Monday, June 15, 2009

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 13: The Best Laid Plans of Pot Heads

As summer came to a close, I made a visit back you see old friends in Seal Beach. That is where, not long after high school, I had shared an apartment with my brother, who was a biology major at Long Beach State. It was in Seal Beach from 1969 to 1971 that my political radicalism and general anti-establishment outlook were nurtured beyond what they had been during my high school years. This may have been partly due to the fact that virtually everyone I knew and hung around with in Seal Beach were pot smokers and most of us also dabbled in the "recreational" use of other drugs, such as Peyote, Mescaline, LSD, Hashish and uppers. The last on that list, Benzedrine--which nearly everyone in the restaurant business used in order to accomplish our very fast-paced work--I used from time to time while working as a seafood chef at a local restaurant called Walt's Wharf. I lived near both the beach and the restaurant and could walk to work. I handled every kind of seafood all afternoon and evening long. Cats would follow me home at night.

One of my pot-smoking buddies, a close friend, was a moody and very philosophically-minded misfit--a lot like me. Barry and I would spend time together alternately complaining about the way society was arranged, how shallow it and its people were in general, and brainstorming alternative ways of arranging society so life would be less "plastic" and superficial and become more "real." We both fiddled around on guitar and knew a few cords and a few folk and bluegrass songs. One old bluegrass song we sang went like this: Ceegar-eets 'n whusky 'n wild wild women, they'll drive a man crazy, they'll drive him insaaaayne / Once't I was married and had a good waf, I had enough money to last me for laf / I met with a woman, we went on a spree / She taught me to smoke and dree-ink whus-key / Oh, ceegar-eets and whiskey..."

Barry had heard from a mutual friend who'd recently come back from working a crab boat in Alaska. He'd worked for something like two months straight and had made about five-thousand dollars--which in those days was very big money for guys our age. It was difficult and dangerous work, but that dangled jackpot of money was strong incentive for us just then. Barry and I talked it over and decided to North and give it a shot. We collected our resources and came up with enough money to get his old '55 Plymouth station wagon road worthy. Beyond that, we had enough for gas money to get us there--and even a couple hundred to spare. After packing the car with all the provisions we'd need--canned sardines, peanut butter, two cartons of cigarettes, a lid of carefully-hidden pot and some books by Krishnamurti and Dostoevsky, we set out from Seal Beach on a beautiful and mild mid-October day. We hopped on the 405 north and caught the I-5 in San Fernando. Once on the 5 we felt we were truly on our way. It just happened that, this being fire season in southern California, there were several major fires ravaging the foothills north and east of the city. This filled the horizon with billows of reddish brown smoke and darkened the sky. It felt to us like we were escaping a city which was doomed to some long-foretold apocalyptic end. We talked about this as we drove away from L.A. But soon, taking the place of those thoughts, were youthful testosterone-fueled dreams of doing dangerous and manly feats of gritty ocean courage aboard some rugged ship in those deep cold Alaskan waters. We would come back all buffed, sinewy and flush with cash!

One tactical concern of ours was my somewhat unresolved draft status. A year-and-a-half before I had refused induction into the Army and was told my formal indictment would soon follow. It never did--and, as it turned out, never would. Because of this unresolved legal matter, we felt it would be wise to try our crossing into Canada from a minor border town rather than a major one. Our plans had us driving across a good portion of British Columbia in order to get to Prince Rupert, from where we would take a ferry to our destination, Sitka. We decided to skirt a crossing at Vancouver and instead go east via Hwy 546 to where Hwy 9 heads north. We would attempt our crossing at the little border town of Huntingdon, near Abbotsford. Our thought was that the border guards there would be less diligent and watchful for draft-dodgers than at Vancouver. Although I prided myself in being a draft fighter, and not a draft dodger, I knew that my coming into Coming into Canada might look suspicious to the authorities.

