had happened.  Only Dean had the presence of mind to call the cops and an ambulance.  Bobby leaned out the window to look.  When he turned around he was as white as the walls were when we first arrived.  He put a hand to his mouth and ran looking for a bathroom.  He only made it to the aquarium.  The frogs croaked in amplified horror.

Bobby and Monique, still tripping, were really freaked out.  All of us were.  And all of us stayed up half the night trying to sort it out.  The next day, it was Dean who called Mr. Taylor in Nebraska and helped make arrangements to ship Dennis’ body home.  Dinah swore she would never trip again.  Dean insisted there always be somebody straight around to watch over us when we were tripping.  That was a job Delia liked doing.  But even Dennis’ death didn’t deter us from continuing to get high.

Dean decided to take a job in LA.  When he asked me if I wanted to stick with him, I said, “Yes.”  But I had already turned in my Brooks Brothers suits for slacks made out of scarves and neckties.  I had turned in my fashionably neat Beatles cut for hair that was just growing itself.  And if I was very good and let it grow as long as it wanted to, wonderful markings would appear, or so I thought, as it approached the middle of my back.  And I had turned that back on the entire establishment, but could only do so because Dean hadn’t.


 

“Are you just going to stand there spaced out?” he yelled at me.

I came out of my reverie and looked into Dean’s eyes.  He always said I had the deepest, saddest and darkest eyes he had ever seen.  He took a resigned sigh and lowered his voice.

“I still love you.  Lisa loves you.  We love you so much that if you want to, you can come back to Chicago with us and live with us.  And she’s even willing to give it a try as a threesome.  But I am primary in her life and I am forcing myself to stop making you primary in mine.”

I just stood there trying to take it all in.  Somehow the significance of what Dean was saying was escaping me.  I was viewing this meeting and listening to this conversation from somewhere high above us.  I was just watching myself go through the motions and words.  Watching myself looking hurt and a little scared.  But the one doing the watching was completely detached. 

I knew Dean well enough to know he had arrived at this decision after a lot of thought.  And I’m the first to admit I was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.  I really hadn’t spent any time with him since I got back from Woodstock .  Which reminded me that I still hadn’t paid him back for the money he wired to fly me home.

Dean looked at me, fighting back tears.  He knew without my saying it that I wouldn’t be taking him and Lisa up on their offer.

“Not that you deserve it,” he said, getting down to business, “but when I bought the house in Laurel Canyon I put it in both our names, so as soon as it sells, I’ll split any profits with you and that’ll be the end of it.  OK?  In the meantime, I’m sure you’re busted so here’s some money.  I’ll pay myself back out of your share from the house.”

Dean waited for me to refuse his generous offer.  Not that it wasn’t sincere, but he held out a chance that I wouldn’t accept it as an assertion of my independence.  I watched myself thanking him and holding out my hand.  I wished him and Lisa all the best.  He shook his head sadly.

“Do you want to come back with me?  Do you have a place to stay?”  He was still looking out for me, even after all this.

“I’ll be fine, really,” I assured him.  Though I didn’t have a clue as to what would happen next.  The witness that was watching assured me everything was perfect.  We hugged and I watched until his car was out of view.

The house sold faster than expected.  Lisa moved in with her folks for the few weeks remaining until their trip back east.  Dean moved in with Jerry Smythe who owned a house on Appian Way overlooking Laurel Canyon , a few doors down from John Phillips’ house.  Two other guys lived there as well.  Jobraith Jones and Tom McIntyre, both of whom were members of the cast of “Hair.”  I went there three or four times during the next few weeks to visit Dean. 

Jerry and Jobraith were always around, but I never met Tom, though I could hear him playing his guitar in his bedroom.  Dean used to kid me that it was just as well, because if I did meet him, I’d only fall in love with him and he wanted nothing to do with being instrumental in providing me with yet another romantic escapade.  Not that my infatuation would be reciprocated.

On my last visit Dean gave me a check for $4700, my share of the profits from the Laurel Canyon house.  I didn’t see Dean and Lisa again until a couple of years later when Dean sent me a round trip ticket to Chicago to visit them at their home in Winnetka .  Just for a long weekend.  The three of us slept together every night, just for old times’ sake.

After that, I never saw nor heard from them ever again.  Two more people to add to the list of those who changed my life and disappeared forever from it.



CHAPTER 8

October 1969

 

 

I spent the night shivering on the deck of the Moonfire Inn which straddled Topanga Creek.  Along toward dawn, a young earth mother woke me up.  Her name was Kathy and she was the breakfast cook at the Inn .

After gently interrogating me and deciding I wasn’t a threat, she said, “C’mon inside.  I’ll make you some fresh chamomile tea.” 

That sounded good and I followed her inside.  As she replenished industrial coffee makers with water, filters and coffee, she studied me carefully.  She was trying to come to some conclusion about me but didn’t ask any questions.

When she started mixing eggs in a bowl and dicing garlic and onions, I offered my help.  She handed me some pancake mix.

“Think you can handle making enough for twenty servings?”

“If that’s the same thing as making enough for myself twenty times over, I think I can handle it.”

Kathy laughed.  “Go wash up first.  But make it fast.  These eggs are for you and they’re almost done.”

Within a week, Kathy and I were the co-breakfast chefs at the Moonfire Inn.  She helped me find an old house, in desperate need of repair, at the very top of Observation Drive .  The owners across the street were anxious to sell it before the next major mud slide, a quirk of the area I wasn’t told about, and I innocently handed over a $4000 down payment on the contract they would carry.

The next eight months or so were idyllic.  Kathy and I would meet halfway down the hill at 5:30 every morning.  Then we’d walk through the woods sharing a joint and collecting wild chamomile.  By six, we had all the burners going and the smells of organic coffee, fresh eggs, herbs, veggies and whole wheat pancakes filled the Inn .  I could never refute arguments for vegetarianism even though I practiced it haphazardly.  But when Moonfire himself showed up one morning and asked me to remove my leather belt and get myself some cloth shoes, I apologized for my insensitivity and agreed with him wholeheartedly.

He gave me a copy of Dr. Ehret’s Mucusless Healing Diet System.  It turned me into a Vegan.  I eliminated all grains and dairy products from my diet.  A handful of almonds each day supplied my protein.  I fasted every Sunday and three days at the end of each month.  Organic coffee enemas were a weekly ritual.  Sometimes I would do a 10-day fast of salt water and lemon juice with honey.  I had so much oxygen in my brain, it was like being stoned.  And I could get by on five hours of sleep a night and feel well rested.

Once in a while I worked the dinner shift, but breakfast was the most fun.  It was laid back and relaxed and the small breakfast crowd was always interesting.

Neil Young was a regular.  He’d come in about seven, take a guitar off the wall and start playing soft ballads.  Topanga Creek bubbled and gurgled beneath our feet.  The sun would finally get high enough to hit the kitchen windows and shafts of light speared the steam rolling up from the boiling potatoes.

Every morning I’d go out to the dining area and ask Neil what he wanted for breakfast and every morning he’d say the same thing.  “Surprise me!”

It became a ritual.  I conjured up curried tomato omelets.  Mushroom and asparagus fritatas.  Pecan waffles with loganberry sauce.  Fresh figs smeared with almond butter.  Poached eggs atop a bed of roasted potatoes and ginger chips.  The wilder the combination, the more he liked it.

Sometimes some of the guys from Canned Heat would come in.  Or maybe Taj Mahal.  Sometimes, Kathy and I would be cooking in the back and we’d hear great jams going on out front.  Maybe one of them would pass a joint back to us through the serving window.  Then it would take forever to get breakfast together, but no one seemed to care.  This was Topanga, where rockers had come to escape the frenetic and crazy life of Hollywood , the Strip, and the Whiskey a Go Go.  This was still the country.  It was a trip.  It just didn’t get much better than this!

But country as it was, there was no lack of socializing or adventures, especially sexual.  Both the Moonfire Inn and the Corral, the local pub, drew a free-spirited and stoned crowd.  Hitchhikers in need of food and shelter were always hanging out at the Moonfire. 

Those with some money hung out at the Corral because it had great live music and served alcohol.  A lot of well known musicians enjoyed playing there.  It was a perfect place to try out new material. 

