Friday, November 6, 2009

Unashamed Hippy II


By E. J. Brunton

At eighteen, hoping to kill two birds with one stone, I left the bosom of my family and struck out for California. I would spend the next year at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.

Art Colleges didn’t indulge in the hazing and frosh antics that Queen’s University did, so I could kill off that distasteful bird. The second bird was my burning desire to be an artist.

A year at the college was enough to kill that one too. I saw early on that while I loved to create I just didn’t have the dedication the other students possessed and creating what someone else told you to wasn’t - well, very creative.
It was 1961 and the Flower Child Movement was in full swing. Golden Gate Park overflowed with dreamy, long-haired hippies in their colorful garb.

Smooth-pated, saffron-robed Hari Krishnas chanted in time to their chiming bells.

Timothy Leary extolled the virtues of lysergic acid diethyl amide, commonly known as acid or LSD.

Ubiquitous coffee houses sprouted overnight in North Beach and “happenings” were staged nightly.

The City Lights Book Store had telephones on every table. Each table was numbered so you could make a discreet call to another client that caught your fancy. Ginsberg was there; and Kerouac too.

Barefoot Baez would make appearances from time to time at some local hotspot, usually shadowed by Dylan. My room-mate gained notoriety once it was learned that she had gone to high school with Bob in Brooklyn.

In the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco Free Stores abounded. You could get your dinner, a couch with no cushions, and a nearly-new pair of shoes with one quick stop.

Free love spawned lots of little Flower Children. Free Clinics looked after the venereal diseases and drug addictions that it spawned too.

Employment agencies were set up especially for these undesirable hippies, some of whom strangely wanted to work. The prospective employers would most likely be bohemians themselves who used the barter system in payment or bleeding-heart liberals who secretly admired the free and easy life style, but lived it only vicariously.

We art students made pilgrimages to this Mecca every chance we got. North Beach and Chinatown were our favorite haunts. We would buy five cents worth of bologna; then we would scavenge left-over rolls from the outdoor patio at Finnochio’s. Lunch was taken cross-legged on the grass in the park.

Thinking the fifty-cent greeting cards outrageously expensive, we copied down the verses and made our own.

And we could nurse a cup of coffee for hours listening to some of the best musicians that the jazz and folk scene had to offer.

Concha Laine, the daughter of Frankie Laine, famed for his rendition of “Ghost Riders”, was our classmate and he often visited the school.

I was in awe of my drawing teacher, Ralph Borges, who was featured in Time Magazine, the year I left.

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, lame and blind, came to give a free concert at the school.

I learned to make silver jewelry and Found Sculpture from discarded objects, to paint with a stick instead of a brush and greatly improved my drawing skills. I learned that, unfairly, only female models took ALL their clothes off in the Life Drawing Class.

I had never had a room-mate and was not prepared for Laurie, from Brooklyn. She was short and brown with shiny-black hair and bright- blue eyes. She shaved off her eye brows and never cleaned her side of the room. Her sheets fell to tatters when the dorm mother forced her to wash them - for the first time - at the end of the year. There just wasn’t time to attend to these mundane tasks when there were poetry and songs just waiting to be written, guitars to be played and music to compose.

We dorm kids would talk for hours as we listened to Ravi Shankar, Theodore Bikel, or my favorites, The Carter Family. Folk Music was “de rigueur” and everyone had a guitar.

One night I was supposed to go to the movies with Becky and Ann, two girls from the dorm, but I begged off at the last minute.

Just down at the corner they were hailed by a man in a car and offered a ride. Anne got in but Becky wouldn’t. Before Anne could get out again the man drove off with her as Becky stood helplessly by. Anne was raped at gun point and held hostage for several hours.

Becky was able to draw a picture of the perpetrator which was broadcast nation wide and he was caught. By then Ann had escaped and next day her parents took her out of school.

It was an exciting era for a small-town girl and I have never quite recovered from it. I’m just an aging hippy and there seemed to be no cure; at least not until tonight.

Over 40 years have passed and I am looking at a television program about Haight-Ashbury in the sixties. How silly it all seems now! The make-shift weddings in the park; the wedding feast laid out on a blanket consists of a loaf of Wonder Bread in its blue and yellow plastic bag. The squalor of the drugged-out kids sitting listlessly on the street bundled in filthy quilts doesn’t look so appealing, now. The long, flowing hair looks greasy, the colorful garb, shabby.

The musical, Hair, which I watched a few days later, is Hollywood’s cleaned up eulogy to those times.
The much-touted peace and love that would save the world never came to pass. The visions of a time when everything would be free are gone forever, replaced by more sinister things like crack and cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and date-rape drugs.

It really was more innocent then in the time of Love and Haight.

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