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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Life Is a Dream
2. The Call Home
3. Beat Up on the Boardwalk
4. Frodo’s Epic
5. Landing on the Moon
6. Woodstock . . . not!
7. The Princess of Atlantis Returns
8. Movin’ On Out
9. Stranded with Junie
10. Stranded in Philly
11. On the Threshold
12. Guy Lombardo and Tommy Dorsey
13. I’m Gonna Paint!
14. Toom-toom-toom-toom . . .
15. Frodo Returns
16. You Okay Space?
17. Finding Thyme
18. This Is Real
19. I Don’t Know How in the World I Got Here,
but I’m Not Leaving
20. Sitting in the Golden Center
21. Dancing with the SUNYs
22. Sitting in Stained Glass Windows
23. Stephen the Wind Blew into Our Lives
24. This Way, Meathead
25. The Shadow of Atlantis
26. Farkwads?
27. I’d Rather Be a Milkman
BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

28. This Is the Best Day of My Freaking Life


29. Be Here Now
30. Heaven, Hell, the Face of Atlantis,
Elfin Spires, and the Parade of Dogs
31. This Is Not Here
32. This Is a Yurt
33. Dawn of the Day
34. Looming Large
35. Woodstock at Last
36. Dancing with the Sufis
37. Epilogue
k
C H A P T E R 1

LIFE IS A DREAM

W hen I called it quits at Piper College in the summer of


1969, Bob Dylan lived just a couple hours away from my home-
town in Vestal, New York.
Jethro Tull just released Stand-Up, and I sought my future
in Atlantic City. I’d just abandoned my childhood dream of be-
coming a Methodist minister to tune in, turn on, drop out, and
hit the road. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were Harvard
Divinity School dropouts, so I felt in good company.
I had envisioned going to San Francisco, but Frodo, Juke,
and Brent were going to Atlantic City, and I didn’t have the bread
to go it alone. Besides, much had changed since the Summer of
Love when a friend ran off with two of my favorite record albums,
and I didn’t have the first idea how to contact him, anyway.
Everyone had jobs lined up in Atlantic City. Everyone ex-
cept me, that is. But Frodo assured me, “Oh, there’s tons of work
there.” So I believed him.
For many the 60s and 70s were a time for busting out of
your shell and reinventing yourself. This often involved a name
change, and if you didn't change your name yourself, someone
else would likely do it for you. and that's how I acquired the name
BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

of Space during my years at Piper, as opposed to Gene, my given


name. Oh, and in case you’re wondering who Frodo is, he was
my best friend. Frodo wasn’t his real name. He adopted it after
reading Lord of the Rings. He’d gotten word in an altered state
that he was Frodo reincarnate.
I set out on my journey, which turned out to be a spiritual
one, from the Binghamton Greyhound terminal. I was supposed
to go with Frodo, but somehow he suddenly found out his number
was up and had a surprise appointment with the draft board. I
didn't find out what happended until days later.
He was to have started his job as a busboy at the Colonial
Motel the day after I arrived. When Juke said Frodo couldn’t be
there in time, I figured, “Well, I’ll just fill in for him until he gets
here, then find another job.”
So I showed up at the Colonial and explained the situa-
tion.
“What experience do you have?” asked the manager.
“I’ve been a busboy in my college cafeteria for the past
year.”
“Okay. You’re hired. You got the job.”
“Oh good. Thanks. But I’m just holding it for my friend
until he gets here.”
“No. You’ve got the job. You’re here, he’s not.”
“But . . .”
“You want me to give it to somebody else so you don’t have
to feel guilty?”
“No, but . . .”
“Okay. Congratulations. Get down to the dining room and
get to work.”
As I made my way down the thickly painted stairwell, it

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LIFE IS A DREAM

struck me that I hadn’t been breathing for awhile. I halted,


grasping the fat iron railing, and sucked in a lungful of slightly
salty sea air. I reached the portal to the dining room, Atlantic
Ocean rolling slowly outside the wall of picture windows on the
other side of the room.
That old familiar feeling of queasy newness gripped my
gut—a curious blend of excitement and fear—stirred by the
sudden realization for the first time in my twenty years on this
planet this time around, I was left to my own devices. No Mom.
No Dad. No second story room on Echo Road. No classes. No
dorm. No cafeteria . . . Well, a dining room.
I’m free! I thought. Everything’s up to me. What hap-
pens if I screw up? Come on, how can you screw up bussing?
Especially with all your experience . . . Ho boy, is Frodo going
to be pissed.
I heard a faint voice calling someone. Curious, I looked to my
right, in the direction of the voice coming from the corner of the
room. A thin, silver-haired lady in a white waitress uniform and
pointy, pink glasses was beckoning someone in my direction.
“Sonnyboy . . .” I looked to my right. Nobody. “You,” she
laughed. I looked left. Nobody.
“I’m calling you! You’re the new fella, arencha?”
“Oh, me?” I yelled, tapping my chest and chuckling with
embarrassment.
“Yeah. C’mere.”
I rushed, still apologizing, to the counter where she was
sitting.
I leaned in closer to her to shake her hand. She looked at
me closely, curiously touching my forehead. What’s with your
right eye, honey? Can you see out of it?”