Both the Inn and the Corral were ideal for picking up strays.  Some of them made my evenings memorable.  My house was always filled with freaks needing a place to crash.  Many stayed for weeks on end.

At the Corral, Tolucca, the large beautiful door manager, decided to have the hots for me.  One night when I took a hit of Peace, she saw I was very vulnerable and persuaded me to go home with her.  She shared a house with Taj Mahal.  When we got there, he was sitting at the kitchen table over a pile of something he was inspecting with a magnifying glass.  I wanted to see what he was doing, but she whisked me up to her room before I could even say “Hi.”  When I protested, Tolucca told me he was tripping and didn’t like being disturbed.

Tolucca was something else.  Light brown and incredibly soft skin.  Large glistening black eyes.  She was exotic, but her big lips could suck your face off and her cavernous vagina could swallow a slight man like me whole.  She came on with a vengeance.  She just tore at my clothes and threw me down on the bed.  She was fucking me, or trying to, before my spinning head could even adjust to the room, much too busy with African weavings and baskets.

What?  No foreplay?  I’m not that kind of boy!  Please be gentle with me! 

When I couldn’t keep a hard on, I thought she was going to get downright nasty.  Instead, she got up, threw on an African robe and stood at the side of the bed looming over me.

“You’re useless!” she yelled.  “Get out of here so I can be alone.  I’d rather do it myself.”

I quickly dressed and sheepishly climbed down the stairs.  Taj was still at the kitchen table.  When he looked up and saw the sorrowful and embarrassed expression on my face, he burst out in deep laughter.  Rather than let me leave feeling totally inadequate, he called me over and gestured to a chair.

“Don’t fret, bro’,” he said still chuckling.  “Tolucca is too much for anybody.  There’s no satisfyin’ that big black sister!  So don’t worry ‘bout it!  She’ll only hold it against you for the rest of your life!” 

I must’ve looked like a scared puppy just hit with a newspaper for peeing all over the rug because Taj went into a fit of laughter that lasted a full five minutes.  Then he took half the pile of African beads he was sorting and pushed them across the table to me.

“I’m looking for all the ones that have these diamond designs on them,” he said holding one in his palm as an example.  And we spent the hours remaining until dawn in total silence, sorting African beads together.  By the time I left my eyes felt like an abused kaleidoscope.


 

  A few days later, just toward the end of our breakfast shift, a young man walked in.  When Kathy saw him, she rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, no!”

“Oh, no, what?” I asked looking him over through the serving window.

He was about 25, wearing a robe made out of an army issue blanket.  When he took it off, I could see crucifixes and ankhs embroidered on the inside lining.  He was lean, with long sandy hair and bright blue eyes.  He had a slightly crazy look, but there was something about him I found attractive.  Maybe that was it, his craziness, his unpredictableness.

“That’s Reverend Trey,” Kathy said.  “Always causing a scene.  Spouting Jesus stuff all the time.  A real nuisance!  Don’t say anything to get him going!”

I walked through the swinging doors into the dining room and took his order.  He gave it to me staring intently into my eyes.  As I turned to go back into the kitchen, he stopped me.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“My name’s Giacco,” I replied curtly, but not impolitely.

“I mean your real name,” he said.

“That is my real name,” I replied.

“That’s your given name,” he insisted, “not your real name!”

“Well, thanks for setting me straight,” I said, “but I’ve gotta get your order in now, so see you in a few.”

“Have it your way.  I just thought maybe I was supposed to be a channel of grace for you.”  At the sound of those words that Josie had uttered not so long ago, I stopped in my tracks and turned back to look at him.  He bowed his head over the placemat in what seemed like a monk at prayer.

I avoided any further conversation with him, but when he paid his bill, he said, “Meet me out in front at seven tonight and I’ll tell you your real name.”  Then he flew out the door.

He didn’t seem surprised when I showed up.  I half-heartedly hoped my humoring him would lead to some kind of sexo-spiritual intercourse.  Those were always the most satisfying.  But when he told me to jump in his beater of a car, not much more than a glorified oil pump, I became apprehensive.

“Want to come up to my place?” I asked, thinking if I took the initiative I’d have more control over the situation.

“Can’t do that,” he said bluntly.  “Can’t give you your name there.  It’s got to be in my spot.”

“Where’s your spot?” I asked.

“Just hop in and I’ll show you.”  And I did, throwing caution to the warm wind funneling down the canyon from the San Fernando Valley .

A full moon was coming up.  We had driven a couple of hours.  Past the sprawl of the valley floor.  Past the freeways.  Past all signs of civilization.  One of his headlights suddenly went out, but as we made a turn the good one cast a brief swath of light on a sign that said “ Angeles National Forest .”

A mile or two down a paved road that headed into the San Gabriel Mountains , Reverend Trey pulled onto a gravel one.  It dead-ended a few miles farther at a trailhead beside a little stream.  As we got out I could see the remains of previous campers.  The night air was warm and I could still feel the heat of the rocks and pebbles of the desert floor rising through my canvas shoes.

Reverend Trey made a fire with the scraps of wood lying in the circle of stones left by our most recent predecessors.  The moon rippled on the surface of the stream.  A coyote howled.  I fantasized how I would let Reverend Trey seduce me with cosmic revelations.  We would make passionate man-love under the desert sky.  I fantasized how Reverend Trey would slit my throat and throw my body on top of the rippling moon.  The former fantasy was so compelling I only briefly entertained the latter.  Neither happened.

“Stay here,” he commanded, and with one big leap, he crossed the stream and ran to the middle of a small grove of scrub pine.  The moon cast a pale blue light on his face as he began twirling like a dervish and howling.  The howls turned into unintelligible, but syntactically correct sentences, with subjects, verbs and objects.  What I thought was gibberish was some strange language I’d never heard.

He kept spinning and spinning, chanting in tongues, until I thought his frenzy would drill his body into the ground.  Then he collapsed in a heap.  I stood up to see if he was OK.  He looked at me and ran energetically back to the campsite.  He grabbed me by the shoulders.  His eyes were afire.  He looked pale.  Beads of sweat were still on his brow.

“You’re name is... Jeremiah!”

“Jeremiah?” I puzzled.

“Jeremiah,” he repeated, emphasizing each syllable.  “The poet warrior!”  And as soon as he said it, he turned around and ran up the trail and disappeared into a shadow.

I called out a few times, but there was no response.  I started out after him, but a few hundred yards up the trail, shadows of trees and boulders turned into rattlesnakes and mountain lions and I tricked myself into being afraid so I turned around to wait for him at the car.

When I got back down the trail, the fire was almost out, Reverend Trey was nowhere to be seen... and the car was gone! 

Better.  Much better.  I thought of Jon as I stoked the dying embers and looked around for more kindling.  I wasn’t even sure where I was, but I was sure it was far from everything.  I was sure Kathy would be furious with me for not showing up for work.  I was sure Moonfire would fire me if he found out.  I was sure I didn’t like the situation I was in.

The ground and rocks had given up all their heat and the early morning hours were surprisingly cold.  But within an hour of sunrise, it got warm, then very warm, then hot.  By the light of day, the place seemed peaceful and tame.  And I was mesmerized by the desert stream swirling around my shoeless feet.

It was so clear and swift, no more than a foot deep, about four feet wide.  You could see every grain of sand that made up its bed.  The sand was uniformly fine, dotted every now and then with pebbles and medium sized rocks.  It looked like a Zen rock garden, except the rocks sparkled like polished jewels under the constantly glazing veneer of the stream.

I felt my toes sinking deeper into the sand and studied the eddies the obstacles my feet made in the stream.  The eddies were faster than the rest of the flow and ate away at the bed, forming a little trench a fraction of an inch deeper than the rest of the bottom.  Where the stream was blocked completely by my ankles, the sand built up, making the bed a little higher than the rest. 

This is fascinating!  If Reverend Trey had murdered me and thrown my body in the stream and no one ever discovered it, I could have been instrumental in shaping the course of this miniature river!  I mean we’re talking millions of years here, but by my actions, I can alter the course of this stream!  Who was it that said “for every action there is an equal reaction or something like that?” 

