'Sixties Historical Excerpt /From "LITTLE RIVERS"
In February of '68 all hell was breaking loose in Vietnam, but back home in Austin, Texas we were just caught up in frightening convergences, vortices of the soul. Something was happening to the country and it seemed more important than a degree. People everywhere were talking Big Changes: long hair, drugs, the occult, revolution, Love. I taught freshman and sophomore English at night and wrote poetry and fraternized with radicals. I went to work at a place up on Interregional called the Body Shop. It had chicks go-going in fringed bikinis and attracted a daily glut of professionals for Happy Hour between four-thirty and eight-thirty. Weekdays were busy and Friday and Saturday nights were frantic.
The boss was a formidable retired dancer named Nan. She oversaw a stable of six or eight bouncing beauties with large breasts and exquisite asses. Their function was to sell beer between dances and delay the departure of homeward bound politicos and businessmen after work. Nan liked me and was proud I worked for her. "Look here," she would tell a customer, "We got a college professor tending bar."
"I'm not a professor," I would always say.
"It's a damn shame, him having to supplement his income that way," she would go on, setting somebody up for the punch line. "You mean tending bar?" "No, teaching!" and she would roar and slap me on the back.
On Fridays there were no night classes so I worked a full shift, coming on at 5:00 o'clock and working until 1:00 a.m. One Friday, I think it was the end of January 1968. (I do remember that it was the same time as the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.) So it was Friday night in the world and Tet in Southeast Asia. The bass player in the Band, a cat named Rob Lenoy, walked over to the bar and said, "You gonna take off for supper?" I looked at Nan. She said, "Hell, yes. Get outta here. You been busting ass since five o'clock. Be back at eight."
As we got on Rob's 'Harley Hog,' he said, "I've got something for you after we eat." We took off. After a dash across town to my place and a hurried burger, Rob said we were going to a friend's house to get stoned. His friend lived in a garage apartment on the Drag about three blocks north of the campus. The driveway sloped steeply; and we eased down it carefully and parked beside another hog and went upstairs. I had never smoked grass before, though friends had offered a couple of times. Now, I decided to see what it was all about. I guess I was expecting an intoxication similar to that produced by alcohol. We went up stairs attached to the side of a frame two-story apartment building. There were a couple of guys there, longhaired, about our age. Rob said, "Mike, this is Jake; he wants to turn on. "Mike had long blonde hair and a flowing moustache. He looked like a cross between Alan Jackson and one of the Apostles, but I didn't know it then because Alan Jackson probably wasn't born yet. I immediately relaxed and we all sat down on pillows around a cut-down cable spool table. Mike rolled two toothpick-sized joints on strawberry paper. They all instructed me on how to hold the smoke in my lungs for a count of ten and exhale. It was easy for a cigarette smoker, even though you can't draw in smoke from tobacco and hold it this way without coughing your head off. They watched me to see if I was "getting off."
"Sometimes you don't get stoned on the first try," Billy said. "Well, I don't feel any different," I said, Why in hell are they making such a big deal out of this?" Everybody laughed. "That's what I say, "Mike said. Rob looked at his watch. "Gosh O Mighty! It's eight o'clock--we're gonna be late getting' back to work. If you ain't stoned, Jake, you ain't gonna be!" We stood up. Billy thanked Mike. I looked down at my feet. They seemed far away. "Jeez. I didn't know I was so tall," I said. It was funny because at five-eight, I was the shortest one of the group. They roared with delight.
"Who's not stoned? Shoot, man, you got off!" Rob said, "Let's split, or Nan'll be pissed at me for keeping her star bartender away from work. Thanks again, Mike."
"Anytime, Dude." I
t was dark outside now and a stream of cars flowed up Guadalupe headlights on and bumper to bumper. Rob turned the bulky machine around in the cramped driveway and kicked it to life. "Get on and get a good hold, " he said. He got on it good and we leaped up the ramp into the street, thick traffic in every direction. Rob leaned the bike sharply and cranked the gas. Racing through the dark streets, in and out of traffic, I kept hearing wild laughter. I was hanging on for dear life. It seemed we were traveling at impossible speeds and had no hope of survival. By the time we got to the bar I had discovered that the crazy laughter was coming from me.***
The Underground Church
It was 1968, the worst year of the sixties. I started moonlighting as a bartender at a place on IH 35 called "The Body Shop." After teaching my evening English classes I would go there and fill a few hundred pitchers of draft for the thirsty happy hour crowd. They had go-go dancers whose gyrations in fringed bikinis brought the suits crowd to a packed house every day.
They often had a band on Fridays and the most popular of the live bands was a group called Blues Bag. Their singer was a strikingly handsome black guy named Marcus Younger. His rendition of "Sittin on the dock of the bay" gave you goose bumps and made you cry.
Marcus and I got acquainted after Rob Lenoy the bass player had turned me on, which is another story. Anyway, we were drinking and running together pretty much all the time, and on this particular evening, he insisted we go over to his girl's place--he wanted me to meet her anyway--and have supper.