Wednesday, October 21, 2009

...[Ray returns to Cortland State]...[something] was gone, as were Mona, and her class. Things had changed; my old fraternity had no use for a bad boy relic like me. My brother, Charlie, was there, but there was a distance between us. Frog existed only in memory. I was in a strange transition, almost a dead place, like The Wood Between the Worlds in Narnia. I was not about to go back home. I didn't fit anywhere.

Charlie was graduating; Mom and Dad were coming. It would have been awkward, at best, for all of us, especially me. I had a lot to answer for, like why I wasn't graduating and what I was going to do now. So, like before, I headed for California. I was alone. I had $9.50 in my pocket. I would hitchhike this time, spending days standing by 'the side of the road, rain fillin' up my shoes'.

I knew where I was going: San Fransisco and Berkely and I knew why: to join the hippies. The road had always invigorated and excited me, like when I would hitchhike to Florida on spring breaks.

I eventually got to Frisco, eating food left in rest area resterants, bumming meals, cleaning pots and pans for soup and sandwiches. I dozed under bridges, slept in semis, and nodded in diners. I was adept at warding off hungry, desperate trolls.


1968 + San Fransisco, CA

My landing in San Fransisco was auspicious; I was dropped off on Haight Street, in the then notorious Haight-Ashbury District, heartland of hippies. It was about 3:00am on a balmy humid summer night. I was here, California dreamin', in the flesh. All I lacked were the flowers in my hair. I felt I was home, among my own. I was temporarily adopted by an early-thirties, dope-dealing, hip couple, taken to their opulent, near by pad, fed, and given space to crash. Next day I was party to an STP (concentrated LSD, more or less) capping session, during which we put powder into gelatin capsules. I was invited to help myself, which I did, liberally so. I decided I'd hitch to Berkely, across the Bay.

As I waited for a ride the landscape began to shimmer and shake, undulating uncontrollably; like an earthquake. Most unusual. Things were getting curiouser and curiouser and there was no way I could go ask Alice. Before long, I was in the car of two friendly, collegian hippies and several other hitchers. I was chattering inanely away, with no control of the words coming out of my mouth; an on going stream of verbage.

I was freelancing, free bird letting the words roll without censorship. It must have been a hoot. Everyone in the car was in hysterics; the driver could hardly keep on the road. When I asked one of the other passengers later he said my rap was all about tripping, being crazy, STP, the Army, and the shimmering, all jumbled up and delivered deadpan.

"I ingested too much STP,
And very strange sights did I see,
The shimmering shake,
Was like an earthquake,
I'd arrived, but, oh, woe was me..."

Late Winter + 1968, Berkely, CA

I had been living the hippie life on Telegraph Ave, panhandeling, selling political newspapers,and crashing here and there. I was getting by. I would stand on my spot where one could see the Sixties pass by hour by hour. I wore my Clint Eastwood poncho; my hair fit the organic peacenik I emulated. I would entertain passersby, blowing my garishly painted and laquered pseudo-Japanese 59 cent bamboo flute, doing the Pied Piper routine. I felt I was just where i belonged. As for my music making, I was, after awhile, pretty good at it.

It was the late Sixties and the country was divided. Violence and free-love existed side by side; youthful idealism and repression abounded. There was tear gas during anti-war marches, free rock concerts in Golden Gate Park, wild and wilder psychedelic dancing. Fillmore West in San Fransisco throbbed to the sound of the Dead, the Airplane and Chuck Berry. We exhaulted during communal naked swimming, tribal gatherings, hiking and camping at Yosemite, hitchhiking up and down the West Coast, and partying, lots of partying. What a trip, living the life. Not quite paradise. "All the time I was alone, the past was close behind."

Ominously so.

To all my reveries there was a dark side. This was the same dark side that drove Frog into deep depression and turned his life completely around. This time feelings of terror, lonliness, and low self-esteem gripped me like a steel belt, squeezing my midsection. Thoughts of running away, joining a Zen monestary, or ending it all discolored my footloose and fancy free existence. These wretched reminders of unhappy days sucked the joy out of much of what I did. I came to believe there was something very wrong at my core, like a demon armed against me, destroying the good. I was torn. I, the fun loving, idealistic hipster was cages in Dylan's existential Desolation Row., alone and alienated. While others seemed truly free and happy, I was living in a spiritual vacuum. I felt ashamed. I dropped out of many deep conversations, lest I would be exposed as the man behind the curtain. Acid and its kin left me more wretched than ever.

Unresolved, these thoughts and feelings festered and poisoned what they touched. I knew I was in deep waters and a very hard rain would fall one day. When the rain came, I barely made it through...

There were other ominous signs. Ronald Reagan's martial law, more vicious bikers and professional druggies everywhere. Close friends were getting strung-out on herion, stealing from one another, and becoming secretive and paranoid. The city scene got very heavy, dangerous, and forbidding. Haight Street was by now a frightening mix of the very beautiful and the very ugly. Existing side-by-side were lovely, sweet, friendly people, surly dope-dealing bikers, rapists, teenage runaways, and angry cops. Dog shit, garbage and stink were hard to avoid. Flower children headed to the country, back to the land. Just away. My pal Johnny and I talked about leaving for good. He, however, was a New York City boy and shooting junk was taking him away.