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

“No. It’s been blind since just after I was born—prema-


turely—and I got too much oxygen in the incubator. Same thing
happened to Stevie Wonder, I’m told.”
“Well, I’m Willamena, sweetie. You can call me Willie.”
“I’m Gene. You can call me Space.” She laughed hard as we
shook hands, and she took me right under her wing.
“It’s okay, Spaceman. Hows about we getcha punched in
and making something of yourself here?
Willie made life bearable at work. In fact, I should credit
her for keeping me alive, keeping me safe in spite of myself.
First off, she made sure I got free food. Secondly, well, that
story comes later, when the Boardwalk and I would come to a
parting of the ways.
I’d arrived in Atlantic City with just about enough scratch for
my share of the rent. Tips kept me in Tareytons, peanut butter
cheese crackers, Coca Cola, and the occasional beer.
Willie made sure I got a donut or muffin and coffee when I
clocked in, and a deluxe cheeseburger or club sandwich and fries
before I clocked out.
It was a time of really weird pop music on the radio. Tne
airwaves were filled with clanging cowbell and blaring trumpet.
Shiver. The best music was still considered underground. We
didn’t have a stereo or any decent LPs to play on it anyway. Just
Brent’s transistor radio.
I’d gaze longingly at the racks in the record store, all beyond
my grasp. It was there I first saw the red, silk-screened poster of
the guitar neck and the dove. Woodstock, I thought, Hey that’s
where Dylan lives—and The Band. That’s in August. I’m going!
I don’t know how I’ll get there, but I’m going!

One night I was so exhausted from the day, I crashed early.

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LIFE IS A DREAM

I dreamed I was sitting in the can staring at the wall when it dis-
solved. This is trippy, I thought, but I calmly took stock of the
situation, noticing I was blocking the aisle in a grocery store. I
grabbed my cart and pushed it wobbly along with no idea what
I wanted. Other people were there, too, but they knew what
they were doing. They knew what they were saying. I couldn’t
understand a word of their squeaky gibberish.
I tried to listen more carefully to understand what wisdom
they could impart, but their voices got tinier, more musical, then
seemed to be coming from a radiator back in the bathroom. I got
down on my hands and knees to look more closely.
There, nestled in the shadowy spaces about halfway up
the radiator, I could see a Lilliputian minstrel band. What are
they playing? I asked myself. That tune seemed so familiar, but
speeded up. O God. “One Is the Loneliest Number.”
I’d made it a policy to never get bummed. This dream-
trip was a lower-Astral challenge. I crawled back into bed like
astronaut Dave Bowman in the closing scenes of 2001, A Space
Odyssey. . . . One is the loneliest number . . . I cringed, then
tried to relax. I’m not going to let this get to me. I refuse to be
lonely, dammit!
The walls began to slowly undulate, then became chiffon.
The ceiling followed suit. They rippled and waved in a nonex-
istent breeze. I observed this for a while, then caught a hint of
movement in the cheap, freestanding wardrobe in the corner of
the room to my right. The door definitely moved. A face poked
out. A platypus. It stepped out the wardrobe with the body of a
dog. I wasn’t threatened. It spoke to me telepathically. I have
no idea what it said, but I understood it at the time.
Then I heard Donovan talking about fair Atlantis. I had
mixed feelings about the continent—and the song. On the down-

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

side, the continent sank, so did the last performance I did at a


downtown Williamsport coffeehouse before I left school. The
upside is that the myth is cool, and the song was requested by
the audience, and everyone enjoyed singing along.
I was suddenly aware of a shift in my consciousness. I was
now lucidly dreaming. I sat on a breakwater of great boulders
jutting out from an ocean shore. A great tower stood in the dis-
tance. Violent waves crashed around me. A dark shadow loomed
before me. It condensed into a dark figure, threatening. I shook
with fear. The figure had long dark hair, billowing black cape,
and a pointy black beard. Suddenly a small voice inside advised,
“Let go the fear. Love conquers fear. See that visage as part of
you, part of your universe. Accept it, let love well in you, and it
cannot touch you.”
I did this, and it was difficult. But I did it. Soon the seas
calmed. The sun came out. The figure slowly faded to a shadow,
but never fully disappeared. Suddenly I was back in my bed. I
peered to the left corner of the bed, and a girl sat there.
Her soft voice spoke in my head. “I am the angel of Atlantis.
You are not alone. Don’t be sad. Do not fear. I will stay with you
the night.” I didn’t even know it was night.
She sat at the foot of my bed for a spell, then she moved close
to me. Her hair was long and silvery blonde in the moonlit night.
Her face was timelessly youthful. I don’t recall the color of her
eyes. But she stayed with me the night. We talked the entire time,
it seemed. It seemed she imparted secrets. They’re still secret.
I remember almost nothing. The one last thing, I do remember,
though, she spoke just before I awoke next morning.
She kissed my forehead and stroked my cheek saying, “We'll
meet again one day. But take courage and be wary of this city
. . .” Then she was gone.

8
k
C H A P T E R 6

WOODSTOCK . . . NOT!

T he next Saturday, brother Bryan and I raided the Re-


cord Runner in Binghamton. We picked up The Big Pink and
Santana’s debut album. I saw the Woodstock-dove-on-guitar-
neck poster, thinking to myself, I still have to get a ticket. Frodo
isn’t interested. Bryan isn’t interested. I suffered another bout
of protracted procrastination.
A week later all hell (and heaven) broke loose. I still didn’t
have a ticket. I hadn’t asked for time off, and now it was Friday
and I should’ve been there by now. In honor of the day I imbibed
in a little celebratory psychedelia before heading off to IBM. I
would, by days end, be wondering, What the blue barrel blazes
got into me? Knowing full well the answer to that question.
My drive down Echo Hill, across the Susquehanna River,
and into downtown Endicott was a little shaky, but I made it
okay. At the far end of the Building 25 parking lot I found a set
of parallel lines that stayed still long enough for me to park my
MGA. By some miracle I arrived at work on time, and smiling,
made my way across the undulating floor. I clocked in, pausing
just long enough to get caught up in the wonder of how time
worked. I watched the little hands do their thing. Hmmm, why
BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

