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The IDEA Slick sat pondering the next great adventure as the rain poured down on his bedroom window pane. The upstairs bedroom window pane. Upstairs at his mother’s home. His father had died of a heart attack a few short years - though it seemed a lifetime - ago. Deep Purple’s Made in Japan blared tinnily from the cheap pair of speakers on the cheap little stereo in the dreary little room. A curious blend of lemon scent and stale marijuana smoke permeated the place. An eclectic assortment of photos and posters, newspaper clippings and drawings, adorned the light, paneled walls. Ghandi, Abbie Hoffman, Grateful Dead, “Impeach Nixon”, black armbands, peace signs in neon pink day-glo, Mickey Mantle ... they were all there. There was a damp, chill in the room. A small lamp cast a yellow glow. The mood was perfect for pondering.
Slick stretched his long, lean body out on the green & white paisley foam couch, propping his long-haired head up on a throw pillow. His ears nearly bled from the pounding strains of “Smoke on the Water”, as the smoke in the room nearly choked off all signs of pure air. He stroked his thick, black beard, staring emptily at a poster of his near-heroes, the Chicago 7. Reaching backwards over his head, he pulled the narrow drawer open on the night table. Ahh, that lemon marijuana smell spilled forth. That old ball of lemon wax sure made a good cover up. So he thought. Anyone not stoned out of their mind would have wanted to puke. He blindly fumbled around in the drawer, pulling out the pipe and plastic bag. Carefully as he could in such a relaxed position, he filled the pipe, replaced the bag, lit it up, and took a long, slow toke.
It was hard to believe Slick’s mother didn’t know about all the drug use going on up there. Well, actually she did - Slick and his sidekick and good buddy, Doof, had been busted down in the North Carolina foothills only two and a half years before. She must only have pretended not to know. Easier to deal with. All that noise, the sometimes constant stream of visitors - Dink and Doc and Skin and Foch and Bean and MaKow - and that smell, oh that ever-present smell. Of course she knew. It was only a formality to hide the stash. Slick continued to smoke the pipe, Ritchie Blackmore soloed wildly on Lazy, the rain continued in driving fashion. How to break this boredom. Nothing much was happening these days on Long Island. His mind drifted back to the summer of ‘72. How could he relive those exciting days?
As he continued mulling over that great cross-country hitchhiking trip he and Doof had experienced, ranging haphazardly all over Canada and the west coast as far south as Berkeley, he realized the traveling bug wasn’t quite out of him yet. Something about hitting the road with little care, even less money, and no direction. It was wonderful! The long bonds he had with all the gang going back to sandbox days, on through little league, and into and beyond high school, were beginning to deteriorate. It wasn’t like they didn’t all like each other any more. Just everyone was growing up and moving in different directions. A natural progression.
Thunder crashed. Deep Purple was raising their loud fury to a crescending climax, the pot was having a surreal effect on Slick’s mind. It was all deafening. Suddenly, there was a pounding on the door. It had started as a more innocuous knocking, but no way any one would hear that through all that racket. The door opened. It was Doof. Standing there, soaking wet, his shoulder length, brown hair drooped over his chubby cheeks. The stench of the wet leather of his fringed buckskin jacket rising above even the stench of the room.
“Hey man. I copped this window pane, man. We gotta do some.”
Slick jumped halfway up, startled. His mind had been a million miles away. He hadn’t heard a thing. “Doof! Man, I’m stoned. What’s up?”
“Here, drop this,” Doof exclaimed in his inimitable excited fashion as he handed over a carefully wrapped plastic baggy.
Slick equally carefully unwrapped the small package. This was serious business. Though Slick hadn’t heard a word Doof said, the two had an uncommon bond. Slick knew what this was.
“I told you, Watkins Glen was the last time for me. Every time I trip, I feel like my brain is a hundred pieces of paper tossed up in the air. Whatever order they land in is what I’m left to deal with until the next trip. That acid at Watkins Glen left me in order. I’m going to stay that way. Here, try this.”
He handed over the little pipe. Doof took a long inhale. “Still have that Jamaican? Good stuff.”
“I got a paper.”
Doof pulled a rolled up copy of the day’s Daily News from his waistline. “Maybe we can find a van.”
“Wow, I was just laying here thinking about traveling. We’ve got to get off Long Island, Doof. I can’t take it any more.”
“Tell me about it, Slick. There’s nothing here for us. We’ve got to go back to California. Cat Mother in the park! For free!”
Cat Mother was a little known rock band. Slick and Doof just loved them. Deep Purple had finished their raucous symphony and the rain had suddenly stopped. The sunlight was gleaming through the quickly dissipating clouds. The bowl was empty.
