Sammy Davis, Jr. says: "All men are created bland." And I would add: "But they can, and usually do, get even blander." Case in point (never thought I'd see the day): Me. At the end of my second year in California, I watch with fascinated horror as I become nicer and nicer, more polite, more congenial, more well-adjusted.
I do my Tai-chi on the beach, write my haiku about inner tubes and the boardwalk and the crescent moon, glide over to my polarity therapy class, throw the bums a dime in my prime, cop a feel, catch the latest in New Wave fashions down at the thrift shop, pick up my free money from the ever-beneficient state, call my mother and rap about reincarnation, and fall asleep in the arms of my best friend's wife. Hey, this is easy, no hassles, no bummers. Hey, I'm in Santa Cruz, what year is it? Have a nice life. Dear Diary: Almost fell in love yesterday, and again today. Let's go down to Esalen tonight and get naked and take some drugs.
I can almost remember pre-California: Setting my hair on fire to scare and horrify my old girl friend, what was her name again, and one who said she'd get her father to kill me after I threw coffee at her, after she threw my Tarot books out the window, after I raised an eyebrow to some other witchy woman. That was a different life, filled with jealousy, suffering, terror, awe. Like the time brother Tom and I ran into that very white Baptist church in South Carolina, in the middle of the Sunday service, and shivered and howled and fell on the floor, screaming Jesus has come again to judge the quick and the dead, but he's black this time. Or when my friend Ellen got so demented and distracted over a story I wrote about her (pornographic, she said; erotic, I said) that she half-sliced off her little finger while cutting vegetables, and blamed me. We never spoke again.
Rock and roll was religion to me then; I dwelt in the power and glory of it all. There was Janis Joplin and me and a lesbian roadie crashing on the same filthy mattress in March, 1969; the cousin of George Harrison's ex-wife giving me hepatitis in '70; Johnny Winter punching me in the jaw in '71. I mean, I worshipped at the shrines. I was pure, I was holy, I was blasphemous and bad.
When I see those neat beards and bell bottoms marching in circles in front of pg&e on the Mall, I am calm and Buddha-cool. I do not snort, I do not judge, I do not compare. With supreme detachment, I remember gathering with the Black Panthers in downtown Durham, N.C. to throw Molotov cocktails at the cops; or making love with a real Marxist from Czechoslavakia; or — I don't know why, exactly — falling asleep in the outhouse one winter morning.
In March of 1977, on the day before I left North Carolina, my friend Richard said to me: "You ready to regress, boy? Do you realize that Californians are 10 years behind, not ahead, of the times? Why do you think they talk so obsessively about spirituality? They know nothing about it, they're innocents, that's why. Look how we tend to the spirit here. No full-page newspaper ads, no remedial gymnastics for the inner eye. It's all blended into the daily routine here. We don't have to call attention to it, we just do it. You just see how fast you lose touch with the moon and the cycle of the seasons out there. They're half-terrified of the earth, the land's too wild and unstable. They keep their distance — they have to. Why do you think they talk so obsessively about Mother Earth? Because they know nothing about her, they fear her."
Well? Two years later, Jerry Brown wants California to have space bubble communities orbiting the earth, before the U.S. government figures out how to do it. We'll have gay vegetarian rebirthed jocks in one bubble, and Taoist hermaphroditic scholars hermetically devoted to the study of Baba Ram Dass's sexuality in another bubble. "OFF THE PLANET!" will be the California state slogan by 1985. (Do I smell decadent anti-terrestrial sympathies, fear and loathing of the Great Mother, a bizarre exaltation of ignorance and abuse of the earth?)
And meanwhile, dear old Tim Leary wants not only his soul, but his body, his actual, physical, flesh and blood body, to live forever. Is this the next radical development in human evolution, or the supremely effete, deluded ideal of rapidly devolving patriarchal culture?
There is a new organic enchilada sauce on the market allegedly more pure than any enchilada sauce ever made. I found it in the Food Bin the other day. According to the label on the side of the plastic container, its ingredients include water, onions, garlic, soy sauce, spices, sea salt, and "unsprayed dry red chilis from the Mesilla Valley, one of the 7 psychic windows of the world." Is this a radical new evolutionary development in the history of food?
I wouldn't bet on it. At least not until the makers of the enchilada sauce or some reliable trance medium provides better documentation for this claim. Most everyone I've ever talked to agrees that there are no more and no less than 7 "psychic windows" on this planet, just as there are exactly 7 chakras in the human body. But according to my own informal survey, 54 geographical locations, as of Sept. 1, 1979, have already laid claim to the title, including Santa Cruz. The Mesilla Valley is number 55.
As I understand it, a psychic window is a supercharged place in the body of the planet where the veil between this dimension and the next is parted. Strange and miraculous things happen there. Planes and ships disappear into thin air. The skies are cluttered with fantastic colors and images. Animals talk. Clairvoyance and telekinesis are commonplace. People are obsessed with the occult. ufos come and go freely.