do clocks have hands and faces? I wondered on the way to my


stool. ‘Ridin’ the rails again,’ I hummed to myself, feeding strips
of contacts down the rails into the huge machine that would at-
tach the contacts and housings to the SLT boards.
Once there, I stayed there. Someone had a radio tuned in
to WENE, which I really appreciated. In honor of Woodstock,
they were playing tunes by artists being featured at the Festival. I
still held an irrational hope that I’d be able to make it. However,
by the time of the first newscast, it became obvious the situation
was hopeless.
Richie Havens’ rousing rendition of “Freedom” flowed into
another news bulletin that traffic was backed up for miles and
miles and miles.
Today, I pose the question, “What do Dylan, the Beatles,
Joni Mitchell and I have in common?”
We never made it to Woodstock.
Dylan was invited, but because everyone else was going
there, he skipped over the pond to do the first Isle of Wight con-
cert—UK’s answer to Woodstock.
John Lennon was asked if The Beatles could perform. He
said, “No, but The Plastic Ono Band could.”
“Oh, that’s okay, it was nice of you to offer,” said the pro-
moters. As it turned out, The Beatles were in the throes of the
last days in session recording Abbey Road. And they’d be busy
breaking up on August 20, anyway.
Joni got hopelessly tied up in traffic and, even though she
never got to perform, wrote the signature “By the Time I got to
Woodstock” song.
Afternoon rolled around, and Ralph, the department man-

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WO OD S T O C K . . . NO T !

ager, tapped me on the shoulder as he walked by and invited me


into his office.
“How’s everything going, Gene?”
“Oh, good.”
“Well, are you sure? I’m a little concerned. You seem to be
acting different today . . .”
“No, ummm . . .” My body-buzzing and the electronic
squeal in my head kicked up a notch. Ralph’s face and the walls
slowly bent in toward me. A fan of light flashed behind his head.
“Ummm. No. I don’t know. I had kind of a late night last night
. . .”
“You look a little dopey.”
“Uh, I’m . . . umm . . . Once I get a good night’s sleep . . .”
“Gene, I know your dad. He’s a good man. And I’m sure
you are, too. I’m not going to get into this any further, but I
don’t want to have to speak with you about it again. You have
an important responsibility here, and it’s my job to insure that
you know that. You be good, now, okay?”
Ralph smiled like Gepetto after giving Pinocchio a little
fatherly lecture. He warmly shook my hand, then sent me back
to my stool. I could almost sense the dunce cap sitting next to
it as I picked up the contacts and, more carefully than ever, slid
them down the rails into the big machine.
I felt the excitement of Woodstock—the connection with
the hearty half-million who did make it. As it turned out, I got
to see all the people I really wanted to see as they continued to
tour during the aftermath of the Festival, anyway.
I’d get to see The Band, Tim Buckley, Leslie West and
Mountain and Joni Mitchell again at SUNY Binghamton. The

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

rest, Canned Heat, Santana, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Jessie Col-


lin Young, The Incredible String Band, and yes, even the Moody
Blues, I’d get to see in the coming months.
A half year later, my universe would shift on its axis. I’d
meet Thyme, and we’d get to see them in Michael Wadleigh’s
Woodstock movie, anyway. We’d discover that, aside from the
music, two of the silver threads tying everything together were
the appearance of a dude from who-knows-where, his girlfriend,
and the Maharishi addressing the crowd and affirming the wave
of spirituality we were all surfing.
The dude said he used to be on drugs, very heavy on drugs.
Then he said that now it all seems contrived. The drugs and revo-
lution, and the United Front and all, you know? He said he's a
human being, and that’s all he wants to be, and he has no desire
for a mass change, because mass change only brings around mass
insanity. He said he just wants to be himself and find a place
where he could maintain some kind of balance within himself.
The interviewer asked him if he thought he could ever com-
municate with someone like Nixon or Westmoreland.
Whoa, I thought to myself. Now, there’s a question.
He answered that he would hope so, but that he didn't need
all that power. He could just sit there right on this roadside
and doesn’t have to become president of the United States. He
doesn't have to make that climb, 'cause there’s nothing to climb
for. It’s all sitting right here.
The interviewer asked if they had tickets, and they said they
didn't. They figured they'd just figure it out once they got there.
See whatever happens.
Then the dude knocked my socks off. He said something
like, nowhere-people are are coming here because they're hoping

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WO OD S T O C K . . . NO T !

to find there are people who are somewhere. Everybody’s look-


ing for some kind of answer, where there isn’t one. Why would
hundreds of thousands of people come just because of music?
Is music all that important? He didn’t really think so. He said
people don’t know. They don’t know how to live, and they don’t
know what to do, and they thought that if they came to Woodstock
they might find out what it is—how to maintain. His last words
echoed that he thought people are very lost.
Then the Maharishi’s beard filled the screen saying that
America leads the whole world in several ways. The camera
panned back to show his whole face. He continued, saying that
when he was in the East, he met with the grandson of Mahatma
Ghandi and Ghandi asked him if he knew what was happening
in America.
The Maharishi replied that America is becoming a whole.
America had been helping everybody in the material field, but
the time had now come for America to help the whole world with
spirituality.
Here we go!

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

k
C H A P T E R 17

FINDING THYME

I was pretty psyched as I flung the paint around Saturday.


