Neo-American Church

Chapter 21


It was a pleasant, friendly, sociable herd; pious, happy, merry, and full of unconscious coarseness and innocent indecencies.

Bill Haines was nominally in charge of the whole works but the house, I swiftly discovered, was split between Ashramites and Leaguers. There had been some crossovers, largely the result of love being blind, or something. Although the house was not as jammed as it had been during my last visit, when there had usually been some visitors sleeping on the floors in the dining and music rooms, almost every space that might be called private was now taken, including the wine cellar, where Otto slept, and the attic, where Jean-Pierre and one or two others had made cubicles for themselves.

I will list all inmates, and try to describe them in terms of place and role and outstanding characteristics, although, as we shall see, nothing remained stable for long.

Bill Haines had taken a small but beautiful, parquet-floored, bay-windowed room center front, second floor, opening on the landing and also, by way of a sliding door, onto a large room with a fireplace that served as the Ashram’s common and meeting room. Bill’s captain’s cabin contained all his Oriental bric-a-brac and had two framed photographs on the wall over his desk, one of Tim Leary and the other of W.C. Fields looking crafty over a hand of cards. Haines refused to discuss his pre-yoga past, but hints would drop here and there. As near as I can figure, it went something like this:

Well-to-do parents in New York. Strict upbringing. Joined the Army at seventeen at the end of WWII, about a year before I did, just in time to be present as the concentration camps in Germany were discovered. Stationed at Berchtesgaden, of all places. Struck an officer, and spent two years in stockades. Theological school? The Sado-Judeo-Paulinian (Dutch Reformed) ministry? Nine years in India (that’s definite). Back to the United States as some kind of show business impresario. Every now and then, the Ashram showed a film in which Bill introduced Bali’s performance at a U.N. gala. The Ananda Ashram at Monroe, New York. Bombed.

Haines, it must be said, never advanced himself as a model personality for others to imitate or anything like that, nor even pretended to play with a full deck at all times. Once, in Arizona, exasperated by some characteristic act of folly, I said, “You know, Bill, sometimes I think you really do have a screw loose somewhere.”

“Never said I didn’t,” he cheerfully replied.

He didn’t double bind himself over his own failings, which gave his abrasive traits and occasional outbursts of blatant irrationality an open and frivolous air that seemed to me, most of the time, reason enough to excuse them in favor of the appreciation, which was general, of his wisdom, humor, candor and vitality.

Sarasvati. Already described. She and her little daughter, the offspring of a union with a Chinese cook who visited occasionally bringing presents, had a small room in the back of the house. Sarasvati spent as much time as she could manage in Bill’s presence. If banished, she hung out with Susan Shoenfeld and Bhavani. She was banished regularly. One morning, noting that Bill seemed to be in a particularly black humor, I asked him what was wrong. Sarasvati was slumped in a corner, head down. It was impossible, as usual, to tell if she was giggling or crying or both. Bill pointed an accusing finger at her. “She smiled at me!” he growled. That serious error got her three days in outer darkness.

Tambimutto. Tambi had the room next to Bill’s on the side opposite the common room. Through the wall, Bill could hear Tambi chanting and retching during his bouts with the bottle. “I am not a pot-head. I am an alcoholic!” Tambi had announced with imperious Anglo-Indian dignity when the officials of the Monroe Ashram descended on the place with their armed thugs. True. Tambi, at this point, was edging away from Bill and identifying with Tim, who had flattered him outrageously because of his supposed excellent connections in the literary world. Tambi was graying and toothless and looked at least slightly angry and/or malicious at all times, even when he was unconscious.

Later that winter, Tambi’s hostility towards Bill became deep and “metaphysical.” During one long period when Sarasvati was banished, Bill maintained he could hear the two of them through the wall plotting his destruction, with Tambi egging Sarasvati on to take “decisive action” against the “evil one.” When, at last, she did, her assault was dramatic but ineffectual: She put her fist through a stained-glass window between Bill’s room and the landing.

As was usual at Millbrook, the whole drama thereupon mysteriously vanished into thin air, and Sarasvati was once again permitted to clean up Bill’s room and to be present during discussions so long as she kept her mouth shut. Tambi stayed with Tim when the Ashram moved out of the Big House but did not remain in Tim’s orbit after the general collapse.

