Synthesis

If you're still with me in this highly self-indulgent memoir, you've followed my footsteps from babyhood on up though my kissing the Age of Aquarius good-bye. I'm around 30 years old at this point in the tale and ready to start life as an academic prostitute.

Before branching off in other directions, it occurred tonight that a pulling together of Ab Initio, Pubescence, The Gang and Aquarian Days might not be amiss; did I really learn anything? Well actually, you might not want this as much as I do; if not, go write your own memoir!

So what follows jumps back in time to each of the four sections just mentioned, while searching for a common thread. The eras leap to and fro, from youth to middle age and back again; I hope that doesn't throw you off. But really, it's the theme more than the chronology that matters so.

Think of it as synthesis devoid of calendar.

There's humor in this, of course, since right from the get-go I viewed society (and its red-haired stepchild, religion) as little more than a punchline to a dirty joke whispered in the school-yard. It also provides a few missing pieces to the puzzle should you be of an inquisitive inclination. And, it seems only right to recall some of the kind and generous tutors who convinced me to trust only my own instincts and never to forget Oscar Wilde's astute,

It is only the sacred things that are worth touching.
Though I wouldn't read those words until perhaps 1974, I intuitively understood the real meaning of sacred early on and and knew that the game was afoot even then.

Many characters appear in this story, but in truth it's really the tale of a single person only, the one I've always looked for.

It really is an affidavit of the heart.

But why now? Most assuredly when I join the Choir Eternal, I will want to be memorialized for dropping my trousers at the People's Fair in 1989, picking Riff's nose on stage in Butterfield, and especially for penning my magnum opus, "The Dining Room Floor." I'd also be delighted if there's a student or two who got something useful from me along the way, and I don't necessarily mean from course content.

But most of all, remember me as one who never gives up, ever the Taurus. I really feel we should live our lives as though there's an infinite number of years ahead. There's always next time to get it right...

 
It's so traditional to start a story at the beginning, or to start it at the end and work backwards. How 'bout if I commence in the middle? Not so long ago, after what seemed a lifetime of lethargy of custom, as our esteemed patron saint Oscar Wilde so elegantly phrased it, I pined. Really pined. I was smart enough to remember Lady Chatterley from some four decades previous, and also knew that De Sade, Zola and Flaubert were reporters, not novelists. Yet the fiction of my life during this Dark Night of the Soul had fallen far short of what they predicted. Stupid really to have let it happen, but society had beaten cowardice into me those middle years.

And yet around that time, a tune taunted. This seems like exactly the right place to introduce it:


Factory gates are up ahead,
I wish that I was home in bed, with you my love...
and
I was born a lover, not a worker,
Money doesn't smell like sweet perfume...
Indeed, I worked in the very factory Steppenwolf sang of. I refer not to my professional circumstance by the way, although I could be. I have more or less forgiven myself for selling out to a school I shouldn't have in a weak moment. After all, whoring myself to college administrators got me some pretty good vacations out west to the grasslands.

Okay, that's the middle of the story and by now you're thinking this is nothing more than whining. Well, hang onto your hats, for the trajectory is completely parabolic! It begins with infinity and ends with infinity, the dull vertex lying smack-dab in the middle.

It must have been sometime around seventh grade when I first noticed half of my classmates joining a new sorority called "the opposite sex." Previously (described in A Chink in the Armor) as Patty and I played with our pet toads, I might have noticed a couple differences here and there (especially the bouffant nylon stuff that boinged her skirt out four feet in diameter), but really, "schoolfellows" was a non-sexist term then.

That was the first lesson: to mingle with someone curious about nature. (However, big fat bumblebees were right out, you might recall from the episode.) I've known way too many people since then who view curiosity as a character flaw.

But something waxed very different in junior high. At the heart of it was rock and roll, of course. Back to the tune from above:

On the radio, they're playin' love songs,
Songs that make me want to turn around...
Yes, music has always been my lifeblood. It speaks to the romantic and speaks to the mathematician, both of whom want to understand. Synonyms really. Not fully evolved yet, in those days music was little more than a premise. The conclusion of the syllogism was yet to come...

Girls.

