Chapter Twenty-Three (Golden Gate Park)

— — —

Then it was the summer of 1967, “The Summer of Love.” Scott McKenzie sang his dork song about how everybody ought to go to San Francisco and wear some fucking flowers in their hair. It was far out. It was groovy. It was over.

Then it was early October, the Fall of Love. All the hippies gave Haight Street a funeral and Ginny got her ass thrown in jail. The guards squirted mace in her face. The skin peeled away from around her eyes. She looked like a raccoon.

It all started out innocently enough. The three of us — Kirk, the preacher from Thulin’s wedding, Ginny and I — were on our way home after a rock concert at Speedway Meadows. Ginny and Kirk were drinking champagne. It was on the verge of the Christmas craziness again. I was a little fed up. Officer Garrens was the cop who arrested her. He was a notorious asshole — The Oracle and The Berkeley Barb wrote articles about what a notorious asshole Officer Garrens was. I’m getting ahead of myself again, however — as is my wont. I’ll start from the beginning.

— — —

It was early October, a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. San Francisco’s like that. The weather’s crappy all summer, but it gets nice again in the fall. Ginny and I had gone our separate ways that morning. We frequently went our separate ways by then. Our promiscuity had taken its toll. It had always been okay for her to fuck other people. There were always mitigating circumstances — she was drunk, she was blacked out, she didn’t know what she was doing — but it wasn’t okay for me. It hurt her feelings. Things got sticky. We broke bonds we hadn’t broken before.

I was out wandering among the waifs fresh in from Kansas City and Des Moines. They were mostly making their way in the general direction of a free rock concert in Golden Gate Park. The Grateful Dead were going to be there, along with Quicksilver Messenger Service — the Quick and the Dead. It was going to be far out. It was going to be groovy. Big Brother and The Airplane were going to be there — that meant Janis Joplin; that meant Grace Slick.

I went past the little knoll we used to call Hippie Hill. Black guys in sunglasses smoked Kools. They beat conga drums with cigarettes sticking to their lips. A Golden Retriever had on a red bandanna. A little hippie chick in granny glasses threw a stick for the Golden Retriever to chase through the purple haze of dope and patchouli oil that was rising up like the Jimi Hendrix song playing on the little hippie chick’s little hippie radio.

In the flat meadow in front of the knoll, college kids in Bermuda shorts threw Frisbees with one hand and drank beer with the other. A German Shepard leaped at a bright disk whistling above him. Neighborhood mothers sat on benches in front of the adobe rest rooms and talked and smoked and knitted long, colorful afghans, always with one eye on the children — boys and girls in clean shirts and tiny dresses wandering in the sandy dirt next to the merry-go-round or playing on the playground.

A little girl in red pigtails was backed up against the steel steps of the big slide by a frisky black Cocker Spaniel who was trying to lick her Mary Jane’s. His ears dragged in the dirt. She reached toward him, cautiously, courageously, almost touching his wet nose. The dog let out a couple of elongated yips and tore off sideways, low to the ground. The little girl was disappointed…and triumphant, too. Nobody saw — well, except for me. I saw. I wanted a kid, a little girl of my own. I wanted to hang out with her, to keep an eye on her, to see the things she saw.

Beyond the park, streaks of bright-colored cars flashed through the thick branches of cedar trees and scraggly pines bordering Lincoln Way. I followed the blacktop path around Hippie Hill and over toward the tennis courts. My running shoes were yellow and black, the color of bumblebees. I walked along the path without making a sound. Next to the clubhouse, one of the tennis players was tying his shoe against the slats of a green bench. A chain link fence kept the dogs out and the tennis balls in.

I stayed on the path over another hill or two, toward the conservatory, until I came to a little lake in the middle of nowhere. The lake had palm trees and huge ferns and rhododendron bushes crowded around it. The water was so thick with algae it looked like you could walk on it. There were orange clay cliffs around the lake. The cliffs were held together by the root systems of trees. I wanted to see what the lake would look like from the rim of the canyon and made my way up a narrow path, pulling myself along by grabbing onto saplings and exposed roots until I got to a ledge formed by the base of one of the eucalyptus trees — and just sat there.

The lake was so chock-full of green algae it looked solid, like a giant lily pad. It looked like I could jump off the cliff and land harmlessly on the surface of the lake like it was a big green trampoline. I’d bounce up and fall onto it again and again, and the lily pad would keep me dry and suspended above the surface of the warm water while the waves I had made rocked me gently, like I was in a cradle.

There wasn’t a breath of air.

It felt good not to have taken any drugs. I hadn’t even smoked a joint with Dick Joseph when he’d come by that morning. I wanted to have a clear head; I had some thinking to do. I was trying to figure out a way to get rid of Ginny. I wanted to dump her. I wanted her to dump me. I was tired. Fed up. She was too much trouble. Too much? I didn’t know. How much was too much? She was a lot of trouble, yeah, but was she more trouble than she was worth? That was the question. That’s always the question. She was worth a lot. She needed me. I found her when she was lost. I rescued her. I rubbed her back and told her everything was going to be all right. If I dumped her, she’d kill herself. I didn’t know what to do. She would die without me. I would die without her. But I was tired. Worn out. Fed up. We weren’t going anywhere. We were dicking around. She was too much trouble.

