Deb’s Saturday Psychedelica – On Becoming a Hippie – Chapter 9
Written by Liam Sweeny on May 2, 2020
While living in Santa Cruz, we met all kinds of unique characters. There was a hippie couple with a baby girl very close in age to our daughter. Jewel and I became new mom companions. We were both young and newly settled there and were both staying at home with our babies while our partners worked. She was 18 years old with long red hair. Her husband, Rain, was an older guy with long white hair, and their little girl was named Honey Tree. We all had long hair then. Paul’s was down to his waist. He wore it in a ponytail, but sometimes I braided it. I was just growing mine out having never been allowed to do that as a child. I kept it long for many years as a rebellious act. We women wore long peasant skirts or patched jeans. Somewhere, I might still have a pair of old jeans from back then. Sometimes Jewel and I would meet in San Lorenzo Park with the two girls and just hang out watching the world go by. There was usually a lot to see because everybody used the park. There were festivals in the park, too. And many homeless folks lived there.
We thought of many alternative names for our daughter, Karma was my favorite at the time, but Paul was dead set against it. He pointed out that we still didn’t know where we would go from there and, because many places were still very conservative, he wanted her to have a more traditional name. We agreed on Jessica and thought Lee would be a nice middle name. I had been interested in astrology and numerology and started doing the numeric calculations for her name. The numbers added up to 4. This meant that her personality would be very much like her Virgo qualities, meticulous, intelligent, practical, analytical but also tend to be introverted, overcritical, fussy, harsh and judgmental. I thought that would be too much to saddle her with double those traits, so I started experimenting with other names. I came up with Lea. It is another word for a meadow, which I liked, and numerically it came out to 9. The number 9 in numerology is a very powerful number. It is ruled by Mars, the God of war. People with this number tend to have a strong and determined character that propels them to achieve success. However, it can also make them fiery and impulsive. I figured that might be a nice balance for the influence of Mercury, Virgo’s ruling planet.
Paul had a habit of picking up homeless folks that he would meet on his way home from work and invite them in for coffee. This was fine up to a point, but when they kept stopping by while he was at work, it got pretty annoying. Some of them were quite interesting like the man who had gotten multiple electroshock therapy treatments by mistake. He twitched constantly, like he still had that current running through him. Our dog, Topaz, hated him and had to be put out on the back porch where he barked non-stop, sometimes making himself hoarse. He would usually start his frenetic barking before this guy even knocked at the door, often while he was still out of sight, so I always knew when he was due to arrive.
Then there was the astrologer. He showed up looking for a place to stay the night. He offered to do a chart for our newborn daughter in trade. He spent hours drawing the chart then meditated on it for a while and started to read it for me. About halfway through, he looked at me and said, “Watch out for her knees.” I asked him what he meant, but he didn’t really know. He told me that it had just come to him out of the blue. I wrote it down and didn’t think about it again until a few years later when I noticed a pattern where Jessie would complain about her knees hurting a couple of days before she got sick. That became my cue to start her on extra vitamin C or some herbal preparation. Every time she complained about her knees, she would be sick a few days later. It was incredibly helpful to me as a parent.
The only homeless people that I had any real personal contact with were men. I don’t remember any homeless women, although I have a very vague memory of seeing a woman once out in the distance. A lot of people went missing in that area, so I assumed that the women stayed out of sight for their own safety. At that time, Santa Cruz was the murder capital of the world. We saw posters for missing people all the time, so we never went out alone at night. One of the regulars in the park was a man who had at one time been a nuclear physicist and had reevaluated his priorities. He had a steady, dependable income making a lot of money for that time. He had a loving family and was part of an active community. He woke up one day and realized what his job was actually doing in the world and just walked away from the whole scene. He now lived off the land, eating foods that were growing wild all around. He showed me rosemary growing wild in the park and in empty lots in town that I could use in my cooking. He was a very sad and brilliant man, eager to share his knowledge and his stories to have some personal connection, but he was tortured about his old life and couldn’t see past that sometimes. Whether it was his decision to retreat from the life he once had that caused him to lose his grasp of reality or something else, like many of the homeless people I met, he wasn’t always lucid but usually sought me out when he was.
“Moses” was of Jamaican descent and was possibly the most popular homeless man in town. I usually saw him in front of the Albertson’s grocery store. He was a very large man with long bushy hair that stood out all around, like a halo. He would stand at the big windowed store front with his arms spread out above him, very loudly channeling the “Word of the Lord.” He’d go on for hours at a time, and no one could speak with him during those times. Sometimes little respectful crowds would gather. He was really interesting and cool to listen to. It always made the shopping experience unique to what I’d grown up with. I saw it as street art. It was very entertaining and a good way to pass some time. When he was in the park, only a very few of us could actually talk with him at all. He was very peaceful and gentle-hearted but also withdrawn. He said it was exhausting having the word of God come through him. He told me that he lost control of his body at those times and was outside of himself not feeling any exhaustion in his arms until afterwards. He also usually lost his voice for a day or two after proselytizing. I think he spoke to me because I had a baby and was obviously safe. He mostly talked about spiritual things and turned me on to the book Be Here Now by Ram Dass.
Paul and I also met up with a few random people we had met in Connecticut, proving that it really is a small world. I was walking down Pacific Avenue one day and heard a very distinctive voice that I recognized immediately. It was “Michael,” a homeless man we had picked up hitchhiking before our big adventure a year earlier, while we were still living in Connecticut. It was in the fall of 1974. He was heading west and had no hat or coat, so we supplied him with warm clothes and put him up for a couple of nights. He played harmonica, so those few days he stayed with us in Connecticut, we stayed up most of the night talking and jamming. He had a very distinctive, raspy voice. One day, I heard that voice as I came walking down the street, and now, here he was, playing his harp and holding court on the sidewalk. We ran into lots of people from our recent past in Connecticut while we were there. Paul also met a former co-worker from Connecticut at the restaurant where he worked. There were others that we’d met in passing along the way, the woman who had given us a ride from Denver to Salt Lake City, an acquaintance from Paul’s days living in Greenwich, Connecticut as a kid and more. It was easy to meet people because everyone just hung out in these public places, sitting in little groups on the sidewalks, on park benches or strolling along. But we also learned quickly that some of us are just drawn to the same places.
I learned things from all of the people I met there. Having grown up very shattered and sheltered, I was just starting to learn about life. There were activists, commune dwellers, musicians, artists, healers… In that short 18 or so months, I learned about wild foods, herbal healing, “health foods” and “whole grains”, motherhood, spiritual enlightenment, alternative politics, sexuality and so much more. My mind was not only expanding, it was exploding. I’m sure that it also had a profound effect on a newborn just discovering the world. In our lives were people of all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, all orientations, and that was all before she’d even turned one year. I wonder what she still holds with her from that specific time. There are other eventful and colorful times, but this was her earliest. She obviously doesn’t remember details, but the overall vibe of that time and place has helped mold her as it has me.
As for me, I still grow rosemary because it doesn’t grow wild around here, and I’ve been used to having fresh rosemary since 1975. I practice spirituality rather than an organized religion and still own my old copy of Be Here Now. I am comfortable with all people regardless of how they choose to live, and I have an amazing sense of danger when it’s needed.