I seldom think of Billy nowadays lest I grieve for the paradise never quite had in the Sixties yet still lost – we had such high hopes in those days. Billy was a fine man and a superb musician, much beloved by his many friends on the Upper West Side. He began to experiment with drugs other than alcohol soon after the Hippies arrived. Reefer madness led to acid-headedness, and so-called THC soon proved to be his downfall. THC was also known as Horse Tranquilizer: what it really was was beside the point.
One late night at a party in his apartment on West 72nd Street, Billy did not come out of the bathroom. We found him washing one hair at a time in the shower. He said he wanted to get himself perfectly clean. Hydrogen was the fundamental element, he explained. And he said he was hearing the undertone of the universe as well, “the sound of the silence,” he called it, saying it was almost B-flat. Six months later, shortly before he leaped to his death from the Beacon Hotel, he told me he was convinced that he was the "messiah from the East", that I was the "messiah from the West," and that we were destined to change the world. I fled to South Beach instead. I called him one day and he said Madame Blavatsky had contacted him from the Other Side and asked him to join her there for a while, so he could return reincarnate and save the world
I eventually managed to repress the memories of that era of flowers and love and other material and spiritual intoxicants. My friends at the time said I was “copping out” when I painfully withdrew from The Scene. They thought I was making a big mistake, that I was gifted, that I had a special calling to be some sort of spiritual master, that I was abandoning the Revolution, so on and so forth. Unconvinced, I bailed out to Miami Beach, where I soon met a pot-smoking Jewish American Princess, a photographer and porno starlet from Midtown. I returned to New York for a week’s fling at her Midtown loft above a whore house, and then went on to Waikiki after she gave me a flute and kicked me out of her bed, because, she said, her career was her “paradise island,” more important to her than any man. She said she could not afford to be distracted longer than a fling. And look what I had gone and done, she complained: got her hooked on Russian cigarettes. I took the suggestion to heart, went directly to JFK, and settled down in Honolulu. I eventually moved to the Big Island of Hawaii..
I experienced a few flashbacks and relapses into transcendental spheres after my relocation to paradise, and I even dropped some blotter on the North Shore of Oahu one night, yet for the most part I clung desperately to a woman and a job – I still drank beer for good measure, and took a toke or two of Kona Gold, Puna Butter, and Maui Wowie here and there. The old adage in Hawaii at the time was “Real Estate is the basis of all wealth.” But the avid pursuit of property was not in my constitution; hence I did not acquire a fortune. In fact, I let a small fortune slip away when I refused to take a sure shot at becoming a millionaire by buying a lot in the Kona Heavens subdivision. My denial of things spiritual was relatively successful as well. I suppose I was almost a zombie, going through the down-to-earth paces of eat, excrete, work, drink, and fornicate, perchance to keep the species going.
Fifteen years after I had fled from THC madness to Hawaii, an odd couple of spiritual weirdoes provoked me during one of my artistic relapses. I was sitting cross-legged on the lawn of the Kona Inn on Big Island, sketching the bark of a palm tree, meditating on the actualization of an Intelligible in material form. Someone approached me from behind.
"You must join us," a male voice firmly announced.
Startled, I turned to behold a young man and young woman, dressed in robes flowing from neck to ankle. I was alarmed by the pair's glimmering, pastel auras. I wanted none of that, so I stowed away my sketch pad and arose.
"No thank you," I said as I walked away. I added, not to be rude, "I have other plans,"
"You belong with us," the woman sang after me. "Come, come with us."
"Yes, come, come with us," her companion repeated. "We know who you are. Do not deny yourself. The world needs you. Come with us."
Weirdos! I thought, not looking back. They wear no malas, they smell sweet instead of sweaty. The color of their robes is not right for Rajneesh. They’re not from Oregon, they must be from Findhorn - the geomagnetic features of Big Island attracts them like iron filings.
I hurried across the street to the bookstore, chatted with its owner about the weirdoes around town, and perused the local newspaper, West Hawaii Today. An advertisement therein announced that The Quintet would soon appear at the Kona Surf Hotel - I lived nearby, at the Surf and Racquet Club.
