Neo-American Church

Chapter 27


If you have ever seen an active, heedless, enterprising child going diligently out of one mischief and into another all day long, and an anxious mother at its heels all the while, and just saving it by a hair from drowning itself or breaking its neck with each new experiment, you’ve seen the king and me.

Haines had a large repertoire of Tim stories, almost all of which were guaranteed to crack up his audience, drawn from the period when I had been consorting with criminals of the old school in Alabama and Florida. Those months had evidently been a silly season for Tim, who for one period of three or four days, had made a practice of lying around the house on the floor, arms outstretched, as if he were being crucified. One morning the mood struck him at the foot of the stairs in the entrance hall, and down he went, although a couple carloads of visitors were due to arrive at any moment.

“I just ignored him,” Haines said. “When I showed the visitors around the house, I just stepped over the body and said, ‘and this is Dr. Leary,’ and they all nodded solemnly and sort of tiptoed over him one by one and followed me up the stairs. Nobody ever asked me for an explanation. Maybe I should have asked one of them to explain it to me.”

After the crucifixion mania passed, Haines and all his followers had been invited to attend a kind of ecumenical LSD session with the League in Tim’s room on the third floor. Everyone sat in a circle, with Tim at one end and Bill at the other, and this time the implication was that Bill and/or the Ashram in general desperately required some kind of spiritual tranquilization. Tim kept droning “find your calm center, find your calm center” every few seconds and Carol Ross, who was seated next to him, chanted when he didn’t.

“I can still hear it,” Haines said. “It was unbelievable.”

He widened his eyes, made his mouth into an “o,” fluttered his hands and assumed a falsetto voice:

“Skies of blooooooo, skies of bloooooooo. She just kept saying that, over and over. If it wasn’t ‘find your calm center’ it was ‘skies of blooooooo, skies of bloooooo.’ I mean, I don’t think I freak out easily, Art, but five minutes more of that and I might have gone out of the window.”

“How long did it last?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I took it for about fifteen minutes and then I just stood up, excused myself, and walked out the door.”

All the other Ashramites, also having failed to find any calm centers under those circumstances, had followed Bill out. Tim left Millbrook shortly thereafter for California, but not before he said, to League and Ashram alike, that Bill would be in charge during his absence. Bill was surprised, but not, like the Leaguers, astounded or confused.

“The old rope trick,” Bill said, and now I’m sure he was quite right. At the time, I thought he was being overly cynical.

Wendy, who had managed the difficult feat of keeping both feet in both camps, told me a story that illustrated the spirit of things in the League as she had known it:

During an early meeting after the Ashram had moved into the Big House, Tim had proposed to move the entire League to Europe, where they would proceed to march across the continent on a “journey to the East,” gathering adherents as they went. For seasonal reasons, it would be necessary to get this show on the road in a matter of ten days or something like that.

Everyone had thought this was a groovy idea, sort of, but Allan Marlowe raised a crucial objection which sank the whole project then and there:

“But Tim,” he said, “my robes won’t be ready by then.”

Most of the talk in the common room was about money. The idea of conserving what we had on hand never seemed to enter Haines’ mind, although it is possible to live on a modest income once you have a roof over your head, if you are prepared to give up all luxuries, smoke Bugler, and adopt a Hitlerian diet. The Ashram had been 100 percent vegetarian at Ananda, and I had found the meals to be surprisingly edible. For some reason, this practice had been dropped and, except for brief interludes, we had as many meatballs on our spaghetti as anyone else.

There was also lots of ice cream and candy for the children. When money was particularly low, Haines would make a point of blowing the Ashram’s last $20 on a big bash for the kids, and some cash would always turn up from some surprising source shortly thereafter.

Nevertheless, Bill usually had everyone convinced we wouldn’t last another week. Although the food problem was largely self-imposed, the fuel bills were not. Heating a fifty-room house during a winter in New York requires big bucks, as Tim had pointed out to me when he urged me to go to Alabama. Every visitor with any loose cash in his pocket had to be tapped, and we often had to rely on the fireplaces, which, however cozy in their radiant proximity, barely gave off enough convective heat to keep the pipes from freezing.

There were several projects under consideration. For one thing, a guy named Al Bonk had been visiting from Woodstock with samples of his pottery. It was charming and fanciful stuff, which he said he sold to local stores with no trouble at all.

I have met several potters since. Every one of them, talented or not, managed to make a modest living by it. The ideal legal craft for potheads of moderate intelligence may be making pots. Once you get your hands in that gunk, they say, you never get them out. This simple craft might have propped up the place, but Haines was no more of a businessman than I was. As almost all of those who do it will affirm, business administration is a full time job which requires special skills and hard work.

