(with a small "r")
how my road to heaven passed through a reflection of hell
Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." - Is. 6:5
"Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts…" - Bob Dylan, Slow Train Coming
I believe my life has been a paradigm of both the pitfalls-of and the single way of escape-from the postmodern chaos already upon the generation right behind me. I am equally convinced I was allowed to survive in order, not just to warn, but to point to the only safe exit from the shuddering superstructure of Western civilization snapping apart above our heads.
My message is simple – not even new. But in my case it does qualify as hard-won, since it was never prematurely "taken on authority" but has been proven through four decades of stumbling experience. As mentioned on the Home Page, I am now a 70-something happily married grandfather. But, big surprise: for the last 41 years I have also been a Bible-believing Christian – of the most odious sort: one who considers the Hebrew and Greek Testaments a radically trustworthy communication from You-Know-Who. (In the originals those texts were probably even inerrant, but why invite tangential arguments.)
My route into this very specific faith, while in its maze-like wandering it has become less rare, was anything but typical for the 50’s generation I knew in my teens. As this page will record, my circuitous journey back onto the narrow path took foolhardy detours through older, more "self"-affirming belief-systems. More than once with brakes nearly locked I have skidded up to the cliff’s gravelly edge.
But in the process of exploration I’ve learned some spiritual facts of life not widely known. Therefore, while this page necessarily details personal history, it is primarily written for those rare seekers still able to hope there is a Truth to seek, to encourage them in sorting through the confusing welter of competing worldviews that overlap, swirl, and mix like treacherous crosscurrents in the broad river of human culture where all must swim. (How much more subject to the currents is that one who drifts unaware even of the river’s existence!)
So much for introduction. If you arrived at this page without reading Chance Meeting, you will find what follows incomplete. Please click this link before proceeding, since I pick up here where Chance Meeting leaves off.
As I hinted on the Home page, my "visitation" by the God of all creation left me a trifle unbalanced for many years. On the one hand I soon became self-importantly burdened with a sense of secret destiny, sure somehow that I had been entrusted-with or commissioned-for a significant role in "history" (a "my face will someday appear on the cover of Time" mentality). On the other hand, not unrelated to this creeping pride factor, I was becoming, by imperceptible degrees, what the Bible bluntly calls "enslaved to sin."
With respect to wonderment at having been somehow "singled out" by omnipotence, my solid upbringing did help me strive to "keep humble." Besides, I understood well enough that, if I wasn’t circumspect, the late 20th Century cultural climate might quickly pigeonhole me for mental rehabilitation. But with the accumulating pressure of years during which I became immersed in the evolutionary assumptions of "higher" education, pride was winning out. Although I kept thoughts about a sense of "mission" almost exclusively to myself, the inner attitude of superiority must have come across. After I had completed a couple of years in the ivory tower, my Dad gave me this thoroughly deserved criticism: "You lack the common touch." Then, a little later, after eloping with a fellow honors-student at the University of Tennessee (whom I had known for all of two months) my father commented to her father: "He thinks he’s going to usher in the millennium."
This statement shocked me at the time, as my two-percent religious education had never included any serious reference to "the millennium," though it was certainly true that by the end of my sophomore year at UT my head was full of utopian schemes, much to the unsettling of my 19-year-old wife, who had "issues" of her own.
Truth be told, I had grabbed hold of the hoped-for stability of married life in a desperate attempt to overcome an increasing anxiety and sense of alienation from everything around me. The alcohol-and-football-games of college life in "Big Orange country" had been a somewhat horrifying shock to one idealistically pursuing self-betterment. If I was going to change the world, I had to get ready. Dreaming of a career as, perhaps, a Hollywood actor, putting some muscle on my lanky 6-one frame became a priority. Too frugal to buy a dumbbell, I found an appropriately shaped rock for dorm-room workouts. Every ounce of body-fat must be eliminated. In my freshman year at a small college in central Washington state I had been on the track team running the mile and two mile, an excellent introduction into the benefits of robust health – never mind I finished every race dead last. I squeezed piano and art classes into an already full liberal arts load, meanwhile teaching myself to type. At UT I received an award from the Philosophy Department for the best essay on "The Value of Truth" (mine was the only entry). I began attending the Unitarian Church, attracted by a "broad way" that was at the same time elitist, but put off by political pre-occupations. (God for them was a pleasant theory and Jesus a mutant milepost of species possibility.) However, like-minded friends similarly determined to "make something of themselves" were simply not to be found.
As a beginning sophomore in 1959, before I encountered the "redneck beatniks" among whom I found my first wife – her hair fashionably spun up in a fetching green beehive – my loneliness was so intense I sought guilty comfort in compulsive dessert-binges, alternated with 3-day self-punishing fasts, sometimes in combination with solitary walks out Highway 441 almost to the Smoky Mountains: striding determinedly along, freshly minted selections from The Sound of Music on my pocket radio, my tongue meanwhile doing calisthenics with German vocabulary. I well remember one long night huddled by myself in the leaves on a hillside near Sevierville, smelling cows and woodsmoke, a light snow dusting my clothes.
Unfortunately, as to marriage, I was totally naïve about the complexities of human relationships and the unexpectedly awesome uniqueness of individuals. Going in with a Tinseltown view of romance, that first marriage was an initiation into the desperation of sensitive souls who have had a sickly germ of faith thrashed out of them by the academy. My new mate’s major was (reductionistic) philosophy; her hero the atheist godfather of 60’s peaceniks, Bertrand Russell; her preferred music for lovemaking, Wagner.
Our worried but indulgent parents continued to support our struggles to obtain degrees for the next five years, during which time I dropped out of school at least twice because I "wanted to write." Intermittently we would take odd jobs as shoe clerk or secretary.
Meanwhile we were without forethought producing two beautiful girl babies that added a new layer of guilt for shameful irresponsibility in remaining so dependent, since our parents were not only paying to finish school, but her father soon bought us a brand new pastel-green compact Renault – our having quickly trashed the old black and white Studebaker he had given us after recovering from the shock of our elopement. Between these cars and before our first daughter was born our only transportation had been my little 250cc Yamaha motorcycle -- my petite and shapely 19-year-old mate gamely balancing sacks of groceries between us.
But my real darkness hadn’t even begun yet. A bona fide virgin until age 21, I had at last been magnificently introduced to how "really great" "great sex" could be. But my wife, suddenly a mother, grew increasingly melancholic, so that for numerous reasons – including what she called my "animalism" – she quickly grew cooler in the bedroom. Hey, as to animalism, guilty as charged; but what right has she, I thought, to impugn the glorious product of two billion years of biological evolution? Feeling caught in some diabolical trap, I practically overnight waxed transcendentally insatiable. Suffice it to say I was led down the devastating descent through Playboy-style pornography and exhibitionism to gross and constantly sought-after infidelity. Intellectually part and parcel with this moral free-fall was my discovery of the occultically flavored relativism of C. G. Jung, who brought pseudo-scientific validation to the view that "healthy psychic balance" required giving due exercise to one’s "shadow-side." (Jung and Teilhard de Chardin were the intellectual godfathers of New Age thinking who provided quasi-academic respectability to evolutionary concepts channeled by the theosophists who preceded them.) Here was a rational acceptance of spirituality without religious restraints. I received mystical flashes of an ill-defined but clearly rising surf in Babylon; Jungian psychology would be my polished board. As early as 1963 I was no longer in full-time control of my actions, never mind that I had already brought one precious daughter into the world. My sexual fantasies were increasingly being acted out in a secret life outside a fairly conventional home routine. Fortunately I never raped anyone, but looking back, I was clearly being pushed in that direction. An oppressive veil seemed to have descended over my mind, while the world too often contracted to immediate sensory consciousness, leaving me operating like a depressed zombie periodically jump-started by risky escapades.
Increasingly contemptuous of fundamentalist Christians, I began to hate pointed steeples topped by crosses, church ladies with puky white Bibles, even white automobiles as phony symbols of a purity that couldn’t exist in flesh and blood. Before the term was invented, I inwardly campaigned for unisex bathrooms. My only inspiration was as a revolutionary for the ultimate self-expression of public nudity, my curse to roam the streets desperately potent as a human blowtorch. Though I couldn’t acknowledge it at the time, since I didn’t "believe" in it, I was getting my nose rubbed in the old doctrine of human depravity in a way I’d never be able to forget. (There were warnings. I remember one dream in which the "Jung-vehicle" was portrayed as a child’s pedal-car. Very puzzling at the time.)
Meanwhile we had moved our degree-pursuits to Nashville where my family lived. About this time I got wind of those harbingers of a new spiritual consciousness up at Harvard – Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary. The Bible had so obviously proven inadequate to the challenges of repairing a screwed-up society; indeed puritanical Christianity with its straitjacketing repressions had to be largely to blame. Now here was a technological breakthrough in a material substance called LSD. Chemistry coming to the rescue at a critical moment to put mankind back in touch with God! Cutting edge, no doubt. I was born for this! I’ll show the world millennium ushering.
We had already been introduced to the relatively tame entertainments of marijuana, but in 1963 psychedelic was a brand new word. Since Mexican mushrooms weren’t plentiful in Music City, the closest relative available to our tiny circle of (one each) poet, artist, writer, and musician was the rotten-smelling squeezed-out scum of ground-up morning glory seeds. Sure, it gave you an hour of stomach cramps and nausea, but then you could walk across the moonlit campus and easily imagine the pulsing twin smoke-towers of the university steam plant were rather portals of a gigantic gate into another reality.
I awoke one morning during this period in our tiny house on Love Circle with a gentle breeze pushing our gauzy sun-brightened curtains toward me from the window by our bed, but a moment before in my mind they had been instead the glowing tresses of a 30-foot tall female whose booming voice I distinctly heard proclaim: "My names are many." How intriguingly suggestive! The spirit realm was beginning to open to me in enticing new ways. Who was this Goddess? I had never been taught what the Bible states so clearly: Seducing spirits masquerade as angels of light. (2 Cor. 11:14) Even less did I know the Old Testament condemnations concerning "the Queen of Heaven." Jer. 44: 15-23
Maintaining a needed B-average in my English-area course work, my really passionate studies became increasingly arcane. I noted with self-congratulatory pride that I was the first to ever check The Tibetan Book of the Dead out of the Vanderbilt library. My favorite spot for creative study and composition was the balcony of the deserted chapel at the Vanderbilt Divinity School, with its then-modernistic wall of multiple rainbow-hued windows casting orbs of color throughout the sanctuary. (How naïve I was to consider that citadel of apostasy a safe spiritual harbor!) William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions, and easy confections like Siddhartha gave way to the Bhagavad-Gita, Alan Watts’ Nature, Man, and Woman, and Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. Still, in efforts to recall my personal "beatific vision" at age eighteen I would steal moments in our darkened apartment listening at high volume to E. Power Biggs’ A Festival of French Organ Music, whose thundering fireworks hinted at that poignantly fading memory of supernal promise.
With Southeast Asia beginning to heat up, my Air Force Colonel dad had the foresight to direct my fulfillment of military obligation to the Air National Guard, a relatively safe haven from the coming whirlwind of Viet Nam. In my idealistic but woefully misguided pacifism, after two years of weekend "drills" at the local Air Guard facility, I wrote a high-flown letter to the State Adjutant General warning that in the event of deployment I would be more inclined to take my own life than that of an "enemy." I also noted that my wife and I had already been in contact with the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich about my enrolling in their program to become a "depth psychologist." (This too turned out to be a fantasy.) As to my stance as "conscientious objector," I suppose I couldn’t have hurt my beloved father more if I had physically slapped his face. Devastatingly embarrassed, he nevertheless interceded with the Adjutant General and I was quietly allowed an officially "honorable" discharge. Damn foolish kid I was, but this would not be the last time my allegiance to false gods would bring severe disappointment into my Dad’s life.
By 1964 I had a Master of Arts in Teaching and my wife her BA in Philosophy. The next two years found us in the cottonfields of north Alabama where I taught English at a small junior college. Deeply impressed as ever with the strategic power of movies to shape society, I teamed up with a talented young film artist from California who was finishing his duty at Redstone Arsenal. Then, recruiting the aid of other faculty and students I forayed into independent filmmaking, while my wife and I both grew more open in our infidelities – or rather, I usually tried to hide mine while she confided all of hers to me as trusted sounding board. I was riding a red Norton 750 Atlas with a frame-mounted bubble fairing to work and experimenting with artsy nude films on the side, my Isadora-like wife the obliging model. Zorba the Greek, La Dolce Vita, and Dr. Zhivago were the big movies then, but I later had to confess I had watched the last in another city with another woman. We were pretty ‘hip’ for Alabama, except our life had become a continuous aerobatic display of maxed-out emotion, with occasional threats of suicide by my moody partner. Her considerable giftings as artist and intellectual left her feeling trapped in the home-maker role with two children in a single-story two-bedroom brick house stuck on a narrow country lane in the middle of racially retro Alabama. This restlessness soon led to her getting accepted into a Master’s program in Psychology at the University of Florida.
So I set out for Gainesville on my latest Norton with its less than legal mufflers and – amazingly – acquired a college teaching job and house to rent all in one long weekend. God was clearly with me! Our daughters then being about three and five years old, I gave up what in retrospect was probably the best job I would ever have and loaded the proverbial 16-foot U-Haul to set out for the final chapter of our marriage.
Florida in 1967 was way further into the future than Alabama. Gainesville had its own psychedelic "head shop" called The Subterranean Circus. We soon had a connection for a more serious brand of recreational devil-weed and, before the year was out, our first actual LSD. For a short time I even took up cigarettes, until one evening found me excitedly chain-smoking on the front row of a lecture at the University by the already bug-eyed Huston Smith. Before he was well started I had to walk out in order to spend the next fourteen hours hugging a toilet. No more tobacco smokes for me. I partook in the radicals’ march on the Pentagon (but didn’t see Forrest Gump). To tell our horrid story in a few words, at the beginning of fall classes my wife fell madly in love with her married philosophy professor; in self defense I soon afterwards began a flaming affair with one of my creative writing students; the professor and I wrote and filmed a deeply symbolic opus called Dawnsong on Flagler Beach near St. Augustine, for which we were thrown in jail for three days; then our entire foursome and two children moved into the same house where I had been busily constructing a "meditation space" featuring thousands of 10-inch strips of purple crepe-paper glued to the ceiling like upside-down grass. With the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour coloring the air in every remotest corner, this living arrangement lasted about a month, until the professor suddenly remembered his wife and children. To escape the explosion my new love and I hastily moved about a block away – hardly far enough as there was a near murder or suicide now happening on a schedule of once a week. ("Jimmy, where have you hidden the guns?") We found escape in marathon sex and the music of The Doors’ latest album, Strange Days. I shot a second movie with my 16mm Bolex called Hippie Love and Hippie Hate, which, along with a recommendation from my Redstone Arsenal friend, got me noticed by the director of the film department of Georgia Educational Television in Atlanta.
Suddenly just when I needed it most, I had a job offer in a field where I might finally be able to "influence a mass audience," frightening as that prospect might be had it succeeded. Cherry, my new lady – "boy-woman" as she was now known due to her having chopped all but a quarter-inch of her hair off in protest of generally intolerable circumstances (I forgot to mention she was also already legally married to someone else) – my new co-conspirator and I split for a fresh start in Atlanta in a dependable car her heartsick but exasperated parents had donated to the cause. There, settled into new jobs and after appropriate divorces had been served all around, on Valentine’s Day of 1969 my former student easily became my shiny late-model wife, courtesy of a weary justice of the peace in a dingy Decatur, Georgia office. (I promptly got a bladder infection which I carry to this day from the stress of being separated from my two daughters. I can’t be flippant about that tearing-apart.)
But I had jumped on a train that was by now too fast to jump off. After about a year of relative bliss, while I felt my role as mentor beginning to slip, my faithless lustful heart began its stealthy undermining of this second marriage, only this time I couldn’t share the blame. Ready to start first grade, my oldest daughter came to live with us in our basement apartment near Emory University where my new wife had found a secretary job in the Anatomy Department. With the help of my filmmaking partner now out of the military I was learning the technical end of professional film production. I was also discovering I had brought my old self along. The "art" films I was doing on the side were getting more explicitly pornographic. (It was more than simple whimsy that caused me to disguise my copies of these movies by labeling them "Church.") Concurrently I was thinking I could probably seduce our married landlady who lived upstairs, with husband and two children. (Thank God when I actually broached the subject she found the suggestion merely comical.) I grew a mustache and goatee that once caused a pair of neighborhood children to recoil backwards from me while I was jogging – before scattering pell-mell screaming, "The Devil!"
My young wife was struggling hard to be a good surrogate mother to my bright young daughter, never failing to read her bedtime stories and make sure she was breakfasted and ready for school. After work we’d get stoned and jive with the cat or watch Star Trek. Weekends with the latest Stevie Wonder hit Very Superstitious blaring on the car radio, we’d add a few more bright swirls of hippie-nation paint to our black VW beetle, making it an ever-more tempting target for angry semis, somehow undeterred by the magic word "LOVE" emblazoned in fiery letters between the headlights. We also had some horrendous fights, once bringing the police pounding the door to check us out. It’s hard to recall what these fights were about, though jealousy of my first wife was a common, albeit understandable, ingredient. Inwardly I felt I always only got what I deserved, even when my 6-year old daughter joined in against me by upending a flowerpot in my lap. At night we’d light a giant four-foot-tall red candle beside our mattress on the floor and listen to Iron Butterfly and Steppenwolf on FM. People who know me now might find it hard to believe, but I am sure the unbiased reader will agree I was a royal ass in those days.
Nevertheless in our search for a better way we continued to experiment on holidays with psychedelics like mescaline and LSD. I remember one snowy day with the Atlanta streets covered in ice, "tripping" on mescaline and feeling like a timberwolf in his element, careening on motorcycle boots for skis down our driveway. I now suspect that the powerful "self" that had "surfaced" in my body to sniff the gray wintry air of our planet was indeed more alien than I could have guessed at the time. When a former student and his wife from Alabama days moved into the area, our weekends got more interesting. As leader of a rock band in 1966 he had been the first kid in north Alabama to smoke pot and grow shoulder-length hair; now we had the dope-guru’s pleasure of turning them on to more exotic highs. It was the era of the Beatles’ White Album and the Yellow Submarine movie. Before long the four of us dropped acid and got "righteously" naked together, but I was never quite able to push things to the "wife-swapping" point. It’s not easy to admit what a reprobate I had become, but the worst is yet to tell.
