A True Account of a Murder: From Another Side
I suppose I have told this true tale enough times, I ought to find it an easy task to commit said narrative to writing. Nonetheless, I shall approach this written record of actual occurrences with all due diligence and precision as I endeavor to share a concise and hopefully entertaining account of a series of real events that occurred to me over the expanse of seven years or so, events that have inexorably altered my understanding of life and death, and indeed, of what is real.
The reception of a live storytelling (the mode by which I am accustomed to sharing this true tale) and an account to be read are necessarily very different experiences. A reader cannot see the storyteller’s facial expressions, hear intonations of a speaker’s voice, nor notice fluctuations in pupil size, breath or gestures as she or he peruses the print. The reader is thus left to other devices to evaluate the verity of what is read, and at most might envision an imagined rendering of the narrator in the act of storytelling to help assess the truth of words writ, assuming the writings’ style doth permit.
I understand that the content of this tale will be difficult to believe even for the most open-minded amongst you. I will attempt to keep such factors in mind as this true-life account of multidimensional and mindboggling implication flows from memory to fingertips to keyboard, and then to whatever medium to you, dear reader, and as I present my case with appeal to your deeper access to truth, free inquiry and discernment, as well as to your sense of literary pleasure.
Devotions in Yosemite
It was pitch black in the tall stand of pines engulfing the campground, dark pillars holding up a slightly less dark sky. I had a sense of invisibility as I began to chant in a deep, billowing and sincerely devotional manner, “Aum Namah Shivia, Aum Namah Shivia,” over and over, differing tune and tone, pitch and volume as seemed to suit the prana flowing through my form. As I attained a thoughtless trance-induced euphoria, a miniature-helicopter-like-air-chopping-sound brought me back to my earthbound senses at the floor of Yosemite Valley.
With the proficiency of an old west gunfighter drawing a sidearm, I retrieved my flashlight from whatever pocket, flipped the switch and simultaneously drew a bead on the mysterious culprit with a thin beam of light. An extremely large beetle with a rather extraordinary set of antennae lay motionless on the forest floor. In its descent to the pine needle-strewn ground, the bulky insect had missed my head by mere inches. Seemed certain the creature’s interruption of my impassioned intonations was indeed an auspicious sign—for lack of a better term.
Upon a closer inspection of this oversized bug bearing an intimidating set of mandibles, I realized its branching antennae were almost precisely analogous to the headdress on the Siva naTaraj murti1 depicted on the cover of a book which I was carrying amongst my belongings titled, The Only Dance There Is.
The two to three inch beastie bore armor that reflected or refracted an array of colors, glimmering on the surface of the bug’s deep black exoskeleton. Its two elytron (wing plates) and an armored sclerite (back plate) showed brilliant green and purple and blue and red under the narrow beam of light, leastwise in my recollections of the arrayal of colors vivid even under artificial illumination. The feathered antennae were black and branched out elegantly, likewise shimmering in the ray of light the flashlight projected. This beetle apparition held my attention for a number of minutes as I closely studied its colors and form before deciding to double-check my assessment of the antennae/sacred statue analogy.
I found my tent in the dark forest, pitched in Yosemite National Park’s only walk-in campground aside from those far from roads on backpacking trails. No reservation was required at this site, and the fees were reasonable. For a combination of these and other reasons, this particular place to pitch a tent or hang a hammock was notorious for attracting hippies, hardcore rock climbers, and various other fringe elements amongst outdoor enthusiasts.
At one time Camp 4 was completely avoided by the park’s transit buses merely for the fact that the people who were want to pitch their tents under the tall trees there had excessive amounts of fun—a clear case of discrimination. To offer an image to grant a glimpse of the raucous reveling this site had seen, I was told that during the seventies and into the eighties the tourists aboard passing transit buses often received a choreographed view of so many moons from far below the sky whilst driving by this locus of a somewhat wilder Yosemite camping experience.
In my cozy tent, sleeping bag already in place and a small Ganesha tapestry hanging above my pillow, I examined the photographic representation of a brass dancing Siva, a thin yet muscular figure surrounded by fire and crowned with a multi-branched headdress, four arms and two legs and posture in perfect yogic pose. I unhesitatingly concluded that the beetle’s antennae and the statue’s headdress were indeed more than mildly similar, if not nigh precisely same. Now I will concede, many features of religious representations are drawn directly from observations of nature. Nonetheless, the coincidence of my transcendental chant and the apparition of this beautiful beetle with the Siva Nataraja headdress was enough to convince me of the auspicious nature of what I had just experienced.
Still in a devotional mood and mode, I lit candles and incense, smoked some herb and began to chant “Ganesha Sharanam, Sharanam Ganesha,” an invocation of the popular Indian deity who is responsible for the creation and removal of obstacles, among other things. After a few rounds on the mala I wore round my neck, I stopped to examine my breath and enjoy the altered awareness that comes from meditative states generally, and specifically from the resonant vibrations of a voice’s voluminous Sanskrit intonations bouncing around a practitioner’s skull and chest—quite a nice “natural” high.