Howie Druck and Betsy Ross. Betsy was a crossover from the League. They had a room in back, on the second floor, on a corridor off the landing. Because of Thorin, Betsy’s son by a former alliance, whom Bill loved dearly, and because Betsy’s family was well-off and, I hope, because Betsy was an OK person, Haines was not at all displeased to see one of his most devoted followers given this subsidiary domestication. Betsy had successfully run a jewelry shop in Greenwich Village before coming to Millbrook to join her goat-loving brother, and Haines hoped that the Ashram, once it had some capital, could at least partially support itself with a similar operation, but this scheme never came to anything.

Howie was at that time in charge of the Ashram’s finances. As is traditional for those who play this role in spiritual communities, he was regarded with suspicion and envy by the rest of the boys, including his brother. He did little useful work but always seemed to have money and was rarely subjected to the kind of verbal abuse meted out daily by Haines to the rest of his followers. Perhaps Howie reminded Haines of the sick and starving prisoners he had helped to liberate in Germany. No matter what his actual condition, Howie seemed to project emotional vulnerability and a need for support. These traits, combined with Howie being a likable guy, deterred me from making a play for Betsy, who flirted with me whenever an opportunity arose and turned me on in a big way.

Jean-Pierre. A wispy, cheerful man who dressed in a vaguely Levantine manner, with absurdist touches all his own. One evening Wendy and I met him at the railroad station in the Place of Overflowing Shitholes and he stepped down from the crowded commuter train wearing a fancy lamp shade on his head. Jean-Pierre was in the background category, at least as far as I was concerned. It was said that he had a famous father, of whom I had never heard, a French Dadaist poet or something of the sort, from Tambi’s old circle. Looking back, I’m fairly sure Jean-Pierre, who left at the time of the great split, rather than choose sides, was waiting for “something to happen” of a general and spectacular nature, such as mass levitations or balls of fire from outer space.

He wasn’t the only one. I heard it all the time during the counter-revolutionary “drug-alternative” period of the ’70s, when the establishment hacks, media moguls and academic frauds of the United States discovered nadirs of blithering idiocy unplumbed in human memory, in an effort to smother what had gone before in smarm. People would say, “But nothing happened. In those days we all expected something would happen.”

Well, it all depends on how you look at it. I happened, and from my point of view, that makes mass levitations and balls of fire pale by comparison.

Marshall and Pat McNeill. Leaguers to the bitter end. Marshall was a sturdy yeoman type, big, good-natured and earnest, who always looked somewhat dazed by all the lunacy going on around him, while his wife, Pat, was the image of the cute Irish tomboy type one could almost always find in the ’50s at the corner bar on Saturday night, swapping dirty stories with the boys. They had two very young daughters and lived on the second floor, in two rooms off the main corridor, across from Tambimutto.

John and Vinnie. Ashramite couple. A pair of clean-cut American kids who never seemed to think of anything except how best to enjoy themselves. Vinnie was one of the sexiest little nitwits I have ever encountered, an opinion universally shared. When she discovered I had literary inclinations, she suggested that I collaborate with her on the story of her life. It would be “very pornographic,” she assured me. Wouldn’t John mind? Why should he? Despite my libidinal lassitude, there was something about this concept that appealed to me, but John, it turned out, did mind. He thought we should sell her as a Playboy centerfold instead, he said. John and the Druck brothers had visited Israel together, before their Ashram lives began.

Wendy Williams. Ashramite. Wendy had a room in the servants’ wing. Pretty in an unremarkable kind of way, clever but not a serious reader; the child of a wealthy but not opulent New York Jewish family. According to Bali, who was usually right about such things, Wendy was “really” interested in “only one thing,” because she wasn’t really much interested in it at all, a common syndrome among females with inherently low to moderate sex drives, which has been the foundation of many fortunes in the late twentieth century, when it first became popular dogma that this normal variation, like normal genetic variations in intelligence, could and should be “cured,” by various lotions, potions and incantations.

Lou Friedlander. Ashramite. Lou, who was about my age, seemed seriously troubled by chronic internal conflicts and philosophic questions so dark and ominous as to not bear utterance. Although he had a room to himself in the servants’ wing, and was one of Wendy’s admirers, he also spent a lot of time in the meditation closet, where he was given his meals on a tray. We hardly ever spoke. When the snow melted, Lou departed.