While valuable as experience, filming classroom scenes, recording interviews with minor bureaucrats, even making occasional promos for the Georgia Highway Patrol was not the sort of moviemaking I had in mind. To bring in the future I would have to move where the future was already happening: California. My talented film cohort and his music-composer wife were homesick for the Bay Area and equally eager to advance their film-industry careers. They showed us incredible color footage they had shot on a recent visit – of a place we’d never heard of called Haight-Asbury. So without any prospect of work, my daughter having returned to Florida to be with her mother for second grade, we quit our jobs at Georgia ETV, rented the biggest U-Haul truck we could find, loaded all our worldly goods including the BMW R69S flat twin with Earls forks I had just traded my Norton Scrambler for, and – after a brief stop at my parents’ home in Nashville – struck west on I-40 as a mini-caravan chugging confidently toward the golden hills of what we were sure would be our El Dorado.
At night we would find an empty field where we stretched a tarp between the truck cab and our inflammatory VW bug, happy adventurers all. At some junk-strewn stopping place between Oklahoma City and Albuquerque my tender-hearted wife adopted a couple of abandoned kittens, immediately naming them Benjamin and Anthea, making three with Pooty-Tutu.
My filmmaker friend’s wife Shirley, a supremely gifted pianist and composer, had been a Rogers before marriage. When we arrived in the Bay Area in 1969, the Rogers clan took us into their home in Pleasant Hill (now best known as the community where Tom Hanks spent his adolescence). Cherry and I were truly welcomed as family members by these generous people, who provided a base from which to ease into an unfamiliar polyglot culture where distinctions in social status were, to put it mildly, not so sharply defined as in the South. The very garbage men in northern California were articulate, even literate.
The downside of this unaccustomed glut of qualified people was that for the first time in my short working career, landing a job was suddenly a huge challenge. Film and TV proved to be absolutely closed, while junior colleges essentially laughed at my credentials. After six weeks of fruitless applications during which I was stunned by the chaotic atmosphere in many of the schools I visited, I was finally accepted to teach 10th grade English at what amounted to a ghetto holding-tank in the East Bay community of Richmond, point-of-origin for the Black Panthers. I was beginning to see the "big frog" advantages of north Alabama.
My Florida-born wife and I rented an upstairs apartment a stone’s throw from the new high school, which was built as a fortress without windows around a large roofed commons that could be closed off with giant steel barriers that descended from the ceiling over the main entryhalls. Rheem Avenue below our window, looking across to the Whataburger, was often the scene of blowing newspapers and swooping seagulls, noisy with vehicular traffic during the day and wailing sirens at night. Perfect. El Dorado.
The entire Bay Area was seething, so much farther into the future than po-dunk Gainesville ever thought of being. Ken Kesey’s electric kool-aid acid tests were ancient history here. The radicals were genuinely heavy people like nobody we’d ever seen in person, dangerous people. They beat Latin/African drums in the parks, they clapped explosively in total abandon when they danced. Half of them had given up wearing shoes, for crying out loud. The Tate murders happened the week of our arrival. Haight-Asbury and Telegraph Avenue had already become war zones adrift in tear gas. My still innocent vision of pot-peace-love & rock’n’roll was shocked to find the Berkeley Barb pushing an image of doe-eyed hippie girls with ammunition bandoleers spanning braless bosoms. Homosexual sex was happening boisterously in the stalls of the men’s room at the Student Center of the University of California at high noon. The smell of weed and patchouli oil was everywhere. The Steppenwolf Bar in Berkeley was where up-scale hippie white women went to be picked up by equally high-flying black dudes in bizarre feminist inversion of George Wallace’s Alabama. We were taken there by a friend of my wife’s only days after our arrival, high on acid, to have any racist programming deleted from our hard-drives. I mainly remember one huge black man yelling in my face, "The Bank of America is sucking your blood!" I loudly agreed. The Family Dog night spot down on the eerily foggy coast of The City itself – parking area stocked with items like a lavender Microbus labeled "The Purple People-Eater" – was the scene of experimental film nights never imagined in any previous avant-garde circles. (I never realized ‘til many years later the wry occult significance of "family dogs" as easily obtained subjects of ritual sacrifice – though I’ll never forget one Sunday dawn riding my BMW north on the Oakland Freeway seeing the neatly headless body of a large brown short-hair dumped in the middle of the slow lane. Three Dog Night was a rock band, remember, with a name popularly thought to refer only to an arcticly-frigid necessity. Makes one wonder.)
Shortly after arriving Cherry and I rode our motorcycle into San Francisco to see "the Haight" for ourselves. We figured the nearby police station would be a safe place to leave the bike, but a friendly black officer burst into the fenced parking lot and told us "no way," as their station had been pipe-bombed again within the week and we unfortunately fit a profile, Georgia crackers or not. All this was about the time Rosemary’s Baby hit the screens, along with the documentary Woodstock. Our surfboard had obviously caught the Mother Wave, and we were loving it.
Well, "fools rush in," and this proved triply true when I began my job at Richmond High. To tell it like it was, Richmond was about equally divided among three ethnic groups: the desperately trapped ghetto blacks, the somewhat more hopeful Chicanos, and the barely better-off white residue of the "Okie" dust-bowl exodus. This combo made for some interesting alchemy in a high school population. But my personal discovery was that it was not a chemistry that mixed well with the authoritarian style of teaching I had successfully practiced in the South.
For one thing, many of the students came to school geared down on "reds," supersonic on "crank," bemused on weed, or somehow maintaining on acid. On top of this I quickly found that about half of my 10th graders read and wrote at a second grade level even when they were "straight." They also spoke in an unknown tongue. I thought at first the black kids were saying "Ride on!" After a while I discovered that to be "Right on!" There was considerable reference to "pimps an’ hoes," more self-explanatory. I was the "dude" they called "Kentucky Fried Chicken."
When I started out trying to impose the sort of order that had worked in the South, a tiny sliver of hell broke loose. It is no exaggeration to say that on one memorable occasion I was faced with two students at the front creating an obscene imperative in three-foot-high letters on the green-board (one outlining, the other filling-in), two others at the rear of the room removing the grille from our air-conditioning unit, a cluster in the opposite back corner shooting craps on the floor, and a fight in progress in the middle of the room in which a desk was being hurled over the heads of the few still-seated students. We had an intercom near the door that connected to the front office. As I tried to intervene with the desk-thrower, the intercom was being seriously manned by a sympathetic black fellow sending the alarm: "Kentucky Fried Chicken need you in Room 10 quick!"
About those retractable steel barriers. This was a school where I had to carry an un- conscious white girl to the office who had passed out on drugs, where I had a hunting knife drawn on me by one reluctant learner, and where the hulking dean of students had to defend himself with a garbage lid from a student tripping on acid who had shaved his head Iroquois-style and swiped a bow and arrow from the girls' archery class. Richmond High in 1970 was already in the 21st Century.
I did change my classroom approach. Finding out how much they were into music, I struck a deal. Collecting all the paperback novels to which they could possibly relate, I turned my desk into a one-hour lending library with a record player on the side. They brought all their favorite albums to class. I played disc jockey and promised each an "A" for the hour if he or she kept seated and even "pretended" to read for the duration. In the beginning they doubted such good fortune, but after the first report card showing good English grades for the first time ever, the interest in actually trying to read gradually became genuine. Kentucky Fried Chicken’s classes were "pretty cool" now.
Meanwhile Cool-Man was pushing the envelope of a sinner’s freedom again – the one labeled "slavery" in invisible ink. Before my first year at Richmond was out I was bringing a couple of the "hipper" kids home with me for lunch and we were "turning on" before going back to class. With my hair and beard now looking like General Custer in granny glasses, I was fast becoming the local Pied Piper of higher consciousness. In my one class of more advanced students, the rock opera Tommy became our main literary focus. In bell-bottoms and boots I was quickly popular among all the students, constantly getting high-fives and hippie-nation-hand-clasps in the halls. The kids knew they could safely share their real lives with me. ("You know, Mr. Haun, snapping is when you can hear the brain cells exploding in your head.") The administration seemed a bit ambivalent about this turn, but pleased enough to offer a contract for a second year.
I bought an acoustic/electric guitar at a pawnshop for thirty dollars. In the late afternoons I’d take it to the windy crown of one of the undulating golden hills overlooking Richmond and the north Bay toward the setting sun, smoke a fat number, and beat that 6-string half to death. Maybe that destiny I was being prepared for is rock star – that’s a place of influence.
Now and then my wife and I would take half-hits of acid and ride the bike down to Berkeley or over the Oakland Bridge into The City. We were present for the immortal (free) Youngbloods’ concert in Provo Park when they recorded, "Come on people, now, smile on your brother – everybody get together and love one another right now…" In the brilliant sun the tall fir trees were loaded with grinning hippies while thousands of coffee-lid Frisbees bounced off the foreheads and instruments of the band as they played. (Faithless bastard that I was, I danced most of that number with a beautiful girl standing behind me while Cherry was looking for a bathroom; strange to say, our wedding ring got stolen at that very moment.) As half-naked pagans, we did the Alameda flea market, cooking on mescaline under an intense blue sky, astonishing ourselves over the beauty of 10-cent ashtrays. I also remember a "love-in" at Golden Gate Park where an obviously demonized wildman in loincloth cast rapid-fire curse-gestures, face contorting in hatred, at a small boy who had inadvertently bumped his divine frenzy to Gaia. I didn’t believe in demons yet exactly, but sometimes you know anyway.
Cherry must have gotten pregnant about the time my first school year in Richmond began, because our daughter was born in May before school let out. Our Alabama couple from Atlanta had just shown up towing a motorcycle trailer behind their homemade camper. The morning after we brought our new daughter home from Kaiser Hospital, I called in sick to spend the day celebrating with these welcome friends, but lost points when the vice-principal saw me in front of the high school hauling ass on my buddy’s BSA. (Hey, dude, my wife just had a beautiful baby girl, not in the least deformed by LSD – thanks be to God!)
The fact is, I’ve been throwing in a lot of unnecessary detail because I’m ashamed to tell the rest of the story. My sexual greediness continued to push the bounds. My wife was beginning to seriously question the shape of utopia as I saw it. Her "I just want to tag along" days of early infatuation with my high-sounding ideas were definitely over. I had to practically drag her to several gatherings of a group I had read about in Playboy years before, the Sexual Freedom League. This turned out to be, on the surface, not much more than an uppermiddleclass wife-and girlfriend-swapping club, though I have no doubt for some it became a trapdoor into far "heavier" trips. Regardless, I was eager to explore the lusty possibilities, while Cherry felt trapped in unpleasant circumstances. She was anything but the "foolish woman" in Proverbs who "says to him who lacks understanding, ‘Stolen water is sweet; and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol." I’ll tell you later how this saying was fulfilled in a most bizarre way. This group harped on the need to "get beyond jealousy," but my brief experience with them proved they were pursuing a delusion.
It was with this group that I experienced the most extreme drug trip of my entire life – forever my definition of "bummer." We had joined about fifty of these heterosexually liberated ones for a weekend at someone’s vacation home in the high Sierras. Our Japanese compact was the least reputable vehicle present. A wide array of drugs was in evidence. I inquired around if anyone had any mescaline, since I had always had "good experiences" with the large white capsules that had been so-called in the past. I was offered a tiny beige capsule about one-third the familiar size. I thought, "This can’t amount to much, small as it is." About an hour later I was literally turning green, straining every muscle in a futile attempt to shed energy, ripping off my clothes in the middle of the main living area where perhaps 30 strangers were milling about. While Santana’s "Black Magic Woman" pulsed on the stereo, I knew I simply must NOT go where this drug was taking me. Fortunately someone had some Thorazine – horse tranquilizer – which had an initial effect like an orbiting missile striking a water-filled blimp. For the next many hours I wafted slowly back to earth fighting the paranoid certainty that we had been tricked here in order to become human sacrifices, almost simultaneously doing mental warfare with other looming "truths" as, for example, that I was Jesus and my Dad was actually God in disguise. Through it all there was somehow a nodding familiarity with a language not of this world. At least this episode saved me from committing another infidelity.
Not that I didn’t keep trying. I made passes at two women teachers at the high school, but they were too wise to get involved with a married man. I even flirted half-heartedly with one of the students, herself already an acidhead at 16, but ironically that wasn’t what finally got me busted at Richmond High.
My second year at Richmond began hopefully enough. Cherry and I had moved to a house 25 miles east, beyond the coastal hills in the tiny collection of aging dwellings known as Clyde, facing across a mile of flat desolation toward a row of flaming oil refineries along the lower Sacramento River. Happily, our new home was next door to a 6-foot-three muscular Californian with an Italian surname married to the eldest of the Rogers girls. Ronnie in his broad-brimmed leather hat was a jack-of-all-trades who got wired early and plastered swimming pools in 100-degree heat for a living. Evenings he taught me as much as I could absorb about playing electric blues guitar. I immediately bought a Fender solid-body, and we made quantities of rafter-writhing rhythm in my attic, which I attempted to baffle with about nine hundred egg cartons.
I need to back up, though, because that was the vacation I wound up handcuffed naked to a chair on the Mexican border, facing a mandatory five-year federal sentence. Having landed in Clyde with a whole summer to play with, my thirst for adventure was again keeping me awake nights. I suppose the rationalizing started with the fact that neither of my options for impacting the world "for God" – film and music – could begin to be financed on a teacher’s salary. But in Gainesville we knew of a familiar figure in the local counterculture who reputedly had made $5000 smuggling one backpack of marijuana across the Rio Grande border near El Paso. If I could pull off a stunt like that I’d be an overnight hero in Clyde, California (not to mention hastening the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in my immediate environment). Plus I’d be opening a door of financial provision for whatever big doings God had up His sleeve for us. Was I dumb, or what? (Of course the "or what" was: I was being inspired by the wrong god.)
I honestly don’t remember if my precise plan was hatched before or after seeing Easy Rider at the Concord Drive-In that summer, but I was so tuned in to the spirit of the times I doubt it matters. No backpack smuggling for this culture-warrior: I would transport my illegal smoking leaf into the vulnerable underbelly of Babylon inside the headlight cowl of my trusty Bavarian Motor Steed.
Bidding the obligatory fond adieu to wife, baby, and neighbors, I was so pumped I rode way into the night all the way to Bakersfield, where I rested a few hours before barreling east across the Arizona badlands. In the pink glow of dawn I took advantage of the calm chill to practice steering with knees alone, arms crossed over chest at 80 miles an hour on straight desert interstate with little traffic; but by noon I was suffering through such incredible heat my air-cooled machine would only do 30 miles an hour. After dark, passing Phoenix the temperature dropped down around 100, so I could again cruise at 80, which was plenty fast enough on the couple of occasions I caught a June bug between the eyes. In the principle of an armor-piercing shell, that particular sensation is quite electric, exactly like minor fragments of the creature manage to penetrate clear through one’s brain to impact the rear wall of the skull. But no hippie biker worth his Zen detachment would think of riding with a windshield. Eyes watering behind wire-rimmed glasses was The Way.
After renting a modest hotel room in downtown El Paso, I found a barber who sheared my freedom flag to military respectability. Then leaving my traveling baggage at the hotel, I rode across the surprisingly dinky bridge at the international border into Juarez. There I rented another room in a small Mexican motel stuccoed the color of ox blood. Leaving my bike locked inconspicuously beside the thick wall near the motel entrance, I scouted some quieter residential areas on foot, a bit taken aback that even modest homes were surrounded by walls topped with jagged shards of broken glass embedded in cement. I slept that night with my Dad’s 22-magnum six-shot derringer under my pillow.
The next day I located the bustling "sin strip," where I got a guardedly affirmative response from the first taxi-driver I asked, "You know a donde puedo comprar marijuana?" (At last a chance to use two seemingly wasted years of high school Spanish.) This shady-looking individual with a large shock of straight black hair sized me up a moment, doubtless put off by my policeman’s haircut, then motioned to hop in his taxi. We sped away to a barn-like Mexican "lounge" that must have doubled as a whorehouse, considering the graphic propositions I received at the bar from a plain-faced senorita. (When she asked if I "likee candybar" I figured this wasn’t an appeal to my sweet tooth.) But not only was I holding on to my $150 bargaining money, I was way too nervous to do more than order a stupid soft drink, wondering meanwhile if I might actually have to try to bluff someone with the noisemaker in my right jeans pocket. My erstwhile pacifism had flown with the territory.
Pretty soon the taxi guy came back with a middle-aged, no doubt family man in rumpled pants and old sports shirt, who carried a shopping bag. Their English was barely better than my Spanish, so I finally understood they wanted to haggle this deal in the cab. The "cabby" drove us up into a dusty barrio set on a hillside where adobe houses were ominously rotting from neglect and the glass shards atop the walls noticeably taller and sharper. None of this was remotely what I expected. The pirate behind the wheel just kept changing direction until I was totally disoriented. Out of his bag the well-fed older character hauled a couple of compressed bricks of stemmy-looking grass tightly wrapped in red cellophane. He also pulled a bright yellow "joint" from his shirt pocket and lit it so I could sample his product. It was very harsh weed and the heat in the closed car was making me half-nauseous. We drove some more through menacing ghettoes while they asked how I liked the smoke. I couldn’t tell if I was getting high on the bitter-tasting joint or just totally stressed by being at their (probably nonexistent) mercy. Hell, I just wanna get this part over with. As I recall I ended up giving them my whole wad of dope-money, $150 for the two bricks, each about the size of a loaf of bread. Still, it was way more weed than I’d ever seen at one time, and I knew it would take many trips back and forth to get it all across the bridge.
