The Amish Druid Liberation Front arose out of a heretical Amish cult in the late 1960s centered around a young Amish powwow artist who left the faith to go and live on East 13th Street in New York City's East Village. At the time East 13th Street between Avenues A and B was the center of a burgeoning Mennonite colony founded by the "I-W Boys" who had come to the city to do their alternate service at local hospitals. Soon they were joined by other Mennonite farmboys -- gays, hippies and nogoodnik rebels -- who found the strictures of Mennonite life in rural Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana altogether too binding and suffocating for comfort. The gays played the organ or sang in the choir at upscale uptown Episcopal churches. The rebels founded a bicycle repair shop named "Toga" on Avenue B. The hippies sat on the fire escapes grooving to the sound of the mammoth Con Ed plant on 14th St and wrote poetry long into the night. And they all replaced the sacrament of Holy Communion, generally observed twice yearly in the churches back home, with weekends of experimental drug use -- pot, hash, amphetamines, LSD, and cheap wine -- in the new holy land of Tompkins Square Park. Soon they were joined by some of the more free-spirited and adventurous Mennonite women, who chafed after their own fashion at life in the hinterlands.
Even Goshen College, a humble and diminutive Mennonite institution at the south end of Goshen, Indiana, felt the reverberations of the tumultous events of the spring of 1968. In the previous year four editors of an underground magazine irreverently titled "Mennopause" were expelled from the school after much angst and soul-searching on the part of the administration, primarily because the fanatical writers had dared to publish the word "Fuck", a word which was much in the zeitgeist but still highly offensive to the "constituency", primarily comprised of staid Mennonite farmers and burghers. In March a group of wannabe merry pranksters rented a van and drove north to Racine, Wisconsin, where they canvassed for Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. Upon their return to Goshen, President Lyndon Johnson went on the TV (television was by then an accepted part of Mennonite, although not Amish, life) to declare he would not accept his party's nomination. Two days later he was badly beaten in the Wisconsin primary. Only two days after that, on April 4, Martin Luther King was assassinated and the campus was deeply roiled. Students and faculty processed silently and prayerfully down to the town square and held a vigil, where the largely rednecked townspeople honked and hooted at them derisively. Goshen at the time was a deeply schizophrenic town. One of the birthplaces of the Ku Klux Klan, the small city had not a single African-American resident, and Negroes passing through were advised to leave town by sunset. The high school principal was a fascist who expelled students for suspected Communist leanings. On the other hand, the Mennonite and Church of the Brethren population had leavened such institutions as the draft board to such an extent that obtaining conscientious objector status for nice Mennonite boys was almost de rigeur and routine. Even flaming radicals who burned their draft cards and American flags were treated almost politely by the board, being sent to Chicago to work in hospitals rather than to prison to be raped by the hardened mother-rapers and father-stabbers. The campus itself was never roiled by the student demonstrations and building takeovers that troubled such secular institutions as Columbia University or the Sorbonne. In fact the closest approximation of such manifestations was a very odd evening which began when twelve hooded monks with flaming torches marched across campus singing a Gregorian chant which had been improvised by one of the future settlers on the Lower East Side (he became a church organist for the Episcopals and later died of AIDS). Understandably, a crowd of several hundred male students soon gathered, marched to the all-girl dormitory of Westlawn where the females were safely sequestered for the night, and began to chant the name of the college president (Paul Mininger) in a sort of lampoon of the big city hard-core protestors. The chant went "Ho Ho Ho Chi Mininger" and drew alarmed and puzzled faculty onlookers from their nearby suburban ranch houses. Finally the mob of male students did what came naturally and staged a panty raid in the basement of another nearby women's dormitory (Coffman Hall), and were finally dispersed by the campus cop (there was only one) who was rumored to carry a gun and went by the sobriquet of "Delmar Dumbfuck." Skinny Lennie drove the van to New York that fateful summer. Lennie was somewhat of a campus exhibitionist. During performances by the Backdoor Men in Assembly Hall or the Spouter Inn, he was wont to show up dressed in a trench coat and a jock strap and during the band's performances of "Evil" or "Rainy Day Women" he would rush onto stage and fling wide his trench coat to reveal the word "EROS", painted on his bony chest with red