Neo-American Church

Chapter 24


These people had seen me do the very showiest bit of magic in history, and the only one within their memory that had a positive value, and yet here they were, ready to take up with an adventurer who could offer no evidence of his powers but his mere unproven word.

The Neo-American Church, by this time, had at least a thousand active members. Most of the residents of the Big House, both League and Ashram, had signed up although we had nothing to offer in those days except sporadic bulletins and a membership card and I rarely asked anyone to join. But the image was right. They volunteered, in the most strict sense of the term, and almost always first heard of the Church by word of mouth.

No doubt the absence of a philosophic doctrine and an exclusionary rule had a lot to do with it. All one accomplished by signing the application form in those days was to go on record as believing that the psychedelic experience was religious. What was meant by “religious” was pretty much left up in the air. Even so, I think the fact that so many and such various people (Allen Ginsberg and William Mellon Hitchcock?) joined so early showed that the general, frivolous spirit of the thing was politically correct. I wasn’t the only Psychedelian around who thought it important to insist that one could be religious without conforming, in any way, to what the vast majority of our fellow citizens thought was meant by the term. So, we had a “fellowship,” even if it was a loose one. I had invented an institutional form that seemed right for the times. “Good for you, Kleps,” I thought to myself whenever a new proof of this came in. “Maybe you’re not so crazy after all.” But I knew that being right for the times is not what religion is about, and this awareness blunted my satisfaction considerably.

Strange things were happening on the West Coast, however. After Otto and I finished the goat-pen project, I found I had enough psychological elbow room to think about the future of the Church again. At Cranberry Lake, I had decided that since I couldn’t afford a phone, much less tours of inspection, it would probably be a good idea to appoint a “Patriarch of the West,” who would look after things west of the Mississippi and issue membership cards and ordain boo hoos on his own, although I would continue to keep the central records and send out the literature.

While our first Patriarch of the West was functioning everything went well, but Jim Boudreau resigned after a bust largely brought on by an invasion of his farm in Oregon by egalitarian-primitivist hordes of the same parasitic variety we resisted, somewhat longer, at Millbrook. I then appointed a dentist named William Shyne to the position, and all communication promptly ceased. Shyne simply took my stuff, edited out whatever displeased him, replaced my name and address with his own, and kept all the records, initiation fees ($5 at the time) and donations to himself. Thousands of kids on the West Coast joined under those circumstances, and got a distorted picture of the Church, to put it mildly.

Later, Mike Duncan told me that he had met Shyne and that he was a raving, paranoid, speed freak who traveled with a submachine gun under the front seat of his car and by no means limited his dealing activities to the psychedelic sacraments. But I didn’t suspect any of this at the time, having grown up with an image of dentists incongruous with such conduct. I wrote Shyne two or three letters requesting records, but got no answers.

“What should I do about this son of a bitch?” I asked Haines, after telling him the whole story.

“We have a mimeograph machine here, Kleps. Write a Divine Toad Sweat and excommunicate the bastard.”

“I’m flat broke, Bill,” I said. This was true, and one of the reasons it was true was that I hadn’t put out a Divine Toad Sweat bulletin, DTS for short, which always drew new members, in a long time.

“I pay for it,” said Bali Ram, who had been listening to the conversation.

Well, good for Bali once again. Had he stolen a ruby out of an idol’s forehead before he left Nepal? I thanked Bali, resolved to write the DTS after my trip, and immediately went downstairs and signed up for meditation duty.

Ross blustered but offered no real resistance to our penning of his goats. It was too popular a move. With a shed to sleep under, they looked contented and comfortable, although ruthlessness and treachery still lurked in the depths of their marble eyes. Someone cleaned up the porch, and a heavy snow fell which covered up the evidence of their former dominion. We took the sheep to the vet, who found a home for it, he said.

Just before my trip was due, Ross invited me up to the tower. The great goat controversy was apparently to be forgotten. He and Carol were now concerned for the salvation of my soul, or something.

“Listen, Art,” Bob said, “Carol and I would be happy to take a trip with you. I have had a lot of experience as a guide.”

Bob went on to describe his career. Never lost a patient, etc. They both seemed to take for granted, and to take for granted that I took for granted, the idea that tripping, like surgery or cosmetology, was an activity divorced from ordinary human relationships. It was all a matter of expertise, which derived in some bean-counting way from how many trips you took and how many you “guided.” This view has some value for desperate novices who don’t have anything better to go by, but I was no novice, and the whole idea of “guidance” was fading away at Millbrook among experienced users by the time I returned. I could have taken umbrage, but I was feeling tolerant, as most people do both before and after they trip, so I was polite and said I would think it over.

