As the popular quote goes, “If you remember the 1960s, you weren’t there.” Man, I’m glad I paid enough attention to write this story!
For some time now, I’ve considered writing an article about the 1960s, that transcendental decade you had to actually experience in order to know what really happened. But rather than write a nonfiction story crammed with facts, perspectives and anecdotes, I’ve decided to resurrect a short story I wrote in the early 2000s.
Originally this was the Summer of Love chapter in my unpublished novel entitled “Road to Quicksilver.” As writers often do, I scavenged a chapter from one manuscript and made it into a short story for another, except now it contains more material than the chapter in the book. Writers are always adding, subtracting or updating. Don’t you know?
The title of the story refers to the lyric in Donovan’s song, “The Fat Angel,” included on his smash hit album, Sunshine Superman. This album certainly contains much of the essence of the 1960s, particularly that quest for trying something different. Some of the words from the tune go like this:
He will bring orchids for my lady.
The perfume will be of an excellent style.
And apart from that he’ll be so kind,
In consenting to blow your mind.
Fly Translove Airways, get you there on time.
This story comes about as close as I can to conveying what happened during the so-called Summer of Love in June 1967. This seminal event certainly wasn’t the only thing happening in that decade, though perhaps it’s the most joyful and hopeful point of a tumultuous era. Please read and enjoy Fly Translove Airways:
During the early months of 1967, Billy Lawson grew fascinated with the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco —the new counterculture mecca of the West. Here you could experience alternative lifestyles, freestyle attire (or the hippie look), spiritual development, the peace and love ethos, altered states of consciousness, cutting edge rock 'n' roll and psychedelic art. Simply put, this place was hip! (Although some people preferred to pronounce the word . . . hep. )
Now a budding artist, Billy was particularly engrossed with psychedelic art, which depicted the inner landscape of the drug-induced experience. Usually in the form of painting, this art was characterized by images of erotic love, death, spiritual transcendence and visual puns, and often borrowed from the work of surrealists such as Salvador Dalí or René Magritte. And Day-Glo fluorescent colors were frequently used to create anti-naturalistic colors that referred to the changing states of consciousness induced by drugs, particularly the hallucinogenic ones.
Psychedelic poster art, specifically, flourished in the Haight-Ashbury district. Artists such Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Alton Kelley and Bonnie MacLean created posters for the Family Dog and Bill Graham. Graham promoted concerts at venues such as the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore Auditorium and a little club called the Matrix. At least one of these posters made it to the Sacramento area, and Billy bought it from a friend for two bucks. The poster, designed by Victor Moscoso, showed the face of a pretty young woman, with the lettering - the Chambers Brothers at the Matrix (the address and date, etc.) - written into the lenses of her spectacles.
Using pencil and paper, Billy made several copies of this poster and then painted the copies in different colors, some with fluorescent paints. He found prints of other posters in magazines and tabloids, as well as original posters for local events done in the psychedelic style, and also copied those. Eventually he covered the walls of his bedroom with posters of all sorts. Then he installed a black light so the fluorescent ones would glow, and kids from all over the neighborhood came to see Billy's trippy poster collection.
Billy also loved the music of the Haight-Ashbury district, the so-called acid rock, which emphasized the use of electric instrumentation, special effects, druggy, figurative lyrics and long extemporaneous solos. Many bands championed this sound: the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, the Steve Miller Band, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Billy purchased the albums of all of these bands and learned the names of virtually every band member. Often he listened to acid rock as he gazed upon his posters and "meditated," as the gurus liked to say. (Billy had no idea what it meant to meditate. As long as it had something to do with really enjoying what you were doing, what the heck did he care?)
Billy assumed the hippie look too, of course. This emphasized locomotion in bare feet, above all, and wearing blue jeans, buckskin jackets, bead necklaces, colorful scarves, hats of all sorts, cowboy boots, moccasins, headbands, sandals, leather vests and army fatigues. To find such garb, Billy went to the local thrift stores and bought everything that looked even remotely hip. (He purchased a bright red blazer, but his mother refused to let him wear it, saying it made him look like a pimp!)
Of course most hippies wore their hair long, so Billy did what he could about that. Heretofore, the Beatle look had never caught on with Billy and he had never let his hair grow long; he had simply greased it up and slicked it back, like Elvis Presley did. Now the Elvis look seemed as passé as hula-hoops. Ready to complete the hippie guise, Billy dried out his hair and let it grow, until he got suspended from school and had to get it cut before they would let him back in. Still, he let his hair grow as much as he could. He dreamed about having it outrageously long—what the heck, all the way down to his shoulders. Shoulder-length hair—how incredibly outrageous that would be!
