Neo-American Church

Chapter 28


Intellectual “work” is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation, and is its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect, engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate, legislator, actor, preacher, singer is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the musician with the fiddle-bow in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him—why, certainly, he is at work, —if you wish to call it that, but lord, it’s a sarcasm just the same.

“Well, Kleps,” Haines announced with great satisfaction one morning, “we are invited to the Bungalow this afternoon for drinks and to make our pitch. I think he’s out of his mind, but Billy, particularly, seems to like your style. I think we are very fortunate to get this chance before the Mad Scientist gets back.”

I agreed. Tim’s track record was clear. There was every reason to expect that he would try to kill our projects and evict the Ashram.

It wasn’t difficult to understand. It was, after all, local energy lost to him. As I had said in the “viruses meeting,” as long as I was Tim’s guest I would try to follow his rules, or leave. On the other hand, if I, or the Ashram with me in it, had a private arrangement with the landlords, all bets were off. We could go our own way without worrying about the shifting sands of Timothy Leary’s priorities.

My first look at the Bungalow left me a little stunned. Reading stories and viewing dramas set in posh country houses can make one more familiar with poshitude than is good for one’s mental health. The American mass media mobsters have made a lot of people think there is something wrong with them because their actual living standards contrast so unfavorably with the affluent suburban or exurban image which is routinely depicted on screen as if it were a kind of norm, the automatic reward of keeping your nose to the grindstone, which it isn’t by a long shot, and never has been. Envy, identification, guilt, admiration and resentment are all mixed together in the minds of ordinary people by TV shows and movies set in posh surroundings, with mostly negative consequences for the viewers, I would say. It’s a witch’s brew at best. Posh soup. I’m sure that setting up these artificially high standards motivates some people to work like dogs in the hopes of attaining to broad lawns and three car garages, thereby serving the interests of the ruling class, but I bet it also encourages hordes of others to throw in the trowel so far as housing is concerned.

The granite-walled, copper-roofed Bungalow was oriented by way of its terrace and pool and lawns toward Millbrook, town of, to the south, over a vista of gently descending fields and woods, but one entered on the other side, from a circular drive in the trees. Passing through a marble-floored and glass-enclosed portico that stretched the length of the main building, one entered the living room, which had a bar (aha!) at its east end and a huge fireplace in the west wall.

An opening to the right of the fireplace led to the billiards room, which had an ornamental fountain set in its back wall. The dining room and a pantry were right-front, off the main room, overlooking the pool and lawns, and a split level down from the pantry were the kitchen and servants’ quarters, which occupied what amounted to a building of their own. The library was to the left front, off the main room, overlooking the tennis courts. A gently curving hall with a black and white tiled floor led from the main room. Its doors were all on its south side and opened first on the library and then on five large bedroom suites.

The French doors from the living room which opened on the terrace were guarded by two, five-foot-high, Chinese temple dogs.

Below the balustrade of the terrace was a swimming pool, and below that, off to the left, were the tennis courts, by means of which Tommy, Suzanne and Aurora kept in excellent shape, in contrast to Billy, who was a little overweight. A few turns in the pool, in season, were about the extent of his routine exertions; but he made up for it by being about ten times more mentally active than the other members of this golden ménage, as well as being generally in motion from morning to night, if not from morning to the next night, both on terra firma and up in the clouds.

Jack, the butler, let us in and showed us to the bar and the library, in that order. The Hitchcocks would join us shortly. I looked us over. A strange crew. Because he had some kind of theory at the time about the desirability of remaining in physical contact with Mother Earth, Michael was barefoot. Haines was in his full, yellow-robed splendor. I was attired in Ross’s charitable donations and the gold toad necklace Jill had given me.

“Christ,” I said, and downed my drink. I got up to get another.

“Take it easy, Art,” Haines said, “these people may have a hundred million among them, but they’re just as crazy as we are.”

“I suppose so,” I replied, “but I can’t help being impressed by so much power. I’d feel the same way if we were having drinks with South American dictators or Merlin the Magician. Just think of what they could do with this kind of dough if they wanted to.”

“I have,” said Haines. “You don’t run across young millionaires very often.”