I wanted to jump off the cliff and land harmlessly on the lily pad lake. I wanted it to rock me to sleep like I was a baby in a cradle. But I also knew that it really wasn’t a lily pad. It was a lake — a cold, wet, stagnant pond, crawling with thick algae and slick, rotted palm fronds and dead rhododendron blossoms…and frogs and snakes and bugs — and if I did jump off the cliff I’d end up stuck in muck up to my neck and covered with slithering slime until someone came along and pulled me out, which might not be for a long, long time.

Nothing stirred.

The soles of my shoes had made waffle shapes in the fine orange dust leading to the base of the tree I was sitting on. A fly landed in the treacherous hair of my arm. It crawled and hopped and finally made a harrowing escape over onto the knee of the Levi’s I was wearing. I wore the same frayed Levi’s almost every day. They were faded. They looked like the sky. I had on one of the old tie-dye T-shirts I used to wear most days, too — the one that looked like a faded sunset.

More insects began to appear. They came from nowhere and everywhere — spiders and mosquitoes and bees and ants and green dragonflies, glinting in the sun. The longer I sat there, the better I blended with the tree, the more things got back to normal. I saw a gopher. It wrinkled its nose. Squirrels ratcheted in the underbrush. Songbirds sang, oblivious now of the commotion I’d caused. They flitted from branch to branch, squabbling among themselves.

It was like I wasn’t there. It reminded me of what Elliot had been talking about in the living room on California Street — what the world would be like without him in it. The same as it would be without me in it, I imagined. He’d been in Vietnam. I was in San Francisco. The sky was blue. The grass was green. Everything’s the same everywhere.

How can you remember not being somewhere?

— — —

Down at the other end of the lake, I noticed a guy in a shelter made out of tree branches. It was so well camouflaged that I hadn’t seen it at first. He had a beard and long, graying hair tied back out of his sunburned face with a chamois headband. He was smoking a joint by himself in the sun. He didn’t seem to have seen me — or he didn’t give a shit if he had. I liked that. The guy had found himself a place to live, a home to call his own. He was having himself a calm, warm, peaceful Sunday afternoon.

Then there was the sound of disembodied voices coming from the direction I’d come from. The voices kept getting louder. The canyon amplified sound. The voices were jarring. Birds stopped singing.

“It was your fucking idea,” one of the voices said. “I didn’t want to buy the bitch no god damn shoes.”

“You got the son of a bitches, I didn’t. Since when do you do what I say? It was worth it, though. Just for the look on her face. That was almost as good as the look on your face.” The other voice burst into disturbing, unnatural, laughter.

“Oh, yeah, it’s fucking funny. We got us a god damn pair of girl’s shoes and no pussy. That’s fucking funny, all right.”

The bodies of the voices came over the crest of the hill leading down toward the lake. They were two guys around nineteen or so, both in white T-shirts with the sleeves rolled up and both with new crew cuts, the kind they might recently have gotten in the army.

The one who didn’t think it was funny was tall and skinny and had a fresh tattoo on the side of one of his biceps. A jagged scar was visible under the close-cropped black hair on his scalp. His companion was skinny, too, but shorter and blond, with a bright ring of acne around the back of his neck and pimples pinpointing his face. The tall one tossed the shoebox toward him. “Here, you keep the fuckers,” he said.

“You weren’t gonna get no pussy, no matter what you bought the bitch.”

“My ass,” said the tall one.

“Not her ass, though, that’s for sure. No way, Jose — here, I don’t want these fuckers.” The short one threw the shoebox back at the tall one.

The two guys had walked to the far side of the lake by then. They came unexpectedly to where the hippie was sitting under the branches of his shelter. The three of them froze momentarily.

“Hey, Moses, how’ya doin’,” the tall kid said, at last, rocking back on the heels of his shiny black army boots.

The hippie didn’t respond.

“Moses in the bulrushes,” the blond kid said.

“I said, how’ya doin’, man,” the tall one said.

The hippie looked up at them. His legs were folded under his torso, and his hands were in his lap, fingers joined together. “I’m doing fine, thanks,” he said.

“Well, that’s good. That’s good. That’s good to hear,” said the tall guy, clasping his own hands. “Say, listen, partner. We’re kind of new here and was wondering if you might know where we could get us some pussy? Some cute little hippie chick, flower child who might want to fuck herself a couple United States Marines?”

“No, man, I don’t know.”

“We got these shoes she might like.” The short guy laughed.

“Sorry.”

“Sorry don’t cut it, Jasper.”

“Look. You boys really ought to just toddle on off about your business.” The old hippie shooed them away like there was a swarm of benign gnats in his face.

“You look, asshole. We asked you a civil god damn question. Maybe you got yourself a little hippie chick stashed in them bulrushes. How about you trot her ass out here and we fuck her for you, one at a time. How would that be?”

“Yeah, one at a time, that’d be nice,” said the short Marine.

