I kept seeing him holding forth in the student lounge.
There he was, wearing a sport coat, psychedelic tie, often a flower in
his buttonhole, mid-forties, surrounded by students. Was this Socrates
reborn, I wondered. Anybody who returns to school in their forties, a
rare sight, has to be a good subject for a story. As soon as the bell
rang, I swallowed hard, approached him, and asked if he would meet with
me to do a story about him. He agreed. When we got together, he asked me
why I wanted to do the story. I responded that I hadn't seen many other
older students and that I had seen him often holding long involved
conversations with groups of students. He seemed to have a good rapport
with them and perhaps he could help us bridge the generation gap.
"You smoking pot, man?" he inquired.
"You a narc?" I fired back.
"What makes you think I am a narc?" he asked.
"Why the question, then?" I replied. At that time, at
least on the west coast, if you challenged an undercover cop and they
lied and busted you, they couldn't charge you because they had used
entrapment. I explained it to him so that if he was a cop I would be
able to tell the court what I said. His response was "How do you expect
to expand your mind when you are all messed up on pot and booze?" He
then went on to tell me that he had been sober for thirteen years, had
started black/white discussion groups to combat racism at the local
Unitarian Church, had done yoga and knew how to expand the mind.
The last was the most intriguing. Ever since getting out
of the Navy I had often heard the phrase "expand the mind,” usually
without context. So for me to meet someone who claimed to actually know
what that meant and better yet how to do it was a great find. It would
be a big sacrifice though; I would have to turn my back on all my peers.
The price of working with him was giving up all intoxicating substances.
For me to give up the "sacrament" of our generation was asking a lot. It
was our shared bonding, it united us in our rebellion and dreams, even
if some of the trips were scary and uncomfortable. Still, I knew that he
was right. I had seen too many stoners. How can you do anything if you
are stoned all the time.
I told him that I would think about it. He wasn't happy
about me seeing Leary; he thought for sure that I would go back to
"using." I insisted that I wanted to find out what Leary was all about,
and that my research would not lead to using. As I spent more time with
him, I spent less with my fellow students. Their conversation was too
predictable. With George, I never knew what we would be talking about:
history as he had perceived it, writers he liked, current events from a
Later on he told me that he had a son in the maximum
security prison for drug dealing, that he was being paroled soon and he
would like me and some other "clean" guys to live with him. I knew
plenty of drug dealers on the west coast. They were mostly middle-class
entrepreneurial types who sold pot, hash, and hallucinogens. I said
"sure," certain that he was being abused by the police. I was now
motivated to become clean and sober to not only reach my personal full
potential but to also support James's reentry into society.
As the winter vacation neared, I wanted to retrieve my
motorcycle and books from Long Beach where friends were holding them. A
girl from RISD wanted to visit her boyfriend out there so we agreed to
hitchhike together. I knew a couple gets rides a lot faster than a
single guy. We didn't have much time so we had to move fast.
In southern Ohio around midnight we’re eating a late
dinner around at a truck stop diner. My companion says she is going to
ask these two guys if they will give us a lift. She comes back and says
they will but she doesn't like their vibes. I assure her I am not in
that much of a hurry, and to pay attention to her vibes. If she doesn't
feel comfortable, heed it. She goes back and talks to them, and comes
back and says she's OK with them after all. I say, "Are you sure?" I
remind her it is the middle of night in nowhere and an hour ago she
didn't like their energy and now she's OK. So we go.
We throw our stuff in the trunk, the two guys go in the
front seat and as we are getting in the car, a third one jumps into the
back seat, in the middle between us. The car roars off to the freeway.
We are separated and can't talk, and to make matters worse they all
start telling jail stories. How they did time for this and that. She
seems to be oblivious to our situation, prattling on. I start telling
Navy stories because some of them are vets. Then one of them says, "Do
you mind if we get off the freeway for about five minutes? I have to
pick up something at my aunt's house, and then I'll take you to the next
truck stop." I am thinking to myself this is classic; surely she will
realize this. No such luck. She starts to say OK, and I intervene
quickly. "No, we have to stay on the road, keep moving. We will get off
at the exit you guys are getting off at. Thanks for the ride." And
miracle of miracles, they stop and let us out.
A truck stops and we are on our way again. Other than
spending a night voluntarily in a jail cell because a nice Nebraska
trooper offered it to us, the trip was uneventful. In 3 1/2 days we made
it to Long Beach. I got a driveaway car, put the cycle in the trunk, and
we drove back to Rhode Island.