Back in Houghton Lake it was wet, cold, and dark — a
typical November. I found a job landscaping–I raked leaves mostly. My supervisor, Alex, was fresh out of prison, and, as a group, we worked for the largest resort concern in the area. On any given day our crew, which numbered six, was short handed. It was impolite to show up for work without a hangover. The job kept me in spending money, though.
The continuing cold, gray, windy days of fall left everybody (the
old gang) pretty laid back. I renewed my relationship with Carole
Sue. That was expected, but what wasn’t expected was that my friends were living in a farmhouse three miles out in the woods. Most of the time, upon entering the house, the smell of incense and pot was so strong it put you on a contact high. That was not unusual. What was unusual was that a new kid in town was living at the farm too.
Roger, Jim, and Paul, Roger’s older brother, lived at the farm.
Roger graduated from high school in the class behind me. Paul, on
the other hand, graduated from the same high school five years
earlier than me. He was (almost) from a different generation, which
made it quite remarkable since he now (at the farm at least) paraded around in white robes, with long hair hanging down over his shoulders, and with his beard, he looked like some kind of holy man from India. He meditated, chanted mantras, talked about out-of-body- experiences, and condemned people who indulged in excessive materialism. He was convincing, and although I wanted to believe him, I couldn’t get the image of him as a materialist kind of guy out of my head. He was after all my older brother’s classmate.
In California, Paul, apparently had some kind of conversion
experience. When not enlightening the rest of us, he worked as a
freelance housepainter. (I ended up working for him, and we became friends.) I spent a lot of time at the farmhouse; everybody did. Jimmy, the same Jimmy that I hitched back from NYC with, was the farmhouse’s other permanent resident, and it seemed like there was always a host of temporary people using the place as a crash pad. With an abundance of good smoke dope lying around, and good music on the stereo, the farmhouse became the go-to-place.
As much as I enjoyed listening to Paul, I had trouble getting his
holy man image to jive with his business dealings. He had no problem mixing pursuits; if you had the money, Paul had the dope. To defray doubts among his admirers he would frequently play his California tape while the rest of us sat around getting stoned. On the tape, the Harvard Professor, Richard Alpert, lectured on how LSD was a portal to a higher, more spiritual consciousness. Alpert not only taught at Harvard, he taught at Yale and Stanford, too. He also had a thriving therapist practice going for himself, but when he hooked up with another Professor, Timothy Leary, he gave all that up. In search of higher consciousness, the two professors got wasted on mind-altering drugs. According to Alpert, they got very high, but
that wasn’t enough, so he changed his tactics and went to India, met
a guru, and became a holy man. When he came back, he changed his
name to Baba Ram Dass and divorced himself from all material
possessions–his Mercedes-Benz, Triumph motorcycle, Cessna airplane, sailboat, and MG sports car. Backed up with this tape, Paul’s mantra became, “Drugs set you free.” My gut feeling was that Paul wasn’t quite there yet. He hadn’t changed his name!
It’s true that the Ram Dass’s holy man shtick was a bit hokey, but
in fairness, Richard Alpert (on the tape at least), came across as a
very sincere guy. Listening to him left me with the impression that
he really had something worth sharing. It’s not that he said stuff
that I hadn’t heard before; it’s just that when he spoke, the words
jumped out at you, they became more than just religious ideas. His
shtick was unique in this respect. His message was pretty much the
same though — We are all One in the consciousness that is equal to
energy, love, awareness, light, wisdom, beauty, truth, and purity.
According to him, once you get it, life and death lose their
reality. They are part of the illusion. Get rid of the ego, and you
get rid of the illusion.
The thing that I have trouble with, that I have always had trouble
with–is that everything is the way it should be already, so why
bother to do anything at all? If it’s going to happen anyway, why
worry? Everything is happening the way its “got to happen.”
Everything is determined. When I heard this I couldn’t help but feel
that all this consciousness stuff was just one big, dirty joke!
Alpert made it more palatable (although I’m not sure I understand
why) when he said that everybody’s needs are different and that
different people are at different stages along the path. “If I could
but hear my inner voice,” he said, “it would lead me down the path
of light.” Yeah, sure, get ready, here I come, or, should I say,
here I already am?