First job I ever had was working for the FBI. I went to Wash DC and I was a fingerprint technician. At that time, if you got arrested and they couldn’t find your name as having been arrested before, somebody like me would search for your fingerprints. I was very proud of it, until I found out what J. Edgar Hoover was like. I went there straight out of high school. I wanted to go to Ark State Teacher’s school,, but my mother’s husband was afraid I’d end up needing money, so I decided to go work some first. While I was at that job, I married one of the millions of Washington DC secretaries -- she got pregnant, we got married. We moved to western Pennsylvania for a couple of years. Got out of that marriage, went back to Little Rock, decided I wanted to come here and go to school and live in Fayetteville -- about the time the Beatles got popular.
I was ambitious -- wanted to be right in the bosom of society -- a lawyer in fact. Started to school, and it was the first time in my life that had ever been around anyone I had anything in common with. Very quickly I moved to the absolute edge of everything -- society. The people I knew were fringe dwellers -- that was in ‘65 -- and then in ‘66 everybody started to be completely crazy about the hippies. I can remember the day that I first heard the word ‘hippie’ - a guy from Memphis. People would come to town who were hipper than anybody in Fayetteville, and we would all wish we were like them. This band came from New York City -- at that time, I drove to San Antonio to buy one ounce of marijuana -- and had about 10 people who had chipped in money, and it was an actual lid -- a Prince Albert can -- nobody had it -- one guy was able to get some in Tulsa -- and so this guy from New York City said he was a hippie, and that was the highest accolade he knew.
That year it started to be on all the TV stations, little documentaries about San Francisco, and Haight-Ashbury -- I actually knew a guy who had lived in Haight-Ashbury the year before, and I wanted to go. Everybody I knew wanted to go to Haight-Ashbury. That was coming up on the Summer of Love. I went -- everybody I knew went out there. I couldn’t walk down a street in San Francisco without seeing someone I knew from Fayetteville. Literally, everybody I knew was out there. For about two years it was just back and forth to San Francisco - I drove that Route 66 from here to SF so many times. A strange thing that happened though -- I was about 24 at that time and had just married -- the only time I ever married for love -- I had a bad year where I got obsessed with dying. I happened across the book The Way of Zen by Allen Watts, and that changed my life completely. By the time I got out to San Francisco, although I was doing all the stuff -- I lived in Haight-Ashbury, lived right behind the garage store café at Masonic and Haight - I lived right across from Buena Vista Park on Haight -- lived all around there, and everybody I knew was a hippie and had hair down to their ass. Within months of when I got there, I heard about this Zen master, Suzuki Roshi over in Japan town and I went over there and got involved with the Zen center. So then I was a fringe dweller on the whole hippie thing. Everyone was doing dope, and I was getting up at 5 am to sit cross legged. I ended up going to Tassajara - a Zen monastery near Big Sur -- a real isolated place -- it’s still going on.
I spent a lot of time trying to like pot, but I never did really like it very much. I drank beer. Everybody did diet pills. I liked to feel good. It seemed like there was a period where it was spring for about 3 years. I really thought things were going to change. Everybody I knew thought things were going to change. I knew people who didn’t think the cities would last another six months. Everybody had some version of the shit hitting the fan. I really thought the hippies were a good thing. I did LSD quite a few times.
But when I got into meditation and mysticism, I tried to not identify with anything. I lost all ambition and never had a shred of it since. I stopped being interested in politics. From that time til this, I’ve considered politics to be none of my business. I’ve never been involved with any movement or cause. Of course, I’m sympathetic.
Zen is very austere and doesn’t sanction drug use, but everybody who showed up there had done drugs. I thought about dying for one solid year, and in the way of Zen, I found that there were people widely separated by years and geography, who had experiences that transcended life. Before that I didn’t believe in any religion. I read every single book I could find on mysticism. Zen was the only people who actively -- the religion was based on getting that experience for yourself -- an experience of no self. It’s really hard to put into words. Christian mystics have described it as the experience that God exists, or that everything is God. And there have been Islamic mystics, who have their own way of describing it. But the people who had that ‘experience’ were no longer afraid of death, and I was plenty afraid of death. I thought all the time about the fact that there had been an absolutely infinite amount of emptiness and void before I was born and after I died there was going to be another one. I could not stand the thought of that. Zen was presented to me as something absolutely real. There was something that that man -- Suzuku Roshi - wanted me to see. It was very obvious that he saw it. And I wanted to see it too. I never did. But doing nothing with your back straight is still about the best thing I’ve ever found to do. It’s as physical as dance. There’s no mental side to it. Zen meditation is a practice of the body. Putting your body in an alert position. They don’t go at it as if there is a difference between mind and body.