As this euphoria waned, I experienced a sense of loneliness, and quite naturally associated this with my dearth of female companionship. I had been separated (for a second time) from at the time still-legally-wife for better than a year, and had not experienced any sort of significant satisfying intimate relationship since our parting. The energy I had directed into the aforementioned newfound ancient practices had gone a good distance towards transforming these sorts of immediate desires. I had just attended a wedding, however, and I met a beautiful and intriguing European woman (I’ve forgotten her specific nationality—Spanish or Italian, I think) on a backcountry trail and again in the campground who piqued my interest and sense of want for female companionship.
In this mood and mode, I decided to ask via this divine remover of obstacles, represented (‘present?’ or perhaps better, ‘presented’) in the orange and brown and yellow died tapestry depicting said elephant-headed deity, if he might be so kind as to remove whatever obstacles might prevent me from a positive relationship with an attractive woman. “Nothing too committed, mind you Ganesh,” to paraphrase my thoughts, “I’m not even divorced yet,” though seems other reasons and events unmentioned and perhaps unmentionable had indeed already sealed that union’s cessation.
A Neophyte Post-Hippie-Era Hippie Goes to Haight-Ashbury
From Yosemite, I hitched a ride with a self-represented white-Rasta driving a rusty blue van to the nearest town with rail service, and from there caught a train to San Francisco—my first visit to the west coast since I was ten years old. I checked into the Green Tortoise Hostel, a lively bunkhouse in a neighborhood of strip clubs and trinket stores and a noted hub for world-travelers where one could stay for $20/night and feel fairly comfortable openly smoking marijuana (in the recreation room, at least) and sipping a beer whilst mingling with numerous and interesting world travelers. The hostel also served as a point from which one might embark on adventures to a number of destinations aboard one of a number of painted-green vintage greyhound-style buses converted to offer cuddle-puddle style sleeping accommodations for upwards of forty-three people.
I soon set out to explore San Francisco’s fabled hippy-mecca, the Haight-Ashbury district. Admittedly wearing rose-colored glasses (er, John Lennon style shades) as I walked up and down these streets, the once-homeland of the free-love, peace, and psychedelic movements, not to mention the origin of lots of good music, I scarcely noticed that the Grateful Dead were either dead or had moved to Marin or Sonoma County, that Janis and Bobby McGee were nowhere to be found (though Wavy Gravy was still hanging out), or that love-ins were just plain a bad idea with HIV a significant factor by the mid-1990’s.
It didn’t even annoy me that the price of herb on the street was rather steep. A “haighth” (a Haight Street-purchased eighth-ounce of marijuana) is often up to a gram light, else up to twenty-dollars higher than the price to be found in California outside of this particular cutthroat marketplace (unless you “know somebody”). I was also not yet so immediately conscientious regarding the ironies of the commodification of 60’s counterculture as I am now, and went about my days a very happy and high neophyte-postmodern-hippie wandering the Haight.
Blissfully exploring this famed district of the city by the bay, I soon discovered Golden Gate Park’s “Hippy Hill,” a locus for drum circles and lounging in the sun popular with longhair types and counterculture sorts since at least the Summer of Love. Emblematic of this hill’s history, some random dready informed me that an oddly shaped tree growing alone at the foot of this hill was made famous by a photograph of Janis Joplin sitting atop its branches. This tree is thus colloquially called “the Janis Tree.” The rather short and bushy tree is said to be just big enough for “a girl and her guitar,” though I’ve seen two or three climb out of this tree’s tangled branches—girls and guys and not necessarily guitars.
Other stands of trees surround the grassy hillside, home to a cadre of gutter-punks and the likes who are often the source of the infamously short bags of weed, and apparently not infrequently the perpetrators of violence after dark in this once gathering-place of peace protests and free-love. I made the acquaintance of a few of these and other regulars who hung out around the hill and at the Haight street entrance to the park, and thus maintained my supply of grass despite the steep prices, remaining comfortably high the whole time I was in the Bay area—as is only apropos for a recently-converted hippy’s first time in San Francisco.
On one particular evening I remained on the Hill until after dusk, enjoying the evening sky’s last light. As I began to make my way out of the park, I approached a shadowy grove of trees at the edge of the expanse of green grass. Though the sky was not yet without a reminder of the sun’s setting, the trees obscured what little natural light remained.
In what seemed a mere moment, a shadow-obscured male figure approached unseen from my left side, said something I cannot precisely recall after placing a pistol to my left temple. I felt two concussions as I turned to retreat, my vision suddenly pixilating to a narrow tunnel—not unlike experiencing any significant bang on the head—and I was abandoned of my consciousness far before I hit the ground.