I built up my expectations. With every brushstroke I added to
her face or figure, I imagined what it would be like to actually
find my dream girl. I couldn’t help myself.
At 4:30 I stuffed some clean underwear and a shirt into my
Scout duffel, loaded my disposable pallet and sketchbook into
my art case, grabbed my sleeping bag, and couldn’t get to my
little bug fast enough. I arrived at Dunkin Donuts ten minutes
early and sat waiting for Frodo for what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, as he opened the kitchen door, he doffed his apron and
cap in a laundry bin, then headed my way with a big grin. “Let’s
go, ol’ bean,” he directed. So down the road we headed to Chaz
and Belinda’s.
I was awakened early Sunday morning by incredibly bright
light. The sun blazed directly on my face. I wrestled with a little
dilemma. I didn’t want to use Chaz and Belinda’s shower without
asking. Also, I didn’t want to smell like a pig when I met this new
girl. Finally the solution came to me in their linen closet. I just
F I N DI NG TH Y M E

borrowed a washcloth and gave myself a full-body sponge bath


from the bathroom sink.
As I climbed into my clean underwear and shirt, Frodo
clambered into the shower anyway. Soon enough we were tool-
ing up 81 North as fast as that little Beetle’s legs could carry us.
I don’t remember talking or thinking a lot. The radio was on,
when we could pick up a station. Frodo slept mostly. I tried to
stay awake, mostly.
The bright sun glinted off the high snow banks we passed
along the way. Frodo woke up in time to tell me which exit to take,
and how to get to the University. I began to feel really strange.
Unreal. I’ve always hated city driving. Plus, I was nervous about
meeting this girl. I know I didn’t leave such a great impression
on Isis when I came up to visit Frodo the previous year.
They had fixed me up with a plump, little hippie virgin who
was so grateful to be left intact she developed a crush on me and
kept writing. She was sweet but she wasn’t the one, and I had
to break her heart. I knew Isis got word, and God knows what
she’d told her new roommate.
So, anyway, Frodo and I found a free lot to park in and
walked to Reed Cottage, Isis’s old apartment. It was a cool place.
Isis surprised me. She was actually friendly. I noticed Nashville
Skyline on top of one of the boxes she had packed.
“I have to go meet Sprague,” she said. “Why don’t you guys
just hang out for a while, and we’ll catch up with you down on
M Street.”
Those were the days when I didn’t mind having a beer at
any time of day, so that Sunday morning we attended service at
the church of the inveterate hops—an establishment called The

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

Orange—in honor of the great University’s school color.


We sat at the bar for awhile honoring Bacchus with bottles
of Labatts and toking on Tareytons (actually, Frodo was a Marl-
boro man). I’d just ordered another when Frodo announced,
“You know, I won’t be heading back home with you, Space.” I
lost my grip on the fresh bottle of Labatts the bartender minis-
tered to me. A gentle arch of frothy, golden nectar streaked up
the bartender’s apron.
“God, I’m sorry, man,” my eyes pleading for forgiveness, yet
still tinged with anger and fear for having to find my way back
to the Interstate alone. The priest of poison eyed me back with
a “We’ll-let-it-go-this-time-but-you-probably-better-split-soon”
kind of look. Just then, Isis walked into the Orange and motioned
for us to come outside. I looked at Frodo with raised eyebrow
that said, “That couldn’t have been better timing.” Frodo grinned
and nodded in full agreement. Only for a second did I sense a
flash of embarrassment for my actions in Frodo’s expression. We
paid the tab and headed out.
I drank in that sweet smell of fresh air laced with hops
and alcohol that you get when you emerge from a drinking es-
tablishment. That’s the only thing I’ve missed after giving up
drinking.
Anyway, before us stood a very pretty girl in a brown suede
jacket, blue bellbottom jeans, a simple, white, collared blouse,
and golden brown hair that hung waaay down her back. Isis
introduced her saying, “This is Sprague. Sprague, Frodo and
Space.”
We followed the girls down the sidewalk. The sun was out
and the day actually felt quite magical (for reasons I’ll explain in

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a minute). At this particular moment in the history of my uni-


verse, however, I’m about to make a fool of myself. Isis turned
her head and spoke to me over her shoulder. As we neared the
corner of M Street she said, “Sprague’s in art.”
I promptly replied, “Wassaspraguesinart?” I instantly re-
gretted that. I felt moved to another planet. Then we came to
the corner of the street. Sprague stood on that street corner.
I stood immobilized, transfixed on the curb below her. She
turned her head just so, silhouetted against a deep blue winter
sky. The sun caught wisps of her hair flying free in a quick breeze
and spun them to gold. Suddenly I knew that face. Those eyes.
Blue like a misty spring morning. I fell into those eyes. Deeper
and deeper. Back in time. Back to Atlantis. Outside of time. I
met God there. She’s the one.
During the walk to Reed Cottage, my head was filled with
music and imagery of the girl of my dreams. I knew where Heaven
was now. I was so high, the Labatts had no effect on me.
Sunlight beamed through the nearby window onto my knee.
I wore my smiley jeans, the ones with the big holes in the knees.
I toyed with the embroidered rainbow butterfly patch with which
I attempted to cover the hole in my right knee. I was in Heaven,
but my head had never been so clear.
I sat in the chair, right boot on left knee, hoping I looked
cool enough to undo the damage rendered by my idiot mouth
earlier. I played with my mustache.
I remember talking about God a lot. I usually did that
anyway. But this time was different. I felt I almost knew what
I was talking about.
I knew everybody in the room. There were Frodo and Isis,