That’s another thing I haven’t explained. I had been testing the customs checkpoint in both directions on my bike and had always been waved through with the other traffic, in spite of my California plate – even one trip when I had all my traveling gear and bedroll strapped on going south into Juarez. So after the "deal went down" and I was safely back at the ox-blood inn, I started breaking my bricks into smaller baggies that could be stashed behind the headlamp and in nooks under the sidecovers. I was super-tense on the first northbound crossing, but just like before, I was waved through by U.S. Customs and thought, "This smuggling gig is too easy!" But what a tedious drag it became on the American side taking my headlight cowl apart in the parking garage of a big hotel just to retrieve a fat sandwich-bag of grass. I was getting impatient to start back and receive the accolades of less hardy souls in Clyde.
This impatience nearly put a radical dogleg in the entire course of my life, but for my long-suffering Lord’s sovereign mercy. I must have made four or five round trips across the border and was getting pretty handy at popping the chrome retainer ring off my headlight cowl. Then one more time back at the Ox-Blood, I crammed all of the remaining dope as tightly as I could in my usual hiding places and still had one solitary baggie left over. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. Mexico felt vaguely threatening. I hated the thought of another round trip just for one bag – but Frugal Freddie wasn’t about to leave even one behind, having paid for it with honest sweat for the Contra Costa County Unified School District. I hadn’t been stopped one time, even once driving down packing all my gear. So hey, I’ll just unroll my sleeping bag and put that puppy in the farthest inside corner, re-roll it tight, encircle with plenty of rope, neatly knotted off, and it ought to be good all the way home.
Enter life lesson number six hundred and four. It never dawned on my intricately strategizing brain that a fully loaded motorcycle heading south was not at all the same animal as a fully loaded motorcycle returning Stateside, from who knows where. You get the picture. I arrive at the usual northbound checkpoint and the uniformed U.S. Customs agent, a grandfatherly gentleman in his fifties, motions me to pull over and stop. Whoa now! Heart-pounding time – you bet. He has a long counter beside the parking lane I had never noticed before. He asks me to unstrap my pack and sleeping bag and throw them on the counter. Done. He then proceeds to go through every item in my backpack. No problem. See, I’m a good boy. But of course he also does the hideously dreaded thing, untying my rope around the bedroll and methodically unrolling the bag. I’m still praying he won’t notice the little bulge at the far end – but of course he does. With a look of mixed surprise and delight like I just made his day, he snaps up the baggie and escorts me sternly by the arm across the traffic lane and through the door of the yellow brick customs office.
They’ve caught a live one and the place is suddenly energized. The older agent pats me down for weapons while another behind the counter phones his boss and grabs a form to record my vital statistics. I knew I’d already blown it big time so I quickly decided a gesture of good will couldn’t hurt. The half-hearted frisk job had somehow missed the derringer in my right pocket. I reached in with thumb and forefinger gingerly on the butt of the toy-sized gun and dangled it aloft, barrel down, before their suddenly larger eyes. It is snatched away but the gesture has been duly noted.
Having gotten my ID data, they escorted me into another smaller room, empty except for a table and chair, told me to remove every stitch of clothing, including socks, and then – after one of them peeked at a place where the sun doesn’t shine – handcuffed me by one wrist to the arm of the wooden chair. Then they left the room. Rush hour was happening outside on the bridge. If I stood, I could see the tops of bumper to bumper cars moving slowly in the bland afternoon light coming through the single wire-reinforced window. That chair felt mighty cold on my bare butt, a working class hero no more.
After about 45 minutes while I tried to quell involuntary trembling, a slender easy-going man in his mid thirties with a mustache comes in and explains that he is the chief customs agent in charge of the El Paso district. He also explains that I am in a whole lot of trouble for transporting across international borders – five years mandatory federal pen worth of trouble. Then he offers a tiny ray of hope. Since this is a first offense, there is one chance of getting a reduced sentence – if I will cooperate and lead them to the men who sold me the dope. Ouch. Now I have to become a rat to see my wife and child before five years are gone and I’ve become some felon’s sweetheart. Chained naked to the only chair in a cold room, I quickly agree to become a rat.
But this won’t be as easy as I thought. The next move, after my clothes are restored, is to turn me over to the Mexican "authorities" at the jail in Juarez. That building, which I could guess around 1930 had been painted dark green below and cream yellow above, now looked more like the bomb-pocked hangars I had visited at Pearl Harbor – only way dirtier. At least they didn’t throw me in the big inner "cage" with the really bad desperadoes standing around in their undershorts waiting for somebody to hose the floor down so they could find places to relax on it.
I was put with the upper-class detainees in a long narrow windowless room boasting a ratty old couch and chair and a light bulb in the ceiling. Prisoners here, including one or two almost elderly women, could send out for food if they had money. The older people, all very friendly and animated, took turns on the couch while I slept on the concrete floor, using my Air Force issue boots as pillow. Maybe I looked calm, but mentally I was freaking.
The next morning I got introduced to some genuine Mexican plainclothes cops, who I was glad to see had forgotten to bring their cattle prods. These men were all about six-foot-four, very broad shouldered in natty lightweight tan suits unbuttoned in front so you’d be sure to see the huge chrome-plated pearl-handled 45 automatics actually stuck in their belts. I was hustled into the back seat of a big American car between two of the biggest narco-dudes and we roared over to "the strip" so I could have the pleasure of "fingering" my swarthy cab driver.
Sure enough he was there, and pretty soon they had him in the front seat looking at me with more than simple disappointment in his eyes. Now what? Well, lucky for me they threw the cabby into the inner dungeon with the really bad people, while I got put back in the "parlor" room with no word as to how long I might be there. The next big surprise was when they brought in the older fellow who had sold me the bricks and put him in the same "parlor" area I was in. He too expressed more than simple disappointment with my having "fingered" him, an English term he seemed quite familiar with. My mind was fairly tripping without drugs for the first two days. I knew it was a real Mexican jail when, visiting the single available toilet, a mouse skittered across the hand I had carelessly laid atop a low concrete-block wall.
They kept me there without explanation for three more days. I got one visit from a minor officer of the American Consulate, who somehow thought I was an AWOL trooper. It did become evident enough why they were keeping me when I was hauled into the Chief of Police’s office early in my stay and made to understand I could be returned to U.S. Customs at once for an appropriate donation of cash.
My true situation didn’t begin to dawn on me until the morning I was finally released from refried custody. Someone excitedly brought into our parlor a front-page story in the local periodico, complete with a picture of me looking pretty damn serious as I was being brought into jail. The Spanish text kept intermixing the word alfalfa in juxtaposition with marijuana. Struggling to translate the article, I finally figured out what everyone else seemed to have known almost from the moment of my arrest on the bridge: I had been laboriously executing a masterful plot to smuggle generic cud-tempting alfalfa hay! I was not a criminal! They might want to but they can’t send you to prison for smuggling alfalfa!
There was one final ironic twist to this episode. Having decided I wasn’t going to be pressured into buying my way out of his clutches, the Chief assigned two of the giant plainclothes dudes to drive me back to the U.S. side. On the way, the one in the back seat produced an odd little conical package folded out of newspaper, the size of a Dixiecup. In halting English he said they didn’t want me to leave their beautiful country with a bad impression, so he was offering this "tokenito" containing real marijuana! I wanted to trust their motives – which likely were sincere – but after all I’d just been through, I graciously declined.
When I was safely back in El Paso, the friendly chief of customs, who seemed to have taken a liking to me, reiterated how fortunate I had been to have been swindled – and expressed hope I’d learned my lesson. I said I already had because I was afraid to trust the offer of those plainclothesmen who drove me to the border! He laughed and agreed he doubted they were testing me, but who knows? He then returned my motorcycle and my Dad’s pistol. The next morning I paid my bill at the hotel and said adios to west Texas and passionate thanks to God. Don’t tell me He doesn’t have a sense of humor.
I rode so hard getting home I only remember stopping once around midnight to sleep in a field not far from the highway, lying right in the warm sand in my leather jacket, bone-weary but (what the world calls) a "free man" again.
Too soon my second year at the Richmond Zoo began. A bouncing baby girl at home meant Cherry usually kept the car, now a brand new Datsun station wagon, while I enjoyed a splendid motorcycle ride to work through rounded hills past Martinez to Pinole, then south on the Eastshore Freeway. Bay Area traffic even then was often bumper-to-bumper-80-miles-an-hour, but I felt semi-protected by a secret destiny that probably required all my limbs – certainly my mental faculties. I was indeed permitted more than my share of free passes: like riding stoned on assorted substances and finally noticing all the one-way arrows had been pointing toward me for awhile. I remember one unrepeatable get-off on a freeway exit-ramp when I was paying too much attention to a trio of bare midriffs and missed seeing a patch of oil. I fell off the bike doing an automatic forward roll like I’d learned as a teenage judo novice in Japan. The Beemer continued, leaned over, scraping along on the bottom of the right-hand cylinder head, neatly around the ramp. I rolled to my feet still in a run, caught the bike – actually righting and mounting it before forward motion had stopped. Unfortunately there seemed to have been no witnesses to this feat, least of all the responsible trio.
Since I was now getting the big head to become a rock star, my dear wife sewed a pair of scarlet crushed-velvet bell-bottoms, which I wore to Christmas dinner at the Rogers’. I thought things were going great. I had no idea how my unfaithful attitude was shredding her young heart. Now I was "tactfully" floating the possibility of our participating in some kind of mass orgy I had heard was being organized. That’s when she finally found the courage to phone her parents for an airline ticket home. Too late I realized Cherry had, seemingly overnight, packed for herself and the baby – and was gone!
Though obviously I should have expected it, I was seriously devastated. I thought at first she might be coming back, but once again I couldn’t begin to absorb how cruel I had become in my blatant desire to "make" fifty thousand women.
One might think at this point I would have begun to repent and mend my ways. Quite the contrary proved to be true. My life went from a gentle gliding descent into a truly dangerous dive. Not just inwardly, but outwardly.
One of the first things that happened was I lost my job. And even though I was falsely accused, I have to admit there was a beautiful justice at work in that situation – as I’ll explain. I was an inveterate, sometimes unmerciful, "kidder" with my students, particularly where I detected pretension or hypocrisy. So there was this unusually shapely Anglo girl in one of my classes who came to school one day wearing a tight V-neck sweater with a zipper front – which zipper had a convenient gold pull-ring as big around as a water-glass attached by a short chain. For once with no ulterior motive in play except to mock the blatancy of the tease, I reached out and (carefully) tapped the gold ring (once) and asked with a pseudo-scolding air, "What’s that for?"
I don’t recall her immediate response, if any, but a day or two later I was summoned before a roomful of very serious-faced administrators. Apparently the girl had accused me of actually unzipping her blouse – in class. Double whoa! I knew this was so absurd (I wouldn’t experience "missing time" for several years yet) that I was probably way too relaxed for the circumstances, because when they point-blank asked if I had "pulled at all" on the zipper, I just laughed and said, "I don’t think so."
Wrong answer. Maybe they were just looking for any excuse to get rid of this overly radical teacher. I was basically fired on the spot. Only then did I acquire a lawyer who won my "right" (hah!) to a "clean record" (absolutely!) plus continuance of my pay through the end of the contract. In other words, I would be paid my regular salary for about six months to simply never darken their door. All in all, I thought I was "just maybe" getting better than I deserved. (I am sure God prefers to be merciful, even in His chastisements. But I’m giving you present perspective; unfortunately at the time I was more inclined to take six months’ free salary as divine endorsement of my path and a financial green light for greater exercise of "creativity.")
So much happened in the year after Cherry left me, I hardly know where to begin. From my present vantage I can see my idealistic side flailing desperately to keep nose above water, as if being alternately drawn-toward and pummeled-with the necessity for some kind of spiritual breakthrough. Meanwhile my increasingly dominating lust seemed bent on drowning my gangly carcass.
By 1972 Haight-Asbury had already succumbed to a criminal element salivating to take advantage of hopelessly naïve flower children. But Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley – in spite of voices calling for violent Maoist revolution (and discounting isolated "oases" in California, Colorado, and New Mexico) – was still the national mecca for seekers after enlightenment, higher consciousness, self-realization, and the elusive promise of a new golden age of blissed-out harmony among all two-leggeds. The Hare Krishnas with their shaven heads and radical topknots (for "snatching away," believe it or not) were always whooping it up on Telegraph, drums slung over shoulders, chanting and dancing with tambourines. Whenever they drew a good clot of seekers, their leader would launch some seductive streetcorner preaching. I remember one compact wrestler-type fellow about 30 boasting 150 acid trips, none of which could compare to the drugless high he had found in Krishna consciousness through disciplined chanting and meditation. The identical wide-eyed optimism was perfuming even the AM airwaves with George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord. ("I really want to see You…Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.") One evening I crowded in with about 200 of the counter-culture elite in an ordinary-sized living room – another 300 pressing against the windows outside – to rattle the ceiling joists with the "sacred Aum" for a good hour awaiting the grand entrance of the boy-god Mahara-ji, who finally stepped carefully through beaming disciples, hoisting the folds of his glistening robe, to take his seat on a flower-smothered dais against the longer wall. He looked like a plump pampered kid; but, truly, what did I know – except that God was real.
The occult wasn’t "occult" in Berkeley – not only not hidden, but the self-evident cutting edge of psycho-spiritual evolution. Wealthy college girls in loose paisley dresses were doing Tarot readings and astrological charts in tasteful hillside residences. A Tennessee boy couldn’t help but be impressed. The quiet incense-laden Shambala Bookstore on Telegraph was a potent seedbed for New Age awakening. When I wasn’t ogling classy nude dancers in other parts of the megalopolis, I was discovering Yogananda, Carlos Castaneda, and P.D. Ouspenski. More and more on the street the watchword was that eastern paths of yoga and meditation were, not just cleaner, but in all ways superior ascents up the mountain to cosmic awareness than tawdry gambles with psychedelics. Be Here Now – since I was too ignorant of the real thing to recognize the inversions – became pride’s Bible on my dashboard.
When I read Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi (now advertised religiously in National Geographic) I was only too eager to believe the postscript’s details of how long his dead body resisted corruption. I was so "inspired" by the seemingly harmless childlike spirit of that book that I took several of my remaining firearms, including at least one family heirloom, down to the canal near my house in Clyde and consigned those suckers to a watery grave. (When circumstances later necessitated an honest confession of this act to my gun-prizing father, another high water mark in our mutual incomprehension was recorded.)
Meanwhile I was casting about to find a substitute way to generate income. The Rogers family had a tasty recipe from gold rush days for a flaky beef and potato turnover known in the West and elsewhere as a "pasty." My always-understated neighbor Ronnie in some other context had used the phrase "Mom’s hair pie." Wow. A lightbulb flash from above! What a knockout label to slap on a commercial pasty. I right away began drawing plans for a ridiculously suggestive sign to mount on the roof of my Datsun, from which I would build a franchise pasty business. I knew northern California was ready to go bonkers over Mom’s Hair Pies. But somehow I never got the sign made and this stroke of genius went the way of others.
That inability to follow through was dogging my tracks that year. My better nature was sincere in not wanting to waste my existence in pursuits unworthy of that now so faded heavenly vision. What, after all, did He want out of my life? When I was honest – probably not Mom’s Hair Pies. But then I would get what I thought were brilliant film ideas, create detailed storyboard sketches – only to lay them aside with the haunting sense they wouldn’t do either. I gave considerable thought to creating an underground comic strip promoting the concept of the longhaired media super-shaman struggling in a snakepit of electronic cables, a prophetic superhero shaping the very mind of the planet. I would call him Hopalong Moses Sperm!
Another unfinished project became the focus of a great deal of my energy during the year following my wife’s return to her family in Florida. Recall that this was the era before "motor homes" became a mainstream lifestyle alternative. Nevertheless in the early 70’s the Left Coast could boast ten thousand roll-your-own freak engineers. Many of these self-propelled Hobbit-dwellings were lovingly crafted works of art. My dream vehicle would combine living quarters with a rock-band stage setting. You know, get the cockpit and nose section of an old DC-3, make the sides reminiscent of a Spanish Galleon (except replace the cannon with musical instruments), give it helicopter rotors topside and a submarine fin-and-propeller tail section. Just make it a rolling compendium of all vehicles and christen your group Instantaneous Transports. Was I smoking some good stuff or what?
Using half of about $1000 I had shamelessly requested as a loan from my first father-in-law to start my pasty business, I bought a two-ton GMC flatbed truck that had been hauling scrap metal through Pacific salt spray for the past fourteen years. The venerable blue cab was a lacework of rust all around the quarter panels, but she had a monster straight-six engine (that needed "a little work") and a four-in-the-floor transmission connected to a two-speed rear axle. I cut the heavy twelve-foot steel flatbed loose with a rented welding torch, chained it to the fig tree in my Clyde back yard, and drove full bore out from under it. Big noise and dust.
If such behavior seems too incredible for an English Teacher, allow me a brief aside. I suppose in my solid neighbor Ronnie I had finally glimpsed the beauty and honor of basic honest work with one’s hands. Moreover, I was discovering I also had been endowed with pretty good hands. In comparison, the academic life – including public school teaching with its mechanically required lesson-plans – seemed insipid and wan. "Live with the sun," Ronnie said. "Sleep at night. Take care of your family." Black grease streaking my forearms and the intense abstract colors of a crusty metal dashboard blazing in California daylight was awakening a deep part of me too long suppressed in pursuit of degrees and "career." Ever so gradually like the swing of an ocean liner, I sensed my life making a course correction that was truly healthy. I only knew for sure it was going to be forever away from the plastic phoniness of "professional people."
Later I would regret pulling that indestructible steel flatbed off the GMC, but remember I thought I was creating a rock’n’roll motor stage. First, however, the engine had to be brought back to like-new dependability. I hired a longhaired semi-homeless mechanic I found on the streets of Berkeley to direct our work on the motor in return for room, board, and pocket money. This fellow turned out to be a needed lesson in the "falleness" of even "hippie human nature." In four or five weeks he helped me rebuild and tune the old six-cylinder until it was functionally righteous.