My reward was a load of Brooks Brothers duds Bob no longer wore because he had decided they were out of style. Since we happened to wear clothes of almost exactly the same hard-to-find and expensive sizes, and I sure as hell needed replacements for almost everything and had no more concern for what was in or out of style than for who was the president of Ecuador, I was sincerely grateful for this act of charity, although I got a lot of kidding from the boys in the Ashram about it.

Before I went down to the Meditation House in the evening, I told Bill and Marshall McNeill that I would be delighted to have them join me in the morning. I told Otto that I would prefer it if we tripped together some other time. Otto looked wounded, and I felt like a heartless monster. Better heartless than headless, I thought to myself.

The Meditation House had two books in it: an I Ching and a large, bound, blank book, in which previous meditators had written their hexagrams and whatever comments they thought appropriate to the occasion. Contrary to what one might expect, this journal made boring reading, since almost every comment was of the “we are all one” variety, which has always seemed to me to be a generalization in the “war is hell” category.

“We?” It’s not easy to say anything about anything without using this term, and philosophers of all classes constantly employ it without ever trying to define it. All human beings? As of when? What about the brain-dead? There is no stable referent. It’s a vague particular, not a universal. And the same thing goes for “everyone” and “everybody.”

As for “one,” well, one what?

But the Meditation House wasn’t a lecture room. As a slogan or as impressionistic Fazzm, “we are all one” is OK. It conveys the spirit of the thing and, like sex, encourages camaraderie. Let’s not be too picky, at least not while under the mystic symbol of the crossed rackets.

The next morning, Haines and Marshall showed up and we had a degenerates’ breakfast, washing the pills past our receding jaws with some white wine which Haines had thoughtfully provided. A few minutes later, Otto appeared and cheerfully sat down, having already dropped his acid, which seemed like the most inevitable thing in the world, as did everything else that happened. Several eons seemed to pass while I made my way down to the ruined gardens, took a piss, and returned to the Meditation House. Fifteen or twenty combatively nosed, hedonistic and androgynous shrimps, all sporting marked gratification complexes, jammed the little room, along with trays of food, bottles of wine, pipes loaded with hashish, more firewood, dogs and cats. I kicked out the dogs and all but one cat. A spirit of hilarity prevailed among all of us cross-eyed and undernourished faggot midgets, covert and overt alike. I had brought the Ashram and the League together and made them One, as it were. One party of asthenic degenerates with heavy spectacles squashed down over our cavernous nostrils.

The local, cross-eyed gratification freaks came and went all day but Otto just stayed right there telling me all about his adventures at Numerich Arms’ submachine gun factory across the river, where he had worked as a mechanical genius for two years, and then further back into the dim past of Otto’s life, but no, not dim, no, vivid. It was amazing. I could see the world the way Otto saw it and yet remain capable of ratiocination!

Even so, I could not help exclaiming with astonishment over certain inherently incredible elements. There was a distinct tendency to overdevelop certain themes, but what the hell, whatever the McPozzm correctness of it all, I was talking to an archetype with a long and distinguished career behind it for screwing up the world. It would be interesting to see the effect that getting stoned was having on this archetype, or what was left of it.

As Otto told it, he had grown up as an only child on the Jersey shore in a Gothic mansion presided over by his father, a Nazi spy, and his alcoholic mother. His father, the spy, Otto thought, signaled to German submarines during WWII. Otto was descended from the Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire in a general kind of way and from Otto the Great in particular. His father was presently engaged in robbing him of a sizable trust fund, all that remained of a fortune founded in the days of the Hohenstaufen emperors, so it was necessary for Otto to get into the “love bead racket” as soon as possible or he would be “out picking shit with the crows on Route 44.”

The above is merely an outline. The story went on and on.

It was the idioms that got to you, after a while, what cracked people up about Otto when he was in top form. His jovial and homely figures of speech belied the paranoid character of his constructions of events, almost all of which, I assumed, were misconstructions.

As an archetype, and if Otto wasn’t one, what was?, it seemed to me that Otto supported the thesis that the militaristic spirit didn’t have much of a future in a stoned world. It would be difficult to dragoon obedient slave armies of efficient, disciplined mass murderers from a Psychedelian population. If one could get them into the field at all, they would all be goof-offs and fuck-ups, no matter how closely they fit, as Otto might have, the ideal profile for an officer’s candidate on a multiple choice test. A personal interview would have been a different matter.