The idea of Peace and Love attracted Billy as well. Young American men were fighting a grueling jungle war in a place called Vietnam. On television, Billy had seen American jet aircraft drop napalm on villages, frying everything and everybody. Of course for some time now the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union had threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. (Billy still recalled the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the year World War Three almost started .) And there was constant turmoil between Israel and other countries of the Middle East. Across America, people were rioting in the streets. So weren't Peace and Love what the world needed more than anything else?
Billy figured his personal life also needed some peace and love. At times, he got angry with teachers or friends or even strangers. He seldom showed this anger, yet it was there all the same. However, if peace and love controlled his life, he would never get angry. He would never think badly of somebody else and never consider using war as a way of solving his problems. To Billy, this idea seemed utopian and therefore very hard - if not impossible - to attain in this crazy, violent world. However, shouldn't he give it a try? Shouldn't everybody? What did people have to lose - the same stupid way of doing things that could one day destroy the entire world?
And then there were drugs. Many people in the counterculture of Haight-Ashbury espoused the use of drugs such as marijuana, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin. Hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD were said to expand one's consciousness. Billy had taken a pill that was supposed to be LSD, but it didn't do anything to him. Lots of times he had tried pot and enjoyed listening to music while smoking it. He had taken whites, or bennies, as they were called; they made him feel good and energetic but also made him nervous and itchy. There was lots of other stuff out there, and Billy was going to try pretty much whatever he could get his hands on. What the heck, shouldn't people experience all the different states of mind possible with the use of drugs? Was this a free country or not? Only heroin seemed really dangerous, so maybe he wouldn't try that stuff. He wouldn't use needles either; only street junkies used those damn things. He wanted to get high - not stupid.
* * *
In the middle of June, while in pursuit of all things hip, Billy and two of his friends ventured to the Monterey International Pop Festival (later known as the first rock 'n' roll festival). They walked through the crowd with the likes of Brian Jones, John Phillips, Mama Cass Elliot, Mickey Dolenz, David Crosby, Jerry Garcia and Mountain Girl (Garcia’s girlfriend, Carolyn Adams), Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. At one point, Jerry Garcia playfully flipped the bird for a photographer. As it was mostly an older crowd, Billy and his friends felt like kids among adults, so they acted as adult as they could by smoking cigarettes over by the Trip Tent, which was actually an Indian teepee, where people on bad acid trips could mellow out.
On this day, Sunday, Brian Jones introduced Billy's favorite band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Billy was really surprised when Hendrix played Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," a song which differed greatly from Hendrix's freaked out, raucous style, and Hendrix certainly gave the folk-rock tune a noticeable swagger. Billy had never seen anybody play the guitar like the inimitable Hendrix, who sometimes played it behind his back or picked the strings with his teeth. The feedback from Hendrix's Marshall amplifiers seemed to crash over Billy like waves at the seashore. Billy's favorite part of the show was at the end when Hendrix - using a can of lighter fluid - set fire to his Stratocaster guitar and then bashed it into the stage, the guitar screeching and howling like some tortured beast.
During the festival, Billy met a girl named Greeta Strong, and they became fast friends. Greeta was a gamin-faced, curly-haired girl with filthy feet, who wore a rainbow-colored poncho and high-heeled granny shoes. She carried a jar of bubble solution and, whenever the mood struck her, blew soap bubbles into people's faces, giggling as she did so. Soon, Greeta and Billy made out under the cypress trees near the grandstands. Greeta let Billy feel her small breasts. Her attitude seemed to be, If anybody looks, who cares? Greeta said she lived in the City, right down the street from the Grateful Dead house on Ashbury Street. She knew all the members of the Dead and had gotten high with them a bunch of times, but Billy wasn't sure he believed her boasts. Billy said he would come to San Francisco for a visit the following weekend and Greeta blurted, "Far freaking out, man!"
Since Billy Lawson’s concert-going friends had been grounded because they had gone to Monterey without the permission of their parents, Billy tired to get his friend and neighbor, Jeff Moore, to go with him to San Francisco. Jeff’s family was religious and conservative, while Billy’s was liberal and relatively sophisticated. Because of these family differences, Billy was much more “libertarian” than Jeff. Consequently, Billy and Jeff were a kind of odd couple, but since they had known each other from childhood, they appreciated each other’s point of view.
At first, Jeff was reluctant to go. “I don’t wanna take the bus.”
"We won't be taking the damn bus," Billy assured him. "I got my mom's car. We'll jam there, man."