lipstick. The band tolerated his performance but it always looked like the dour frontman, Little Stevie Kreider, was ready to boot him off the stage, sort of like what happened at Woodstock a year later when Pete Townshend of the Who kicked Abbie Hoffman, another irritating skinny performance artist, into the crowd. The Backdoor Men was a blues group comprised of Goshen College students including the son and nephew of Dean Carl Kreider. The original group, comprising Fred Hostetler, Steve Kreider, Dean Taggart, Geoff Hartzler, and Ken Willems played from 1964-1967. After most of the originals graduated, the band continued under the same name under the direction of Little Stevie Kreider, featuring Mark Kreider on bass and Doug Swartzentruber on rhythm guitar. By virtue of their frequent visits to South Side bars in Chicago they had perfected a pretty decent imitation of the Chicago blues sound popularized in those years by artists like Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. Little Stevie played an impressive blues harmonica, or "harp", and did the vocals. Mark later wound up in New York as a studio musician whose claim to fame was that he once played in sessions with John Lennon. They cut at least two singles. The first featured "Evil" by Howling Wolf and "Corrina, Corrina" by Big Joe Turner (popularized by Bob Dylan). Stevie dedicated the band's rendition of the latter to a popular Goshen College cheerleader, in whom he reportedly had a prurient interest. The other featured a composition by Fred Hostetler, and the song "Born in Chicago" by Paul Butterfield. The more formal concerts by the Backdoormen were staged in Assembly Hall in the old Ad Building, and even the Dean was wont to attend his son's performances. The faculty and administration at the time were something of a family affair -- Dean Kreider's brother Robert was the Business Administrator while his son, a Harvard grad, was Professor of History. His daughter was married to a Boston architect who subsequently got the contract to design the Umble Center. When the new President, J. Lawrence Burkholder, replaced Ho Chi Miniger in 1970, Dean Kreider had to resign as Dean, since the new President was his brother-in-law. But the wildest performances were held in Spouter Inn, a venerable old dormitory across College Avenue. This venue was set up as a "coffee house", a performance space much in vogue in the late sixties. It was dark and smoky from the candles inserted in old wine bottles that decorated the tables. In 1969 it burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. Some said it was a case of arson by disgruntled Trustees who had gotten wind of the shameless contemporary musical performances staged there to corrupt the Youth. Amos Stoltzfus came from a long line of Amish-Mennonite Stoltzfuses who had settled in southwestern Ontario beginning in the 1820s. These Amish-Mennonite folk, unlike their brethren (and sisters) in the United States, who had assimilated with the regular Old Mennonites in the early twentieth century, were a primitive and stubborn breed who clung to their peculiar variation of the faith until 1962, when the Southwestern Ontario Amish-Mennonite Conference finally gave up the fight and melded with the Old Mennonites of Ontario (not to be confused with the General Conference Mennonites or the Mennonite Brethren). This long period of germination and intermarriage within a very small group had occasionally produced some of the usual effects -- dwarfism, hydrocephalism and polydactylity -- that were the curse of many inbred Amish groups, but what saved them from the typical fate was their canny recognition of the benefits of crossbreeding. Hence an early Bishop, Yoney Stoltzus, had had his way with several comely Mohawk serving women and introduced a fierce and beautiful genetic strain into the Freundschaft. Also, the extended Amish-Mennonite household, with its institution of the "hired man" had brought a sprinkling of Scottish and English seed among the young ladies of the household behind the barn or in the hayloft when Grandpa wasn't watching. It was from this hearty and diverse genetic pool that Amos stemmed. He himself was a fine specimen, with the Mohawk characteristics ascendant. In fact, his grandmother liked to tease him by saying, "Amos, du bist so braun wie ein Indianer", and his high cheekbones and dark complexion were testimony to the wisdom of his horny Germanic ancestors.
Nightly explosions in the subway have left a taste of a coal miner's smoking fears
The sky is a dirty red fog; The night drips over those trudging through wet grass to celebrate where monster spotlights strain and scream at the moon
A studied intoxication A calculated stupor working itself toward climax;
Vague gypsies, traces of witches, Noisy lunatics are quarreling over a lovely corpse in the mud
Little sister, they've landed men on the moon-- What obscene dance shall we make to celebrate this rape?
[Amos Stoltzfus was a young poet living in New York's East Village when men landed on the moon in 1969. He witnessed the moon landing in Central Park on giant television screens.]