Next thing I knew I was standing on the other side of this grove of trees, just off Hippy Hill, disoriented and bewildered, but without the expected holes in my head—and it was now daytime!!
“What the fuck just happened?” I asked myself. “Did I dream that? ‘BANG-BANG?’ Did I sleep in the trees? I know I didn’t go back to the hostel last night . . . what the fuck?!?!” I didn’t even have a headache, and certainly no blood gushing out some hole or holes in my head.
I gazed around at the sunlit park setting and contemplated the absurdity of this most bizarre of situations, indeed quite dazed and confused (please pardon the cliché). After a few moments attempting to regain my bearings and composure, I noticed an attractive young woman sitting in an open grassy span. She was sporting a recently shaved-head and wearing a lacy white dress, and as her gaze met mine I decided to make my way towards the opening. Over the next few seconds, as I walked in the direction of this apparition, my cognizance of the preceding events faded from memory. Not until seven years later—perhaps to the day—would I recall the happenings of that odd evening, and specifically the percussive event which turned that nefarious night into day; led back to this lost memory by a mysterious woman, a mistress of disguise, who rather reminded me of this woman sitting on the patch of Golden Gate Park grass.
I sat several yards from this lovely figure in white and pulled out my notebook to write in my journal and work on some poetry. As I not so subtly smoked some sensimilla, I noticed she was taking note of me. A week or so later this first person encountered “on the other-side (?)” approached me during the Sunday afternoon drum-circle on Hippy Hill.
“Hi!” she said with a warm smile whilst offering me a small flower extended in her right hand, “my name is Aan—Angela . . . ”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Jeffrey.”
After half-a-moment of silence, I invited Angie to sit with me. She asked what I had been writing the other day. “Poetry,” I told her.
“I write poetry too. I’d like to show you some sometime, if . . . if I have the opportunity.”
Sort of randomly, she also told me she was into “role-playing” whilst we sat on the grassy hillside, enjoying the wild rhythms and melodies of drums, flute, and whatever other instruments were engaged in the weekly improv sesh, and sharing bowls of herb and joints with others sitting round us. I admit, I presumed she meant by “role-playing” some sorta San Francisco fetish sorta somethin’. I soon took a different interpretation of this statement, however—excepting of course when she brought out the maid’s outfit complete with puffy petticoat one time . . .
Angie and I strolled to Strawberry Hill to ride a paddleboat around this hill’s moat, ate some Middle Eastern cuisine, then headed to her studio apartment, just off lower-Haight. The first thing I noticed as we entered her domicile was a large tapestry of Ganesh on the wall at the head of her bed!!
“You might not believe this . . .”
I told her of my supplication to Ganesha in Yosemite several days previous, and she told of having made a similar request around the same time. I soon moved my things from the hostel and ended up staying with Angela for about three weeks.
A couple of interactions in our short but sweet relationship became important clues informing my endeavors to discern the meaning of a bizarre storyline, clues later pieced together that would vex my already broadened paradigms and expanded consciousness.
A few days after our meeting, Angie showed me some of her poetry, apparently typed on an antique typewriter (judging by the font) on plain white paper. Upon examining these words, I realized they were in fact Ani Difranco lyrics.
“Very nice,” I said as I handed them back, silently contemplating any number of scenarios regarding these indie-pop lyrics presented as personal poetry. Is she a plagiarist? Is Angie really Ani—thus the mispronunciation of her own supposed name at our introduction? Is Angie role-playing as Ani Difranco role-playing as an anonymous person? On another occasion I asked her to play the guitar that sat in the corner of the otherwise nigh empty apartment. She replied that she was “trying to give it a rest for a while.”
After a few quite blissful weeks with this sweet and somewhat mysterious lover, I boarded the Green Tortoise bus for a ten-day cross-country trip to the east coast. After our parting, Angie apparently made a few attempts to contact me, and I likewise made a few attempts to call her when I was back in the Bay area. I haven’t seen or communicated directly with her since, however, unless a mysterious woman I encountered about seven years after this in the Bay Area was Angie, yet again playing roles . . .?
Revelations of Life and Death: The Golden Gate?
Many miles and experiences later, I was in California holding tickets to fly from LA to Delhi. I was staying with my friend Joe in the Sebastopol area, an hour or so north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We were passing through downtown at dusk on a balmy yellow-sky Friday evening when I intuitively sensed I should check out what was goin’ on at the bars. Tom, a friend of Joe’s, stopped the small sedan at my request and I hopped out and walked round the corner to O’Connell’s.
The chalkboard at the door touted the evening’s band, “D’Gin” or some such seeming cipher. I’ve revisited potential meanings of this playful appellation, and come up with at least three probable intentions: Dig-In, Da’ Gin (fermented juniper berries) and Djinn (genie), or some such clever derivation. I bought a pint of a local microbrew and danced my way towards the back end of the bar and towards the stage. The vocalist, a tiny little dready mama with a stellar voice, immediately made eye contact with me, raising one eyebrow to form a rather distinctive wrinkle on her forehead. She reminded me a bit of Angela, and was a perfect doppel to Ani Difranco—so far as I could recall either woman’s appearance.