Jeff couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Your mom is gonna let you take her car to San Francisco for the weekend?"
"Of course," Billy said, "I've got a driver's license and I'm insured. What's the problem?"
Jeff looked as if he had suddenly got lost on the freeway. "Who do you know there?"
"You've never mentioned her."
"I met her in Monterey, Mr. Twenty Questions. Come on, go ask your dad - he's cool."
"My dad is cool?"
"We're both sixteen, practically adults. Besides, we'll be back the next day. Don't ya wanna see the Haight, man? It’s where it's at. Don't ya wanna groove in the City and meet hip people? What better thing could we be doing in the whole damn world?"
Jeff nodded thoughtfully. "I’ve heard about this Haight-Ashbury place. People at school are talking about it. Saw something about it on the TV news too. Seems like everybody wants to go there."
"You should go there, Jeff. Go ask your dad."
Hesitantly, Jeff left his bedroom and found his father in the den watching television as he also read the newspaper. Much to Jeff's great surprise, his dad said yes to his request - but with one condition: No drinking.
"I don't drink," Jeff said. "I'm not old enough."
"That's right, young man. But when you get old enough, I still don't want you drinking. Do you promise you won't drink on this trip?"
"Absolutely, Dad, no drinking."
* * *
Early Saturday morning, Billy Lawson, driving his mother's 1965 Ford Mustang, picked up Jeff, and then they drove west toward the Pacific Ocean. As the car climbed into the oak-clad Coast Range, the sun arced through an azure sky feathered with cirrus clouds. The air grew cooler as they drew closer to the coast. Soon, seagulls glided overhead. Along the way, Jeff read a copy of Mad magazine, while Billy listened to the radio, which blared tunes such as "Somebody to Love" "Light My Fire" and "Ode to Billy Joe."
Coming from the East Bay, they crossed the Bay Bridge and wheeled into San Francisco, a city of gingerbread mansions closely packed on precipitous hills, divided by quaint narrow streets and washed by cool, salty breezes. Upon entering "Frisco" back in 1957, beat author Jack Kerouac wrote, "Everybody looked like a broken-down movie extra, a withered starlet; disenchanted stunt-men, midget auto-racers, poignant California characters with their end-of-the-continent sadness . . . ."
Jeff had never been to San Francisco. He couldn't believe how close everything was together and how steep the hills were. They had earthquakes around here, he knew, including a great one back in 1906. Once one building tipped over, wouldn't they all go like a cluster of dominoes? This thought gave Jeff pangs of anxiety. Please, God, he thought, don't let there be a shaker while I’m here!
Billy had been to San Francisco a few times and had enjoyed every minute of it. These days it was his favorite place to go. He loved the big city skyscrapers and the numerous blocks of old-fashioned houses with tiny front yards. Out in the bay stood the island of Alcatraz, where all those convicts used to be caged up. There was the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge and those cute trolley cars, and China Town had lots of charm. Even the Fillmore district, essentially a Negro section, was an interesting place to drive through, though Billy had always been afraid to walk there.
Under a stunning, cloudless sky, Billy and Jeff circled spacious, bucolic Golden Gate Park, drove along the Panhandle and soon located the Haight-Ashbury district. The architecture of the area was turn of the twentieth century. Every building seemed three stories high and about the same age. No latter-day business building could be seen; the Golden Arches hadn't intruded upon this area. Numerous people - mostly young bohemian types, or hippies, if you will - strolled the dusty, cracked sidewalks. These people were rapping, smoking, kissing, hugging, writing (poetry?) and playing musical instruments such as bongos, guitars, harmonicas, tambourines, flutes and slide whistles. In front of the jeweler on the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets, a Negro man wearing little more than dark glasses and cutoff pants, blasted John Coltrane licks from his tenor saxophone. People seemed to be milling just about everywhere, and crowd sounds permeated the crevices and niches and alcoves of every building.
At first, Billy and Jeff simply drove along while gawking at the pedestrians, and that is what most other passersby - or tourists - seemed to be doing. Apparently this Haight-Ashbury place was becoming quite a tourist attraction. Noticing this, Jeff had to grin and shake his head. When he and Billy started walking around, would they become part of the spectacle?
Billy finally found a parking space and parked the Mustang. As they climbed from the car, the scent of sandalwood incense wafted past their noses, its source unknown. Billy wore blue jeans, cowboy boots and a Rolling Stones T-shirt, while Jeff donned a pair of black cotton pants, a paisley dress shirt and tennis shoes. Looking rather uncertain of their destination, the boys began following Ashbury Street. "Got the address?" Jeff asked.