I looked around for a really big rock.  When I found one I thought might have some impact, I placed it strategically in the middle of the stream.  I studied the eddies and backups it made and tried to imagine far into the future, based on the visible alterations it was now making in the bed of fine sand, the grand canyon it would eventually form.  Geologists of millennia hence would explain to students in universities that, “This wonder of the world, this grandest of grand canyons, was formed over many years by wind and water erosion, glacial activity, and the rock that Giacco put smack dab in the middle.  See how the canyon takes a sharp right there and splits into two forks?  That was Giacco’s doing!”  

So this was karma!  Geologic karma.  Logic karma.  Every step you take has a consequence.  Every thought you think has a consequence.  Every emotion you feel has a consequence.  I knew it before.  I could explain it to someone else.  But now I understood it.  And once you understand a truth, the real work is in the living of it.

I began to feel guilty about the rock, so I struggled to lift it out of the sucking bed of the stream and tossed it onto the bank.  It was stifling hot.  I took off the rest of my clothes and sat naked in the middle of the stream, watching my buttocks make what would be great swimming holes 100,000 years in the future.  That’s when I heard a car coming up the gravel road.

I pulled on my pants just as a park ranger pulled into the campsite.  I told him I had been ditched there by some friends as a joke.  The truth was too hard to explain.  The lie was easier to believe.  I hitched a ride with him to the highway.

Once there, I got one ride after another up the valley.  By late afternoon I was at the east end of Topanga Canyon .  Easy as pie.  And then an Impala convertible stopped.  The driver was a balding, neatly dressed, well-scrubbed kind of guy.  Maybe late twenties, early thirties.  A kind of a goody two-shoes, do-the-right-thing kind of guy.  Not the kind you’d expect substantial conversation from.  Let alone surprising.

“Get in,” he smiled.

“Hi,” I smiled back.  “Thanks for stopping.  I’m going as far as the...”

“I know where you’re going,” he said straightforwardly.  “I know where you live.”

I looked at him carefully, trying to imagine him with long hair or any hair at all.  Trying to remember where or when I had met him.  Nope.  I didn’t know him.  His face was completely unfamiliar to me.

“How do you know where I live?  I don’t think we’ve ever met!”

“We haven’t until now,” he said, his eyes smilingly glued to the road.  “But I know you live at the top of Observation Drive .”

“I don’t understand.  How do you know that?” I said a little nervously.

This time he did take his eyes off the road.  He looked directly at me and said, “Your name is Jeremiah, isn’t it?” and looked straight ahead again.

I felt myself shake a little.  My throat got dry but my hands were wet.  “And assuming that is my name, which I’m not sure it is, but if it is... how do you know that?” 

“Because I’m the Thief on the Cross,” he said, turning to me as if it were a stupid question.

I was sure this was a practical joke of some sort.  But how could it have been executed so quickly, so premeditatedly?  And by whom?  And why?

“That’s it,” I said firmly, “you can let me out here.  Right here.  Now!”

“No, I can’t do that,” he said calmly.  “I’m supposed to see that you get home.  It’s OK.  Don’t worry!  I know exactly where it is.”

And he did.  By the time we traveled the winding roads to the top of Observation Drive , he had told me about a score of other Biblical characters who had recently discovered who they really were.

“The Lord is among us,” he said seriously and joyfully as I got out of the car.  “And as soon as everyone has their real name, he will reveal himself to us!”

He drove off.  I caught him looking at me in the rear view mirror.  Just a flash of a smile behind his eyes.  I never saw Reverend Trey or the Thief on the Cross again. 

I was beat.  I was dirty.  I made my way up the long path to the house and barely acknowledged the people crashing there.  Most of them, I’m sure, didn’t even know it was my house.  Fortunately, no one was in my room and I slept restlessly.  When I did get up, I realized I had missed yet another day at work.

 


 

I got fired the same day they arrested Charles Manson.  Pigs were everywhere.  Police, troopers, deputies.  People were being hassled up and down the canyon.  I got stopped and questioned twice between the Moonfire Inn, where I picked up my last paycheck, and the Country Store.

Everything was getting strange.  The vibes were unstable and could go any which way.  The Thief on the Cross had weirded me out.  Unlike my experience with Josie, I was uncertain of the magic Reverend Trey had performed.  It just smacked a little of the satanic.  He had weirded me out, too.  Were charlatans playing with my mind?

Topanga was losing its charm for me.  After all these wonderful months, there were too many signs that it was time to move on.  I was fighting hard not to fall into a depression.  I felt trapped.  I didn’t have the energy to create options for myself.  I was used to letting things happen to me.

I was standing in front of the Country Store thinking so hard it might have been out loud.

Please, somebody come and take me away from here!

As I turned to walk into the store, I saw a young, bearded, long-hair coming out of the phone booth.  His eyes lit up and he ran toward me with arms extended, ready to embrace me.  He was halfway there when I recognized him. 

“Jon!” I yelled out. 

I was beaming as he swooped me up and spun me around and whispered in my ear, “Giacco!  It just doesn’t get any better than this!”



CHAPTER 9

June 1970

 

 

I studied Jon carefully as we loaded his red VW camper with the supplies we needed for the drive to Tucson .  His energy was so bright and contagious, it was like the vibration of a tuning fork in the key of A.  Perfect pitch.  It stood out from him a good foot and preceded him wherever he’d go.  That’s what made him seem imposing and larger than life.  If you got within hugging range, he’d give you one that made you feel stronger, as if you’d become a person of more mass.  Not heavier, just more substantial.

Jon was over six feet tall, with nicely muscled long legs and a hairy chest.  Straight and fine brown hair framed his square face and solid neck down to the shoulders.  His eyes and smile were the most engaging part of his body and most consistent.  The rest of him changed depending on whether he was the ascetic or the bacchanalian bum regaling himself on the bounties of the world.  Over the years as our paths crossed and meshed and diverted and crossed again, I would watch him go from lithe and lean to paunchy and soft a number of times.  Whichever way he went, he was a wonderful sight to behold.

Jon was in the lean body and supple mind as he began organizing all the supplies.  Everything had their place.  For a guy who could play a commendable game of basketball, he sure was tidy.  Not that there’s any real correlation between basketball and tidiness.  It’s just that he was always so physical and large in his movements, I didn’t think he was capable of neatness.

But then Jon was always a surprise.  And he had a mind few could keep up with, whether it was throwing out sports statistics and trivia with loggers in a town called Twisp, discussing Civil War military strategies with Alabama crackers, arguing foreign policy with beltway bandits or ruminating on the subtleties of Buddhist texts with stupa priests.  Jon was in awe of very few.  But many of his peers were in awe of him. 

No one had had as many part time jobs, had transferred to more colleges, or changed majors as much as Jon.  His college transcript looked like a military brat’s school records.  His resume would have looked like one belonging to a day laborer.  But through the gift of a photographic memory he had acquired the most interesting details on many subjects.  Through the gift of a quick and analytical mind he could see how they fit into the big picture.  Through the gifts of humor and drama he could explain it like a storyteller completely engrossing his audience.  And through the gift of philanthropy, he shared it all with me.

While Jon checked the oil, I went inside the house to see if Barb had any more questions before we took off.  Barb and Henry were the most recent wanderers the Moonfire had coughed up into my house.  They had already been crashing there a couple of weeks but wanted to stay in Topanga through the summer.  When they offered to make the mortgage payments for me while I was gone, I took them up on it.  It was only $95 a month.  And though I still had a couple of hundred bucks left from what Dean gave me, I didn’t have any money coming in, so it would work out just fine, as usual.

When I walked back out, Jon was polishing the two white doves on the side of the van’s passenger door with the sleeve of his shirt.  Then he bent down and gave them little pecks on their cheeks.  He turned around, saw me, opened the door and swept me in like a chauffer does his master and slammed the door shut.  Then he slapsticked his way in front of the van.  At the driver’s door window, he stretched out his arms, gave me a wide-eyed grin, and said,

“I can hardly wait ‘til right now!  Let’s go!”

And off we went puttering down the hill. 