Michael Green. League. A commercial artist of almost arcane facility, Michael, who created the church seal and the cover for the Boo Hoo Bible, had abandoned Mad Ave at the age of twenty-three to devote himself to getting stoned, painting elaborate mandalas and such, and learning how to go barefoot at all times, even in the snow. He had a room in the servants’ wing and a tiny studio, converted from a bathroom, off the music room. A nice boy with a good sense of humor despite it all, he was Wendy’s latest at the time I arrived.

Prints of Michael’s posters were popular head shop items for years afterwards. One shows a series of Jesus Christs jetting out of a central maelstrom of forms, and another is Timothy Leary’s face composed of hundreds of tiny figures and designs. Oh well.

Ted Druck. Howie’s older brother. Ashram. An ex-teacher of Hebrew recently divorced, Ted was tall, gaunt, sad-eyed, and unimaginative but a very warm-hearted and good-natured person. Ted slept in the common room in those days.

Fred Blacker. Ashram. A dealer, petty thief, and small-time con man, Fred slept in the common room but later moved to the Bowling Alley with his girl,

Alexandra, a super-cutie who sometimes dressed like a Hollywood harem dancer, even going so far, if in a particularly decorative mood, as to leave the bra off. Years later, Alexandra told me that Fred, who seemed harmless enough in public, was often crazy and violent in private, beat her up, and so forth. I guess darling, romantic Alexandra, who could have done much better without half trying, it says here, thought she could and should reform Fred. How oft it is.

Susan Shoenfeld. Susan, a tough-minded but amused and amusing bi of about thirty, was one of Bill’s hopes for a big bundle in the future, since her family was seriously rich and Susan was scheduled to collect a full and fruity trust fund in a year or two. Servants’ wing. Originally Ashramite, her true allegiance, if any, was a mystery to me.

Bhavani. League. Nobody ever called her by her outside name and I don’t know what it was. About my age or a little older, Bhavani looked like everyone’s ideal of serene American motherhood. According to Bill, she was the only Leaguer who could discuss philosophic and religious subjects with any degree of knowledgeability or rationality. Lesbian. She occupied Tim’s room during his absence, and was in charge of the Supreme Sacrament supply. Any resident could knock on her door, and name a quantity (within reason), and Bhavani would supply it. It’s probably the best arrangement for Psychedelian communities in the U.S. One person should be responsible for what might be called “the central stash,” and be prepared to flush it or burn it fast if the community is attacked by the mind police.

Bob and Carol Ross. Bob has already been introduced. Both were decidedly, almost ferociously, League. Carol, a tall, gray-eyed blonde, swept around in diaphanous, pastel gowns, put up admonitory signs in the kitchen addressed to “Loved Ones” and otherwise generally behaved like the headmistress of a school for juvenile delinquents. Her admonitions, although always derided, were usually deserved. They occupied the tower room where guided “sessions” had been held in the early days.

Bob was the leader of the anti-Haines forces. From his perch above, he controlled the music heard from those speakers in the house which had not been disconnected, and surveyed the progress being made by his filthy goats in covering the sacred environs with a sprinkling of turds.

Susie Blue. An African-American teenager who had been a maid during the early days and was now just one of the kids. Beset by weird superstitions and paranoid fears, she had retreated to the animism of her ancestors and was said to worship various trees and rocks in the woods.

Arthur Frelinghausen. Probably more similar in outlook to Susie than anyone suspected. Arthur had been instructed by Tim to produce a newsletter for the League. Instead of news, his productions consisted mainly of mini-sermons declaring that we were all unenlightened searchers in the maze, bewitched, bothered and bewildered, and so forth. This didn’t go over very well with Tim, and Haines and I informed Arthur that he could leave us out of this generalization also. His journal didn’t last long, and neither did Arthur, who left a few weeks after I arrived.

At the Millbrook Diner, where I happened to run into him while he waited for his bus out, Arthur responded to my astonishment at his abrupt departure by telling me the one and only horrific bad-trip story I ever heard at Millbrook. He then informed me, with great emphasis, that he was “a seed-bearing young male,” Tim’s favorite euphemism for horny young guys in those days. Although this undisputed fact struck me as highly irrelevant, given the opportunities for sowing wild oats herein described, it seemed to be the crux of the matter as far as Arthur was concerned. I wished him luck and left the diner for the snowy street, none the wiser, but a little the worse for wear.