There were also jewelry-making, printing and, presuming this and that, the Neo-American Church, as possible sources of income. The only occupants of the Bungalow at the time were Jack and Mary Petrie, the butler and cook. Billy, Aurora, Tommy, Suzanne and Peggy were all working on their tans or enjoying the seasonal attractions available in Europe or New York City.

I wrote and Haines approved the following proposal to present to the millionaires when they reappeared on the scene (Bill, by the way, later changed the spelling of his fake name from “Samkara” to “Sankara”).


Nature of the Relationship
At present Mr. Kleps is living at the Ashram, where Sri Samkara is the Guru, and has no plans for establishing an independent community, since the Neo-American Church is primarily concerned with householders and with the economic and political defense of the psychedelic religious movement rather than Yoga life per se of the Ashram. This does not, by any means, exclude the possibility of the Neo-American Church acquiring a permanent headquarters on the estate or elsewhere (see section on Cranberry Lake below), but the matter is not at all essential to the continued efficient operation of the Church.

Sri Samkara and Mr. Kleps find themselves in very happy agreement on most of the great issues which exist within the psychedelic movement; they seem to share the same tastes and prejudices and to favor highly complementary styles of expression and teacher-student game playing. On all levels, the combination seems most happy and fortuitous.

Both Sri Samkara and Mr. Kleps regard Timothy Leary with the greatest respect and admiration, and consider him to be a teacher in the great tradition. Both men, however, have grave reservations about the League for Spiritual Discovery and the capacity of the Leary household to function as an efficient organization headquarters. Both men are willing to be members of the League; that is, to assent to the principles for which it stands, but neither is willing to center his creative or managerial energy within the organizational framework of the League.

The opinion of both is that Timothy Leary’s great energies and unique talents are wasted in managerial and organizational activities. It may be that no teacher of his stature can be efficient in ordinary practical terms since everything is seen in terms of its instructive possibilities and discriminations between individuals simply cannot be made by ordinary standards.

Whatever the case may be, however, it has clearly become necessary for the Ashram to occupy separate quarters, and this move, to the complex of buildings behind the Main House occupied by the Leary household, is already underway.

On the level of practicality and self-support, Sri Samkara and Mr. Kleps envision the Ashram directly managing and operating the press facilities which have been acquired through the generosity of Mr. Hitchcock and Dr. Leary, with the Neo-American Church and the Sri Ram Ashram using these facilities to publish books, pamphlets, catalogs, and so on; the income from which will be used for the support of the entire community.

The Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook, including a catalog of items which will be sold by mail order, is now in final stages for printing. Many of the items offered in the catalog will be designed, made and manufactured by members of the community on the estate. Mr. Kleps intends this book to go through constant revision and expansion. A detailed and complete catalog will probably be offered separately, in time, with only the major standard items, such as rings, decorative objects, meditation tapes, and posters and prints listed in the handbook.

The book itself will sell for three dollars, and, if properly distributed, advertised and promoted, may be expected to return a large amount of working capital to the Church within the next few months. Application blanks for membership in the Church are included, and since an initial contribution to headquarters from new members of five dollars is requested, a considerable income from this source may also be reasonably anticipated.

Other Projects

1. The Kriya Press has already brought in $375 from the publication of poetry broadsides. There is no reason why the press should not make a very decent income from ordinary contracted printing jobs, and through our publication, leaving the income from Neo-American work aside.

2. The Neo-American Church plans a two week seminar for boo hoos and the Ashram plans a two week seminar for the study of Yoga on the Millbrook estate this summer. Students will live in tents and provide their own food and for other needs. Fifty students times $100 fee equals $5,000.

3. The Sri Ram Ashram, a Yoga community, may develop an intensive program for weekend visitors, for which a not inconsiderable contribution will be expected. In any event, the entire problem of visitors will be treated in a reasonable and consistent manner.

4. Members of the Ashram will either work hard or pay their own way, or both. Idlers will not be tolerated. Yoga is a life of action.

5. Ashram craft and art shops of various kinds are being set up; jewelry, pottery, art (silk screen and photo offset) printing, weaving and textiles; with the products of these shops sold through the Neo-American catalog and possibly through a community store on the grounds.