The most celebrated of these places - which also go by the titles "energy vortex," "planetary chakra," "spiritual center," and "circle of light," - is of course the Bermuda Triangle. In more esoteric circles the popular sentiment remains with the hidden magical city of Shamballa (where the Buddha will supposedly be celebrating his birthday on the Full Moon), which some observers have located in the Himalayas, others in the Gobi Desert.
I don't think I've ever lived in a place that hasn't been identified as a psychic window, and that includes 16 different cities and towns. Which means either that my very presence bestows some sort of divine grace, or else that some of these places are faking.
During my stay in North Carolina, I lived in two cities, only eight miles apart, that each claimed to be the center of a psychic window whose boundaries most definitely did not extend as far as the rival city. It always seems unlikely to me that the earth would squeeze two separate chakras into an area only 50 square miles wide. But when I lived in Durham I believed in the divinity of Durham, and when in Chapel Hill, the divinity of Chapel Hill. It gave me a kind of civic pride not much different than the chauvinistic glow other people drew from the success of the local universities' football and basketball teams.
Of those 55 places I know to have been called psychic windows (and there are probably more) I have visited 41, so I feel eminently qualified to offer a list of 7 locations in the United States most likely to be psychic windows. These are just the possibilities; I doubt that we actually have more than 2, since the 7 must be distributed pretty evenly over the face of the earth:
1) The Bermuda Triangle. The odds-on favorite of the people; the darling of the National Enquirer and pop-occult crowds. (This should not, however, be held against it.)
2) The Cleveland-to-Columbus Corridor. This section of Ohio is visited more frequently by ufos than any other place in the world. It is also the origin of several of the most notorious punk rock bands.
3) Fairfield, Iowa. The Transcendental Meditation organization has made this its "levitation headquarters." Advanced meditators are brought here to be taught the power of flight.
4) Forestburg, S.D. It's often mentioned, by subjects progressed through hypnosis to their future lives, as a great center of North American civilization from the 22nd to 26th centuries.
5) Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C. My own sentimental favorite.
6) Los Angeles. Who can possibly deny that the entire world is being created in the image of L.A.?
7) Santa Cruz. The evidence is impressive. The Dalai Lama himself has said that the new spiritual center of the world will be between San Francisco and Monterey. According to the U.S. Geodetic Survey, this area has a strangely low amount of electro-magnetic activity — thunderstorms are abnormally rare. Several psychics on the east coast who have no special stake in glorifying Santa Cruz have made references to this area as an "energy vortex."
In June, 1968, several years before I had ever even heard of Santa Cruz, I dreamed of a tall, yellow-eyed, winged man who told me, "Go to the holy place, Santa Cruz." Recently, while researching this article, I discovered that the native Ohlone Indians, who regarded this land as holy, had legends of a giant bird man who appeared periodically and foretold the future.
I have only one reason to question the evidence. And that is that there seems to be almost too much spiritual activity in Santa Cruz. Sometimes the proliferation of spiritual schools, movements, and organizations is so excessive that I'm sure someone must be playing a joke on all of us. But then a cosmic comic sense might be the one and only essential symptom of life in a psychic window.
I Like Reich
A blonde-haired black woman in a Close Encounters of the Third Kind t-shirt approached me on the Mall last Friday afternoon and motioned for me to follow her. Her eyes had the snuffed-out blaze of certitude common to fanatics, and I always enjoy the company of fanatics, so I went with her.
Usually I can guess the nature of the obsession from the posture, hair style (or lack of it), facial twitches, and uniform of the obsessed, but this one had me stumped. She wore pants I was sure had some sacramental significance; sacramental, because although they were highly stylized, they were not very stylish. They were ordinary Navy blue corduroy levis except for the conspicuous bulge of a codpiece, such as I have seen on the line of men's pants marketed by Eldridge ("Born Again") Cleaver in Oakland.
She wore three home-made buttons on her shirt at the neckline, which plunged sharply. Button number one said simply, "I LIKE REICH" (the first evidence I have found to support my theory that Wilhelm Reich and Dwight D. ("Ike") Eisenhower were one and the same person). The second button bore the likeness of a whory-looking Madame Blavatsky, her lascivious lips half-parted in an eternal, seductive invitation to the most suave of the spooks and spectres who slither in and out of the material plane. The man whose face graced the button that straddled the cleavage looked like a short-haired, clean-shaven Christ, getting ready to sell me some insurance. (After a minute I realized he was actually Werner Erhardt.)
I thought at first that this woman might belong to one of those very esoteric sects of Jesus Freakdom, the Children of the Saucer, a group that combines the best of Christian prophecy with Erich von Daniken, Close Encounters, and the funk band Parliament. They believe Christ is an extraterrestrial being, who on Judgment Day will land in the heart of the Washington, D.C. nightclub district in a condominium-sized flying saucer, where he shall judge the quick and the dead. And when he's through with that, according to the Children of the Saucer, he will circulate among the bars and discos of that city with his entourage, the twelve extraterrestrial apostles (presumably Judgment Day falls on a Saturday night), until he finds the earthly woman suitable to be the mother of the 144,000 "children of the saucer." He will take her away to his divine kingdom, on a planet much like the earth, located somewhere in the constellation of Virgo.
