11 June 2015

A Friday Night Gathering in Berkeley, 1968

Sixties. Someone in a living room cross legged on the floor playing the guitar and singing. Others pass around a jug of wine. In another room a joint is lit. There is a TV in the room, it is a small black and white set. There is a poster for a Janis Joplin concert at Fillmore West on the wall.

After the guitar player finishes, a few people clap and a woman says, “far out.” The guitar player gets up and announces he needs to take a whiz. He has long dark hair that rests on his shoulders. His bangs, like the hair on his shoulders, ends in a curl. His name is Ron. He has a boyish face that makes him look younger than his 22 years. Everyone likes Ron. Most of the women in the house that night want to have sex with him. Besides his good looks, Ron is charming and funny and has a nice singing voice. But he has a girlfriend, Kristen. She is a tall, slender blonde. She is standing in the kitchen talking to a straight guy with a short hair cut who looks like a solider on leave. Kristen’s hair hangs well down to her rear. It is so blonde that it veritably shines. She has on headband and a long colorful dress that reaches the tops of her bare feet. The man she is talking to you is the cousin of a person who lives in the house. His name is Kyle and he is from Texas, he's visiting Berkeley and San Francisco to, “check out the scene.”

When Ron comes back from the bathroom he starts talking to Phillip. He is Kyle’s cousin and shares the house with three other people including his girlfriend, Gretchen. Phillip is telling Ron that he should borrow his copy of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. He is unaware of the fact that despite Ron’s other gifts, he is not an accomplished reader who could not get through the Richard Brautigan novel someone recently lent him and he'd have no chance with Hesse.

Several other people in the house are talking about the Vietnam war and the images of combat they saw on the news earlier in evening. Everyone agrees it is important to maintain the momentum of the anti-war movement and keep the demonstrations going. However Gretchen and a guy named Warren are differing on whether the time has come to abandon peaceful demonstrations and use violence. “We’ve got to show the pigs we mean business,” Warren insists. Gretchen shakes her head in the negative.

Tina, who also lives in the house, decides to play a record. She takes a Jefferson Airplane album out of its sleeve and places it on the turntable. As soon as the music starts Tina starts spinning around. Tina is quite stoned and a little bit drunk. No one seems to mind, as Starman (that’s the nickname of another housemate) said a little while ago: “its good to get your head in another space for awhile using grass or wine or whatever. Plus, man, it makes you more sociable and cool.”

Starman is chatting up Leslie, a high school chick who is way mature for age (17). She's the youngest person at the party by about four years. Leslie is Phillip’s sister and hangs out at the house a lot. Starman knows that Leslie isn’t a virgin, so figures it's cool to seduce her, if he can manage it. He knows that a chick like her won’t be easy. For one thing she's super smart. Leslie thinks Starman is interesting to talk to because he's about 30 and had been in the Peace Corps and traveled Europe and by his own admission had dropped acid like 25 times. But Leslie also thinks that Starman is in desperate need of a shower which precludes even thinking about sleeping with him, not that she’d ever go to bed with a guy so much older than she is.

Tina finally plunks down on some guy’s lap. She isn’t sure who it is until he says, “you’re little ass is welcome in my lap anytime, honey bunch.” It was Carl, who was Tina’s on and off boyfriend. They used to live together but neither could be faithful to the other and Tina said, “it was too much of a hassle” to always be coming across each other’s one night stands. Tina turns and plants a big kiss on Carl’s heavily bearded cheek. Carl is about as large as Tina is small and has huge appetites for food and liquor and for that matter sex too.

Kristen and Kyle’s conversation has a momentary lull and so Kristen decides to check on Ron. Kristen would never admit it to anyone, not even herself, but she is a very jealous person and knows that other women are just as attracted to Ron as she is. So she's always checking on Ron. Kristen has found Kyle to be interesting, it's unusual to meet someone from a small Texas town. He's like a foreigner here, but is also very open-minded and curious. She respects that. Kyle thinks Kristen is beautiful and in fact one of the most beautiful women he’s ever seen. She also seems so exotic and open and honest. Kyle is especially polite to her but he knows that she has a boyfriend and wouldn’t be interested in a guy like him anyway. Talking to Kristen had made Kyle feel more relaxed and welcome. He knows that with his short haircut and regular clothes he kind of stands out among all these guys with really long hair and loose hanging outfits. Most of them even have beards. Kyle warily re-enters the living room filling his glass of wine on the way.