Note the plural. By ninth grade, it was always girls. Not a girl. In other words, as a neophyte, I saw myself only as part of a crowd attempting to flag down another crowd. Sort of like the stranded aviators of a ditched airplane on a Pacific island during World War II waving furiously to rescue crews crisscrossing at 10,000 feet above searching for survivors. (That last sentence probably begs for a comma, but unlike Oscar, I don't even have the vigor to put it in let alone take it out again later on.)

While intuitively I knew I was heading down a path eschewed by teachers, ministers, and even classmates, it still seemed like at least one member of that other 50% might step forward similarly and take my hand.

It never happened, and naively at the time I supposed it might have been my scrawny appearance to blame. It hadn't dawned on me that lavatory pranks wouldn't secure universal admiration.

To tell you the truth, I never really reached out myself either, but there were two near-misses, to stick with the aviation analogy just a bit longer. For a nanosecond or so, I almost let my crotch do the thinking and considered approaching Jo-Ellen for a movie date. Looking back on junior high days, I'm glad I funked it. While definitely the cutest girl in the ninth grade, I suspected she had fallen under a malignant Christian curse (despite her reputed propensity to stuff her bustier with Kleenex). My misgivings turned out to be accurate. Three years later, she was primary witness to the grand defenestration escapade and quizzed me about it that night while I was clerking at Hy-Vee.

But as for the conjectured movie date, the imps shrieked into my right ear this time, "Run!" And I did. It seems my whole life has been one of accurate hunches. Or does it? It just occurred, nobody remembers Edgar Cayce's failures. But this time, things worked out.

And that was the second lesson learned. In the words of The Book of the Law:

The word of sin is restriction.
On the other hand, Laurie was a horse of a different color. Or absence of color. She had long blonde hair so wan that it was white. Kind of a strangely proportioned face in some ways, but so exquisitely framed by hair to the shoulders, expressive brows and naturally red lips perpetually curved in a smile, that she evoked instant attraction. Her visage was probably the sort the Pre-Raphaelites would have clamored over, if some henna had been thrown in as a sweetener. Another possibility would have been her taking on the role of Marcia Brady, had that TV show been set in Iowa.

More to the point from this ninth-grader's point of view: miniskirts had just attained a Midwestern vogue and Laurie, living in the new ritzy subdivision south of town famed for lavishing riches on its offspring, modeled the shortest of the short skirts imaginable. And she had an amazing set of pins, to be sure. Uncle Percy Spillinger would have fallen apoplectic.

One sight of those comely tanned gams sprouting from a miniskirt, and I grabbed my guitar, pencil and pad and began to compose. I should mention that by this age, ninth grade, I had written some five or six songs, mostly benign in nature and certain not to raise an eyebrow. I was still working from the precept: folk music is evil and sets a young person down the wrong path.

It just occurred to me that guitar lessons for youngsters should focus on The Fugs, not Joan Baez. At least in America where gullibility runs riot.

Despite my timid start in music, eyeballing Laurie's glorious bronzed thighs, emerging mostly unhidden from that tiny bit of fabric so popular in those days, compelled me to pen a paean.

Call it poetry, or call it code-talking, I knew I had better couch my lyrics in something sure to pass my mother's censorious eye should it fall upon them. So here's how the allusions came to pass.

This was the year that McDonald's burger stands really took off with print, radio and television ads. And their restaurant structures featured a standardized motif now.

Simultaneously, by then I had read a number of romance novels (such as Candy and several other gems from Grove Press) and had even perused some exotic literature from Denmark thanks to brother Bill. Though actualization lay two years in the future, I truly did understand the notion of forbidden fruit. I wanted to taste of it myself, and that's no metaphor.

But in the meanwhile, while dreaming of what the future held, the lyric, "...eating at the Golden Arches" in my little masterpiece would have to suffice. That's okay. It's good for a teenager to set goals.

I well recall keeping my notebook of this and other scandalous lyrics hidden in the nether regions (seems appropriate) of my mother's cheap-ass faux hutch cabinet. The folio doesn't exist now, and I can't recall if I ever reclaimed it by college days. Maybe my ma found it and despaired of me. Who knows? In any event, that song no longer exists. Not to worry. It was only the first of many to make me persona non grata in Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama.

Third lesson learned, again from The Book of the Law:

I give unimaginable joys on earth...
Anticipating outrage from critics who might accuse me of confusing "mere" sexual passion with love, this might be a good time to counter with something from the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray:
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.
I just read that Laurie is gone now, passing away a year ago. My first muse in many ways, though she never knew it, of course.

High school now, with all the concomitant aches that implies. De Sade entered my life then, thanks to Sheel-Teat; that was important. The whole society-versus-the-individual thing was coming into focus as well, and I was getting quite good at reading body language to detect those who had gone over to the Dark Side.

Case in point: Nita's friend, Marilyn, of whom more in just a moment.

As I've written in On Patience, Nita always sort of baffled me. No girls had ever paid me the slightest attention as a potential suitor before, but for whatever reason Nita always seemed intrigued--maybe even amused--with the fact I was constantly being yanked out of class for tête-à-têtes with Beetface. What always had me scratching my head is that ostensibly she seemed a part of the "do what you're told" club, and certainly would never get in trouble herself. Even more striking was the fact she never showed the least trepidation in engaging a hood like me in conversation, always laughing and smiling. That really made her stand out. Crazy.

But, her best friend Marilyn...ah, I had her pegged from the very start. A dainty silver crucifix depended from her neck. And, quite fitting, foul winces and grimaces painted her dour face whenever I entered the room. Moreover, she definitely had the protective spirit.

One time I bumped into Nita at TacoTime, a fast food restaurant that had opened recently. (Mexican entrees were quite new to my hometown then.) We sat down at one of the cheap plastic picnic tables in the venue to chit-chat about nothing in particular. It was fairly obvious we were both a little nervous in the usual girl-boy spirit of growing up, but equally obvious was that we wanted to at least take another peek.

And then Marilyn, who worked at TacoTime, just got off duty. Still wearing her goofy red and yellow apron, skirt and hat, she plopped down at our table and proceeded to wedge this way and that, ever closer to Nita, building an irritating rampart between us. Subtlety was not her strong suit, but then it never is in those whose only aim in life is to grow up to be someone else's prophylactic.

I might mention that Marilyn pulled the same trick every time Nita and I met. Some people are just prone to be self-appointed chaperons, especially if others are having fun. Thanks to all the meddling, Nita and I never were given a chance to explore.

Marilyn's bad example rapidly unveiled the gigantic rift between love and its natural enemy, religion. I was really starting to formulate a philosophy then, and it centered around the notion that something so natural as attraction and affection should never be the concern of outside parties. Thus, the next lesson:

I never take any notice of what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do.
The speaker here, of course, is Oscar's irrepressible Lord Henry.

Incidentally, this was to be a recurring pattern later in life, too. I've always seemed to draw the attention of the chaperon rather than the inamorata. I blame Reagan.

But then, and rather unexpectedly, the real deal occurred round a flaming old elm tree. Of course, I refer to the magickal episode of On Patience. That was when Christy taught me one of the most important lessons of all: love is gentle, love is sweet.

Love is trust.


Which calls to mind that era of (age seventeen or so) living on Lake Tetonka just as I started college.

I recall, oh so vividly, that summer spent there shortly after my great migration northward, warm sun-drenched days, no responsibilities, all alone, since Bill was at work twenty-five miles away during the daytime. Sand and swimming, shirtless, unshowered, unshaven for long stretches, surrounded by books: astrology, ceremonial magic, talismans, augury, Tarot, and of course, some De Sade. So much to learn...so much to dream of...

We had a silver vinyl covered phonograph, rather primitive by today's standards, but fairly loud and with a decent enough bass response. Earlier in the week, Bill had bought a couple records from Musicland. He made his selection based purely upon the album covers, not knowing anything of the group responsible. This was the pair of LP's by the rock band Savage Grace.

Playing them over and over, I was hooked. As a rule, I rarely listened to groups popular among the hobbledehoy. Here, it seemed, was a band no one knew of, at least in our neck of the woods. They were insanely good and insanely original, mixing a distinctly classical feel in with many of their songs yet prosecuting them with distorted guitars and raucous rock and roll.

