Joyous Lake 1975

The Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace; Music on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York has impacted American music culture for over fifty years. Richie Havens opened the festival and Jimi Hendrix closed the concert with fiery psychedelic finesse. A half million freaks, heads, and hippies attended the outdoor show. Millions more have said that they were there in spirit.

I was not one of them, because that August weekend I was washing dishes and walloping pots in the kitchen of the Tara Hotel in Braintree, Mass. 17 years old and trapped in a meaningless job listening to the newscasts of Woodstock over a radio. I thought that I must have done something horribly bad in a previous lifetime to have been punished so severely in the present.

Few of us knew that the Summer of Love was history. Teens grew their hair longer. We smoked more pot. I dropped LSD. The anti-war movement expanded into the middle-class. Woodstock was our two-syllable nirvana and everyone wanted a piece, even years later.

In the summer of 1974 my friend AK and I had traveled cross-country to Southern California. We met a Iowan hippie in Encinitas. I had an affair with his friend Floe, a slender teenaged black girl with sun-bleached hair. At the end of August the four of us had shared an acid trip on Moonlight Beach. The Pacific had roared with motorcycle-loud waves and a seal had spoken to us in a trance. It was a nude beach. None of us wore a thing. After we came down Rockford announced that Floe and he were heading north to San Francisco. I would have joined him, if AK hadn’t talked me into returning to Boston.

“We have no money.”

Rockford and Floe had hit the road with $10 and a guitar.

We heard nothing from them for months. AK was studying keyboards at Berkeley School of Music and I was teaching at South Boston High School. We lived next door to one another in Brighton. At the end of the winter AK received a phone call from Rockford.

During the phone conversation Rockford explained that the Haight had been overrun by junkies, speed freaks, and scammers.

“A very uncool place.”

“Did he say anything about Floe?”

“She left for Mendocino and Rockford came out here with some girl named Nona. She said that Woodstock was cool.”

AK said we should go there and the next weekend AK and I drove west from Boston in his Firebird.

4 hours to Woodstock.

Rockford’s house was a renovated chicken coop by Tannery Brook. Nona was an exotic Eurasian with long black hair and a Balinese legong dancer’s body, although ehr New Jersey nasal grate trumped by her beauty. That night we smoked hash and then walked down the wooded side street to the Joyous Lake. Joe Cocker was playing at the small bar crowded with hippie die-hards and free spirited women.

The raw-voiced singer from Sheffield had just emerged from a de-tox clinic. His friends refused him the right to drink, while they guzzled beer. Cocker’s voice retained its gritty tone and the audience hit the floor during his version of WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS. I danced a full-breasted brunette from the town. Her dress revealed her tits down the nipples.

“You want to come to my place?” She ground her hips against my pelvis.

“Love to.” Hippie girl, pot, sex. It might have been six years after Woodstock, but this was my Aquarius moment, because the Season of Lust was in full swing winter, spring, summer, and fall.

I had sex with Dora three times that night.

The following morning she shook me awake.

“You gotta go.”

Her body was a little bigger than I remembered. And she was a little older in the morning light. I didn’t care. I wanted more.

“Why?” I was ready to move into her small apartment overlooking Main Street.

“Because my old man is coming back tonight.” She threw my jeans and tee-shirt on the bed. “He’s a biker.”

“I’m going.” Bikers were trouble and jealous bikers were even more trouble. I dressed as fast as Clark Kent turning into Superman.

Ten minutes later I was back at Rockford’s place. AK and he were playing African thumb piano. Nona was swaying to the rhythmic plinking. They laughed at my story. I didn’t think that it was that funny and later I saw Dora on the back of a Harley.

Her old man was a tattooed bear.

I visited Woodstock a couple more times over that summer.

Dora was always with her old man.

AK and I dropped acid in July. We rocked out in the chicken shack. I played kazoo, Rockford strummed his guitar, and AK plunked out notes on his kalimba. Nona our muse was the dancing tambourine girl.

We wanted her, as did every man in Woodstock. Nona was Rockford’s for the moment. AK and I hated him for that possession. Neither of us were proud of that envy.

That autumn Rockford and Nona moved back to the coast. Neither AK nor I returned to Woodstock in the following years.

I ran into Nona in Bali in 1993. Rockford was living in Iowa. I saw him in 2009. AK taught school in Jupiter Beach, Fla. We meet each other at least once a year. The three of us remained good friends.

This past Labor Weekend I passed through Woodstock on the way to the deep Catskills. The Joyous Lake was now the Not Fade Away. The hippies were in their 60s. I walked over to Dora’s old apartment and knocked on the door. No one answered and I went downstairs to the Garden Cafe.

“Does a Dora live upstairs?”

“No.” The long-hair chubby teenager answered, while smearing organic butter on a bagel. “But a lot of guys ask the same question. She must have been something.”

“She was.”

And so were the rest of us from that Woodstock generation and the Age of Aquarius keeps on shining with the Earth pointing at that constellation for the next 2000 years.

Rock on, Dora.

The name means golden and my memory of that night glows like stolen treasure from the Summer of Love.

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