The first 35 or so pages of a completed 600 page coming of age novel, the middle book of a 'boomer' trilogy. A young couple get together and discover the world of San Francisco hippies in the late 1960's.
A West Coast Story
Stupid Kids In the Suburbs
Ginn was pretty much holding court at the base of the little slope on the tiny lawn in front of De Anza High School in Richmond California, strutting back and forth she was driven by her nervous energy. The sun was out, the sky was clear and the lawn was firm and dry on this day. A small group of students had hung around after school waiting to see if anything was going to happen before they went home. She was making arrangements for rides to her small birthday and Halloween party that her parents had said she could have at their house. A few members of the small clique were sitting on the sloping lawn, variously listening to her or talking to each other or reading or daydreaming. Ginn had her parent's car, since she had turned sixteen and had a license to drive, and was sorting out who she would give a ride to her party.
Mickey, who had not seemed to be paying attention, suddenly asked Ginn with sweetness and hopefulness, “Can I come?”
“No,” Ginn stated definitely. “Why would you want to come?” she asked scornfully.
“Well, you live in Pinole don’t you? So do I. Could you give me a ride?” It was a walk of over five miles for Mickey from the high school in the north east edge of Richmond to his parent’s house in Pinole and a ride would help him greatly. He could not always get a lift hitchhiking and there was no bus service.
“Oh please let him come along,” pleaded Edith. Everyone called Edith ‘Mother’ because she acted maternal and had a soft heart.
“I’ll give you a ride to Pinole but you can’t come to my party,” Ginn said to Mickey after some thought. She then gave Edith a significant look and told her, “And you’ll have to sit in his lap because there aren’t any more seats.”
Mickey looked down at the lawn feeling scorned and worthless. He felt people always considered him a second rate person and Ginn had always seemed to consider him less than that.
“Let’s go then,” Ginn growled. Mickey perked up a bit, tossed his head to get the hair out of his eyes and smiled at Mother.
The eight of them walked to Ginn’s car, a boxy silver Rambler that looked to Mickey as if Ginn’s parents had little interest in anything that was new or exciting.
“Don’t say a thing,” Ginn warned Mickey seeing him grinning at the car.
Three people got into the front seat and five in the back seat. Even though Mickey found Mother to be a little heavy he cherished the feel of her soft bottom on his thighs. He could tell Mother was getting a little alarmed by this intimacy so he stared out of the window of the car and tried not to think about her as they were driven down the drearily familiar two-lane road. It was called the Appian Way as if it ran through an ancient city in Italy instead of El Sobrante California. There was a creek on one side of the road and a dirt path on the other side between the Mohawk gas station and Manor Way.
California is a made up name for an island that does not exist. Spanish sailors saw the peninsula of Baha and thought it was an island and made up the name California for it. The Spanish saw the brown grassy hills from their ships and called California the Golden Land. El Sobrante is Spanish for The Leftover since it was hilly land leftover from the large Spanish ranches such as San Pablo, Vallejo and El Cerrito and it was still an unincorporated community without sidewalks. There were so many open fields in Contra Costa County that it had more horses per capita than any other county in the state.
They were approaching Pinole and Mickey looked at the dry brown grass with bleak boredom. Mickey was frustrated and starting to feel claustrophobic in the crowded car. His sixteenth birthday was next month. The year before he had had a severe bout of depression and he was worried that it might happen to him again this year between his birthday and Christmas. His break up with Carol, his small town girlfriend from vacation the summer before, had left him feeling disturbed as if his love life was over before it had even begun. Last summer Carol had been running around with Kurt the madman moron who made a habit of destroying vehicles when he had enough alcohol in him. Those two had looked at him with undisguised scorn and laughed at him. An unmistakable sign to Mickey that they had been having sexual relations during the winter when he was back in the Bay Area. He was lonely and wanted to fall in love. He had looked in his psychology book and it said that, "Unsatisfied needs create tension..." He wanted a girl he could have sex with, he did not want to be a virgin anymore. He was afraid of love because he did not want to get stuck with someone for the rest of his life, he felt he was to young to commit himself to anyone or anything. He had been drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes trying to relieve the feelings that made him tense and irritable.
They drove through the mundane suburbs of Pinole until they reached Ginn’s house. They parked in front of her house on the side of the street. Mickey was impressed with the neat yard and garden in front of the small fifties style house with a flat roof. He had never been by Ginn's house before and was surprised that it was only about a mile from his parent's house.
“Thanks for the ride Ginn,” he said politely. Ginn broke out in a baleful grin, pleased that he would be leaving as the other passengers left the car and went through the front door into the home. “We live so close, I can easily walk home from here.”
Ginn’s grin turned into a quick rage. A malicious look appeared in her eyes. “Wait here for a minute,” she said. She ran quickly into the house and then came back. “Say Mickey, do you want to come in?” she asked mischievously.
“I don’t know, maybe I should go.”
“It’s all right, come in for awhile,” she reassured him.
“Well ok, for a little while.” Mickey walked into the living room and the first person he noticed was Linda sitting in an overstuffed chair looking at him woefully. He heard Ginn laugh behind him and now he understood why she had invited him in, she wanted him to see how badly he had hurt Linda. She had cut her hair short and looked vulnerable in her plain gray shift. To Mickey she looked so beautiful in her sadness and pain that he felt compelled to go to her. She turned her head as he approached and looked at the wall. Jerry, sitting on the arm of her chair, turned his cynical egotistical grin to Mickey who turned away horrified at what this might mean and walked to the other end of the room. Ginn came back into the room with a camera and took a picture of Linda in her misery. It stung Mickey deeply that he had broken up with her the month before just because she liked the song Groovy Kind of Love, which he felt was by the numbers and simple minded. Now he was so sorry that he had been so stupid. He had been naked with her once but they never had sex and he had been so frustrated that he could not stand it. Being without her was worse. Now he was alone and he did not have a shot at sex with her but apparently Jerry did.
There were many people at the party that Mickey did not know and he felt reserved but on whim, he acted out a part. He emulated an all knowing, know nothing guru. He made a point of asking people in the living room, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” He was trying to get people to examine their lives and question their basic assumptions. It was something that he had made up on the spot. Some of the party goers took his exercise seriously and answered the questions but most would not answer the pretentious questions other than by saying their names and that they were at a party. One eighteen-year-old guy shouted at him with outright hostility demanding to know who he thought he was and what he thought he was doing and said he did not have to answer Mickey’s stupid questions. Mickey put on a brave clown act to cover his broken heart and confused mind.
The party went on without drugs or alcohol, the music was turned down low and the kids talked quietly with each other. Mickey talked with David and Michael and noticed that Linda was no longer at the party and he was hurt again feeling that his presence had driven her away. He was about to go home when a woman he had never seen before entered the room. She was wearing black shoes that looked like slippers, black slacks, a wide belt and a vest. Her large breasts pushed out her white close knit sweater before her. A beaded pink and white necklace hung down from her neck. Her small freckled nose wrinkled when she smiled. Her perfect teeth showed often and her blue eyes sparkled. On top of her head she wore a black leather motorcycle cap with silver studs on it. She was seventeen but seemed maturer than the others in the room. She sat comfortably in the chair opposite of where Linda had been, talking to some of Ginn’s friends. Two girls sat at her feet and listened to her reverently. She spoke with enthusiasm and shook her head a lot swaying her thick long dirty blond hair.
“Who is that?” Mickey asked Michael his voice touched with awe and amazement.
“That’s Ginn’s sister Delia,” the normally reticent Michael seemed unmoved.
“Is she a Hell’s Angel?” Mickey asked looking at the hat. She resembled some of the women he had seen sitting on the back of motorcycles.
Michael laughed, “No, she’s really nice.”
“Does she have a boyfriend?” Mickey asked.
“You don’t stand a chance with her, she’s a ‘nice girl’, she’s not like Ginn.”
“What do you mean?” Mickey asked.
Michael appeared startled that he had criticized Ginn aloud and looked around to see if he had accidentally offended her but she was not within earshot. “I gotta go,” Michael said. Maybe I’ll see you at school Monday.” Normally Michael looked like he felt uncomfortable so Mickey could not tell if he was afraid of Ginn or just felt poorly.