“Let’s go outside. Get some air,” Doof said.
Slick slipped on a worn out pair of moccasins. The two rumbled down the stairs. It was late in the afternoon. The early October air felt vibrant. The two sat on the wet front stoop. Their jeans rapidly absorbed the puddle they sat in. They didn’t care. Doof opened up the paper to the automotive classifieds.
“There’s a good one in here.” He fumbled through the pages. “Here. A 1972 VW van.”
“I can’t afford wheels. Forget it, man. I ain’t broke, but I’m badly bent!”
“Don’t worry, man. I’ll buy it. We’ll fix it up. California here we come!”
Doof had a reputation, of late, for ripping people off. All the gang had had their experiences. He had even ripped off Slick’s younger brother, Ronnie. But to Slick, he was always the true friend.
It wasn’t all that many years ago that Slick & Doof had been at odds. They were part of rival gangs in the neighborhood. Perhaps “cliques” would be a better word. But as the childhood bickering decreased, the two groups, Doof’s Studs, and Slick’s Bombers began to intermingle. Doof and Slick hit it off, though the two were not at all alike. Slick was basically a loner. Oh sure, he hung out with the gang and always had his friends. He just needed more time to himself than the average person, he felt. Doof was more outgoing. Needed to be around others. Where Slick could be content sitting around reading, Doof had to be in the middle of some activity, the wilder the better. Slick was gentle and had some interpersonal skills. Doof could be abrasive. Neither was a follower. They both were doers. They often found themselves in the lead.
Over the last three years the pair had become inseparable. They listened to the same music, they worked the same jobs, they even dated best friends. The duo took numerous trips together ... upstate New York, down in the Virginia countryside, Vermont. Along with Bean, they’d been busted by a Forest Ranger in ‘71. 1972 saw a cross-country hitchhiking adventure materialize. They were reckless and carefree. They attended anti-Vietnam War rallies side by side. They knew each other inside and out. They had no secrets. What others couldn’t understand about one or the other, they intimately knew about. They were true brothers in an comrades-at-arms sense. They accepted each other for what they were. And they knew that they had to get out of there.
“Far out, Doof. You know I’ll help fix it up!”
“Man, let me call this dude.”
Slick reflected. “I wonder if anyone would come with us. I mean, a van! We could bring the whole gang.”
He knew, though, that they wouldn’t be interested at this stage of the game. Skin and MaKow were aligning with a newer group of friends. Something seemed odd about this group, but Slick couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Doc was into his music. Foch? Who knew what Foch would do. It seemed like he was moving in the direction of Skin and MaKow anyway. Dink was always somewhat of a loner. Bean now had become reclusive. He fashioned himself a bomb-throwing radical gay freak, though none of that was true.
“Who would fill this van?,” he wondered. Then, he realized the bag of acid was still in his hand. “Oh man, Doof take this!”
* * * * * * *
Several weeks passed. The fall weather was really coming on and the trees were nearly devoid of foliage. Slick sat on the brick stoop in front of his Mom’s house. He was dreaming of endless miles of highway. Probably this would never happen anyway. Then there was Butterball, his girlfriend. The on-again, off-again relationship was straining the limits of his patience. Probably hers too. This might be the excuse he needed to finally break it off for good. It was mid-afternoon on a sunny Saturday. A van pulled to a stop across the street. A blue and white VW. Slick slid the burned out pipe he had been smoking into his pocket. He didn’t recognize the vehicle. Out bounded Doof. “This is it! Our ticket outta here, man!”, he exclaimed.
Slick jumped to his feet and ran towards the most beautiful van he’d ever seen. The two embraced in the middle of the road.
“Doof, Doof, you got it!” It was remarkable. “This is outasite! I feel like I just got balled!”
“Calm down, buddy. Not THAT good!”
“Yeah man, THAT GOOD!!”
Doof had somehow pulled it off. He had bought the van, in good repair, that the pair needed for their next cross-country trek. Unemployed since he had quit his canvassing job for an environmental group back in July so that he could attend the Watkins Glen rock festival, Slick was unemployed still. Money was a definite problem for him. Unlike Doof, who could stick at a menial job for the steady cash it brought in, Slick was more of a free spirit. He had intense difficulty with the mundane, no matter how much he needed the money. He was a planner, though, and he had figured a scheme. By enrolling in school before his 22nd birthday, still 5 months off, he had made himself eligible for several hundred dollars worth of social security money per month. Now, he’d duck out of classes, taking incompletes at semester’s end, but raking in the free dough. So, it had been up to Doof to find the way to purchase a vehicle. Slick was working on accumulating enough to make the trip, and felt an obligation now to do some planning to fill this van with bodies. It would be his contribution.