I was sure this woman's first words to me would be something like "Do you know the Lord?" Or maybe (who knows in these increasingly matriarchal days?) "Do you know the Lord's Mother (or lover or wife or sister?)" And I was ready to unveil the dazzling, convoluted, righteous rap I have used to deprogram 15 different fanatics in four different countries of the world. (Note to parents and friends of fanatics: I will deliver this rap to your fanatically-programmed loved one free of charge. Contact me here. Offer good for a limited time only.)
She took my hand but did not speak as we covered the distance between Bookshop Santa Cruz and the County Bank. As we crossed the street towards the Cooper House, she stopped, turned to face me, placed her hands firmly on my shoulders, and said softly, "Have you heard of the Circle of Gold?"
My nose began to run and my eyes began to itch. My legs broke into a St. Vitus Dance, but my arms and trunk insisted on the Latin Hustle. I remembered with a twinge of passion a valentine I had made for the Virgin Mary back in the third grade, but had given to little Gail Musa instead. The words and music for an original song exploded full-blown across my limp synapses. The title: "Punks in Redwood Tubs." All in all, I felt I was on the verge of a religious experience that would cure me forever of hunger, poverty, and humiliating need.
And then for an instant I was in perfect sync with all money everywhere on earth. I knew all money. I had all money. I was all money. Money was what flowed through my brain. Money was what pumped from my heart. Money was what vibrated with a lush and crystalline radiance in my chakras.
"It all comes from the same inexhaustible source, Krishna," she was cooing to me, her hands sending hot flashes from my shoulders down to the ends of all my limbs. (For some reason she addressed me as "Krishna," even though my real name is Rob.)
"It's all the same eternal energy, Krishna. Food, sex, knowledge, spirit, money: they are all One. And I can help you to know and remember this always, if you will let me."
She licked her lips like the Blavatsky on her button, and I shuddered.
"I can help you make $100,000 without any risk, Krishna," she continued. "Thousands of people like you have done it. Let me help you, let me share my prosperity with you. Do you have $100 that you are willing to invest in yourself for one day?"
With a perverse burst of willpower I broke free from her squeeze and bolted at full speed towards the Catalyst. I arrived in time for happy hour, during which I managed to slowly come down from my money trance. It wasn't easy. I had to get rid of over $100, buying drinks for friends, before I felt like myself again.
In Tune With the Tao
I ended my week-long vigil at the food stamp office last Friday with a meditation on bragging. I'd devoted 40 hours in five days to the task of observing the behavior of food stamp recipients, for clues to the current state of the Santa Cruz collective unconscious.
At about 3:30 p.m., I was half-asleep on the patio listening to an Elton John look-alike as he bragged to nobody in particular, and the female sex in general, that he was the lead singer in a punk band that was secretly funded by the cia. The arrival in the main waiting room of a woman wearing a baseball jersey jolted me from this exotic reverie. A beautiful astrological union: She walked like a Scorpio and talked like a Pisces. She reminded me of a girl I'd had a crush on in the fourth grade, and my memory circled back to those simple days, when I bragged and boasted without guile or inhibition.
When I was 10 years old and wanted to impress a female, I might have given her the unadorned account of my prowess on the baseball diamond, or my grade on the latest history test (today I would say herstory test). But by the time I was 20, after three years in the New Age incubator with Alan Watts and Lao-Tse, I was incapable of a blatant, straightforward, out-and-out brag. Instead of praising my own virtues and calling attention to my accomplishments, I had learned to drop broad hints that I was too highly-evolved to brag.
The climax of the conversion came three years after I had utterly renounced baseball, the game that had brought me so much glory in earlier years. In June of 1972, obeying an impulse, I renounced my renunciation and joined a semi-pro team in Vermont. In my first game I had five hits, including two home runs. I quit immediately. There was nothing more I hoped to accomplish. I could have dropped dead right then and there, completely happy with my life. Not because I had proved what a virile jock I was, you understand, but because for those two and a half hours I had achieved perfect harmony with the Tao.
When I spoke of the game later, and I often did, I bragged that I could never even consider bragging about my phenomenal success, because I cared nothing for it. I hadn't gotten five hits. The universal life force had gotten five hits. It just happened to be circulating through me with consummate power and freedom exactly when I needed it. Of course, it couldn't have happened to a nicer, more deserving, more highly-evolved guy.
Later I perfected the involuted style of bragging about not bragging to such a degree that I became able to brag in reverse, exalting what I couldn't do and didn't have. My proudest moments in recent years have come while bragging about my chronic poverty. But at the food stamp office I saw the art I considered my specialty raised to its most ingenious, if somewhat decadent, form of expression, and I realized it was being practiced skillfully all around me.
The woman in the baseball jersey sat down next to a bare-chested, rednecked hippie. For the next 15 minutes he held her spellbound with stories of his exploits as a beggar. She was most visibly impressed when he told her that this was the third state in which he'd received foodstamps this month. As soon as he left this place, he said, he was headed for Nevada to score another $54 worth. Did she want to go with him?
Thirty minutes later they left together with a combined fortune of $108 in stamps, joking about what food they would buy for the road:. Oysters, pickled baby octopi, marinated artichoke hearts, and ten pounds of ginseng.