Category Archives: Peace Corps

Hitch-hiking from Beatnik to Hippiedom

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read this morning.

When I got out of the Army, summer 1964, I had a lot of ideas about my bright future.  Shopped around the Portales area for a while and found a quarter-section cotton farm I thought briefly I’d buy and become a starving-to-death farmer, which fell through.  Worked meanwhile, for Abe Ribble at his cement operation, and applied for the Peace Corps, knowing I wouldn’t hear from them for several months.

I was hanging out with a number of other young guys who were at loose ends, drinking coffee and walking around town, sitting on benches around the courthouse trying to figure out the meaning of life.  Going out with a waitress out at the truckstop when she got off work at midnight.  A young woman with goals, and confidence that no matter what a man might want for himself, she could mold him into something more to her liking.  Once she got him nailed down on all the corners.

The World Fair was going on in New York that year.  I could feel the walls of Portales trying to close in on me, and the guys I’d been spending spare time with were mostly thinking of themselves as beatniks, to the extend a person could be a beatnik in Portales.  A slight beard and a beret went a long way in that direction.  Sketchpad and a piece of charcoal, or a lot of free-verse poems jotted on cafe napkins were the tools.

So another aspiring beatnik, Stan Sexton, and I, decided to hitch to beatnik heaven.  Check out the World Fair.  Visit a couple of New Yorker weekend beatniks who went to Eastern New Mexico University, but were home in Westchester that summer.

I’ve told elsewhere on this blog about that summer, about sleeping on the Brooklyn Bridge, about catching the freight-train out late-August, jail in Rochester, and eventually hitching, driving the school bus to California, etc.  About all those would-be beatnik women and the “Eh?  YOU don’t believe in free love?” pickup line that always worked.

When I was accepted for Peace Corps Training and headed out of New York I had no idea I was seeing the dying gasp of the Beatnik phase everywhere.  That a year later everyone who was anyone would be Hippy.  That Greenwich Village would be replaced by San Francisco as the center of ‘what’s happening in America’.  Kids would be burning their draft-cards and taking acid trips.  Doing ‘Love-ins’ in the park.

By the time I got back to Portales to spend my time waiting for the Peace Corps India X training to begin in Hawaii the world had begun a sea-change, though it didn’t know it. 

But at least some of the pressure was off in Portales.  The waitress had found someone else with better prospects for a bright future.  Cotton farmer, he turned out to be, if I remember correctly.

Old Jules

Day of Lost Souls (Part Two)

Peer Ratings and Mid-Selection
Mid selection was coming in that beautiful land, and before it arrived, I was fairly certain I would be one of the de-selectees.  I was also fairly certain McCreary would be.  Neither of us fit in.  We weren’t much like the others I thought would be deselected, but we were different.  We’d been through the Minnesota Multi-Phased Personality Test.  The rumor was you couldn’t even lie consistently on that one, except they could sniff you out, flush you like quail in the cool dawn.  I knew I was doomed.

The morning before selection time the staff added the final horror.  Humiliation and forced betrayal.  Peer ratings.

Question:  Here is a list of your fellow trainees.  Top to bottom, list the people you consider most equipped for the task of peace corpsman, down to least favorable.  Top to bottom, who do you like the most.  Down to who you like the least.  And so on.  Sell your young souls, trainees; young Americans…..won’t accept the papers back until you’ve listed them all, every white space above a black line filled with a name of someone here around you.

I was angry, watching 80 eyes probe the room, checking names against faces.  I worked out my own strategy, locking eyes, whenever I could.  I reversed the list they wanted.  Picked the weakest and least liked for my Ajax and Penelope.  Threw the leaders to the dogs.  With my own name at the pinnacle, of course.  But I knew it was futile.

De-selection and Jumping Ship in Honolulu
Still, I was crushed when my name came out on the list of get-outs.  I didn’t notice how the others reacted, and I don’t remember much about the time between the boot and the airplane.  I do know that somewhere in there, I decided I wasn’t going back to the mainland.  Somewhere in there David also decided something similar.

The rain was falling sideways when we got off the plane in Honolulu.  Big Joe Weiss, Korean War marine was with us on the plane to Oahu.  He listened to our dreams talked quietly of staying in the islands with us.  He was as crushed as I was about being given the shove.  But in the terminal building, he couldn’t look at either of us as he told us he was going on to the mainland.  I could see that big Joe was limping inside, hurting.  Maybe worse than I was, with all my bravado.

David and I had some kind of notion about catching a sailing boat, heading for Australia or New Zealand.  We had a couple of hundred bucks each, guts, energy, and no promises to keep.  We’d signed on for a two year stint in Injia, and Injia had belched us back like a bolus flying out the mouth of someone who’s just had the Heimlich performed unexpectedly in the middle of a dying incident.