Two of my friends from the area had fed me the information that Ani D. owned a house near Santa Rosa, was involved with a festival in Guerneville, and had been playing with an anonymously named band at small venues in the area. Ah, now everything comes into focus . . .
The band on stage was by no means amateur, and I recognized some of the songs as Ani D’s, though the very professional renderings were a bit different than any I had heard in recordings. The vocalist even executed a particular Ani stage move I had only seen performed as effectively by my good friend Star/Jessica, and of course by Ani D herself on video (had not yet seen her perform live, unless with an assumed identity on this evening in Sebastopol).
Danced till first set-break, then sat at the bar. The mystery vocalist sat down a seat away and ordered a beer. I complemented her music and introduced myself. She told me her name was “MeMe” or “MiMi,” pronounced like a repetition of the personal pronoun. The tenor of her intonation indicated an intended sarcasm, as if to say, “and you know that’s not my name.” We exchanged a few other pleasantries, then she abruptly turned her head in a manner I interpreted as a bit haughty, and then walked backstage.
Later I smoked a bowl of some NorCal heady-nuggets (very good marijuana) with some guys from her band and a few random others in the parking lot behind the bar. When I asked one of the band-members his occupation, he replied, “Oh, these days my life pretty-much just revolves around MeMe.” The same sardonic tone seemed to convey the same subtle message: “and you know that is not her name.”
Next day I investigate. At Incredible Records I leafed through the sizable collection of Ani Difranco CDs. On the cover of a more recent release, a portrait of Ani with dreadlocks bore a more than slight resemblance to “MeMe.” An older album cover—from about the time of my SF affair with Angela—showed Ani with a shaved head, and indeed I perceived certain similarities between this photo and my recollections of Angie’s visage.
At a coffee house in Cotati later that day (or the next?), a woman I happened to engage in casual conversation mentioned a free Berlin show in Golden Gate Park. Still in investigative mode, I started to add stuff up: free concert by a powerful female vocalist from the eighties (think “Metro,” not “Take My Breath Away”), and thus a likely influence on Ani; Golden Gate Park, the location where I’d met Angela . . .
Didn’t find the show, but whilst sitting on Hippie Hill I noticed a short woman sitting to my left with a couple of openly affectionate lesbians in her company (fitting well respective M.O.’s for both Ani D and Angie—both self-avowedly bisexual). She looked directly at me and raised one eyebrow, displaying the same pattern of wrinkled forehead flesh I had noted on the singer’s face a few days previous. I made bumming a cigarette and a loaded bowl my excuse to investigate at closer range closer.
This woman, no dreads and only an inch or so of hair on her head, told me her name was “Slide,” then tossed her head away—like rolling one’s eyes with the whole of one’s skull—in the same manner as “MeMe” had done after our brief exchange at the bar. Hint: think of the TV series “Sliders” (plot deals with wormholes in time—gateways to other-dimensional Californias), and perhaps also pertinent, recall the female lead in Fight Club standing in “the power-cave,” takin’ a puff of a cig and uttering only the imperative, “Slide . . .”
Slide walked off into the trees, and I wondered if perhaps her head-tossing gesture meant I should follow. Uncertain, however, I remained seated, continued puffin’ with the others sitting there, then left the scene all the more intrigued as these strangely connected events continued to unfold.
Next day, again seated on the hill, I noticed a woman with the same body-size and shape who on queue stared back with the trademark raised-eyebrow-wrinkled-forehead-look clearly displayed. This woman had straight long brown hair, however, wore a non-descript light blue down jacket and blue jeans, and was in the company of some similarly conservatively clad college kids. She and I were the last two on the hill just after the sun faded. We exchanged a few slightly awkward pleasantries, then went our respective ways. I was quite certain this was the same woman as “Slide” and “MeMe.” I was quite baffled.
Third day sitting on Hippie Hill, I once again encountered a woman whose face and forehead and body seemed certainly to belong to the same woman, in yet another guise. This version was sitting in the midst of a gathering of SFSFs (I learned of this acronym of an appellation from some acquaintances whose gutter-punkish paths had lead them to the company of the “San Francisco Scum-Fucks”). This manifestation of said mistress incognito had long straight black hair, wore black patent-leather from unsnapped newsboy hat to knee-length shiny leather boots, and looked straight at me with the same characteristic facial expression as the previous three incarnations (for lack of a better word).
Again using shared smoke to gain a closer vantage, I sat three or four persons away from this sexy leather-clad mystery lady. I loaded a bowl to legitimize my continued presence amongst this rather savage tribe, observing with an attempt at nonchalance. A few other park inhabitants joined the flock, including a rather rotund black man that bore a startling resemblance to Forest Whitaker who reclined just below me on the hill.
