Lunar Finance

In the beautiful redwood country of Sonoma County, California, a group of our friends had bought a mountainside ranch across the road (& up the mountain).  A few families, couples & individuals lived on it in some old farmhouses and a geodesic dome they’d made from barn siding, making sure the large grape crop stayed healthy enough to harvest and sell to a well-known winery in town.

Not that any of these folks would touch alcohol.  LSD eye drops, sure, psilocybin mushrooms, naturally, marijuana — well, if they could grow grapes there, take a wild guess. For minor personal use only, though.

One thing these folks had in common was that many of their initial mutual contacts resulted from attending the same fairly prestigious college together.  Another was that, like quite a few other locals, they’d developed what seemed (to me, anyway) pretty intense interests in astrology.

Astrology was an interesting element in the hippy lifestyle.  On one hand, it posits interconnectedness on a pan-galactic scale.  On the other hand, it assumes differences that separate people into classifiable groups.  I always found it strange to hear someone say something like, “Oh, he’s a Gemini – I couldn’t ever get along with him,” as if espousing a kind of cosmic racism.

I only bring up this planet-based faith regarding how the universe operates because of one particular visit up to the ranch. As night fell, while we were all finishing a delicious very-natural foods dinner, there was excited talk.  Full moon tonight!

Now it’s true that the night skies in that area at that time could be awesome to behold; look straight up, and it looked like you were in a gigantic circus tent made of stars. Planetarium-quality stuff. And it’s true watching them for awhile could certainly feel like there was some kind of message of orientation in the local universe being beamed down. A telescope and a little knowledge of the physical cosmos could have been a groove.

But no one around the table was thinking about a sky show.  It seems they all took it for granted that if you held your open wallet up to a full moon, money would come your way. It was apparently a well-known fact.

I’d never been aware it was that easy.

It got darker & the moon rose.  We all went outside and away from the lights.  Everybody   took out their wallets and held them out, open, under the big shining moon.  Then we went back inside. There was no chanting, no prayer or incantation, but still, standing with all these well-educated hippies, I felt like I was participating in some mysterious, possibly ancient ritual.

Just a really stupid one.

(And no sudden windfalls came my way either.)

Hands Across the Waterpipe

 

Strait Into Africa

Somehow, we’d managed to meet up with Hamid and Abdu — I thought of them as Yogi and Booboo — who we’d met the week before on the ferry that took us from Malaga, Spain across the Strait Of Gibralter and over to Morocco. They happened to be Moroccan, were winningly friendly, and like us seemed to be in their very early twenties. With just enough usable Spanish between us along with the helpful Arabic words Hamid wrote down in a little notebook, we managed to communicate in a surprisingly detailed fashion, hitting it off and vowing to see each other again.  And now, about a week later, upon arriving in their home city of Meknes, we’d miraculously met up with them right as scheduled, on the outskirts of the maze-like medina (casbah).

Meknes seemed kind of scary — the kind of place where you might expect to be grabbed and sold into the slave trade or some other swarthy old movie trope. It did not possess the charm or openness of similar areas in Fez or other cities we’d been seeing.  And we were heading deeper into it as the day grew later and darker.

First we were taken into a small teahouse where grizzled Moroccan men sat in a big circle around a fire in the middle of the floor, as if in an Arab tepee.  Goatskin-covered musical stringed instruments hung on the walls. Fresh mint tea was poured. A pipe that was essentially a small hollowed-out branch was passed around the circle.  Each cross-legged man would attach a little clay bowl to the end, fill it with kif (cannabis flowers), smoke it up, and toss the empty bowl into the fire.  The only females there were the two in our party of four traveling Americans, My Future Ex-Wife and a young woman accompanying a home-town friend who was along for half of the journey, with the only local representative of sisterhood the silent downward-gazing woman pouring the tea.

We were invited to Hamid’s home for dinner.  Apparently they were quite well off (which explains how the two friends had managed to be outside the country at all, a privilege allowed to very few Moroccans in the early 1970s). Hamid’s father owned a bunch of farmland surrounding the city. This didn’t mean they had things like electricity or a telephone, but then, as in other cities, that was mostly restricted to the old colonial French district.