We spent a few precious bucks on a taxicab…..told the driver we wanted the cheapest hotel he knew of.  It was the Huna Hotel, he took us to.  Twelve bucks a night.  But we were young in that country.

The rain continued through the night, and we emerged from the room still full of energy and bravado….we were taking big steps, making deep tracks in our future lives…..we thought we were about to make big tracks on the land.
Picked up a newspaper looking for boarding houses……David found one belonging to a Japanese lady named Matsushige….he wrote down the address as I looked over his shoulder….wrote on the classified page of the newspaper…..2323 East Manoa Road.

We took a city bus, carrying our bags, our belongings from the dead peace corps experience, and got off at the confluence of east Manoa and Manoa.  The driver pointed a direction for us.

But at 2323, our knock was answered by a man who appeared to be dressed in a pair of WWII Japanese uniform trousers.  He explained curtly that he didn’t know what the hell we wanted, didn’t want to know.  Didn’t appreciate our disturbing his home, his morning. We walked to Manoa and looked….nothing made any sense.

So, we found a pay phone and David called the number from earlier…..wrote 2319 on the newspaper.  Hung up the phone, turned puzzled from the booth.  “Twenty twee twenty twee?”  I burst out in laughter every time I thought of that incident for more than three decades.  I can still see him turning puzzled from the booth, frowning, “Twenty twee twenty twee?”

Matsushige’s Boarding House, Finding Work and a Gypsy Good Time
We settled in at Matsushige’s that day, a second floor room with two bunks, 4 feet or so apart, parallel, a desk between the two at the head.   Shared john with some other roomers….settled in young, full of bravado, full of dreams.

Next day we went looking for work and such.  David took a paper and headed down to check out the openings on Waikiki…..I headed for the bars on hotel street, looking for a job or a hooker to fix me up for my job search.  I’d go down to Waikiki tomorrow to  find my busboy job at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  Today, more pressing matters.

In a while, I came to a booth with a pretty gypsy lady…..started flirting a bit, talking around the issue.  Was pretty certain she was a hooker.  Finally, “You want a gypsy good-time?” she demanded.
“Yeah!  A gypsy goodtime!”
She took me into an attached room with nothing but a cot, sat me down.  “$10″….she took my money and assured she’d be back in a moment.  I sat there and knew when she brought in a snaggle toothed crone that I’d just lost a sawbuck for another of my lessons in life.

“Here it is!  A gypsy goodtime!”  She and the crone danced back and forth in front of me, all of us laughing.  My life has been rich in gypsy goodtimes, I’ve been a man wealthy in gypsy goodtimes, but that one was best in those times when the coconuts fell beside us and mangos piled high under the trees blocking the sidewalks and David and I grumbled in our cots picking off sunburned skin to throw to the giant roaches.  We were young in that country.

Final Selection – Dropouts and Volunteers – Honolulu
We stayed in touch with a few of the trainees on the big island.  Lillie and I wrote and sometimes talked by phone.  We made plans, after final selection to meet in Oahu, whether she went on to India or not.  Nancy Philson and Priscilla Thomas came through a few days ahead, voluntarily dropped from the venture.  An evening of drunken revelry on hotel street and they were off to the future.

I met Lillie at the airport with the other triumphant survivors.  Chianti, baby gouda cheese, and a rented jeep, and we made long and easy love on the beaches in sight of Chinamans Hat, Hanauma Bay, the blowhole, toward the end, pounding surf spraying the moonlight.  Her red hair tickled my face as we idled the jeep down the inland spine of Oahu, back to Honolulu.

Next night, the gin mills of Honolulu and Hotel Street.  Lillie’d never seen a stripper….I took her to a place I’d been a few nights previously with Nancy and Priscilla.  The best I’d ever seen, her veils of blue velvet, blue chiffon.

They boarded the plane, and India X was off to save the world from hunger, from savage restraints, from a historic dearth of fowl in their diets.  Off to Gujarat.

Back to the Big Island – The Jungle and Solitude
In a while, I flew back to the big island and went into the jungle off the Kohala range, thinking to become a hermit, thinking to die there.  David met a Japanese Hawaiian girl named Janice and flew back to the mainland with her.
In six weeks I came out of the jungle, in a maelstrom of roiling greyblue clouds.  I’d met myself for the first time.  I finally had seen myself, seen god in that quiet forest.  I knew I had more to do.

David’s kids, when he was in the marine corps, and after came to be among my favorite children….Janice, an object of my deep respect.

