Robyn's Perch

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hippie Memories


This memory had been stored away and has just recently come back. Why had it been forgotten? As Country Joe McDonald put it: "Anyone who remembers the '60s wasn't there." Or possibly it was the nature of the incident.

Back in my hippie days...

I felt like I was always the outsider, even among the people living on the fringes of society. I would make a few least I thought of them as friends, but I never was very optimistic about how they felt about me. I would hang out with them until I perceived in some way that they would prefer that I not do so. It could be something blatant like someone telling me to go away or something that might have been only in my mind, a feeling that I was overstaying my welcome. When one has no sense of self-worth, it's easy to imagine all sorts of reasons people would not want them around, so I never had any friends for very long. Eventually, I would go try to find someone new to hang out with.

Once upon a time there was a girl named Alice and a man named Paul Simon (no, not the songwriter...and it probably wasn't his real name). Paul and I used to crash in Buena Vista park when the weather wasn't too bad. Paul did it almost always...he hated sleeping indoors. There were some other people that slept in the park: Morningstar was a woman from New York. Scorpio was a young gay boy also from there (he once put the moves on me, but I defended myself gracefully). The four of us would hang out together, panhandling for money for food, or the food itself, or money for drugs, or for the drugs themselves.

Then we met Alice. Alice had run away from Santa Clara, was perhaps 17. She had no place to stay and looked ever-so-cute in her hippie dress. We sort of started looking after her. It turned out that Alice didn't like sleeping in the park and she said she had some money at her house in Santa Clara so she and I hitchhiked down there and she broke into her house and got her savings bonds and we went to the bank and cashed them and hitched back to the Haight and rented an apartment. I rented the apartment for the rest of us since I was the oldest except for Paul and he declined to be connected with any paperwork.

The apartment was on Waller and Shrader...the former store room of a feed and grain store (the purpose of a feed and grain store in the Haight was something I could never fathom). On the door we painted "Alice's Restaurant" (okay, so we weren't very original). It had two rooms that we used as bedrooms and a kitchen that we hardly ever used (I recall using it to make popped birdseed once upon a time...we had no corn and the birdseed was leftover from the place's days as a storage room).

We mostly used it as a place to crash, often inviting other people of the street to crash there with us, and as a place to get stoned, which we did often. It was only a block from our favorite panhandling areas and we found that we could keep up with the rent for a few months if we worked hard doing that and selling the hippie newspapers to the tourists.

Our little group of friends grew over time. Alice met Danny, from Kansas, and they became a couple. Then I met someone. I've been trying to remember her name, but that hasn't come back to me yet. I'm pretty certain that it started with a "C" or "Ch" (no, I'm positive it was not a Christine variation).

What I do remember is that we hit it off and I really liked her. We used to go for walks in Golden Gate Park and sometimes we would lay down and do a little necking or just nap next to each other in the sun. I invited her to move in with us and she did. Being a virgin at the time I was more than a little nervous about her doing so. I was very happy with the way our friendship was going and was in no hurry to move on to a level that made either of us uncomfortable. But that was hard since we were sharing the same mattress. Inevitably, I guess, we found ourselves making out on the mattress one night and it seemed that perhaps we might go a little beyond that when she stopped me. She told me that we couldn't go any further and that the reason was because she was pre-operative transsexual.

My memory of everything ends right there. I'm pretty certain I went off the deep end for a while. I hope that I acted well...I can't imagine that I said anything unkind. But in the face of my own transsexuality, I couldn't cope.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


I was raised as a Lutheran...pretty whitebread, I know. Actually, I was a "football" Lutheran, I suppose. The children in my family were sent to the Our Savior's Lutheran Church since it was the closest to our house and it would get us away from home so my father could watch football, which started at 10am on the west coast.

Being the precocious child that I was, I did all of the reading I was supposed to do for Sunday school, but I noticed something...I would read the stories from the Sunday school book and get the point that was trying to be made, then the Sunday school teacher or the minister would talk about the story and have an entirely different spin on it. So I decided that the bible was sort of a magical book, that whoever read it saw what it meant, but that different people would read it differently, and no one could tell anyone else what it was saying, because it was different for all of us. That was good enough for me until I got older.

When I first went to college, I still considered myself a christian, for want of a better word. After all, I believed strongly in the things that Jesus preached: "Love thy neighbor as thyself," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" [although I sometimes had the problem of *expecting* them to behave the same way, which is not part of the bargain], "Judge not, lest thee be judged," "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." These were guiding principles in my life, and still are.