Perhaps, had I not had this trip with Otto, I would have devoted less time and trouble to the Psychedelian cause in years to come, and more to agitation against the holocaust in Vietnam. This would have been a waste, because the conventional forms of agitation are all ephemera compared to changing the drug preferences of an entire generation in a direction incompatible with military discipline.

Otto, in his own strange way, was as important to my education at that time as were Tim and Billy and Bill in their strange ways.

What might be call the “social inventiveness” of LSD can be as important and as odd as the visionary effects.

Beyond a certain point, there is no use complaining about the kind of company you get on a trip or about anything else, for that matter. If the time has come for certain changes and revelations, you will get them, one way or another, no matter what.

Making oneself hard to find may even result in an increase in what might be called “the entity count” of visionary experience. If one won’t accept regular folks with social security numbers and pugnacious noses, etc., one will get the demons and angels and neon parrots from Mars.

If one denies the externality of relations, thinking along these extremely Snazzm lines is not irrational superstition, although most people who notice such changes are not enlightened, and only interpret the observation as support for their favored form of occultist paranoia.

Neither the concept of randomness nor the concept of physical causality explains why, in a dream, one apple falls and another does not. There is no actual “force of gravity” in a dream, merely the appearance of it, no actual mechanical necessity of any kind, no statistical probability, no chance. The empirical, McPozzm fact that the house has a 1.2 percent advantage over the shooter in craps has nothing to do with the meaning of a big dream loss, or a big dream win, in such a dream game in a dream Las Vegas.

To understand things in Snazzm terms, one must search for repressed wishes and fears and other associations which have nothing at all to do with the laws of probability. The laws of chance are “in” the dream as a kind of prop, like the dice, the people and the city. The author of the dream is the dreamer. But it’s hell to be alone. One must be nothing or several. Thus, multiplicity. Thus, groups. Thus, variations. Thus, statistics. Thus, probability. Thus, bad news for all of the people some of the time, and for some of the people all of the time.

One of Otto’s favorite occupations at Millbrook was searching for “the Kaiser’s gold.” There was a story at Millbrook that the last Kaiser had visited the original owner, Charles F. Dieterich, and hidden a treasure somewhere on the property. Otto drilled exploratory holes in the labyrinthian cellar floors looking for it, and also discussed the subject with the shade of Dieterich, whose presence he felt most strongly when he wandered about the house and grounds in the dead of night, stoned on acid, grass, ether, or “I.P.” (India Pale Ale), which Otto claimed was the strongest of all. In a way, I guess it was, since he usually drank the stuff after sampling everything else on hand.

Despite all of Otto’s prowlings, however, he never found the rumored secret tunnel between the Big House and the Bowling Alley. It made sense to think that a man who had spent so much money on other oddities would have built one, and the cats supported the theory, several cat watchers attested, by somehow getting from one building to the other without leaving tracks in the snow.

When I typed up my new DTS, subtitled “Dilated House Organ of the Church,” I announced Otto’s appointment as director general of SPIN. I also condemned the “prominent display of goats” around any property as being “a sure sign that the inhabitants are diseased, depraved and given over entirely to all kinds of hideous lusts and perversions.” The response to the new bulletin was gratifying. The difference between $5 or $10 a day and nothing a day is a highly meaningful difference. It liberates the imagination, particularly if you are a heavy smoker. I could, just barely, envision a happy future without Morning Glory Lodge or my former family.

Such are the mysterious ways of the experience which all established powers unite in condemning as “too dangerous.” They’re right. It is extraordinarily dangerous to the interests of all of them, because it loosens bonds of which they are the holders. Exactly where you move, once you are free to move, is up to you, but you really are free to move. It isn’t merely a transfer to a different place of confinement, as is true of most things that claim this.

In Otto’s case, I envision a long, black, heavy chain winding up through the centuries from the dark beginnings of organized barbarism, with the terminal link here in the present corroded into a mere strand of bent coat hanger by LSD. Nothing else could have done it, not even I.P.

His Zeitgeist, if not his entire Weltanschauung, survived only as a charming farce in a wine cellar at Millbrook, reduced to a few empty symbols without the power to injure or to degrade anyone. A collection of old history books, some old medals and rusted weapons, and the last man in the chain, here in a new and Psychedelian world, wearing love beads and talking about flower power.

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