Ren-zi-zen encourages people to strive really hard, and you could say there’s a mental side to that. They give you these problems called ‘coans’ that are problems that can’t be solved with the intellect, and they encourage you to try to solve those problems. I was into a Zen called Sodo, and they don’t do that. You can’t do anything right and you can’t do anything wrong. The fact is, if you really sit and really concentrate on that posture, and don’t slump or wobble or fidget, then the mind will become calmer and tend to follow the breath, and become clarified. I came there wanting a big enlightenment experience. Suzuki Roshi’s whole deal was to disabuse people of that and get them to give up attachment altogether. He said if you’re trying to attain enlightenment, you’re not doing Za-zen. When you sit with no gain-seeking in mind, you have enlightenment. There is nothing to attain, no higher state of mind. But if you try it yourself, you’ll find it very hard. The main aspect of it is physical pain. People cry out loud.
For a couple of years, I was in and out of the Zen center and back and forth to Fayetteville. One time, we stayed in Fayetteville less than a day. We would get the idea out there that it was time to be rid of San Francisco and go back and take up our lives again. For about a year, I thought I was going to go back to school. I’d been in college 3 years. But after that I never wanted to go back to school again. But we would come back -- a huge amount of partying -- it wasn’t like I was good, because the sexual revolution was going on, and I drank - everybody drank. I took all the drugs I could get my hands on. But I didn’t have long hair, in fact it was practically shaved. One time I was walking down town and I passed this huge elementary school with all these black kids, and one of the kids yelled "look at that head," and every kid on that playground pressed up against that fence, laughed at me for the whole block, ear splitting - slapping their legs, throwing their arms up -- I got some humility that day. I was trying to look like a Zen monk.
Most of my friends were junkies and ne’er do wells, and horrible people. I knew people who went to Selma, people who rode buses - freedom riders, went down there and stood in picket lines -- I admired that a lot, but it never occurred to me to do it. I really didn’t understand how dangerous it was. I didn’t know what they were risking. And they were kind of nerdy people. I have to admit I kind of looked down on all of them and thought they were just assuming a way to be. Of course, I never suspected myself.
The hippies I knew in San Francisco could have cared less about any political issue. But within that, mainly in Berkeley, there were some people who were very political. And they’d come around and do stuff, and people would go, well, yeah, there’s that. But my best friend was a junkie. He didn’t even know who was president. Then also during that time, the war was looming. I was the age to have gone, and just barely missed that. When I dropped out of college, I went to the school psychiatrist and told her that I was dropped out because of stress and asked her to write a letter to my draft board. She didn’t say that she would. When it was time -- when I got my draft notice -- I sat down, they gave me a folder, and right on top of it was a letter from that psychiatrist, and it got me an automatic referral to their psychiatrist. This was in Oakland California, where people showed up in loin cloths. The guy in front of me told me he was going to tell the psychiatrist he couldn’t relate to the Army - I didn’t think that would do him any good -- but when I went in there, I had an inspiration. He didn’t even look up -- he said - what’s your story? and I said, I can’t make it without psychiatric drugs. and he said what do you mean by psychiatric drugs and I said, Stonzine, Thorazine -- and that was our entire conversation. It was a complete lie. That got me a six month deferment from him, and then I got back to Arkansas and they never wrote to me again.
I was going to go if they told me to go. Knowing what I know now, I would not have gone under any circumstances. I would have gone to Canada. I knew a lot of people who went to Canada because they couldn’t get out any other way. but I was going to go, even though I did not have one shred of belief in that war. I don’t know why I was going to go. At Oakland, there was a sergeant who said, "All those who are going to refuse induction, over to this side." That was the flavor of it.