“Ok, bye,” Mickey answered.
As Michael said his good-byes Ginn walked past Mickey and he screwed up his courage to talk to her. “Is that your sister?”
“Are you still here?’ asked Ginn with ill-disguised irritation. “Why don’t you go talk to her, she won’t bite you,” she said sarcastically, fairly spitting venom. Ginn stalked off to the kitchen to ask her mother if she could put some wine in her lemon lime soda. Her mother said no and as soon as her mother left the kitchen Ginn topped her glass with white wine. Mickey was driving her to drink.
Mickey walked up to Ginn's sister and she said, “Hi, I’m Delia, what’s your name?” in a friendly patronizing way. She seemed amused to notice that this gangly awkward, not very handsome, pimply faced, big eyed, youthful stranger with worry lines on his forehead, would be attracted to her. Right then she almost made the decision to leave the room but she was in her own house and was older and felt in control of the situation so there was no need for her to run.
Mickey felt quite intimidated by this worldly looking woman who acted out the part of the superior intellectual. He was drawn as a moth to her potential sexual fire, he had to talk to her. “My name is Mickey,” he said noncommittally.
“Oh I’ve heard of you, you went with Linda.”
“Yeah, during the fall, but that’s over now,” he said embarrassed.
“And now Peggy,” Delia was smiling as she watched Mickey squirm. Peggy was a skinny flat chested blond with bad teeth that Mickey had gone out with in hopes of having sex with after fouling up his relationship with Linda. Her father was a truck driver and he often left Peggy and her mother and the other children alone for weeks without support or money. At Peggy’s sixteenth birthday party Mickey had made out with her, in her dark bedroom. When he had her pants partly down she stopped him and broke up with Mickey because she did not want to get pregnant and end up like her mother. Mickey was not proud of that relationship and was somewhat relieved it was over.
“I went with her for a short time but we broke up. I’ve never seen you before,” he said to Delia, changing the subject.
She kind of cocked her head, “I go to Richmond High School, that’s probably why you haven’t seen me. How old are you?”
“Oh,” she sounded disappointed. “Why are you in the eleventh grade?”
“My mother started me in school at age four…”
“Because she wanted me out of the house. What’s your major?”
“Psychology,” she said. “I want to be a youth counselor.” It did not occur to Mickey that she might see him as a potential case study. He was taken by her apparent intelligence, he too was interested in psychology. He had purchased his first psychology book on Freud when he was thirteen and had developed an innate understanding of human motivations because he felt he understood his own motivations.
Delia was happy and optimistic and encouraged him to talk about books and movies he liked. They soon found an intellectual bridge between them that they could reach each other over. Delia was amazed to suddenly be in communication with this shaggy dark haired young man with the strong libido. He was attracted to her constant and charming smile. Her blemishless skin and shinning eyes forced him to keep finding things to say to her because he did not want the conversation to end.
Eventually Delia excused her self, but first she asked him to stick around for awhile. Mickey walked down the hall and found the bathroom and peeped into Ginn and Delia’s bedroom. They both had white bed covers with tuft patterns. Mickey stuck his head into the room and saw a record player and a window in the corner. After using the bathroom he returned to the party and when Delia came back he asked her for aspirin and dumped some of it into a cup and filled the cup with cola because a rumor had been around that the combination would get you high. He drank the concoction and asked Delia, “What do you think will happen?”
“It might give you an ulcer,” she said in a disdainful yet curious tone of voice. After another forty-five minutes or so all Mickey had was a headache and a slight buzzing in his ears. Ginn was starting to get nervous seeing her sister and Mickey get on so well. It was not much longer before Ginn and Delia’s mother declared that the party was over because she had to make dinner.
“Who needs a ride home?” asked Delia to the group. Some of the kids answered that they did. “How about you?” she asked Mickey.
“Oh I can walk, I don’t live too far away. Give a ride to those who need it.”
“I’d like to give you a ride, it would save you a few steps and some time.”
“Ok,” Mickey answered cagily.
“Who needs to go home first?” asked Delia. Mickey held back the impulse to say he could go first because he felt that she was up to something.
“Me,” shouted David, “My parent’s will kill me if I don’t get home soon.” He told Delia where he lived and she took the Pinole Valley Road, which winded past cow fields between the brown hills and was narrow and twisting. Delia drove as fast as she could, careening around corners, throwing the three passengers around in the back seat while she whooped and laughed. David was laughing loudly and encouraging her from the front seat. He looked odd in the darkness of the car with his shock of blond hair and course features. Mickey could see in his grinning pale white face the image of the teenage boy getting his kicks. Mickey closed his eyes going around some of the turns. He had been in a bad car wreck in July and it had scared him deeply. His mother had been driving the station wagon when the right rear tire suddenly went flat and the car was thrown off the road sideways. The passenger side where Mickey had been sitting hit a tree. His right elbow had gone through the window and was permanently scarred and he had been knocked unconscious.
David was driven home and the laughing and joking group in the boxy silver Rambler drove on to the main drag in the city of Richmond. They drove down McDonald Avenue where, at night, the greasers were always in their hopped up cars, popping their clutches and spinning their tires until they smoked. They drove to the end of the Avenue and turned around where everyone else did by the railroad freight terminal. They drove back up the street honking and waving and in general making fun of and putting down the greasy motor head types with their bouffant girlfriends because they were usually the right wing pro-war anti-intellectual types.
“They will probably do this for the rest of their lives,” said Francis caustically.
They continued on up the street away from the main drag back toward the freeway. Along the opposite lane came a police car with its top red lights on and turning. “Funny,” Delia began, “the police in Richmond drive with their lights on sometimes. One of them got behind me the other day, it scared the hell out of me.”
“Yeah that’s really strange,” agreed Mickey who watched people pulling over to the side of the road as the police car drove along seemingly not in a hurry and without its siren on.
They drove on to the next house and the next until there was only Delia and Mickey in the car. “Do you want to do anything?” Delia asked him. He told her he had to go home to dinner and told her about the car accident so she drove more slowly. In front of Mickey's house they exchanged phone numbers and he promised to call her the next day. They looked at each other for a minute then they moved close together and kissed. They looked at each other and then kissed again more passionately and then she stopped. Mickey got out of the car on wobbly legs and said a final good night. He walked backward toward his house and tripped over a bush in his front yard causing Delia to laugh. She drove off and Mickey walked into the house feeling light and strange. He could faintly smell her scent on himself.
The next day Mickey called Delia in the afternoon. After dinner he walked over to her house. He was seated formally in the front room on the couch. Her parents were in separate chairs and Delia was on the other end of the couch. Delia’s mother was thin and smoked incessantly but she was kind. Her father was a metal worker, basic but friendly. Mickey was introduced to Jack the orange cat who was so stupid that sometimes he got lost inside of the house. The interview began and Mickey told them he had no real major at school and he liked to write poetry. Both of the parents said that ‘D’ was special, that she got up in the morning and went out to watch the sun rise. Delia smiled faintly at this but mostly she seemed distant and business like to Mickey. They said that ‘D’ was very religious and read and studied a lot. Mickey looked at her speculatively. He had never met anyone before who got up early to experience the ‘spiritual benefits’ of a sunrise.
Eventually Delia asked Mickey if he would like to go for a walk and he agreed. He said goodbye to her parents and they left the house. “God I had to get out of there, my parents drive me crazy sometimes. They think I am too good. Have you ever been up to the reservoir before?” she asked him.
“No,” he answered.
“Come on, let’s go up there.” She led the way, it seemed with a deliberate purpose. She had on a dark leather coat and her black leather hat. He had on blue jeans, a plaid shirt, the light work boots that he usually wore and a light jacket that made him shiver in the cold wind. As they walked he noticed that he was a head taller than she was. He could see that she parted her hair in the middle of her scalp.
“Why do you go look at the sunrise?” Mickey asked her.
She looked kind of pained. “I don’t always, they were making a big thing out of it but it’s like a spiritual thing for me. I don’t know, the sun rises and I laugh and feel happy. It's a special time of the day.”