6. Morning Glory Lodge. MGL is presently in the hands of Carl Newton, a very turned-on and tuned-in young psychiatrist friend of Kleps. This property could probably be bought back for $2,000 to $3,000 leaving $100 a month payments to be made. Birch Island, a small but scenically ideal property directly across from MGL might be purchased by the Church or Ashram for $16,000 to $18,000. The combination of MGL and Birch Island would make a “mythic” property of incomparable value for initial psychedelic experience. A cadre of three or four commonsensical people could manage the place all summer and produce enough income from visitors to, at the very least, make the mortgage payments and pay the bills.

Long Range Needs

All long range needs can be met out of income provided by the projects outlined above.

Immediate Needs

(1) Working capital for paper, binding, advertising, distribution, and so on of the Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook, $1,000.

(2) Working capital for Ashram shops: Jewelry, $300; Pottery, $200; Silk screen, $200; Weaving, $100; Sandals, $100.

(3) Equipment: (a good used Ampex costs $500 or so), and working capital for the production and sale of meditation tapes, records, and eventually films.

(4) Appliances, office furniture, typewriters, mimeograph machine, and so on for the Ashram are needed.

Our experience in centralizing the editorial work in one room of the main house has been very instructive. People like to work around other people who are working. By having the press room, the editorial room and probably most of the shops all in one building and properly integrated and furnished, production WILL take place, without coercion or even much external reward. The production and creativity problems which have existed in the Main House have not been due to a lack of talent and willing hands but to a refusal to organize things along these lines. Any donation would be helpful; please specify the department you wish to assist.

(5) The Neo-American Church is already incorporated pro forma in California as a non-profit religious organization. We can put anyone we like on the Board of Directors. Mr. Kleps would like to have the Board made up of one California resident (already on the pro forma board), Sri Samkara (he has agreed), Timothy Leary (he has agreed), Dr. Newton, Mr. Hitchcock, and any two persons nominated by Mr. Hitchcock. This will insure Mr. Hitchcock against any possible misuse of property purchased with his capital or on his credit or leased or rented from him. If Mr. Hitchcock agrees, we can proceed to make the necessary arrangements.

A Word About the Spirit of the Ashram and the Church:

It is not impractical to approach the problem of giving direction and organization to the psychedelic religious movement in a humorous and entertaining manner. We are not “selling ourselves” to the “holy mothers” of former times, but to young, vital, educated, sophisticated people. It is not gaiety and laughter which are mistrusted today, but solemnity and sanctity. The ancient forms and rituals have their place, but it is no longer a crucial place. We must develop our own forms, and, as one might have suspected, those forms which seem to have survival value are the ones least calculated to have that result, those springing from spontaneous invention or accident.

Jokes pass the acid test, as sermons never will.

Only a few of these schemes ever amounted to much, partly for lack of money and partly for lack of organization. Only Sheatsley held a regular outside job, slinging corpses at the morgue.

Later, in Arizona, where pottery did support the place for a while, Haines would force some people to take outside jobs, but they either failed to hold them or, if they held them, failed to contribute their earnings to the Ashram and either left voluntarily or were driven away. The life of wage slaves, of any income or collar color, conflicts in all kinds of ways with the tempo and tenor of community life among stoned people.

Work itself is not the problem. Not working at all is incredibly boring for most people, stoned or unstoned. Intra-mural projects, even those involving considerable drudgery, get done if the leader of the gang wants them done badly enough to spend his authority. This Haines was willing to do. Tim was not. A reputation as a stern taskmaster would have done terrible things to his chosen public image.

The voluntarily poor and the idle rich have a lot in common. Both are on a kind of endless holiday with an unwritten future. Large, blank spaces await. There is lots of freedom and self-determination, and both the rich and the voluntarily poor have a chronic what-do-I-do-next problem, although the poor, since they must devote time and trouble to finding food and shelter and transportation and entertainment, may be less threatened by boredom, and more threatened by anxiety.

There were times when I suspected that Billy Hitchcock became a little jealous of the poverty of his ragged companions. In the comfortable Millbrook setting, even our occasional desperation had a kind of romantic quality, which contrasted favorably with his own boring capacity to solve almost any routine problem with his magical checkbook. The fact was that there was more emotional distance between Billy and, say, the editor of his newspaper, than there was between Billy and Charlie Hitchings from the Ashram, who occasionally earned a couple bucks by helping Jack and Mary at the Bungalow.

Charlie was just an average kid, but he nevertheless thought of everyday life in a way unknown to his working-class ancestors. “What am I going to do today?” he would ask himself when he woke up in the morning. Billy often asked himself the same question.