In appreciation of his good work, I let him take my beloved BMW all day one Sunday to "visit some friends." Considering what he did to me later, I should have been thankful he brought it back at all, riding in slowly on the drive that ran behind the houses on our block. Pretty soon I saw the problem – a nasty dent in the front rim like it had been run hard over a sharp curb.
Oh well, roll with the karma. No forgiveness for me if I give no forgiveness to you. He was reasonably apologetic; I was reasonably grim. I found a replacement wheel for $50 and we moved on.
Recall now that I was still smarting over the "Juarez bust" of the previous summer, looking for a chance to redeem my reputation as a consciousness-raising revolutionary. My engine doctor, no doubt realizing his usefulness to my project was about to close, said he had a fantastic connection for some super-potent weed in LA. We could get it cheap if we bought at least $500 worth; then selling locally we could double our money and still have plenty to divide for personal use. A new adventure. I cashed my entire salary-check for the month, which netted six bills for dope-investment plus a little traveling money. We headed for LA in his old car the very next day. On the way I had minor misgivings when he proudly displayed a sawed-off rifle I had never known he kept stored under the driver’s seat. He also had an unpleasant habit of referring to all former and future girlfriends as "bitches." What had happened to the "noble hippie" so prevalent in Gainesville? Jumping Jack Flash had given way to Sympathy for the Devil. Ah well, God works through mysterious means His wonders to perform.
Jesus once commented that "the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light." I prefer that perspective to the two-dimensional admission that I was still wearing a sandwich board emblazoned in tall Day-Glo letters "SUCKER." I was probably in more real danger on that trip to LA than I ever was in Mexico. The mechanic and I shared a motel room – dang, might as well admit it: we slept in the same freaking bed, but only to get the lower room rate I can assure you – in some unfamiliar part of that 100-mile-long City. The next morning my business partner phoned his "connection" and, having explained that the deal would go much smoother if I wasn’t present, received my $600, which went folded into his left jeans pocket. He dropped me off at a nearby park and said, "I’ll be back in about an hour."
Do I need to tell the rest of the story? Didn’t think so. I waited all day in the park, knowing I’d been royally had. With the sun about to set, I looked at the $3.00 remaining in my wallet and hiked back to Interstate 5 North and stuck out my thumb. I was soon picked up by a young guy in an older model white Corvette who drove me all the way to Walnut Creek, within three-hour walking distance of my house, at which I arrived about 8:30 the next morning. On the drive north I had been regaled with unsolicited stories of drug running laced with hints of criminal homicide. One statement he made has always stuck with me because it truly exposed his mentality: "There are way too many people anyway."
Now one would think after this experiment I would have had enough "bad luck" in the marijuana trade to give it up. But I hadn’t yet given up the idealistic notion that if society could just "loosen up" through the sane use of legalized mind-altering "brain-enhancers," then it would be able to lose its "hang-ups" – like penchants for hatred and war. The race would truly move beyond materialistic preoccupations to discover the inner world of "spirit." Combine my having bought into that propaganda with pre-existing stubbornness, throw in the additional fact that I could see my monetary prospects dwindling fast, and you shouldn’t be amazed at my next move.
At least I had had my fill of international drug smuggling. This time my target would be Tucson, Arizona, a university town a short 60 miles from the border at Nogales. I would also play the game smarter, foregoing Easy Rider glory. I acquired a cheap golf bag and clubs, mounted them on a two-wheel caddy like golfers of yesteryear used to pull. (I confess this latter item was "borrowed" from a driving range – though I did take it back later.) Sticking these character witnesses in the back of my little stationwagon, I decorated the dashboard with a white golf cap and a few red and yellow tees, got another haircut, and was ready to cop some major dope.
I won’t bore you with details, but I made at least three trips to Tucson over a period of probably five months, each time bringing back real cannabis sativa, mediocre quality though it was. What I eventually learned in Tucson about real dope dealers was sufficient to sour me on further involvement with this form of commerce, though I was later to take the "grow your own" route (as you will hear if you last ‘til I get to New Mexico). There was the "fun part" of being shown how big old cars (preferably stationwagons) were bought for $100 for one-time usage, often using freshly stolen plates and always returning late on a busy (preferably rainy) Saturday night with the smell of spilled liquor masking the weed odor, driven by a cozy young couple willing to take the risk – interior panels stacked to the windows with bricks of pot. But I also learned that just about all these young entrepreneurs were killers, heavily armed in a cash business involving tens of thousands of dollars, admitting matter-of-factly that they would not hesitate to "off" someone if even ten grand was at stake. I saw some very large and very sharp Bowie knives. Once again, my peace-love-&-rock’n’roll dream was being adjusted. The Beatles’ Let It Be was being answered by the Stones’ Let It Bleed.
I made some friends among the gentler counter-culture souls of Tucson on these trips. On my last visit down I brought my twin-reverb amplifier and guitar. One night we got high on psylocibin mushrooms and went out among the giant cacti of Saguaro National Monument where everyone was duly impressed with the spooky sounds a wound guitar string will make under a fingernail. (I can’t remember how we had an electrical outlet in the desert, but I’m pretty sure this was before I bought my two battery amps, powered with 40 D-cells each.)
I was "getting into" these marathon drives in my perky stationwagon, sometimes enhancing the broad western landscapes with judicious inputs of acid. Needless to add, it was a mighty lonesome way to cover six or seven hundred miles a day. On the open road I ran wide-open much of the time, which meant under 90, except downhill. Doing my own minor mechanical work, I began pampering the hard-working four-cylinder with frequent oil changes, tune-ups, even valve adjustments – one of the Rogers brothers having unveiled the latter procedure. A lifelong metric tool collection was getting underway as I wriggled free of the English Teacher chrysalis.
There is one more narrow-escape story from these Tucson runs I have to tell. I might have been looking like a golfer now, but I was still a true hippie at heart, God forgive me. I couldn’t bear to pass up a "brother" on the road with his thumb out. On this occasion I was headed back northwest toward the California border, my golf bag on its dolly fairly bulging with "the real thing." The red-faced 15-year-old with shaggy blond shoulder-length hair and a backpack must have thought it a bit strange that a golf-nut in a shiny green Datsun was offering him a ride. But he took the chance and turned out to be another polite kid, like the mythical Jojo, "headed for some California grass." As the summer desert rushed past I discerned that here was another true believer who could be trusted as co-conspirator. That was good, because it was 11:00 PM and I could just make out the faint horizontal line of lights ahead that was the California port-of-entry. The State customs agents, formerly concerned to keep alien strains of agricultural pests and products out of the nation’s fruitbasket, were now trained to watch for illegal drug influx. As an obviously model citizen in a late-model car I had never had to do more than slow down at the entry complex. However, I explained our delicate situation to my passenger and asked if he wanted to get out now and hope for another ride, or take his chances with this secret agent of the Woodstock Nation. He seriously debated the question a moment, seeming to break out in a nervous sweat while contemplating a tale to save for his grandchildren, but finally grinned and said, "I’m with you, man!" My own thinking must have been pretty fuzzy at the time, because what non-pervert golfer in the history of mankind had ever picked up such an obviously hard-core dope-head?
Sure enough, the security agent on duty, who looked like he might be next of kin to the one who stopped me at the Rio Grande, motioned for us to pull over, asked a couple of routine questions, and then – carumba! – asked me to please open the rear lift door on my car. Déjà vu! I thought I could begin to hear the freak’s teeth chattering while I stood aside to watch another customs agent look through my stuff. Flashlight in one hand, he opened my traveling bag and rummaged around – he even looked inside my old Air Force lace-ups tossed in another corner! All he had to do was lift one thin blue shop rag off the top of that golf bag ten inches from his nose and it would be all over – only this time no alfalfa excuses!
Two hippies agreed in silent prayer that night and God answered their request. The agent seemed satisfied, slammed the rear lid, and waved us on our way. After we smoked "a number" in celebration, I dropped my passenger off at a junction where our paths separated, and drove on north till dawn. As I puttered steadily through the rounded hills of home-country in first light, I was overcome with such an upwelling of gratitude to God for my deliverance in the midnight that hot tears rolled down my cheeks as I drove. Where in hell was my life going? How had I gotten to such a place? About then Bob Dylan came to my rescue: his nasal whine whirling up out of my radio: "To live outside the law you must be honest." Right on, Bob. War is hell.
In case you’re wondering what was happening to all the societal leaven I was importing, much of it was being sold to friends and acquaintances. Some of it was even being recklessly hawked to strangers on the streets of Berkeley. I recall several sunny afternoons plying those teeming avenues in my Datsun, wearing my eye-searing scarlet bell-bottoms as a badge of freak authenticity, giving folks rides, offering assorted-size baggies of vegetable-matter – complete with plain or flavored rolling papers – from a black attaché case on the seat beside me. Business must have been brisk at times, because more than once I discovered a $100 bill stuffed in the pocket of some pants I hadn’t worn in awhile, apparently too stoned at the time to remember putting it there.
Somewhere about this time I made a nearly non-stop solo run via Interstate 10-East and I-75-South to Miami, where I surprised my runaway wife, then staying with her sister. Cherry was polishing her fingernails when I walked in. I didn’t exactly get a welcoming hug. Her eyes got a little wide, but she just kept polishing her nails: "Hi, Jim." I stayed in a nearby motel. It tore my heart to see our beautiful blond daughter, now able to climb up and down stairs outside their apartment. But there was no way I was going to convince her mother they should come back to me. I left some money and about four slender joints made with dark-chocolate colored papers of the most potent weed I had. I drove back to California as depressed as I had been "high" on the meteoric eastbound leg.
But compared to Berkeley, Miami seemed locked in a 19th Century pursuit of affluence and leisure. In contrast, being witness on Telegraph to the future in embryo had become a fascination I couldn’t abandon even to be near my youngest daughter. These were the days when the environmental movement was little more than a hippie peace-symbol decal changing its American-flag background from red stripes to green on the back window of the van in front of you. Or the bumpersticker on the clattering VW Bug convertible just cutting between you and the van, proclaiming "The First EARTH DAY: April 22, 1970"— already over a year gone. No one I knew could have guessed these were the first shoots of a media-hyped "crisis" supposedly demanding global "governance." Not that we would have cared – John Lennon’s Imagine captured our naïve globalist vision of pastoral harmony: People were basically good; change their external context, feed their heads with magic drugs, and world unity will inevitably happen. Meanwhile the large round sunhat worn by the female passenger in the VW convertible suddenly blows into the back seat, causing her to stand and retrieve it. Cool. Her sunhat proves to have been her only item of clothing. That’s Berkeley – where the context was changing already.
Youthful nakedness. The ultimate revolutionary statement of a rebel faith. My drug-induced "inspirations" from the "shadow" were pushing the envelope of sanity. Perhaps the role "heaven" was calling me to was as a guru-catalyst of public nudity on a massive – soon to be worldwide – scale! The Bay Area, so over-run with radically "free spirits," seemed ripe for a leader to declare the sacred glory of the human once and for all through mass demonstrations untrammeled by the falsehood, the absurd hypocrisy, of clothes! What could the "enemy," the repressive government and ecclesiastical interests through their jack-booted "blue meanies" do to a parade of joyous nakedness ten thousand strong? It would be like the hippies sticking flowers in those rifle barrels surrounding the Pentagon four years earlier, only carried to the Nth power. "We have nothing to hide! Join us in the light!" The millennium's true alchemy breaking into history at last…
There were other temptations, darker yet. Ever concerned since high school with keeping my body toned via running and calisthenics, my fantasies at times ran so far as to wonder whether I could become a male stripper in some mythical "play-girl" bar. Somehow even under the frequent influence of mind-altering drugs, there was enough conscience left in me to realize such a path could never be rationalized as "God’s way." Perhaps there were "less evolved" darker spirits, I reasoned, like heavier elements in the murk at the bottom of life’s rainbow stream, that tempted one to take such detours.
Having uncritically imbibed the New Age worldview, I had no belief whatsoever that there were actual rebel angels intelligently seeking to thwart the Good. If God was indeed everything, "evil" must be an illusion, right? Least of all could I swallow the old "myth" of Satan, some cartoonish prince of demons – in spite of puzzling album covers by The Rolling Stones: "His Satanic Majesty’s Request," "Goat’s Head Soup" – give me a break! All this was about to change.
About a year and a half earlier, while Cherry and I were still living in Richmond, I had had a single brief sexual encounter with a young woman I was acquainted with from the Sexual Freedom League. (Lest you overestimate my involvement with that group, this was only my second – and last – such League "connection.") I had nonetheless become so morally lax that in this particular circumstance I was actually acting as much out of "politeness" as desire. In other words, this experience proved disappointingly unmemorable – so much so that I probably had forgotten the woman’s name within a week. Nevertheless, from what follows one must conclude that some kind of "soul-tie" had been established in the invisible realm. At the very least, one can see the outworking of the spiritual principle: Where there is garbage, the "garbage man" has right-of-way.
I would not have brought up this shameful episode were it not that it bears such mysterious but direct connection to an event that happened well after my wife had fled to Florida. I won’t pretend to sort out the precise "theological" implications of this event. All I can do is attempt a faithful report. You will note that it becomes all the more significant in that it was the first of a series of three such instances happening to me over the next five years, like explosive drum beats that finally woke me up to the true direness of my spiritual condition and course.
Words are again inadequate to the task, but here goes:
An evil personal being, a "spirit entity" of utter malevolence, a "demon," if you will, attacked me as I was falling off to sleep, in a literal attempt to "take possession" of my body. In this first instance – not true of the other two – I had the strongest impression that it was somehow connected to (or even was) the spirit of that nameless young woman, who I also, in the midst of the attack, somehow "knew" had actually died – recently.
In other respects, all three of these attacks followed a similar pattern: They always occurred when I was in that twilight state just preceding sleep, striking very suddenly and without warning. This sucking darkness, somehow huge behind the human-sized "heavy void" pressing full-length on top of me, was clearly trying to force its way inside my body. An instant life-and-death struggle was joined as in blind reaction I tried to regain waking consciousness. My very breath seemed only marginally within my power to draw. An instinctive fearsome knowledge during these seconds of mortal combat was that if "it" succeeded in its attempt I would be "gone" and my body would have become the "motor vehicle" for another, utterly inhuman personality, through which it could affect the "material plane." I somehow knew I had to "wake up" to escape its power, but this simple goal of crossing back to "the daytime side of the mirror" was taking an inordinately mighty effort. The sheer metaphysical terror of these attacks cannot be communicated to one who has never experienced them. (I must note here what Whitley Strieber records in his Communion account, how his original intent had been to name that book detailing his encounters with "saucer aliens" Body Terror, until the big mama alien spoke "in a strange basso profundo voice" through Strieber’s sleeping wife to offer the alternate title, because "The book must not frighten people.")
One final note. I don’t credit myself as having had the seemingly superhuman strength needed to survive such a dreadfully powerful assault. Whether I was somehow "sealed" because I had "gone forward" with sincere heart at age 10 at a Billy Graham crusade, or because of the fervent prayers of my forebears, or because of God’s inscrutable sovereign grace alone – I cannot say. But I do not doubt that the mighty Lord Himself was overseeing these events that I might not succumb but begin to have my deluded eyes unclouded until that time when I would finally wish to turn from self-worship. Satan himself and all his bloodthirsty devils with him are but creatures – vicious mad-dog rebels though they be – ever subject to the over-ruling leash of the Almighty Lord of Hosts.
(But for years yet I was still a sorcerer unawares. It wasn’t until decades later that I discovered the Greek word in the New Testament translated "sorcery," pharmakeia, denoted drug use aimed at spirit contact. To the New Ager steeped in the marvelous exploits of Castaneda's peyote adepts, a sorcerer was rather an advanced heroic model.)
What my first encounter with the demonic did accomplish, however, was to make me much more earnest in wishing to "rise above" sexual fixations by more serious pursuit of eastern transcendentalisms. "Ah, Grasshopper – when the disciple is ready, the teacher will appear!" – or such would have been my thinking at the time. Thus, in working through preliminary design ideas for my motorhome/stage, I met a sterling young carpenter in Berkeley who was truly on the upward trek. No phony hippie, this fellow: more like a latter-day Lawrence of Arabia. Short sandy hair, tall, clean, cosmopolitan – he had already moved beyond the outward trappings of freedom, having left psychedelics mostly behind and "graduated" into serious yoga and meditation. "Now," he said, "when I do toke an occasional joint, I go right up to the Ocean of Bliss." That sounded good to me. Got to distance myself from these angry entities stirred up out of riverbottom mud. This obvious representative of humanity’s "higher type" recommended a book entitled The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. More on that German-chocolate rat poison later.
Another blow that happened about this time was that I had to sell my beloved motorcycle. Even before Number Two bailed out, my first wife had moved from Florida to Berkeley with our two daughters and was living there in an upscale "commune" in a large house with two or three other families. Their "alternative lifestyle" was even featured in Life magazine (April 28, 1972) and on French television. It was wonderful to be able to visit my little girls, though it hurt to see how sad my younger daughter looked. They also got some regrettable closeups of what a loose-living doper their daddy had become. Their mother was becoming involved with a younger man in the house whom she later married. My kids were learning to make big purple candles at the Berkeley Free School – which by no means translated "tuition-free." Anyway, being rather totally in arrears in child-support, in a vulnerable moment I gave my black beauty away for $900 and turned the money over to La Primera, who was waiting for me and the buyer at his bank. I even let him have my red metal-flake helmet with the wind-swept peace-symbol I had painted on both sides.
But also at about this juncture I actually fell in love again. I had been keeping in touch with one of my dope-smoking former students, a musically talented young Chicano named Carlos. Carlos had a blond Anglo girlfriend who lived with her mother in one of the modest houses stacked in tight tiers on the lower hillsides immediately above Richmond. Stopping there as I frequently did, I met a remarkable divorcee, a family friend formerly of the area, who was visiting from her new home in northern New Mexico. This striking personage, whom I will call Noreen, had of all her siblings inherited the long black silken hair of a Choctaw grandmother two or three generations back. When I first saw her over coffee she was rolling her own cigarette out of a blue Bugler tin using a simple red "rolling machine" – her deeply work-lined fingers contrasting with several artful silver rings. She was a person of few words but tremendous presence. Her parents had landed in Richmond from the dust-bowl exodus of the ‘30’s, where her industrious father had made a career as a transmission expert, after experience gained coaxing their truck from the Canadian River country near Anadarko, Oklahoma, by desperate substitutions of sawdust for unaffordable oil in the vehicle's differential. Noreen had fled the craziness of the city with her preschool daughter -- after being raped by a black intruder at knife point -- to the silence and solitude of a two-room adobe hideaway without running water or electricity in the high desert about fifty miles east of Los Alamos.
