Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A rucksack warrior hits the Psychedelic Sixties in Kerouac's Ghost

OK, so we're away Into the Northwest Passage. Before sailing, and so going incommunicado, I offer a brief excerpt from my novel Kerouac's Ghost.  This newly revised ebook edition publishes on Sept. 16, but is now available from Bev Editions at the advance price of $2.99.

Again it was 1966, Thanksgiving Day, and I had just arrived in California. Nineteen years old, a yea-saying rucksack warrior in blue jeans and a turtle-neck sweater, I had crossed a continent and stumbled into what we all took to be a social revolution. A few days before, while driving me into San Francisco in a Volkswagen bus, a sociology professor from Berkeley had raised his eyebrows: "The Haight-Ashbury? You've never heard of the Haight?"
He rhapsodized for twenty, twenty-five miles, describing the Haight as the most interesting social experiment America had ever spawned. "But you've heard of Timothy Leary and LSD?"
Before leaving Montreal, I had read the famous Playboy interview with Leary, found it fascinating and said so, and when the professor dropped me off in downtown San Francisco, he not only directed me to the Haight-Ashbury but reached into his shirt pocket and extracted a ball of tinfoil. "This is all I've got with me. Just half a tab, but it's pure LSD—primo acid." He handed me the ball. "Wait for the right moment."
Now it was Thanksgiving Day, free turkey dinner in the Haight, and I stood in the middle of a dirt-floor garage, the original Free Frame of Reference, grinning and nodding, unable to believe my stumbling good luck, a turkey leg in one hand, a cup of wine in the other, the half-tab of acid safe in my wallet.
The feast was courtesy of a group called The Diggers, self-proclaimed Merry Men who regarded the Haight as a contemporary Sherwood Forest. Beautiful people were everywhere. A guy wearing a W.C. Fields mask and an old top hat hovered over a turntable playing Visions of Johanna, the same verse, over and over again, Bob Dylan observing repeatedly that little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously, but nobody seemed to mind. A girl wearing a see-through American-flag and nothing else climbed onto a piano and made like the Statue of Liberty. Nobody minded that, either.
I stood nodding, guzzling red wine, stuffing my face with turkey. People were jostling me, climbing back and forth over a Mad-Hatter type stretched out on the floor, his arms crossed on his chest. Reaching for another cup of wine I took an elbow in the ribs. Turned to see an older guy, mid-thirties, chubby, with a light-bulb nose, pale blue eyes and thin brown hair that hung lifeless over his ears.
He said sorry, I said no problem. Was I new to the Haight? Yes, I said, and suddenly I was talking, telling this guy that I had hitchhiked and ridden freights from Montreal, that I was chasing experience, gathering material for a novel.
"Experience you want?" He held out his hand. "My name's Oscar."
We both laughed. Turned out Oscar, too, was a writer, and more specifically a poet, and that got me babbling particulars: "I call my latest story A Piece of Wandering Orgasm. It's like my hero is --"
"Sorry, a what?"
           "A Piece of Wandering Orgasm. It's like my hero is so alive, he's experiencing orgasm all the time. You know, just walking around. It's an advance on Kerouac."

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