"No," Billy replied. "Greeta just told me what her place looks like."
Jeff frowned. "Whatever."
They ambled by 710 Ashbury Street—the 13-room Victorian mansion where the Grateful Dead lived. This ornate house had a front stairway, at the top of which stood a small, arch-covered porch and a bay window to the left. The home had lots of scrollwork pillars, cornices and alcoves.
Billy and Jeff stopped and gazed at the house. "Dig it," Billy said, "Captain Trips lives here. Maybe the Dead would like some visitors, what do you think, man?"
"Ummm," Jeff mumbled, looking very stationary. Judging from the apprehension in his face, one might have thought he stood before a haunted house with a decidedly sinister Vincent Price lurking behind one of the curtains.
Amused, Billy nudged Jeff in the shoulder. "Take it easy, buddy. Let's have a look," he said, moving toward the stairway. "Come on."
"No!" Jeff blurted.
Billy made a clucking sound. "Chicken!"
Billy walked briskly up the steps and then rapped on the front door. After waiting for a few seconds, he hurried back down the stairs. "Nobody home, I guess," he said. He and Jeff nodded at each other and continued sauntering up the street.
After walking another block or two, they did indeed find a house that fit the description that Greeta had given Billy, and they knocked on the door and talked to this ancient woman with curlers in her bluish silver hair. Unfortunately, the woman had never seen or heard of Greeta Strong, and the two boys shrugged at each other and then walked back toward Haight Street.
"Maybe we'll run into Greeta someplace," Billy said.
"I hope so," Jeff said. "Where are we gonna stay?"
"We'll sleep in the park," Billy said matter-of-factly. "Don't worry about a thing, Jeff my friend. Billy always finds the party."
* * *
Along the way up Ashbury Street, Billy bought a copy of the Oracle, Haight-Ashbury's very own newspaper. While walking, Billy thumbed through the small publication, whose brightly colored pages and experimental illustrations dazzled the eye. In it, there were lots of poems, including one by Gary Snyder, one of the Beats. Repeatedly, Billy chuckled and said, "Tripped out, man."
Then they walked to 1535 Haight Street and stepped into the famous Psychedelic Shop. While they browsed the hippie and head paraphernalia - beads, bells, incense, patchouli oil, feathers, jewelry, rolling papers, hash pipes and stash boxes - music emanated from a radio tuned to KMPX FM, a local station that featured underground rock tracks 24 hours a day. The song playing was "White Rabbit," which owed a lot to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Ravel's Bolero. In her ferocious contralto, Grace Slick shouted, "Remember what the dormouse said: Feed your head! Feed your head!"
Billy said hello to the owner of the shop, Ron Thelin, a longhaired, mustachioed fellow. Billy asked Thelin how business was going, and Thelin said he was getting by, and then joked that he might one day give away all his merchandise. "Shouldn't everything be free?" Thelin asked, eyeing the two visitors from Sacramento. Billy nodded joyously, while Jeff shrugged dubiously.
Next, they ambled by the Drogstore Café and talked to the people sitting out front. Most of the people were teenagers who had just gotten into town and were looking for a place to crash or a party to attend. One kid was trying to "score a lid." Looking quite the hippie type, one guy wasn't such a kid, maybe 21 or 22. He had the air of the all-knowing, as if he had attended every love-in this side of the Pecos River. Billy asked this older guy how long he'd been around the City.
"Couple years," replied the man, giving Billy a steely look. "This scene is going down hill, man. The tourists and the teenyboppers are taking over, swarming all over the place like ants. Pretty soon they'll be selling tickets to this place, like Disneyland, ya dig? Wouldn't be surprised to see somebody selling Tim Leary dolls pretty soon." He snickered dryly. "But you should have seen it a year or two ago. Everything was cool and everybody was hip, even the old farts drinking wine out of paper bags. It was easy to score too. No hassles anywhere, man, just grooving on the streets. Get this, the really good time was last year. The scene’s over, man. Go off and drink a cocktail and leave me alone so I can relax and not have to pose for anymore pictures, okay?"
Billy and Jeff exchanged blank stares. "Time to split," Billy said, and he and Jeff were off again.
"Wonder if he's right," Billy said, down the street a ways. "Was all the fun last year?"
Jeff glanced around. "Looks like it's . . . happening."
Suddenly a blur flew at Billy and nearly knocked him to the ground. Greeta Strong spun Billy in a circle and then hugged him as if she hadn't seen him in about a century. "You came!" Greeta cried. "I thought you were just feeding me a slicker line."
"We found your house," Billy said. "But the old lady said she had never heard of you."
Greeta rolled her eyes and clicked her tongue. "She never knows me. Touched in the head, senile or something, ya dig?"
"That's cool," Billy said. He hugged Greeta again. "It's really good to see you. Jeff and me are looking for a party."
Greeta smiled. "Got one. We'll freak out, man."
"I can dig it." Billy turned to Jeff. "How about you?"
"Sounds like fun," Jeff said, looking as wooden as a fence.
After eyeing Jeff for a moment, Greeta and Billy glanced at each other and chuckled. "This guy is just learning hip, right?" Greeta said to Billy, as she put her hand over Jeff's shoulder and walked with him along the sidewalk. "You ever turn on, honey?" she asked Jeff.
"Turn on to what?" Jeff asked.
"Little smoke, little magic mushroom, little acid?"
Jeff swallowed hard. "No."
Billy interjected, "Jeff likes to be . . . careful."
"What a shame," Greeta said. "Gotta learn to fly sometime. This is the place to do that, ya know? The cosmic airport, baby, you can't get better than this." In tribute, she threw up her arms and smiled grandly.
Greeta grabbed Billy's hand and sprinted with him down the street and around the corner. "Hey, wait up!" Jeff cried. "You think I know this place?"
Laughter echoed off birthday cake houses.
Jeff followed the affectionate couple, feeling like the guy who needed a girlfriend.
Soon, Billy, Greeta and Jeff went to a store and bought sandwiches, potato chips and soda pop and then went to the Panhandle to eat.
Afterward, they strolled into a wide open section of Golden Gate Park - the Polo Fields actually, where the Human Be-In was held back in January, attracting 20,000 people. (This was perhaps the unofficial beginning of what would later be called the Summer of Love, while the “official” beginning was the Summer Solstice Be-In held in this park just three days before.) Multiple counterculture luminaries attended the January happening, including Timothy Leary, the so-called prophet of LSD, whom President Richard Nixon would one day call “the most dangerous man in America.” The event’s iconic moment came when Leary declared, “The only way out is in. Turn on, tune in, and drop out! Of high school, junior executive, senior executive. And follow me! The hard way!”
Greeta lit up a jay. She and Billy took their tokes and then handed it to Jeff. Of course, Jeff waved it off.
"Golly," Greeta said, looking perplexed. "Are you trying to be Mr. Clean or something?"
Again, Billy interjected, "Jeff comes from a religious family - they don't believe in getting their heads tight."
Greeta gave Billy a scolding look. "Do you always speak up for him?"
Greeta and Billy chuckled, while Jeff squinted and fidgeted, appearing uncomfortable. Greeta studied Jeff for a few seconds. "You don't have to party," she said. "I won't bug you about it anymore. There's a time for everything, ya dig, like in that Byrds' song?"
Jeff smiled tightly. "Thanks, Greeta."
Billy and Greeta continued passing the sacramental joint, when Greeta said, “Things are really coming together - the Beatles have turned-on to acid and made Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the greatest album of all time.”
“No,” Jeff said, “the greatest is Revolver.”
Greeta nodded respectfully. “Good choice.”
“No,” Billy interjected, “it’s Rubber Soul.”
“All Beatle albums are the best,” Greeta said joyously.
“The Beatles are going to save the world,” Billy said, nodding repeatedly and beatifically. “They were sent here for a reason.”
Greeta kissed Billy on the cheek. “God works in mysterious ways.”
“I dig the mysterious.”
“Billy Lawson, we’re on the brink of a new world, one where people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, without hassle from cops, judges or politicians. Peace and love will rule, not money and power. From now on, people will be judged by their soul, not their ability to make a profit.”
“People understanding each other,” Billy declared, “that’s what will end the war in Vietnam.”
“Yeah,” Greeta said, “the War’s a bum trip. Who wants to put bullets through people’s heads?”
“Only insane people make war.”
“The hell with war!” Greeta yelled, and then in the distance somebody echoed her cry. Greeta giggled. “I love this place.”
“Me too,” Billy said. He turned to Jeff. “What about you, Jeff?”
“It’s fun,” Jeff replied. “It’s different.”
“Sure is,” Billy agreed. “This is where the new age will begin. Mark my words -all bullshit stops here and now.”
The joint now finished, Billy and Greeta fell into each other’s arms and hugged as if they were never going to see each other again. Jeff shoved his hands into his pockets and sighed. “Getting chilly,” he said.
