I’ve always enjoyed getting lost in strange towns and since I was broke that was my only entertainment in Milwaukee – a strange town indeed. On Saturday nights, I watched German and Polish farm-boys, come to the big city for an evening of beer drinking and beer vomiting, challenge each other to daredevil leaps across the opening drawbridges that spanned the Milwaukee River. Sometimes they made it.
Milwaukee hippiedom amounted to one music store that sold records, bongs and crucially, pot to put in those bongs. It was there I met a speed-freak wraith named Tulip. This sixteen-year-old ruin was another sign to me that all was not well in the post-Woodstock days of 1969. We’d just had Manson. Altamont lay dead ahead. The party was if not over, definitely winding down and the casualties were piling up.
Earlier that summer, I’d met another faded flower child. She had allowed a motorcycle gang to pull out all her teeth with pliers. She was tripping on acid at the time of the extraction and was sure her sacrifice would win her the bikers’ undying approbation. No wonder I felt a millennial chill.
Tulip asked me for spare change when she’d been kicked out of the record store for loitering with sonic-erotic intent. She was one of several speed freaks I’d observed attach themselves to the front of the mountainous Marshall amplifier used to play records at ear-bleed volume. They glued their emaciated bodies to the amp’s front like an octopus to a rock. There they clung thrusting their pathetically thin pelvises into the vibrating sound cone as they and the guitar solo reached climax. And, there they remained until the store clerk peeled them off or the music ended and they slid to the floor in post-coital bliss.
In the late 1960s, the Lower East Side and especially St. Mark’s Place is the epicenter of New York’s hippie-yippie-trippieworld. It is Haight-Ashbury East. It is lined with head shops, record-shops, bookshops, poster-shops and vintage-clothes shops. The sidewalk is packed with freaks, frauds and fools. It’s fun. But, by the early 1970s, when Rob and I move in, St. Mark’s is lined with strung-out hippie-junkies and emaciated speed-freaks – the kids who forgot to get off the train before it hit the wall. They are gawked-at by tardy tourists in from Omaha and Osaka. (“Is this where the hippies live?”) In 1968, I see a Black hippie digging for food in a macrobiotic restaurant’s garbage can. Fifty years later, I see him doing the very same and he looks remarkably healthy. I’m astounded that the macrobiotic manure hasn’t killed him.
In the early ’70s, now that their patchouli-oil bubble has burst in an explosion of exceptionally sour disappointment, the hippie-junkies and emaciated speed-freaks feel it is their right to “liberate” money from others – “This is a stick-up… er, I mean, this is a revolution, man.” Young actors are easy prey. So, when returning home late at night, Rob and I avoid the sidewalk and practice our broken-field running down the middle of the street. We figure this gives us more chance of evading any muggers or bullets headed our way.