They walked a few blocks along the road to a field and then they climbed a fence and hiked up a steep hill covered with long wild grass. When they reached the top of the hill Delia was out of breath. The old reservoir made a large barrier wall all the way around the top of the hill. The old rusty fence around the reservoir had a hole in it and Mickey squeezed through. He climbed up the rotting metal ladder set into the wall and looked into the empty reservoir. He considered climbing down into it but Delia cautioned him that the ladder inside was so decrepit that it might break and there was no other way out. He climbed back down the ladder and came back through the fence and stood looking at Delia.
She made a sudden predatory move toward him and he involuntarily backed up. She turned angrily, it was dark and the air was fraught with tension as the wind blew her hair wildly around her face. Mickey was trying to fathom this woman and her motivations. She had a crazed look on her face and he wondered if she was going to rape him. Suddenly she turned and ran down the hill screaming. ‘Shit’, Mickey thought, seeing his chance at losing his virginity fly away due to his own timidity. He followed after her down the steep hill. She was running at a heedless breakneck speed and he was afraid that she would get hurt. At the bottom of the hill he caught up with her. Her face seemed to be going through contortions as if the muscles under her skin were moving spasmodically. He stared at her intently, her face looked fat and placid, then happy, then worried, then she appeared crazy and then evil. She began to babble madly, he wondered if she was schizophrenic. He decided that he had better get her home and took her hand and deliberately started walking in the direction of her house.
“Are you all right?” he asked worried.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “The doctors keep giving me these pills to lose weight, I am not losing weight but I sure am getting my homework done. The teachers love me. I wasn’t losing weight so the doctors gave me more amphetamines. They give me so much amphetamine I can’t sleep at night! They had to prescribe sleeping pills to me so I could get to sleep! It’s driving me crazy, I hate doctors!” she yelled at the world in general. She was mad and seething with rage. Mickey felt like he had a wild animal on his hands and he had to take some control over the situation. He led her back home slowly and calmly asked her questions, letting her work off her rage and anger. "I don't believe science can save us from the mess science is making of the world," she said at one point. When they reached the door of her house he excused himself and said he had to go home even though it was early.
“Will I see you again?” she asked shamed by her behavior.
He smiled. “Sure, if you like,” he said and left. He felt confused. Did he want to get involved with someone who could change personalities like that? Was she crazy or was she just playing with him? He had an intellectual interest in insane women but encountering the real thing was another matter. He felt as if he had entered an alternate world where there were no road maps. ‘Why can’t anything just be simple?’ he asked himself in frustration.
Walking home from Delia’s he took a short cut. His parents lived on top of a hill and it was shorter to walk up the field in the back of the steep hill rather than walk around the front of the hill on the paved roads. As he cut through the suburban streets lined with houses made from basically the same half a dozen plans he heard some loud rock and roll music coming from a house a block or two away. He walked out of his way to pass the place. An older kid came out onto the front porch and yelled to Mickey, “Hey, come on in!”
“Oh I shouldn’t, I don’t know anyone here.”
“That’s all right, come meet some people.”
Mickey’s feeling of having entered Wonderland continued strongly. He wandered through the party in the living room as if he were in an unreal dream. He met people and bummed a cigarette and drank a small amount of beer. A record that was new to him was playing on the primitive stereo, it was the Out of Our Heads album by the Rolling Stones. He had never heard a Stones album before. He was enjoying himself amongst strangers but about an hour later he left the party.
“Come back anytime,” they shouted to him. He promised that he would but he knew that he would never return. He was not very social, he considered it a waste of time. He walked home amazed, nothing like this night had ever happened to him before. It was a magical world out there where one’s sense or sensibilities could be changed in an instant. Every little house held a different world where people did things and they could be whoever or whatever they wanted to be, except for him. He had to go back home and be his parent’s first child.
Late Sunday afternoon Mickey’s mother opened the door to his room and said, “There’s a girl on the phone for you.” She had a look of intense puzzled scrutiny on her face. Girls had been calling him up occasionally, quite unlike her day. She had never called up a boyfriend when she was young, it just was not done.
He walked to where the one phone in the house was, the kitchen. His father was at the table reading the newspaper and his mother was fussing around the kitchen sink. He picked up the receiver and said, “Hello,” and the eagerness in his voice surprised him.
“Hi, it’s me, Delia. I’d kind of like to make up for last night, would you like to go to a movie with me?”
“I’d like to but I don’t have any money,” Mickey answered with some disappointment.
“I’ll pay, I’ll drive.”
“Just a minute.” He asked his mother, “Can I go to the movies with Delia?”
“Who is Delia?” questioned his mother after putting down her cigarette.
“I met her Friday at Ginn’s party.”
“Who is Gin…, oh never mind. Yes, I suppose so.” His mother sounded exasperated as she picked up her cigarette and had a puff.
“She said she’d pay,” Mickey said hopefully but his mother just raised her eyebrows.
Mickey’s mother looked at his father who shrugged. She made a snap decision in the overly serious manner that she could work up. “You can go, but I’ll pay. It’s not right for her to pay for you, I am not sure this is on the up and up.”
“She said I can go,” Mickey said happily to Delia.
“Oh good, we should be back early enough. I don’t remember exactly where you live.”
“I’ll walk over there and you can drive me home.”
“Ok, meet you here.”
Mickey hung up the phone and his mother said, “Here’s five dollars and don’t be home too late, remember you have school tomorrow.”
“Ok.” He got a coat and left the house through the sliding glass door in the dinning room, climbed over the back yard fence and walked down the back of the steep hill. He showed up at Delia’s doorstep and she drove them to Berkeley. She told him about her red haired friend Tom who she used to talk to at school but now that he had moved to Berkeley she did not see him much. She talked about her old boy friend Mark who was married now. He had left her when she was sixteen and she had blown up like a blimp. Mickey tried to listen attentively and ask appropriate and discreet questions. He was trying to understand, trying to pick up a few clues to her multifaceted personality. Tonight she looked very feminine, self possessed and confident, apparently happy to have someone to talk to.
They went to an art theater on College Way in Berkeley, he had never been there before. They saw the English movie Morgan, it was about a crazy young man who identifies with animals. He was on trial because he kept harassing his wife who had a new boy friend. It was a really crazy movie and Mickey loved it because it was a psychological study of a personality who defied authority. At one point Morgan said, “I do not recognize this court,” and Delia related to that quite strongly. She liked the idea of an individual dismissing the whole establishment.
They drove home on a mental high from the movie, talking with subdued amazement. Delia parked a few houses down from Mickey’s. “Well I guess I should go,” Mickey said somewhat reluctantly.
“Yes, you should.” She looked at him, she was woman. They looked at each other for a few seconds more, then quickly moved toward each other and kissed passionately. Mickey held her tight and she became very emotional and sighed. They separated and looked at each other in awe, mouths tingling they kissed again. She rubbed her soft lips up and down his mouth. Her tongue explored his mouth and he caressed her tongue with his. He put his tongue in her mouth and she began sucking it. He had never experienced this before and as he tried to withdraw it she sucked on his tongue harder and he could not move it. In desperation he put a hand on her left breast, partly to push her away and partly to get her involved with something other than his tongue. His immediate thought was that her breast was much larger than his hand. She responded to this mauling by becoming even more passionate and sucked his tongue even harder. Finally she let go of his tongue and almost melted into him, then she withdrew. “I must go,” she said, looking embarrassed and shy.
“Will I see you again?” he asked.
“Surely,” she answered. He got out of the car and he was so unsteady that his feet had a hard time finding the ground.
On Monday Mickey was spending another long mind dulling day at the sprawling one story De Anza High School. He hated the place and its snotty egotistical middle class children who were as mean as they were ignorant. That was why he liked the people on the lawn, they believed in things like Civil Rights and protesting the war. They were as close to the type of politics he liked as he could get in this school.