The only genuine newsletter produced at the time was a mimeographed sheet cranked out irregularly by the McCready boys called The Daily Blah. It was read avidly by everyone in the house as soon as it appeared, and frequently contained highly embarrassing quotes of comments people made when they thought they were speaking privately to their respective cliques. The kids also kept track of the game of musical beds and, as far as I know, they were never wrong.

Arthur lived in a room on the third floor with

Jill Henry, which may explain his problem with his nuts. Jill, a transfer from Vassar, so to speak, was said by all to be recovering from a love affair with her ex-roommate. Jill was a cool, delicate, intelligent, dark-haired beauty. Old-fashioned, sort of. Glossy, even. League, but not fanatical and well liked by one and all. I took her to dinner at Noel Tepper’s house once, shortly after the other Arthur left, and we fooled around a little, but we were not really each others’ types. I think we felt sorry for each other. She gave me a gold, three-eyed-toad pendant which I thereafter wore, almost at all times, during the years covered by this history.

Jill later married Nicky Sands, a nice guy and a West Coast underground chemist and co-conspirator with Billy in the Orange Sunshine acid manufacturing deal, for which, along with Tim Scully, a real prick, he took a fall while Billy walked. How much did they collect for doing Billy’s time? Who knows.

Jean McCready. League. Recently divorced, in her early thirties, with two small boys, Jean was the archetypal Learyite. Her selfless devotion was demonstrated by her doing Tim’s typing and filing although Rosemary was the broad in his bed. Bill, who treated Bob and Carol with derision, was wryly respectful to Jean. She was a lady, and her goody-goodyness had no hidden malice behind it. She seemed serenely oblivious to most of the conflicts around her, however much they occupied the attention of her fellow residents.

Jean’s most recent ex-husband, not the father of the children,

Walter Schneider, a Navy pilot, showed up every now and then during the winter to visit, and eventually took a trip, quit the Navy and joined the League in the woods, where he became a kind of super flower child. After the place broke up, Walt became one of the founders of “The Brotherhood of Eternal Love” in California and, occasionally, Billy Hitchcock’s co-pilot. He also wrote an interminable blank verse epic about our struggle with the Dutchess County Sado-Judeo-Paulinians called “Millbrook Thanksgiving,” which eventually appeared in print in a condensed version. I unreservedly recommend this work to those historians who may feel that I have not adequately conveyed in these pages the full aromatic force of the flower-power mystique.

Allan Marlow. Already introduced with a wild look in his eyes. Allan lived with his consort,

Diane Di Prima, in the Bowling Alley, along with two of Diane’s daughters by former alliances, a nine-year-old, and a little brown charmer, the child, reputedly, of some well-known spade literary figure. One time I ran across this doll in the hall early in the morning and asked her if she had had good dreams the night before. She thought about it for a moment and then replied, “They’re not on my diet.” Haines made a point of sneaking candy to Diane’s kids whenever he could. League. Allan and Diane were constant thorns in Haines’ side but had brought with them treasures which Haines coveted and later acquired: complete letterpress and photo-offset systems and all the necessary equipment to go with them. Diane had some reputation as a writer in certain circles, but her poetry struck me as being lifeless, trivial and uneasy, just like her husband.

After Allan and Diane moved out in the spring to find more congenial pasturage,

Allen Atwell and his new girlfriend,

Susan Firestone, who looked like his twin sister, took over Allan and Diane’s old quarters in the Bowling Alley, and stayed until mid-summer, spending most of their time with the League. Atwell once prostrated himself on the road to town from the Gatehouse when he saw me coming, which resulted in a modesty contest of extravagant pantomime gestures, which amused our companions and maybe passing motorists as well. We were both members of the first graduating class of the place, so to speak. I liked Allen, but I did not appreciate his “psychedelic” paintings, which mostly looked like interlaced guts to me, and I couldn’t pretend otherwise. One critic, writing in Horizon, declared Allen’s paintings to be “one of the high points of the psychedelic art movement” and employed the phrase “a hot, molten fantasia” to describe one example of the period pieces of which I speak. Well, to each his own is what I always say.