The entrance to their home was a sudden nondescript opening in one of the many featureless mud-clay walls we were led along. But stepping inside, the scene was fairy-tale ethno-history fantasy: a fountain in the midst of a charming tiled courtyard, leading to lamp-lit, cushion-filled rooms.  Grandma loaded coal into a clay cooker and prepared a feast that everyone ate in the traditional finger-style manner, balling up some couscous and tossing the balls into our mouths (although the teenaged daughter of the family had a great time popping a ball into my mouth with a red-hot pepper in it — I thought Grandma would bust a gut laughing at that one as smoke and flames were probably shooting out my ears).

Hamid told us that after dinner we’d meet up with Abdu and some of their other friends for something special that we would surely like. He asked if we would like some hashish cookies for later; we said we’d surely like that.

So we set out through the dark, deserted passageways of this ancient neighborhood, guided by the beam of Hamid’s flashlight, stopping alarmingly at some sinister corner among quick whispery shouts In Arabic and on/off flickers of flashlights to, it turned out, meet up with the friends (phew!). This was the first and perhaps only time we saw any Moroccans who were wearing casual Western-style clothes rather than traditional djellabas (long hooded robes).  We then proceeded en masse until finally we reached a small building, somewhat apart from the others and dark except for the upper floor, and were quietly led inside.  We climbed a flight of stairs and were ushered through a curtained doorway. The whole way there, our hosts and the few friends they’d met up with along the way, lurking around the sinister corners, all seemed paranoid that they might be spotted, and there’d been much checking over shoulders by the young Arabs, although we never saw a sign of another soul.  We, on the other hand, were paranoid because it seemed just the sort of scene where one might get killed or kidnapped and we never saw a sign of another soul. 

Passing through the curtains brought us into a fun-house-mirror version of what had been going on on the other side of the world, the collision of cultures counter and otherwise we’d just come from in America, thousands of miles – and seemingly years – apart.  Young adult Moroccans, both male and female, were gathered in this dim, candle-lit room – another unusual social aspect in this particular corner of the universe. They sat or lounged on cushions on the floor. The atmosphere was warm, calm, and happy, very much like a classic “underground” bohemian hangout. Peace signs and the words “PEACE” and “LOVE” were painted in day-glo on the walls. This in a country where we’d seen no evidence of any coverage of the Vietnam War, no mass media, and where most people spoke zero English.  And they were all getting together to peacefully laugh, converse intimately, and get high…on wine.  The forbidden fermented fruit.  We were handed our “cookies” (they seemed like large chunks of hashish covered with crystallized sugar) but the psychoactive portion of this ritual was being fulfilled for the Moroccans by passing around the illegal-in-Islam alcohol.  Sometimes “different” is clearly a matter of perspective.

Some rebellion is socially motivated.  Some relates to behavior from being a certain age.  Some can be an echo of some wild freedom heard of from far-away rumors.  But what is actually rebellious is also highly subjective.

Whatever was going on here (and obviously these young people were no longer remotely young by the time Morocco started producing any young jihadists), we saw compelling, if not clear, evidence that this isolated segment of the “younger generation” had somehow, somewhere – as if through some kind of cultural quantum mechanics – gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Crazy Man, Crazy

My teenage garage band, via our bass player’s uncle, got invited to play at a mental

Creedmoor State Hospital

institution.

For the inmates.

Creedmoor Hospital had been a well-known asylum in the New York area for quite awhile.  It had long ago entered the local lexicon as an alternate for the almost-Kleenex-genericized Bellevue, in such provincial New York declarations as “They should send you to Creedmoor” or “I’m gonna wind up in Creedmoor.”  But now it was 1967, and there was a cultural/political/psychological stream of thought questioning the exact meaning of insanity in a possibly insane (cf. Viet Nam, racial strife, materialism, inter-generational suspicion) society.

We had already played at the NY World’s Fair, not to mention the opening of the very first eight-track tape store, so who were we to refuse one more oddball gig?  Apparently this

The new 8-Track craze! (Billboard Magazine); zots on far left

was some kind of experiment to see what kind of effect we’d have, if any, in therapeutic — or even entertainment — terms on the locked-up and catatonic.