"Egads! That's Billy's quintet!" I exclaimed to myself, the hair standing up on the back of my neck. "They still exist! What are they doing way out here in the middle of nowhere?" The Scene I had long repressed flooded me with an eerie emotion as I cruised home in what my wife had called my "cream-colored yacht with a brown foreskin" – a Mark IV Lincoln Continental. Then I heard the inner music again, as if the entire orchestra were in my head, reciting Billy's favorite symphonic tone poem: Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra.
I was awoken by the same mental music, one Saturday morning many years prior, in my illegal sublet behind the temple on Central Park West. I must have been hallucinating, because my stereo was off and yet every instrument was sounding inside my head. I had no idea of what I was going to do that day. I was in some sort of trance; no doubt the residue from the previous night’s carousing. I put on my clothes and walked into Central Park, having not the slightest idea of where I was going. All the while, the symphonic poem played out; it was as if I were the music; in any event I was barely conscious of anything besides the music as I strolled along in my daze.
I exited the north end of the park and soon found myself before the Theosophical Society's bookstore on East 53rd Street. Although I was acquainted with Madame Blavatsky's occultism, I was not aware of the bookstore's existence until that day. The music ended as I stood there; and for a moment I heard nothing but the sound of the silence. The plate glass of the front door of the shop had apparently been smashed, for it had a big hole in it. I saw some fine clothes neatly folded in front of the door, next to a pair of shoes. Turquoise jewelry was laid out on top of the shirt.
It slowly dawned on me: I was looking at Billy's clothes! What a coincidence. What would he be doing here? The lights were out in the store, for it was closed. I looked through the broken plate glass, and there stood Billy, naked, with his arms stretched upwards and palms open. He looked into my eyes and said something. Finally, I could hear, as if I had been underwater and had just surfaced:
"David, people are not going to understand this. Do not stay here. Get out of here. Go to my apartment and get rid of the THC."
"Oh, my God!" a woman shrieked from a window in the flat across the street. "God bless him, he's just a baby, a newborn baby!"
"David, leave," Billy reiterated in a calm and collected tone. "They are not going to understand this."
So I left, and walked back to Billy's apartment on West 72nd. By the time I got there on foot, another friend was already inside the apartment, and then the police arrived. No drugs were found. Billy had been taken to Bellevue Hospital, and was duly ensconced in the mental ward, where we visited him three days later. That is, he appeared to be quite comfortable with the place, despite its inhospitable appearance and the odd behavior of his fellow inmates, which gave us the feeling that we might go mad if we stayed for long.
“Billy, you’ve got to tell them you were doing drugs,” said one friend, “or they will hold you here indefinitely, and you’ll miss the tour to India.”
“I like it here,” he replied. “Look, look down the hall there….”
“Oh my God, there’s a rat!” I exclaimed.
“Not that,” Billy said. “Just look. What does the hall look like?”
“Remember the hall in 2001?” He asked, referring to Stanley Kubrik’s, 2001 Space Odyssey. “Don’t you see? I’m going to cross over soon!”
Billy did tell the doctor he had been doing drugs before he jumped through the plate glass window. And he was discharged in time for the India tour. While there he visited the Theosophical Society in Madras, dropped some THC, got into his cross-legged Buddha pose and went catatonic. India was none too pleased with the onslaught of flower children in those days – Billy was booted.
Back in New York, one arm remained partially paralyzed, so Billy gave up his musical career and sold his instruments. We were relieved when Roosevelt Hospital accepted him as a mental patient; we hoped he would recover himself and his career. While there, he preoccupied himself with Euclid’s theorems. He did not like the psychiatrist, and would curl up in a fetal position when the doctor visited him. He was discharged after a few weeks – we were told that he was in no immediate danger, that beds were desperately needed for those who were, so he had to go. A few months later he was dead. The Quintet survived, as his species, so to speak. I visited the quintet when they came to Hawaii. Their hairs had already turned gray – Billy was older than me before he died. We did not speak of the good old days. I seldom do nowadays. The Sixties era was a tragedy for many of us. Billy still haunts me from time to time. Enough said.