This year, she left him for a Japanese man.  David’s in Seattle, trying to find what he should do with his life, henceforth. Searching for the greatest gypsy good-time of them all.

And I await the moment I’ll go again into the woods as I did so many years ago beneath a savage sky in that country of youth and springtime.

Life’s a strange place for a human being to have to spend a lifetime.” Josephus Minimus

Day of Lost Souls (Part One)

Today and tomorrow’s post (part two) is a short story that was written many years ago. We had decided it was too long for the blog, even in two parts,  but since many of our readers are also writers,  I think you won’t mind the length.  ~Jeanne

Blue on blue, I tunneled through tints and shades of airy void  from the New Mexico desert to arrive in San Francisco several hours ahead of my outbound rendezvous.  The old DC3 clubbed the air dizzy and crawled over the unconscious body getting me to the coast; hammered the molecules of blue air into something solid as ice to hold man and machine aloft and skim across the bumpy surface.

In some other reality pilots and navigators of the heavens probably do spectra-soundings of color and hue, the way old mariners sounded the nighttime and foggy channel bottoms sampling with buckets to fix their positions by mud color, or sand, or shells.  These sky mariners in the elsewhere examine the debris in the  buckets and ponder;  arid Southwest: almost turquoise.  Inland California:  grey blue.  Coastal: yellow hazy blue.  But that was 1964.  Perhaps the atmosphere has grayed these intervening years, the way my own mustache, eyebrows, and hair has shifted to bare metal silver.

San Francisco
But we were young in that country.  The November 9, 1964, San Francisco airport terminal teemed with us. We milled around the gate that Sunday awaiting our flight to Hawaii.  Ten more days and I’d be a full 21, a legal man.  Full of mature, critical appraisal I skulked the waiting area; studied the rosy cheeks and sunny attitudes; the strapping young adults I knew I’d spend the next piece of my life among.  Though some carried more years, I thought to myself they were mostly kids.

I watched those youngsters straight-on for a while, until they noticed.  Then I shifted and gazed covertly at the reflections from the plate glass window/wall shielding us from the din of steel-gray planes and scorching ash-gray runways cut by yellow stripes threading the distant taxiways to vanish in the heatwaves and hazy yellowblue skies.  I pretended to read my book and scrutinized my soon to be companions out of the corners of my eyes; strained to hear the dribble of their conversations which each seemed to say, “I’m a neat person.  I’m worthy of this.”  Some, I could surmise, tacitly agreed to allow certain others to be as neat as themselves.

We were an elite, the acceptance letter implied.  Only one of every forty applicants, the letter whispered, were accepted for the intensive preparation to save the poor in hungry backward lands.  We were all riding on the bobsled thrill of those flattering words.  As a result the fast pulsebeat of waiting in the terminal became a political caucus.  Probably most of us figured those others were likely to be awfully special, but secretly believed they made a mistake in letting our particular selves in.

The candidates talked films; of Viradiana, of Antonioni, of Fellini and of a swede who made foreign films in those days. Of existentialism.  Talked about the beatnik poets.  All so serious.    What’s your major?  Where did you get your degree?   I pondered the words, scowling to myself.

I could see these mostly weren’t my kind of folks.  I’d scraped and cheated to get a high school diploma several years earlier, did three years in the army.  Hitch-hiked across the country several times, been in jail more than once.  Sweated under a blazing sky in dozens of hellish jobs that didn’t carry any prestige in these circles of toy-people, I thought, who were going off to India to teach the native how to raise chickens.  Bouncing off through rainbow skies bearing the weight of the white man’s burden to teach a culture older than our God how to raise poultry.  But we were young in that country.

I felt uncomfortable in my snazzy dark suit with narrow lapels. My only suit.  It had been the leading edge of fashion when I bought it for $20 a couple of years earlier in Boston.  The pencil thin blue tie with gold flecks felt awful on my neck, and worse as I became conscious of the width of ties the others were wearing.

Trainees impressing one another
As the morning wore into early afternoon more of the India X peace corps trainees filtered in the waiting area from incoming flights, draining the rest of the country of heroes…..I hung around alone and tried to guess which were trainees, and which were just transients.  I gazed at the women who were obvious volunteers, wondering whether any peace corps taboos would stand between me and female companionship during the next few months.  I idly checked out the prospects, most of whom didn’t bear up under a lot of scrutiny.  Rules of training could make for a long dry spell, and the fraternity boys were already busy staking out their campsites among the curly haired goldiloxes of the crew.
Eventually, I noticed a lean, freckle-faced red-headed Irish looking chap hanging around watching, same as I was……he wasn’t mingling with the other selectees much, and he appeared gangling and awkward.  I smiled to myself, musing, probably feeling superior, just as I felt somehow superior to all these fresh-scrubbed college folks, off to slum among the huddled masses.  McCreary,  I learned, was his name.  David McCreary.  At that moment I  watched, listened to, studied a future friend for life for the first time.