A few of us had recently gotten into the habit of getting high (on marijuana—cf. 1967, statute of limitations, we had medical need) before playing.  In other words, we were feeling a bit crazy ourselves, which we were fine with, not a pejorative thought was thought.  A couple of particularly sexy 17-year-old girls we knew came along with us, and as we approached the main building, inmates poking through their barred windows up above called down with suggestions, pleas & gestures that introduced me to a whole new level of drooling lasciviousness. We were weird, the place was weird, and unknown territories lay ahead. As we ducked into a bathroom, freaking out, my bandmate’s image blurted out to my image in the mirror over the sink, in the stoned parlance of the time, “This is insane!” The clinical truth, the obvious “duh!”-ness of his observation, quickly had us laughing like mental patients.

We did two shows.  R.D. Laing would’ve been proud.  You didn’t need a medical degree to see that the audiences were pretty far-gone.  We began playing psychedelic folk-blues-rock.  Patients who’d started out looking, at best, blank and dissociated started to respond almost immediately. Lots of smiles, then tapping hands and moving feet.  We were later told that some of these patients hadn’t smiled, spoken, or moved on their own for at least six months.  Before long, some of those who could get it together were up and dancing, and the really lucky men among them were dancing with the girls who’d come with us.  It was a party!  Madhouse Rock!

A male orderly started talking to us during our between-set break.  Turned out he was an inmate too, though he seemed quite capable.  He was a black man, younger than most of the others we saw there, who had managed to get sent to the hospital instead of jail after being busted with heroin.  He told us that within the hospital he could still obtain just about any drug he wanted, and also that he could play a few chords on the piano and sing soul music.  That was good enough for us — we invited him to sit in for a couple of songs.

Sure enough, when the second audience was wheeled in, our orderly piano player started singing tunes like “Respect” and “Knock On Wood”, and sounding really good.  We had fun playing behind him, and the crowd was sure digging seeing the guy who collected their laundry or whatever belt out a few.  As we continued on with our usual material, getting louder and louder as we were wont to do over the course of a gig, the energy level ratcheted up.  Dancing, clapping, happy miracles were taking place all around us.

Some of the patients had relatives there for the festive occasion, standing off to the side, along with some of the doctors.  As the place began to resemble a staging of Marat/Sade at the Fillmore, someone’s quite elderly lady relative, dressed in her best Margaret Hamilton-in-Oz outfit, decided this kind of tomfoolery was far too loud, far too much excitement, far too much in general.  She started complaining about the volume, first to no one in particular, then to the doctors.  As nobody seemed to be taking interest in her concerns, she started hitting one of the doctors over and over with her handbag, yelling “Make this stop!  Make this stop!”   She tried grabbing her related inmate, who wanted nothing to do with her and twisted away.  So she went back to beating on and screaming at the doctors, and even escalated her righteous indignation during the comparative silence when we finished whatever tune we’d been playing.

The staff didn’t know what to do.  They seemed on the verge of shutting the whole thing down just to shut this woman up, when the patients spontaneously turned against her.   They began booing her. They yelled things at her. One man even went up and tried to wrest her pocketbook away from her while she was still using it as a weapon against the doctors.  Pandemonium was breaking loose, as they’d say on the wrestling show on TV back then (named, oddly enough, “Bedlam From Boston” after another old insane asylum).

As much as I would’ve enjoyed seeing her jabbed with a needle containing something calming — maybe a valium-tipped blow-dart — we decided to play a couple of slower, softer, gentler songs to cool out the vibe while we tried to ignore this unofficial guardian of everyone’s sanity.   It worked, too, except the girls we brought had a bit of a problem putting off the patients who wanted to slow-dance with them.  Some of these guys looked big, potentially dangerous, and certainly horny. Then, when we knew our allotted time was almost up, we launched into a very loud, fast, long version of The Blues Project’s “Wake Me Shake Me,” all distorted guitar and screaming vocals. Heavy-mental music, no head banging. The place went wild, in just the right way, then when it ended everyone calmly — and happily, it appeared — got led back to their quarters.

And, unlike them, we were permitted to go home.

Open And Say “Aarrghh!!”