At the University of Pennsylvania, I signed up for a course in eastern religions. I got my first taste of Buddhism and Taoism, as well as many other eastern religions. I liked what I read, especially the Tao te Ching, and especially the (supposed) interpretations of Liu An. [Chuang Tse was a little too militaristic and legalistic for my taste...I liked the mysticism in Liu An's writings].

When I was nearly 20, having dropped out of college, one suicide attempt survived, and gone on the road to avoid the draft, a hippie hitchhiking across the country, a friend and I stopped at a mission in Tucson so we could have a hot meal and a shower. Before one can eat, one has to listen to the preacher man, and this guy was all fire and brimstone. After he finished, I asked him a question. There had recently been a tribe of people discovered in the Philippines, I think, that had not had any previous contact with Europeans. They had no knowledge of the western god or of Jesus. I asked the preacher if they were bound for his hell. He acknowledged that they were. I couldn't handle that: they were going to hell because of the failing of the white men to find them and tell them about the "wonders" of christianity. That night, I decided I was not a christian anymore.

If not a christian, what was I? I decided that Jesus would be appalled at any of the christian churches of our day...perhaps at any of the christian religions ever. I still believed...and still the words that he said. But Jesus didn't hang out with the people who are like the people who today proclaim their christianity loudly. He hung out with the poor, the destitute, the lonely, the diseased...the dregs of the so-called society.

I studied eastern religions again when I returned to school after my travels and my time in the Army. I decided that my belief system was based partly in Taoism (which I acknowledge when asked), but also partly in Buddhism, with an underlying belief in the teachings of Jesus.

Is there a god? I don't believe that we can know. "Something, I don't know what, is doing something, I don't know what," as an early researcher in quantum physics put it [i.e. The Tao is unknowable. But if you know the Tao, it is unspeakable]. But knowledge of things greater than us is beyond our ken on this plane of existence. Maybe we will learn about what is out there after we die...maybe not. I view death as a door that we pass through. It's a one-way door and (no matter what the early disciples said), I don't believe that anyone can come back here to tell us what is on the other side. The worst possibility is that there is nothing there...that we just cease to exist. Possibly, we come back here to the start over. One of my friends suggested that my life was so messed up for so long because I was impatient and just grabbed the first available body that came along...and got the wrong sex. Possibly we go to another plane of existence. I don't know...I can't know. I'll find out when the time comes.

In the meantime, I think I am here for a purpose. I don't know entirely what it is yet, but I think that everything I have gone through has had a point...that it's leading to something. And, while I am waiting to find out what it is, I believe that I should try to do some good while I am here.

What exactly "good" means depends on the circumstances. Life presents us options. We make choices. Whatever choice we make is the right choice, because it is the one we made and we can't take it back. Life doesn't come with rehearsals. Given this set-up, "doing good" means making our choices without merely our own welfare in mind, but also considering what would benefit people other than ourselves (currently living...our "peers," as it were) as well as those who will live in the future (who will be affected by the Society they are born into. Our choices help to mold that Society). The weight we give to each of these considerations is something that each of us has to decide every time a choice has to be made (and we do it in a split second) and they are an intrinsic part of who we are. Some of us are more altruistic in nature (with weights heavier for peers and Society), while some of us are more selfish (weight heavier for personal). We can shift these somewhat...many transsexual people live the first part of their lives shifted away from personal and learn during their transition that they need to give more weight to it (sometimes forever, sometimes temporarily).

Being altruistic by nature, I became a teacher, so that my impact on my peers and Society could be greater. That's a major part of who I am...the road I chose.

My life, everyone's life, is but a path...starting from our births and leading into infinity. There is no end to the path. There are lots of obstacles along the path...some of them very hard to surmount. Some are seemingly so large that we are tempted to take a different fork in the path. But by surmounting them, we become better, stronger people. I've learned that the obstacles seem much harder to surmount before we try, than when we actually try. Having passed the hard parts, life seems smoother for is fun. The beauty in life is not "up ahead" on the path, but off to the sides, in what we can see and hear, taste and touch along the way. Waiting for something good to come along is not good...make something good now.

Life is a state of constant change. It's good to keep that in mind. If you are depressed, sad, and lonely, it will change. If you are on top of the world, that too will change. It helps to keep away from the too highs and too lows, to even out the path.

Life is wonder, life is beauty, life is learning. Embrace it with everything you have.