August turned hot in San Diego. Floe and I slept outdoors under the stars. Two sleeping bags served as our mattress and a single sheet covered our bodies throughout the night.
I told her everything.
After recounting the fight with the junkie thieves in Haight-Ashbury, she said,
“You scare me.”
“Why?” I was telling her the truth.
“I left home, because my father beat me. I thought I was possessed by Satan.” She didn’t explain why.
“Was he religious?”
“An Army chaplain.”
“I don’t believe in God.”
“But you have a violent streak.”
“I’m trying to leave it behind.” I held both her hands loosely. “You’re helping me.”
“I can’t be around violence.” This was a warning.
“I’ll never show you any.”
A soft kiss sealed our pact.
We woke to the morning mist melting off the flower fields around the bungalow. Floe and I made love with the dawn.
This heaven was meant to last forever.
Within two weeks forever ended with the last day of summer.
Our hostess’ aunt and uncle were coming home.
Helen said they were cool, but even cool people had a problem with strangers sleeping on their lawn, especially when one of them was only seventeen.
“Rockford wants to heads up to San Francisco.” Floe lay close.
“And do what?” Her friend was a wanderer.
“Play music on the street.”
“And live where?” I had passed through the Haight in June. The hippie era had been replaced by a blight of speed freaks.
“We know some people there. I’d like you to come.”
“I’d like to come too.” I offered another option. “Or you could come with me to Boston.”
“That’s so far away and cold. I don’t like the cold anymore.” She was a child of the sun. Her light brown skin had been toasted golden by the months on the beach. The sun had deposited blonde in her dark curly hair. She was a goddess in my eyes.
“It’s a nice city.” It was a half-truth.
I was white and she was black. Boston wasn’t nice to mixed couple, but I could protect her from any harm. I was half-Irish. My family came from Jamaica Plain. We took care of our own.
“Where would we live?” Her ‘we’ included Rockford. They were only friends, but she owed him for saving her from a bad scene.
“There are cheap houses in Mission Hill. Several hippie communes are in that neighborhood. I’ll drive cab at first and then teach school in October.”
“Sorry, but I don’t think I’m ready to settle down. Not on the East Coast.” California was stronger than her Texas blood.
“We don’t have to decide today.” I was a big believer in putting off the inevitable.
“No, we don’t,” she smiled and caressed my thigh. “Today’s the day. We’ll all trip today.”
“Mark is back?”
Rockford and she had been staying with a professor from San Diego State. His field of study was the effect of LSD on the human mind. The two of them were his guinea pigs. They got $20 a trip.
“With a new patch of LSD-25 from Sandoz.” The Swiss-made acid was the purest in the world.
“Then today is the day.” I pulled her on top of me. She liked it that way.
Afterward we joined the rest of the summer commune in the bungalow. Helen was making omelets.
“LSD is better on an empty stomach,” Rockford said, sipping at green tea.
“Not better.” Floe shook her head. “If your stomach is empty, then it takes half the time for the acid to hit.”
“Fastest with the mostest.” Rockford raised his cup of tea.
“Anyone else following Doctor Rockford’s path.” Helen held two plates in her hands. Vincent and Cuchillo loved her cooking.
“Me too.” AK was a hearty eater.
“I’m not tripping, so I’ll have a good breakfast.” Pam wasn’t jeopardizing her nursing career with an acid trip.
“Just toast for me.” I popped two slices in the toaster and turned to Floe, who said, “I’ll have the same as you.”
Rockford went over to the stereo and put on Tim Buckley’s HAPPY SAD.
“Timothy Leary said mind set was as important as setting. We have Moonlight Beach. A setting doesn’t get better than that and I love STRANGE FEELING.”
The opening song of the LP mirrored the atmosphere of an early morning in Southern California. We ate recapping old trips like a sports team preparing for a big game.
A little after ten Rockford rose to his feet.
“Enough talk. Let’s do it.”
We looked at each other. No one was bailing out and we exited from the bungalow. The sky was clearing up and the bouquet of mist off the flowers was a dream to our senses.
After piling into Cuchillo’s Mercedes convertible, Helen drove us down Encinitas Boulevard across the PCH to the bluff overlooking the beach.
Mark was standing in his front yard.
The lanky professor was wearing a seersucker suit. He introduced himself and wrote down our names in a journal.
“I want you to have a good time and don’t freak out if you see me writing down anything. It’s strictly for my research.”
“The CIA tested LSD on soldiers in the 50s.” AK was anti-Pentagon like the rest of us. The Vietnam War was almost over, but the government had been saying that it had been almost over since Nixon took office.