As it was, our plan failed on all counts. We were turned away for "lack of financial resources." In short, the Canadian government felt that, should we have a mechanical breakdown, or for any other reason, have problems in reaching Price Rupert, we would have insufficient funds to assure we did not become an undue burden to Her Majesty's Sovereign State. What was required was proof of a U.S. bank account, in one of our names, with at a current balance of least $2,500. That we did not have. Consulting the good old Drawing Board, we decided to look for work in the nearby farming communities bordering Sumas. We felt sure some farm or business could use at least one--if not two--strapping young men as laborers. We approached this and that farmhouse--no luck. We tried getting dishwasher jobs at every little restaurant we could find--no help wanted. We tried gas stations and auto repair shops. We looked in the local paper. No jobs were to be had anywhere it seemed. Reluctantly, and in utter defeat, we pointed Barry's '55 Plymouth wagon back south and headed for home. Sometimes the best laid plans...

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 12: It Soothes the Soul of the Savage Skeptic

As the summer of 1971 was nearing it's still warm--and to me almost magical--glowing end, everything in my immediate world seemed to enter of period of transition. One change, the most significant to me, and the news of which I welcomed as if I'd won the lottery, was that Cher, the seventeen year old young woman I had fallen in love with that summer, broke up with her boyfriend. I had been hoping this would happen and felt our budding relationship could now deepen and grow. I had told her as much in poem form. We began to see each other more regularly now, spending time together horseback riding and often just talking for hours.

Our conversations were most often about Jesus, the Bible, and spirituality as well as current events such as civil rights and the war in Viet Nam. Earlier that summer, she had given me a copy of the album her sister had recorded with her church group, Konoinia. That was the first "new" Christian music I'd heard--except perhaps for a couple songs, spun off from the Jesus Movement, that made it to radio such as Put Your Hand In the Hand of the Man From Galilee and Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky. Attending church with her on Sunday evenings, I had begun to become familiar with contemporary Christian music--the Jesus-People music. I remember Debbie Kerner was the song leader and a soloist at All Saints Episcopal, leading the newly formed congregation of former hippies in choruses of, We Are One In The Spirit, which included the lines, "We will work with each other / We will work side by side / And we'll give up our dignity and crucify our pride / And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love / Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love." This revolution in Christian music seemed to burst upon the late-sixties/early-seventies scene in a rapid proliferation of Jesus People music, composed and performed by groups such as, The Way, Mustard Seed Faith, Love Song, Selah, Blessed Hope and Children of the Day.

This new musical expression of the gospel message, with styles from folk to hard rock, was very controversial and much debated within the "mainline" churches, but had a profound effect on me and many in my generation who had written Christianity off as irrelevant. When we heard our music, we were much more receptive to the message it brought. That message was the same orthodox come-to-Jesus message you'd find at any Billy Graham crusade, only to us much more palatable when filtered through Fender or Peavey amplifiers and accompanied by familiar, contemporary music played by very hip/hippy looking twenty-somethings with joyful abandon and enthusiasm. This music, with its gentle-as-a-dove gospel lyrics about the love of Jesus, cleverly snaked its way, serpent-like, into my soul. This served to contemporize the dusty two-thousand-year-old message of Jesus in a way my twentieth-century mind could grasp and identify with on some level.

Here I should make it clear that, although I had come under what seemed a veritable barrage of Christian influence from every angle, I was, in fact, not any where near being or becoming a follower of Jesus. I was very much a skeptical "outsider"; observing the Jesus People as they gathered, listening to their music, and continuing to read the modern English New Testament I'd been given and challenged to read. At this point, the "alter calls" I sat through at the conclusion of every Sunday evening service were as irrelevant to me as a Don Adams TV commercial for "twenty acres of beautiful pine-covered God's-country mountain property in Big Sky Oregon." Wait. On second thought, I'd have been a much more likely potential customer for that TV-commercial property than for the Jesus gospel acreage they seemed to be offering me on Sunday night.