He had Physical Education the first thing that morning. He hated P.E. in the morning when it was cold and he had to run around in shorts. The P.E. teachers acted like mean drill sergeants. It was their belligerent attitude that turned Mickey off to anything that they offered. It seemed to Mickey that the way the teachers ordered the students around was similar to boot camp. It was as if the teachers were training the students to behave like soldiers who would obey any authoritarian order without question.
Drama class was about the only bright spot in Mickey’s day. He could act a bit like himself for awhile, yet he felt constrained and inhibited around his fellow students. He loved his teacher Deana, she was like an oasis in this desert of suburban personalities. He could never figure out how she got there because she seemed so different from all the other teachers. She was tall and slim and had a lovely face that flexibly changed for whatever part she was playing. She had cold perfect features and could fall into any character instantly and she played them all with style in a hip and worldly fashion. She seemed a natural for light comedy and bedroom farce as the straight female foil. Mickey felt like an outsider in class, he was really a shy person and had difficulties with acting. He felt that the teacher rejected him and the improvisations that he tried were heavily criticized. It was not that he was really disliked, just ignored as inconsequential. Maybe he was not a very good actor but it was the only class he wanted to try to do well in and it was important to him.
Deana announced that they were going to do The Madwoman of Challiot for the school play and Mickey would be the student director. This was news to him and made him glad that she thought he could handle the responsibility. On the other hand he thought he was a bad choice because he had no experience in directing and did not really want to do it. He had never wanted to be in charge and was never asked if he wanted to be the director. He did not like telling people what to do, he just wanted to be someone in the background. Mickey was secretly upset because he thought that it might be a ploy by his teacher to keep him off of the stage. He had the lead part of Earnest in the school production of Arsenic and Old Lace the year before and he was afraid that he did not do it well enough. He had a difficult time projecting his voice as he normally spoke very softly. Then also there had been the problem with the script. It had a misprint and instead of reading ‘damn it’ it had read ‘damixt’. When he practiced the part he had said ‘damixt’ for fun and when he was on stage he had said ‘damixt’ unwillingly, just as he had practiced it, and it had thrown off his timing.
Mickey's was in over his head during algebra class. He had started the year in business math but had found it so boring that he insisted on being transferred to algebra. Since he got into class more than a month after it had been started he found himself so far behind that he could not get caught up. He understood that x could equal y but he could not prove it. He began to develop a mental block against proofs and abstract mathematics in general. The teacher passed him over to teach the other students who understood algebra and wanted to progress. Mickey liked to talk about physics and he understood science and liked to read science fiction but endless lessons in dissecting bell curves in three dimensions overwhelmed him to the point that he felt he could not actually master doing it.
The school newspaper had come out that day with a picture of the principal on the cover. Mr. Pear was a fat bald aging man with a totalitarian type of personality. None of the students Mickey knew liked the principal. During a class that morning Mickey had discovered that he could erase parts of the picture with his pencil eraser and then he drew in bits and altered the picture until Mr. U. Pear looked like a circus clown.
During lunch break Mickey ate his brown bag lunch in the cafeteria. When he finished lunch he walked down the administrative hallway on his way to the lawn. He glanced up to his left at the administrative wall where Lilly’s painting hung in a place of honor. The picture was made with light pastel scraps of paper glued onto an acrylic painting of melding soft colors and then brushed over with a substance that made everything appear to flow together. It was very simple yet pretty and somehow held together as an attractive and mysterious object for Mickey. He looked down at the other side of the hall and found a copy of the newspaper with Mr. Pear’s picture. On the spur of the moment, he flattened the paper against the right wall. In a form of Guerilla Theater he began altering the picture of Mr. Pear with his pencil. He was aware of a small crowd gathering around behind him. As he finished someone said, “You better turn around.”
Mickey turned around and saw that Mr. Pear was glaring at him angrily. “Let me see that,” the portly red-faced principle demanded.
“Sure,” said Mickey happily with a sincere smile. Mr. Pear stared at the picture, the crowd was in a hushed shock, they had never seen such a display of defiance before.
“You’re heading down the wrong path doing this, you’re going to be in big trouble if you keep this up," he threatened. "I am keeping this,” he declared shaking the altered paper.
“You may, it’s a very good likeness,” Mickey said lightly. This provoked giggles from the watchers. Mr. Pear turned on his heel and strode into his office with his back up. Mickey felt that he had somewhat won this confrontation but inside he was badly shaken and did not want his mother to be called by the principle.
Mickey continued through the hall out to the patch of lawn. This was the small turf in front of the school that the longhaired, mod clothing wearing, would be intellectual, folk singing set occupied and consequently it was avoided by almost everyone else. He sat down on a short retaining wall and watched Linda talking with Francis and remembered how happy they had been when they were going together. Ginn walked toward Mickey reluctantly and handed him a note. “I didn’t want to do this but Delia said she’d kill me if I didn’t. My sister has always been over dramatic.” She huffed off and went to talk to Linda. Mickey opened the note and read it. “Dear Mickey, I hope you don’t think I am being too forward but I could not help but notice you the other day at the party. You interest me very much and I hope I can see you sometime soon, love Delia.” He thought that the note was rather redundant and behind the times and wondered if he was safe from this woman with her sister Ginn able to spy on him at school.
After lunch he had English class, which bored him completely. He refused to read the old fashioned and plodding books. Vietnam was exploding into flames, Sunset Strip was having curfew riots, the music and the drugs in San Francisco were creating an underground culture and the teacher wanted him to read Billy Budd. It seemed so irrelevant to him and his times that he could not tolerate it. He got into a very detailed discussion with the teacher about what an allegory it was but when the teacher asked him to prove his statements from pages in the book the boy declined.
“Why not?” asked his teacher.
“I haven’t read it,” Mickey answered and suddenly the other students in class were laughing. The teacher was a very pale man from New York but at the moment he seemed to turn much paler.
The teacher then slammed his book down and said, “Why haven’t you read the book?”
“Because I can’t stand the prose of that era.”
“How could you have discussed it like that then?”
“I picked up everything from the talk in the class.”
At first the teacher looked like he was going to cry but then he laughed instead.
In Spanish class Mickey sat like a dummy in the back of the room and looked out of the window at the scrawny tree in the sun lit courtyard. He wished that he was out there in the sun and wished that he were as stupid as the tree so that he would not have to go to school. He decided that the class had progressed over his head and he would not take Spanish next year. The teacher was droning on and on in Spanish and suddenly the teacher called his name and asked him something in Spanish that Mickey could not translate. “You know,” the teacher said in English, “most people in this year of Spanish would have a fluent grasp of the language by now.” Mickey was mortified. “Don’t take this class again next year if you are not serious, it’s not to float through high school, you are not a Spanish major are you?”
“No,” Mickey answered flatly.
“What is your major?”
“College prep,” Mickey stated reluctantly and the class snickered.
“Maybe you should think of changing it,” the teacher said with finality implying that Mickey would not make it to college. The class continued and just before the bell the teacher asked an odd question, as he did once in awhile, to test his students intelligence. "Which weighs more, a pound of gold or a pound of feathers?" No one raised his or her hand so Mickey raised his. “Yes?” the teacher was happy to call Mickey expecting him to give the wrong answer.
“A pound of feathers weighs more,” answered Mickey confidently. The teacher was crestfallen, the class laughed, they thought that Mickey was a great fool.
“That’s right,” said the teacher and the laughter stopped immediately. “Gold is on a different weight measure system and a pound weighs about fourteen ounces, I think. So a pound of feathers does weigh more than a pound of gold.” The bell rang, the students filed out and Mickey left the class in relief. The teacher was puzzled because he did not know that Mickey’s family spent their summers in the gold country and Mickey had developed some interest in the subject of gold.
Mickey met Tim after school. “Say, do you want to go to Tea Graph with me?” Tim asked.
Mickey smiled at him for saying ‘Tea Graph’ instead of Telegraph Avenue. Tim was always trying something new and Mickey admired him for it. Even though Tim was slow, he could be clever. “Yeah I guess so,” Mickey answered. Tim pulled a folded corduroy Greek fisherman’s cap from his denim jacket pocket with deliberation and put it on his head. Mickey saw that it had a peace symbol button on the front of it. Mickey had never seen this hat before and thought it was very cool and brave of Tim to wear it with the button and wished that he had his nerve.