Strangely vacant blue-eyed, lanky, ruddy faced and scarlet haired, a lady schoolmarm from Virginia caught my focus.  I heard her tell someone she was an English teacher.  Lillie Rogers.  Lillie Belle Rogers, I learned later.  No raving beauty, but a touch of class, presence, bearing.  Straight and tall.  I sensed an underlying tinge of bitterness in her manner.  Sometime later it came to mind, and in some ways, a female counterpart to McCreary.  There among all the others, I didn’t sense that Lillie would be the lady of this group I’d come to know best.  I’d have rejected that notion, then.  Lillie Belle Rogers.  A long, sensuous neck ahead of Nancy Philson and  Priscilla Thomas in a dead heat.  Women I wouldn’t have picked for myself that day in the San Francisco airport, but in a few weeks, the training gave everyone a chance to show their mettle.  Or their fluff.  For those three and a few others, it was bare, polished metal.

The flight to Oahu was long…..I was seated next to a tough blonde named Georgia Grover…..nice humor, vaguely pretty, and I began laying what I hoped was groundwork for later.  Foundations for things to come which never came.

Arrival in Honolulu
When eventually we arrived on the islands the alienation I felt was already rising.  I didn’t like a lot of folks in those days, and I could tell I mostly wasn’t going to like these.  The chaos leaving the main terminal created visible stress among the chosen.  We had half a mile or so to walk to the Hawaiian Airlines Terminal and the next jump to the big island.  No transportation for the bags.  An early test.

The husky young college gentlemen struggled with their own bags and staggered in macho competition to help the attractive ladies.  Mr. and Mrs. Eebie, the elderly retired couple of the group shuffled along behind with the jaded males and less attractive females while the girly girls and ex-twirlers chattered across the tarmac admiring the white man and his burden.  Georgia Grover shrugged away the offers of help and shouldered her own bags.  Most likely, Lillie Rogers, Priscilla Thomas, and Nancy Philson never had the offer.

Hilo Training Center
During the next weeks the time passed quickly;…..language lessons, chicken house made from lava rock passed down hand to hand, chopping sugarcane in the fields for the thatched roof, a walking bridge made from downed palm trees, formal exercise, poultry disease classes, inoculations against the diseases of the distant east.  I gradually came to know the other trainees, and they, me.  I gradually found a few  worthy of respect.

Somehow we found time to frolic in bluegreen waters under the bluewhite waterfall.  We climbed the nearby cliffs and gazed into the swift discharge.

And late one afternoon I found myself with Lillie whispering from a cradle of limbs in a huge banyan tree near the falls; lips brushing ear and neck to be heard above the cascading clamor of falling water.  Forms and futures swirled in clouds studied through a break in the green umbrella.

One afternoon in a distance run, I began jogging beside the redhead, David.  We outdistanced the whole crowd on a ten mile run, came in long before the rest.  Found we weren’t appreciated for our efforts.  Evidently it was intended to be something of a fellowship, team thing.  The whole affair on the big island was a distance run, and David and I were already far behind.

That night, David and I went into Hilo and had a few beers, exchanging a few dreams, disappointments, and observations about the place and the people.  We were young in that country.

Back Just Before Hippies Were Invented

1964 was a big year in my life.  I rode the USNS Breckinridge troop ship back from Korea with 2000 other GIs coming home, separated from the army late in June.  Hung around Portales, New Mexico for a while, applied to join the Peace Corps, then hitch-hiked to New York to pass the time until I heard from the Peace Corps.

Beatniks hadn’t yet been displaced by hippies and Greenwich Village was jam-packed with thousands of us implying we were beatniks but carefully not saying so.  Hanging around coffee shops writing poetry, playing chess, saying momentous deep-thinking things back and forth to one another.  Listening to folk singers. 

Being rocked back on our heels in mock, simulated shock and disgust when wheat-straw blondes from Westchester down for the weekend to be beatniks, too, refused our advances.  “WHAT?  You don’t believe in FREE LOVE?”

Which, surprisingly, almost always worked.  Provided you’d done a convincing enough job trickling out the bona fides of being a REAL beatnik.  And wouldn’t even think of hopping in the sack with someone so uncool she didn’t even believe in free love.  Even if she did iron her long hair out straight.