I sensed as only a child can sense that something was rotten -- the lust for meat things the thrill of acquisitiveness the joy of beggaring your neighbor orgasmic survival of the fittest
this terrifying fiendish swamp whose creed was ultimate selfishness whose blood was running money -- ah then I discovered Ginsberg and it all made sense
how long ago? how long ago? yet nothing has changed drear mental concrete walls big-mouth TV swallowing infants whole brick ugly factory of Goshen High School
Kolymsky Heights of the mind Siberia was hell and Stalin put me there a phalanx of Nixons and fascist redneck principals
(some argue no equivalence of physical and mental suffering, but how quantify?)
how quantify torture? I've been in maximum security lockdown since 1960 they got my number coming over the border when they carried me down, an innocent, a naif
the next year they blew up Cuba they shot a Kennedy, then another and crucified a King
lathered naked Asian girls with jellied napalm how to quantify terror?
they locked me up because I knew too much here and there in shackles and restraints here and there in screaming ugliness chemical dungeons and junked Coney Islands of the mind
today I was rereading Howl, and Rexroth, the whole boatload of sensitive useless old Beats and it all made sense again, a cogent analysis but times have changed and nothing has changed
dharma bums and queers and Quakers immolated themselves at the Pentagon I saw the monks flaming in the streets in Saigon like the flower burning in the day
the moneychangers have set up in the temple again -- no surprise Moloch wants you for America's unending wars flower children resist! but the Hoosiers beat you down
(Savio told us to throw ourselves on the wheel but really! dude! how many times?) how many times can the children jump in the river break self on wheel of karma, dharma, what the hell it stinks here, no joy in this cell, no solution here
and Goshen the genetic chemical restraint bashes my head against its grey and stupefied walls lacklove and vicious, cancer-production center of the world DNA Mennonite straitjacket, inquisitors, they watch you in the Anabaptist panopticon -- what will the neighbors think?
you tried to escape and you failed brain police locked you up and brought you back thorazine, haldol, mellaril, and the beat goes on you killed yourself and they dragged you back from the dead to be a zombie in Goshen, a useful cart horse for the bourgeoisie
but the light breaks, thrill codes blaze in the skylights now Pegasus in yoke sprouts wings! let's all fly away to the further shore and make love for Babylon is fallen and America is damned
Grey fauning visions in their decadence:
Small babies' bodies farmfrom hardly come
To life, are dead in guttered innocence.
Smack pistols replace cocks; new cakes address.
Speed bullet speeds past kittens in your hall's
Hard violence into your torn flesh.
Yet public vibes our cocks undressed, enthrall
Our cake cut universe; unsevered love
Becomes creation's acid rock upon
The ship we'd build, for rat is not above
Nor helps build ship cake crews: (Within) not dawn
(Without) not death, nor free, nor amnesty,
Nor shadow (near/far) on our fantasy.
--from Joy Rock Statue Ship (1968)
Hunce Voelcker, Joy Rock Statue Ship
I am sitting in a storefront Mennonite church on Seventh Avenue in central Harlem, playing Blockhead with six-year-old Charles. The red, blue and yellow wooden blocks feel misshapen in my hand, as I clumsily try to balance a flat rectangle on the round side of a cylinder. I carefully remove my hand and slowly the whole construction slides into a heap of rubble.Charles laughs delightedly. Then he looks over at Bebop, my teenaged co-worker, who is fumbling with his shirt pocket. Charles' eyes widen, and he says in a stage whisper, "Ooh, Bebop got reefers!" Bebop gives him a disgusted look, and motions vigorously for him to shut up. Miss Lucy, the day camp director, is in the kitchen at the back of the church, and we don't want her to notice. Bebop, Michael and I have spent our lunch hour smoking pot around the corner at Michael's mother's apartment on 147th Street. We are counselors at the Seventh Avenue Mennonite summer day camp; I'm here for the summer, a precocious sixteen year old freshman at the Mennonite college in Goshen, Indiana, in New York for an urban sociology seminar which requires a stint of volunteer work in the "inner city". Michael and Bebop have taken me under their wing, informing me that if I stick with them I'm gonna be so cool I'll be wearing alligator shoes. Since they've discovered my predilection for smoking marijuana, we spend a lot of time smoking together -- in the park, in Michael's family's apartment when his mother's not home, even on the stoop in front of the church after dark, when the kids are hanging on the street, listening to the radio: "I'm a girl watcher
I'm a girl watcher
Watching girls go by
My, my, my"
