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8. The Horse Farm

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By 1969, I’d been an undergraduate at Clark for six years. The long duration was partly due to a leave of absence I took in 1966, in order to protect myself from the Draft. Word on the street was that it took Selective Service a year to catch up to students who had dropped out of school, so you were safe if you left for less than that.

I’ve often wondered how my life would have been different had I served. Of course, I might have been killed in Vietnam, as 58,000 Americans were. Or I might have returned home minus a leg, or suffering from PTSD. For sure, I wasn’t one of these idiots who spat on the returning veterans, as cousin Alan (who’d seen combat in Vietnam) experienced. When I encountered returning vets in 1968, 1969, I made sure to treat them respectfully. As I’ve grown older, I’ve developed an even greater respect for our military (and for all men and women in uniform). I think I might have been a better human being had I served. But I didn’t, and there’s no use crying over spilled milk.

By the Spring of 1969, it was clear I had to graduate; I’d accumulated the credits. But I had no idea what to do next. Worcester and Clark had been my habitat for six years. Now it was time for—what?

By June, two possibilities emerged. One, my friend from Clark, Michael Rubenstein, had moved the previous year to swinging London, and in his letters said what a wonderful time he was having. He had a large flat, and offered to let me stay with him. I had a professor of philosophy, the late and amazing Gil Markle, who led student tours of Europe during the summer, and he arranged for me fly over with his group for free.

But something happened. I’d made friends with an older woman who lived across the street from Clark. She was about 35, and had two sons, 9 and 11 years old. I’ll call her Sylvia. She liked hippie boys; she slept with a lot of them. (Nowadays we’d call her a cougar.) Sylvia came to my room one night and seduced me—my first time with a woman. I didn’t have to let her, but I was curious. Maybe I’d like it!

As it turned out, I didn’t, at least, not enough to go straight. But I did grow very close to Sylvia and her boys. One warm day—this was at the end of June, 1969—the boys asked me if I’d hitchhike with them to “the horse farm,” a place their divorced dad had once brought them. It was out in the country, up in the Berkshires, and, the boys excitedly said, you could ride horses for free. So early the next morning, the three of us hit the road and stuck out our thumbs.

The horse farm was a commune, one of many springing up that season, as hippies bailed out on the bad vibes of the cities, of hard drugs and ripoffs and violence, and went back to the land. My first vision of the people was of young, sun-bronzed guys with long hair and no shirts. They welcomed the two boys, whom they remembered, and me with great warmth. They possessed a well-structured spiritual philosophy, which they were eager to describe to me.

It was classic Sixties commune ideology: universal love and brotherhood. Mystical union with “creative energy.” Rejection of the outside world. Reincarnation and “earth changes” that would usher in The Aquarian Age. Their leader, a man a year or two younger than me, was Michael; his guru, Elwood Babbitt, was an old man who lived in a little house in the woods, and made a modest living as a school bus driver. Elwood had studied with Edgar Cayce, the famed mystic and clairvoyant. Cayce was associated with the Theosophical Society, founded by Madame Helena Blavatsky, and later led by Annie Besant. By eerie coincidence, in 1967 I’d moved into a flat in Worcester and found, in a cabinet in a back room, some books and pamphlets about Theosophy by Besant. They had interested me very much. I’d even taken to meditating (or trying to). So the circle seemed to be completing itself.

I was fascinated by those sun-tanned guys. Their energy and openness, charm and easy laughter turned me on. Of course, something else about them turned me on, too. I was still deep in the closet, and as I wrote earlier, had had little sex in the 1960s. Now, here were these hot young hippies running around shirtless, wearing cut-off jeans, their bodies lean and wiry from hard work tapping maple trees for syrup and pitching bales of hay. I was sorely tempted to join up with them; when I got back to Worcester, I had a lot to think about.

London? Or the horse farm? It was Bronx Science vs. Music & Art all over again.

Being the good little hippie I was, I had my copy of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination. Since I couldn’t make up my mind, I decided to leave the decision “to the gods.” I tossed the coins in the prescribed manner, looked up the corresponding hexagram, and read something like:

It does not prosper to cross the river. Go up on the mountain.

It didn’t take much imagination to know what that meant! The “river” was obviously the Atlantic. The “mountain” was the Berkshires. The I Ching was telling me to go to the horse farm.

It’s amazing, now that I look back on it, how I made such a life-changing decision based on something so random as a divination book. But there was no unchoosing: for me, it would be a brand new venture into an unknown, hopeful future.

Less than a week later, on Independence Day, 1969, I said goodbye to my Worcester friends, packed some stuff and once again hitchhiked westward up into the mountains, to join the commune that would be my home for the next ten years.

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