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

of course. And Juke and his girlfriend. And Brent and his
girlfriends. Juke and Brent, you might recall, were Frodo’s two
roommates from Syracuse with whom we’d roomed in Atlantic
City.
“I have a theory,” I said, “that God is the Majestic Jester. He
must have an incredible sense of humor to have created me.”
Everyone laughed. She laughed. Her laughter filled my
universe with music and color. I talked about how I wanted to be
a wizard and a minstrel. I talked about happiness and Donovan
and music and how our quest for God fit into all this. I mentioned
my love of folk music and the fact that “Wild Mountain Thyme”
was one of my favorites.
“Mine, too!” her voice sang.
All that time, I watched her. Every word I spoke, I spoke
to her. Though the room was full, there was really just the two
of us. She said, in that lilting princess voice that I loved already,
“I started wondering about God, too. Isis and I just visited a
Christian commune.”
“Cool,” I said, but inside I was thinking, I’ve got to rescue
her before she gets sidetracked. Instead, I said, “I think a spir-
itual commune would be beautiful, but I’d want to do yoga and
meditation and stuff, too.”
We had both read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land
and grokked where Michael was coming from. Then, way before
I was ready, Isis announced they had to get going. I had my
goodbye scenario all worked out. I will take her right hand in
mine, bow gallantly, and give it a princely kiss.
Sprague and Isis moved toward the front door. They paused
to say their good-byes. I held back to be last in line. I wanted

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to leave the last impression. Juke was ahead of me. He said ‘So
long’ to Isis, then, I couldn’t believe it, he took Sprague’s hand,
bowed gallantly, and kissed it! Jeezis Juke, you got your own
girlfriend!
I re-gathered my cool, wished both girls well with their
move, and clasped Sprague’s right hand in both of mine.
“I really enjoyed talking with you,” I said.
“And I with you,” said she.
I fell into those eyes again. We smiled. She placed her left
hand on mine. We stood still in time.
Isis’ stare brought me back.
“I’d really like to write to you if that’s okay,” I blurted.
“I’d like that,” she said.
I fumbled around in my pocket and found an old unin-
habited gum wrapper. Then I started to feel around futilely for
a pen. “I ah. Don’t seem to ah . . .” Sprague smiled again and
reached into her bag.
“You can use this.”
“Thank you.” I wrote down Sprague. “What’s your last
name?”
“That is my last name. My first name is Persephone.” Her
gaze sharpened. Judging from my previous performance, I knew
she was bracing herself for some dumb comment from me, but I
stomped out any urge with a vengeance and held my peace.
Meanwhile my heart was telling me, She’s no Persephone.
She’s so much more than a Persephone. I wrote down her ad-
dress, gave her pen back, looked into those eyes one more time,
and said, “Thank you. I’ll write soon.”
I floated back to my little bug and started on my way. Frodo

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

did give me good directions, so I was on Highway 81 heading


south before I knew it. As the sun went down, I pondered what
to do next. What is her name . . . Her true name?
Sprague? Persephone? Cool names, but not totally her.
Gwenivere? It certainly fits her, but too tragic. Too bittersweet.
The Beatles new song came on the radio, John Lennon singing the
lead in “Across the Universe.” I drifted through the heavens with
them. Inspiration started creeping into my consciousness.
I landed on a mountain top. Spring sun lifting mist, I could
smell the sweet air laced with thyme. The Beatles song ended.
I switched off the radio. I started humming “Wild Mountain
Thyme.”
Thyme? Thyme! That’s who she is. Thyme. God. Thyme.
Yes.
The poem started right then. I began working on it as soon
as I got home.
The next three days were a roller coaster ride. I’d think about
her all day at work in the mailroom—to the soft, rhythmic chunk
chunk of the Scriptomatic Addressographs. I’d see the wizard
and the princess in our cottage on the hill. The rock-rimmed fish
pond outside. I’d go home and work on the poem at night.
I went back to the mountain top, the cottage, and the
welcome springtime of new love. Then Penelope popped into
memory. I thought I knew love before. So powerful. But then it
hurt so much for so long. Do I trust this? I don’t care. Who the
hell was it that said, “Better to have loved and lost than never
to have loved at all.” I don’t care. Penelope was in love with
being in love. Thyme’s not like that. I know she isn’t.

The words just began to flow and the poem unfolded.

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F I N DI NG TH Y M E

THYME
Thyme was born in Lothlorien
Shy, innocent as a newborn day
Clothed in joy woven of thread
The color of sunset.
Her eyes lit by the dance
Of starlight and angels.
The magic of her beauty could
Not be matched even by the spell
Of Merlin’s wand.
She’s soft as the snow melted
By her warmth.
She’s artistic, a living canvas.
Yes, an artist painting
Blue of sky,
White of blissful clouds,
Silver of rain and dew,
Green of grass and leaves,
Colors of meadow flowers
She speaks
Love
Singing of a young magpie perched upon the tender finger
Of a twig.
Thyme is very much more than
An herb or fragrance.
Thyme is the name I offer you.

I calligraphed THYME in three-inch high Old English letters


on a 12 x 18 inch sheet of sketchpad paper. Then I copied the
entire poem in half-inch upper and lower case.

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

Above Thyme’s name I penciled, then inked and watercol-


ored the wizard in a light orange robe, his shoulder-length white
hair and beard whipped by the wind of the mountaintop. He
knelt humbly before the princess, hands folded. She, with fair
hair caught by the same wind, reached down to him. The rocky
summit was so touched by her, it offered green grass to cushion
her bare feet.
I surrounded the poem with verdant flourishes and filigree.
After I finished, I wrote a letter explaining my intentions for her
name. I wrapped it in manila folders and brown paper and sent
it off to her February 12th. I honestly wasn’t even conscious of
it being Valentine’s Day. But that’s when she got it.
I paid Frodo a visit when he came back to Vestal midweek.
We sat on Chaz and Belinda’s heated porch which served as his
room.
“I’m jealous, you know,” I said.
“I know. She got the poem.”
“She did? What did she say, man? What’d she say?”
“Well, it was kind of hard to tell at first. She was suffering
from a cold Valentine’s Day, but in between her bouts of sneez-
ing, coughing, and nose-blowing, I got the impression that she
received the poem okay and was blown away by it.”
The following Tuesday I discovered a letter waiting for me in
the mailbox. I ran upstairs to my room, “toom-toom-toom-toom”
and carefully opened the letter with baited breath. It read:

Dear Space,
You have such a really glorious beauty . . . I appreciate it.
And you opened your heart so warmly.
And, sad, people rarely do.