Miss Lucy was formerly a teacher at the Wiltwyck School for Boys, one of whose most distinguished alumni was Claude Brown, and she has loaned me her autographed copy of Manchild in the Promised Land to help me learn about Harlem. I've paged through it, but even though I am a voracious reader I'm having trouble getting through the required readings for my seminar -- Moynihan's Beyond the Melting Pot and The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills. Not to mention Alan Watts' Beyond Theology, which I've just discovered and am reading for my spiritual edification. There is so much to explore and experience in this pulsating city that it's getting harder and harder to find time for reading. It is July of 1968 and I'm spending the summer living with a Mennonite minister and his wife and three-year-old daughter on the seventh floor of Esplanade Gardens on 146th St. , just down the street from the church. Richard, or Dickie, as his parishioners call him, and Ethel make an odd couple, he with his luxuriant Afro and she in a white lace prayer covering. Apart from me and Larry Miller, my roommate, Ethel is the only white person in the building. Ethel is from a conservative rural Mennonite church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her brother was one of the founders of this little mission church in Harlem, started in 1950 when the country Mennonites were beginnning to have a "burden for the city. " Harlem is still recovering from the riots of the spring which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. , and when I walk down Seventh Avenue I can still smell the smoke and ashes as I pass a burned out storefront. When I come home from a day at work there are flecks of ashes on the sleeves of my light blue shirt, although Dickie tells me that's just plain old New York pollution, not fallout from the riots. continued at August 1968
WHITE GODDESS, BLACK GODDESSReturning to Goshen College after my summer in New York was an inevitable and crashing down. I was jaded and world weary. I couldn't keep my mind on my studies. Having discovered that with only slightly more effort than I had put into my high school work I could keep my head above water, I looked for ways to entertain myself. Now that I was a mascot and darling of the campus intelligentsia, I wrote book reviews of avant garde novels for the student newspaper: William Burroughs' The Ticket That Exploded Norman Mailer's Why Are We in Vietnam? J. R. Burkholder had an office up in the attic of the old Spouter Inn where he collected radical publications. In a Ramparts magazine article I discovered the poet Rimbaud, whom the magazine was likening to Bob Dylan, or the reverse. In a bookstore in Elkhart, a small city about 20 miles away, where I bought my weekly copy of the Village Voice, I found the New Directions edition of A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat translated by Louise Varese: Once if I remember well, my life was a feast
where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.
One evening I seated Beauty on my knees.
And I found her bitter. And I cursed her.
Entrancing! What an attitude! Just the way I felt! I read the introduction, then devoured the Enid Starkie biography and the Wallace Fowlie translation of the complete works, feeling more and more that I had finally discovered a magical kindred spirit. If I was not (yet) a poetic prodigy, I was at least precocious. Like Rimbaud, I had renounced my religion and provincial town in disgust and run away to the big city to debauch myself. But it was the magnificent attitude, the pose of ennui and loathing which I cultivated: Really it's stupid, these village churches
Where fifteen ugly brats dirtying the pillars
Listen to a grotesque priest whose shoes stink
As he mouths the divine babble
Book Review by Amos Stoltzfus, Goshen College Record, 1968
Why Are We In Vietnam?
by Norman Mailer
In high school I heard a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading Kaddish and had memorized the first section and recited it at a school speech contest in Indianapolis, along with Ferlinghetti's "Junkman's Obbligato":Let's go
Empty out our pockets and disappear.
Missing all our appointments
And turning up unshaven years later.
I was picking up the beatific beat, the derangement of the senses, the clarion call to turn on, tune in, and drop out. I read Baudelaire, then Apollinaire, starting to teach myself French from the bilingual editions. In Alcools I was amazed to discover a Mennonite woman, although presumably a mythical one -- I don't know that Apollinaire ever visited Texas -- named Annie: Comme cette femme est mennonite
Ses rosiers et ses vetements n'ont pas de boutons
Il en manque deux a mon veston
La dame et moi suivons presque le meme rite
How excellent to find a buttonless bohemian likening himself to the Mennonite woman who didn't wear buttons! I treasured this obscure image; at this stage I thought of Mennonites as uncultured boors and philistines, and presumed that was how they were viewed by sophisticated city people. Of course, all the Mennonites I knew nowadays wore plenty of buttons. It was the Amish or conservative Mennonites with their distinctive "plain" clothing who attracted with their downhome exoticism the attention of the tourists and the artists. Thus inspired by Symbolists and Beats I started to write poetry, and had some published in the student paper. In a fine arts course with Mary Oyer I selected surrealism and dada as my special project, and read Eluard and Aragon: Winter over the meadow brings on mice!