I loved Haight-Ashbury. Before I went to Haight-Ashbury, my apartment was raided by the Fayetteville police on the rumor that I had a matchbox of marijuana. I had gotten married and moved out 3 weeks before. Next scene, Haight-Ashbury. At Haight-Ashbury, people were yelling on the street corners: "acid, grass, speed, Berkeley Barb" -- it was like going to the candy store. You couldn’t get arrested. You could call a cop up and tell him you were smoking pot and he wouldn’t care. I don’t think they cared. In Haight-Ashbury, there was a church, or elementary school, it had steps that went to a porch that was right above -- even with the 2nd story, and there were a bunch of guys passing a joint around up there, and a cop car stopped on the street and said, "hey, get down" and drove off. I loved it that anything went. I had been a weirdo in Fayetteville. Out there, I couldn’t get noticed as a weirdo. I didn’t even get started being the slightest bit strange in San Francisco. There were beautiful people everywhere you looked. And a lot of really smart people were hippies then, and there were the runaways, and people on the lam from the law -- tie-dyed, Rastafarian -- rainbow people -- intelligent faces -- I had a kind of philosophical point of view that being stoned was a higher state of mind -- higher than being a Republican -- and I still think that.
I got back here and found a place to live on Markham Hill. I wanted to live in the country. ‘I shall go no more among men’ -- that type thing. I hated society. Most of the people I knew in San Francisco thought the world was insane and they were all moving to the country. Very quickly I discovered that there was a huge difference between city hippies and country hippies. The ones in the country were almost always on an whole other level - actively living in a positive way, whereas the ones in town were fringe dwellers, very cynical and big dopers. I fell in with a bunch of people who wanted to go the country. Practically everybody I knew wanted to go to the country, and we were looking for land. Then I heard about these people -- K-- and some others -- and I got in with them and we looked at places.
Eventually we found this place down near Brentwood, 137 acres and a ranch style house. We polled the room to find out how much money we had and we didn’t have anywhere near the down payment, and we didn’t think we were going to be able to get it, but they liked K-- so much that they split the place up into 120 acres in one part, and then their house on the remaining 17. We bought just the land. We needed $3000 for that, and still with a whole room full of hippies, we could not come up with more than $1000. But I had a friend who had won a bunch of money on the "Who, What, and Where" game on tv, and I called him, and he put in $2000, so we could get that land. We formed a trust and the trust bought the land.
There were about 30 people living out there when we first got it. It’s a beautiful piece of land. The timber hasn’t been cut since the 40s, so there are mature trees. One creek, two big draws. There was never a good well there, so water was always a problem. Most everybody else we knew wanted to start a commune, where everybody had the same ideas and would work together, share things, slept together. The only part of that that we did was sleeping together, which caused a huge amount of trouble. Everybody there got divorced.
Everything done was voluntary. It worked out really well. In fact, all the communes split, and even tho some of us ended up enemies, we’ve still got that land. Everybody could do what they wanted to do, as long as it didn’t interfere with somebody else. That was about the only rule. Besides coming up with the money each month for the payments, which was really only about $10 or $15 apiece. It didn’t take much.
A big bunch of people came from Texas -- a bunch from California, a bunch from Bentonville, a few from other places. A lot of the people who helped pay for the place never lived there. Some came, started to build, then went back to town. The people who were the happiest came out there and lived in tipis and Volkswagen buses and stuff. The people who were the most miserable built very ambitious, really good houses -- inspiring. I really don’t know why they were miserable. K-- was the best carpenter, and he built a beautiful place, but he and his wife fought all the time and eventually got this incredibly acrimonious divorce, and kept on fighting after the divorce for another ten years. Maybe it didn’t have anything to do with the land. The ones with the least expectations had more fun -- they didn’t have steady jobs, didn’t need any money to live the way they were living. It was a gypsy lifestyle -- they’d go until they were absolutely hungry, and then figure out how to get food stamps or a few more bucks, then forget all about making money again for awhile.
There were a few gardens, but the land is really rough -- not many places to grow stuff. And people had jobs. One of the guys from Texas started a band that ended up being pretty famous. At first, he was playing at a place in Fayetteville called the Swinging Door -- well, we all started going to that bar, and I’d never gone to bars in my life. Suddenly, we’d all jump in cars and go to the bar. That was a big part of the last few years at the land -- the people were down on Dickson Street, drinking, partying a lot. And we weren’t the worst -- some people we knew on land over on Mt. Gaylor -- they would get a keg and camp out by the keg until it was dry -- real drinking people.
Eventually, I went back to town. I was the last one to live there. I went back and lived there for about 10 years after nobody else lived there. In fact, I lived there until just a few years ago. My dog lived there for a year after that, and I’d go out every day to feed my dog. She’d never seen a street -- couldn’t make it in town. A free dog from birth til death -- a lonely, hermit dog at the last. I’d like to go back.