They walked to the bus stop on the San Pablo Dam Road and Tim asked Mickey, "If god dropped acid would he see people?"
They caught a bus and rode into Richmond and transferred to a seventy-two bus for Berkeley. The slow moving AC Transit bus took its time going down San Pablo Avenue, one of the longest Avenues in the world. One on which all the stoplights seemed to be red. “I hate bus drivers,” said Tim. “They don’t do anything.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Mickey.
“Yeah, they kick me off the bus sometimes, sometimes they don’t pick me up. I don’t know, I just hate em. They have like this real authoritarian thing. Like if you’re alone at a bus stop and they don’t like you they just pass you by. Pisses me off.”
Mickey hated buses too. The constant stop and go driving made him queasy and he could smell diesel fumes in the bus and that made him ill. The diesel bus engine was roaring loudly in between stops yet the bus was slow and dirty and created a lot of pollution. Mickey remembered the old Key System green buses in downtown Richmond shooting out thick black clouds of diesel exhaust toward everyone who was on the sidewalk. At an early age he had learned to hold his breath so that he would not breathe in the bad fumes. The new buses had front windows that were disconcertingly large as if all of the passengers would be ejected through the front window if the bus ran into a wall at thirty-five miles an hour. Mickey did admire the strong arms on the windshield wipers.
They transferred to another bus at San Pablo and University in Berkeley and got off at Telegraph Avenue. The street had an oddly sweet smell, a combination of incense from the boutiques, breads from the Eclair bakery, perfumes and patchouli oil. Mickey sensed an expectation of promises to come in the air. They went into Shakespeare’s books and looked at the buttons with slogans like, 'Peace and Love,' 'Let's legalize pot,' 'Unbutton,' 'Folk You,' ‘Eat The Rich,’ 'Better living through chemistry,' ‘Make Love Not War’ and the ubiquitous peace symbol. Mickey wished that he could buy them all. He bought an underground newspaper called the Berkeley Barb, which had an article about the nude beaches south of San Francisco with pictures of nude and natural women. It was more realistic than a Playboy magazine with its posed and coifed models and it was much cheaper.
On Telegraph they ran into Tim’s friend Larry, a streetwise kid, lanky with greasy black hair, protruding teeth and a stupid laugh. He had on cowboy boots with the most worn down heels that Mickey had ever seen. “Hi Mickey glad to meet ya, any friend of Tim’s is a friend of mine.” Larry scrutinized Mickey’s face carefully to remember it, which made Mickey uncomfortable. They were standing in front of the Forum restaurant by the motorcycles that belonged to bikers. Mickey was oddly impressed with this scene, everyone seemed to know Larry and said hello to him. Larry and Tim went off to confab alone for awhile and Mickey watched the occasional braless girl walk by. Tim came back to Mickey shortly and they left and walked down to the other end of the street toward Sather Gate to catch a bus home. They had to get back for dinner or else their parents would question them and the buses running to El Sobrante quit early.
Mickey sat in his bedroom that night feeling restless. The room’s only window faced the street, a dead end circle which had little traffic. The room was almost a square and it was painted ‘institutional green’, as his mother called it. Mickey saw the room as being sterile in form and appearance. To him it was symbolic of the attitude of his parents, the neighbors and society in general. There was a whole world out there enjoying itself and he was stuck in this hideous jail cell of a bedroom that his parents told him he was lucky to have.
He had done everything that he could to make the square room into an acceptable space. Using tacks he put up record album covers around the top of the wall, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Mamas and The Papas and Simon and Garfunkel, whatever he had. He put the tacks inside of the covers and poked them through the back so they would not show. His father got mad at him for the tack holes but the covers remained up. His mother, as a go between with his father, defended his ‘creativity’. He placed some tacks roughly in a circular pattern in a corner of the room and took regular string and ran it to the opposite tacks and then ran the string around the perimeter of the circle in decreasing circles, creating a spider web. He took the few psychedelic dance posters he had managed to pick up off the telephone poles in Berkeley and placed them around the room. His favorite one was a small poster with psychedelic writing around a picture of a naked girl in lotus position. He took the bed apart and laid the mattress on the floor and stored the frame in the large closet with its three sliding doors. The mattress took up less room without the frame, for one thing and for another, no one would hear the bed squeak when he masturbated. On one of the three closet doors he glued pictures of things that he liked which he had cut out of magazines, creating a collage.
During the summer he had read the book Lilith, about a crazy woman who was institutionalized. He had stayed up one night and drawn a picture of the way the institution had been described in the book and tacked that up. He was interested in psychotic people because he did not understand their viewpoint and he felt that their hallucinations were interesting because he did not understand where they came from. He wondered how it was they seemed to live in two realities at the same time.
He burned incense occasionally, when his mother was out, so she would not get mad at him, but the central air conditioning kept bringing new air into the room, driving the smoke out. Tim had hipped Mickey to the idea that if he conditioned his parents to the smell of burning incense once in awhile, they would not notice it so much if he ever smoked any grass and burned incense to cover the smell up.
Mickey read his Berkeley Barb and found some of the articles very interesting. Stories on how corrupt the federal and state politics were caught his eye, as did stories about the music and dances in San Francisco. At some dances they had supplied LSD to the audience but that had stopped since LSD became illegal earlier in October. Mickey felt that he had missed his chance to take the drug. Gone were the days of buying a sugar cube with a drop of acid on it in a coffeehouse. There was an article on the Tibetan Book of the Dead that he found fascinating. There were schedules of antiwar demonstrations and strange personal advertisements with inscrutable acronyms, things he had never read about in the Richmond Independent that his father subscribed to. The article on the nude beach made him want to go and see one the first chance he got.
Mickey felt that he was missing out on everything. He was longing inside to experience life and felt that he was dying in the house. He found this upsetting, it was making him feel feverish and frantic to be pent up. He was burning to experience life, it was like a fever that nothing could quench and here he was stuck in a square green room. He knew everyone else was asleep in the house except for him. He always had trouble going to sleep, even as a child. He was hyper alert because he was very bright and aware and could not shut down his consciousness just because his parents told him to go to bed. After his parents were asleep he would turn on a low light and read books or write poetry or draw pictures when he felt inspired.
He started writing a poem:
For it’s life, life
The world cries,
And people live
And people die.
But I sit all alone,
In my sterile home.
They say I’m lucky.
Mickey decided that he would try to meditate. He had never done it before but had heard about it. He was not sure how to proceed or what to do. He turned out the light and sat cross legged on the mattress with his back straight up against the bedroom wall and stared at the beige curtains that hung over the window. It was late and quiet and there were no disruptions. He sat motionless, stilled his mind and concentrated. He could strongly feel the energy that was around him. He thought and gathered the energy around him and strengthened it. The curtain began to change colors, red, green and blue, odd glowing colors that he could see through. He was surprised at this event and had never heard of anything like it.
He got up and lit a candle on a bed stand by the closet doors and sat back down on the mattress. He started to count his breaths, ‘one in, two out, one in, two out’. His eyes were half closed when he noticed a bright rhythmic pulsing on his eyelids. He opened his eyes and noticed the candle was flickering with a high flame that seemed to bounce up and down. As he watched, the flame died down to normal. He concentrated again and again he saw the pulsing light and when he opened his eyes the flame died down. He did it once again. Apparently his state of mind was influencing the candle flame. This time he concentrated with his eyes open and the candle flame got high and strobed, casting jumping shadows on the walls. He stopped concentrating and the flame stopped strobing. He did it again. Was this a form of mind over matter? Obviously the meditation and the flickering were related. He seemed to be enhancing the energy of the candle by locking onto its frequency and acting like a resonator, making the candle burn harder. He found that hard to accept. He got up and walked around the candle trying to feel any draft that might be blowing on it. He could see no outward reason for the flickering. He sat back down and began to meditate again. It took a few minutes but he locked onto the candle flame and made it flicker at will, then he smiled. He concentrated strongly on the candle flame with his eyes open until it was fairly jumping. He made it grow more intense, the flame grew big and fell small. Then bigger and tiny until the flame leaped off the candle, putting it out. Mickey laughed and laughed and lay down and thought about what had just happened until he slept.
