“Jeez, Jerry, you’ve got a Christmas tree growing outside the door” I exclaimed as I wandered into the dinning room and looked through the sliding glass door onto the common area of the apartment complex. The only time that I had seen Douglas fir trees in San Diego was at Christmastime, and they would be stacked in vacant lots all neatly cut and sorted according to height and quality. We were far from being a rich family and on some Christmas seasons we would wait until Christmas Eve to buy a tree for one dollar; the lot attendant selling them for almost nothing so that he would not have to haul them away the next day. But here was a Christmas tree, about five feet tall and growing hale and hearty right up out of the perfectly manicured grass. By elevating my vision I could see the gigantic parents of this tree ringing the complex, and I merely stared in awe.
Jerry wasn’t sure what I meant. “What are you talking about man?” he asked, and I pointed to the tree and told him about how odd it was to see it growing as if such a thing was normal. “Hey, this is where they come from. We don’t do palm trees up here man, but we do Doug firs.” I continued to marvel at that tree while Jerry puled boxes of cereal out of a pantry and began to make coffee and toast. Soon, we had cleaned Jerry’s mother’s kitchen out of anything edible and began to plan our next move.
How, in a story of this type, do I tell the tale which was to stretch out before us for the rest of the summer? I had no idea on that morning as we ate every crumb in the apartment that we could get our hands on that I would be there for two months. Maybe I would relocate to Bellevue, the suburb of Seattle in which I awoke that morning, or maybe I would get the itch and be on the road again the next week. Dave and I liked Bellevue well enough though, as much of it as we had seen out the windows of his mothers’ apartment, and so we decided to search immediately for an apartment. The rest of this story will recount only two or three stories of the two months that we actually ended up staying in Bellevue, as to tell the whole tale would be lengthy and boring, even for me who is doing the writing.
Jerry helped us to find an apartment, and it turned out that two young women that he and Paul were acquainted with occupied a unit close to our own. As a result, with Jerry and Paul frequently at our place or at Marilyn and Sandy’s, we were soon part of a network of young people and were made to feel very much at home. Paul was not on the very best of relations with his family at the time and spent many days and not a few nights at our apartment, and on many of those evenings some or all of us would be at Marilyn and Sandy’s. We kept the music down as the apartment had some very strict rules, but still managed to have a pretty good time.
Dave also managed to enter into a relationship with Sandy, which had two effects on me. The up side was that I no longer had to hear about Stacy. Dave hadn’t dwelled on the topic of his lost love exactly, but I still heard about it more than I cared to on the road north. I knew little about girlfriends one way or the other, and so had nothing really to offer in any such conversation. Dave and Sandy’s little fling was a superficial thing; more of a mutual fancy than anything else. A sharing of the sofa, a holding of the ads at the pool, a kiss goodnight was all it amounted to in what was the age of sex ‘n drugs ‘n rock ‘n roll. The down side was that my shyness and fear of being turned down by any girl in whom I might show any interest continued to dog my heels, and so while Dave made contact I continued to play my role as the friend who could never get any further than the estate of friend, which was a role that I was becoming heartily sick of.
But since the role of just friend was to be my lot, for the time being anyway, I chose to play it well, and in no time I was friendly with Lisa, who lived in another building of the complex but who was frequently at the pool. Lisa was a student who worked part-time doing something or other during some of the summer days and had a fair amount of time to lay around the pool or lay in the sun outside of her unit. Lisa had a boyfriend named Carl (of course) and as that took the issue of us developing a relationship off of the table the pressure evaporated, and we just hung out together risk-free.
Lisa and Carl were straight, and I mean really straight! I don’t know about the role of sex in their lives – that was certainly none of my business – but there was no evidence whatsoever of drugs and rock and roll. Carl was doing something with computers, which was very new in those days, and spoke of something called Cobol, a computer language that I still know nothing about. I believe that Carl was in business but he could have been in the CIA for all that I knew. Lisa and Carl did not typically associate with long haired, bearded people who lay idle around the pool all day, rode a motorcycle around wearing only shorts and an old high school football helmet (borrowed from Paul), and spoke of little that involved vision and stability. Nevertheless, I found them interesting and would listen to them closely as they talked about their visions, plans and goals in life, and simply listening to people will frequently bridge differences and allow for a decent relationship; at least, it has usually worked that way for me. There were many areas in our lives in which we differed that could be bridged but on one point we could not agree at all, and that was in finding any worth in anyone connected in any way with the Seattle Liberation Front.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kathy and Roy were members of the Seattle Liberation Front, hereafter referred to as the SLF, and they had given me their telephone number when we separated in Big Sur. Now, happily ensconced in an apartment across Lake Washington from Seattle, I gave them a call and was extended an invitation to visit them, which I accepted at the earliest opportunity. I left one afternoon and drove a very long way around the north end of Lake Washington and finally found the house where they lived.