Uniquely individualistic, fiercely independent, a natural feminist, she was supporting herself in her new environment as a jewelry-craftsman's assistant, as well as by caring for a neighbor’s goats and chickens. The physically demanding lifestyle – using a silversmith’s hammer all day, carrying 5-gallon buckets of water, chopping her own stove-wood – had made her almost as wiry as those outrageous female body-builders that try to slap your TV surfing-remote out of your hand. A Lincolnesque facial structure was made even more impressive by the first stages of that intricate sun-baked texture seen on the countenances of older Native Americans. Preferring long simple dresses, tough boots, and dark shawls, she spurned makeup, refused to shave her legs – adorning herself rather with fine oils and silver bracelets. Amazon and Athena, I had never seen anyone like her.
In Jungian terms, if you will permit an insight from that treacherous system, it was like meeting my anima, my own dark soul. When we met, I was 31, she was 34. We knew immediately we had important business together, becoming passionate lovers within twelve hours and destined to spend the next three years together in that 2-room crucible in a tiny Spanish village north of Santa Fe, only technically in the USA. Once we had set up housekeeping together her personality morphed into a merciless Yoda who saw through all my "games" with decidedly supernatural clarity. In some important sense I finally became a man over the course of this agonizingly stormy soul-surgery.
Discount it if you will, but I even had a prophetic dream – way back when I was living with my first wife in Alabama – that pre-encapsulated those valuable "smelting" years with Noreen. In the dream a large gorilla-like animal with human eyes was chained on a platform similar to a boxing ring. This pitiful creature was flailing in his bonds, a cry of confused desperation distorting his features. Meanwhile a portentous musical overture arose in organ-like tones that could well have been some of my own future improvisations on the electric guitar. Simultaneously, with an incredibly deep sense of release, this "abominable snowman" dissolved into a pair of lovers, male and female, in the act of ecstatic union. At the same time a kind of overseer, in his thirties, who I knew in the dream was also me, was seen busying himself beside the platform, a brilliant transparent blue aura flaming around his head. Let me hasten to add the caveat that the dream’s accurately prophetic elements do not insure that it was purely "of God." Still, it was not your typical pizza-induced sleep-movie, I can assure you, but one triple-underlined as being a kind of promise, from outside myself, of overdue blossoming.
I think this dream had an impact on the passion with which I pursued a spiritual breakthrough through intense yoga and single-minded study while I lived in the high desert with Noreen. I confess I would often wander the blazing sand arroyos of the BLM wasteland behind our adobe shack trying to be mentally prepared for a "burning bush" encounter with the "Big Daddy" (or "Momma," – should it so prove).
I did make one eight hundred mile detour on my last golf-cart trip to Tucson in order to check out the New Mexican "scene" where Noreen had taken her stand. To say the least, I was blown away by the "other country," almost "other world" quality of those mile- high valleys between the Jemez and the Sangre de Christo ranges, the latter rising over 14,000 feet. Even more impressive was the quality of the hip Anglo immigrants who had recently settled there at $300 an acre among the native Spanish population, as refugees from the burgeoning madness on both coasts. These people were seemingly without exception artists and thinkers who truly wanted to build a new kind of "civilization," even if it meant doing it with their own hands, one adobe brick or felled log at a time. Moreover, Hindu "evangelists" were sowing ashrams all over northern New Mexico, which was rumored to be on a direct diameter through the earth’s core to Tibet. This region was self-evidently one rung further up and into the future from what was happening in largely political Berkeley. D.H. Lawrence, pioneer of free love, had come there before them; after I had established a niche in the local counterculture as the portable electric guitarist, a busload of us made a crazy winter pilgrimage to the novelist’s tomb, with its robust eagle-winged-and-headed earth-queen on her throne carved in stone over the entrance. Ex-filmmakers and musicians, these people were the cream of freakdom, prepared to take a leak out the back door of a moving school bus any day of the week.
But I am racing too far ahead. There are important details to pick up as my time in California wound down.
For one thing, I didn’t simply pack up and boogie for the Land of Enchantment; moving elsewhere was not in my mind when I met Noreen. It would take a major trauma to pry me loose from stratospheric fantasies by the Bay. Allow me to sketch that nightmare now.
The day was probably Saturday. I hadn’t done any acid in at least a month. Our LSD came in a pinkish flat Alka-Seltzer-like sugar-tablet. Rising early, I broke one in half, downed it with orange juice, grabbed my attaché traveling store, and headed to the University campus in Berkeley to start the day with a free yoga class. It was taught in some kind of chapel area by a bearded cat in ragged shorts looking like Jesus Christ Superstar with an attitude. In addition to a warm-up involving the usual stretching exercises known as hatha yoga, this group was advocating the so-called "breath of fire" technique, which involved rapid forced breathing to supercharge the lungs, not unlike what we used to do as pre-teens to make ourselves pass out. They also led us in a Hindu-vocabulary chanting sequence designed to vibrate portions of the skull while at the same time focusing all our energy on the "third eye center" in the forehead. The ultimate object of this training was to awaken the kundalini, or "serpent power," said to reside at the base of the spine. If this electrical shockwave were allowed to travel up the spinal column to the brain, the "thousand-petaled-lotus" of cosmic consciousness would be realized and we would remember we were God playing hide-and-seek from Itself. (I’ll relate my personal experience with "kundalini" that occurred about two years later in New Mexico, along with the bizarre results, when we reach that point in the chronicle.)
After the yoga session, I meandered toward the main campus’ arched entrance that let out onto Telegraph Avenue, "coming on" to the LSD with that always unexpected intensity that makes one question why he would once again subject himself to such a burden – this feeling of vulnerability to unseen threatening magnitudes: all the while hoping God might show up, but – so strangely – having to battle fear instead. Functioning in public during the first hour’s "launch-phase" of even one of these "low-orbit" acid-trips was way too stressful. Maybe it was the pain of simply observing the sleepwalking personalities one inevitably encounters on the sidewalk, in the awful transparency of their blindness, as you blast through the overarching atmosphere of principalities. I turned aside left into a mass of low trees and shrubbery bordering the campus, where I effectively disappeared a few feet off the ground, surrounded by comforting bark and intricately veined leaves. I probably stayed there another hour as the morning temperature and sounds of nearby traffic rose together. Then, feeling my head had stabilized at "cruise altitude," I climbed down onto the cushiony loam to resume my course off campus.
I was accosted just outside the gate by a chap in his 40’s with sailor-captain beard and a jauntily sloping brown leather cap. Something seemed to have caused him to single me out. I guess I do look fairly ripped. Well, hey, the god in me greets the god in you, good Buddy. After a few quiet sentences from him I recognized he was one of those Christians wanting to steer me toward his Savior. I thanked him graciously, but put him off with words like, "I’m seeking the savior too, but I’ve already been that route." He gave me a knowing smile like I wasn’t fooling anybody – but let me go. (I have long been convinced this individual was actually Brooks Alexander, founder of The Spiritual Counterfeits Project.)
Telegraph was loaded with bookstores and coffee shops. There was one giant two-story book emporium a short distance from the campus gate. I probably spent the next two hours in there reading an expensive coffee-table edition of my hero Carl Jung’s writings, loaded with glossy color illustrations of Buddhist mandalas and art-work dredged from "the Unconscious" by mental patients in search of their souls. I was also making a mental list of the "spiritual books" I needed to buy that would guide me off this karmic wheel.
Moving back outside I was surprised to hear electric instruments being tuned up back around the corner to the left, where the University was bordered by a high concrete retaining wall. Whether by permission or not, a free-lance rock band had unloaded there on the 10-foot-wide sidewalk, appropriating several electrical outlets set into the wall. Power to the people, right on! Five minutes later I was among a crowd of forty or fifty streetpeople gathered like hornets on a hunk of watermelon.
I distinctly remember it taking a few rock numbers for the band to warm up, but in less than twenty minutes they had settled into a tight deliciously loud groove that had people hip-jerking and stomping halfway out into the street. Then a strange thing happened. I had noticed a tall clean-cut young man with blond hair whose boyish face and rounded jaw reminded me of the actor Troy Donohue – if you can remember that far back. This fellow had been standing motionless to one side observing the semi-circle of mostly bare-foot bodies gyrating to the large vibrations pushing like ocean breakers from several banks of twelve-inch speakers. Suddenly during a pause between "songs" Troy-boy strode in and apparently commandeered the lead-singer’s microphone; that’s when I noticed he had a big floppy Bible in his left hand. The band members acted genuinely stunned but made no move to stop him – if they were in cahoots I couldn’t tell it. Anyway, out of nowhere, this handsome interloper was suddenly exhorting the crowd at high volume concerning the claims of Jesus Christ. The crowd groaned in protest.
"Can that, Dude! We wanna boogie down!" Here was a direct assault, not just on our lifestyle, but on the future already being born, on the dawning convergence of a timeless worldview. Now comes this guy talking in terms of linear history about sin, judgement by "a holy God," and an exclusive way of escape through an innocent but bloody human lamb. All that obsolete old mess.
The crowd booed, but didn’t attack. Alright then, this is obviously a job for Hopalong Moses Sperm, a.k.a. Kentucky Fried Chicken. The LSD was making my role in this drama crystal clear. I spun around and jogged the half-block to my parked car, heart pounding at the daringness of my intentions. We’ll show this Bible-thumper. Unlocking my trusty wagon, I flipped open the attaché case and grabbed three or four baggies of weed and five or six packs of rolling papers. In less than five minutes I was back at the threatened street dance, tossing "lids" strategically into the assembly and passing out rolling papers like gospel tracts. An incredulous cheer went up from the congregation. This was too good. The clash of paradigms was joined.
Within minutes as I recall, there was rock music and preaching and dope-smoking all happening at once. The dancing had ceased while the people squatted shoulder to shoulder on their haunches in front of the speakers, busily rolling large doobies and lighting up. One creative freak devised a method of gluing papers together in series to form a giant marijuana cigar, doubtless the largest joint ever seen on the streets of Berkeley, which was quickly passed throughout the gathering. As the smoke of battle rolled over the scene, I couldn’t help but admire the young preacher’s courage in the face of the hostile crowd, even feeling a twinge of guilt as one or two freaks actually stood up to blow lungfulls in his face.
Meanwhile my antics had caught the attention of a slender, fairly attractive dark-haired girl about 19, with whom I soon found myself in animated conversation. Thinking it was high time I made myself scarce before some traitor "narked" on me, I suggested we move on down toward my vehicle. I don’t remember her first name, but her last has stuck with me over the years – Feinstein, for what it’s worth.
But my day was not over yet. Ms. F. and I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening together, no doubt "getting into one another’s heads." The next moment I clearly remember, it was already dark and we were back in Clyde where I was house-sitting for some neighbors – a young hippie couple being discipled in kriya yoga by Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship. Now my new companion and I, having just shared a joint, were stretched out together on the couch, with me gently caressing her narrow back and feeling somewhat frustrated because she had "drawn the line" at her top pants’ button – worse yet she had just fallen sound asleep on my other arm.
Right then there was a banging knock on the kitchen door. I rolled off the couch, naked to the waist, wondering who could be coming over at nine freaking o’clock. I stood a moment in the dark kitchen preparing my vocal mechanism to sound not stoned, before asking, "Who is it?"
A friendly question came back, "Is Lyle there?"
Lyle was the name of a neighborhood teen-ager, though I can’t remember ever having spoken to him. What the hell. I unbolted the back door and could dimly make out three men crowded together. I figured I had made a big mistake when, without a word, all three moved right into the kitchen with me, at the same time fanning abreast of each other. My next sensation was a sound like breaking glass accompanied by a shower of sparks traversing the inside of my head diagonally from a point near the top left side. No pain whatsoever, but as my glasses flew away I realized I’d been soundly walloped with a blunt instrument. I don’t remember the fall to the floor.
I knew there were houses right across the alley thirty feet away, so I spent the next half minute upside-down on my elbows and shoulders, kicking furiously up at these guys and screaming for all I was worth. I mean I was broadcasting at max volume on every emergency frequency known to man – the neighbors for half a block had to be hearing this. Meanwhile the central figure, wielding what I glimpsed was a four-armed lug-wrench, was landing blows all over my arms and upper body. When the one to my left switched on the kitchen light, I scrambled to my feet in a temporary lull in the bedlam.
Three white guys I had never seen in my life, no doubt junkies working the night shift. The red-faced blond one with the tire iron was the youngest, about 20; he was now being forcibly restrained by a big bearded man twice that old, because his cursing accomplice was clearly eager to kill me for raising such a ruckus. I wasn’t noticing at the time, but my shoulders were bloody from the head wound; now I felt blood trickling the rest of the way into my jeans. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a snapshot of Ms. F. bent over aghast, with her hands on the sides of her head, in the middle of the next room.
Blondie’s chest was heaving as his reddened eyes bored into me with murderous lust to just finish the job, but the older man pulled him further back, murmuring soothing words of reason in his ear. I could hear myself jabbering a mile a minute, as if searching for some statement that might save our butts. Probably the first thing I said was they could have all my dope – stupidly thinking my little dime-bag business could have earned a notice by these jokers. Meanwhile I was marveling at the strangest, most memorable part of the whole experience. Although on the surface I was verbally gesticulating in a high-speed "freak-out," the "real me" had become incredibly calm, like I had retreated inside a quiet bubble from which I was looking out at my physical fireworks as a dispassionately curious, almost amused observer who felt neither pain nor fear, but instead seemed fascinated at the sober conclusion – "I certainly never thought my life would end like this!"
The fellow who had switched the lights on was already returning from the living room carrying my friends’ record changer, still loaded with three Ravi Shankar albums I had stuck on early that morning – which happily confirmed that their motive was simple robbery. Small comfort that it wasn’t my stuff they were stealing!
They pushed me back in the other room with Ms. F. while the three of them continued hurrying past with armloads of valuables – an extensive LP collection, great speakers, assorted stereo equipment, a clock radio. For a while they must have shut us in a bedroom, because I remember Ms. F. saying pluckily she thought she might be able to squeeze out the window and get help. This was a sorely tempting suggestion, but in the end I squelched it; they might have somebody outside and I didn’t want to take the chance of lighting Blondie’s fuse again. Just as well she didn’t try it because it wasn’t a couple of minutes ‘til they’d finished cleaning the place out. Their final, entirely convincing word to us was that if we reported anything, they’d for sure come back and kill us. We heard their car bug out in the gravel.
I had about a dozen red welts and blue bruises scattered over arms and upper body. Plus the gash in my scalp was still oozing badly and needed stitches. So we drove to the nearest emergency room, where my head was sewn up. But of course the medical people had to call the police. At first I was reluctant to tell what had happened, but ended up taking them to the scene. I found my black attaché case flung open in the yard, empty, with a couple of packs of Zig Zag papers nearby. I don’t remember taking Ms. F. home afterwards, but I do know we never saw each other again after that night.
The next day when I inquired among the neighbors if they had heard someone screaming bloody murder, their best excuse was they thought it was just kids yelling.
Truth is stranger than fiction. That statement is literal because certain happenings in real life would be too incredible in a novel. Fiction writers know to avoid the sorts of "coincidences" or, as Jung coined, "synchronicities" that occasionally crop up in human experience; readers in general simply won’t accept mysterious unseen connections between superficially disparate events. Yet I can only "swear and affirm" that I have not "doctored" the actual course of that single Saturday almost thirty years gone. My rendering is as faithful as memory allows. And though I had never at the time heard the risen Christ’s statement in the third chapter of Revelation, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline," the connection between the morning’s activities and the evening’s "consequences" was not lost on me. I got the message loud and clear: Kentucky Fried Chicken had been a fool doing handstands on the lip of a precipice. I was even beginning to consider the possibility I might be fighting on the wrong side.
All the more reason to shun "the dark side" and seek out that "white Bardo light" – never quite grasping that I was still operating from a Yin-Yang picture of reality masterfully contrived to have no viable exit.
The gentle vegetarian couple whose home had been robbed returned a few days later, magnanimously grateful that no one had been hurt and agreeing that all of us had undoubtedly paid off considerable chunks of karmic debt. They also noted having instantly sensed "powerful negative vibes" on first re-entering their home, accompanied by a sure knowledge that something terrible had transpired "in that space."
In contrast, my guitar, two battery amps, and tools had all escaped, having been a block away at my regular house where the bare-frame GMC was "under construction" in the back yard. Actually, that house was by now only rented in my name, as I had unofficially sublet the whole downstairs to a 40-year old female college professor, myself having essentially moved into the attic. We shared the kitchen, bath, and each other’s confidences. I will also admit, fondly, that the old AM tune Knock Three Times on the Ceiling If You Want Me was ecstatically fulfilled on two or three occasions. Sin is sweet – for a season.
But the "robbery" had soured my view of California as an Aquarian mecca. Pure New Mexican air and sunlight, and even more, Noreen, were calling me irresistibly. I wasted no time constructing a "temporary" wooden bed on the 2-ton GMC. I also removed the decaying bench seat in order to make room in the cab for my most valued possessions – again, guitar, amps, tools – replacing it with a crate topped by a cushion for a flesh-mortifying driver’s platform without a back. (My guitar case tried its best to impersonate a seat back, but wasn’t very convincing.) With my remaining worldly goods strapped down on the makeshift plywood bed, I turned my attention to my faithful Datsun wagon, which I thoroughly washed and waxed before leaving it parked and locked at midnight in front of the Contra Costa County Teachers’ Credit Union. A couple of days later from a point near Bakersfield I mailed this institution the keys with a (no doubt condescending) note explaining I was "disappearing," "dropping out" in the Timothy Leary sense. Goodbye California.