 

I looked over at Jon and studied him some more.  The first night after we met at the phone booth, the adrenalin that flowed from the reunion eventually subsided over a dinner of broiled tofu marinated in soy sauce and mustard, steamed broccoli, and carrot juice with a beer chaser.  Jon had eyed the meal curiously, but wiped his plate clean.  I think inwardly he’d hoped I was a bacchanalian.  Then over some primo weed, Jon explained how he’d caught up with me.

“When I left you at Woodstock , my dear friend, I really left!  I couldn’t find any of my stuff.  I couldn’t remember which bush I hid it under.  All the bushes looked the same.  The last bush I looked under was right next to the road.  And this pickup came tooling along packed with freaks.  Almost sideswiped me.  When it slowed down, one of them yelled, ‘Jump on!’”

Jon jumped out of the kitchen chair into a semi-crouching position, his arms extended upwards, his hands draped slightly forward.  He looked like a lean primate about to reach for the limb of a tree.

“So I did, except there was no room at all in the bed of the truck.  I had to ride all the way to Marathon hanging on to the tailgate.  When we stopped at a truck stop, I went in to take a leak.  I had to whizz something fierce.  On the wall next to the urinal was this vending machine that I thought was for condoms, ya know.  But when I looked closer, I saw that it dispensed these little novelty trinkets.  So I reached in my pants and found a quarter.  And I also found the inside of a gum wrapper that had your name and ‘ Laurel Canyon ’ on it.

“I put in my quarter and out popped a miniature bowling ball bag keychain.  If you squeezed it, it opened up to become a change purse.  Too perfect!  I opened it, carefully rolled up the gum wrapper like a scroll, and stuffed it inside the bowling ball bag.  And that was the extent of my belongings after Woodstock .  My very first post-Woodstock material acquisition.  A miniature bowling ball bag with you inside.  It sat on my dresser all year.”

Jon reached into his pocket and produced the tiny bowling ball bag.  He tossed it on the table and then sat back down.  I opened the plastic neon orange container and inside was the silvered gum wrapper, tightly rolled and folded over once.  I took it out and carefully unfurled it.  You could see that the wrapper had been carefully hand-pressed to free it of creases, perhaps a number of times over the course of the last nine months.  On the paper side were scrawled my first name, a phonetically spelled version of my last name, and “ Laurel Canyon Calif.   The handwriting was that of a person definitely in an altered state.  You could tell it took a great deal of effort to make the inscription.  Forcing the mind to rule over the fingers and eyes like that.  I was touched.

It was Jon’s way of saying how much he connected with me at Woodstock .  How much he thought of me and cared for me.  I looked up at him almost blushing with flattery.  His eyes moistened.  Our relationship seemed so cosmic and magical, you’d think we were meant to be lovers.  And we were.  But not physically.  We were lovers on a spiritual plane.  And it was so fulfilling, I didn’t want to entertain libidinous thoughts that might interfere with what we had going. 

I will admit that every now and then I tried to conjure up images of us making love, but there were never any visceral longings for that to happen.  In fact, in the beginning, our conversations were always so out there in the ethers, we had yet to get around to anything of a mundane nature.  Like what we liked and didn’t like.  I thought I was doing a great job at being a regular Joe and was waiting for just the right time to tell him my most secret desires. 

Once during a conversation he mentioned out of nowhere that maybe we should have sex just so we could say we had.  As if we were filling in a missing gap. 

“I don’t know why, but I want to be able to say that I’ve had sex with you!  It’s just that I really don’t feel any groinal sensations!”

I laughed and said I was flattered and not to worry about it.   I wasn’t having any groinal attacks either.  Nevertheless, I felt a pang of jealousy when Jon mentioned Rose.

“So when we decided to take a trip, I told Rosie, ‘Rosie, we have to find Giacco.  You just have to meet this guy. You will fall in love with him!’  And it was just supposed to happen I guess.  Because just outside of LA we picked up a hitchhiker who thought he knew you.  And he took us to a house in Laurel Canyon where this woman Suzanne lived.  And Suzanne told us we’d find you in Topanga.  And in Topanga, I’m checking the phone book to see if you’re in it.  And I turn around and there you are!”

I had only gotten as far as “I told Rosie”’ and didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. 

Who is this Rosie?  Where does she fit in?

“Well then, where’s Rosie?” I asked excitedly.  But the excitement was forced because I felt threatened by this intrusion into our relationship.

Jon lowered his voice and looked to his left and right as if making sure the coast was clear.  “Rosie… well Rosie had to deliver some… packages… to friends… in Ridgewood .  That’s where we both grew up.  Just a couple of pounds.  A quick trip.  Get there, turn around, come back.”  His voice returned to normal.  Which meant a little loud and a little excited with a hint of elation in it. 

“Rosie, god bless her beautiful, mouth-watering soul, is going to meet us day after tomorrow.  Wait, no.  The day after that.  Two days from now.  And you two are going to love each other!”  Jon’s eyes widened.  “You and me are gonna pick her up at LAX and then... Tucson !”

For the next two days, Jon and I explored my favorite parts of Topanga Canyon .  Mostly by foot.  Imbibing and toking at all scenic overlooks.  Though just being with him was a high, Rosie was always there, like a cloud preventing me from getting the unadulterated sunshine I thought I deserved.  I resented getting only those two days to be alone with Jon in Topanga, but we chatted each other up the entire time and that was about the equivalent of a week with any other person. 

 


 

Eventually LAX came into view and the time to pick up Rosie was at hand.  I jumped into the back seat.  Jon kept the VW bus in the slow lane of the freeway all the way to the airport.  When we exited on to the “Arriving Flights” ramp, I was a little nervous.  But when I saw her waving us down at the Taxis Only parking in front of the baggage claim area, my anxiety, insecurity, resentment, whatever it was I had been feeling, dissipated immediately. 

She was quite beautiful.  Her smooth olive skin glowed with the healthy bronze of a recent sunbath.  Her long, dark brown hair curled slightly at the ends.  She was on the skinny side, but somehow the shape of her hips and breasts made her seem voluptuous.  Her nose had a slight hook to it and, accompanied by eyes whose color I could never quite name, gave her a Sophia Lorenesque kind of exotica.  In her conservative solid yellow day dress cinched around the waste by a flowered scarf, she looked very sophisticated and lady-like.  Maybe a fashion model.  But when she started jumping up and down, flailing her arms and mugging at us we cracked up.  Our Fair Lady reverted to Eliza Doolittle.  My kind of girl!

“Isn’t she a wonder?” Jon asked in awe.

“Well, I can tell from here, she’s a trip!” I said.

Jon pulled over and Rosie opened the side door and threw in her one piece of luggage, a carpetbag made of an old oriental rug.  Then she got in, closed the passenger door, leaned over and gave Jon a big kiss.

Hiya, Honneee!” she said squirming her lips into a pucker for one more.

“Om Shivaya, my devastating devi, you!” Jon mooned back.

Then she turned around to face me and gave me a big hug and kiss as Jon pulled into the airport traffic.

“Hi Giacco.”  She pulled back about eight inches and stared at me.  “I feel like I already know you.  Jon’s done nothing but talk about you for months.  And now that I see you, there’s something strangely familiar about you.  I’m not sure what it is.”

She shimmied between the front seats, sat down next to me, and started pulling clothes out of her carpetbag.  Without a trace of self-consciousness, she took off her dress.  She didn’t have on a bra or underpants.  Out of politeness, I faced forward, but noticed some people in passing cars turning their heads for a second look.  Rosie just waved at them.  As she slipped on some cutoffs and fashioned the scarf that she wore as a belt into a halter top, she recounted to Jon her trip back east and how everything had gone just fine and how she couldn’t wait for us to get into the desert.

Then she said, “I know what it is!”  She leaned against me and put her cheek next to mine.  “Look, Jon.”

Jon looked in the rear view mirror at us, puzzled.  Then his eyes brightened.

“You two look just alike!”  He exclaimed.  “It’s uncanny.  You look like brother and sister.  You could be twins!”

“Yeah!  Can you see it?”  Rosie said.  “The nose, the skin coloring, the hair.”