I saw youth herself, naked in the folds of blue satin,
Laughing at the present my lovely slave!
In Chicago the Art Institute was featuring a Surrealist retrospective, complete with a life-sized reconstruction of Dali's Paris Taxi, antique automobile with its dripping mannequins and seaweed. I saw the furry tea cups, and discovered DuChamp and Man Ray. Christo was in town and had wrapped a small museum, inside only canvas, and the requisite fire extinguisher. Gwen Hochstetler, a Goshen College art major and 1967 grad, was studying art in Chicago and showed me around. Her most notorious piece of work at Goshen had been a sculpture titled Whorrible Lady. I imagined myself in love with this sophisticated older woman, and imagined her my muse. (In New York I had seen Truffaut's Stolen Kisses, in which the young Antoine is seduced by the proverbial older woman, and was in some vague way hoping for something similar although I was too young to know how to go about it and Gwen already had a boyfriend.) Then, at the beginning of 1969 I suddenly fell in love for the first time. A girl named DeAnne began school in the spring semester. She had run off to San Francisco during the Summer of Love and had been living the hippie life in the Haight-Ashbury. But her Mennonite parents from Kansas finally laid down the law and whisked her away to Goshen. She was 17, just my age,just as wild, just as sophisticated, albeit in a West Coast mode. San Francisco Oracle, Vol. 1, #7 San Francisco Oracle, Vol. 1, #7
The center of the Mennonite colony in the East Village was an old five-story walkup tenement at 524 E. 13th St., between Avenues A and B. Marge and her husband Blackie lived on the first floor apartment to the left as you entered, and served as the superintendents of the building. Aged and toothless, but talkative, these old heads had accumulated decades of dust, and what appeared to be layers of chicken feathers, on the floor of their apartment. The rear apartment was occupied by Skinnie Lennie and his bride Joanne, who had met at Goshen College and become an item during the long weekend of campaigning for Gene McCarthy in Racine. Various Hochstetlers, Smuckers, Yosts and a variety of Stoltzfuses occupied the railroad apartments, characterized by the elegant clawfoot bathtubs in the kitchen, that led up to the fifth floor. Some of the smaller flats had no bathrooms in the apartment itself, and the tenants were served by cramped toilets in closets in the hallway. The most popular and friendly tenants were up in 5D on the fifth floor, proprietors Sid and Arden, I-W boys at NYU hospital. They had constructed several sets of bunk beds to house wandering hippies, and the floor of the living room was often knee-deep in transient Mennonites who had found the address in the unofficial oral Mennonite Your Way directory. I recall once counting sixteen people on the floor and in various combinations in the bunkbeds upon awakening one morning in early spring. Scarcely had I arrived than Sid and Arden informed me that they were about to drive to California in Sid’s fire-engine red Triumph sports car, and asked if I wanted to go along. I had always wanted to see Haight-Ashbury, so I squeezed myself into the rumble seat in back. Arden had thoughtfully prepared a tray of hashish brownies which he kept in the glove compartment, doling them out when things got dull. Of course he had consulted the famous Alice B. Toklas Cookbook recipe, but had modified it using the standard Mennonite Community Cookbook instructions for whoopie pies, substituting a chunk of Afghan hash for the block of dark chocolate. "Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stone dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient. Obtaining the canibus may present certain difficulties.... It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green." -- from the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, 1954The spring of 1969 was an unsettled time, to put it mildly. Although the great wave of the hippie movement was yet to crest at Woodstock, the Diggers had proclaimed the Death of the Hippie at the end of the summer of 1967, staging a funeral and burying a hippie effigy in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. Political polarization had reached a violent climax with the police riot at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in August of 1968, where the nascent Yippie Party of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman had run a pig for President. DeAnne was ill at ease in the dormitories of Goshen College, which were still strictly segregated by gender. When she moved into Coffman Hall she immediately put her mattress on the floor, which earned her a strict reproof from the residence authorities. We fantasized about starting a commune in