The song that made me sit bolt upright (the only type of upright worth sitting to) was Lady of the Mountain, from their second album. The musical intervals employed in the lead vocals were so different from anything I had ever heard before: melodic, mystical, plying, suggesting promise, hinting at ecstasy, passionate, grateful. And yes, a musical passage really can do all that, no words required, although the words to this tune are quite evocative as well.



Remember, I was but a lad of seventeen years old, with a whole new world unfolding before me, a world that was looking more and more mystical by the moment, deep, exotic and fascinating, but only to those with eyes, to those willing just to watch and not utter a peep. I so wanted to meet the Lady of the Mountain. I fell in love with her then and there, even though she was always just on the verge of fading if I stared too hard through the mist to find her, finger tip to finger tip, breaking off with a sigh, she urging, "try again." Does Babbitt's Fairy Child come to mind?

Since then, for more than forty years, I have sought her. Foolishly, there were stretches of time in which I forgot about her, or was too busy to notice she lurked just round the corner imploring me to wake up and see her, or simply lost faith that she truly existed. I was almost seduced by reality. The only thing I want seducing me is the Lady of the Mountain. 


Not surprisingly, Mars Bonfire entered my life about then and helped bring deep meaning to an apparently random event. I would normally send you to the horse's mouth, but in this case, you really should hear Steppenwolf's version instead, given how their magnificent arrangement skills took a great song and turned it into a masterpiece. I usually cry when listening to it, visualizing what must have led to its composition:


I was determined not to make the same mistakes Mars's protagonist did but have fallen short of the mark evermore.

In the interest of accuracy, I'll mention that I originally listened to the original Mars Bonfire version during that exotic and warm summer of love (the recording above, came out a few years afterwards when I was in college living on Iota Street). I like it too, since he sings with such sincerity. But Mars' arrangement really is of an earlier age. (However, when was the last time you heard a pop song with an oboe as solo instrument?)

It's so strange to think of what those days were up to, the sluggish start of the wheels and gears of the universe--such inertia to overcome! Back then, thanks to what I had learned so far, and ever the optimist, it always seemed as though the pieces would have to fall into place. And of course, quickly. I had no idea it would be an endless task with no promise of payoff.

Nonetheless, I really did know whom I was looking for, whether she existed or not.

But apparently a few more prerequisites were in the cards. Naturally, college life injected a rather important aspect which added no end of zest to the trajectory.

Hippie chicks!

And equally important, Norton Street. More confidence. Independence. A growing realization of the need for individual growth, the rejection of hand-me-down axioms. The genuine Age of Aquarius, no matter how brief. Lots more learning from the learned. Sinclair Lewis, Oscar Wilde and Aleister Crowley supplying the common core curriculum with a host of others pitching in with equally fascinating electives.

My, oh my! The campus mall stoked my libido endlessly. Tons and tons of hippie chicks hanging out between classes. Blouses that looked as though they had been decorated by Dali stupidly stepping on his palette like an upturned garden rake, flipping all the colors higgledy-piggledy upon the fabric. And that fabric was always diaphanous, rarely hiding what was beneath for those with eyes. Tank-tops. Even the occasional bikini. Undergarments were optional in those halcyon days. More: lower-wear was invariably blue jeans, often ornamented with vivid satiny stripes, and, of course, bell-bottoms.

Long silky hair, and the brunettes always did me in. Headbands. Granny glasses. Earrings, necklaces and bracelets to make a Gypsy envious. Strolling across campus was like wandering midst the Garden of Earthly Delights. And all against a backdrop of students ever curious to learn something, anything, new. The notion of "required coursework" was foreign. I don't want to be accused of selective memory, but truthfully, I don't recall ever interacting with a hippie chick who wasn't interested in everything.

And they hated what America was doing in Viet Nam and weren't afraid to speak up in defense of those of us who were forced to carry draft cards at all times under penalty of law.

The term "hippie chick" is in no wise a pejorative.

I always wonder about those whacked-out religious extremists who commit acts of violence (I refer to the ones overseas, not the lunatics here at home who yearn to be the Republican nominee for President) and that they anticipate virgins in paradise as some sort of reward.

There were no virgins to be found at my college then, a far more satisfying state of affairs. Furthermore, paradise was here and now. Sort of an interesting variant of Pascal's wager don't you think? Why bother gambling on the next life, which may or may not come to pass, when ecstasy exists in the current one?