The hippie stood up. He was muscular, sturdy, relaxed. “Okay, let’s do this thing,” he said. “You both gonna jump me like chicken fuckers?”

“Hey, hold up a minute, man.” The tall Marine held up his hands. “What’s this we heard about how all you long hair hippie pricks is such big peace lovers? You want to fight us now, is that it? Well, shit.” He glanced at his partner, feigning disappointment. “We come out here wanting to do like they say on the radio, you know? Make love, not war. Fuck us a flower child for free, and look what we get — some asshole looking for a fight. Is that what you want, dipshit?”

“Tell you what, Baldy.” The hippie reached into the grass and weeds by his feet and picked up a small machete. “How about you make love with this? How would that be?” He pointed the machete lazily at the tall Marine’s chest, like he was maybe drawing his attention to an algebraic equation on a blackboard.

“Hey, man, there’s no need…,” the tall one said.

The Marines backed up and turned around, tripping over their own feet and each other’s feet, just as the hippie let out a yell like an Indian coming down the side of a hill on a pony. He swooshed the machete over his head and lunged toward the Marines. They ran.

As they were running, the tall Marine tossed the shoebox over his shoulder. It caught the hippie square in the chest. The box came apart. The shoes went in different directions and the tissue paper they’d been wrapped in floated gently onto a small flowering bush. The shoebox slowed the hippie down for a second, but he kept after them until the whole pageant vanished over the ridge and out of sight.

I heard their army boots for a while, clodhopping against the asphalt, getting further and further away, heard the diminishing war whoops of the old hippie still chasing them. I was hoping they might come back, so I could give them a round of applause. I had it all pictured, like a curtain call. The Marines would roll down the sleeves of their T-shirts. The tall one would wipe the grease paint tattoo off his bicep, and the short one would remove the rouge that had made the acne look so realistic, and the hippie would bend so low to take a bow that his long gray wig would fall off, and he’d catch it in mid air and laugh, as though that too were part of the act. I would have given them a standing ovation; I would have whistled and stomped my feet in the dirt. But they didn’t come back.

— — —

I got up from where I’d been sitting, went over to the other side of the lake and looked inside the hippie’s house. There were a couple of cans of Sterno and an aluminum frying pan on the floor. I picked up the shoes. They were more along the line of bedroom slippers, actually. They had low heels and were covered with brocade cloth, which was covered with hundreds of tiny, different colored beads, mostly white and pink, but a few were amber, and three or four were purple, like amethysts. I looked inside. They were a Size 5 ½ B.

They were too big for Ginny, but I picked them up anyway. I got the tissue paper out of the flowering bush and put it into the box and put the slippers on top of it and covered them with the folded tissue paper like I used to do when I sold shoes. I was a born shoe salesman. I could do it again. I could get a job down at Macy’s or Magnin’s. It hadn’t been bad. Chicks came in. I sat on my comfortable stool and helped them into new shoes with a silver shoehorn and told them they looked gorgeous. What had been wrong with that? I’d been good at it. I’d made decent money. I could do it again. I could get a place to live — maybe back down around San Mateo. I could look up Bonnie. She was cute — she looked like Brigitte Bardot, for God’s sake — and she’d been in love with me. Why I had ever gone out on a date with Virginia Good, I did not know. That had been what fucked things up with Bonnie, right there. That first date with Ginny. Motherfuck. What more could I have asked for? Sure, Bonnie was stupid. Sure, she didn’t know what I was talking about half the time, but so what? She wasn’t a raving lunatic drunk. She didn’t get her ass kidnapped nine times a day. She didn’t go on bus trips with Kesey and Cassady and who knows who all any time you had your back turned for more than five seconds. Tortured young Assistant Psychology Professors weren’t forever knock, knock, knocking on her cute little door down in Fritz Perls’ hot tubs at Esalen. She didn’t hang out with rock-and-roll assholes. She didn’t smash typewriters and break windows and gouge slices of skin out of my god damn back. She wouldn’t have wanted to fuck my best friend. She didn’t spend Christmases in insane asylums. She wouldn’t have killed our kid. Bonnie would have loved our kid; she would have cuddled and cradled and nurtured our kid — him or her, both of them, a boy and a girl, all our kids. She would have cooked and cleaned and made the bed and changed diapers. She would have gone to the grocery store with our kids strapped in the basket of the shopping cart — and she would have fucked my brains out at the drop of a hat, both because she loved to fuck and because she wanted to make more kids. And it wasn’t too late! Bonnie wore a size 5 ½ B! I remembered that. I could have taken that beat-up old shoebox down to San Mateo and could have gone up to wherever Bonnie may have been living by then, and simply have said, “Hi.” She would have dropped everything she was doing, no matter what it was, and we would have lived happily ever after, Bonnie and me and our nine happy kids and their ninety-nine happy kids. But I didn’t.

Note:

The multimedia version has music by Jefferson Airplane, Scott McKenzie, Simon and Garfunkel and Peter, Paul and Mary, but this voice only version ain’t bad all on its own. Watch it and see: