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7. The end of the Summer of Love


I discovered something else that Fall semester: bridge. We’d played a little cards back in The Bronx: pinochle, canasta, that kind of stuff. Now I took up bridge, in a game that always seemed to be happening in the Student Union. I became hooked: studied bridge books, read bridge columns in the papers. What attracted me wasn’t just the intellectual challenge, it was the social aspect. I made friends with another Clark Jewish kid who was as obsessed as I was. He had a car. We began entering contract bridge tournaments throughout southern New England and in New York. This went on through the Spring,1964 semester. In May, final exams were scheduled. But eight of us had ended up in an around-the-clock bridge game in the dorm T.V. room (where earlier that semester we’d watched The Beatles on Ed Sullivan). We’d been playing continuously for days, barely sleeping, popping amphetamines to stay awake, when someone said, “Hey, finals start today.” Everybody looked at everybody else. The choice was stark: finals, or bridge?

Bridge won. Nobody took any finals. I flunked all five of my courses. I didn’t care; school had become irrelevant. So Clark threw me out. They said I could get re-admitted if I took two summer courses and got at least B-minuses in both. (I took Spanish and, for some odd reason, mathematical set theory, got two A-minuses, and was readmitted.) I don’t recall how my parents reacted when I gave them the news about flunking out. I’ll say this for them: for all their faults as parents, they were pretty laissez-faire with me. Uncle Teddy and Aunt Ruth had sent cousin Alan to a private military academy when he had some problems. My parents might have done the same; instead, they just acquiesced to the situation. They paid for me to stay for the summer in a boarding house across Main Street from Clark, a sprawling, decrepit old Victorian mansion, called The Elms, that looked like Norman Bates’ house in Psycho, and was run by an old German lady, Mrs. Elms, who scared the shit out of me. That summer of ’64, I spent in a blur of music, marijuana and wine. I met a guy, a traveling salesman who also was staying at The Elms, and had a torrid affair with him, the first time I’d ever been in a bed with another man, as opposed to in the bushes and alleys.

But if it sounds like I was having sex left and right, that would be misleading. The truth is, during my college years, I had very little sex. Everybody around me was getting laid all the time, or so it seemed, and rock and roll was almost exclusively about boy-girl romance. But I was more or less celibate—not by choice, but necessity: “gay liberation” wasn’t yet a “thing” in 1965, and I didn’t know where or how to find male companions. Still, I didn’t care. My emotional, creative and intellectual energies were completely absorbed in being a hippie and enjoying and fostering the lifestyle we were inventing.

It’s routine these days to poke fun at Sixties hippies: granny dresses and bellbottoms, tie-died shirts, flower children, and idealistic notions of making love, not war. But the truth, for those of us who lived the life, was that we took it very seriously. I mean in the sense that we were the vanguard of a new age, one that would replace the drab, stifling Eisenhower years and usher in a new era of peace, tranquility, human kindness, love, creativity, freedom and wisdom. It was a revolution, and we exulted in our roles as social revolutionaries and custodians of the future.

Any kind of social movement requires support from without; you have to have the sense that something greater than just you and your little pack of friends is moving you along. And in America, in the mid-60s—indeed, throughout the western world, from Paris and London to Rome and Berlin—there was evidence that whatever we were part of was indeed historic. Rock and roll, which had always been a huge part of the Baby Boomers’ lives, now became the soundtrack and lingua franca of our existence. Every new group, every new song, opened new worlds of thought, imagination, possibility. Messages were encoded in lyrics, and in our electronic age of radio and LPs, those messages crossed the oceans and national borders effortlessly. We were aware– passionately aware–of being part of a movement that was worldwide. All the best people—in our judgment—belonged to it: the most progressive politicians, the most famous actors and rock stars, the most celebrated literary and visual artists—the tastemakers and intelligentsia. It was very liberating, for a Jewish boy from The Bronx whose scope had been so provincial, to feel part of something so vast and important.

Drugs, of course, helped fuel the movement. Drugs were illegal, which made their consumption furtively exhilarating. The possibility of getting arrested added to that risk, to that edge—the same way that anonymous sex added to its pleasures. You could go anywhere and find brothers and sisters who were part of the cult. It was a badge of belonging—and the more I think about it, the more I think that what we wanted was that sense of belonging. You could find your tribe, the people who welcomed you anytime you showed up, “where everyone knew your name,” as they later said on Cheers. For someone who’d felt as disconnected, as rejected and weird as I, it was remarkably comforting, a miracle of sorts: I love these people and they love me.