So after I hopped the freight to go back to New Mexico, got thrown in jail in Rochester for taking the wrong train, The Hitch-Hiking Hoodoos, got released to hitch home, things stayed eventful for a while.

A guy from Buffalo picked me up on the Interstate, older guy in his 30s.  When I got in I threw the pillow-case with my belongings into the back seat“I don’t know why I picked you up,” he glanced at me with disgust.  “I never pick up hitch hikers.”  

Over the next few miles he questioned me about who I was, where I was from, what I was doing hitching, what I’d do when I arrived, and I explained it all in loving detail.

“Well, I’ve never had any trouble with a hitch hiker the few times I’ve picked them up.  But if I do ever get killed by a hitcher it will probably be some half-baked kid who doesn’t know what he wants in life.”  He thought about it a minute.  “But I don’t have to worry about you.  You threw your gun into the back seat in that pillow case when you got in.”

We talked a lot over the highway between Rochester and Buffalo.  Enough so he didn’t take the Buffalo exit and carried me down to where a tollway squeezed the traffic going south to Cincinnati, Ohio.  He pulled up beside a car with a family in it, man, woman and a couple of kids.  Motioned for them to roll down the passenger-side window.

“Are you going on through Cincinnati?  I’ve carried this guy all the way from Rochester and he’s okay.  He’s going to New Mexico.  But I’d like to get him a ride past Cincinnati.  He’ll never get through that town walking.”

The couple said they were just going to Cincinnati, but we were all watching the traffic edge forward to the toll gates.  “We’d better take him anyway.  He might not get another ride.”

The Buffalo guy was right, but it began the next phase of a long story.  Guess I’d best hold it for another day.

Old Jules


Lying Consistently or Telling the Truth

When I got out of the US Army in 1964 I was a confused young man.  I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but initially I felt some urgency to get started doing it.  My first thought was to buy a farm in the vicinity of Portales, New Mexico, where I’d spent most of my youth and done a lot of farm labor.  That area was in the process of the subtle change from hardscrabble family farms to agribusiness farms, though I didn’t recognize it.

Although my granddad had a small farm a few miles from town, and although the main revenue for the population was farm-related, most non-farmers didn’t hold  farmers in high regard.  Including my granddad, with reasons he considered adequate.

The result was that my granddad, my mom and my step-dad took active measures, once I found a 160 acre irrigated farm I could swing for, to make certain with the local bank that I didn’t get financing to buy it.  They each pronounced separately to me that I was destined for ‘better things’ than farming, which I bitterly resented.

Someone mentioned to me the Peace Corps was a place where young people at loose ends were volunteering to go off and set the world right.  Relatively new at the time, I’d never heard of it, but I applied.

Then, as I’d done numerous times before, I hitch-hiked out of that town.  The World Fair was going on in New York, and I headed that direction, and spent the summer in Greenwich Village simulating being a beatnik.

I might talk more about all this in future posts, but I’ve digressed from my original intentions for this one.

I began my Peace Corps training in Hilo, Hawaii.  India X Peace Corps Project, intended to send bright young Americans off to Gujarat, India, to teach the locals how to raise chickens.  Sometime I’ll probably wax poetic about all that, but I’m trying to limit my digressions.

Training was intended to be a time of intense learning, but it was also clear, we were cautioned from the beginning, it also served as a filter to remove the great percentage of the trainees  through observation, psychological testing, peer ratings, and voluntary withdrawals.  A sort of basic training with the emphasis on washing out all trainees with potential shortcomings.  About 2/3 of India X washed out of training before the end, including me.

But I’m having a lot of trouble getting to the point of this post because of all the background material.  Enough!

One of the methods of screening trainees was the Minnesota Multi-Phase Personality Test.  Most of the trainees were well-enough educated to be familiar with it.  The MMPP was reputed to be ‘unbeatable’, and we were each acutely aware of our personal shortcomings.  Most of us agreed if the Peace Corps had any idea what was going on in our heads they’d faint, revive themselves, and deselect us without further ado.

During the week prior to the test we’d gather at night to discuss the best strategy for foiling the Peace Corps cadre and the MMPP.  The two obvious approaches were, a] Tell the truth and suffer the consequences, and hope to be forgiven, or, b] Lie consistently.

By reputation, the MMPP wasn’t capable of being lied to consistently without catching you out.

Most of us viewed ourselves as the cream of US youth.  The Peace Corps told us that’s what we were from the first day of acceptance for training.  We’d been picked from hundreds, maybe thousands of applicants.

So we’d already fooled them that much.

Our consensus as a group was to lie consistently.  Some of us succeeded.

This is getting lengthy, so I’ll use it as a launchpad, most likely, for some future posts.

John Prine– Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian