The Health Food Store

I was very fortunate to have achieved my majority in the Age of Aquarius. Why fortunate? Well, for no other reason than to have been surrounded by friends: brilliant friends, whacked-out friends, hilarious friends, accomplished friends, kind friends, friends I could trust, lifetime friends. These were people who actually did something. The bold print is required there only for the sake of modern readers; back then, in 1972, everybody did something and every day was a carnival. My coterie always assumed that this was the way the world was, the way it would always be. It didn't take too many years afterward to discover just how wrong that thinking was. My good buddy Mike dates the beginning of the decline with Ronald Reagan's election. But for that brief prior spell, it was a wild time of everyone pushing themselves to perform one way or another.

It seemed no one did stupid things, like conform.

It seemed like the individual was far more important than the congregate.

It seemed that learning wasn't inextricably linked to earning.

The only way to go was up. No one held anyone back even if you wanted to get into his or her undies on the side. Apart from the Children of God who fizzled with Comet Kohoutek (did they really think anyone cared about Ninevah in this day and age?),  an occasional follower of Bahá'u'lláh drifting through and the goofballs who picketed the Grand Theater on Front Street with illiterate placards to protest The Exorcist, it was a pretty good time to be free. Incidentally, I have yet to meet a religious kook who thinks orthography is significant. Just saying...

The previous year and a half I had lived with brother Bill, after being unceremoniously ejected northward. That was a wonderful time spent with truly the best friend I've ever had; we did nothing but pull pranks and laugh and get strong in the gymnasium. That summer, Bill had found a bride, and so it was time for me to move on. To start off fall quarter of college, I finagled myself into a rental house of bachelors on Fourth Street. It was sort of an eccentric collection of roommates: Skeeter (a white-collar worker for the City), Ron (a blue-collar worker for the City with an atrocious personality, if you can call it that--Romans would have exposed him on the hillside at birth), and another guy whose name escapes me. I do recall he ran for the State House of Representatives that autumn, failing miserably. His shortcoming was that he believed in logic and wanted to do good.

We none of us had anything in common, other than we could get along okay and take turns doing the dishes. My rent was ten dollars a month, by the way, the mattress on the floor included free of charge.

Days for me consisted of clearing out of the house on Fourth in the morning and heading to school. Sometimes I hitchhiked along Broad Street; there were lots of students doing that in those days, and an equal number of car owners willing to share. We all had hair down to our asses, or at least shoulder length, drivers and riders alike. Mutton chops and goatees were common as starlings.

Other times, I would take a city bus to Old Main, then grab a college bus to Upper Campus where most of my classes met.

Part of the day was spent in classrooms, typically four different subjects, the rest of the time devoted to the lounge and juke box in the basement of the Student Union for studying and socializing (oh là là--those hippy chicks)  or to the library which was actually pretty good. Thanks to a zealous assistant librarian with eclectic and esoteric tastes, the collection sported many, many books on offbeat topics, befitting the Age of Aquarius. I quickly became enamored of the Hermetic arts.

But the real epicenter of the Age of Aquarius was downtown. Yes, the city truly did have a downtown in those days, a beautiful stretch of old brick buildings along Front Street before Urban Removal hit. It was heaven on earth to pad the pavement, window shopping: S. S. Kresge, J. C. Penney, Don's Hobby Shop, The El Seis Mexican Restaurant (I always wanted to have sex with that cardboard cutout of the proprietress in the front lobby--much cheaper than an inflatable doll), The Ratskeller, the Bodega, a couple movie theaters, a poster store (lots of prints of Jim Morrison, and glow-in-the-dark M. C. Escher artwork), the Lost Chord head shop,
the Readmore and a health food store.

All these places provided great amusement for a college punk just starting out in life, but it's those last two in particular that will always stand out in my mind. Consider the health food store. This was run by one of the most interesting persons I have ever known, Loyal, surely a name which trips lightly off the tongue. This was back in my powerlifting days, so I frequented the place regularly, buying weight-gain powders, vitamins, Abdullah energy bars, dessicated liver, and all the other supplements a growing athlete needs.

Because of my constant trade, Loyal and I eventually became friends, and often I would just hang out there for long conversations after class. His storefront featured a large picture window looking out onto Front Street, actually directly across from the Readmore bookstore, my own personal LSD in those days. Books are surely the strongest hallucinogen ever concocted. Loyal kept a desk and couple chairs up front, and we would sit and talk for hours, watching people on the street through the plate glass. Even though he was perhaps thirty years my senior, we really hit it off.

Loyal had the longest résumé imaginable. At one time or another he had been: a professional baseball player, a logger, manager of a gym, encyclopedia salesman, insurance agent, carny worker, bellhop...the list went on and on.

The last job mentioned leads to a great story. When younger, he had been a bellhop at some fancy hotel in Lake Tahoe. While on duty one day, there was a huge flurry of activity, supernumeraries bustling about big time. Arriving at the front door was Edward G. Robinson, the famous movie actor. Always imperious to the n
thdegree, he instructed Loyal to bring in his luggage. It consisted of several gigantic steamer trunks, and a dozen more suitcases and hat boxes, hundreds of pounds of travel wardrobe.

Twenty minutes later, a sweating and exhausted Loyal had managed to haul all the junk in and get it up to Robinson's second story room. Loyal stood at attention, asking if there was any other service he could provide, which was really just a way of indicating the time had come for a tip.

Robinson, a fierce old man of some reputation, flipped Loyal a quarter--a measly twenty-five cents.

Without batting an eye, Loyal tossed it back to Robinson, saying, "Sorry, I don't have change."

Robinson simply exploded, and that was the end of Loyal's bellhopping days.

Back to the health food store. As we sat and chatted, Loyal would be constantly shuffling a deck of cards, dealing them out and recording something or other on a yellow legal tablet, columns and columns of numbers. He had recently taken a course in Silva Mind Control, which was all the rage in those days, convinced he had worked out a method employing it to win at blackjack.

Rather amusingly, when we would get together for our interminable conversations (it was easy to find
real conversation in those days), Loyal considered the other customers a definite imposition. I well recall when a sweet little old lady innocuously inquired on which shelf she might find the rose hips tablets. He snarled back at her that she was interrupting our conversation and she should simply look for them herself. He really could put on a great scowling face of "leave me alone."

With all the time I spent at his store, it was inevitable I would meet some of the other customers. Indeed, I was introduced to a couple noteworthies, Joe and Mike, the latter becoming one of my closest friends for these forty-some years. More about them another time.

Loyal's store eventually went under, and his marriage failed too. So his parents, Marge and Archie, came for a visit to help him clear everything out. They all returned to California and that was that. I never saw him again.

But that health food store really was the center of a revolution, the start of some amazing friendships and connections, which I'll describe more fully later.

Next installment: The Readmore

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