December 31, 1968 + San Fransisco, CA

My Army buddy Max, his wife, his brother Tommy, my girlfriend and I had scored tickets for the all night New Year's Eve party at Winterland, a huge warehouse-like dance and concert hall in San Fransisco. Janis Joplin was performing. We were all decked out: I wore well-shined black leather, high heel Beatle boots and very tight black and gray striped pants. My ensemble was replete with India print, long sleeve Nehru shirt with black silk trim, beads, and a black felt gaucho hat. We were, of course, all smoked up and medicated; I had taken several hits of mescalin.

We all loaded into Tommy's pale purple and blue station wagon; I was riding shotgun, Tommy drove. We were in a festive mood as we motored into the city, nearing Winterland. We were very high.

A screaming police siren yanked us back to earth. We were being pulled over by the California Highway Partol. Not to worry, this would be a brief stop for license check, "back taillight out" or something like that. We would be back on our way in no time. All would be well. No. Tommy freaked out and tossed a clear plastic bag which no one knew he had onto my lap. This bag contained a huge supply of pills, capsules, and powders.

"Throw it out", he yelled. "No'" I said, "we'll get busted for sure>" The chorus began, everyone shouting, "Throw it out, throw it out." I gave in to the pressure, even though I knew we were fucked. The bag sailed ten feet, hit a guard rail and landed near our car. Two young officers approached, one hanging back a bit in case of trouble. The other checked us out, warned us and pretended to let us go. cats and mouses. As we were getting ready to leave, the second cop 'discovered' the bag.

We all landed in San Fransisco City Jail, a high-rise office building that was all hustle and bustle this New year's Eve. Mopes and humps and skells and perps were everywhere. As I was being booked, the mescaline kicked in . I felt like I had ingested way too much " Texas medicine and railroad gin."

What followed could have easily been foreseen: psychedelic light show tripping, voices in unknown languages and dialects, and shimmering circles, squares and trianlges of every color imaginable. I saw misshapen faces that reminded me of reflections in a carnival mirror. I probably would have been cackling like the Witch of the West, were it not for a very serious and pissed-off booking cop. He was consistently hostile. This nastiness seemed to be punishment for the Free Love we professed, which he let slip by. Whether it was or no I never knew. The Three Stooges were meeting Abbot and Costello in my brain while I was being fingerprinted, photographed, searched, and interrogated. During all this, people in the Jail "got uglier and I had no sense of time."

Drug tank, San Fransisco Jail, 1968 became 1969. There was no fanfare, friends, family, or fun. The lack of these was more than compensated for by junkies shooting smack in bathrooms using pins and needles, puking codeine addicts, dry-heaving meth-heads, and out of control speed freaks tearing out hair, Trustees sold the entire pharmaceutical catalogue. I was all but overcome with noise, stink, swearing, and filth. Meanwhile, in a paralell universe Janis was downing her second fifth of Southern Comfort and tearing her lungs out to, "Take another little piece of my heart..."

Everybody else got bailed, having either funds or surety or influence; Tommy and I had to stay. My lady friend and even Tommy's brother abandoned us to our fates. As the days went by, Tommy got lost. Emotionally, that is. He was manic one hour, depressed the next. I felt somehow responsible for him, like a father with his young, frightened son. I constantly tried to reassure him. Perhaps that made it easier for me, although my own future was on the line. To sooth him, I actually let him talk me into copping and taking some acid. In the drug tank! In jail!! Fortunately, we got burned on the deal and never got off.

The assistant district attorney would stop by from time to time to chat. It was as if a well scrubbed missionary were visiting a leper colony. He tried to get a confession out of me and force me to make a deal: I would take the rap because i threw out the dope and the authorities couldn't prove whose it was. I would assume the martyr role in this drama and do some hard time in a place that would make this drug tank look like elementary school.

If I did this, Tommy could go free. All very neat. I had to work like hell to keep Tommy from caving in to the pressure and telling all. "Just stay tight and hold on." I told him. I had no plan, but the option of being a shower buddy of some very bad actors didn't particularly appeal to me. Captivity day 5 passed, then days 6, 7, 8, and 9. This business was definitely getting old. I was starting to weaken. I was beginning o consider taking the deal.

Day 10, the DA paid us a visit. I was positively floored, absolutely amazed to hear the DA say:
"Gill, Tommy, you can go. We're dropping the charges." Not content to simply take him at his word and wondering whether this was a trick, I asked why. "We have too many cases; it's the New Year; we're clearing our docket."

With that, in the evening of day 10, Tommy and I were free men, back on the street and going home. I had dodged a cannon ball aimed directly between my eyes. This time it was not some irate Dean because I had pulled a fraternity prank. No. This was heavy-duty, serious stuff. I would have been a convicted felon; law school and a very limited future were on the line. This would include reporting to a parole officer, no travel, and the prospect of hard time should i fuck up in the days to come, even inadvertently. It was time to get out of Dodge, and stay out.

"I always did end up in jail,
and paid for my sins, without fail,
but the day the DA
said "go on your way"
I was saved from becoming jail tail.

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