My flight to New Mexico in the rusty blue monster was hardly uneventful. Pulling out from a fuel stop about 200 miles into the trip, my beautifully rebuilt engine suddenly clattered and shook like a jackhammer. Enduring this racket for another hundred feet, I pulled the rolling abortion around to one side of the isolated service station. Then for the rest of that day, using borrowed tools, I experienced solo engine-head removal for the first time. I know it sounds improbable, but I found that a hunk of metal the size of a 22 slug had found its way inside one of the cylinders, where it put an off-center array of ugly dents in the top of that piston. Since at this point I probably had less than $200 to my name, the self-repair victory was heartfelt in the extreme. Continuing on my way, as the road imperceptibly rose to higher elevations, the air grew frigid, so by the time I reached Flagstaff patches of week-old snow were interspersed among the evergreens. That night somewhere in the flat rocky desert of western New Mexico, I pulled off the interstate for some shivering rest, using my flashlight to re-arrange the junk inside the cab enough to allow a cramped fetal posture against the icy rear wall. But PeeWee was on his way to another big adventure – a not unhappy prodigal.
It was after dark the next night when my groaning rust-wagon lurched from the washboarded gravel road onto the rickety wooden bridge a few hundred yards from Noreen’s quiet retreat. There were actually two homes, along with ragged goat and chicken sheds, atop her denuded patch of tableland overlooking "the river." Having wrestled the steering wheel into a hard right after the bridge to follow the stream, I could see through the cottonwood branches on my left a couple of tall rectangles on the hill dimly aglow with the orange of kerosene lamps. Over the throbbing straight-six I could still hear the welcoming rush of the snowmelt stream, only twenty feet wide but sole agricultural source for a desert valley two miles across and well over a mile above sea level. What an undiscovered hideaway this whole area was! The single-lane double-track turned away from the river across a flat semi-grassy field frequented in the daytime by graceful black and white magpies. Then the muddy wheel-ruts made another sharp right at the base of the hill into a steep 45-degree climb up the side that made me glad in spite of shuddering double duals that the mud already had its nightly crust of frost.
My noisy arrival as the motor dieseled itself to a stop brought the silhouettes of Noreen and her five-year-old daughter Mandy to the door of the second, smaller adobe house with its pitched tin roof, picturesquely backed up to the juniper-dotted hills of the desert proper. Mandy’s mother and I rushed together – actors in our own romantic movie, reveling in these opening scenes before the plot becomes tangled like vines.
There was plenty of healthy outdoor work on the New Mexican "frontier" for a dependable able-bodied man like myself – at $2.00 an hour. The "newcomers," all Anglos like ourselves, were hand-building their own homes, in many cases with money made in Hollywood as cameramen, sound technicians, set builders, even simple "grips." They made delightful employers. Besides, Noreen’s house rent was $25 per month with no utility bills, so $2.00 went a long way – especially since she was getting food stamps in a state where seemingly the majority was on welfare. The local Spanish people often quipped, "We didn’t know we were poor ‘til the Government came and told us." (And don’t forget – those were the days when gasoline was 55-cents a gallon.)
So I began to acquire basic construction skills, starting at the bottom with de-struction on a demolition job where we got to salvage lumber for resale. Soon I was doing everything from jackhammering to laying brick floors to mud-mortaring adobe walls and nailing down viga-(log-)supported roofs. In early fall when the flanks of the Sangre de Christo radiate aspen yellow there were "wood runs" into the mountains to collect pinon for winter’s fuel, to be blocked and split into stove-wood after we dumped the logs at participants’ homes. Our tight-knit pioneer refugees had built a communal "shop" where usage of chainsaws and larger tools was shared or bartered for services. "The Shop" already maintained a 2-ton truck we called "Big Red" with great high sides. Now "Big Blue" was added to the inventory, though I was inwardly kicking myself for discarding that steel bed in Clyde. Still, my makeshift platform was hauling some hellacious loads of wood without complaint.
Late in my first autumn in the high desert, I and a couple of the shaggier male types took Big Blue into the mountains for one last haul – only to get stuck in three-feet of snow. We worked all afternoon employing different tricks to get unstuck, but my rear highway duals just couldn’t muster the traction. With night coming on we found a shallow "pocket cave" with smoke-blackened ceiling, hollowed out of a sandstone cliff by long-gone Indians. Building a small fire at the opening, we made some "tea" with frozen sage and melted snow in a tin can. Fortunately it was a clear windless night, not threateningly cold. One of my companions, a merry sort who outwardly resembled TV’s Grizzly Adams, had landed in New Mexico on a semi-serious spiritual quest. Our late-season venture into the mountains had been largely to collect straight vigas for an octagonal house this unique individual was building for himself, his spouse, and their infant son, Shanti. Staring at a bright star above the trees, he said he had just that moment suddenly seen the face of Yogananda’s "master," Sri Yukteswar, who had spoken encouragement to him. At the time I wasn’t one to doubt the authenticity of such an event. Such clues brought only the thrill of confirmation that I was exactly where God had ordained me to be.
The next morning we were rescued by one of the community stalwarts in his winch-equipped 4-wheel-drive Korean War ambulance distinguished by the legend Chemin de Fer ("Road of Iron" in French) on the rear bumper. An existentialist no doubt. The red-primer-brown machine roared toward us in the brilliant sunshine, flinging snow off the grille at every bounce. We could see a grinning driver and a taciturn Noreen on the passenger side. After the wheels crunched to a stop behind Big Blue, Noreen climbed down, ruddy-faced and resplendent against the bright snow in her multicolored knitted shawl and black lace-up boots, dark Indian tresses sheening in that uniquely crystalline Western light. Apparently she had guided our rescuer to the point our wheel tracks plainly veered off the logging road. Reaching back inside the vehicle’s no-nonsense interior, she brought forth a sack of homemade sandwiches – peanut butter & jelly, jackcheese & onion. Managing to frown and smile at the same time, her eyes fairly impaled us as she said, "I thought you might like some breakfast."
Later, I surprised our rescuer by reimbursing him for his trouble and we easily became friends. The following spring he hired me to help build his kiva-like circular home set into the side of a hill.
Noreen was famous among a lucky inner-circle of "expatriates" for her breakfasts. A vegetarian who still permitted eggs and milk products, she used, for example, a minimum of three kinds of flour, plus coconut, in her pancakes. Then of course sour cream was required as a base for any additional toppings, usually honey or – if you must – store-bought syrup. And who needs bacon when the yolks of just-gathered eggs are so yellow-orange they make the mass-produced variety look injected with skim milk? These almost daily feasts were often preceded by the leisurely smoking of a joint freshly rolled from an opaque jar of green homegrown "tops" she kept on the kitchen table. The resulting gossip or conversations could make "breakfast" last a couple of hours.
Noreen was also a self-disciplined housekeeper – which she attributed to being born under the sign of Cancer (otherwise known as The Fury). I was given a terrible fright during my first week in her home when I woke from a nap to what I thought was the rhythmic sound of lovemaking in the other room. It turned out to be Noreen methodically mopping her wooden kitchen floor. In contrast, the floor in the "living" room – the bed/sitting area – was still the original hard-baked adobe, covered mostly by a large oval rag-rug. But this room too was regularly swept and dusted. All the furnishings were simple but artistic. A weaving-loom occupied a place of honor across from the $15 sheet-metal woodstove in the "sitting room." In the kitchen a simple flat-topped wood-burning cookstove could by itself heat both rooms in all but the coldest weather. The 35-foot long house, except for doors and windows, was totally encased in well over a foot of heavy adobe clay, creating a matchless barrier for cold or heat. Inside, covering one entire end of this cozy structure, her rustic kitchen shelves seemed reincarnated from a previous century, as she religiously transferred the contents of boxed products from the grocery or health food store into mason jars or unadorned crockery. Several standard kerosene lamps were kept neatly trimmed inside their frequently washed globes, while one extra-bright Aladdin mantle-wick lamp occupied its place of honor on the kitchen table. With rare exceptions, dishes had to be washed and put away after every meal.
That first year I was having a ball in the land of the self-reliant. In the dead of winter with the temperature dipping well below zero every night I was able to revive Noreen’s old Ford stationwagon with a reworked ignition system – something I would never have undertaken in the frozen outdoors had there been money for a mechanic. This solid vehicle was a necessity for getting to the nearest supermarket ten miles away in the town where we also collected our drinking water in five-gallon plastic jerry-cans from a spigot behind Col. Sanders’ forbidden fruiteria. The car even chugged serenely as an ocean-going tug all the way to California and back when we took off once to see her family.
For dishwashing – and bathing in cold weather – we used run-off from the steeply pitched corrugated metal roof, which, except for two or three recently replaced panels, looked rust-purple against the usually intensely blue sky. This water was caught in two tall military surplus drums on the bedroom end of the house. Once when the temperature dropped to 17 below, these sixteen-inch diameter drums froze all the way to the bottom. I wrestled one through the shallow snow into the back door that let into the kitchen and somehow heaved it sizzling onto the sturdy little cookstove. Several hours later we could bathe as usual in cool weather – standing in the middle of the kitchen in an old round washtub, pouring warm rinse water over ourselves from a long-handled ladle. (In the summer we simply grabbed a bar of soap and towels before trekking the quarter mile to the communal bathing area on the river. More on this later.) Our neighbor sixty yards across on the other rim of our roughly oval shelf of barrenness had an outhouse – which we never used unless it was pouring rain (in other words, never). We preferred a sandy area among the juniper bushes on the other side of the first desert hillock behind the house, where a shovel and hoe were kept handy.
Winter for me also became furniture building time. Woodworking has fascinated me since years as a kid spent in painstaking construction of hundreds of model airplanes. One of my first projects in the Land of Enchantment was an elaborate bunk bed out of salvage lumber for Mandy. Then I built – and sold – a nice "Taos bed," which is really just a stiff-backed couch. After these successes, the wood-sculptor in me kicked in and I contrived a one-of-a kind desk using ponderosa slash-wood and cedar, upon which I planned to write a twentieth century monument to rival Moby Dick. Its intended use was not so subtly proclaimed by the fact that one side of the desk rose head-high into a whale’s snout while the other flared out in the pointed flukes of a sounding leviathan, bark-rimmed shelves spanning between. My only real creation on this desk was a detailed design for a powered ultra-light aircraft in which the pilot retracted the landing gear that was strapped to his feet. One fantasy imagined me arriving in this bird with guitar and amp aboard to instigate a spontaneous rock concert.
Come February it was tree-pruning season in the region’s apple orchards, tiring but rewarding work for an artistic type; I pridefully called it "editing God’s thoughts." Then springtime was signaled by the day when everyone who had a garden, orchard, or field of alfalfa brought his pala (shovel) to the head of the thousand-year-old "mother ditch" which distributed water from the river at the valley’s upper end via smaller tributaries throughout cultivated segments. The Spanish people took this annual cleanout as a serious obligation, even though they could hire someone to take their place for the entire day for one dollar. It was a good way to get a look at your upditch neighbor who everyone knew was stealing more than his fair share of the water.
Noreen’s house was right at the end of one of the smaller ditches. Her garden was supposed to get water two mornings a week, but inevitably we would have to walk the asequia to find who had "forgotten" to close off his field. My first summer, in addition to edible vegetables, we grew a magnificent row of marijuana plants that stood seven or eight feet tall before getting harvested by local "low-riders." The next two seasons we were smarter, growing our dope in five-gallon buckets, each concealed inside its own juniper bush back in the desert proper. This necessitated daily hand-watering, but at the end of the growing season – when some of the plants had reached a height of twelve feet and were waving their brighter green above the juniper – we gathered about two bushels of high grade pot, which was freely shared, bartered with, or saved for birthday or Christmas presents among the other expatriates.
No electricity at Noreen’s meant little radio and zero TV. Of course the Shop had power; the radio there was permanently tuned to the Albuquerque FM rock station, 80 miles away. I’ll never forget listening to that station in the summer of ’74 while building an outhouse for my ambulance friend. A high board running over to my ladder supported my small portable radio, angled for best reception. It’s a commonplace, I know, but that day it was driven home to me that instrumental music alone can carry an emotional message so potent as to overpower any non-congruent lyrics. (This issue later became important to me when I heard proponents of "Christian rock" – some of which has its place – absurdly contend that the words of a song were always the dominating transmitter of "message.") I had just scored a piece of lumber and had my handsaw poised, when the next record’s opening guitar chords caused my heart to recoil with such a sickening "green and black" horror that I stood transfixed to hear what might be coming next. In this case the notes and words were only too mutually reinforcing. Incredulously, I found the song to be an "artist’s rendering" from the point of view of a necrophiliac having sex with a corpse, complete with "dead eyes staring up." At the album-cut’s end, the good-times rock’n’roll DJ announced with yabba-dabba-do jauntiness, "That was Alice Cooper, singing I Love the Dead." No wonder we had left the cities. (Today, Alice Cooper may have repented, but there are a hundred worse to take his place.)
Mostly we made our own music on weekends. That was a strange mix of instruments! Our only real guitarist was a handsome young socialist from New Jersey, whose recent past had included a work stint in the sugarcane fields of Cuba but who played mostly acoustic folk ballads. (He had arrived driving a green school bus sporting a canoe on top, which bore the word Vinceremos. His Princeton brand of idealism didn’t win many points from the Hollywood contingent.) My electric rhythm repertoire was limited to 12-bar blues and simple improvised rock. We had one flute player and a couple of girls experimenting with wooden "recorder" flutes. The ensemble was rounded out by an autoharp and (at least one) kazoo. Oh yeah, and later on, the big Pueblo-Indian-style drum I chain-sawed out of a two-foot thick cottonwood branch. Add marijuana and stir. While the resulting product would under federal law merit classification, by default, as "music," I am confident you couldn’t find anyone in the third world or elsewhere who would have paid money to listen to it.
Still, there was at least one memorable free weekend concert beside Noreen’s home where, as if by prearrangement, counter-culture types began showing up from all over the valley. Psychedelics and marijuana brownies insured that most heads present were soon throbbing like rotating police beacons. I have an old videotape from that event of me in my motorcycle jacket with the symbols of all the world’s religions in day-glo paint on the back, whanging out bursts of foot-stomping rhythm on my booming solid-body.
Especially in winter also, reading was a major pastime. The books getting passed around our little community ran the gamut from Edgar Cayce the sleeping prophet to Lobsang Rampa the Tibetan space cowboy. Astrological theory, Sufi mysticism, the courtship of peyote "nature spirits." Castaneda, Gurdjieff, Von Daniken. Specific titles that come to mind are The Morning of the Magicians, The View Over Atlantis, Seth Speaks, The Secret Life of Plants, and that ultimate paean to pantheism, Findhorn. In addition, Noreen and I read almost daily to Mandy from books brought home from the library – Charlotte’s Web, Little House on the Prairie – an endless stream. Noreen gravitated toward titles like How to Know God and hard-to-find explorations of ascetic diets, the most extreme of which were termed "mucusless." Aloud to each other we regularly read from our "Bible," The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. This book, which had been "channeled" to its author early in the century, supposedly revealed how Jesus, during his "missing years" of young manhood, had studied under "adepts" in Egypt and Tibet in order to work the kinks out of his miracle performances.
But more than readings aloud, Noreen loved the silence. Even in summer on the edge of the desert that silence was generally marred only by the dawn rooster and, for the remainder of the day, the abundant buzzing of flies from the goat pen. In winter, with an atoning blanket of fresh snow over all, that silence was near absolute – just the whisper and snap of burning wood. In leisure hours when the day’s fuel and water chores were done, we were often engaged in profoundly quiet activities. Mandy, her fluffy orange cat snuggled beside her, would be producing another crayon masterpiece of a smiling rosy-cheeked girl surrounded by stylized flowers. I was doing rigorous yoga twice a day – struggling to still the mental monkey. Noreen’s meditations usually involved needle and thread. She was a gifted embroiderer. Her most memorable creation was an elaborate red and silver rendition of the Hindu symbol for "Aum" on the back of our ballad-singer’s jeans jacket. Also, her Native American ancestry seemed asserting itself in this rarified sagebrush environment as she undertook serious handweaving, having graduated from a clunky yard-wide loom for throw rugs to a full size blanket loom; she was even learning to card, spin, and dye her own wool. My louder electric guitar practice usually took place when she was out of the house or, in mild weather, with me seated on one of the big blocks of ponderosa serving as "lawn" chairs among the wood chips behind the mud-plastered structure.
A trip to Santa Fe to see a movie was a major indulgence, especially since it always included dinner at a modest New Mexican restaurant – distinguished by mild green banana chilies, blue corn tortillas, over-easy egg toppings, and honeyed sopa pillas. Then on the way to the movie – in our VW Bug whose fenders, trunk- and engine- covers had all come off different colored Beetles – we’d smoke the regulation joint to guarantee total cinematic immersion. It was the era of Grease and A Clockwork Orange. Noreen laughed out loud at the scene in Grease where two of the young hoods almost forget themselves in a brotherly hug, as it reminded her of the knife-fighting street toughs she had known from high school days in Stockton.
I also traveled to artsy Santa Fe to have my 1958 Fender solid-body guitar re-fretted and upgraded with better pickups and turnpegs. As hinted above, the rock-star dream was far from dead, even though the sign in the music store window suggested: "Die now, live later." In keeping with my sense of prophetic mission, the old black-painted Fender was undergoing radical metamorphosis. I think it was my first summer in the high desert that I borrowed a set of carving tools, sawed off an unnecessary protrusion below the instrument’s neck, and began carving the remainder into a swooping wing, complete with feathers. Mostly this carving took place sitting naked on a towel beside the similarly sun-worshiping Noreen in the dry-bed edge of the summer-shrunken river just down from our dwelling, surrounded by the multicolored stream-bed stones so incredibly abundant throughout the valley. With one of the angels – take your pick – of divine judgement from the Book of Revelation in mind, I carved the "head" where the turnpegs reside into a stern but decidedly female face and bosom. Every trace of the old black paint had been sanded away, to be replaced with sky blue lacquer. Noreen contributed by covering the music-store strap in a sheath of more organic cowhide.