Drugs weren’t only illegal, they were mind-altering, psychedelic, to use a word that shortly became popular. I must have heard of LSD in 1965. A spate of books and articles, especially in the underground press (local head shops sold the Berkeley Barb), caught our attention: acid was like marijuana but oh, so much more potent. The hype was irresistible: you would see through the veil of materiality to perceive Truth, or God. I was already interested in mysticism and Buddhism. My cohort in Worcester—my new townie friends—also wanted to try the new drug, but we didn’t have the slightest idea where to get it. As the New Yorker of the group, I volunteered to see what I could do.

I took the Trailways bus to the Port Authority Terminal on 42nd Street in Manhattan and booked a cheap hotel room in Times Square; I didn’t want my parents to know I was in town. I knew where to go: Greenwich Village. I’d collected a few hundred dollars in cash from my Worcester pals. I walked the streets, searching for a longhair—a comrade who looked trustworthy. A guy with hair down below his shoulders sauntered by. I struck up a conversation: Can you score me acid? Yeah, man. I gave him the money. That’s the way it was back then: trust cemented our tribe.

The guy told me to wait in front of a brownstone. I sat on the steps and waited. And waited. And waited. Afternoon turned to evening, to night. The hours went by. I never had the slightest doubt he would return. And he did, with a plastic baggie containing 16 little, football-shaped, shiny orange pills. They bore the name Sandoz: this was laboratory-pure LSD, from the company that invented it.

I took the pills back to Worcester, distributed them to my friends, and took my own hit. Sat back and…and…soared. How do you describe it? I was looking down long, shimmering hallways at the outside world through holes in my head…through my eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth. A crumpled newspaper on the floor was as luminous as View of Toledo. This was what I’d been looking for all my life. It was why I was a hippie. I had discovered mind. It was the first of hundreds of trips I took; I have no way of knowing how many. As Bob Dylan is reputed to have said, If you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.

I soon took to dealing. It was never my intention to make money; I felt it was my “civic duty” as a hippie revolutionary to make drugs widely available and cheap. At one point, I was selling marijuana for $10 an ounce, which was pretty much my cost. One night there was a knock on the door of my apartment. It was a man I didn’t know. He said, “There are people in this town who are upset you’re selling so cheap.” The ordinary going price was $30 an ounce. Then the man left. Somebody told me he was the mafia. I never heard from him again. Was it a threat?

To jump this narrative forward a few years: one day in early 1968 I heard that the Worcester Police were asking questions about me from people they stopped on the street. I was in their sights: the vice squad, which had jurisdiction over drug crimes, had my name. I was naïve, filled with notions of love. All you need is love: love would provide, would conquer all—would even change a cop’s negative mindset. I phoned the police department and asked for a meeting with the head of the vice squad. Sgt. Leahy was a nice-looking, middle-aged Irishman with a buzz cut and piercing, intelligent blue eyes. I told him my story: The drugs I was dealing were benign, indeed beneficial. They were helping to make our world a better place; couldn’t he see that? I would be happy, I told him, to turn him on. Two weeks later, my roommates and I were home one night, smoking. Suddenly there was a violent banging on the door. “Police! Open up!” Six of us were busted. They hauled us downtown in “paddy wagons.” I was fingerprinted and booked and thrown into jail. I called my parents. Once again, their laissez-faire attitude came to the fore. They bailed me out. My father issued what was for him a stern warning: “We’ll give you enough rope to pull yourself out, or hang yourself.” Although the cops found only two ounces of pot and a few “Black Bennies”—Benzedrine–it had been the biggest drug bust in the history of Worcester, New England’s second-largest city. In the end, it cost my parents a lot of money, but I avoided a jail sentence.

I didn’t stop doing drugs (although I did stop dealing), But I moved far from campus, to a flat in East Worcester, a working class neighborhood where I knew no one. I got myself a bicycle to ride back and forth to school, and lived in constant fear of being re-arrested. A new word had entered my lexicon: paranoid. The Buffalo Springfield song, For What It’s Worth, expressed it well:

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you’re always afraid

Step out of line, the man come and take you away

“The man” already had taken me away once. Next time, he would take me away again, and that time, there’d be no bail, but jail. Fear began replacing love as the motive force for me, and for so many hippies, in that transitional year of 1968. The Summer of Love, of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, seemed long gone. Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King had been murdered; riots, not love-ins, took place in the cities. In San Francisco, where hard drugs were invading Haight-Ashbury, they’d already celebrated “the death of hippie.” It took us a little longer, on the East Coast, to learn that The Sixties—our Sixties—were over. But we—and I—adapted.

  1. You are welcome!

  2. Ed Filice says:

    Quite a story, Steve. Honesty appreciated. Be well. Ed

  3. Thank you Ed. Wishing you well in these trying times.

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