* * *
Just before sundown, they walked along Haight Street to the usual three-story Victorian, but this one didn't look near as nice as the Grateful Dead house. Instead of lacy curtains, towels and sheets stretched across windows. Weeds proliferated in flowerbeds; paint was chipped and boards loose. The trio stepped up a creaky stairway, and Greeta knocked on the door. A young man with shoulder-length hair and wearing nothing except a pair of maroon gym shorts answered the door. "The party's here!" he exclaimed, and then lurched forward and embraced Greeta.
"This is Chad Chesterfield," Greeta said. "He's my big brother."
Chad Chesterfield escorted the newcomers inside the house. As they walked into the living room - about 20 feet by 20 feet in size - they caught the drift of marijuana, incense and cigarettes, amid that musty old house smell. On the walls and ceiling, peeling paint and water stains abounded, and cobwebs festooned every nook and cranny. The hardwood floors squeaked like sound effects in a spooky movie. Billy thought the place looked freaky, while Jeff hoped nobody started a fire. As there was little furniture, the stereo sat on the floor, and out of it blared Cream's "I Feel Free." A score of people stood around, rapping to each other. Others studied the psychedelic posters that dotted the walls. (Of course, Billy looked at those too.)
Abruptly, Greeta drew Chad into the parlor, and there they spoke confidentially. When they returned, Greeta smiled slyly and declared, "Chad has a gift. Hold out your hand, Billy."
Billy did, and then Chad dropped something into it. Billy beheld a tiny purple tab. "Is this what I think it is?" Billy asked.
Chad nodded. "Owsley."
"Yeah, the dude made it. It's purple Owsley, man."
Billy grinned. "Okay!"
"A four-way hit," Chad said, his eyes widening as if to impress Billy. Chad looked questioningly at Jeff, who averted his eyes.
Billy stared doubtfully at Jeff. "You?"
Suddenly looking terrified, Jeff vigorously shook his head. Watching this, Greeta wiped a smirk from her face.
Finally, Billy shrugged and then put the tab under his tongue.
Greeta's eyes grew larger. "Heap powerful medicine, Billy Lawson, ol' daddy cool. I hope you're ready to meet yourself up there in the baby blue sky."
Chad regarded Billy closely and declared, "Acid is not an escape - it's a reckoning."
Billy inhaled deeply and made a Buddha-like half smile. "I hope this is better than the stuff I've taken," he said.
Chad winked at Greeta and said, "Keep an eye on him, Greeta, or he might fly away."
Greeta snuggled against Billy, kissed him and said, "We’ll both fly Translove Airways.”
* * *
Over the next hour, people filed expectantly and avidly into the old, time-stained house. These were mostly young people, though a few of the over-30 crowd could be seen. What was supposed to be one party was actually a half dozen or more scattered about the house, although the living room contained the largest number of people - 40 or more at any one time. There, the stereo constantly fired away, now playing "Plastic People" by the Mothers of Invention.
Early on, Jeff lost Greeta and Billy, who, Jeff speculated, were probably making out somewhere. So Jeff wandered by himself. Upstairs, he knocked on what appeared to be a bedroom door. Nobody answered, so he entered. Upon a single mattress on the floor, two people, mostly naked, mashed into each other, “getting it on,” as it were. “Excuse me!” Jeff said. Then he tapped on another door. No response. Slowly, Jeff opened the door. Breathy cries washed his way. “Sorry!” Jeff said, and closed the door. None of these people appeared to be Billy or Greeta.
Eventually Jeff found an open, bead-lined doorway and entered the room. There he sat on a small couch and looked around. Psychedelic drawings done in India ink covered the walls. In the corner stood a small table, on which a lava light sat, the doughy mass inside slurping like some amoeba-like creature. Jeff stared at this for awhile, as he listened to the partying going on throughout the house. Shortly, he heard some people outside and peered out a water-stained window. In the backyard under the moonlight, people frolicked like fairies. Some guy banged on a guitar and sang, "You gotta grok the serpent, baby! It's the only way to know the numinous!" Jeff considered going out there. But what would he do with those crazy people? Wouldn't he get embarrassed? Yes, he certainly would. Maybe later he'd venture forth into that wild stuff.
Jeff turned and saw a shorthaired man wearing horned-rimmed glasses, a sport coat and a pair of brogues. There was a sprinkling of gray in his hair. Jeff thought he was probably somebody's father looking for his son or daughter. "Can I help you?" Jeff said, as if he were taking orders at a hamburger parlor.
"No thanks, I'm doing fine," said the man. "Great party."
"Wanna sit down?"