Mickey was sitting in the cafeteria alone as usual surrounded by noisy children eating their food off of trays as they chattered. Mickey heard some girls mention how one’s father had promised her a hundred dollars for each A she received on her report card. She had gotten straight A’s and collected but her father did not think he could pay her a hundred dollars for each A in this report period. Mickey could not imagine having that kind of money.
The big and tall janitor with the large wart on his nose was grimly cleaning the floor because of some spilled food. Mickey recalled the time the guy had gotten angry with him for reading in the cafeteria. The man talked like a thug and looked like a criminal. Mickey took out his notebook and began writing a poem he called Cafeteria Blues.
While sitting amidst
The De Anza crowd
In the cafe where
Overhead's a dark cloud
The janitor tall
With the wart on his nose
Said this to me
"Youse ought to knows
Dat dis place is fer eating
And dats all you can do,
So shape up or ship out!"
He looks funny too.
I gave him a stare
And tried with my will
To toss him into the food
That was left over still
But I remembered the words
Of a wise friend with sorrow,
"What you don't eat today
You'll be eating tomorrow."
Mickey closed his notebook and walked out to the lawn and saw Ginn. "Hi!" he said cheerfully.
Ginn looked disgusted at this familiarity and said acerbically, "You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny," and walked away.
When Mickey got home that afternoon his mother asked him, "Do you like the Kinks?"
"Well, yeah. I liked their songs Tired Of Waiting For You and Sunny Afternoon," he answered.
"Have you heard this song Dandy that they do?"
"No," he answered puzzled. "I don't think so."
"They played it on the radio today, the god awfulest thing you could ever hope to hear. They go all through this song saying how bad this dandy fellow is for playing around with all these woman and then at the end they say, 'You're all right'. I mean what's the point?"
"I don't know, I've never heard it. Where did you hear it?"
"On the radio this morning."
"I thought you listened to that talk radio stuff."
"They play music sometimes. They play some of this wacky stuff so we will know what you kids are up to."
That night after dinner Mickey asked his mother if he could have five dollars for every A on his report card. His mother said no, she was not going to pay him for what he should want to do for himself. As Mickey dawdled over his homework he thought of how little motivation he had to work hard at school. Mickey did not care for the drudgery of school, it was so uninspirational. They were stuffing his head with facts and figures but was he really learning anything? He wanted something practical, he wanted to earn money now but they were preparing him for college so he could go to school longer. His parents would have gotten a lot of work out of him for five dollars an A, he wondered why could they not understand a simple reward system.
That night Mickey lay in his warm bed thinking about girls he had seen and touched, thinking about some of the places his fingers had been. His erection reached up to his navel on his flat stomach. He reached down and touched his penis and it felt good so he ran his hand up and down until it ejaculated and filled his navel with sperm. He picked up a sock from the floor and cleaned himself. His mother liked the song Roaman in the Glomming, Mickey thought of masturbation at night as Spuming in the Glooming. He wondered what it would be like to come in a woman as he rolled over to sleep.
At school David said to Mickey, “Don’t jerk off so much, you’ll get women.”
“I can tell by your bad skin you jerk off too much,” said Hank to Mickey. “You’re a walking embarrassment.”
"Hey, I represent that," Mickey said giving the traditional reply to an insult by Curly of the Three Stooges. Mickey wondered if it was really so obvious that he had masturbated the night before. Maybe he should stop just so that people would not say rude things to him anymore.
David said to Mickey, "So who do you like?"
"I kind of like Lilly, I don't know, there is something really nice about her."
"You could get her if you wanted to," David asserted. "You could take that skinny wimp Rod that she's been going with."
"Who is Rod?" Mickey asked, he did not know that Lilly had a boy friend.
"Some pud from Richmond high, believe me, you're much better than he is."
"How do you know this?"
"I'm tight with her brother."
Mickey ran into Lilly and walked along the courtyard talking with her on the way to class. They were talking slowly and carefully, keeping everything intellectual. Mickey liked Lilly, she was tall, Chinese and had long straight black hair. Her clothes were very fashionable and she seemed very straight but Mickey was interested in her.
They walked to the glass double door and she reached down to open it as he reached down to open it and she turned toward him and his hand, going for the door handle, squashed her left breast flat against her chest. Mickey was completely flustered and apologized profusely. When Lilly recovered from her shock she apologized and said it was her fault. Mickey got the door open and Lilly walked quickly in the opposite direction that Mickey was going.
Mickey walked to class feeling torn between elation and complete embarrassment. All during class he tried to remember how his hand had felt on her breast and tried not to think about it at the same time. He did not like getting erections in class, what if he had to write an answer on the chalkboard, they were too hard to hide. He was so ashamed that he had accidentally touched her and was amazed at how soft her breast was and how it had squashed flat. Walking to his next class, Mickey passed Linda. "How are you?" she asked coolly.
"I feel dead on my feet," Mickey felt like he could die from nervous exhaustion, he had been up to late the night before.
"Same old Mickey," she said as if he had told a joke and she walked away.
'Same old Linda,' Mickey thought dismissively and tried to forget about her.
That evening after dinner Mickey sat in a chair in the living room. One of his knees was up and his other leg was outstretched as he slouched. One arm rested on the chair arm and the other one was holding up his leaning head. The TV was on but he was not really watching it. He was replaying his run in with Lilly and thinking that he had no luck at all. In utter despair and hopelessness, he felt that nothing in his life was ever going to work out. His mother came in the room and took a picture of him, she said he epitomized teenage angst and if he just saw the way he looked he would change himself. Mickey just glared at her from his state of gloom.
“You look like you have the luck of the Irish,” she said to him, meaning that he had no luck at all. "Maybe if you cut that shaggy hair off things would go better for you."
"I don't want to cut my hair," Mickey said as if it was one more thing out to ruin him. "Girls like me with long hair."
"As soon as you're out of high school you can grow your hair as long as you like," she answered. "Finishing high school will be your ticket to travel and freedom."
Mickey was sitting on the small lawn at the school reading on his lunch break. His tight pants cut into him but he never minded the pain. His large chest hung over his sunken stomach made him look like he was holding his stomach in all the time. When some of the boys started teasing him about holding his stomach in, Mickey unbuttoned his shirt. His skin was so deeply tanned on his stomach that he almost looked black. Mickey showed them his thin waist. “I’ll show you what it’s like when I hold my stomach in,” Mickey said and he sucked in his gut until it outlined his stomach and organs under his skin.
“That’s sick,” one of the guys said and they all got up in revulsion and left.
As Mickey buttoned up his shirt he thought, ‘Yeah, but can you do it?” His only example of seeing people do what he had done had been yoga masters on the television travelogues. Mickey was lean but he weighed one hundred and sixty pounds. He liked the solid feeling of his body.
At school Mickey had been letting guys hit him in the stomach, it did not hurt because his stomach muscles were very strong. “Watch this,” said Hank to his friend. Hank wound up and really punched Mickey hard. Mickey did not double over, he stood his ground, “Thought I had him that time,” said Hank and then he walked off with his friend. Mickey could feel that his internal organs seemed bruised and decided to quit doing this.
After school on Friday Tim asked Mickey if he would like to come over to his house for awhile. Mickey had never been there before even though it was only a few blocks from the school. They walked past the school parking lot. Mickey felt jealous that so many students had cars, the Belair seemed to be very popular even though it was kind of plain looking. Mickey's father had said he could have any car he wanted when he turned sixteen, as long as Mickey paid for it. If he had any choice in it he would like a Jaguar XKE or an MG TD but the chances of that happening were as far away as the stars.
They cut across the ball field, past the back stop that some students said a cheerleader had gotten pregnant behind by a football team member. They walked through the track field which was only paths pounded out of a weed covered slope by tennis shoe clad feet. Mickey had never been to this part of the school grounds before and did not even know it had existed as it was down a slope and below the horizon of the school. He thought it was kind of neat, a person could get lost back there in the tall weeds, it was like a maze.
