Tag Archives: Greenwich Village

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

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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
http://youtu.be/r_vTY67Wd9I