So much for context. You may be wondering "what’s not to like" about my new place in the sun. Is the "reflection of hell" mentioned in my subtitle behind me at last? Have I arrived in "heaven"?
Hardly. If only life’s lessons came so easily as getting one’s head beat in by crazed dope addicts. I didn’t know it when I moved in with Noreen, but I had just signed on to an advanced course in psychic torture and manipulation. And if that sounds like I’m getting ready to blame Noreen, hold on a minute.
In the hip dialect Noreen was a "heavy person," complex and charismatic, who all her adult life drew creative souls into her orbit. In part this weightiness had accrued itself to her by darknesses in her past about which I gleaned only oblique hints. I knew she had once driven a getaway car for a man who ended up in prison. In California after her divorce she had gone the whole LSD and encounter group route. Besides just her rape, I gathered she had been exposed to events that made her quail at any possibility of bloodshed. I discovered this trait the first time I stopped on my way back from Tucson. After she told me about a rash of robberies in her immediate vicinity – me having foresworn firearms, I thought it only prudent to bring the splitting ax in from behind the house to keep handy by the door. She "freaked" at this, scolding me for my ignorance of the fact that fear can be sensed by evil men; she said it drew them "like the smell of blood to a shark." That was "heavy" enough – a point I wasn’t prepared to argue. Later in our relationship she confided to me she had had a lover in California who, the very next night after sleeping with her, killed a woman by stabbing her twenty-two times. I got clues there were other things she simply never discussed.
Therefore her courage, her sheer force of obstacle-overcoming will in having dared her worst fears by choosing to live alone with her daughter – as if defiantly on the thinnest ice right at the edge of an abyss – was gaining the upper hand. She had set her foot determinedly on any path that promised an increase of light, freedom, peace. The intensity of her fear only gauged the magnitude of her strength. I vividly remember an occasion when her daughter Mandy was about seven years old, playing with Barbie dolls along the shelf of the bedroom window with her same-aged girl cousin. Neither was aware I was overhearing their conversation. One of them said, "Let’s pretend this one is a powerful woman – you know what I mean?" The other responded with a delighted chuckle, "Oh, yes – I know mas grande!"
I cannot continue here without bringing my biblical bias to bear. Recall what I have said about drug usage and spirit contact. The same warnings should apply even more forcefully to eastern-style meditation (Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline notwithstanding.) Yoga itself, especially in conjunction with its always strongly recommended adjunct, vegetarian diet, is a technique for tuning the total human organism for more ready reception of communication from, or manipulation by, discarnate (non-fleshed) spirit beings. (Not speaking of God or His Holy Spirit here!) A well-worn statement by neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles whimsically captures the truth: " The brain is a machine a ghost can operate."
The problem arises from the fact that the beings linked-to by these methods, to put it mildly, cannot be trusted to have our best interests in view. On the contrary, as the Bible insists, by counterfeiting seduction leading to blatant deception their goal is our utter waste. Call me supernaturally paranoid, but I would even contend that the majority of cases of so-called "mental illness" have a strong spiritual – in this case, demonic – component. The more complete the mind’s subjection or domination by these very personal intelligences, the more toward categories of "schizophrenia" or "psychosis" conventional diagnosis must tend. (Hearing audible voices in one’s head is generally a symptom of serious threat.) Quite naturally, the spectrum runs from occasional mild influence – which every one of us has experienced – to the rare extreme of total "possession," where the original personality is in effect locked permanently in a closet of its own former house.
Of course I would have scoffed at such antiquated notions when I arrived in New Mexico. In spite of all my concrete experiences to the contrary, I was still locked-in to the cream-puff pantheism of my friends. Sure, I had experienced depression, anxiety, fear, lust, jealousy, hatred, and rage aplenty in thirty-two years – but it had not fully dawned on me that these states, in their more intense overshadowings, might have been largely induced or "pumped up" from without. Our everyday idioms carry clues enough: "I don’t know what came over me." "What in the world got into her?" "He was absolutely beside himself."
The fast-eroding biases of humanistic psychology notwithstanding, these "entities" have had hundreds of generations of "clay vessels" such as ourselves to practice on. Rebels to the core, their only means of hurting their Maker is to hurt His most loved creations. They are past masters of negative discernment; quickly ferreting points of moral weakness, not to mention the peculiar individual "triggers" that set us off. I vividly recall Noreen in the midst of a devastating emotional collapse, comparing herself to a machine gun and accusing me of loving to watch it "fire" by pulling her "jealousy trigger." (She had probably caught me "looking at" one of the other single women in our community.) She was so inordinately sensitive in this area that I quickly learned to not so much as mention a color of paint that happened to include the name of my by-then divorced ex-wife in Florida. Seemingly unable to transcend this bondage, she somewhat ruefully admitted, "The sexual power trip is the only game in town."
Some Christians teach that demons – while they are able to induce thoughts that we mistake as our own – are never able to actually read our thoughts; but my experience suggests otherwise. I’m confident Noreen herself was innocent of the "mechanism," but I am equally convinced she had supernatural informants. Nevertheless she was more victim than perpetrator because her mind had been persuaded that her role in life was to "call a spade a spade" in the lives of those around her. Her dark gifting seemed to be the crystal-clear discernment of sin – yet apparently not in herself. If there was a germ of moral taint in my character, even in my most private thoughts, she would sense it – and instantly nail it to the wall.
You may object that such "tough love" was effecting a good and not an evil. In one sense that is true. During my years with her she forced me, quite as though her fingers had a grip on the hair at the back of my head, to look in a mirror that reflected unguessed nuances of corruption in my soul. Rasp, sandpaper, and polish became my prescriptions if I was to continue in her company. But if this therapy proved in the long run to have been "a kindness," it was so by default. Heaping guilt on another for minute offenses such as an edge of irritation in one’s tone or an unconscious sigh of weariness is hardly genuine love. Perhaps I was being made conscious of my need for redemption, but I was not being redeemed. Poor devil me.
Noreen once referred to love as "an honorable emotion," but her uncanny ability to discern even the tiniest flaws – which were then pounced upon, exposed, exaggerated mercilessly until her target was buried in condemnation – was demonstrated innumerable times. Her interrogations were neither loving nor gentle. Often the same flaws were revisited and reprobed until they became again like fresh wounds, unforgotten in minutest detail – and apparently still unforgiven.
"We’ve been here before," she would say.
I would object, "I thought we resolved that last time."
Her response was always, "The past is present. We have to go through this until you get it right."
I believe the blot under the microscope would seem to expand to the horizons because it was being made huge to her inner eye by that indwelling power. Apparently the demanded outcome of these sessions was that I end up confessing my guilt like one caught and convicted of murder. These episodes sometimes continued for days, by which time I would have added self-pity to my list of offenses.
When we were happy together, we were happy indeed, god and goddess aping Edenic innocence, "making love in the sunshine." In the dry scorching arroyos or under the golden leaves of fall beside the river, we "walked in beauty" as the Navaho say. Then out of nowhere – most often upon her smoking a joint – like transcendental PMS with her face literally pulsating green and purple, resentment would strike, setting up a communication force-field I was at a loss to penetrate. Murky darkness would cloak the home’s atmosphere with mutual anguish and dread. For me to walk away from these bouts or seek the sympathy of our dog guaranteed an even more enraged response in which I was accused of being a self-centered user – and coward to boot. Several times I moved out anyway. Then, just as unpredictably, the fog would disperse, and we would re-discover the depth of our love. This paddleball pattern of explosion- separation-reconciliation grew ever more intense toward the end of our time as a couple.
Of course the "user" accusation carried logical weight. Sure, this was the "counter-culture" and all, but I was living with this woman and her daughter, behaving much as I would if we were married. I had even met Noreen’s parents in California – separately, since they were divorced. I was at times – out of genuine love – scolding Mandy like she was my own child. Like a regular family, rattling along in the aforementioned VW Bug I had bought for $400 with money earned fighting a forest fire, we drove up to Oregon to visit my two oldest daughters, their mother and her new husband. (A year later, this Oregon family stopped a week with us in New Mexico on their U-Haul move back to Tennessee.) But I had lost twice at the marriage game already with women who were rock steady compared to Noreen. Still, I loved her enough to hopefully not be guilty of a temporary "shack-up." At one point, in a desperate move for resolution I wrote my father asking for $10,000 to buy a particular local parcel where we could build a permanent home. He and my mother apparently wrestled sincerely with this stunning request, but in the end said "no."
Noreen’s "dark side" had a talent for carving my heart into shish kebab with inverted "words of knowledge." Except to verbally parry the more vicious thrusts, I rarely attacked back (I’ll tell you about one amazing incident when I did). In this regard I learned early that to introduce the word "crazy" was counterproductive in the extreme; here was a button that clearly had been pushed once too often. Instead I would tend to withdraw into dumbfounded pain, which only invited an even more unsympathetic glare. What I realize now is that during these times when I was being "attacked," Noreen herself was not the true attacker. (Once only I got a vivid clue to this fact when I saw her weeping honest tears of regret after I had only too evidently been cut to ribbons. It was just one time, but it was as if the peaceful girl so much in evidence at first "got out" somehow that once. I was amazed because this was so totally "out of character" for her in that quadrant of our gerbil-wheel. I wouldn’t doubt it represented a merciful intervention of God Himself. Maybe something similar was going on the time she tucked a tiny folded note where I’d be sure to find it, that said simply, "I want to stay with you.")
There were many instances that finally convinced me our "episodes" involved unseen players. For example, during my second year in the community a single young divorced woman named Sarah, quite pretty, with a small daughter, began renting the other house on our overlook, the first occupants having built their own home about a mile away. Here was a potentially delicate situation, given the jealousy syndrome. (For my part, if you can believe it, I had determined to forsake "adultery" and stay faithful to Noreen as long as we were living together. I actually squeaked through in this resolve, in spite of being brazenly propositioned by a quite naked local lovely at one of our communal river-baths, who actually said, "Noreen will never know." Yeah. Right. Go home, Jojo.)
When a mutual young male friend, a neat bookish sort and skilled carpenter, generous to a fault, moved in with Sarah, I thought we had safely sidestepped an explosion. Then one evening Sarah dropped in on us to share the usual joint of conviviality. That was cool, until at some point in the stoned discourse Sarah made what to me was a perfectly neutral statement (that unfortunately, after 43 years has escaped me). Whatever, after Sarah left, it caused Noreen to "go off" on me like a rabid she-wolf. Two agonizing hours of utter misunderstanding later, it began to dawn on both of us that we had actually perceived totally different sentences to have come, simultaneously, from Sarah’s mouth. Who knows what she actually said. The point is that Noreen and I had evidently been "set up," calculatedly, not by Sarah, but by whatever interloper had caused one or both of us to hear radically different statements.
O.K., I admit that was a poor example, because for one who wasn’t there, it seems open to interpretation. The next two are not.
Remember I said I’ll tell you about one time when "I fought back." This became also my one and – thank God – only experience of "missing time." (Consequently I now appreciate perfectly how people can commit literal murder and have no recollection of the act. In my understanding it is in fact temporary possession by a demon. See what you think.)
Noreen and I were having one of our fights, which were essentially screaming verbal affairs not involving physical violence. This one, however, kept escalating until the last thing I remember I was rushing from the adjoining room into "our" kitchen toward her. My next conscious perception is of me standing stock still in the kitchen at right angles to where my previous memory told me I should be. Moreover, Noreen is now lying on the rough plank floor on her side over halfway across the room, looking up at me with a surprisingly calm expression. She then got to her feet and walked confidently to me, no longer in the red-faced rage of a moment before. Then comes the most remarkable non sequitur of my entire life. She presses her body lovingly against mine, her palms flat on my chest, her eyes looking up at me filled with admiration, and softly speaks these words: "You were magnificent!"
I didn’t betray my ignorance, but I wanted to know what in hell just happened. Her voice still hushed in this completely uncharacteristic worshipful tone, she said that I had become like a god, like she’d never seen me before. Apparently during the moment while I was "gone" my physical apparatus had hoisted her hundred and twenty-five pounds like a hollow manikin over my head, practically brushing her entire body against the ceiling, and tossed her across the room like Raggedy-Ann. Whoa. I had the strangest impression that she wasn't even talking to me, but, when I mulled it over later, to the entity that had momentarily taken control of my "vehicle" – quite as if "her demon" believed it was conversing "behind the scenes" with "my demon." Here, Hopalong, was food for rumination.
How often since then have I read accounts of murderers who "woke up" to find they – or at least their bones and muscles – had done the unthinkable. Meanwhile they are left "holding the bag," while the "real" perpetrator skips away (laughing, I would imagine). I am not saying the human agent is not at some stage responsible nor that he or she should not be held accountable; at some point a moral line was crossed that gave legal right of entry to an opportunistic spirit. (In other words, "temporary insanity" is still a lame excuse, in my opinion.) I am saying that in such cases there is in play, on top of the sadness, an unnoticed cosmic irony.
The other instance is, in its own way, just as remarkable.
Toward the end of my time in New Mexico, having sold the engine out of Big Blue to our ballad-singer friend for his pick-up, I borrowed $500 from one of the more affluent Hollywood refugees and put it down on a 1971 Chevy three-quarter-ton pick-up powered by a healthy 350 V-8. Noreen dubbed it my "escape vehicle." While already living in this prize I cobbled together a rather nifty cab-over camper, incorporating a flat car hood in the roof and a trunk-lid for back door so that the living space could be wholly opened up in nice weather. (These car parts were free for the scavenging from the junked or stolen cars semi-buried along the sandy arroyos approaching our river as a means of slowing erosion.) With this "space-gapping monkey-den" still under construction I took a job with a state agency in Santa Fe, sleeping in my new camper and putting on a tie in the morning to go to work at a desk. (Yes, I was desperate to make a little money.) I even got snowed-on a couple of times before the gaps on either side of the roof-hood were closed in. (I know I’m wandering off the subject, but this homemade RV was to serve me well for the next several years. It boasted a gas heater, stove, and refrigerator. It had a water tank made from a slim 15-gallon gas tank connected to a hand-pumped faucet over a water basin in the back that simply flushed out the bottom of the truck, as did a hidden urinal under the fold-down bed – which also concealed a large locking tool box. And mustn’t forget the built-in stereo AM-FM cassette radio in the center of the crawl-way into the cab-over section. During one of our final "together" phases Noreen and I made a quick trip to California in this rocket cottage. I’ll never forget sailing over the Arizona badlands at 70 miles an hour with the smell of frying onion & garlic omelets wafting forward into the cab through the rubber boot I had crafted out of discarded innertubes where the back window used to be. [Yogic flexibility helped immeasurably in the backward stretch needed to transition through this boot.] Stick in that B.B. King tape, love. Now that was living!)
Now back to the other example of unseen stagehands attempting to re-write the script. I had been gradually pulling away from Noreen, taking several widely scattered jobs in succession in order to pay off my Datsun wagon (which had finally caught up with me) and pick-up, as well as re-assume my most pressing child-support responsibilities. I think the incident in question happened while I was employed at the uranium mine near Grants, the last job I had before leaving New Mexico. I had been seeing Noreen perhaps one weekend a month, driving my home-on-wheels the two hundred miles from the mine to her place. This particular weekend, however, as Noreen had other plans, I was parked in front of the home of a good friend and his Tarot-card-reading wife in Albuquerque.
It was just at first light Sunday morning. Eyes still shut, I was already awake after a comfortable night's sleep in my well-insulated camper. Suddenly in my exposed ear I heard Noreen’s voice earnestly call my name. This was no dream; neither was it an audible voice inside my head . The most amazing feature was not only that her voice sounded loud and clear beside my ear, but as she called out to me – as if in urgent need – I actually felt her breath hit the side of my face!
I became concerned that she might be in some particular difficulty, but when I finally reached her by phone that evening she seemed not only surprised but altogether cool to be hearing from me, having spent the weekend happily at a hotsprings with a female chum.
You may disagree with the conclusion I came to in later years, since many theories could be advanced as to what took place beside my ear that morning. I suppose it could have been some "projection of psychic energy from her subconscious self," distressed at losing me and powerful enough to "materialize" for an instant beside my ear. For all I know it might have been effected via some unimagined wrinkle in time and space, but I came to doubt that Noreen was the direct living source of that voice. It had been stolen from her. The Bible says flatly that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light; his subordinates likewise deceive humans by counterfeit presentation of whatever "form" serves their purposes. They are shapeshifters whose repertoire runs from lovely virgins to your dead grandmother to Sri Yukteswar to Sasquatch and an endless panoply of gods and goody-two-shoes aliens.
Are such deceivers capable of materializing a seemingly emotion-charged vocal mechanism that perfectly matches that of a selected person? Pretty fancy counterfeiting, no doubt. But nothing could convince me that I wasn’t hearing a real sound that a tape recorder would have picked up. Whatever the means, I have come to suspect it was one last ploy to keep me locked in dead-end circles, away from the voice of the true Shepherd of the sheep.
Writing about this instance in my camper has reminded me of an event while I was living in Clyde before my wife left. I had taken a dose of what was said to be psylocibin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms. It was a thoroughly unpleasant experience – one of those self-induced headaches you just ride out ‘til it’s over. The day was windy, cold, overcast, with scattered showers. My wife and I had decided to drive around the countryside and find a good spot to take some photos of our five-month-old baby. We drove up near the top of Mount Diablo overlooking Contra Costa County. I was driving but feeling rotten from the unknown brown pill. As we motored along the mountainside an extremely loud explosion occurred inside the car’s cabin just above and a bit to the right of my wife’s head, inside the upper right portion of the windshield. We both felt the mild shockwave like a tough supercharged bubble had burst with a tremendous POW! At the time I must have categorized it as a weird "psychic phenomenon," probably a release of pent-up energy whirling out of my own throbbing head. Now I believe it was a spiritual manifestation of unknown significance. (For all I know, we were being protected by the omniscient and omnipotent Lord from an unseen threat – as unregenerate worldlings who would one day place their faith in the Messiah Jesus.)
