In the autumn of 1970, I dropped out of U.C. Berkeley, took a job with an ecology group, and moved into a hippie pad on the corner of Ridge Road and Leroy Street.
I should have finished my M.A. in Journalism that spring, but in April, after heated demonstrations over the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, the university shut down. Arriving at Sproul Hall for a seminar, I found the doors blocked by armed National Guardsmen and got tear-gassed on my way back across campus.
I spent the summer reading. In September, I walked to the student loan office, stood outside, and then turned away. I didn’t want to borrow any more money and I didn’t want to be a journalist. I wanted to write books, but I felt too young and unfinished to have anything to say.
My salary from the ecology group was $150 per month. I paid $30 per month for my 10-by-12-foot room in the hippie pad. My kitchen consisted of a hot plate and the communal fridge out in the hall, from which people kept stealing my butter.
In the old divide of straight vs. freak, I was the straightest person in the house. This didn’t stop the men from hitting on me, except for Rocko next door, who was too busy having sex with his partner, Zora. I knew about their sex life because I heard it as I lay trying to sleep after a long day of typing letters for the ecology group.
Rocko and Zora shared their room with a dog and three cats. The woman who lived on the other side of me kept rabbits. Many, many rabbits. It was like Watership Down in there.
Coke for sex
Darren lived in the attic. His hitting-on-me technique was to hold out his hand and show me a heap of white powder. “Cocaine,” he said invitingly. “Queen of drugs.” This didn’t work well for Darren because I believed that drugs were Bad for You and also a distraction from our real work as young people: the Revolution. We were supposed to be ridding the world of war, racism, and poverty, and also overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with … well, we’d think of something.
I did not intend to be distracted from this purpose by Darren or his powder.
After we attended a political meeting together, Darren criticized the way I’d expressed myself. “You use too many long words, man. And you’re always quoting stuff. You need to talk like one of the people.” This worried me for awhile, but a few years later I moved to England, where I met lots of people who talked like me.
Pancakes in the basement
Stuart lived in the basement under a low ceiling criss-crossed with pipes, drove a VW bus with a woodstove in it, did nude yoga on the roof, and dressed in clothes from the free-stuff box outside the Grand Illusion head shop on Hearst Street.
When you visited him, he’d offer you a pancake. He’d grab a handful of flour from a big metal tub, dribble some water in it, and slap it on a hotplate. As you sat in the basement eating your pancake – and honestly, they were delicious – you’d hear water and other, less salubrious (take that, Darren) fluids gurgling through the pipes.
Stuart was the only tenant who had a phone, having tapped into a Pacific Bell line. This was very right-on, like not putting stamps on your utility-bill envelopes. The Post Office used to deliver them regardless, and making companies pay for postage was one way to stick it to the Establishment.
I can’t remember Stuart’s hitting-on-me technique. It was probably the pancakes.
Location, location, location
Jake, the manager, was in his early twenties like the rest of us, and shared a two-bedroom apartment on the ground floor with a roommate called Gnome. Jake’s technique was to take me out to dinner, which I appreciated, and spend it boasting about the size of his stereo equipment, which I didn’t.
Gnome’s technique — showing me how to cure a cold by eating ten cloves of raw garlic — was a complete write-off.
I’m not claiming to have been a femme fatale, mind you. My main attraction for the hippie-pad men was that I was there.
Sticking it to the Establishment
Rocko had applied to the state government to be declared emotionally (though obviously not sexually) disabled, and thus unable to work.
The night we learned he’d won, and would now be supported by California taxpayers for the rest of his life, we had a party.
Jake carried his huge speakers outside, Stuart made a big batch of pancakes, and we danced around a bonfire to celebrate Rocko’s victory over the Establishment.
Things ain’t cool
A few days before, Jake and Gnome had “liberated” some radio equipment from a local shop. “Liberating” was extremely right-on, another way of sticking it to the Establishment, and definitely not to be confused with “stealing.” In their front room, they set up an FM station with a broadcast radius of about six blocks. Gnome asked to borrow my records. He and Jake were my brothers in the revolution, and anyway, “things ain’t cool,” so I lent them …
… all of the Beatles. Paul’s first solo album. The Stones, the Who, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Cream, Deep Purple, Blind Faith, Buffalo Springfield, The Chambers Brothers, It’s a Beautiful Day, Peter Paul & Mary, the Kinks, Creedence Clearwater Revival …
Volunteers of America
A cruel war was raging. African-Americans were demanding their rights and Native Americans had occupied Alcatraz. Back in April, after four students were shot dead at Kent State, Governor Ronald Reagan had vowed to stop the university protests “if it takes a bloodbath.”
My beloved country was fighting an unjust war and brutalizing its own citizens, and the governor wanted to kill me. I seethed with energy and righteous anger. I considered joining the radical Students for a Democratic Society, but how did one do that? They weren’t listed in the Yellow Pages.
A new guy, Lee, moved into the hippie pad. He had wild dark curly hair like Jerry Garcia’s and wore a knife on his belt. He took to dropping in for long chats. Maybe he enjoyed my conversation. Or maybe, unlike Darren, he’d figured out that words are my drug.
After a few weeks of this, we expressed a shared interest in getting it together and letting it all hang out. I was excited, not just because I liked Lee, but because doing something about the Revolution would be a lot easier if I had someone to do it with.
When Lee knocked on my door the next evening, I tugged my halter-top down a few inches and called, softly, “Come in.” I was worried about the thin walls. I didn’t want Rocko and Zora overhearing us, or the girl with the rabbits either.
Make war, not love
Lee came in with fire in his eyes, but not for me. “You know those guys who’ve set up an FM station over on Archer Street? Jake heard they’re gonna raid us tonight and steal our equipment!” He paced around my small room. “But it’s okay. I have my knife, and Jake has his gun.”
I went cold. “Jake has a gun? But, Lee – ” I had trouble getting the words out. “You wouldn’t kill these guys over some radio equipment, would you?”
He glowered at me. “It’s our stuff!”
That line from the Bible about seeing through a glass darkly? That was me. I wanted to believe that all my brothers and sisters in the Revolution had the same dreams for America that I had.
Now, as Corinthians goes on to say, I saw “face to face.” Darren just wanted to take drugs and get laid. Rocko wanted other people to pay his way. Jake and Gnome were thieves and, it seemed, potential killers. And Lee was on their side.
I said to Lee, “It’s not your stuff. You stole it.”
The word that should never be used. The spade that should not be called a spade.
Lee snarled, “You’re talking like the pigs, man! You’re worse than Lyndon Johnson!”
“No, you are. You’re the one who’s prepared to kill over a bunch of stuff.”
He slammed out of my room.
The raid never happened.
I moved out anyway. I never saw my record albums again.
There were some good songs on those albums. Songs about danger. Songs about freedom. Songs about love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.
We said we wanted revolution. Well, you know …
Revolution (the Beatles)
Volunteers (Jefferson Airplane)
The Song Is Over (The Who)
If I Had a Hammer (Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, sung by Peter Paul & Mary)