After Allen Atwell left, we half expected Alan Watts or Allen Ginsberg to show up to claim the “AL Ranch,” as it might well have been called, but then Alexandra and Fred moved in.

Far out. What did it mean? I haven’t the foggiest, except to say that massive frivolity was heavily involved all around.

Len and Teresa Howard. A couple of noncommunicative Leaguers from Las Vegas, who seemed to me to be just passing through, they were so impassive, but stayed for a long time. I guess they were just born loyalists, as some people are, both to each other and to Tim. Len, a former dealer, always seemed like a man with difficult business problems on his mind, while Teresa, a former showgirl, appeared absorbed by an intense consciousness of her body, which richly deserved the attention she paid to it. One time I patted her on the ass (she was standing on a chair, putting away dishes) while passing through the pantry and got slapped for this sincere expression of aesthetic appreciation, a rare example of hideous brutality blotting our noble, peaceful record.

Aside from Fred Blacker’s private conduct, I can think of only two other examples. Clum once hit Jackie for moving a log Clum had placed across the road to block traffic, and once I had a small scuffle with an uninvited and hostile visitor who wouldn’t leave. An astonishing record, considering. No deaths, either. No serious fires. No serious illnesses.

Otto H. Baron von Albenesius. Otto lived in a small wine cellar under the kitchen with his German shepherd, Winnie. I hesitate to attempt much of a capsule description of Otto. He will be introduced gradually as the story unfolds. Too much Otto at one time might cause the reader to wonder if I might not be exaggerating things for effect. I’m not.

Allegiance? Hmmm.

Bill Sheatsley. Sheatsley was the rugged, hardworking, sandy-haired son of the superintendent of a midwestern-Protestant private school system. He had been Haines’ roommate during the Ananda (“bliss”) period. “Sheats,” as he was known to most of us, was having difficulty adjusting to the elevation of his filthy-mouthed, drug-soaked former buddy to the status of guru. He was the only member of the Ashram who never took psychedelics, major or minor. The kids had bombed him once at Ananda, Wendy said, and he had fought it all the way.

Sheats worked about sixteen hours a day, half of them in the Place of Overflowing Shitholes’ morgue, doing his conscientious objector time, and half back at the ranch, usually building things or repairing them or maintaining them or making scale drawings of them or reading about them or figuring out how they worked or why they didn’t. Sheats seemed to have the generalized aptitude for such stuff that Teutons are thought, possibly correctly, to be born with more of than is generally handed out in the genetic crap shoot. “Karma yoga,” we would almost always say, with a smile, when his way of life was remarked on by visitors.

Sheats, like Haines, was celibate, although later, at the Arizona Ashram, after throwing up a few ingeniously designed buildings almost single-handedly, he took up with a local “hot tamale,” as Haines called her. Then he left to form an ashram of his own composed of people who shared his belief that the Devil finds work for idle hands. (There is a lot to this, I would say.) He had a room, suitably furnished with Spartan simplicity, in the servants’ wing.

Ed Kalujuak. Ed, a very large, red-headed, slope-shouldered Canadian, usually hung around with Marshall. He never said much and was perpetually mild and good-natured. I have no idea where he slept. Perhaps in a hollow log. League.

Howie Klein. Howie was the second banana of the Ashram. He was a classic funny Jewish boy from Brooklyn, with a big nose and an enormous bush of red hair. He couldn’t say “shit” without getting a laugh. Servants’ wing. Although his nose was large, he was of normal height. Chin did not recede. No overt or covert homosexual conflicts that I ever noticed. 20/20 vision.

Zen. League, but not really. Zen, a tiny, bearded man with a rural Southern style of speech, who rarely appeared on the scene, even for lunch, lived in the cavernous depths of the Bowling Alley where he reputedly absorbed 1,000 mics every three days. Well liked.

Paul Faggot. League, he said. Paul, a mournful little Jewish swish, was always attired in a dirty brown velvet robe, with hood, and possibly slept in the Bowling Alley. Whenever Haines spotted him gliding around a corner somewhere (he seemed to appear from and disappear into the woodwork like a rat) he would yell, “Would somebody please tell me who let that faggot in here?” As far as I know, this question was never answered. Later, we put Paul to work typing the Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook, which task he performed with the greatest reluctance.