Phillip and Ron had moved on from discussing Hesse — which had really been a one way conversation anyway — to talking music. Here is a topic that Ron is comfortable with. Ron acknowledges Dylan and The Beatles as kings and major inspirations of modern music. He also acknowledges the importance of the Stones and Joplin and Hendrix. “But you’ve really got to give a lot of credit to the folk singers of like ten years ago and more. They might sound square today but they’ve had an impact and influence on today’s music. Just like R&B has had.”

Phillip nods in agreement and says, “today’s musicians have just taken it to another level.” Warren rarely defers to anyone on any subject. If he could be faulted for anything it would be arrogance. Warren had been getting his master's in American Literature when he dropped out because he "was sick of the system." He tells people that the "system tries to mold you into the corporate image of a consumer and a yes man who won't hesitate to be fodder in war or buy whatever the hot new product is."

Ron likes Phillip because everyone respects him so much and although Phillip can be aloof around other people, he is always nice to him. Ron figures that Phillip sees him as a cool, smart guy. But the truth is Phillip just respects Ron's musical talents. As arrogant as Phillip is he's wracked with insecurities, many stemming from the fact that he's a homosexual. This is something he has been unable to admit to himself, let alone Gretchen or the rest of the world. In point of fact, Phillip is attracted to Ron, although that attraction lives very deep in his subconscious.

Gretchen loves Phillip even though he is a disappointing lover. They've been together for four years. She has a substantial trust fund that allows her and Phillip to devote all their time to causes, principally the anti-war movement. Gretchen is tall and quite overweight but she has a beautiful face which always features a broad smile. Gretchen is endlessly cheerful. Right now she is talking to Emil who is a reporter for the Berkeley Barb. He's there with his new girlfriend Kathryn. Emil is telling her about the investigating he's been doing into the university's investments in "the war machine." Emil is a recent graduate of Cal's school of journalism and turned down opportunities to work for big city papers to write for the alternative media. Kathryn is the Barb's business manager. Her and Emil have been together for six months and are planning on moving in tougher, although how she'll explain the arrangement to her fundamentalist christian parents is vexing her.

Leslie has managed to slip away from Starman and is sharing a joint with Linda who is Tina's cousin visiting from LA. Alexis is a junior in high school. She is a straight A student despite her love of parties, boys and political activism. Leslie lost her virginity just over a year ago and as much as she likes sex is very particular about who she goes to bed with and when. Leslie may be a women's libber but she does not want a reputation as being easy. Linda is a 23 year old pre med student who "is down" with the anti war movement and is "cool" with getting high, but mainly wants to focus on becoming a doctor.  Linda finds it hard to believe that Leslie is only 17 because she is so articulate and knowledgable about current events. Right now they're talking about how Starman has hit on them and how they are totally disinterested. Warren comes over and talks to them for a little while. He's a hard core political activist who some people feel is too intense and serious. Warren finished an engineering degree last semester but has put off finding a job so that he can devote full energy "to the movement." Linda finds that she likes Warren because he "doesn't play games or bullshit."

It's about 11:00 and someone turns the music up. Everyone is dancing. Even Kyle although he feels weird "dancing like a hippie." No one really has a partner, they're just spinning and wheeling around, only occasionally making eye contact with anyone else. Everyone is high, some more so than others. The dancing will go on for an hour with pretty much everyone taking a break ago some point to sit or go pee or smoke or drink. It's around 12:30 when Gretchen and Tina cook up a huge batch of scrambled eggs as several people have the munchies. Gradually things start to get mellow. The music is turned down and no one dances anymore. Everyone is sitting around talking. Ron plays the guitar again and sings.

Emil and Kathryn are the first to leave. Leslie gets a ride home from them. Kyle ends up in bed with Tina. Both are very high but manage a vigorous night of sex. Kyle can't believe that he has "scored with a hippie chick." Ron and Kristen walk home, its only a few blocks. Gretchen and Phillip collapse in bed around 2:30 and both fall straight to sleep. Warren and Linda end up sleeping together but are both "too zonked" to make love. Starman is very frustrated not to have scored. It's unusual for him on "a party night." He works off his frustration by walking around the block a few times.

The next day brings a huge rainstorm and everyone who was at the party takes it easy.

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