We would feel guilty about cutting a tree, if it was a good tree, and we tried not to mess up the land. Still, we did. Nobody worked on any causes. At first, there was a thing -- it was so free to live out in the country, it was like living on another planet. To live where nobody else could go -- you can’t get through the place. People would hear about us, and for awhile, 25 or 30 people would come out there and walk all over the place, and we felt like were in a zoo. All kinds of people -- they wanted to see the weirdos who were living out on the land in geodesic domes and such. And everybody thought we were a commune.
I still believe in the good life. I think everybody did, but they each had different images of it. I’ve spent a lot of years trying to find the good life. Trying to live very simply, without a bunch of dread. I’ve whittled my beliefs down to nothing over the years. Now I don’t believe in the good life at all.
I’ve been getting rid of ideas. I’ve had a lot of things I thought were conclusions, but they never were. I’ve tried to seek pleasure and avoid pain and at the same, figure out what’s going on. I don’t think those two things go together at all, but I’ve tried to make them go together. As an ideal, I think that a person needs to quit thinking about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain -- I think that causes almost all the suffering that a human is subject to. It’s a kind of a Buddhist view. But I don’t think it’s really possible to avoid it. Doing absolutely nothing tends to -- your understanding of that tends to get deeper and deeper -- anything you say about it would be obsolete in a few days, because it’s not taking some action. People always start out seeing it as taking some action, but you can’t maintain that, because it’s just stillness with the tension. That leads to disillusion of the things you think are true -- the conditioned mind. Everybody has a conditioned mind.. You learn how to think. To become aware of that is essential because not to become aware that your mind is conditioned, that you’ve learned to think a certain way, have a certain point of view, not to know that -- ‘sleep of reason brings forth monsters’ -- if there’s somebody that you can’t put up with who drives you crazy, do they ever have any self knowledge? Do they ever know that they’re doing that? No.
I think that acid showed a lot of people that the way they thought was just one way to think. Before, they had seen it as reality itself. After that, they see it just ‘a’ way of seeing things among a myriad others. In that sense, I think LSD was pretty good. Marijuana too. Those two drugs are unique in that almost everybody who has ever taken them considers it to be a beneficial experience. Whereas people who take heroin or cocaine tends to not think that. The government war on marijuana is evil -- I hate them. I’ve never made peace with the fact that there are these people who are just ambition in the form of humans who have so much to do with our lives. I hate the United States of America. Probably some of it is ignorance, because I’ve never lived anywhere else. Maybe if I lived in Mexico for awhile, I might just love it to death. But my feeling is I’d like to live in Scandinavia. I think it would be nice to live around people who are not happy clappy shit kicker religious nuts and have to have their egos and belief systems coddled along and nursed through every situation or they’ll kill you. It would be a big relief, it seems to me, to get away from that. The way I’ve always tried to do that is to live in the country, but right now I’m living in town. So now I try to be anonymous, which is a tactic. This day and age you can get away with that. I’ve lived in the same place for a couple of years, and I only know the name of one neighbor.
I build decks for a living, and work at the store where my companion works. I do work that I’m too old to do. I had a little heart attack in December, which turned out to be real nice, because they went inside my heart and now I know I don’t have big cholesterol deposits.
I don’t have an ideal of making the world a better place. I’m not sure it can be a better place. People who are doing that -- I sincerely wish them well. I figure people do the things that look right for them to do. It’s never seemed like something for me to do. Ever since I left school and gave up the idea of being a lawyer, I’ve wanted to know what’s going on. I’ve thought about it extensively. What’s going on here? -- that’s the name of my book. It’s a real interior thing. I doubt if it would be good for anybody else. I really hasn’t even been good for me. I’ve had tons of depression in my life, but it’s the thing that means the most to me. I would like to know what’s going on -- on a metaphysical level. All levels are metaphysical. I would like to feel alright about dying, I’d like to -- words -- I heard that Japanese is a very good language to talk about things that are not essentially dual. The things that have interested me for 20 years I’ve known are almost impossible to talk about. The Japanese language is nowhere near as egocentric -- they don’t have articles -- completely different consciousness behind the language. I always said I’d do the next thing that’s in front of me, whatever that is, but I don’t have any kind of feeling that I’m doing something. People say -- what do you do? And I never have an answer for that. You mean, what do I do for money? I mean, I do such and such for money, but I don’t ever think about it, once I leave it. I don’t identify with it. I’ve tried for over thirty years to find detachment.