Doof would go on endlessly reciting the reasons they’d have to do it alone, despite the apparent need for some company, if only for financial reasons. Slick wanted comrades for more sublime reasons. He always had this communal drive festering within him. A group of folks working together for the common good. The idea always intrigued him.
“Don’t worry, man. I’m putting this little ad in the paper. We’ll find some freaks.” Good Times was a free little publication that came out once a week. It was a pseudo-hippie paper, but it did cover the Long Island music scene, and there were those free ads.
* * * * * * *
The two personages made their ceremonial trek down to the International House of Pancakes down there near the Lynbrook line on Sunrise Highway. Once settled, they’d gorge themselves on those delicious pancakes - Tuesday was “all you can eat” day - then drink pot after pot of that fresh brewed coffee, getting totally wired on caffeine. They’d sit for hours, reminiscing about the hitchhiking adventure, imagining all they could do differently now with their own wheels, planning what equipment they’d be needing. It would go on & on.
“They’ll never come with us, man. They’re too into Valley Stream. Bean’s crazy man! He’s afraid he’ll get busted again. Skin & Foch & MaKow ...”
“Remember those pancakes in Oregon, man? Where was it ... that place where that old lady gave us free seconds?”
“Klatskanie ... yeah, that was great. Remember we just camped near town in the middle of that corn field and smoked all those joints and then walked to that place ... yeah, those pancakes were great ... “
“What about those two chicks? Remember those two chicks? They gave us that ride in Ontario out of Soo? We were all crunched up in the back with all those wallpaper sample books they had back there. Why didn’t you ball that chick?”
“I wanted to ball her ... hey, could we have some more coffee, please, the pot’s empty again.”
The conversation continued to ramble on and on. The excitement level would rise and rise. It was not yet sure, though, whether this was to be reality or destined to be just another pipe dream. They felt, though, that they just had to do it. It was clear. They had to leave. They had to get out of there.
* * * * * * *
Slick did place that ad in the paper there in early November 1973. Among the trickle of letters that arrived at his mother’s house was one from a girl named, Amy. She had been out in California this past summer, according to her brief note, and wanted desperately to return. Something about some guy and a motorcycle, or something, they found out later. That’s the kind of person they were looking for, though. Someone who would see it through to the end, make it a permanent thing. It was that communal notion again. Slick put that letter aside. A possibility. But there were more alluring ones there to investigate first. Oh, that one from the two young ladies dormed at Hofstra University, the ones who invited them there and then stood them up. And the three girls from Rego Park. Actually got together with them a few times, made some plans. Three girls! Could it get any better? They eventually backed out. Too young anyway. Maybe it was time to check out this Amy. She sounded more mature and sincere. Slick pulled out her letter to read it once again. It was written in a neat, feminine hand. All the “i”s were dotted with little circles. There was irregular capitalization. It read:
They discussed this intriguing letter. It was decided to give her her shot. They met. Amy had described herself fairly well in the letter. She did leave out those freckles, though. She was pretty with an alluring smile, soft-spoken, slightly raspy voice, thin with small breasts. She passed that part of the inspection. It was her enthusiasm to leave the barrens of Long Island, though, that hooked Slick and Doof. She seemed made of the stuff to see this through. She was in. The first real step in the direction of actually leaving had finally been taken. Now there were three. Now, there was to be no turning back.
Having gone through all the “applicants”, only one vacancy had been filled. Certainly there was room for at least 3 or 4 more disillusioned souls. Slick decided to run another ad. As he sat sifting through the various combinations of words he was debating to use for this all important ad, his mind drifted off ...
Back in ‘72, Slick & Doof had experienced this incredible feeling of freedom from all the societal restraints they felt had been imposed on them. They could go as they pleased, when they pleased. They shared everything they had between themselves, and enjoyed the same kind of relationship with those who they encountered on the road. The war in Vietnam, racial injustices, the environment, poverty ... they all took a back seat to this pioneering spirit. For as long as man existed, restless souls could always pick up and move on to a new piece of land. The skills were all there for self-survival, money was relatively unimportant. For nearly all time this was so, except for now. Now, with all the technological advances, most don’t know how to do the natural things basic to survival, like growing crops and building shelter. One must have large sums of cash to pick up and just start over. There’s no more free land out there to just squat on. You had to endure whatever unpleasantness there was around you. Slick & Doof found relief from this in their travels. For the past two years, they spoke often of how much better it all could be with their own wheels, the dependency on others greatly reduced, the ability to then really go where they wanted, when they wanted. Slick had these things going on inside his head as he penned the few words to their new ad. It all seemed to come down to freedom & sharing. He hoped to attract those who felt likewise.