I had encountered this fellow quite a few times over the previous few days. Upon the occasions of our paths meeting, he would generally approach me asking for money or herb. “Hey, ya’ got any weed? Gimme some weed,” he’d say with a whiney nasal tone, or the same spiel, replacing “weed” with “money.” In retrospect I recalled that years previous some random Rainbow hippie happened to have randomly mentioned that Ani D. and Forest W. were friends. Ah, now things come into focus . . .
Whilst reclined below me on the hill this fellow began to fidget and then began to gyrate his hips in a rather grotesque fashion. I immediately thought of the fat demon Siva stands upon in Nataraja pose. Following this intuition, I turned the sole of my right foot towards this fellow. He started to squirm as if suddenly very uncomfortable, then cried out, “SIVA!” and then stood to his feet and walked away. Just as I had thought! Ha, ha!! A few moments later, a senior member of the gang, short but broad and burly, approached me.
“We decided we’re gonna have a conference now, and it’s time for you to move!!” he growled in a not unfamiliar, labored and deliberately low and gruff tone—the kind of artificially raspy articulation adopted by many crusty older homeless men or veteran A-campers (“alcohol-camp” at Rainbow Gatherings).
“I’m actually comfortable where I’m at,” I responded, seated in half-lotus, and quite appropriately ending my sentence with a preposition, to which he followed with something quite like the imperative, “You better fuckin’ move or I’m gonna fuckin’ kick your head off!!”
“You know, this is a public park, and if you and your friends don’t want to sit by me, you can move,” said I, not willing to cow within view of this mysterious woman, genie, goddess, or whatever she was, despite whatever hesitations and trepidations instinct or conditioning might be want to elicit.
The whole of the crew, with the notable exception of the mysterious femme fatale, then began to hurl their refuse at me. Luckily the projectiles were McDonald’s sacks and wrappers, plastic bottles and paper cups, and not glass 40oz. bottles, dirty needles or whisky flasks. In the midst of this barrage, the leather-clad lady leaned forward, looked my way, and said in a rather stern yet calm voice, “You should move.” I gladly took the opportunity for a graceful retreat, yet left this scene with more questions and few answers. Who, and as importantly, what was this being, appearing in so many different guises? though not by given evidences a shapeshifter, perhaps a djinn? a goddess (and possibly even with a capital “G”)? and certainly at least a masterful Mistress of Disguise.
Later that night at the Haight Street entrance to the park I was puffin’ with some random hippie when a small dready kid not much over eighteen stumbled out of the dark, bleeding from a few places on his face and carrying himself as if he had broken ribs.
“Eight of ‘em jumped me! Eight of the motherfuckers jumped me and beat the shit outa me . . . all I did was ask for a cigarette,” he said, a few tears falling o’er bloodied cheeks from blackened eyes.
I wrapped a wool blanket around him, concerned he might go into shock in the chilly San Francisco evening air, and then tried to call emergency services. The injured individual then wandered off into the city night wrapped in the gray blanket before I could secure him some medical attention, to my slight dismay.
The next morning I made my way down Haight Street from my bed in the bushes deep in the park. A few blocks down Haight I encountered a young couple moving things into a moving van. They stopped me and asked if I wanted to make a few bucks. I obliged them, and spent somewhere near an hour carrying tables and chairs and TVs and so forth down a narrow flight of stairs. The fellow was moving back to the Midwest, Michigan or Ohio or some such. After emptying the apartment we all stopped for a smoke.
As we stood in front of the stoop and I had a chance to study faces, I thought for more than a moment that the female of the pair looked more than mildly familiar, save that she was three to four inches taller than the figure I had been encountering, and she didn’t quite give me “the look,” though had the short hair of “Slide,” a newsboy hat (plaid wool and not black patent leather, snapped closed) and she almost raised her eyebrow appropriately to present the by now psychically imprinted or leastwise well memorized forehead wrinkle pattern.
I walked away nearly certain I was delusional, thought it must be merely my poor mind was imagining this face’s repetitive apparition. Had someone dosed my morning coffee? Had I slipped over the fine line between insightfulness and insanity? genius and mental degeneration? I bought a cup of coffee and smoked a bowl to think it over.
That evening I was yet again sitting on Hippy Hill, taking no warning from the violence of the previous day and evening. The sun was nearly set, and there were at most a couple of other people remaining on the green grassy slope. I was about to get up to leave when I noticed the woman I had met whilst moving furniture earlier in the day. She was on the hill at about the same elevation as I, and twenty to thirty yards or so to my left.