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F I N DI NG TH Y M E

I appreciate more . . .
You made me happier with your feelings . . .
Your light-words, your picture with the sadly-happy people
and
My name . . . each a feeling of goodness.

Fantasy is an intricate-delicate thing


But it can never be broken.
It is a goodness few people know.
Please, if you will, come visit here.
I grok your gift in fullness.
With the same love . . .
Of wine
Once sipped by, perhaps
A Gwenivere
So I give to you.

Thyme

That week flew by. And at last came February 22nd, a date
I know I’ll remember for eternity. Frodo was beginning to sense
that Isis did not regard him with the same degree of affection
he’d poured out to her. I found this out when I practically had
to twist his arm to get him to go to Syracuse with me.
He decided he’d give it another try, though. And bless his
freaky heart, he amassed two dozen assorted Dunkin’ Donuts
with which to woo our respective sweeties.

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

k
C H A P T E R 25

THE SHADOW OF ATLANTIS

E dgar Capricornicus had crept back into my life. We


explored the Transcendentalists, Annie Bessant and the Theoso-
phists, the Maharishi, Paramahansa Yogananda, Magic, telepathy
. . . such a high time. For the first, and probably only time in
his life thus far, Edgar was happy. Unfortunately, Edgar would
all-too-soon rekindle his connection with the macabre and start
traipsing down the left hand path toward darkness as I sought
the right hand path toward the light.
The winter of 1970-71 was a tough one, but we made the best
of it. I spent a lot of time painting, hanging with Guy Lombardo,
Tommy Dorsey, and Edgar Capricornicus at the Other Place. One
weekend in December, Edgar met a big-as-in-tall Capricorn art-
ist who called himself Atlantis. He was also attending SUNY
Binghamton, and made arrangements for all of us to meet on
campus in one of the painting studios to see his stuff. I thought,
With a name like that, the stuff’s got to be inspired. As an added
incentive, he said he’d be happy to critique some of my art.
I drove Mr. Green over to Torrance Ave., picked up Edgar,
and headed down Highway 17 to the SUNY Binghamton campus,
TH E SH A D OW OF ATLANTIS

which actually sat mostly across the border on the Vestal side,
but Binghamton got all the credit because it was a city.
We walked into the huge modern, brick building, and I
drank in the delicious smell of paints. Then we found Atlantis.
Suddenly I was thrown back into the dream I had the previous
summer in Atlantic City.
Atlantis was taller than me by an inch or two, totally dressed
in black, had long, black, shoulder-length hair, and a sharp goa-
tee. He’d been at work in one of the studios on a five-by-four
foot abstract that was strong, well crafted, but God, it made me
so sad. Atlantis was pleased when he saw my face. “Makes you
think, doesn’t it?” He had others.
“I’ve researched colors and shapes that cause psychological
discomfort. I dig the subconscious. Just fascinates the hell out
of me. Let me see your stuff.”
I lost my enthusiasm. I knew where this was going. Com-
pliantly, I opened up my portfolio and spread out my Merlin with
the Ivy Sword, Bilbo and Gandalf, The Minstrel, Elfin Spires, and
Neptune with his mouth open about ready to swallow a sailing
ship. I didn’t dare look at his face, and awaited judgment. “You’re
a pretty happy Gaucho, aren’t you, Space?”
“Yeah.”
“That’s cool. I respect that. You definitely got your own
style, rough around the edges. You like this fantasy shit. It’s not
my thing, but whatever fires your candle.”
By the time Atlantis invited us over to his place in Bing-
hamton to hang out for a spell, I left feeling insubstantial, but
placated.
Atlantis treated us to a little Orange Barrel cocktail, then
we rapped and rapped until I started to get all sentimental and

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

reminisce about my days at Piper all those months ago, and the
messes Catcher would get us into and, luckily, out of. So Atlantis
said, “Why don’t you give him a call?
“Really?”
“Sure, phone’s right over there. Why don’t you invite him
over?”
“He’s in Hartford!”
“Invite him anyway.”
So I went ahead and called Catcher, hoping I’d woken him
up. I hadn’t. We were laughing our butts off, in party mode. I
was totally unaware that Atlantis had gone off to work on a piece
of art, and that Edgar, after sitting glumly for awhile, had got-
ten up and left. I was also oblivious to the fact that there was a
snowstorm wailing outside.
“So, how’d you like to come out and join the party?” I asked,
looking to catch Atlantis’s eye.
Then I lost my bearings when I discovered Atlantis wasn’t
there. And Edgar wasn’t there. I checked to see if I was there.
It appeared I still was.
Then Catcher said, “Sure.”
“Sure what?”
“Sure. See you in four hours. Where are you?”
“Uh, I don’t know. Why don’t you meet us at the house in
Vestal?”
“Okay. Great!”
“See you in four. Have a good trip.”
“Right.”
I hung up.
“Hey where’d everybody go?”
Atlantis poked his head back into the room. I’m right here.