Everything went well. I read my “How to Guide a Session” article (it’s in the Boo Hoo Bible) and everyone laughed at the right places. At one point Tommy said, “Yeah, just the opposite of what Leary says.”

Hmmm. Tommy, it seemed, was no Learyite. Hmmm. We spent a couple of hours in pleasant conversation.

“Hmmm,” I said in the car as we drove back to the Big House.

“Exactly my feelings also,” said Michael Green, who had been quiet during our visit, except when he had been asked by Suzanne to explain his bare feet. His explanation was simple: He wanted to stay in contact with Mother Earth.

“One might say,” I said, “that they are just plain down-home country folks like you or me.”

“One might say that,” said Haines, “but one would be wrong. Let’s not get carried away because we got a couple free drinks. We have one thing going for us, and that’s that we know how to handle the acid. At least I do. Whether you can or not remains to be seen and frankly I have my doubts. Remember what Fitzgerald said about the rich?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “‘The rich are not like you or me.’ Then Hemingway said, ‘That’s right, they have more money.’”

“Well, I agree with Fitzgerald,” said Haines. “They may act like children but they have hearts of stone, Kleps. Hearts of stone. But I’ve got to admit this is the best lot I’ve seen yet.”

(Fitzgerald, I learned later, had been a drinking buddy of Billy’s father.)

A couple days later, our impression that we had made a good impression was confirmed. Haines, Bali Ram and I were invited to the Bungalow for a trip. As Haines outlined the coming engagement to a wide-eyed Ashram, it appeared that I was in for an adventure that would make my trip at the Meditation House look like miniature golf.

Besides the three of us, Billy, Aurora, Tommy, Suzanne, and a Eurasian fakir named Sham Dowley would be present. Bill, who had had some previous contact with him said that his first name suited his act. (I don’t remember Sham’s last name, so I have used the name from Connecticut Yankee that will pop up shortly.) Suzanne and Aurora’s brother, Marco, and his wife, Beatrice, would be having their first trips.

Marco was the Finance Minister of Venezuela, and next in line to become President or to be assassinated, depending on which faction got to him first. What was it I had said about South American dictators?

“Christ,” I said, upon hearing this list of people I was scheduled to trip with.

“Take it easy, Kleps,” said Haines. “After all, they are just plain, down-home country folks like you or me.”

“What about Peggy?” I asked.

She had returned to her town house in New York, Bill said. She had recently married a doctor who was said to be a clod and opposed to acid. The marriage was doomed, according to what Bill had heard.

I lifted my eyebrows.

“She’s not your type, I’m sorry to say,” Bill said. He was right. I liked her, but she wasn’t. “Besides, from what I hear, she’s gaga about Timothy. She married the good doctor on the rebound when Tim latched on to Rosemary.”

Bill could have gone far as a gossip columnist. He was always ready to jump to conclusions, a habit which didn’t always pay off, as we shall see.

The appointed day arrived. We were to have dinner at the Bungalow before the trip. I went to Bali’s room and took a shower.

Bali put on his gold costume. Bill packed his trip bag, which contained everything necessary for minimal life support during periods of “ecstatic nongame experience,” as Tim would have put it, including handfuls of fake jewels, paper, pencil and so on. I also made my preparations: three packs of Tareytons and plenty of matches.

As we drove up the pretty birch-bordered road, now broadened into a magnificent avenue by a heavy, steady, gentle fall of giant snowflakes, I had all kinds of “here I am doing this” thoughts of the “nostalgia for the present” type, which are a pretty good sign something important is happening or about to happen.

I thought I was fortunate to be driving up that road accompanied by the two strange but benevolent beings beside me, who were at once so close to me in spirit and yet so distant in experience, to such a wonderful and beautiful destination where I would die and be reborn without pain, in comfort and in warmth, secure in a setting of established power and casual magnificence, and I thought it was better to live this way than to take the 5:45 bus every morning to go to work as a bagger in a fertilizer factory in Birmingham, Alabama, in order to earn my daily bread.

These thoughts, materialistic though they may have been, helped a great deal to erase from my mind the unworthy fears which arise at such times over the impending loss of one’s personality, life, mind, soul, or whatever you want to call it.

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