Going Nowhere Sideways – Chapter One


Leigh Curran


August, 1969

I had never smoked dope and I had certainly never done acid so when I began to see people’s faces melting and the sky raining blood I closed my eyes, which I had been warned not to do, and fell into the void.  Joan Baez sang something meaningful and Janis Joplin did more damage to her throat.  Jimi Hendrix threatened to pull me back with the Star Spangled Banner … even opened my eyes which closed with a scream when his crotch burst into flame.  In the void there were monsters of my own making and the guy I had come with was swimming nude in a muddy pond with his best friend’s old lady.

If I hadn’t been so depressed I might not have gone.  Might not have wandered over to Washington Square and seen the crudely written letters on a piece of paper bag: Woodstock.  Might not have started a conversation with a stringy-haired stranger and gotten into a van with him and a couple of other people and headed north pretending I had lived as long and hard as they had when, in fact, I hadn’t which is probably why I was feeling so depressed to begin with.

A few nights before in an alcoholic rage my boyfriend, Davis, called me an arrogant fuck because I appeared shocked when I stumbled on him necking with his roommate at a table for two in the back of a restaurant in Greenwich Village.  As soon as I retrieved my jaw from the floor, I fled, locked the door to my apartment, turned off the phone, opened this journal and burst into tears.  Determined not to let the apparent end of my “relationship” with Davis get the better of me, I collected myself, turned on the radio and switched from WQXR to parts unknown.  And as “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius” unsettled the stuffy air in my modest walk-up, I stood before my bathroom mirror, parted my hair in the middle and searched my tear-stained face for the hippy who would free me from older men, The New York Times and classical music.

The next day, on my way to work, this scrap of paper attached itself to something on the bottom of my shoe:

Tofu, rice cakes, organic carrots

Now is all there ever is.

Peanut butter, mung beans, sprouts, goat’s milk

There are no —

And I decided since Now is all there ever is I would go with the first thing that came into my mind that would complete the second sentence and that was: There are no good reasons to go to work.  So I didn’t.  Didn’t even call in.  Just began walking.  Taking in the day and the city.  When I came to a corner I went in the direction that felt right at that moment.  And the moment began to so absorb me that I found a euphoria replacing the anguish I thought I should be feeling and wondered if what I’d been in with Davis was Love … or some sort of idea of it.  And suddenly there I was in Washington Square on a glorious day and there was this guy with stringy hair holding a sign that said Woodstock and that reminded me of the scrap of paper so the first thing I said to him was: Finish this sentence.  There are no —  And he said: Accidents.

At that moment a psychedelic van pulled up in front of us and it was pretty clear the only place to be was on it.

Inside the van I took my first look at a joint.  A young woman whose name I can’t remember … a sort of earthy, flowing thing with scattered hair and understanding eyes, took the joint to her comfortable lips, licked it, lit it … and sucked it deep into her lungs.  Then she held it out to me.

Acapulco gold … she said, readjusting a generous breast so her baby could keep on nursing.

I considered taking a toke but was afraid since I didn’t smoke I’d start coughing and give myself away.  The woman whose name I can’t remember, instantly hip to my ambivalence, motioned for the joint and discreetly gave me a demonstration.

You haven’t lived until you’ve made love stoned … she said.

God … she was probably right.  I took the joint.  I looked at the guy with stringy hair.  Dirty skin.  Beads.  Bare feet.  I tried to imagine us “in the sack.”  Then, as if our thoughts had actually comingled, his skinny arm crept along the top of the back seat.  I handed him the joint in an effort to divert his intentions.  He took a hit and, as the joint dangled from his mingy lips, he let his arm fall casually over my shoulder.  I looked at the woman whose name … whatever.  She rolled her large, soulful eyes.

You got an old man, Molly? … she asked.

Well … I stammered.

She nodded her head as if ‘yes’ was the only answer.

Sure … I said.  Then added:  Over thirty … (which was true) … and for good measure tossed out: Republican.

