248 Norton Street

The eventual goal of this journey through the Age of Aquarius is to arrive at the locus which has probably had the greatest impact on my view of the world: 249 Norton Street. This was site of one of the most notorious of all hippie houses ever; think of it as the Haight-Ashbury of the Midwest. Two aspects are going to make these next couple pages of this memoir a little difficult to write up. First, so many of the stories aren't suitable for those with delicate sensibilities. If you'd like, however, let's meet in person and I'd be glad to regale you with tons of unexpurgated tales; who would have ever thought that the Aeon of Norton would be primarily an oral tradition? 

Second, I'm not certain the statute of limitations has run out yet on so many of the escapades. Bearing those two caveats in mind, here are a few remembrances. 

The ultimate destination was 249, but I took a bit of a zig-zag path to get there.  As mentioned earlier, upon coming to Minnesota, I first lived with my brother. This was during my last semester in high school. I started college right away that summer, and so spent my freshman year cohabiting with Bill. The following summer, in 1972, he committed matrimony, and so I moved in with the misfits on Fourth Street. By spring of 1973 we were peremptorily booted out, my roommates and I moving as a body to a house next to campus on Iota Street. Things stayed pretty much on an even keel for a year, but fell apart in the summer of 1974, as we were turned out yet again by a displeased landlord. By this point, none of us could stand each other so we split up.

Somehow I was able to find an enormous house at the end of Norton Street, still reasonably close to campus so I could continue to walk to class. The house number was 248. What a dump! Rent was $100 a month, but the place was a real behemoth, with around six bedrooms. I took the entire downstairs, featuring an enormous dining room, huge octagonal bedroom, gigantic kitchen, living room and who knows what else. Apart from being filthy, it was truly palatial. My library was now overflowing at the brim with all sorts of esoterica. And, oh, I should mention that Winnie, my Alsatian, lived with me as well.

With a place this big, it was only appropriate to acquire a roommate to spread out the costs. My first attempt at this was disastrous. I wound up with a fascist Jesus freak somehow, Brother Denny. In previous entries, I've painted a glowing picture of the Age of Aquarius, but now we get to see just how low it could sink, too. Brother Denny had some colleagues, Brother Dale and Sister Rachel, who visited constantly for prayer meetings. Brother Dale was a halfwit, totally convinced that the Lord intended Sister Rachel to be his wife. Brother Denny had other designs himself and was constantly quoting scripture to prove that's not what the Lord in fact wanted.

Their doxology was an offense in a house otherwise devoted to θέλημα. It also firmly cemented my loathing of all religions, theirs in particular. Somehow I was able to divest myself of these spiritual Nazis by some well chosen magical formulas. I'm relatively certain my performing the Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram had something to do with Brother Denny's decision to hightail it.

There was no way I could afford to run the show by myself, though. By hook or by crook, I would have to find someone to go halves with me. Quite by serendipity I encountered such a person in the guise of an old high school chum. His name was Rog-Baby.

Rog-Baby was a really nice guy. Very quiet in general, he struck me as having little ambition to do much of anything in those days, always underselling himself, but a great listener, possessed of an interesting sense of humor, though rarely smiling.

I well recall when the landlord stopped down from Minneapolis one night to inspect the joint. Rog-Baby and I were sitting in the TV room upstairs watching the Ed Sullivan Show. In order to get decent reception on the television, we had poked a curtain rod through the screen window, connecting up an antenna wire one way or another. When Mr. Sitzman (his name should have been Ebeneezer Scrooge or possibly Shylock would have been even more appropriate) spotted the affair thrust through the hole in the window, he was outraged and blared, "I call this vandalism!"

Rog-Baby turned from Ed Sullivan to me and quietly parroted, "Studs, he calls that vandalism."

We two then resumed watching the program.

Mr. Sitzman got hotter and hotter as he took in the surroundings more fully. "Furthermore, this place is filthy! It's nothing but a dirty house!"

It was at that point 248 Norton acquired its appellation: The Dirty House.

Seeing that his rants were having no noticeable effect upon us, Sitzman lowered the boom, or so he thought. "Look, fellas, I'm already giving you one hell of a break in rent, but you need to fix up the place at once. I'll expect you to paint the exterior this month in addition to your rent, or you're out of here."

I've already mentioned the size of the house. It was enormous, and I faint to even imagine the ladders necessary for such a job. Besides, I wouldn't want to disturb the hundreds of bats who shared the place with us.

So Rog-Baby and I looked at each other placidly, nodded, turned to Mr. Sitzman and spoke in unison, "We're out of here." Even Winnie agreed.

The only trouble was, where to go next. I think Rog-Baby ended up with his parents again, but I had to do some real scrambling. I heard through the grapevine that the place across the street, 249, was going to open up for rent the first of October, but that was still two weeks away. I wasn't sure what to do until then, and was quite nervous. The new quarter had already started at college.

Then out of the clear blue, another old high school buddy, Bonehead, popped up with an offer. He said I could live in a cubbyhole at his mother's place; her name was Rene and she was just nice as could be. What a godsend! It was across the river, perhaps four miles from school and the gymnasium where I took my powerlifting workouts, and I didn't run to a car in those days. But friend after friend poured out of the woodwork, helping me move all my books into storage, giving me lifts to the gym and college, even feeding me. Such was the Age.

It was a very pleasant stay at Rene's abode, three sons living there with her, turning me on to the music of Captain Beefheart, which was to be a signal event in many ways.

October 1st rolled around...and it was on to 249 Norton Street, the most formative event in my nutty life.

Next installment: My Pentagram, My Sybil

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