Artists, craftsmen and intellectuals who manage to make a living by doing what they would probably do even if they were rich, are envied and respected, even by their patrons, much more than most of them realize.

As mentioned in our plea that a few crumbs from the Mellon billions mill be brushed our way, we had already started work on the Catechism. The IBM variable-space typewriter necessary for justified right-hand margins for photo-offset printing was set up in the music room along with a drafting table and some desks.

Shortly thereafter, we moved the two photo-offset presses from the basement of the Bowling Alley to the unused garage in the Gray Buildings on the hill behind the Big House. Sheatsley built a two-by-four and plywood darkroom for the camera in the middle of this space.

Our right to do this was questioned by those few Leaguers who were politically perspicacious enough to recognize that the Ashram’s independent control of any space with a roof over it went a long way towards splitting the community and ending Tim’s hegemony, but Tim’s loyalists were greatly outnumbered by dissenters and those who just didn’t give a shit or thought karma would take care of it.

There was a distinct possibility, however, that Tim would “take care of it.” Tim had told Bill he intended to be back by winter’s end, now that Rudy and Jackie had been disposed of.

Wendy, Michael and I spent most of the day in the music room of the Big House working on layout and typing. The view from that room was lovely when snow was falling, a hushed surround both brilliant and subdued, which, for all its detail, gave little hint of what century or country we were in.

When the Hitchcocks returned from their various watering holes a short time later, I think they appreciated the change in the general tone of things. It was lighter than it had been, but more industrious also.

The visit of our lords and ladies (let’s be realistic!) to the Big House was brief but pleasant. They seemed to like what they saw. I stayed in the background, and made no attempt to join in Bill and Billy’s first talk about the future of the place, which didn’t last long. Bill gave Billy our typewritten proposals, Billy promised to read them and “let us know,” and that, according to Bill, was that.

This was my introduction to Billy’s twin brother, Tommy, who seemed to be a darker and handsomer version of his brother; to Aurora, Billy’s wife; and to Suzanne, Tommy’s wife. Aurora was a neat little Spanish package, to be sure; and Suzanne, an ectomorphic blonde who seemed uptight, or just shy, in contrast to Aurora’s ebullience, was hardly an aesthetic disaster area either. They looked exactly the way they should have looked, as did everyone at Millbrook, now that I think of it.

With the Hitchcocks back on the board and Tim still off of it, Bill and I assured each other, anything could happen. On the other hand, we had no idea what Tim might have been saying to the Hitchcocks by phone or letter. It wasn’t at all impossible that we would find ourselves following Rudy and Jackie into outer darkness.

Our most important problem at that time, which Haines saw clearly but I didn’t, was that Tim saw our ups as his downs. According to Haines, we would either establish ourselves in the Hitchcocks’ good graces before Tim arrived, or we would be “screwed, blued and tattooed” before we knew what was happening.

“But Tim made a deal with the D.A. to stay out of Dutchess County,” I objected, when Bill voiced these dire apprehensions. “Maybe he will figure there’s safety in numbers, or something. Maybe he’ll chicken out and never show up at all.”

“Are you kidding?” Bill growled. “He’s sitting there in California sweating his balls off worrying we’ll get more out of the millionaires than he did. Why do you think he sent you down to Alabama? It’s all right to have respect for your guru, Kleps, but you haven’t learned one thing I have. Don’t carry it too far.”

The psychological atmosphere of this period, when we all lived in the Big House under the benign tyranny of Haines, and the Hitchcocks were close enough to be on friendly terms but not so intimate as to be embroiled in every detail of our daily lives, or we in theirs, was more philosophic-minded and romantic than it would be later. When Tim was present, we were always somewhat entangled with his public persona of the week and whatever media-oriented definition of the community and what it stood for he happened to favor at any given moment.

This added interest in some ways, amusement frequently, and suspense, but a lot that was good, and also fragile, was lost in the show-biz excitement of it all. If no special public attention was directed our way, it was easy to think of the place as a pleasant, contented, sometimes even drowsy, community of like-minded people. A minute later (Have you heard? Have you read? Did you see what was on TV last night?) we all seemed to be playing roles in a television documentary whether we liked it or not.

As a social critic, Tim usually didn’t say anything in public that was blatantly false or that the rest of us sharply disagreed with. On the contrary. Most of the time, we applauded every word and admired the theatrical skill he employed to get his points across. Even his most hyperbolic political pronouncements, if they proved indigestible to the folks back home, could usually be dismissed as chicanery in the service of a higher good.

