An Inappropriate Life

Memoir by Stan Gotlieb

Which One of You Mutherfuckers Stole My Blue Jeans?

In 1969, it seemed like everyone was busy re-inventing his/her life. We all did live in a yellow submarine. The answer was, indeed, blowing in the (ever shifting) wind. Reality was whatever you wanted it to be. Nothing was impossible; nothing expressly forbidden, especially if it felt good. Be all that you can be? Shit, man, the Army didn't know the half of itů

In June, after the school year (and Ellen's job) had ended, we once again sold almost all of our possessions, including my 1959 Ford station wagon, packed what was left into Ellen's old VW bug, and hit the road. Our plan was to spend a few weeks in Berkeley visiting old friends, and then head for CRO, outside Eugene.

We arrived in Berkeley just in time for the People's Park demonstrations. While the nine-year-old son of our hosts was getting tear gassed down the street, the Black Panthers were practicing close order military drill in he house next door. We attended a rally at which Country Joe MacDonald and his band the Fish performed both the Fixin' To Die Rag (1,2,3, what are we fighting for? I really don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam) and a memorial to a blind innocent bystander who was gunned down by the California Highway Patrol during a police riot up on Telegraph Avenue. One of our hosts had just returned from a secret laboratory where he had been making some LSD, and was still vibrating. Things were really humming and thrumming (as police helicopters patrolled overhead), and we, fresh from a quiet year in sedate Saint Paul, decided to drive on after a couple of days.

Somewhere in Sonoma county, just above San Francisco, our bug blew its engine. Not wanting to abandon all the valuable goodies we were hauling as donations to our commune friends, we bought another car, a beat-up but serviceable 1953 Chevrolet sedan. The drive north through the mountains of northern California and southern Oregon did much to restore our serenity, after the jangle of the Bay Area. We were looking forward to arriving at a bucolic scene, populated by a poor, laid back, peace and love (especially, I hoped, love) bunch of neo-hippie gardeners, grateful for the offerings we brought.

What we found was a robust, animated, somewhat out of control agglomeration of arguing, confrontational, disparate dropouts that, somehow, managed to give each other enough room to make it all work. The ambiance was more lumber camp than hippie farm.

There was a crew of hunters and gatherers that went into town every day to scavenge usable throwaways from the supermarket dumpsters and curbside trash piles, and a couple of them were compulsive (not to say obsessive) free-store costumiers. The last thing they needed was our stuff: there was already so much stuff that they were stuffing stuff into the attic of the old farmhouse. The car was another story: there never seemed to be enough vehicles to go around. No matter how many cars we had, there was always somebody pissing and moaning because they needed to go somewhere and all the cars were gone.

CRO was celebrating when we arrived: the first anniversary of the old communal farm, and moving onto the new property. Willy and Mary (and Willy's second wife Barbara) had prepared the way for us. We were "family". Mary and I had made love, as had Willy and Ellen. Willy and I had stayed up late on many a night, discussing the ramifications of Heinlein's science fiction classic, "Stranger In A Strange Land", and imagining what it would be like to live communally. By the time Ellen and I arrived, our reputations had preceded us. We were greeted by people we had never met as if we were visiting royalty, come to live among them for ever. It was a very heady arrival.

One of the Zens of CRO had to do with owning things. The more belongings you laid claim to, the more you had to guard from your fellows, who by mutual agreement had no obligation to respect property rights. There was no limit to this rule. For example, Ellen, espousing the party line, had gotten herself down to the clothes on her back: a t-shirt, and a favorite pair of blue jeans. One day, she woke up to find that her jeans were gone, and a torn and dirty pair left in their place. Everyone, she discovered, has a "zero": she had reached hers. She was steamed. Who, she asked, took her jeans? No-one seemed to know. She began to suspect a conspiracy. She could not be consoled. Later on, when he returned, she found out that one of our room-mates had awakened; realized it was the morning that he had to be in court on a traffic warrant; and decided that the work clothes he was wearing would be inappropriate. Rather than wake Ellen, he had just borrowed her jeans. Ellen listened carefully to his explanation, and told him to follow her upstairs. I don't know what they did during the hour they were up there, but when they came down they were both smiling, and she had her jeans back on.

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