They followed the street and crossed over a creek on a small bridge that had washed out one winter and taken the life of someone who had tried to drive across anyway. Tim’s house looked like an old run down one-story farmhouse, set back from the road. Inside Tim took off his cap and wiped the sweat off his brow. He showed Mickey his room and they talked of things they felt they had in common. They were both against the war in Vietnam, both liked the art and music of their times and were curious about the drug culture because of the open expression of alternatives it represented to them. Neither was very happy in school, both had bad self-images and were treated as insignificant losers by others. Tim was short and stout. He had a broad intelligent forehead, short brown curly hair and looked like a Greek fisherman under stress in normal times and had a sort of wild, trapped look during difficult times. He was treated somewhat as a half wit or ‘special person’ by many, but he was known to be kind and gentle. They were both dressed in blue jeans and plaid shirts.
Tim showed Mickey a book of cartoons by Ron Cobb. One cartoon showed two people sitting on a bench smoking. The smoke of the old cigarette smoker made evil patterns in the air, the smoke of the young marijuana smoker made psychedelic designs. Another cartoon showed an ocean of lysergic acid eating away at the shore of reality. Tim went into his older brother’s room and came back with a record, it was Freak Out by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. “Did you ever hear this before?” Tim asked.
“No,” Mickey replied.
“Let’s go in the back and listen to it.” They walked to the back yard where there was a barn with a small shed attached. The shed held straw and they went in there. It had one room that was half-finished and another room that had a brick and dirt floor with some old rugs laid down. It was sparsely furnished but there were a few battered chairs and an old couch.
“This is nice,” said Mickey, “away from everyone.”
Tim put the record on the old and beat up record player in the half-finished room. “Yeah, that’s why I like it.” Tim started the double record on side one and explained the songs as they played. Hungry Freaks, Daddy was about Mr. America who refused to see that there were alternatives in society. Who Are the Brain Police? was about people noticing that others had been turned into plastic and chrome by the strictures of modern reality. It interested Mickey, antiestablishment songs with paranoid science fiction themes, he had never heard anything like it. Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder sounded to Mickey like basic fifties doo-wop. “This was the kind of stuff Zappa was doing and it got rejected so often that he started doing the weird stuff,” Tim said.
At Tim’s suggestion they retired to the straw room. Tim rooted around in the straw and came up with a small tin box which he opened and took out a corn cob pipe and a matchbox. “Wanna smoke some marijuana?” asked Tim in a casual happy tone of voice.
“Is that what you’ve got? What does it do to you? I don’t know. Where did you get it?” Mickey asked nervously.
“From a friend,” said Tim inscrutably.
Tim took a pinch of the damp green spongy plant material from the matchbox and stuffed it into the pipe. He kept trying to light it and the matches would just burn down, it was too wet. He kept trying and finally got some great clouds of smoke going. Tim took in a big breath from the pipe and handed it to Mickey. Tim’s face turned bright red and the smoke exploded from him with much coughing and hacking.
Mickey had been smoking cigarettes but he had never tried anything like this before. Mickey drew on the pipe cautiously. Hot dry smoke rushed down into his lungs, he breathed it right back out again and coughed.
“This is harsh,” Mickey complained.
“Yeah, a little,” Tim wheezed as he took the pipe back and puffed large clouds of smoke again.
Mickey did not feel anything. He took the pipe back when offered it and wiped the spit off the end and sucked in more smoke. The hot blast caught in his lungs and came burning right back out again. He coughed and coughed and spit out some phlegm that had covered his throat.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” admonished Tim.
Mickey teary eyed from coughing and pain asked, “Why not?”
Tim, smoking on the pipe said, “You spit out your protective coating.” He handed the pipe back to Mickey who drew in some smoke which really burned his raw and unprotected throat. He coughed it out again, his throat hurt and he was starting to feel lightheaded. “You’re not keeping much down,” said Tim holding it in his lungs like a pro before dissolving into a coughing fit.
Mickey took the pipe back and gently inhaled a small amount of smoke and held it in his lungs despite the pain. The room began to get hazy and dark, he let the smoke out, “I think something’s happening,” he said.
“Good,” Tim replied. The pipe had gone out again so Tim put it back in the box. Mickey was glad and disappointed, he felt dizzy and strange. Tim turned the record over and was bouncing around and singing some of the lyrics to the song Wowie Zowie like, ‘I don’t even care if your dad’s a heat’. Tim sang “’You’re probably wondering why I’m here and so do I,’ that’s how I feel sometimes,” he said to Mickey.
Mickey’s mind was racing. The song Trouble Every Day came on and Mickey could hear that it was based on the Watts riot and its coverage by the media. When Help I’m A Rock played, the violent musical overtones in it began to scare Mickey. When The Mothers started singing some nonsense lyrics Mickey asked, "Are they Mexican?” He was trying to figure out who these people were and where they came from while he looked at the cheesy record cover.
“They’re just a bunch of freaks from L. A.,” Tim said.
Tim kind of liked Return of the Son of Monster Magnet and pointed out the Suzy Cream Cheese segment with its female singer breathing orgasmicly. The music was pushing and pulling Mickey’s mind into places he had never been before. Mental visions with flashes of sexual images and colored sparks of light spontaneously appeared and just as suddenly left his brain.
When the record ended Tim looked at his watch and said, “Well you should probably go now. You don't want to be here when my brother comes home.” Mickey felt dizzy and high and upset at being cast out into the world and elated at being in a much different state of mind than he had ever been in before. He walked the several miles home fairly quickly and hardly noticed because his mind was wandering here and there. He did not want to ride the bus or hitchhike because he wanted to air out and try to come down from the smoke before he got home for dinner.
Dinner was very strange for Mickey. He was still a little high and happy, yet he was also somewhat paranoid. His father sat opposite of him at the table and ate while his mother served him and neither of his parents noticed his state of mind as being out of the ordinary. He drank a lot of milk to ease his sore throat and enjoyed the taste of the food but ate as surreptitiously quick as he could so he would not have to stay at the kitchen table too long. He retired to his room after dinner and felt wondrous as he read and thought.
About an hour later Delia called and shortly came over to pick Mickey up. “You’re seeing a lot of each other,” his mother commented dryly. They saw the movie "Alfie" in Orinda. It put kind of a chill on their relationship, being a strong adult movie about abortion and men exploiting women for sex.
“There’s a lot of dissatisfied people out there, you don’t want to be like that, do you?” asked Delia.
“Nope,” answered Mickey. They were so in shock from the movie that they hardly talked and barely kissed when they parted.
“Why are your sheets so crusty?” asked his mother. “Your brothers are crusty too but not as crusty as yours. Maybe you should wash them. When is the last time you washed those green jeans you always wear?”
Mickey knew his sheets were crusty from masturbation and was embarrassed that his mother would mention it. He examined his self-image and put some clean pants on. His hair was getting unfashionably long. His parents would insist that he cut it soon and he planned how to get out of a haircut.
That Saturday evening Mickey was sitting on the bed in his room, staring at the window. The family was watching some stupid television program that he had no interest in. He wanted to leave the house but he would have to walk past everyone to go outside. He looked at the window, which had a screen in it. He got up and opened the window all the way and studied the screen, only two small clips held it in. He pulled on the clips and the screen came right out. Mickey looked at it for a few seconds and then put the screen in the closet. He climbed out the window and stepped down onto the lawn, carefully stepping over the narrow flowerbed so that he would not leave footprints or step on a plant and slid the window shut behind him but not so far that it would lock.
He walked out onto the street unseen. All the neighbors were either gone or in their houses. Without seeing another person he walked down the steep hill on the sidewalk. He hated the hill, it got very tiring to walk up and down and it made him feel isolated as if he were alone on an island. When he was a child in El Sobrante he and his friends had called this hill both Bread Loaf Mountain and Banana Mountain. It was easily seen from the road he had been raised on and had been used as a landmark since it blocked the view of San Pablo Bay and Mare Island. It had appeared too steep to be developed. Mickey had really resented it when one year tractors had crawled to the top of the mountain and cut its top off and then houses had been built on it. He thought it was a sacrilege of nature. It just looked like developers would pave and sell any bit of nature they could get a legal right to make a profit on.