“I’m not with military. I’m more after opening the mind to other worlds.”
“Same as Aldous Huxley.” Looking at his suit I recalled Huxley grooving on the texture of his gray flannel suit. “Will you be tripping?”
“Not today.” He shut the journal. “But I like it. Now this young lady is studying nursing?”
“Yes.” Pam was going to enter her last year of nursing school in the fall.
“And you’re not tripping either?” Mark asked Helen.
“I like my world the way it is.”
“So it will be the five of you. Normally I would prefer you to stay in the house.”
“We want to be on the beach.” Rockford understood the end of the summer meant the break-up of our temporary commune. “I can handle the beach.”
“Swimming can be dangerous on LSD.”
“We’re all good swimmers other than Vincent,” I explained to Mark.
“I have no intentions of going in that ocean. I’ll be grooving on the beach.” The dancer loved the feel of the sand under his feet.
“I won’t stand in your way, but no one is climbing that cliff high. Understood.”
“Yes.” The five of us replied in unison.
The path to the beach was steep. No one wanted to end up in the hospital.
“Then here it is.” Mark handed us each a small slip of paper. “The dose will be 100 micrograms. Basically the same as a grain of sand. The trip should last about 8-10 hours. I’ll be there to help you through any rough moments, but this stuff is very pure. Happy trails.”
We looked at the small white blotters. Vince was first to go, then Cuchillo, Floe, Rockford, me, and lastly AK. Pam was looking at him with disapproval.
“No one has ever died from LSD,” he said after swallowing the tab.
“No, they’ve only gone crazy.” Pam was very straight about drugs.
The newspapers loved reporting stories of trippers staring in the sun for hours, losing their minds, hurting themselves, and crying for hours.
“RD Laing felt that most bad trips are a result of shaking off the trauma of birth, but there’s no proof of that or that anyone ever destroyed their cornea looking into the sun for hours.”
“Newsweek printed that story.” I had read it in 1968.
“And they reported that North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked a US navy destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin.” AK distrusted any news other than baseball box scores.
“Bad trips do happen,” Mark admitted, but never on this LSD.
“I dropped it ten times this summer.” Rockford opened his hands and said, “And nothing bad ever happened to me.”
“This acid is pure.” Floe was another devotee.
“It’s your picnic.” Pam shrugged to AK. “I don’t want anyone to call me a ‘buzzkill’.”
“No one can say that about you.” AK kissed the blonde. She never nagged him about smoking pot.
“Now that’s out of the way.” Floe held out her tab to me.
I opened my mouth and she put the LSD on my tongue.
“Welcome to the New Church.”
I reciprocated in kind. Cuchillo and Victor put their tabs on their tongues and swapped them with a soul kiss. AK simply flicked his into his mouth.
Victor held out his hand.
Mark gave him another tab.
Victor offered it to Helen.
“Be with us.”
She could refuse the man of her dreams and we applauded her joining the clan.
“I suggest we go to the beach by car.” Mark was playing it safe.
The LSD would take about an hour to hit, two hours to peak to a psychedelic plateau lasting till sunset and then the gradual return to reality.
“Fine with me.” I embraced Floe. She was a good feeling in my life.
Our group divided between Mark’s Saab and Cuchillo’s Mercedes convertible. We listened to Joni Mitchell on the short ride to the Moonlight Beach parking lot.
Weeks ago I had seen the two lesbians with whom I had spent a sordid weekend in Big Sur. They had been with Bill. The drifter and I had fought in San Francisco. He was bad news, but not seeing the girl’s pickup was a good thing and I opened my mind to the world.
Our troupe tramped down the beach to our driftwood shack.
Surfers greeted Mark with hugs and longhaired girls kisses him on the cheek. He was well-liked by everyone and this greeting warmed my heart with a fuzzy glow. We were all part of the great experiment.
“I love it here.” Floe unfolded our blanket. “But there are other places along the coast. I’d like to show you them.”
“I’ve seen Big Sur.”
“Not with me.” She stripped off her top, baring her breasts to the sun. Her body had no tan lines. “And I’m much nicer than those lesbian ax-murderers.”
“Please, no more mention of them.” I grimaced thinking about the three nights lost to their sexual mania. Nymphomania was a dream better left to fantasy.
“Sorry, I won’t bum you out.”
“You never could.” I pulled my shirt over my head and lay on the blanket.
AK and Rockford were respectively playing the African thumb piano and guitar. Floe picked up a tambourine and handed me a kazoo.
“Join us when you feel the mood.”