When, however, in his “high priest” mode, he pronounced edict after edict of metaphysical smarm, loaded with abstract nouns and alwayses and everyones and musts, it was frequently a bit too much and sometimes much too much.

The word “we” was forever on Tim’s lips, and when his utterances passed beyond the routine hyperbolic imagery of the day and became seriously crazy (unserious craziness was OK), many of us would have greatly preferred that he speak for himself. As is usually the case with “we” abusers, Tim rarely made any effort to explain what he meant by the word, but if we, the people he lived with, were not “we,” who was?

“Another thing,” I remember Billy Hitchcock saying, as he complained about being defined in the public mind by such pronouncements, “is that I don’t get all this constant love, love, love stuff. I mean, maybe some people need to hear that all the time but I was brought up that way, weren’t you?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I had been, with certain reservations, and so had almost everyone else around. And what was more important, we (usually) acted that way. We were, with few exceptions, if any, “nice guys.” Actual malice was a great rarity on the place. But what about Tim himself? Was he a “nice guy?” One could come up with all kinds of evidence that he wasn’t (Haines didn’t think so) and that all of that “love, love, love, stuff” was in the “protesting too much” category. So why didn’t the rest of us protest enough, so to speak? Why did we allow Tim to define the situation?

Because Tim made Psychedelianism pay off and we didn’t. The basic “philosophy” he preached has always gone over very well in the American moronocracy because it’s good for business: radical pragmatism of the Dale Carnegie school of non-thought; try real hard to believe what you want to believe and it will all come true. Have confidence in confidence alone. Climb every mountain and cross every stream, and dive into a few bottomless pits while you’re at it. It’s exactly the frame of mind every con artist wants his customers to have, so, in a nation ruled by con artists, it is promoted as widely as possible.

Tim was radical only in a very limited sense. In spirit, he was more like P. T. Barnum than, say, John Jay Chapman. He compromised his stated principles again and again to promote his immediate interests. I would say he took a kind of pride in doing this and delighted in leading a “double” life. He had wider horizons than the rest of us. He had the dreams of the true salesman. Millbrook was his home office but his territory was out there and his people, the people he thought about in the middle of the night, the people he cared about, were out there also, the voters of tomorrow.

As far as the rest of us were concerned, the voters of tomorrow could go piss up a rope. We were functioning. The place wasn’t exactly wide open, but it wasn’t hidden either. Let the electorate of the future come to us, behave in a semi-civilized manner, kick in a few bucks, take their dicks out of their ears, and they might learn something of lasting value or, at the very least, enjoy a vacation from the rat race on the treadmill in the jungle out there.

Had our First Amendment rights been protected instead of trashed, this attitude would have worked just fine. We could have openly turned on every sane person who showed up. Our community in general, and all three sects in particular, would have become rich and powerful in no time at all. Instead of money problems we would have had logistical problems. But we were not allowed to promote our religious practices to those in the market for new religious practices in a natural, open and honest way. In our fortunate case, we could have provided a magnificent physical setting, a neat little menu of philosophic sets/sects to choose from, and the best LSD money could buy in return for donations from satisfied pilgrims and enthusiastic converts. This normal, healthy and correct course of development had been made impossible by the powers that were, and because it was impossible, we could barely support ourselves, even with the free rent.

The times did not call for the natural and the normal. They called for speechifying in the classic cant of mob politics; for smarm and lots of it; for exaggeration, fraudulence, hypocrisy and the deployment of any arguments and inducements, however fallacious or illusory, of any possible utility; the relentless pursuit of celebrities; mutual back-scratching orgies with virtually any influential person willing to participate; fund raising by all of the standard, sleazy means and lots of silly slogans.

Tim seemed to have been born for the job.

Bill, despite his conviction that the crushing burden of our monstrous fuel bills gave us no choice, was full of conflicted feelings about Tim’s return.

“We’re a couple of amateurs, Kleps,” Haines said to me at one point, after he had asked Tim to send money to help pay for our latest tank of oil (possibly extracted from Mellon wells). “I can’t help it. I know what happens to the neighborhood once you let the Irish in, but the simple fact is that nobody around here can do what he does. We’ve got to lower the moral tone of this place, or we will all freeze our balls off. So unless you have any more bright ideas, I’m going to have to tell him I think he should come back here, that we want him back here. If he kicks us out, I think we can get the Gray Buildings out back.”

No, I didn’t have any more “bright ideas,” if one meant by that, as Bill did, a fast way to raise a few thousand dollars. The “Irish” would have to be welcomed back, for the sake of the blarney.

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