At about that same time his childhood friend Jay had moved away forever. It had marked the end of his childhood before puberty and Mickey never thought when he was thirteen years old that he would be living on top of the old childhood landmark. One day he had come home from school and the old house in El Sobrante was empty of furniture and no one was home. His parents had moved the household and he did not know where they were, he had never been told where the new house was. The feeling of abandonment had made him cry.
Outside in the dark Mickey crossed the old four lane San Pablo Highway that ran through Pinole. He walked down the dirt road past the auto wrecking yard smelling of grease and oil and crossed the single line of railroad track. He walked out into the field behind the miniature golf course. He walked up the slope along the dirt paths running to San Pablo Bay that he had driven over with his father’s motorcycle during the summer. When he reached the top of the slope a half moon rose over the horizon. Mickey felt energized, he felt a sudden burst of adrenaline. The music from the outdoor speakers of the miniature golf course was blaring annoyingly. He felt like he was walking around in front of a giant radio playing Wooly Bully. He had not been allowed to listen to the radio too much by his parents even though his mother always listened to talk radio, so it was nice to hear the music even though he preferred the English groups like the Kinks, the Zombies or the Beatles.
The half moon began to be eclipsed as Mickey watched in wonder. He could see the lights of houses to the east, west and south of him. The dark bay was to his north. He was the only person in the field away from the city lights. Was he the only person watching the eclipse? It almost seemed so. The others were inside their houses watching television, too absorbed in the electronic media to notice the natural world around them. When the eclipse was over Mickey began to walk back home. The radio station from the miniature golf course was playing 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians. It sounded so clear to Mickey that he could hardly believe it. It was like walking in music, it surrounded him like the atmosphere, the volume unchanging as he walked along. The moon, the eclipse, the darkness of the field, the lights in the distance, he was alone yet he was surrounded by music, reality could be surrealistic.
Mickey called Delia on the phone early in the afternoon. She seemed pleased that he had called her and he invited himself over to her house to ‘talk’ because she seemed down and subdued on the phone. He walked over to her house. She was wearing black pants and a heavy white blouse and greeted him formally at the front door on the porch. She warned him that she was being watched and she had to be careful about what she said. They sat in the living room and talked stiffly about religion and some of the gurus of the east. Delia mentioned that there was an East Indian theory that there were twenty-six other worlds on top of this one. They talked of the philosophy of Alan Watts while her mother sat in the kitchen the whole time drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.
Delia explained that great religious men would take steps in their minds to get closer to nirvana. “Spiritual insight is gained in levels climbed one step at a time,” she stated. “When you attain one level of consciousness you begin to see the next step.”
Delia at a loss for anything to do asked her mother if she could show Mickey her and Ginn’s bedroom and her mother agreed. Ginn had some records that Mickey admired, Donovan, The Animals, The Rolling Stones and some blues artists. Delia said that Ginn was studying blues artists and wrote term papers on them. Delia showed him Ginn’s little marijuana plant on the windowsill. Their mother had no idea what it was but was glad her daughter was taking an interest in gardening. Mickey began thinking that Delia was a pent up intellectual and Ginn was a free spirit. He wondered what he resembled to Delia.
“Come out of the bedroom you’ve been in there to long,” Delia’s mother called and Delia rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
They went back into the kitchen and, with the encouragement of Delia’s mother, had a wine spritzer something that Mickey had never drunk before. Delia seemed to Mickey to be quiet and repressed, withdrawn and even sad. She asked her mother if they could go talk in the backyard. Her mother glared resolutely from her old looking eyes and balked but Delia started to make a scene. “I am not asking for much, you can watch from the window,” Delia was angry enough to stamp her foot and her mother relented, surprised at this behavior.
In the yard Delia seemed at a loss over what to do with Mickey. She showed him her and Ginn’s old girl bikes with balloon tires, as if they were lost relics from a different age, children’s toys from a happier time with no further use. Mickey guessed that she had gotten into trouble for taking him out too much. She said it was kind of difficult living with ‘them’ because they expected too much from her sometimes. They walked to the farthest corner of the yard. There was a small clear area surrounded by a terrace, it made a sort of amphitheater. She stole a quick kiss, he could feel the repressed passion quivering in her lips like energy.
“I don’t want to stop kissing you but ‘they’ might be watching,” she said disgustedly.
“What’s going on?” he asked a little cynically like he could not believe this childish game between her and her parents.
“I don’t know, I make one little mistake and they feel like they have to watch me like a hawk like I’m simple minded or something and don’t know what I’m doing. Meanwhile Ginn gets away with everything and they don’t even notice.”
“Like what?” Mickey was beginning to become curious about Ginn’s private life.
“Maybe I will tell you sometime. Do you want to try something that I learned in psychology class at the junior college?” she asked him, changing the subject.
“You’re going to college? I thought you were a senior in high school.”
“I’m taking some special psychology classes at San Pablo Junior College and the teacher is my tutor. I told you the teachers love me. They are teaching me to be a self-activating person, one who takes steps toward their own betterment. You learn a lot in psychology. We learned that what we dislike in others are those things that we dislike in ourselves." Mickey pondered that. "Do you want to try this exercise?” she asked it as if she was talking to a patient.
“Ok,” Mickey answered hesitantly, thinking he could handle any situation. He could always stop if he did not want to do something.
“This is called psychological confrontation. I’ll ask you a question and you try and answer it truthfully,” she said flatly as if talking to a condemned man.
“I’ll try it, I guess…”
“You’re at an age where it might do you some good. You’re young enough to change. Ok, we will start now,” she paused. “Do you have any problems?”
“No, not really, just the usual school and stuff, you know.”
“Well, what’s your problem then?”
“Do you think I have a problem?” Mickey could not really think of his problems in the abstract at the moment.
“What’s your problem?”
“Someone keeps asking me if I have a problem,” Mickey answered trying to be amusing. She looked frustrated, confused and stymied by his response. “Oh, all right,” Mickey sighed. “My problem is that I don’t know what to do.”
She looked relieved and continued with resolution, “What is blocking you from going to the next step? What’s your problem?”
“I don’t know what I want, I don’t like school, I have no reason to go there.”
“What’s your problem?”
Mickey said emotionally, “I can’t find any interest in anything. I’m taking different classes for college prep but the only thing that really interests me is drama.”
“Well then, what’s your problem?”
“I don’t feel like I’m learning anything. I don’t have a major. The world is passing me by and there are things happening and I want to be out there doing them.” Mickey was pensive.
“What’s your problem?”
“How long does this go on?” he asked angrily.
“Tell me what your problem is.”
“I can’t go out into the world, my parents won’t let me. I’m too young to get a job, I don’t know what to do. I can’t do what I want to do and I don’t want to do what I am supposed to do.” Mickey was beginning to feel desperate.
“What’s your problem?”
“It goes back to my family, my parents, how they raised us kids without any direction to grow into. I can’t think of anywhere I would want to work. I have nothing to focus on.” Mickey’s voice was quavering from this realization.
“Maybe we should stop.”
“No, it’s just getting good, go on,” he urged her.
“What is your problem,” she asked nervously.
“It’s my father,” Mickey blurted out. “We don’t get along, he doesn’t like me or want me and I don’t know what to do.” He cried a little at this revelation.
She started to hold him but suddenly it was as if all the energy left his body. He slumped down to the ground and lay looking up at the sky. It felt as if he had fallen into a deep black pit. He could almost see the high black walls around his mind. It was as if he had tunnel vision and was looking down a long dark pipe. He got up and felt strange.
“I feel like I am in a hole that’s twenty feet deep,” he said shakily to her but she did not understand.
Delia was concerned and frightened, “Maybe I pushed you to far,” she said timidly as if sounding afraid that she had broken her new toy.
He went home confused. The feeling of being in a dark pit persisted through out the night and next few days at school. He could almost see the round wall of a well around him. He thought of it as the long dark night of his soul.
Ginn said, "I think you really regret the things you didn't do."