It was true.  Rosie and I looked as much alike as two people of the opposite sex can, without one looking effeminate or the other butch.  It was even more remarkable when Rosie and I would walk down the street together.  Our body types seemed of the same issue.  We were the same height and weight.  Everywhere we traveled in the months and years to come, people would assume we were brother and sister.  And if we introduced ourselves as such, no one ever doubted it.  There were times when sitting at the end of a dock silhouetted by a sunset or watching us walk into the distance, even Jon couldn’t tell us apart.

Rosie hopped back in the front seat and began interrogating me.  “OK, give me the dish!” she ordered.  Where was I raised?  What brought me out to the west coast?  What did I do for money?  When she asked if I were involved in any “special” relationships, I was a little apprehensive.  I told her “no,” then corrected myself and said, “yes, the one I’m having with you two.” 

That made Jon and Rosie smile and they looked at each other, just for a moment, like two parents pleased with how they had raised their son.  Then they looked at me.  They liked my answer but they knew I was holding out.  I could feel it as they faced forward.  So I admitted that most times I preferred men physically, though not by much; and women emotionally, though not by much; and either gender intellectually.  It was just that sometimes I got all turned around and didn’t know which was most important to me.  I wanted to be open to whoever came up with the right combination. 

Rosie and Jon both turned to me at the same time with a look of self-satisfaction.

“We knew that!” they said in unison. 

“For you, it only makes sense.”  Rosie added approvingly.

“Do you want me, Giacco?” Jon asked.  “If you want me, you can have me, that’s how much I love you already!  So if you want me, just say so Honneeee!”

I laughed sheepishly, but Jon knew that I knew we had already moved beyond that chakra.  When or where was beyond us.  But we both knew it.  All that mattered was that it didn’t matter.  Jon and Rosie talked about a person’s sexual orientation as if it were no more important than the color of their hair.  It was just another adjective.  It had nothing to do with important things.

Up ahead was a rare red light.  Jon yelled out.  “Chinese Fire Drill!”  We all got out and ran around the van.  “But everybody take a different seat when you get back in.  I’m tired of driving.”

Jon jumped in the back, Rosie in the front, and I got to drive.

By the time we got to the outskirts of Yuma and three more fire drills, all our egos, ids and libidos were on the table.  No thoughts had to go through any censorship on the way out of the mouth.  We were completely and pleasurably uninhibited around each other. 

We were performing running commentaries about ourselves, each other, people on the street, and people in passing cars.  We came upon a construction site busy with tanned and sweaty young workers.  Rosie turned to me and asked, “OK, Giacco, which of those workers on the roof do you like the most?  I’ll take the red-head with the bandana over there.”

“Hmmm.  I think I’ll take the stud with the blond hair and the ripped T-shirt.  Looks like he has a great chest.”

“But we can’t be sure now, can we?” she said with mischief in her eyes. 

As we turned the corner around the site, Rosie undid her halter-top.  Then she yelled as loud as she could to the rooftop.

“Hey you!”  The men on the roof all looked down, and then did a double-take.  “No, not you.  You!  Yeah, you!  Take off your shirt.   I want to see your chest!”

The blond looked over at his co-workers, laughed and peeled off his shirt with one macho criss-cross move over his head.  Then he puffed out his chest.

Rosie clapped first her hands, then her breasts together, looked at Jon, then at me.  Jon was open-mouthed in pretended shock.  I gave her two thumbs up.  Then she waved back at the worker and yelled up.  “You win!  Congratulations.  You passed the test!”

“Rosie,” Jon halfheartedly admonished, “You’re going to get us in trouble.  Stop attracting attention!”  As if that were possible for Rosie.

Rosie looked at Jon with “party pooper” on her face and put her halter top back on.  But all the way to Tucson , whenever she saw a good looking guy on the side of the road, she’d yell out to him to take his shirt off.  At a stop light in Casa Grande, she managed to get three young businessmen to lift their shirts up.

“You at the end!  Up higher.  Past your nipple.  That’s right.  Oooh, nice!”  It’s amazing we didn’t get busted.

I knew she was doing it for me.  She was doing all the things she knew I would do if I thought I could get away with it.  Rosie was, to say the least, very intuitive, very persuasive, and very unpredictable.

  And on top of everything else, she was very holy.  Oh, there weren’t any trappings of sanctimony or “better-than thou-ness.”  If anything, all three of us might have been viewed as the anathema to all standards of proper conduct.  But each of us saw behind the other’s eyes, a fiercely burning light.  At least that’s what we told each other we saw.  And having been told it, we began to believe it.  Not in an egotistical way, but rather in a self-effacing way. 

Both Jon and Rosie mocked everything good naturedly, including themselves.  For being too serious.  For being too flippant.  For being too courteous.  For being too rude.  My humor was also based on self-deprecation.  It was a defensive tool I learned to use against local bullies as I was growing up.  To persuade them not to beat me to a pulp which they seemed to want to do often.  Like every time I got a 100% on a test or wore my boy scout uniform in public.

In grade school, I was “Professor Bones.”  In high school, I was “The Nerd.”  I got so good at putting myself down before anyone else could, I used it long after it was really necessary.  Now, I sometimes heard people refer to me as “a real head,” which was a compliment of the highest order among stoners. 

Nevertheless, old habits die hard and belittling myself was often effective in diffusing threats.  But in the company of Jon and Rosie, it was a personality trait we shared and one that bonded us... this penchant for making fun of ourselves.  For debasing each other.  For reminding ourselves how insignificant we were.   

I don’t know how we got on the subject, but Jon started talking about J. Krishnamurti and Annie Besant mentoring him to be the next Christ and how J. told them all to get lost.  That he was no avatar.  He was just a Hu Man.  Man was the loosely translated Sanskrit word for “mind.”  Hu was the Sanskrit phoneme that represented the most primordial sound known, the sound of breathing... and therefore, the energy which makes breath possible… what people call God!  That to be a true human was to be conscious of god.  That all you can do is breathe and live!

I told Jon and Rosie about my experience in Laguna with Josie.  They quizzed me as if I was a drink of water and they were dying of thirst.  But as I tried to answer their questions, I realized what had happened to me was almost impossible to verbalize… and the farther away in time I got from that mystical night, the more I doubted it really happened.  The experience we shared seemed so simple and conclusive.  Perhaps too conclusive.  It took away the incentive to seek.  And seeking was half the fun.  And if it had happened, why me?  And if me, so what?  What next?  Playing devil’s advocate to Jon?

“Do you still make decisions?” Jon asked.  I detected just the slightest smell of sour grapes on his breath.

“Well, for better or worse,” I answered as candidly as I could, “it seems like decisions are always being made for me.  Which bothers me sometimes, yet so far everything seems to have worked out OK.”

“You know, Giacco… the thing with Josie and all… this transference of Truth as you call it?”

Jon looked at me in the rear view mirror to wait for my nod.

“Knowing the truth is one thing.  Living it is another.  That’s where the real work is.  And as long as you’re caught in your mind somewhere between decisions… well, you’re really not alive!”

I was confused.  But I knew Jon was talking as much for his own benefit as for mine.

“Like, every moment you’re confronted with decisions,” Jon said.  “Should I order the ham and cheese or the pastrami?  Should I go to the movies or do the laundry?  Should I become a dentist or an actor?  It doesn’t matter.  Krishnamurti would say it doesn’t matter.  What’s important is that the whole time you’re making up your mind... well, it’s all wasted energy.  You’re not alive.  Just make the damn decision, live with it and move on!”

“Well that sounds kind of easy,” I said.

“Well, I gave you sort of an oversimplification.  Those examples are OK, but it’s more subtle than that.  The workings of the mind are so fast and convoluted that most of the time we’re not even aware it’s constantly weighing options, making comments, talking to itself, separating us from… from just being!

“OK, I see where you’re going,” I said.  “But just to keep things simple, let’s keep things simple.  I get two options thrown at me.  I pick one as fast as I can.  And I hate it immediately afterwards and realize it was the wrong choice.  What do I do now?”

Rosie turned to me and said, “You punch yourself, of course!”

“You what?” I blurted.

“Punch Thyself!”  And she quickly brought her fist up to her forehead and crossed her eyes.  “Works for me every time.  I should know.  I make lots of wrong decisions.  But when I start to get mad at myself, I just say ‘punch thyself’.  Then I give myself a good bop on the head and let it go at that.  But be careful.  One time I did it in a supermarket and some guy thought I was giving him the Sicilian fuck off move and Jon and him almost got into a fight!”