She turned her head to look my way, and lifted one eyebrow to fully form “the look.” Because of the bend of her knees, the cuffs of her bell-bottoms were lifted enough to reveal that she was wearing elevator shoes (if the proper term for the then-hip super-thick-healed footwear) with THREE TO FOUR INCH SOLES!!!! I was NOT delusional in my earlier identification: it was indeed the same woman! She immediately stood and started down the hill towards Haight Street, towards the grove of trees (where seven years previous . . .). I decided I had to ask, needed to clarify, must understand . . . WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!
I caught up with her at the edge of the trees.
“Hi! So how did the rest of the move go?”
“Oh, fine,” or some such said she.
After a couple more unsubstantial sentences were exchanged, and before I had the chance to ask her anything of her “true” identity or connection with these other uncannily similar incarnations, I was suddenly blindsided by a blow to my left lower lip from a fist flying from out the shadows. Only mildly fazed, I managed to do some sort of fancy wrist-lock with my left hand as my shadowy assailant drew his fist back for a second punch, and then responded as automatically with three quick rights to his head. This was a rather uncharacteristic response, by the way, as I am generally non-violent by nature and I am not trained in any martial art.
Still grasping my assailant’s wrist as he was reeling from the punches I had delivered, he exclaimed rather dazedly,
“Hey, that’s not fair! You’re not s’pose ta’ grab somebody’s hand, you’re just s’pose ta’ beat ‘em down!!”
“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t realize there was some unwritten code to street fighting,” I replied, rather more calmly than I would have guessed I would’ve, considering the situation.
“But . . . those were some good hits!” he added, extending his hand almost as if not of his own will or volition. I grasped his hand, gave him a half-hug, and said, “Well, I love ya’ brother.”
“Well, I don’t love you!” he said, retreating a step or two, perhaps afraid I might try to kiss him or something.
“That’s OK, you don’t have to,” I said as I started to walk away. Of course the mystery woman had left the scene by this point.
A few steps into the trees and further towards the tunnel that leads to Haight Street another fist came out of the darkness, striking me in the same spot on my already bloodied left lower lip. I did not even stop to face this second attacker—among other reasons, because I assumed more black-clad SFSFs might materialize from out of the woods to take me on as a pack, as they had with the dready kid the night before.
As my head was buzzing from the combination of two punches, vision a bit blurred, a memory returned that shook me to the core: seven years previous and just before I had met Angela, it was not two punches, but two bullets that were delivered to my head at this very spot. I had been lured back to this site, perhaps precisely seven years after my initial altercation in this precise location, to have my memory restored—to be granted the realization that I had passed on to “the other side,” or some such shit. Overwhelmed by this bizarre realization, I quickly made my way down Haight Street, and I have not returned to Golden Gate Park since. Since and at that moment of realization knocked back into my head, I have sifted through many other memories and from various evidences have been given cause to wonder: has this sort of thing happened to me before? since? Indeed, after a good bit of retrospection and contemplation and reflection on certain past events, I believe and have good evidences it has . . .
I walked hurriedly down the nearly deserted street, still trying to put things together, tears more than once falling as my steps carried me down Haight towards the east. I checked into a hostel, and next morning took a bus to Cotati. As I hiked towards Sebastopol from the bus stop, I noticed a large and conspicuous banner hanging from a privacy fence next to the highway. It read, “YOU ARE MISSED, JEFFREY!” Yet another clue, hint or allegation strewn before my path, whether to clarify or misdirect . . .
For the next three weeks or so I stayed at Joe’s. Before this fateful stay in San Francisco I had already missed the bus to pick-up my passport in time to catch a train or plane or bus in time to get to LAX in time to board my non-refundable courier-flight to Singapore to then fly to Delhi to begin a trek to Mount Kailash, so I decided to go to the National Rainbow Gathering, a hippie thing held somewhere in the National Forest every summer since 1972.
To offer a glimpse inside the mist-shrouded and mysterious camps of these many and variegated magical peoples who migrate to alternating states’ wild places each summer for this celebratory rendezvous: wander with me now, if your imagination will allow, down a mountainous dirt road, sometimes only one lane-wide. You’ll notice stone cairns denoting that you’re on the right track, else indicating where to turn. At main gate you’ll be met by someone or other likely wearing tie-dies and uttering the traditional greeting “Welcome Home,” and likely offering a hug and maybe a toke off a joint.
Between parking and the main meadow you may encounter “A-Camp,” the only place where alcohol is acceptable at a Rainbow Gathering (one of very few basic guidelines or “rules” at Rainbow Gatherings other than common decency and respect). This is certainly the least mellow fire-circle to sit around at night. Said group might be described as not unlike bikers without hogs to ride and who also happen to have heightened environmental consciences,2 else as gutter-punks who left the gutter behind for a seat by a rushing mountain river, but couldn’t yet leave the 40oz back in the city. Bus Village(s) are obviously located where there is viable parking, thus also towards the outskirts, and are often site of a veritable art exhibition with VW Bugs and Buses and even sailboats soldered atop old school buses, as well as other modern gypsy-style hippy wagons custom-designed and embellished as if the certain product of an intense acid trip.