Pretty soon the arm found its way back to the top of the seat where it remained until the proper amount of time had passed and it could be returned, without embarrassment, into the lap of its owner.

What’s his name? … asked the woman.

Davis … I said and found myself awash in a wave of nausea.

I’m hip … she said … my old man, awwww … it is so fucking complicated.  Why is it always so fucking complicated?  Like … where’s the joy?  Except I got you, Babe … she said nuzzling the bald head having its way with her breast.  All they’re really good for is making babies.  What do you think about that, assholes? … she said raising her voice to the entire van.

Time to cop a few zzzzzzs … said the guy with stringy hair.

And that’s pretty much what he did in spite of several shabby choruses of Cum Baya which eventually segued into I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.

On the 10-mile walk from the car to the concert the woman whose name I can’t remember lit another joint and I took (yes, it’s true) my first puff of marijuana.  The rush was so liberating that I began a conversation about rock music as if I were an authority.  Mainly I thought fans should start a protest against rock groups who mumble their lyrics.  The driver of the van said: They don’t make any sense anyway.  The woman said:  Who?  The lyrics or the fans?  And the guy with stringy hair said: Your thing is your thing.

And I suddenly felt pompous and exacting like Davis who is (no, WAS) obsessed with saving the English language from extinction which is why I’m sure he gave me this journal.  He said it was so I’d have a place to put the secrets of my soul … but I know he meant abandon my fondness for ellipses … indent the first line of each paragraph; employ the King’s English and, above all, USE QUOTATION MARKS!  Electrical wires hissed and spit in the pit of my stomach.  Somebody passed me the joint again and after burning my newly cut bangs trying to relight it … I asked the question:  When you know you don’t belong where you are and you stay anyway … are you in the moment?  The guy with stringy hair said: Bummer, man.  The earthy, flowing thing with no name gave me an understanding pat on the back and I started flashing like a neon sign on my last year with Davis.  The mood swings, the nervous excuses and the tearful confusion that accompanied Davis’s attempts to, let’s just say it: Get It Up!  And the sudden shock of recognition opened my mouth and to the hills of Woodstock and long, spaced-out lines of my generation I shouted: You were never impotent!  You were fucking your fucking boyfriend!

And I began to laugh and cry at the same time.  The woman whose name I can’t remember had gotten swallowed, along with her baby, in a wave of Birkenstocks that was crashing on a fallow cornfield and nobody else was paying much attention.  I was, evidently, doing my own thing.  I grabbed onto a serious, square-looking woman in front of me who had most likely exchanged her dress for a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt the day “The Female Eunuch” came out and never taken them off.

Men are assholes … she said unsympathetically.

That was the second time in one day a woman had called a man an asshole.  And both times I’d secretly wanted to agree with them.  And the realization that my mind was actually responsible for such a shameful thought —

Take me home.  Somebody please take me home!  I’m not supposed to be here!

I held out my thumb and worked my way to the back of the line.

We’re never going to get out of here … I cried.  As soon as the concert is over this line will reverse itself and an entire generation will be stranded in rural America.

A big burly guy with a bandana on his head put his arm around my shoulders and taught me the meaning of the word: Paranoia.  Then he gave me a Valium which turned out to be acid and anyone or anything that might have been familiar was lost to me.

Johnson said I was carried into the medical emergency tent kicking and screaming.  I know when I looked into his almond eyes and his shiny, black hair fell between us, I buried myself in it as if I were burying myself in Jesus.

He said the first thing I wanted him to know was that I didn’t smoke or drink and that included caffeine and I wasn’t particularly political so would he please not ask me how I felt about draft dodgers hiding out in Canada.  When he asked me what I’d taken I said: Nothing.  Then I started to cry and braid the lock of hair that was draped over his shoulder.

There’s some bad acid going around … he said.

No one wants to take me home.

Where’s home?

I don’t knooooow!

And he put his arms around me and rocked me back to reality as if he had all the time in the world.  Later I learned he also had a car.

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