Kathy and Roy lived with several other people in an older, multiple story house near the University of Washington. The house was a commune of sorts, with all of the duties of cooking and cleaning and whatever needed to be done divided up among the members. They were all probably SLF, although I cannot claim to know that as a fact. It sure sounded that way though. Over a dinner of crepes the conversation was weighted heavily toward the sins of the bourgeoisie and the war in Vietnam. “The so-called threat of communism in Vietnam is not a treat in any way against the lives of working people and students in the United States” the argument went. “The threat of a true leader uniting the people of Vietnam to kick out the imperialists (us) and helping the people to improve their lives through common work and struggle is what scares the shit out of the fascist pigs who run this country. If the people here learn that they don’t have to lay down and be cannon fodder for impotent generals who get their nut counting bodies, or be economic units for fat cat industrialists who are polluting our land, exploiting their workers and living like kings while the poor scratch to survive, they just might throw off their chains and take control of their own lives.”
The conversation went on like that for a while and I spent most of my time there listening, being unlikely to keep up with these very focused and articulate radicals. Some of the members of the commune were leery of me at first but after sharing a few joints, one or two of which were my own, I was accepted as being harmless if slightly stupid, and became the focus of several long winded dissertations on the evils of the war, capitalism and a good many other features of American life. At length, Roy suggested going out for a beer, and that was always the way straight to my heart.
We piled into somebody’s car and made the short drive to the group’s favorite watering hole, where I engaged Roy and others in topics other than politics briefly. We talked about our separate experiences on our trips to Seattle, I spoke of my favorite burritos (with a few of the Seattle natives asking me “what’s a burrito”), and so on. A classic American evening of sitting on bar stools and shooting the breeze about nothing in particular was underway when all of a sudden I realized that one of the group, an African American student, was waving Mao Tse Tung’s “Little Red Book” under my nose and explaining how the Chinese leader had provided the best model for non-white oppressed citizens of the United States to conduct an insurgency against the power brokers of this country. The revolutionary gentleman allowed that white supporters were welcome to assist in this long march to a workers’ and students’ paradise in a secondary role. I assured my passionate friend that I would be perfectly comfortable in that role, since I was more than a little tipsy and did not assay this to be a good time to engage in a whole lot of critical debate. On rare occasions I have proven myself capable of exercising good sense, and I believe that this was one of those times.
Eventually we ended our evening and returned to the commune, where I ill-advisedly climbed into my truck at least three sheets to the wind and navigated myself through the still-unfamiliar streets and freeways of Seattle, across Mercer Island (I think) and somehow safely back to our apartment, proving once again Otto Von Bismarck’s reflection that God has “a special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.” I have sometimes wondered what happened to those people with whom I shared that evening. Probably they ended up as bankers, professors, or dead.
It was this band of friends that I was trying to defend to Carl and Lisa, and they had no intention of buying my line. “Those people are the lowest people in our entire society. They attend good schools, enjoy the comfort and protection that America offers them, and then they bite the hand that feeds them. They think that they are entitled to what I work for and earn while they sit around in their shacks, smoke pot, screw each other like rabbits and clog our streets with their demonstrations while people who want to make something of themselves are trying to get to and from school or work. I don’t care if the authorities put them all in jail and throw away the key, or give them a one way plane ticket to Russia or Cuba or anywhere they want to go, if they will just go,” and so on in that vein. I tried to make the point that under it all the SLFers were just people, but especially Carl was not on board with that. He considered them a danger that should be addressed, and the sooner the better. Through it all however we managed to maintain a friendly relationship, although I accomplished that by not letting on how much of the SLF program intrigued me.
I have mentioned earlier how I loved to ride my motorcycle around the east side of Lake Washington wearing nothing more than shorts and a football helmet, and on one such ride I saw something that has stuck with me for forty five years. I was riding on a two lane road towards Issaquah when I passed a sign in front of a church. On the sign was a picture of Jesus, but it was unlike any picture of Jesus that I had ever seen before or have seen since. This Jesus had a beard, as any good picture of Jesus should, but it was much more neatly trimmed than I remembered from the days when I attended a Baptist church in San Diego as a teenager. And His hair! This Jesus’ hair more nearly resembled the sort of haircut that a clean cut American boy might get in a Kansas barber shop in 1955 than the long hair that we are all so very much familiar with. Apparently the association of long hair with everything that is unChristian was so intense that the congregation could not bring themselves to allow Jesus to look like a hippy, which I frankly doubt that Jesus did, and so instead He ended up looking more like “The Captain”, the face that appeared on the packs of ZigZag rolling papers that we used to roll our joints with. Many, many years later I read a quote by Anne Lamotte in which she said “It is a sure sign that you have created God in your own image when he hates the same people that you do.” In a slight modification of that statement I believe that you could also say “If you worship a god which looks a lot like you, it probably isn’t God.”
There were many other stories that I could write concerning that summer, but that would require that I write a book. We tried to find work but only half-heartedly. Boeing, the largest employer in the area, had been denied permission to build a supersonic transport plane that summer, and there was a scramble for such jobs as were to be found, with locals usually winning out over out-of-town long-haired slackers. The end of our second month was approaching and we gave notice to the manager that we would not renew. A small party with Jerry and Paul and a few other friends was held at Marilyn and Sandy’s apartment that went on well into the night, heedless of the long and exhausting trip that was to begin the next day.