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TH E SH A D OW OF ATLANTIS

Where’s Edgar?”
“You don’t know?”
“No. He must’ve gone out for a walk.”
“O crap, o crap, o crap . . .”
I ran in and out of every room in Atlantis’s apartment—twice.
I opened the front door. A mad fury of fat snowflakes slapped
me in the face. “Gaah,” I shouted. “I didn’t know it was supposed
to snow tonight!”
“You didn’t know?” Atlantis laughed. “Yeah, they’re pre-
dicting a blizzard tonight. We’re supposed to get at least a foot
and a half.”
“Cheezis. Catcher’s going to be driving into this in just a
couple of hours. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I assumed you knew.” Atlantis’s eyes twinkled, sardonic,
amused.
“You said ‘Why don’t you invite him over!’”
“I was joking. I thought you knew,” he chuckled.
“And now I got to find Edgar in this?”
Atlantis laughed out loud, relishing this delicious comedy
playing out before him. “I’ll help you look for him. He can’t have
gotten far in this stuff.”
“God. All he’s got on is his denim jacket. He doesn’t have
any gloves, or boots, for that matter.”
I bent over to wrestle on my sheepskin miner’s boots. “Hold
on a second. I’ll help you.” The phone rang. I waited a second
in the faint hope it might be Edgar. From the way Atlantis was
talking, I figured it must be a girl. I ran out the front door.
The wind whipped me again. I fought for balance, sliding
down the front stoop. The snow had gotten too deep to leave any
trace of Edgar’s footprints. It seemed like we’d gotten a foot al-

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

ready. The roads were still unplowed. I slammed myself into my


trusty Mr. Green, thinking, Thank God for front-wheel drive.
I spun my wheels until I got traction, threw the car into
reverse, did a quarter donut into the street, and took off. It was
practically pure white. I crawled along a couple of blocks until I
saw the Red Sky Diner.
Coffee. I said to myself. Need coffee.
I pulled up near the curb and waded through the slight de-
pression in the snow I took to be the sidewalk. Shoveling snow
away from the door with my boot, I stumbled and slid to the
counter, and scraped the snow off my glasses.
A sleepy, middle-aged guy behind the counter said, “Cof-
fee?”
“Yeah. Large to go. Two cream. Two sugar.”
“Comin’ right up,” he yawned.
“Kinda slow tonight, huh?” I queried.
“I guess.”
“Can’t imagine why.”
“Sorry to wake you up.” We both laughed. I was feeling
pretty unreal. Anything was possible and everything seemed
impossible at that moment.
“Nah. It’s Okay. There was another fella in here earlier.
Took one black . . .”
“No kidding. He have long black hair?”
“Yup.”
“Underdressed? Denim jacket. No boots?”
“Yeah. Friend a yours?”
“Something like that. I don’t think he feels like he has any
friends right now. He tends to get depressed sometimes.”
“He looked a mess all right.”

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TH E SH A D OW OF ATLANTIS

“How long ago?”


“I don’t . . . well, let’s see. Maybe an hour. No more than
that.”
“Oh God. He say anything?”
“Nah. Not much of a conversationalist. Don’t think he said
more than three words. I says, ‘Coffee?’ He says, ‘Black.’ I says,
‘Where you headed?’ He says, ‘Home.’
Then I give’m his coffee, he says ‘Thanks.’ And he’s off.
That’s it!”
“Thanks.”
“Here’s yer java.”
“What’re the damages?”
“A buck two-thirty.”
I tried to guess at the proper change, dropping coins on the
floor from my not-too-nimble fingers. He laughed and hacked,
but his face was kind.
“On the house, kid. Good luck with your buddy.”
I thanked him profusely, waved, and shoved my way out the
snow-jammed door and drifting sidewalk again.
It was only ten miles down Route 17 from Binghamton to
Vestal, and now I was on Riverside Drive, home of the rich. On
my left, I passed what once was pastureland for Exterminator, the
1917 Kentucky Derby winner, although I didn’t know it at the time.
Coming up on my right was the Roberson Memorial. To me, the
home of some of the most cherished memories from my child-
hood. It was, and still is, a museum. Originally, the Roberson
Family mansion. When the family died out, the estate was set up
to commemorate local cultural history and fine art. This included
artifacts from the Iroquois, who had inhabited the area.
It was a center for the arts. The works of several well-known

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landscapists hung there. Scholastic Magazine once sponsored


an exhibition of artwork from local high schools in the former
ballroom for many years. One of my watercolors was nominated
for a gold key and hung there. That’s what gave me the impression
I might be an artist. All I got was a certificate, but I still have it
someplace.
In a few weeks, they’d open the Carriage House to the Public
again, inviting us into the Christmas Tree Forest, showing off
decorated Christmas trees from all over the world. Gramma and
Grampa Mac took us there every year before we got to pick out
our presents from Fowler’s Department Store.
I think 1962 was the year that my first heartthrob raced down
the Susquehanna past the mansion in a speedboat with Frankie
Avalon. I saw it on a live, remote, American Bandstand. I kid
you not! I couldn’t believe it, there, just ten miles away, singing
with my rival, stupid Frankie Avalon, my dark-haired goddess
of Disneyland, Annette.
Back to reality, the snow was peppering my forehead through
the window while I scanned the side of the road for Edgar.
It was slow-going. I pulled onto Rt. 17, still unplowed and
getting rutted. The SUNY campus slowly slid by on my left. I
thought maybe he might head there to seek refuge. But as I ap-
proached the stop light to make the turn, I thought better of it.
Knowing Edgar and the state he was in, he’d walk on like a Shiite,
reveling in the ecstatic self-abuse.
The next four miles make molasses in January look like
greased lightning. The Vestal Plaza strolled by on the left, then
Howard’s Florists where Bryan’s lead singer worked. Then came
the Chicken Inn, best barbecued chicken and cole slaw in the