The man nodded and sat at the other end of the couch. For several moments the man looked about the room, and then he took something from his pocket and put fire to it. He inhaled deeply and handed it to Jeff. On reflex, Jeff started to say no, but instead he studied the look on the man's face. To Jeff, the man appeared reserved and dignified, like a lawyer, schoolteacher or doctor. For several moments, Jeff continued staring at the man. If some older, business type guy could smoke pot, Jeff figured, what couldn't he? So Jeff took the joint and brought it to his lips. His hand shaking, he sucked on it, but didn't inhale and then handed it back to the man. Two more times the man passed it to Jeff, and both times Jeff puffed but didn't inhale. At one point, the man simply stared at Jeff, until Jeff grew uncomfortable, and then the man stopped staring.
"Nice meeting you," the man said, and jumped up from the couch and left the room. For awhile, Jeff sat on the couch, feeling odd. Did the man know that Jeff hadn't inhaled? Jeff just sat there and eyed the lava lamp, whose glowing blob split in two and then quickly joined again like some fickle organism. Jeff decided, what the heck, he'd check out the action in the back yard.
Out there, Jeff paused by the guy playing the guitar. The guy sang: "The medium is the message - let's blow our minds with an episode of Get Smart." Listening to these crazy lyrics, Jeff had to grin. Then a topless girl pirouetted by Jeff, her eyes skyward, as if she were guiding herself by constellation. The girl's tits jiggled like gelatin apples, and her arms soughed through the air like willow boughs in a breeze. Suddenly the woman grabbed Jeff by the arm and began dancing in a circle with him. Jeff’s blushed so fiercely that he thought his face would catch fire. Finally, Jeff pulled away from the woman and hurried to a private spot, where he spied Greeta and Billy over by the fence. They were holding hands and prancing around, and Billy wore the biggest smile Jeff had ever seen. Was this a smile of happiness? To Jeff, it seemed a rather goofy smile, almost a smirk, though not quite. What was the acid doing to him anyway? Was it something like being drunk?
Jeff considered walking over there, but Billy was acting a little too weird. Instead, Jeff walked back into the living room, which was jammed with people. The stereo played Donovan's "Season of the Witch." Jeff found a bowl of potato chips and some onion dip and ate his fill. At one point, Jeff spied the older man with whom he had smoked pot. The man threw Jeff a narrowed-eyed gaze and accompanying half-smile that Jeff had sometimes seen on girls who were interested in him. Jeff immediately left the room. He would see what was going on in the kitchen, often a bustling place during a party.
* * *
Meanwhile, in the back yard, Billy was “getting off” on the acid. The so-called body buzz came first: a hollow, cottony feeling spread from the center of his chest. A little later, Billy felt as if his flesh were made of moist clay and constantly changing shape. Then tendrils shot from various parts of his body and then came back and passed through him, and then looped back from the other side and passed through him again. These sensations Billy had never felt before. He couldn't imagine that anybody had! At one point, as Billy watched that strange-sounding guy play the guitar, musical notes floated like bubbles from the instrument. Billy had heard that you could see this kind of hallucination during an acid trip but thought it was just exaggerated description.
Overhead, the stars skipped through the sky, as if changing places with each other, and the moon smiled like some celestial entity trying to pass for human. Billy spied a very big star - perhaps it was a planet - and imagined this to be the home of God, and that God was looking down upon him like some kindly old man who would always keep him from harm. When Greeta and the other people in the backyard moved about, colored trails followed them. In fact, anything moving had this effect; the neighbor's house cat seemed propelled by rocket fire, and a flying moth resembled a silver bullet plowing through a curtain of black velvet.
Presently, Billy regarded Greeta Strong, who looked gaudy, puffy-faced, twinkle-eyed and preternaturally sweet-tempered, like a munchkin's grandmother in The Wizard of Oz. Everything Billy saw had an exaggerated and animated aspect, as if he had been transported into a Warner Brothers cartoon. At any moment, Billy expected to meet Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck. He always wanted to meet those loony guys! Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of Billy's trip was that he saw a likeness of himself at rooftop level - a bust of Billy, it appeared, following him like some mirror-image guardian entity. This floating likeness didn't stare at Billy; it simply peered out into the world as if captivated by it. Billy wasn't sure he liked the guardian image following him all over the place - yet how could he not like an image of himself?
Yes, Billy realized, Chad had been right: taking LSD was a kind of reckoning. Some might think he was escaping reality, but he wasn’t escaping a damn thing!