After a mile or two hike towards the interior of the gathering, you’ll notice an increasing density of tents and hodgepodge campsites with Buddhist prayer-flags or tie-died tapestries bearing depictions of Hindu deities or Jimi Hendrix or a Grateful Dead bear or peace signs flying from tree branches. Music from distant drums or from a flutist making merry whilst wandering in a nearby field of flowers or spilling out from a guitar held tenderly by some brother or sister kickin’ it by a smoldering log or the din of some random crew crying out “We love you!!!” in order to elicit the same peace-cry from some other kitchen or fire-pit circle, else some likely synchronized combination of these sounds meets your ears as you get closer to main meadow.
Kitchens begin to appear randomly amidst the forest’s kaleidoscope camouflage, complete with cooking-fires, countertops built of woven sticks, and sometimes earthen-ovens to bake pizza or brownies for the masses. Community fire pits also increase alongside the trail, and all sorts of beautiful people start to manifest out of the forest greenery and the shadows of tall trees. Naked earth-goddess-mammas wearing only glittery body-paint and fairy-wings walk by, gazing at backpack-clad newcomers with exceedingly dilated pupils and blissful smiles as they offer the appropriate “Welcome Home,” and often offer a bare-breasted hug to whatever random homecoming hippie. Keep in mind, however, this is no free-love fest in the late-60’s sense, and respect and reverence accompanies the nakedness here, through and through. Adults and children play in the field and forest, and wild people in many states of dress and consciousness sit and dance ‘round wild drum circles that often last all night.
If you pass by Yoga Meadow, you might see a certified tai chi master giving lessons for free next to an Ashtanga yoga instructor, likewise teaching willing practitioners an ancient healing art for no charge. You would almost certainly hear chants of “Hari Krishna . . .” if you passed near the ISKCON tent (they make really tasty if over-sweetened Indian food, and pretty descent chai, by the way), hymns to Jesus if you happen by “Jesus Camp,” or perhaps pagan chants to Mother Earth or a Hebrew prayer or random (or synchronistically spoken) Sanskrit mantras issued from some circle or other within the greater circle of the gathering site.
Laughter and kind greetings and the smell of weed are in the air just about everywhere, and an overall harmony generally ensues in the midst of so much diversity. I’ve never yet heard of a skirmish between the Jesus-campers and Fairy-Camp (gay/lesbian camp) at a gathering, nor of any pitched battles between Serenity Ridge (an AA/Twelve-Step kitchen) and A-Camp.
I admit I have yet to see a Halal camp pop-up at such an event, though I once happened upon a Kosher camp called “Jerusalem Kitchen” at a National Rainbow Gathering. Indeed, I’d imagine there’d be a much better chance of peace in the Middle East if you sat Jerusalem Kitchen down with whatever Islamic crew might consent to come to a Rainbow Gathering—“Mecca-Camp,” maybe (yes, there is certainly such thing as a Muslim-hippy). Simply fill a hookah with some good Lebanese hash and passed around some mushroom tea, and then let these peace-loving tree-huggers come up with the solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Else perhaps bring Israel’s Knesset together with the Palestinian National Assembly on a small tropical island and dose the falafel or matzo for a similar outcome—though likely with a higher dosage required.
In the somewhat-center of this site of several thousands camped together peacefully there is a large meadow with a “Peace-Pole” posted in the middle, symbolizing the central theme of these gatherings. Food is free here, though everybody’s s’pose to lend a hand where they can. Exchange of cash money is anathema here (unless to contribute to the “Magic Hat” fund for food and other necessities), and credit cards are not accepted. Trade-circle is the central marketplace, where blankets laid-out display hand-made drums, blown-glass pipes, hemp everything, tools and cool hippie clothes and chocolate bars—for trade only. Cannabis is the most stable currency (though that’s the case in the U.S. generally), weed is smoked freely and reverently everywhere, and psychedelic explorations are not discouraged—though drugs are not allowed.
Shanti-sena, or “peace-force” (à la Gandhi), made up of anyone and everyone at a gathering, keeps good order and deals fairly with conflicts. If any responsible adults happen to hear someone call out this Sanskrit mantra they are obliged to make a beeline to the scene of whatever conflict to help resolve, and might be noted that the mere intonation of these syllables is supposed to invoke peace. Nonetheless, the Fed’s can’t seem to stay away, sending in the LEO’s with firearms to harass the peaceful under the guise of “protect and serve.” These “forest-cops” with their side-arms are often told, generally politely, that we don’t much appreciate “guns in our church,” and these intruders are always preceded by calls of “Six-up!!!” to let others down the trail know they ought to extinguish and pocket all pipes and joints till the nuisance passes. Other Forest Service personnel who sometimes show up, biologists or botanists or water-quality surveyors and so forth, are generally received as less intrusive guests than the ones who think we need policing and who carry pistols into our peaceful assemblies and places of prayer.