Lest you think I'm having yet another flare-up of uncontrollable satyriasis, let me hasten to state quite clearly: it was the completely nonjudgmental nature of hippie chicks which made them so beautiful. For that brief spell in America it really was the case that the individual, not society, assumed ascendancy. Imbecilic sociologists always like to claim that the Woodstock Nation's inhabitants were little more than spoiled children--the "me" generation. To that I respond with Juliet's gentle pondering:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet...
Not narcissism, not selfishness, but nothing less than self-development and screw what society thinks.

With a nonjudgmental nature came the concomitant innate interest in everything. And lack of fear of things different. As usual, Mars Bonfire captured the zeitgeist exactly in his entrancing song, She:

She likes leather,
Silk and motorcycles,
ESP, long rainy nights,
Meeting strangers,
Traveling in foreign countries,
Quiet talks under soft lights.
So, lesson number six: while many of my acquaintances wound up marrying women who might have Cotton Mather in their family trees, I knew back then that love, real love, can only be possible with one for whom other people are merely curiosities, not objects requiring redemption or correction.

A hippie chick, in short.

And then the locus of my tuition moved from campus to Norton Street. I want you to think of this as a college science course. At 248 Norton Street, the lecture portion was completely theoretical in nature, with The Book of the Law my textbook. Age 20 now, should you be keeping track.

Next was the lab component provided by 249 Norton Street. No airy abstract principles here! Just pure experimentation. The laboratory manual could have been written by Donatien Alphonse François himself. A very different mood now, but still essential to the quest. I'll leave it as a homework exercise for you to find lesson number seven in the two entries just listed. But as a hint, I'll tell you that Kay and Babs specialized in physical science. Pretty important stuff to know, but there was still something missing.

A new universe opened up now: mathematics. While that consumed me and until the Master of Arts was completed, I treaded water. During that spell, one of the sweetest persons ever, petite, blond, randy, a good mother, rescued me from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. When she moved on, this was followed by the white heat generated by the Hustler magazine hellcat. But I'd already been through all that before and needed to learn something new.

Ah! Life on stage! A crazy new group, genuine friends, and a chance to open the unconscious and explore it. For indeed, that's what performing in the East Side Pharaohs was like. The monologues and dialogues, purposely designed to offend and upset, were really little more than guided exercises in psychological regression. So it was only natural that Pinkie and I would fall for each other. Lesson eight was so important to me: the sexiest person in the world is the one whose decisions are not made by others.

I always admired her for standing up for doing what is right, completely ignoring the vagaries of societal influence--popular or unpopular--and for hating hate in all its forms. Like my college buddy Joe described in The Unitarian Center, Pinkie took to heart Oscar's wise dictum,

We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices.
Unlike Joe, however, she was prepared to punch anyone in the nose who believed otherwise. Sort of a pugilistic version of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem.

Spending the night in jail for unbolting high tension towers from their concrete moorings sprinkled across innocent farm land, in protest, only added to her appeal.

Whew! All described so far spans some forty years or so. And that brings us up to that lengthy spell when I despaired of it all and almost gave up. Remember? Smokey Factory Blues which began this entry. It really did seem as those though eight lessons had been for naught and that I had been deluding myself.

But wait! The tale is not quite complete.

Lesson number nine was bipartite, coming to pass exactly when I assumed the mantle of sexagenarian. I won't go into details since half of them have already been described in that underground classic sure to be published by Grove Press some day, Arcadia Postponed. But you certainly deserve to know the outcome here.

On the one hand, I had finally discovered the missing ingredient long searched for: the gonads are in the mind. Or is it the other way around? Unlike Lord Byron who believed otherwise, I had long suspected that intellect is a necessary condition for sexual and romantic passion. Think Percy Bysshe Shelley. Indeed, that very brief interlude gave me the courage to think about individual growth once more. It took hellacious fortitude to break the bonds, I want you to know, but I did in person.

Yet, like a yang for that yin, Black-Eyed Susan also quickly taught me that a necessary condition is not a sufficient condition.

And that brings us to Lesson 10.


What is it?

I don't know; I'm still waiting to find out.

Next installment: The Kindly Psychic 

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