Moonlight Beach wasn’t a nude beach, but the high cliffs prevented any voyeurs a view of our camp and the police never came down this far from the parking lot. We were free.
Helen, Cuchillo, and Victor peeled down to the state of Adam and Eve. Pam joined them and for the first time I saw what everyone else saw in their mind’s eyes.
Pam possessed the ideal body to satisfy the desire of an American male and probably many females. Her breasts were soft handfuls of flesh tipped by rose nipples and her firm belly curved to an angel tuft of blonde pubic hair separating taut thighs and shapely calves. Even here feet were pretty.’
Her skin crawled with arcane etchings and the sun shadowed runes of lust.
“Stop staring.” Floe whispered without a hint of jealousy.
“I think I just got off.” I turned to Floe.
Her eyes shone a fluorescent green and I grinned with an ignorant understanding of the universe.
“Me too.” Her pupils had consumed her green irises with the hunger of a black hole. “Let’s go let the sea touch us.”
Floe and I rose from the blanket.
The wind off the ocean bore the scent of Arctic brine and the crashing surf revved with the thunder of a herd of Harley-Davidson.
All my other trips had been practice for this day.
A hand unbuttoned my jean shorts. It wasn’t mine.
“We don’t need clothes.” Floe was naked.
We had been sleeping together for almost a month.
“I never saw you before.”
“That’s because before you only looked.” She tugged off my jeans.
They fell to my knees and I kicked free of them.
I was naked.
Floe was naked.
All we wore was the wind.
We dove into the ocean.
It spoke every language of the sea.
I broke to surface and turned to watch my friends charging into the surf.
Millions of years ago we came the sea.
Today we returned home.
The surfers shouted welcome.
Seals popped up their heads from the foam.
Pelicans skimmed the rims of waves.
“Are you feeling anything?” AK treaded water by my side.
“I’m feeling everything.”
“Everything.” I was in contact with Alpha Centurai. The extraterrestrial Morse Code borrowed the bassline from Booker T and The MGS. The galaxy embraced the day and I told AK, “It will hit soon. Be prepared.”
“The Boy Scout motto.”
The sun’s dappled reflection prismed on AK’s face. I lost him in the kaleidoscope and swam to Floe.
She bobbed every surge. I joined her. The beach was getting distant.
“We’re caught in a riptide.”
She woke from the trance of eternity.
“Let’s get back to shore. It’s safer there.”
She shouted to Rockford who had been tugged farther out on the unseen stream. His eyes widened in acknowledgement of his situation and he skirted the undertow to a cresting wave. It took him closer to shore. Two seals accompanied him through the surf. Floe and I reached the beach and shook the sea from our flesh.
Beads of water hung in her hair like pearls waiting to melt in the sun.
I popped them between my thumb and index finger.
“My hands was made for this.”
The water rained on her face like tears.
Floe pulled my hands to her breasts. Her nipples were cherry pits after the swim in the cold sea. Goosebumps armored her flesh. My hands were bleached white from the Humboldt Current. Floe’s skin was the color of treasured dust.
We were one.
“Your hands were made for this.”
I couldn’t argue with her logic.
AK, Pam, Rockford, and Cuchillo straggled out of the surf like shipwreck survivors. The swell monstered to triple overhead were and the surfers fought the cruel sea with fearless determination.
Victor came to the water’s edge with eyes blinded to everything, but the young surfers.
“They are Gods.”
“They challenge the Gods.” I had read more Bullfinch’s Mythology than the Bible.
“You really are high.” Pam was right.
“But a nice high.” I kissed Floe.
Her smile fired my heart.
All the cracks melted from it.
“Floe, someone is happy to see you.” Victor pointed at my groin.
“It’s not a sexual erection, but a psychedelic erection.”
They all laughed and we danced up the sloping sand to our driftwood refuge. Helen and Victor were happy to see us.
“Welcome back to land.”
“We have returned from the sea.” Rockford picked up his guitar. He winked at me. “No Beatles.”
“Play what you want.” The LSD had washed away the rejection of a teenage girl in love with Paul McCartney.
AK and Rockford played songs from Monterrey Pop, Woodstock, and Altamont. They reincarnated the 60s.
We sang, we danced, we cried, and we touched the sky.
We stopped our revels, when a seal pup waddled onto the beach. He stared at us with big black eyes. I tried speaking in English and French.
He barked out a command.
I jumped back from his snarling teeth.
“What is he saying?”
“He’s saying the same thing every animal says.” Floe threw the pup an apple. He caught it with circus expertise. “He’s saying that he’s hungry. Sorry, seal, we don’t have any fish.”