Chad Chesterfield approached Billy and cracked a grin reminiscent of the Cheshire cat. The look in Chad's eyes seemed to indicate that he too was flying high on something, perhaps LSD. "Peace, love, dope," Chad said, in a kind of chant. "With peace, love, dope, there's always hope . . . !"
Greeta tossed a luminescent Frisbee at Chad, who caught it and then immediately threw it into the sky, where it disappeared over the edge of the roof, evoking a lost flying saucer. Many people who saw this laughed, except Billy, who simply gaped in awe. "Oh, wow!" he beamed.
* * *
Since that older guy had left the party, Jeff returned to the living room. Finally, he relaxed a little and hoped to “groove with the people.” The stereo played "East-West," the Butterfield Blues Band's raga epic, to which many people danced as if in a trance, as lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield's edgy, wandering riffs led them through space. (It was said that one could get high simply by listening to this tune.) At times, somebody flicked on the strobe light, and then snapshots of people punctuated the darkness. Jeff found this effect exciting, yet a little unsettling, as if his brain were suddenly turning on and then off. During Jeff's venture through the living room, he exchanged a few words with people, but that's all. These folks didn't seem to be his kind of folks. Maybe they were too hip, or he was too square. One time, however, he danced with a cute hippie girl as the stereo played the Grateful Dead's "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)," a very danceable tune Jeff had always liked.
When the tune ended, Jeff overheard a man and a woman as they walked from the dance area. The woman asked, “What’s your sign?” And the man promptly responded, “Sagittarius. Does that mean I can ball ya?”
An hour later, Jeff went to the car and tried sleeping in the back seat. By the time dawn peaked through advancing wraiths of fog, he was definitely ready to go home, so he went looking for Billy and one hour later found him drinking coffee with Greeta in a local bohemian café. It seemed Billy was still tripping, as even the most mundane activity, such as pouring cream into a cup of coffee, evoked in him a universe of possibilities.
Back in Sacramento, as soon as Jeff entered the house his father asked, "Have a good time?"
"Sure did," Jeff said. "Frisco's a lot of fun."
"Go to that Haight and Ashbury hippie place?"
"Sure, we stopped by. Lots of pretty girls walking around."
His father nodded and stared at him. "Drink any beer?"
"No, Dad, no beer or anything like that, only soda pop."
His father beamed, "That's my boy!"
In bed that night, Jeff didn't sleep very well. He had told his father that he hadn't drunk any alcohol, and that was definitely true, though he hadn't told him about smoking dope. Jeff could not have told his father about such activity, of course, because his father would have exploded like the Hiroshima bomb and then grounded him until the end of the decade - at least. Poor Dad is stuck in the fifties, Jeff thought. He didn't understand what was going on these days with young people. They weren't drinking anymore; they were experimenting with drugs such as pot and LSD. Right or wrong, good or bad - that's what they were doing. When would Dad wake up?
All in all, Jeff had mixed feelings about his wild weekend in the City, yet he was glad he had gone to the Haight-Ashbury district. It seemed likely that he had seen a bit of history in the making. Could it have been something about which to tell his grandchildren?
Only time would tell.
Of course, the Haight-Ashbury district didn’t stay as idyllic as shown in this story. It became commercialized and overexposed and many people came around who cared more about partying than ideas. And perhaps worst of all, heavy drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin came into the area, and the bad element that always comes with such destructive substances began stalking the streets. Even people such as Charles Manson paid a visit to the Haight.
Sensing that something terrible had happened to the local Peace and Love movement, hippies in the area had a “Death of the Hippie” ceremony on October 6, 1967. Also, after George Harrison visited the district in August 1967, he wasn’t impressed and thereafter renounced drug use.
Yes, all good things must pass!
Please leave a comment.
Buy a book about Haight-Ashbury . . .
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 23, 2011:
Thanks a lot for the compliment, man! Yes, I am a little older than you, but at least you got to see some of that fabulous decade when, if nothing else, the rock and roll was the best. Later!
DS from Danville, IL on February 23, 2011:
I wasn't there and the differences between our hippie hubs reveals that! On 07/20/1969 my 10th birthday man landed on the moon.
Through the 2 older siblings I sure remember a lot of groovy stuff. Sad things also, I wore a silver metal P.O.W bracelet for 2 years.
Enjoyed this hub. It's groovy man! Thank you for the great trip back!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on January 13, 2011:
Thanks for the comment, Lynda. I remember 1968, a very sad year, particularly as compared with the optimism of the Summer of Love in 1967, definitely a fun time to be alive and - hip? Later!
lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on January 13, 2011:
They say if you can remember 1968, you weren't really there. I remember. Thanks for a trip down memory lane. Lynda