“That’s how Rosie got that beautiful hooked nose!” Jon chuckled.  “Punching herself.” 

Rosie gently rubbed her fist into Jon’s nose and then bent over and kissed it, laughing.

“Giacco.  In the back there.  There’s a box of books.  I’ve got two of Krishnamurti’s if you want something to read.”  Jon gestured to the back corner of the van.

Under some blankets, I found a large box.  As I rummaged through it, I saw that every book had something to do with self-realization.  In addition to The Bible, The Koran, The Bhagavad Gita and other normal sacred books, there were books by mystics about the mysteries at the core of the world’s major religions.  There were biographies of avatars.  Jesus, Buddha, Sri Yukteswar, Meher Baba.  Books on all different kinds of yogas.  Hatha, Bhakti, Karma, Jnana.  Books on all kinds of diets.  Macrobiotic, microbiotic, fruitarian, airian.  Books by gurus I’d never heard of from cultures I’d never heard of.  A path for anyone’s foot, no matter how strangely shaped.  But when I saw a copy of the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, my heart raced and I understood why Jon and Rosie had been so excited by my story about Josie.  Between the Aquarian Gospel and Brother Philip’s Secret of the Andes, I found a book by Krishnamurti.

When I faced front I asked quietly, “Jon, are we on some sort of quest?”

Jon turned, looked at me and laughed, then turned back again.  “Yea, Giacco.  We’re all on a big, giant, fucking, quest.  That’s why the three of us are smoking cigarettes.  That’s why we’ve eaten nothing but peanuts for a day and a half.  So that we get so constipated we don’t have to stop until we get to Tucson .  We won’t have to.  We’re bound for glory!”

Jon looked over his shoulder at me.  “Get it? We’re so constipated, we’re bound for glory?”

Rosie punched Jon in the forehead.  “I think your brain is constipated!  Punch thyself!”

Jon looked at Rosie with a close-to-tears Stan Laurel face and said, “Better.  Much better.”

Rosie looked at me and our eyes locked on to one another’s.   Silently they acknowledged that we were indeed on a quest.  And then we laughed out loud because we also knew we had absolutely no idea what it was.

The copy of The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge sitting beside Jon should have been a clue. 

We made it to Tucson just in time to hit the hippie health food co-op before it closed.  Our bodies were thirsty for fruits and vegetables.  We bought a twenty pound sack of Valencia oranges, a 10-pound bag of Basmati rice, assorted root vegetables and a case of real ginger ale.  Plus some nuts and treats to while away our taste buds.  I argued with Jon about the rice.  It wasn’t exactly in keeping with Dr. Ehret’s mucusless healing diet system.  I was only a little surprised when Jon said, “Ehret be damned!  Let’s indulge ourselves!”  And then he asked me if I knew how Dr. Ehret died.  I shook my head.

“Your dear Dr. Ehret died in Rome after completing a 40-day fast,” he said with an irrefutable air.

“You mean he starved to death?”  I asked worriedly.

“No.  He was just fine.  But he was so high and lightheaded, that he tripped on the sidewalk and hit his head on the gutter.  Cracked it wide open.”  Jon looked at me to see if I doubted him.  Where he had picked up that tidbit of information, I’ll never know.  But I knew from Jon’s face, it was true.

“So let that be a lesson to you.  Don’t walk the streets of Rome unless you have some mucus in you.”

“You have enough mucus in you to tour all of Italy ,” Rosie threw in.

“Yes, well that’s why we stick together, sweetheart,” Jon tossed back.  “Now you two can put the food away.  I’ve gotta interrogate one of those Indian bros I saw stocking shelves back in the store.  Be right back.”

Jon was only gone a few minutes.  When he jumped back into the driver’s seat he said, “We have to make just one little stop and then we’re on our way.”  About three miles east of Tucson , Jon pulled in front of a bunch of rundown buildings surrounded by an adobe fence. 

“Stay here,” Jon said.  “This’ll only take a minute.”

Rosie and I looked at one another and then our eyes followed Jon as he walked under the arched entrance.  Sitting quietly in a chair against the cracked adobe wall of the building nearest us was either a very old wizened man or a younger man who had had a very hard life.  We couldn’t tell from that distance.  But we could see deep lines in the dark, leathery face that was partially hidden by long straight black hair.  Jon approached him and they talked a while.  We couldn’t hear what they were saying, but we could make out Jon’s hearty laugh every so often.  Then the old, young man or the young, old man stood up and Jon and he disappeared around the side of the building.  When Jon returned, he was holding a small bag in his hand.

“What was that all about you ask?” he blurted before we could get the same question out of our mouths.  “Well, just never you mind.  It’s a surprise.”

“It’s drugs,” Rosie said assuredly.

“It’s a surprise!” Jon insisted.

“It’s a surprise drug,” Rosie corrected herself.

“It’s alive!” Jon said throwing the van into gear.  Rosie looked stumped, then shook her head and let it go at that.  

We headed toward the Santa Catalina mountains in the Mt. Lemmon watershed.  The summer sun cast brilliant oranges and reds behind us as the VW van struggled up the sandy and graveled road of Upper Bear Canyon to the Seven Falls trailhead.  At the top of the canyon was a small parking area large enough for about four vehicles.  We were the only ones there.  It was almost dark.  There was just enough light to make camp.

Rosie got out the pup tent while I started setting up the propane stove.  Jon was admiring the last rays of light and the darkening shadows of the canyon walls.

“No need for that Giacco,” he said when he saw me pumping up the stove.  “We won’t be eating.  I mean you can eat if you want, but it’ll be better if you don’t.”

I stopped pumping.  “What’ll be better if I don’t?”

“These!”  And Jon opened the bag he’d gotten from the old, young guy at the run-down dude ranch.  Rosie and I walked up to Jon and the three of us stared into the bag.

There were about a dozen grayish-green round martian-looking things with short white fuzz growing out of their centers.  I had never seen fresh peyote buttons before, only cleaned, dried, chopped up ones.  I picked one from the bag.  It felt fleshy.  As I stared down at it, I understood why Jon had said it was “alive.”

Jon looked up from the bag.  “This is why I think we should fast.  The less we have in our stomachs to upchuck, the better the trip will be.”

Jon and Rosie slept in the van.  I tried to sleep in the tent, but every sound I heard became a rattlesnake slipping into my bag or a wildcat clawing at the rip-stop nylon sloping above me.  The only reassuring sounds were those of Jon and Rosie making love in the van.  I finally fell asleep to the long, drawn out howls of coyotes, plaintively serenading one another under the nearly full moon.



CHAPTER 10

June 1970

 

 

The chilly desert dawn gave way to intense heat as soon as the sun slid over the canyon wall.  We went through two quarts of ginger ale before we even reached the path that steeply wended its way past the Seven Falls .  The going was rough.  Thongs weren’t the best choice for footwear.  The thongs kept slipping on the sandy stones and our feet kept slipping out of our thongs.  But I was more worried about a rattlesnake bite in my Achilles heel than I was about making progress. 

As if reading my mind, Jon turned back to look at me and said, “Remember.  Walk toe to heel so you can retract your foot if you see something you don’t want to step on!”  That bit of advice didn’t comfort me, but the sound of the first waterfall inspired me on.

There beyond a wind-eroded boulder was the first pool filled with the rushing water of a narrow 20-foot falls from the pool above.  The overflow emptied through a smooth V in the lip of the pool’s polished stone banks and became a small stream, bordered by thin ribbons of young, light green desert grass as it meandered gently downhill between the rocks.  The pool was about four feet at its deepest.  The path to the next higher falls and the pool waiting at the top of it, continued on the far side. 

Jon, toting a daypack filled with the sack of oranges, walked around the edge.  But Rosie and I, holding bottles of ginger ale and our shirts above our heads, slipped gently into the cold, refreshing water and bobbed our way to the other side.

