One night I was sitting in my psychedelic playground otherwise known as the Den of Iniquity, when my Dad unexpectedly showed up with another biochemistry professor from Berkeley, California. I guess he’d come to Urbana to give a seminar. My Dad had told him about me, and this dude wanted to meet me because he was a peace activist. He loved my paintings all over the walls, and pointed out that a peace symbol I’d painted over my desk was missing one of the spokes. That made me feel a little dumb. The amazing thing was, this professor invited me to come spend a week with him in the Berkeley Hills!
I was soon on a flight to San Francisco and I was reading all the Hobbit books at the time and was deep into Hobbitland, which today just seems like a boring remake of WWII done with magic and elves, basically war propaganda. The first book had been great, but the trilogy seemed bloated to me. One thing you have to give the Brits credit for, however, when it comes to magic, they rule. That goes for dark magic and white magic.
I spent the first few days hanging out on Telegraph Avenue when I got recruited to help out at a people’s church that a hippie pastor was setting up. There were two guys working on this project and I became the office assistant for a few days. My host seemed a bit dubious of the Christian-connection. He was an atheist and distrusted organized religions. He’d drop me off on his way to his lab every morning, and pick me up at 5:30 every night to go home, where we had dinner prepared by his beautiful Swedish wife, and then played a game of chess or two.
One day while walking down Telegraph, this hippie started talking to me like he’d known me his whole life. His name was Jinglebells and he was originally from New York City. Jinglebells had really long hair and was wearing high-top suede moccasins with bells around his ankles. He wanted to know if I wanted to hitchhike with him to the Haight. He knew a place we could crash. This was too good an offer to turn up, so I soon found myself wandering around the Haight. After it got dark we went to the all-night church where all the runaways congregated who didn’t have a place to sleep. It was really crowded. Then Jinglebells took me to Page Street to visit a commune. There was a beautiful girl who seemed to be at the center of this scene. She said Country Joe had come over the night before and sung songs with his guitar all night while everybody tripped. Country Joe had led the Hari Krishna chant for hours, apparently. There was a guy in a Navy uniform and he was hitting on a plump hippie girl. Everyone fell asleep while this couple eventually had sex on the living room rug. In the morning though, the whole vibe changed and the beautiful hippie girl was mad at us. “This is not a crash pad!” she said. I also heard her say she didn’t know Jinglebells well enough to trust him. Pretty soon, I figured out she was surviving by buying bricks of Mexican weed and selling lids on the street.
Jinglebells decided to hitchhike on down to Big Sur. “It’s a beautiful scene down there,” he said. “You should come with me.” I was sorely tempted, but decided to hitchhike back to Berkeley and walked miles uphill before I found the house I was staying at. The Swedish lady was really pissed at me and made me call her husband immediately. I made up some story about how a friend had been arrested and I’d gone to the police station and spent the night trying to get him out of jail. “Why didn’t you at least call us?” they wondered. The visit was over in another day or two anyway. Things were pretty somber at his house after that incident and I guess now he understood why my Dad was so frustrated with me. But I couldn’t get that close to the Haight and not at least spend one night soaking up the vibes there.