Deb’s Saturday Psychedelia – On Becoming a Hippie (Chapter 2)
Written by Deb Cavanaugh on February 22, 2020
A few years ago, I decided to try to chronicle my hippie past. Of course, that past keeps growing as I age, so now I’m sifting through a lot of decades. Since I started, I’ve shared stories or thoughts randomly. Because I will now be sharing these posts on another blog, I’ve decided to start over again at the beginning. Some of these posts will contain adult content. This is Chapter 2.
We arrived home from the trip to Pittsburgh, and I found myself wondering what I was getting myself into with this interesting man. I’d always craved adventure and was definitely finding it with him, but at what cost? Things were already a little crazy. The man we were getting our best drugs from was rumored to have shot his wife and gotten away with it. To us, it was just a rumor and, since he treated us very well, often giving us freebies and offering the best prices in town, we decided not to listen to the warnings. I will call him Mr. X.
He told us to be sure to always call before coming, which we did faithfully. Every time we went, he would hand Paul a guitar and insist that he play “Hey Joe” and “Down by the River,” adding to the rumors. I still don’t like playing those songs today. He had an elaborate escape route built into his home that went through the drop ceiling and up into the attic with a ladder in the back from the attic window. One day, Paul got caught in traffic and arrived about 20 minutes later than expected. When Mr. X’s girlfriend answered the door, Paul looked up and saw three men at the top of the stairs with shotguns aimed at him and the girlfriend. Realizing that this guy had no trouble with the thought of blowing us all away, woke us right up. That was the last time either of us went there.
One day, we went to a garage sale at our local halfway house, and I met Paul’s best friend from his childhood there. He begged us to break him out, so we did what we could to help out. A few days later, Greg became our new roommate. He seemed like a nice enough guy. He was very quiet though, almost too quiet. It wasn’t long before he started giving me the creeps. At first, I thought he was acting nasty because he was jealous of my closeness to Paul. I soon found out that this guy had done way too much LSD and had gone over the edge. He started putting towels over all of the mirrors in the house because “Satan could see us through the reflections.” Pretty soon, he reconnected with his old girlfriend who moved in and eventually became (and still is) one of my closest friends. He wouldn’t let her sleep at night because the devil could enter in her dreams, so she moved out. Things got weirder and weirder.
A new friend came over one evening asking if he could trip with us. He’d had a bad trip and was afraid to try again but his brother had told him that we were mellow people, very experienced and good guides. We set the scene and insisted that Greg be somewhere else for the night. At that time, I owned a beautiful round brass table with wooden legs, low to the ground that I kept polished. This night, I put lit candles on it to help create the mood. Just as we were all starting to feel the effects of the LSD coming on, guess who came home? Greg burst into the room, agitated, talking incessantly but not making any sense. Suddenly, he jumped over my table reciting, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick.” He did this over and over as the flames flickered and the candles threatened to topple over. The new guy, Joe, was watching bug-eyed and jittery. Finally, Paul took Greg outside while I soothed the nerves of our new friend, assuring him that everything was fine. No, the room was not going to catch fire. And yes, Greg was leaving for the night. A few days later, as I was standing in the kitchen making a snack, Greg started throwing lit matches at me saying that he would burn the evil out of me. That was the last straw for me. I told Paul that, friend or not, he had to make him leave, which he did. Only a few days later, Greg was arrested for dragging his sister out of bed and outside, in her pajamas on a Sunday morning, insisting that she would be late for school. Unfortunately, he was only one victim of a system that didn’t understand the changes that were happening to all of us.
Early that summer, I took a week off from work. I was a bookkeeper in a bank. This was before computers, so I worked with an adding machine and a big bulky calculator. I was pretty accurate but certainly not flawless, especially if I’d been “partying hearty” the night before. During that week off, we tripped every day. We always had a freezer full of orange sunshine, purple beryl, windowpane, blotter, mushrooms, mescaline, whatever was available at the time. When it was time to go back to work, I realized that I was going to crash and burn hard, so I dropped a little taste again and went off to try to function. My workday was a breeze, so I spent that whole summer taking my daily “vitamin” and watching the numbers dance around on the page, eventually showing me where they wanted to land. Unbelievably, I won an award that fall for being the most accurate worker in the office and got a raise. I think my supervisor and my workmates suspected something, but I got away with it. I was always extremely shy, keeping to myself during the workday, so I wasn’t acting much differently really. I wasn’t doing mindless work. I was much more entertained. My next vacation, I let myself come down, and work went back to its normal pace.
Our house was THE party spot. It was centrally located but set back off the main drag. We didn’t still live with our parents. But it also happened to be right next door to a liquor store that had a hole in the back wall just big enough for an arm to squeeze through. Every night, one of the guys would go around back and grab whatever bottle was the closest. It was usually whisky of some kind, and flaming shots became quite popular. I never understood why the store never noticed. They just kept stocking the shelves. We only did take one bottle at a time … mostly. And when anyone had money, they would go buy something exotic to compliment the free “rock gut.”
Greg was also only one of the unusual people who frequented our house. Everyone was drinkers, and many of our friends were junkies. I definitely didn’t want my apartment to become a shooting gallery. I had two main rules – no needles and no guns. I thought that was reasonable and easy. I must have been sorely mistaken, as I can’t count the number of times that I threw people out for trying to shoot up in the bathroom. I even had to throw two thugs out of a party who were packing guns. Oddly enough, tiny and shy as I was at the time, I was the only one willing to stand to up to these folks and was soon seen as the evil one, the “party-pooper.”
Finally, I realized that I couldn’t keep up this lifestyle. I was having to deal with the creepy and dangerous people more and more often and was hated by many of Paul’s friends because I was always setting limits. They were no longer whispering behind my back but being nasty right to my face. I was the only one working full-time, paying rent and utilities, and I was done. I might be small, but I’m feisty, and I was not live in a hostile environment again. I’ve always had good radar for danger. I had grown up in that type of environment and knew I had to get out. I finally went to talk to Paul. Adventure was one thing, danger was another, and it was starting to feel dangerous to me. I sat him down and told him that I had to leave. It was the only way I could see to get out of this world that we had both helped create. I had always planned on leaving my hometown someday anyway, and this was the perfect time. But where? Paul had the answer.
He had left home at 14, hitching rides and living on the road during those four years. I had done a lot of local and regional hitchhiking and felt comfortable doing it. We decided to sell most of our belongings and hit the road with the loose goal of arriving in New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. Paul loved numbers and was attached to doing things on special dates, so he insisted that we leave on New Year’s Day, the anniversary of our meeting. I wanted to store my albums at my parents’ house, I had some amazing albums. But Paul insisted that we would need whatever money we could come up with, so they got sold with everything else. That’s a small regret, but what’s done is done. I was given a few important gifts, a frame backpack, a “space blanket,” and a down jacket with a hood. Our friends gifted us a stash for the road. I quit my job, and we threw a party in our now empty apartment, leaving early the next day with some folks still partying and some sleeping on the floor. We had the backpack, a duffle bag, space blanket, our stash, a classical guitar and warm jackets. It was the start of a new adventure.