All of the seven falls were beautiful, but each was slightly different.  We reached the very top one, rested a bit, then started down again.  The third falls from the top was our unanimous favorite.  It felt the most inviting.  It had a nice pool about three feet deep and fifteen feet across.  Its bowl appeared to be one solid smooth stone, like an apothecary’s mortar.  The water was sparkling clear and rippled gently at the side edges.  But at the far end, in front of a tan cliff, a white pestle of rushing water pulverized the pool into froth.  At the valley end, the overflow was a good five feet wide and spilled thinly and gently twenty feet to the next pool below.

In the immediate vicinity of the pool, small grasses and bushes grew.  One lone, small, but determined mesquite provided a patch of shade.  Jon took out the sack of oranges and dumped them all into the pool.  Then he took the bottles of ginger ale from Rosie and me and arranged them carefully in the empty sack.  He gently placed the sack under the water and secured it to the root of a bush working its way toward the pool.

Jon motioned for us to sit down.  He divvied up the buttons after first rinsing them in the pool.  They became more alive, the way dry rocks do when you wet them.  The withering green-grey suddenly became shiny obsidian black with overtones of Aztec emerald.  The white hairs of strychnine perked up to the eye from a circular bed of light gold.

 Taking turns with the army knife, we fastidiously removed the white hairs of poison and cut the buttons into quarters.  Inside, the flesh was greener, almost fluorescent.  Jon waded in the pool and retrieved three oranges.  When we peeled these we were ready.  We looked at each other and gulped with warranted apprehension.  Jon reassured us and himself that we had removed those white hairs of poison and all would be well.

Then we each took a quarter of a button and munched on it as quickly as we could, trying not to breathe through our noses.  We followed that immediately with a section of orange.  Nothing could hide the taste of the peyote.  Whoever decided thousands of years ago that these were fit for human consumption must’ve been truly inspired.  They had the texture of dense veal aspic, but the buds of the tongue revolted against a taste they weren’t equipped to handle.  Forget bitter, sweet, salty, sour.  Try moldy, mordant, nasty and styptic.

We each had gotten down two buttons.  Jon put his fingers to his lips and blew a kiss into the air.  “Ah, what a feast!  Somewhat reminiscent of rotten squid stuffed with hard boiled thousand year old eggs.  Don’t you think?”

While Rosie ran to throw up behind a rock, Jon started on his third button.  I could feel my stomach spasming.  My mouth was pumping saliva like there was no tomorrow.  I kept swallowing and breathing deeply.

“Try to keep it down, Giacco.  But if you can’t, don’t fight it.  If you can’t keep it down, let it out.  It’s really only after you vomit that you get really high anyway.  I can’t wait to throw up!”

Just talking about it and hearing Rosie off behind the rock was all it took.  I ran to a bush on the other side of the pool and vomited until I had the dry heaves.  But after a slug of ginger ale and another orange, I tried to eat a third button.  The aftertaste of bile complemented the peyote perfectly, but I decided I’d had my fill after eating just half of it.

While Rosie and I were composing ourselves by the side of the pool, Jon went off to complete the ritualistic upheaval.  When he came back we played and waited to get high.  Splashing each other in the pool, making designs in the sand, collecting pebbles.  It was in the midst of one of these games that we looked around, then at each other, and realized we were flying.

For a long time, we didn’t speak.  We were trying to come to terms with what we were experiencing.  On peyote those terms would be unique for each of us.

When I closed my eyes, the patterns on the inside of my lids changed rapidly and continuously like a kaleidoscope gone haywire.  The designs became thousands of rattlesnakes intertwining.  The rattlesnakes turned into scorpions and tarantulas and then back again.  They began mutating into vibrantly colorful but nightmarishly frightening creatures who had choreographed a dance of swirling mandalas.  They started to attack me and part of me knew I should let them, but I couldn’t.

I forced my eyes open and drank in the landscape.  The exterior trip was easier than the interior.  A distraction from the thoughts which were triggering these unpleasant hallucinations.  My eyes kept wanting to close, they were so tired and heavy, but as soon as they did, the morbid patterns would re-emerge and I fought to raise my lids.  It was like bench pressing five hundred pounds.

I slipped into the pool and waded to the far end where the water overflowed into the pool below.  I sat in the pool up to my neck and gazed out at the desert valley unfolding in front of me.  The water felt soft and soothing against the body.

I turned around slowly.  The water sparkled like diamonds and for some time I was completely mesmerized by how the light played with it.  The green of the lone mesquite became more distinct and separated it from the now golden cliff.  The gentle and fragile grasses swayed gracefully in the warm and delicate breeze.  Wisps of clouds wrote holy words on the light blue sky.  This place had something downright spiritual about it. 

I finished my 360-degree tour when two things occurred to me.  The first, that it was already late afternoon.  The second, that Jon and Rosie were nowhere to be seen.  I panicked for just a moment when from the corner of my eye I saw something waving at me from above.  It was Rosie leaning over the falls from the pool above me.  She was grinning from ear to ear.  She blew me a kiss and pointed over my head to the pool below me.  I leaned over the smooth, wide, stone lip of the falls.  I imagined I was clinging to the spout of a stoneware teapot filled with cold spring water.  I could feel the silky liquid pouring past my neck and over the back of my head.  There below me, Jon was sitting in a lotus position facing the valley.  I could make out both groans and sighs mingling with the bubbling and gurgling of the falls.

Comforted that everyone was accounted for, I surrendered my body to the water and floated on my back, my feet against the stone rim.  I was a surfaced submarine and my sonar ears detected clearly the beat of my heart pulsing little waves through the water.  It was slow and steady like a tom-tom.  This time when I closed my eyes, I flew out of myself to the top of the canyon and gazed back down.  The three of us, each having found a perfect spot, perfect because that’s where we were, looked like three anchorites in front of their caves patiently awaiting a bolt of enlightenment.

From far above me, the golds and browns of the canyon, the bronzes of our naked bodies, the greens of the bushes, grasses and trees, the blues of the pools all became like blobs of paint on a slick canvas.  I reached down and started finger painting.  The colors began swirling together as if I were an alien pastry chef mixing batter for a marble cake.  I dipped a finger into the bowl and tasted it.  It was delicious.

An old, young Indian stood next to me and started gently massaging my shoulders and hips.  I opened my eyes to admire his face, to ask him questions. 

Instead, I saw I was surrounded by floating oranges bobbing against my skin.  I stared at one and it started laughing at me.  But the laugh was coming from behind me.  I turned around and there were Rosie and Jon, kneeling side by side at the edge of the pool, laughing.  I cracked up, too.  We laughed until we cried.  Jon and Rosie each stuck out a hand and pulled me to them.  I climbed out and the three of us put the crowns of our heads together and hugged and sighed until our sighs were long and deep and one.

We were all still high, but in that pleasurable descent mode.  Where everything around you is still intensely sensual but your mind no longer succumbs to its own hallucinations except the one in which you think you and everything around you are real.

Our heads still touching and our hands grasping each others’ arms Indian style, Jon spoke softly.

“My dear Don Juan.  If everybody has their ‘spot,’ then this is definitely mine.”

Still holding on to each other, we slowly leaned back and tilted our heads toward the sky, stretching our necks and backs like a blossom unfolding.  And then we looked at each other.  Jon had tears in his eyes.  Upon seeing them, Rosie’s eyes also moistened.  I felt very lucky to be with them.

As the sun descended, the textures of our surroundings became even more intense and interesting.  Colors that weren’t there at noon now seemed to dominate.  Glowing oranges and reds, deepening purple shadows.

“So how did it go, brother Giacco?” Jon asked me.

I stared at him while I thought about it.  “Well, whenever I could get my ego out of the picture, it was fine.  It was fantastic!  One of the best trips I’ve ever had.  Memorable!  But I’ll tell you Jon, there were times when this sense of self-preservation would come out of nowhere and overwhelm me.  I could feel myself frantically scrambling to find an I.  Really, Jon, I have to admit there were times when I was actually praying ‘just let me get out of this one alive and I’ll never do drugs again!’  Of course, right now, I can’t wait until the next time.”

Jon laughed.  “If you were really praying, there would’ve been no self to preserve.”

“Come again?” I said.

“Prayer isn’t beseeching or asking for anything!  Prayer is supposed to be pure meditation.  Prayer should bring you to thoughtlessness.  I mean a place where there are no thoughts.  And if there are no thoughts, there is no mind.  And if there’s no mind, there’s no self to preserve.