I have actually heard of more than one “defection” from the Fed’s ranks to the freak-side. Indeed, I’ve been made privy to multiple reports of forest rangers deciding it wasn’t too late to “tune-in” and so forth, stripping off light-green uniforms and joining their long-lost family in a joyful reunion (often after having been offered a tiny piece of perforated paper or a chunk of chocolate covered fungus).
All in all, this rag-tag gathering of peaceful dissidents maintain a pretty tight ship, with no leaders and no designated or elected representatives, no centralized planning to speak of, and consensus as the primary “rule of order.” On the Fourth of July, upwards of twenty to fifty-thousand freaks stand in a massive circle round the “Peace-Pole” to utter the sacred syllable “AUM” (which is, by the way, the root of the Judeo-Christian “Amen,” and Muslim “Amin”—there is a subtly pronounced “ñ” at the end of AUM) intended to promote world peace and harmony.
By the time clean-up crew is gone, scarce a trace of these thousands is left to sully the wilderness scene, and even skeptical forestry bureaucrats and field agents are generally surprised that a bunch of pot smokers and trippers are so fucking conscientious and such responsible stewards of the land. No fire pit is left intact, shitters and compost holes are buried and concealed, trails unmade and reseeded with native seed, and every last trace of human habitation or litter is remediated or removed. You’d be hard-pressed to find even a single cigarette filter remaining amongst the natural forest floor debris by the time we’re all gone.
Anyways, a few days into my stay at this particular National Rainbow Gathering, which was held near Mt. Shasta that year, I was walking along the road at the edge of the site when what did I spy but a familiar small-framed woman with short hair sitting by a tree, singing blissfully to herself and any who might happen to hear her. As she noticed me approaching she ceased her song, reached out her right hand with index and small finger extended and exclaimed (one eyebrow raised in characteristic expression),
“San Francisco says, ‘What’s up, yo’?!?!’”
Before I had a chance to formulate a response, she continued, “C’mere, c’mere, I got somethin’ for ya,’” beckoning me to approach with waves of her hand.
She rummaged through her belongings and retrieved something in a small square plastic package.
“Here, you might need to give this to somebody sometime, er somethin’.” It was a reflective emergency-blanket, still in the wrapper!
“Sit down! Sing somethin’ with me!”
I sat to her left on the side of the dusty road and attempted to recognize the lyrics of anything I might know as she tried out a number of well-known tunes, but to little avail—I’ve only a very few popular songs committed to memory. We abandoned this shaky endeavor as a couple of other hippies happening by stopped to chat. I stood and walked on as she conversed with these others, uncertain of how precisely to perceive this last (certain) encounter with said mystery woman.
Afterthought for the still skeptical . . .
Mind you, dear reader, in case you had your questions: I was not under the influence of any mind altering substance during these encounters, save a bit of weed, and on occasion non-intoxicating levels of alcohol. Neither of these could have altered my perceptions to the degree necessary for this to have been some series of delusions or illusions—save as illusion is what all of human experience is at some level, as some religions contend. Only towards the end of my stay at this gathering did I very reverently receive some smoke of DMT (said substance having been derived from Valerus grass or the root bark of a mimosa tree, by the way), a potent hallucinogen which does have the capacity to produce visions potent enough to be dubbed “delusion.” Oh, and I also chanced to share in a cozy chat with Ram Das/Dr. Richard Alpert at his campsite—speaking of psychedelic spirituality and so forth—though didn’t try any of the goodies likely to be found nearby.
This narrative of events is true, as much as any set of experiences I have known. Many of the conversations writ here are quoted verbatim, and all are at least very close approximations of the represented verbal exchanges. I have examined many scenarios that might render these series of events in some other guise, and no alternative explanations add up as well as what I have faithfully represented in the preceding, humbly offered for your consideration, dear reader.3
1 A murti is a statuette or other devotional depiction of a deity; Siva naTaraja is Mahadeva—“Great God, The Destroyer”—as the Lord of Dance.
2 A-Campers tend to be among the last to leave “clean-up,” and can certainly be lauded for their efforts in separating recyclables from compost and other refuse in spite of (because of?) the “alcohol vibe” presented ‘round their space.
3 Perhaps I should note: certainly should this narrative become published—which I fully intend—then it is not an unlikely scenario to expect, that someone or other with inside information comes forward to help me to fill in the blanks, and if by some odd chance you are that someone or other, please feel free to contact me to tell what you know of this twisted tale’s truths and turns, else those principles of maya might help explain these events and experiences.
The previous is chapter 2 from a travel narrative I have yet to have published which is titled, Memories and Musings of a Post-Postmodern Nomadic Mystic Madman. Hopefully I get it published before it becomes truly "post-mortem."