the rambling old Spouter Inn over on College Avenue. I was gaga about her, adolescent passion having hit for the first time. Combined with my heady enthusiasm for a youth movement which I sensed was initiating a massive change of consciousness and the vibes of a peaceful revolution, this was first love with a vengeance. We went about stoned, dreamy, and in a trance. For two weeks I was at the extreme of ecstasy. Soon, however, DeAnne found Goshen as completely wearisome as I did, and she began to fret for her friends back in the Haight. She scraped up the money for an air ticket back to San Francisco and made plans to return without her parents discovering and preventing it. Some other guy drove her up to the airport in Chicago. I was crushed and desolated. Within days I had determined that I could not possibly stay in Goshen a moment longer. Leaving a note on the dining room table to the effect that I had hitchhiked to New York to become a hippie poet and telling my parents not to worry (I was still living at home at the time), I packed a small bag and a friend dropped me off at the rest area on the Interstate. My first ride came from a surprisingly friendly state trooper who pointed out that hitchhiking was prohibited on the highway itself. He dropped me off outside the toll booth entrance to the turnpike. Fortunately within minutes I had my first ride, a young guy driving a pickup to western New York State. It was my first experience of hitchhiking, but at that time people were still casual about giving rides. It was part of the zeitgeist. I rode with a middle-aged black couple, a grizzled old trucker, and a Vietnam vet. By about 3 am I was at a truck stop in Breezewood, in central Pennsylvania. It was snowing lightly, and I discovered a Greyhound bus was leaving soon for New York. I had some money left and opted to ride the rest of the way in comfort, feeling that I had done my requisite time on the road. Arriving in the city, I made my way down to East 13th Street and crashed in the apartment of some friends, former Goshen students doing their I-W work at New York University Hospital. October Sixth Nineteen Hundred and Sixty Seven MEDIA CREATED THE HIPPIE WITH YOUR HUNGRY CONSENT. BE SOMEBODY. CAREERS ARE TO BE HAD FOR THE ENTERPRISING HIPPIE. The media cast nets, create bags for the identity-hungry to climb in. Your face on TV, your style immortalized without soul in the captions of the Chronicle. NBC says you exist, ergo I am. Narcicism, plebian vanity. The victim immortalized. Black power, its transcendant threat of white massacre the creation of media-whore obsequious bowers to the public mind which they recreate because they too have nothing to create and the reflections run in perpetual anal circuits and the FREE MAN vomits his images and laughs in the clouds because he is the great evader, the animal who haunts the jungles of image and sees no shadow, only the hunter's gun and knows sahib is too slow and he flexes his strong loins of FREE and is gone again from the nets. They fall on empty air and waft helplessly to the grass. DEATH OF HIPPY END/FINISHED HIPPYEE GONE GOODBYE HEHPPEEEE DEATH DEATH HHIPPEE
Thus fueled, we drove out to Princeton to visit Sid's brother who was studying mathematics, and to freak around in the snowy woods. In the spirit of the Magical Mystery Tour and the Electric Koolaid Acid Test, Arden videotaped the entire odyssey. Back on the road, we made it to Penn State by midnight. Sid's sister was a student there. In fact Sid seemed to have siblings and cousins spread out in various colleges and universities all across the country.Inevitably we made the obligatory stop in Goshen. By this time the initial frenzy of adventure had worn off and I was on an hysterical down. Like the prodigal son I trooped back to my parent's house and had an emotional breakdown, wailing about my lost love, my nascent hippie life, and my confusion about my academic career. The parents sent me off to consult with Willard Krabill, the sympathetic white-haired campus doc. Pulling myself back together, I decided to at least finish the semester before choosing between poetic glory and a bachelor's degree from Goshen College. A refuge during this emotionally overwrought time was my job as a dishwasher downtown at Minelli's steakhouse. Reputedly run by a mafia family from South Bend, Minelli's was exotic enough to provide a satisfying contrast to Mennonite campus life at GC. It was also a satisfying work routine. Every evening at five I'd report for work, smoke a cigarette, drink a cup of coffee, and wash up the lunch dishes. The chef was an old sailor named Eric who wore a tall white toque and swore like a navvy at the waitresses. He was a heavy drinker and by the end of the night was frequently passed out on the floor behind his stoves.