“So what’s the prayer, Jon?”  I asked.

“Hey!  What do I know?  I’m just a curious slob.  I don’t know.  That’s the big question.  Who has the prayer?” 

Jon looked distractedly at the lengthening shadow of the tree rippling in the sunset-tinted pool. 

“I know one thing.  For every person there’s a prayer.  And for every prayer there’s a teacher you learn it from.  And every one of them knows there’s only one truth.  But you have to find the teacher who speaks just to you.  The one who uses just the right words that make things click.  Who uses just the right metaphors and symbols that make things crystal clear to you.  Someone who strikes just the right chords in you in every way on every level so when they impart their knowledge you’re hit on the head with it and the light bulb goes on and the ego goes off.”

Jon looked just a bit frustrated, more a look of longing, and started doodling in the sand.  He made concentric circles around each of a number of small stones that lay in front of him.  Rosie and I looked at him as if he were an Aztec priest performing some sacred rite.

He looked up, but rather than meet our gaze, he stared off somewhere beyond us.  “I think you can get very, very close to it on your own.  But you can’t cross to the other side without a teacher.  The chasm that separates you from the experience of the truth is probably only a hair’s breadth in size,” he said bringing his thumb and index finger together in front him, “but it may as well be infinitely wide.  I’m convinced you need a teacher.  You can’t get there without a teacher!”

Jon stood up and yelled at the sky, “Where are you?”  

Rosie looked up at him and said, “Relax Jon.  Maybe your teacher will come to you!  In the meantime, play the field.  Enjoy the variety.  They’re all a trip!  As long as we stay close to the source, we’re OK.”

“The source?” I asked.

Jon sat back down and started making a circle around another stone.  Rosie took the stick from him and started tapping it.  “It’s like the old telephone game” she said.  “You know, the one where you send a message and by the time it reaches the last person it’s been totally distorted?”

  She cupped a handful of water from the pool and poured it carefully over the grey stone, revealing its true colors to be yellow and ochre.  “This is the source,” she said.  “Some call it God.  Then she drew two lines out from the bottom of the stone and placed a pebble at the end of each one.  “Each culture has its gurus.  Let’s say this pebble is Swami Lucy and this one is Guru Groucho.  They both understand the Source, but they have different styles.”

Jon rolled his eyes and I broke into a smile.  Rosie made a few concentric circles around each of the two pebbles.

“Lucy has a couple of disciples.  Fred and Ethel,” she explained, placing two pebbles on the first circle around Lucy.  “Fred and Ethel preach Lucyism.  They are Lucyites.” 

She moved the stick to the first circle around the Groucho pebble.  “Groucho has three.”  Rosie placed three small pebbles for Harpo, Chico , and Zeppo. “They hang out here.  They practice Grouchoism.  They are Grouchoites.” 

Then, her hand riding a pogo stick, she jumped back to the first pebble and pointed to Fred and Ethel.  “Fred and Ethel are trying to explain Lucyism to all their friends who hang out here on this next circle.”  The stick had hardly come to rest when it sprang back to the circles around Groucho.  The tracings of the bouncing stick began to permanently scar my retina, thus proving the theory of the Persistence of Vision.

 “The same thing’s goin’ on here!” she said, landing between Chico and Zeppo.   “They’re all trying to persuade their friends that this is the ticket!  They try words.  They try metaphors. They try fables.  They try symbols.”

My eyes were just about worn out and began to glaze over.

“By the time it gets to these outermost circles where the masses live,” she continued, “the people are completely hung up on the symbols and metaphors and stuff and don’t even have a clue as to their meaning let alone a clue about the Source.  Some of them even think Ethel and Chico are the gods!  Before you know it their followers are writing books and sculpting icons and creating rituals and rules.  And that becomes a bunch of religions whose followers end up killing one another!” 

Rosie dragged the stick quickly forth and back across the circles.  Little puffs of dust rose an inch or two above the Babylonian designs, settling back down on the mayhem of sand.  My eyes settled back down into the mayhem of my mind.     

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Jon said.  “And to think that the word ‘religion’ comes from the Greek religios… to realize!   How distorted can ya get?”

Jon and Rosie looked at me.  I must’ve had a stunned look on my face, like maybe I couldn’t keep up or something.  They seemed to wait for me to say something.  It’s true I was a little taken aback by how articulate they were considering our states of mind.  It’s true the image of Sumerian breasts and phallic sticks were burned into my retina.  As if in a trance, I shook my head to bring myself around.  Trying to focus my thoughts, I contributed as best I could.

“So what you’re saying is either Lucy or Groucho will do.  But both of them are probably punching themselves silly when they see the followers of Fred and Zeppo slapping each other around!”

Rosie clasped her hands together in satisfaction.  The pupils of her eyes glowed with the reflection of the setting sun.  She looked like a Mesopotamian priestess.  “That’s why Krishnamurti says not to have any beliefs at all.  Beliefs are what separates one person from another.  Don’t believe in anything.  Just breathe.” 

“So is that the prayer? I asked.  “Breathing?  Is that it?  Is Krishnamurti the teacher?”

Rosie turned to Jon for an answer.  “Well, frankly, Krishnamurti is a bit of an intellect and I’m cerebral enough as it is.  I think I need someone who speaks to my heart.  Someone who’ll get me out of my mind.”

Jon waited for Rosie or me to say something, but we just looked at him.   It was very still and sounds of the desert became prominent.  A lizard shuffling under a bush.  A desert bird bidding the sun adieu.  A small push of breeze through the grass.  We allowed ourselves to secrete one last enzyme of mescaline into our brains in order to properly say goodbye to this extraordinary day.  One last little trip into space.  Jon’s voice brought us back.  

“I think all prayer and meditation has something to do with the breath.  That’s what ‘living in the spirit’ is all about.  Espiritus.  Latin for breath.  Just breathe in and out.  Let everything else take care of itself.  Like our sweet Rosie does.”

I looked at Rosie.  She appreciated the comment, but she smiled shyly, shook her head, and gently punched herself.  Then she looked at me.  A thought entered my mind.  Just briefly, but clearly.  Had Rosie sent it?  The thought was that Jon was our teacher.  We both knew Jon would never go for that, so we kept it to ourselves.  We just felt that if an iota of Jon’s passion and zeal spilled over onto us, we’d do just fine. 

His Latin references puzzled me.  Especially since I knew he was much more drawn to eastern philosophies.  “So is Jesus the teacher?” I asked, more to hear Jon talk further than because I really thought that might be the case.

Jon breathed in deeply and on the exhale said, “Only if Christian lingo is your bag.  All the avatars teach the same thing.  And as far as I’m concerned all their teachings, the essential and mystical truths that actually came out of their mouths, wouldn’t fill up more than a pamphlet!  A christ is a christ is a christ.”  Then he turned to Rosie and recited an impromptu litany that turned into a chant.  “Jesus, one-eyed, Buddha, third eye, heaven, aom, amen….”

Rosie leaned over to Jon and gave him a kiss on the forehead.  The same way a mother kisses her son’s cut finger to make it feel better.  Then as she began collecting the ginger ale bottles, she joined in with her own chant.

“Hu-man, god-mind, grace, vibrations, no-thought, aom, amen….”

I picked up orange peels and put them in Jon’s daypack.  Then I joined in.

“Lucy, Groucho, Krishnamurti, Don Juan, I am, aom, amen….”

Rosie leading the way, me in the middle, and Jon bringing up the rear, we chanted our way back down the hill, borrowing from each other’s mantras.  The full moon had cleared the far rock wall and made the way bright and easy.  It bounced in each of the beautiful pools we passed, splashing our eyes with light.  At the very bottom pool, Rosie broke into a different melody.  The tune sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it.  It sounded like the kind of waltz you’d hear coming from the calliope of a merry-go-round.

“The sun is the mother ship
 on our journey through space.
 If we can be what we know is true,
 then there’s no need to race.

It takes twelve ages for a one way trip.
The Piscean Age is almost through.
It is said each age has a christ…

 Rosie stopped in the path just before it opened upon the parking lot.  She turned around and looked at both of us.

…Have you checked to see if the christ is you?”

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