 

Fillmore East showing 2/11,13-14/70

On Wednesday, February 11, 1970, I entered New York City’s Fillmore East for a late-night rock concert.  By the time it was over and I was back on Second Avenue, it was well after 5 the next morning.   People were looking pretty spacey as they exited into the cold pre-dawn, taking a few tentative steps one way and then switching directions, or wandering randomly out into the street, or just standing and gazing around.  It was kind of like a countertop of wind-up penguins in slow motion, vaguely bumping into each other on the way to no place in particular.

The show just ended had climaxed with a long jam, mostly around the Bobby Bland tune “Turn On Your Lovelight”, densely populated by the Grateful Dead and most of the main players from the original versions of the Allman Brothers Band and Fleetwood Mac — up to a dozen musicians boogying away improvisationally at any one time.  (The concert did eventually become the stuff of legend in its limited way.)

[Historical Interest side note: Due to the coincidental semi-renown of this concert, it behooves me to name those exceptional musicians actually onstage during said massive jam, at least six of whom are no longer with us. Here goes: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Pigpen, Bill Kruetzmann, Mickey Hart, Duane Allman, Greg Allman, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, Peter Green, Danny Kirwin, Mick Fleetwood, & Arthur Lee.]

 

A minyan of jammers

During this display, despite the enthusiasm of some audience members, I sat in my seat with an increasing sinking feeling.  I assumed it was some combination of psychedelic side-effect and bad mood, but by about 6:30 a.m., when I’d returned uptown to the freezing Columbia University campus, I was also experiencing the most searing sore throat of my life.

After crossing Amsterdam Avenue to get to St. Luke’s Hospital, which was what  Columbia students used for an infirmary, my sneaking suspicion was confirmed by a doctor.  Actually, all he said was, “You know what you’ve got, don’t you?”  Having remembered the near-epidemic of mononucleosis that’d gone around New York State, mainly at colleges, I knew to croak, “Mono?”  And so it was that I was moved up to my own hospital room, mono a mono.

The room was on the cruddy side of dilapidated.  If the author Ludwig Bemelmans had wound up in a hospital room like this, he probably would have written of little Madeline imagining the cracks in the ceiling looking like the asshole of a dragon rather than a bunny.  I was in tremendous pain.  I had a fever of 105.  I was tired from being up since the previous morning.  And I was suddenly faced with the shock of being confined to bed for over a month, not to mention unable to swallow.

Despite the exhaustion and whatever pain meds I’d been given, I couldn’t sleep.  I just lay there pathetically, semi-delirious, through the rest of the morning, then the afternoon, the evening and on into the night.  There was no TV, in case you’re wondering.  Those hallucinations were mine.  Finally, somewhere past 2 a.m., I drifted off.  Almost immediately (as far as I could tell), I was awakened by a rather large (I’m being polite rather than saying big and fat) black nurse.

“C’mon, honey,” she said brusquely.  I looked around.  It was clearly the middle of the night.  My room was dark.  The hallway also appeared dim and deserted.  It was quiet.

Almost too quiet.

“Huh?”  I managed.

“You gettin’ an enema,” I was informed.

“Wh-wha?”

“You gotta get cleaned out.”

I’m not sure I even knew just what an enema was, but I soon found out.  The massive woman led the weak, skinny white boy into the little private en suite bathroom and proceeded to clean me out.  And I don’t mean financially.  My wordless yet vocal discontent with the process bothered her not a bit.

I wouldn’t have thought it would still be possible to ruin my night, but this act of cleansing, whether medical, ritual or sexual, had certainly managed.  I was stunned.  And supremely bummed.

Hours later, when My Future Ex-Wife came back to visit me (as my girlfriend, she’d been with me at the concert and afterward helped me get to the hospital before heading off to classes herself), I used whatever voice I could muster to tell her what happened.  She went out to the desk to enquire about my wee-hours procedure and was told they had no record of any such thing.  They further revealed that not only was there no reason to enemize a mono patient, but nothing whatever was scheduled for anyone during the night…and they had no nurse working there at night who even remotely fit the description.

Oops.  Or shall we say yikes.

If the newspaper still offered $5 for sending them a “My Most Embarrassing Moment” story, this would be my submission.