One slow Tuesday night about 11, having dumped the grease trays and taken out the garbage, I was mopping the kitchen floor at Minelli's preparatory to locking up. A friend, Steve Yoder, drove up and informed me that he had just gotten a call from Sid and Arden. Their car had broken down somewhere out near Normal, Illinois. He asked if I wanted to go along out to pick them up.We arrived about 4 am to find the little red Triumph at a rest stop along the 55. To my horror, Deanne was with them. They had stopped in to visit the Haight, and for some unfathomable reason she had decided to hitch a ride back east with them. I had counted on never seeing this girl again, this goddess who had aroused my first major stirrings of passion, then run off leaving me an emotional wreck. Back in Goshen, we dropped her off at one of the hippie houses off-campus, home to part-time students and dropouts. I avoided her for a few days, but finally went over to see her. She had decided she wanted to continue the trip to New York. Unfortunately, Sid and Arden had gotten the car fixed up and had already driven away. Somehow she convinced me to buy her a plane ticket to New York and to come to live with her on the Lower East Side. In 1969 airplane travel was considerably cheaper than now, due to student discounts and standby travel. A friend drove us to South Bend and we flew off to Newark. On the bus into New York City she was blabbering enthusiastically about the new rock opera "Tommy" produced by the Who, and how it was a major cultural breakthrough. Personally I couldn't stand the Who, and told her so. We had a major argument on the bus and by the time we made it to East 13th Street I was convinced that I never wanted to see this girl again. Fortunately, a few days later, a group of hippies from 524 were heading back to Goshen, and I managed to secure a ride. Skinny Lennie, Joanne, and a couple of Krauses were going back to visit their family. None of them owned a car, but their preferred method of travel was to contract a "drive-away" car, which was to be delivered to a dealer in Chicago. Back in Goshen, I determined again that I would finish the trimester before undertaking further travel, so I returned to classes and my job at Minellis.
The trimester at Goshen College came to a fitful end. Despite my frenzied peregrinations during the spring, I finished the term with grades of A and B, except for a C in biology.At the end of April I joined yet another carload of students headed for the Big Apple -- Phil Paul, who was to become a long term settler on E. 13th St., Jim Ashcroft, a Goshen art major, and his girlfriend. Arriving at the Mennonite hippie house at 524 E. 13th, I crashed on the floor of one of the Stoltzfuses. John Kraus and I, old buddies from high school, planned to get an apartment together. John was already gainfully employed at Toga Bikes over on Avenue B, and I started my search for work. My first stop was the employment office at Bickford's in midtown, since I had read that Allen Ginsberg had once done a stint as dishwasher at Bickford's. The personnel guy looked at me doubtfully, and suggested that rather than becoming a dishwasher I might like to try their managerial training program. Not what I had in mind. During my stint at Minelli's I had been reading George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" about his experiences as a plongeur, and with Orwell and Ginsberg for inspiration I decided that was the career route for me, to support myself while I became a famous poet. But apparently I was too cleancut and WASPy for the kitchens. Finally, through an ad in the Village Voice, I found a job at Bookazine, a book wholesaler's warehouse on W. 10th St. over by the Hudson River. Kraus found us an apartment across the street at 525 E. 13th, a fifth-story walkup, a railroad apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen. We immediately painted the living room and bedroom black.
View Larger Map
Every morning I walked down Avenue A to Tenth St, and across the Village to Bookazine. It was a pleasant half-hour walk bisecting Manhattan, from near the East River over to the Hudson, from the East Village to the West. I was thrilled to finally be rooted in Bohemia -- rooted in the sense that I had an apartment and a regular job. The rootless "On the Road" type of Bohemianism I had experienced in the spring was decidedly not my style.I loved my job, the regularity of the 9-5 routine, and particularly the books that surrounded me. I was in "Returns." My task was to build huge squares of remaindered books on a wooden skid to be shipped back to publishers. A middle-aged Puerto Rican guy with a neatly trimmed moustache, Ramon, was my supervisor. He was a friendly easy-going guy who didn't mind if I slipped away into the stacks when times were slow to browse the shelves. The warehouse was like an enormous library. I discovered the poetry section and found the complete works of Arthur Rimbaud, and several biographies. Over the summer I became more acquainted with my favorites, the French Symbolists, in particular Charles Baudelaire and Guillaume Apollinaire. I discovered the Russian Orthodox mystic Nicolai Berdyaev, and read Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. At noon I would go out to the piers on the Hudson, eat my lunch of bread and cheese I had brought from home, then smoke a joint and dreamily watch the river.