Charlie Hitchings. Charlie was just an ordinary American kid and never pretended to be anything else. Ashram. Slept in the common room most of the time.

Victor. A Puerto Rican boy in his early twenties, Victor was a good carpenter and highly thought of by Haines on that account. He was also a nice, open, unpretentious person, but seemed always to be suffering from the pangs of unrequited love. He later became paranoid on trips and thought Haines was out to kill him, or something.

Bali Ram. A former boy dancer in the court of the King of Nepal, Bali was a true child of the East and, rumor had it, Bill’s ex-boyfriend. He carried around a bundle of traditional, crazy superstitions, many of which seemed to work, sort of, and was devoid of the routine Sado-Judeo-Paulinian hang-ups associated with his sexual orientation. Bali was proud of his promiscuous sexual conduct, which, Haines informed me, had caused many “close calls” of “morals” charges, since Bali did not discriminate based on age, religion, allegiance or condition of servitude, only gender, and scorned all precautions and disguises.

As almost anyone would have predicted, Bali and Sarasvati didn’t get along very well. Their spats usually began with a disagreement over what Bill had said or not said about something or other or, if an orthodox text might be said to exist, exactly what Bill had meant by it. The more trivial the issue, it seemed, the more prolonged and bitter the ensuing exchange of insults would become.

Those of us fortunate enough to be present when one of these scenes erupted would invariably be highly amused. The idioms employed were often drawn from the New York City underworld of the 1950s, on the one hand, or the Katmandu bazaar on the other, and although vividly picturesque, were even more incomprehensible and surreal to Bali and Sarasvati than they were to rest of us. “What in hell is that supposed to mean?” the two combatants would often ask of each other, to no avail. Since most people have a hard time staying angry if mirth and hilarity prevail all around them, Sarasvati would usually crack up at some point, start giggling, and throw in the towel.

Bali, with rare exceptions, remained stern and unforgiving to the bitter end, no matter what. He had not been brought up to throw in the towel, I guess. (“Throw the towel? I do not throw the towel. I wash and dry the towel. I leave it to you sluts to throw the towel. And what is that supposed to mean, anyway?”)

Bali had Maynard’s former large room at the west end of the second floor where he could practice his dancing free of distractions. Nobody who had seen him in action begrudged him the space.

Charles Ashmore. Charlie didn’t show up until April or May, but then he stayed with the Ashram for the move to Arizona, after which he disappeared into the University of Arizona fringe world in Tucson. Homo black, with the temperament of a pussycat. Nothing ever bothered Charlie, who seemed to grin and giggle from morning to night. For a while, Tim made a point of taking Charlie along on his lectures to function, as Haines put it, as his “stage nigger.” I think Tim stopped this practice because Charlie, when asked about it, showed either no interest in the race issue at all or such a lackadaisical interest that it offended the black militants in the audience who had been anointed by the establishment media by this time as their kind of folks, as it were. And I’m sure they were, for the same reasons Tim was.

Rudy and Jackie. This (heterosexual) couple were subjects of the Queen of England, on loan, so to speak. Former devotees of Tim, they had become disillusioned for reasons which remained obscure no matter how much they talked about it, which was a lot. They had come in to put on “light shows” for Tim’s “Psychedelic Celebrations” in New York. Young, uptight and in limbo so far as group identification went, they lived in a room next to Howie and Betsy.

Karen Detweiler had disappeared during my absence, but later returned. Along with a few other people who were absent too often to be called “residents,” exactly, but too familiar to be called “visitors,” exactly, Karen tended to “sleep around” and to resist group identification. Since my libido had dimmed down to pilot-light status, I hardly noticed her absence, and Karen, demonstrating some common sense for a change when she did show up, had clearly concluded that I wasn’t her type anyway.

During my first two or three weeks with the Ashram at Millbrook, I was content to do housework and hang around the common room, where I slept on a couch, swapping stories with the boys. My imagination was firmly set on idle, to match the pilot lights in my balls.

My fellow inmates seemed to be behind the justly famous psychological “glass wall,” but they were so engaging a breakthrough was inevitable.

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