So much of spiritual significance happened during my three years in northern New Mexico, that I must back up and render a few more highlights. First, some of the more "positive."
Physically I was in top shape. The combination of hard labor, pure organic meatless food, daily yogic stretching – always including at least five minutes standing on my head – had turned me into a wiry rosy-cheeked dynamo, a walking health-food advertisement.
In our more hopeful moments, Noreen and I had discussed writing a book together on "morality for the new age." (When we mentioned this project to our Chemin de Fer cinematographer pal, he snorted that he felt qualified to tackle a parallel manual on traffic signals!) I also made a couple of abortive attempts to write a metaphysical treatise in the form of a simple allegory accessible to the masses. Somehow the fire of true inspiration never came. How come, God? Isn’t this what You’ve prepared me for?
Noreen, an avid "student" of Castaneda's Mexican peyote sorcerer Don Juan as an advance guide on life’s path, was becoming active in the Native American Church, traveling to big powwows in Wyoming and Oklahoma. This expanding movement had won the legal right to use peyote cactus "buttons" as a sacrament in their all-night Teepee rituals. I attended one of these meetings and found it to be a melding of Indian tradition, Christianity, and outright idolatry of "grandfather peyote," represented by a gigantic button placed near the center of the crowded Teepee. One of the elders came around to our home later asking if anyone had any "white powder." I never knew if he was referring to mescaline, derived from peyote, or cocaine – neither of which we saw much of in the desert. A significant minority in this sect were "Indianized" former hippie Anglos. A ready-made religious basket for "heads."
So much for the positive. In spite of all such desperate clutchings – as at frayed rope ladders let down from terminally cancerous ideals – both Noreen and I were being ever more cocooned in gossamer threads of our own sin. The preceding section sketching Noreen’s dark talents may have unfairly portrayed me as merely a helpless victim of evil powers – no longer a willing participant. Not so. My insatiable lust had followed me from California. Although I was no longer having outright sex with women other than Noreen (at least while we were sharing a consistent life for the first two years) my faithless heart was unchanged. Mine was the worthless "righteousness" of the mere legalist, the whitewashed "law-keeper" whose interior hides a stinking heap. In denial of any possibility "so retro" as "original sin," our communal sunbathing on the riverbank, for example, was a sham of civilized decorum as everyone stole glances in order to rate the assets of potential lovers. Not surprisingly, changing partners became a slow-motion square dance among the expatriates. Out of fourteen married or co-habiting couples, only four were still with original partners after three years’ time. Could these statistics bolster arguments for the wisdom of retaining clothes in public? That question might require an entire chapter in Noreen’s and my proposed utopian blueprint!
Not even confession of past failures was a barrier against present offenses. I had early on in our relationship told Noreen of my youthful entanglements in exhibitionism and obscene telephoning during my first marriage. (She – or her informants – once shocked me by referring to these episodes as "your experiments," a term that seemed to offer tacit legitimacy.) Now when Noreen and I were on the "outs," I again became subject to such infantile "relief" devices.
A pristine natural environment, robust health, stress-free invigorating work, and relentlessly pursued "spiritual disciplines" were proving useless to save me from myself. I would have episodes where another authority seemed to be in the driver’s seat.
Here’s a minor example. One time checking Noreen’s and my box at the village post office I happened to run into the accomplished young woman whom all of us men considered the most physically attractive in our entire community, who was "living with" one of my closest buddies. She and I seemed equally glad to see each other. But as we pressed fingers in a friendly greeting, it was as if our bodies drew irresistibly closer while making a flurry of lightning fast hand movements that I don’t think either of us anticipated. Faster than the eye could catch, our hands rambled over each other in all the strategic places in about one half of a second – so fast it seemed bizarrely accidental. So we caught ourselves and immediately went on like it never happened. I did not mention this happening to Noreen. Life can be strange.
Then there were the two months away from Noreen working as an apprentice roughneck on an oilrig at 10,000 feet on the Colorado plateau where it snowed in August. The mosquitoes were so bad you could hear the whine of the main swarm over the lake a quarter mile away. I was sleeping by myself in an abandoned trail cabin without glass or screens in the windows and an occupied wren’s nest in one corner. Mornings I would hear buck deer snorting in the bushes nearby. Making my way there along the narrow trail by flashlight one night I got a fright when a three-foot-tall black man stood up on the path in front of me – then I saw "he" was actually a surprised porcupine. It was another "adventure," but I was lonely as a stud horse in a rowboat. On weekends I’d go into the local town for groceries, to do my laundry, and look longingly at the jeans-clad women. For better or worse I’ve always stayed away from bars and whores. But I complimented a girl in the Laundromat on the cut of her breasts – though I used a shorter word. She got appropriately huffy, leaving just me and my lust for companionship. I confess I masturbated so much during that oil-well stint that I’d periodically get diarrhea for two and three days at a time. Maybe you think that’s a loony connection, but even then in my unregenerate soul I knew I was receiving the severe mercy of some kind of chastisement. There are two verses in the Lord’s scripture I had never yet seen, but I was aware of their truth in my very bones: "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline." And "Lust indulged sickens a man." A part of me actually welcomed these chastenings as a sign He still cared enough to notice "where I was at." However, this knowledge was not bestowing much control. I was being driven just like old times.
(As an aside, I should note that temporary insanity was not uncommon among the enlightened. Toward the end of my time in New Mexico I stayed a couple of weeks with a common-law-family of theosophists who lived at the foot of a steep rocky hill right on the banks of the Rio Grande. They had a good rap about sublimating sexual energy into spirit . I’ll never forget one afternoon helping the man of the house collect vegetables from his garden. His "lady" – who had up to that moment seemed "together" enough – suddenly burst out of their house to go screeching past us through the garden toward the river, throwing whatever came to hand in all directions – absolutely raising hell for about ten minutes. Her Latin spouse stood unmoving, looking at me apologetically, like, "I hope you understand; this is just part of the process." Later I was to learn that this sort of near-psychotic break is so common among serious practitioners of TM that they refer to it as "un-stressing.")
Many pages ago I promised to tell you about my experience with kundalini, the "serpent power" of Hindu yoga. This episode occurred in the spring of my second year in the high desert.
Somehow it all seemed to start with a snake in the woodpile. My ballad-singing Princeton buddy and I still had a good supply of old roofing lumber salvaged from our demolition job across from the general store on the two-lane highway that bisected the valley westward toward the Rio Grande. I think we had just sold another load of planks; in any case, I was re-stacking the remainder on some 4 X 4's near where I parked Big Blue in front of Noreen’s retreat, when I glimpsed a yellow flash of scaled belly sliding deeper under the woodpile. A big wide yellow belly. I’ve rarely been one to show mercy on snakes, even non-poisonous varieties – as this six-footer turned out to be. If I needed an excuse to kill this one, its gorgeous skin would have been sufficient: a golden background patterned with large circles of earthy brown – just the finishing touch for a New Age "prophet’s" guitar-strap! So I squatted in the heat for the rest of the blazing afternoon fighting off flies drawn to the peculiar odor as I carefully skinned the dead creature, meanwhile absorbing quite a dose of "snake essence" through my pores. I dreamed that night of a flying serpent with a cock’s crown of rainbow feathers.
The next morning found me back in the mountains with a crew of Chicanos in a logged-over area on a temporary tree-planting assignment for the Forest Service. But around mid-day an emergency call was relayed, specifically for me. I learned with shock that the three-year-old daughter of Noreen’s neighbor on our overlook had been swept away in the snow-melt river and a search party was being formed to find her. Apparently the child had been playing on the bank when the mother looked away for a moment, only to look back and find her completely gone. I was driven straight home in one of those pale green Dodge Forest Service pickups. By the time I got there the little girl’s drowned body had already been found about a mile downstream.
Death had never entered our tiny refugee Eden. The drowned child’s father, a gifted artist and documentary film-maker, stayed outwardly calm as he headed stoically for the Shop to construct a casket. Two other stout fellows collected digging tools and departed for the ramshackle cemetery situated beside a local Spanish mission. I volunteered to help make a grave marker. The "womenfolk" began planning our first-ever counter-culture funeral service for the next day. Everyone was subdued, feeling strangely "ripped" to the realm of spirit without the usual assistance of mind-altering substances.
At 10:00 AM the next morning about twenty of us newcomers gathered around the neatly dug rectangular pit among the scraggly wooden crosses and bleached plastic flowers of the unkempt cemetery. There were also seven or eight of the Spanish villagers standing quietly on the fringes, undoubtedly curious how their new neighbors would handle the universal interruption.
It turned out to be the closest thing to a religious service our little community ever had. Three of the younger women, in loose pastel dresses, freshly washed curls swinging prettily in the sunlight, harmonized shoulder to shoulder around a single hymnbook. The hymns sung were all the more touching in that they seemed to betray, in the singers, previously unguessed church attendance in their pasts. As Noreen and I both were recognized serious students of "deeper truth," I had been asked to deliver a short "word." God in His mercy has forgiven me because of my trust in the blood of His Son for what I did next, just as years later, after I was born again from above by His Spirit, I had to send an appeal for forgiveness to the drowned child’s parents.
With great conviction I read the entire chapter from The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ that begins with the words: "There is no death."
Little did I realize, in my abysmal Methodist ignorance, this brazen assertion has been "part one" of Satan’s grandest lie since he spoke it to our first parents in the Garden as revealed in the third chapter of Genesis. The eastern doctrine of reincarnation (which, by the way, the New Testament flatly contradicts in Hebrews 9: 27) is simply a metaphysical elaboration of that original falsehood. It, and its sister deception – which was also delivered in Genesis 3: 4-5: "You shall be like God" – have become the intertwined basis of mainstream eastern belief, starting with Hinduism.
No one cried out to dispute my comfortably reassuring "scripture-reading" that day, which seemed to be received gladly by my hip fellows. The dead girl’s father embraced me in a rare display of uncontainable emotion. (Whatever our Spanish observers were thinking, they kept to themselves.)
It was not that same night but the next when my evangelism for The Great Lie was rewarded by an unexpected introduction to the serpent power. But even in this I can see God’s sovereign restraining hand: I had been truly called; I was being truly protected.
Noreen and I had just fallen off to sleep. More precisely, I was again in that (from my perspective vulnerable) twilight phase between waking and sleeping – which I believe corresponds to the "clear mind" meditative state sought by eastern adepts. I was stretched out in bed on my back. With no more warning than if I had been unexpectedly shot in the tailbone with a 357-magnum, a veritable lightning bolt of garden-variety electricity blasted up my spinal cord as high as my shoulders, branching out through both wide-flung arms and off the ends of splayed fingers. A simultaneous array of involuntary responses was equally massive. The jolt instantly snapped my body into sitting posture while at the same time forcing a single roaring exhalation through my voicebox. The electric current passing off through all ten fingers was perfectly equivalent to my memory of having touched the strong electric fence my Dad employed years before to keep bird dogs in their pen.
Naturally my sudden lunge and explosive "WOOF!" had brought Noreen up beside me so that our four arms went wrapping around each other as if magnetized during the split second the tailing-off "juice" still tingled my fingers.
I seem to recall us both yelling at once, "What was that!"
But I knew. Hello, Kundalini. I had read too much esoteric literature to have any doubts. However, this was just a bit too concrete – not some enchantingly safe imagination. What was freaking my mind was the fearful realization that the "cosmic consciousness" or "self-realization" this power promised upon consummation: of becoming one essence with ultimate Reality, meant that merciless lightning bolt would be hitting no providential shunts at the shoulder blades – but whamming right up into the brain itself. The "thousand-petaled lotus" would then bloom through a trillion frying synapses "and I would know that I am God." With the muscles in my arm still aching from the searing current, this goal seemed suddenly to require re-evaluation. The "anaconda" was more real – and more potent – than I could have anticipated.
The next night I had a dream calculated to reassure my gourd that its contents would not be turned to scrambled eggs. In the dream I was reaching into the top tray of my toolbox for a tool whose name, on reflection, surely carried significance – my "channel-locks." When I touched the tool I felt a dream-version of the kundalini current vibrate my dream-self – though this time not actually zapping my physical body. As I ruminated over this image the next day, the message seemed obvious: "Not to worry: this is just a tool in your kit."
But I did worry, and I’ll tell you why. For the next month, it was as if my entire nervous system had been super-sensitized. If I drank my usual cup of coffee in the morning, for the next several hours I felt like I had taken a half-hit of LSD, so that when I stood outside in the morning light, the distant sand-gullies would pulse and undulate in that peculiar unsettling way known to all patrons of the Acid Queen. I do not like this, Sam I am. I wanted my feet back on solid ground – so I began sneaking off to grab great greasy hunks of KFC at the Colonel’s on the Santa Fe highway. This antidote seemed genuinely to help. Somehow I just no longer believed "the serpent power" was this kid’s way back to God.
My carefully preserved snakeskin stayed tacked to its drying board in Noreen’s attic. Plain leather guitar-straps are cool.
I had another extremely negative "spiritual experience" back when I was first living in my camper and working for a state agency in Santa Fe. In order not to call attention to the fact that I was living in my truck, I usually parked in a different part of town each night. (Later on I got to park indefinitely at an unsold southwestern mansion built by some friends near the Santa Fe Opera.) On this particular Friday or Saturday evening I had gone to see the movie Fantasia for the first time. I came out of the theatre to discover this normally arid city experiencing a tremendous downpour coming in viciously unrelenting sheets. Not good, because – while my pop-top camper had progressed to the point where it could keep snow out – a hard blowing rain like the present poured through in five separate rivulets directly over my sleeping area. Not relishing the thought of spending the night contorted on the bench-seat in the cab, I remembered that I knew where the key to a small toilet-room beside a glass-blowing factory on Canyon Road was kept. One of the workers there was an acquaintance who would surely understand my taking refuge on such a night; besides, I’d doubtless be out before anyone showed up on a weekend. Hauling my already dampened sleeping bag through the window-boot into the cab beside me, I drove slowly, barely able to see through the downpour’s blinding glare. My mind was still haunted by the unexpected image of the gigantic Lord of Darkness so prominently – and jarringly – included in Disney’s masterpiece. What were Satan and a flurry of naked souls swirling like leaves before the tempest doing in a Disney flick?
This section of Canyon Road was lined on both sides with quaint artisan shops where discriminating tourists from all over the world could watch gifted craftsmen produce expensive wares. My acquaintance worked at a partially open-air glass-blowing enterprise, the tiny restroom on one side being reserved for employees. I carefully backed my truck as close as possible to the restroom door without having to step out into a veritable river of rain-splashed water gushing through the parking area. I noticed only one other vehicle in the immediate vicinity, a black sports car apparently parked outside the next shop, which adjoined my target dry-space.
I cut the engine and sat quietly listening to the drumming roar on the camper’s roof for several minutes to see if anyone should appear curious about my arrival. No lights came on, and nothing moved but the streaming black waters.
Rolling my sleeping-bag into as tight a bundle as possible, I decided not to bother locking my truck in case I needed to make a quick departure – then made a dash, leaping most of the streaming water and easily finding the key. I opened and closed the door behind me softly, not wanting to alert the owner of the black car, who might be somewhere in the adjoining building. My flashlight showed a dirty, but dry, concrete floor with just enough room to stretch full length between the toilet and outside wall on the "factory" side. Well, it sure beat my alternatives, so I removed my lace-up waffle-stompers – placing my eyeglasses inside one for easy retrieval – and struggled quietly as possible into my old army-surplus bag. Finally I switched off the flashlight.
In telling what happened next, I am once more faced – not just with the reader’s incredulity – but with the more immediate challenge of describing the indescribable. I had not fully settled where to put my left arm in relation to the base of the toilet when the most unearthly and terrifying vocalization I’ve ever been exposed to came through the half-inch drywall separating me from the adjoining shop. It had to come from a male human throat and was accompanied by a quivering laugh and a sound – as I sat up to begin unzipping my bag – exactly like someone slapping his upper leg in delight.
I said the vocalization came from a human throat, but in no way could this language be classified as human. The syllables – six to ten per second – were incredibly distinct but supersonic beyond imagination. This was not Alvin and the Chipmunks. Nor was it Hollywood demon-guttural. It was no human "tongue." The mental picture communicated by the tone was of a head thrown back in ecstatic but terrifyingly dark praise. Moreover, I had the inexplicable feeling that I was totally exposed – like the very wall separating us was transparent to this being, who seemed to be getting a tremendous charge out of my reactions.
In thirty-nine years as a Christian I have heard my share of what is called "speaking in tongues," but never anything remotely comparable to what I overheard "that dark and stormy night." If the speaker were a mere man "tripping on speed," he still couldn’t possibly articulate the intricate inundation of strange syllables pouring forth three feet from me. On top of the utterly incredible speed and compression of the syllables, there was something in the hysterically euphoric quality of this speaking that froze my blood.
I was accelerating toward supersonic myself, hauling my legs quietly out of the bag, whipping on my glasses and brogans. I was in shock just to know, forever more beyond denial, that "such things" actually walked the earth – drove cars even. I slipped carefully out into the rain, easing the padlock, then the key, into place, and lit out for my truck regardless of the streaming ground. The rain had not abated; my bag and I were half-soaked as I slid behind the steering wheel and jammed the latch on the door the instant it shut. I was stunned. Nothing seemed changed outside as I looked around through the downpour at the restroom door, the adjoining shop and dully-glistening sports car. Still no lights. Then, as God is my witness – the weirdest part of all – I felt the back of my pickup depress like a large man had just climbed onto the rear bumper.
Whooo. Unleashing a string of profanity of my own I lit the fuse on that V8 to spray wet gravel all over the side of that building getting out of there! It might seem funny now, but ‘twas not humorous at the time. My personal catalog of items which must be included in reality just got expanded in a most disturbing way. As if having glimpsed something too dreadful for words, I was strangely haunted by that demonic jabbering for the next three days – weighted down with a feeling of metaphysical horror I couldn’t shake. Nor did I ever bother to return to Canyon Road to investigate this particular ontological mystery further.
continued in reality - part 2
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While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
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