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TH E SH A D OW OF ATLANTIS

world. Then Valley Design where Esther would work one day,
and the Midway Bowling Alley, Dad’s winter haunt. I’d made a
scale model of it out of manila folders in Fourth Grade at George
H. Nichols. Then the Vestal Steak House, with its larger-than-life
brown steer with a white head, standing guard on the roof over
the entrance. I still haven’t eaten there.
When the massive presence of the V Drive-In mystically
appeared through passing squalls, my headlights struck a black,
hunching silhouette on my left, plowing through ruts and accu-
mulated storm-leavings in the middle of the highway. No foot-
prints followed him, the snow whipped so viciously. I beeped
my pitiful horn. I rolled down the window and shouted, “Edgar,
get your ass in the car! I’m not in the mood for dead friends
right now.”
The silhouette turned and Edgar’s face flashed in the light.
It looked like frozen death. I opened the door behind me, and
he fell into the seat. No word passed between us until after I’d
gotten him safely home. His mother likely had been asleep for
hours.
When I got Edgar safely home it was 1:30 a.m. I still had
two hours before Catcher projected his arrival up at the house on
Echo Road. Edgar thawed out and lightened up a lot—enough to
start rapping about what was bumming him out.
“It just kept bugging me that my life is just a pretty sick
cosmic joke. My father shoots himself in the head in front of the
whole family when I’m only eight. My brother’s a paranoid, totally
selfish asshole, and it scares me how my mother acts so simple
and domestic and dotes over me all the time. What a waste. Did
you know she was her class Valedictorian?

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

And then Atlantis with all that raunchy jazz and belching
and farting. The joke just kept getting too sick and raunchy to
handle. I had to get away.”
“Yeah. I know. I don’t blame you. But, man, you could have
said something. You scared me shitless.”
“Sorry, Space. Nothing I could do about it, you know?” Ed-
gar walked over to the TV and flicked it on. The screen lit up only
slightly. It was an outdoor night scene. Torch light danced in an
island breeze. There was a giant and a vampire, it looked like,
and little people dancing around a shrouded table with a bearded
lady of enormous girth reposing on her back on the table top.
I looked at Edgar. He smiled for the first time in two days.
“Trippy, huh?”
“What the hell is this?”
“Carnival of Souls. Look. There’s Herve Valazquez.”
“The one in the top hat?”
“I see great things ahead for that guy.”
“So. You going to be okay now, Edgar?”
“Yeah. I’m just going to see the rest of this.”
“Okay. See you later, then.”
“Space. Thanks for the ride . . . and everything.”
“It’s cool. G’night.”
“Night.”
I slipped out the front door and swished through more newly
collected snow. God I hope I’ll be able to make it up the hill, I
thought. I gunned Mr. Green backwards out the driveway and
headed down Torrance, Front Street past Zampi’s and the drug
store, and right at five corners onto Main Street. I crossed the
bridge on Choconut Creek, right onto Glenwood, and then took
a right onto Echo. Now let the games begin.

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TH E SH A D OW OF ATLANTIS

I jammed the accelerator to start building speed on the third


of a mile of stretch. Coming up on the left at the base of the
hill is the old barn where Dad, in his youth, boarded his horse,
Skylark.
I continued my inner narrative to get me home safely. Come
on Come on. Blakeney’s. Half way.
Kool’s barn up ahead at the top of the hill. Almost there. I’m
losing momentum. Starting to slide. No. Come on Mr. Green.
You’re built for this. You’ve got front wheel drive. You can do
it. I’m reminded of those cozy winter nights when Mom read me
the Little Train that Could. “I think I can. I think I can.”
I surprise myself when I heard myself shouting out loud,
“Come on Green.” Spinning. Digging. Sliding. Backing. A
lurch! God! I’m over the top! Whoo! “Whoo!”
What a night. Something finally went right. I was happy
enough for two. Literally, that’s true. Catcher would be in my
wake in a half hour. He’d have to take on the hill, but if Mr. Green
could make it, Catcher’s Blue Beetle could do it too.
At 3:16, Bryan and I were sprawled out in the den on the
couch and Dad’s Barcolounger respectively. I could hear the
outside door slam on the garage. Catcher’s grinning face popped
up in the window of the door opening into the den. We’d both
zonked out. His rap on the window jerked us wide-eyed awake.
Only one lamp burned, but it was enough light for him to see us
wave him in. He bounded in, with half a six-pack of Miller under
his arm. His face grew puzzled as we come into focus. I’m afraid
he received a rather weird reception.
“God,” he said, “What’s happening? I feel like I just walked
in at the end of a movie.”
I started to explain all that transpired that night. “Oh, man.

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BY THE TI ME I G O T TO WO OD S T O C K

You wouldn’t believe it . . . ” I started.


Then he said, “Hold it right there. Gotta wiz.”
I mustered just enough party spirit to listen to the new
Donovan bootleg album, down one brew, and then started to
crash. I’d been up all night.
Catcher looked at me in amazement. “You talk me into
driving all night to come to your party and then you crap out on
us? Where’s that stamina?”
“G’night Catcher.”
“G’night Ol’ Fart.”
Next thing I knew, I was having a dream about this mos-
quito. I felt a tickle on the tip of my nose and I slapped it. I sat up
. . . wake up, smelling menthol. My face was full of shaving cream.
Catcher and Bryan couldn’t stand up they laughed so hard.
“I guess I deserved that,” I said.

174