Everything was free. On evenings or weekends there were free readings at the Poetry Project which Anne Waldman had created at St. Mark's in-the-Bowery, an old stone Episcopal church on East 10th Street. Beat luminati Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso might be there on any given night, and it was at St. Mark's I caught my first sight of Abbie Hoffman, running naked down the aisle.One night Norman Mailer gave a reading, or a political speech, or a rant at an elementary school in Greenwich Village. His foils for the evening were a strange group called the Motherfuckers, apparently a splinter group from SDS living in the East Village. Mailer was as usual drunk and feisty and there was a lot of shouting without a great deal of coherence. My favorite cultural event of the summer was a panel discussion at NYU featuring Andy Warhol, Brigid Polk (who was engaged in her project "The Cock Book", soliciting self-portraits of the members of famous rock stars), and Jill Johnston, currently writing "The Dance Column" for the Village Voice. The moderator wore a jacket and tie and took questions from the audience. After an hour Warhol had said nothing, and an audience member demanded to know what Mr. Warhol thought. The moderator responded that "Mr. Warhol is being paid to be here, not to speak." Then Brigid Polk took off her shirt. Then put it back on. Johnston had come in late, hustling up the aisle and panting. When asked where she had been she replied "Screwing." It was that sort of summer.
"The Poetry Project burns like red hot coal in New York's snow."
-Allen Ginsberg--Amos Stoltzfus
East 13th Street was a popular destination for wandering Mennos that summer, as well as for other traveling Bohemians with connections among the stable inhabitants.We housed temporary hippies from Goshen on the floor until we became thoroughly tired of them and their Midwest lameness. One technique John and I developed to empty the house was to work up a rap on the cockroaches who infested our flat. When the Goshen hippies began to complain about the insects and mice, we would launch into mock-serious rants about the souls of all sentient beings and the cosmic sin of destroying life in any of its forms. A few hours of that was usually sufficient to drive old acquaintances back to Goshen. Not that we were entirely insincere. We invested in a humane mousetrap, a little cage which preserved its victim unharmed. One night I came home on the down side of a powerful acid trip to find a tiny mouse cowering in the trap. It seemed that I had cooped up the quivering mustached essence of the cosmos, and I ceremoniously carried the trap down to Tompkins Square Park and released it. Some EMC grads stopped in on their way back from Europe. One young woman in particular whined that she had "studied abroad" and that even with her exalted training no-one in New York recognized her talent and that she could find no work. Once I walked in on her and her boyfriend humping in the bunkbeds up in 5-D, and casually advised them not to break the bed. They soon departed for Harrisonburg. Timothy Jost, a noted intellectual who was a student at perhaps the most radical college campus of them all, Santa Cruz in California, stopped by. We spent an afternoon over a bottle of Hooper's Ruby Port discussing medieval Irish monks. But when I took him out for a guided tour of the Village, he did a very uncool thing, namely removed his shirt and walked around half-naked. He was rather large, white and flabby and it was an embarrassment to me to have him along. I finally persuaded him that while it may have been hip in California, it was not the sort of thing to do in the metropolis of New York. But the most troublesome wanderers were a pair of hard-core hippies DeAnne had known in the Haight. Little Brother and STP John had hair to their waists and spent their lives crisscrossing the country. Their favorite hangout at the time was Boulder, Colorado, but when they tired of their mountain home they would hit the road for San Francisco or the Lower East Side. STP John had earned his moniker by supposedly spending three days perched in a tree in Central Park under the thrall of the new wonder drug, STP, which reportedly was like a three-day acid trip. They sat around all day drinking malt liquor, listening to Creedence Clearwater, and staring at Zap comix. They actually caused little trouble, other than taking up space, but I began to realize that this was the lifestyle for which I was readying myself and that it was stupid and illiterate. They had no conversation, and what was left of their bombed-out minds was completely unstimulating and often barely coherent. "Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation
But as the summer wore on, and I pondered the lifestyle of Little Brother and STP John, I began to worry that the vision, golden as it was, was wildly unrealistic. The Vietnam War dragged on, and Richard Nixon had been elected President, despite our best efforts. A gnawing cynicism began to grow in me. When it came time for Woodstock in upstate New York, I didn't even want to go -- a weekend with tripping illiterate hippies like those who infested our communal pads seemed not a chance for ecstatic communion but the last scene I wanted to make. We watched it on TV. I remember Jim Morrison of the Doors being interviewed. He claimed he was a shaman. The concert itself looked like a mudbath for boors. Disillusioned, my thoughts turned to going back to college. Fortunately, I would not have to go directly back to Goshen. I applied and was accepted for the new Study-Service Term in Guadeloupe. My excitement at the new communal utopia, the electronic village, the sensational and revolutionary culture of the sixties had turned to mournful disgust. "One evening I seated beauty on my knees,
and I found her bitter, and cursed her.
Oh witches, oh misery, oh hate,
To you has my life been entrusted."
In an age of decadence and despair, I would retreat to a monastery and like a medieval monk, try to keep civilization alive in a time of barbarism. I went back to school.