The baby seal spit out the fruit and scampered into the surf.
Mark wrote down everything.
I went over to him and stared at his journal.
The words belonged to forgotten race.
“What do you feel?”
“Before everything and now the goodness of the day.” I hugged him. “Thanks.”
“Thank me later.” His smile was a child of the Summer of Love. “Your friends are already saying it.”
I turned my head.
Underneath the bluff Cuchillo, Helen, and Victor were locked in a menage-a-trois. Their three bodies shape-shifted between species and Floe bushwhacked me with a whisper.
“Leave them alone. Be with me.”
“Forever.” Seconds were paralyzed minutes and minutes expanded to hours.
I was peaking.
“Forget forever. I want you now.”
Our embrace carried us to the end of galaxy.
We held our course through the stars.
Our bodies formed a comet.
Its flight brought us back to now.
AK, Rockford and the rest were laughing hysterically.
Sand covered us from head to toe.
“Beach donuts.” Victor was burnt red from the sun.
My flesh felt torched.
Floe was hot to my touch.
At least none of us had stared into the sun.
It was dropping into the Pacific.
The tide was rising up the beach.
I was coming down.
I was exhausted and Floe said, “Not home, but not here.”
I knew where her was and also that I didn’t want this summer to end.
“You asked if I wanted to go north with you.”
“Yes.” Her eyes gleamed with expectation.
“I’m joining the circus.”
Floe threw her arms around me. I lifted her off her feet and we wheeled on the sand around and around until I set her down.
Questions are good answers on LSD.
We put on our clothes and headed for the parking lot.
Traces of the LSD flashed across the cliffs. The Mayans had carved images in the sand. I couldn’t read the hieroglyphics. No one else saw them, but as we approached our cars, Floe said, “Shit.”
I saw why.
Bill and the two lesbians were sitting in the back of the battered pickup truck. The drifter was wearing a leather vest and torn jeans. His beard was coming back. He looked like a deserter from Quantrill’s Legion ready to burn Kansas.
I had told Floe about the fight in the Haight.
She stepped closer to me.
Everyone had heard the story about Joey and Jill in Big Sur.
They stopped walking.
“Well, well.” Bill hopped from the flatbed.
The bruise from my punch had faded from his face.
“Fags, niggers, and Jews.” The southerner cracked his knuckles.
Joey and Jill recognized me.
Their drug had been speed. It still was speed.
Bill licked his lips like a lizard.
Speed made him a brave man.
LSD made us vulnerable.
“When Joey and Jill told me about some guy they fucked in Big Sur, I thought maybe it was you. Then I thought I saw you at Black’s Beach, but Joey said you had a smaller penis, right, Joey?”
“Everyone is small compared to you.” Joey was in love.
Jill didn’t look happy.
She liked women, especially when the only man in their life was Bill.
“So fag boy, how’s fucking a nigger whore.”
I stepped forward with clenched fists.
“Don’t,” begged Floe.
My ears were blind.
Bill raised scarred knuckles.
This was one-on-one.
He bobbed and weaved with cunning.
It was Ali versus Sonny Liston.
I came from Maine.
We don’t believe in boxing.
I slipped a right under his guard and connected with his jaw.
For all this talk Bill was a pug.
He dropped on his ass.
“Do me a favor and keep your hole shut.” I turned to guide Floe past him.
She was running down the beach.
I chased her.
She ran faster.
Waves cut at her feet.
The tide was slapping against the cliff.
Voices shouted out warnings.
A knee-deep surge knocked her down and sucked her into the ocean.
I grabbed her arm.
“Stay away from me.” She scrambled to her feet. “I told you I didn’t like violence. I told you more than once. I told you about my father. You’re no different than him.”
I had killed three days of Woodstock with a second of Altamont.
The surf swirled up to my thighs.
A path led up the bluff.
Surfers were shouting from above.
“Floe, we have to get out of here.”
I pointed to the cliff.
She snapped out of her trance.
We were in danger.
A wave thundered behind us. I pushed her up the trail. She reached back for me. The sea wanted an offering. I scratched my hands into the dirt and crabbed to safety.
A minute later we were on top of the bluff.
The surfers asked if we were okay.
Floe walked away down 3rd Street.
I wasn’t supposed to follow her.
She became a shadow in the dusk.
I cried good-bye.
She never saw my tears.
This was a bummer.
I raised my eyes to the night sky.
The moon rose in the east and meteorites scarred space.
It was short for something and I knew that I would never know what that was.
I rubbed my knuckles and walked toward the PCH.