KNIGHTS OF THE TABLE ROUND
There was a fine manliness observable in almost every face; and in some a certain loftiness and sweetness that rebuked your belittling criticisms and stilled them.
Shortly after Christmas of 1963, leaving Sally at her parents’ house in Manhasset on Long Island, I made my first trip to Millbrook, up the gentle curves of the lovely Taconic Parkway, through Westchester and past my childhood village of Crestwood, amidst a snowy landscape, in my dark-red convertible, with a bottle of blackberry brandy at my side.
Millbrook was a pretty, bright, white, small town with lots of big trees, the slushy central street of which I hissed through in a matter of seconds. The three-story, stone-walled Gatehouse was about a mile north of town. There was a massive portcullis in its arched entry and a fairy-tale kind of tower at the west end of the building. The whole thing was roofed with curved, light-red, terra cotta tiles. It was lovely. As Tim had instructed, I didn’t stop to announce myself at this structure, but entered the grounds by way of an open drive a few dozen yards up the road, drove over a stone bridge, and found myself in Wonderland.
From the moment of my first view of the Gatehouse, my critical faculties rapidly washed away under an overwhelming flood of approval and appreciation.
It all seemed perfect, all the way up to the Big House, potholes and broken branches included: the winding roads, the little lakes and streams, the fields, woods, and mysterious stone structures covered with snow. Everything was exactly as it should have been, beyond critique or analysis, as in a vision or a dream.
I drove through the Big House porte cochère and parked in a courtyard formed by the main building and a wing which contained the kitchen and laundry rooms, and upstairs, the former servant quarters.
Inside, in the main hall in front of Maynard’s mirror, which the plate-throwing Buddha of the Future would rip off five years later, I found teenage Jackie and Susan Leary, Kim Ferguson, and a bunch of younger kids taking off skates, galoshes, coats and mittens. Beautiful children with intelligent faces and happy eyes. I was expected. Tim was upstairs. Why didn’t I just go right up and introduce myself?
As I climbed the red-carpeted stairs of the Big House for the first time, I felt a sense of place again, as in a dream.
By the time I found Tim’s room I was awash with strange emotions, as well as blackberry brandy, and not in ideal condition to impress my host. Tim was seated at a desk, writing. We exchanged pleasantries, and Tim launched into a description of some recent discoveries in sub-atomic physics which had caught his interest. It was Bronowskian stuff, which is OK in its place. He was trying to play the two-intellectuals-meet game, which normally would have been fine with me, but I wasn’t feeling normal at all. I could feel tears forming. This is insane, I thought to myself. It was the first this is insane thought of a long series to come.
“I think you’ve forgotten how bad it is out there,” I said.
Tim looked perplexed and apprehensive. He suggested that I go downstairs and meet the other members of the household and the current visitors. He would see me at dinner.
In the next few hours I met, and without exception instantly approved, in a casting director’s sense, everyone then resident in the Big House. I will list and briefly describe them, and the visitors then present as well.
Tim. Without a consort at the time, an unusual circumstance.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that Lisa Bieberman, who was then managing the IFIF (International Federation for Internal Freedom) office in Cambridge, wasn’t present and was not expected to become a resident. I was told that during her last visit to Millbrook she had insisted on a right to move in on grounds of her seniority in devotion to the cause, indefatigable diligence, unimpeachable righteousness and so forth, but had left in a highly disillusioned condition. While she was sitting in the kitchen one early morning (musing, perhaps, on the pronounced similarities between her adored Harvard lecturer and J.C.), the Holy One himself appeared, tousled and bleary- eyed, drew a coffee, and inquired of the assembled breakfasters, “Jesus Christ! Do I have to fuck every girl who comes into this place?”
That did it for Lisa. She retreated to Cambridge, where I met her later. As far as I know, she never returned to Millbrook. Soon, IFIF became her baby and hers alone. Millbrook, she often said thereafter, was “a human zoo.” Lisa, it turned out later, had been having exclusively “Christian” trips on LSD, or so she interpreted them. In 1971 she had one of the regular kind, and promptly wrote a bulletin to her subscribers in which she renounced acid for Jesus. Lisa, dark of eye and hair, was intense, persistent, and just as impervious to popular opinion as she was to logic. A born slave, she worked her hairy little ass off for whatever she believed in.
Tim had probably been as satisfied as he ever was with his latest free hump, and only said what he said because he wanted Lisa to hear it and abandon any hope of intimidating him into conformance with her middle-class standards of “morality.” I have made some pretty outrageous remarks myself over the years, for the same reason, to people of Lisa’s type. Why argue? It’s much easier, and more fun, to demonstrate that you are a “hopeless case” instead. As Sextus Empiricus would have put it, it’s the “philanthropic” way to handle the problem.
Tim’s charm, as friend and foe alike admitted, was awesome. As is often the case, I think much of it was due to his voice, which trilled and tinkled, caressing the ear with gentle melodies and punctuations, vulgarizing by comparison every competing instrument. He almost never raised it. Even when angry or malicious, the voice stayed within the limits of its charm. One might hear a hard rain of sleet or the light clash of cymbals, but never squawks, mumbles, whines or any other kind of ugly noise. Furthermore, his voice, as if it had some separate spirit or function of its own, did not, like most voices, simply carry Tim’s thoughts like a load in a cart; it often spoofed and laughed at what it was required to support, thereby anticipating and disarming the critical reactions of his audience. Much of Tim’s wit relied on these disarming vocal nuances; it does not come through as well in his written words.
Many thought Tim was spoofing when he wasn’t, or thought he wasn’t when he was. Tim’s playfulness had no consistency, no foundation in logical analysis or a stable set of values. It was simply employed to take the edge off, to provide an escape hatch, to disarm. When the natives looked restless, the master musician would shake his jingle bells, perhaps indulge in some goofy histrionics, even take a pratfall. Everyone would smile, and write off their former doubts as “paranoia.”
Dick Alpert. Tim’s closest associate and co-conspirator, a Ph.D. in psychology like his trans-formed buddy, but with superior professional and social credentials. Dick had been on the faculty at Harvard, where Tim had been a visiting lecturer, renowned only as the inventor of an ingenious and novel paper-pencil test of personality factors then in use by the California penal system. Dick was the son of a bloated plutocrat who had been the president of the New Haven Railroad while Dick was at Harvard. The tedium of academic life had been greatly relieved, Dick gleefully told me, by his living in a private railroad car with a teenage brother and sister team who provided both service and recreation, day and night. “Art,” Dick said, a look of bemused delight suffusing his open and jovial countenance as he reminisced about the wonders of his fortunate life, “I didn’t know what to do to whom first.”
Dick didn’t have an official companion in those days, of either sex. Nor did he ever, during the time I knew him, come to think of it.
Ralph Metzner, Ph.D. A psychologist and biochemist in his late twenties. A neat, dry, scholarly man who made neat, dry, scholarly comments but rarely spoke at length. Ralph had a wife in residence,
Susan. She was a classic, pretty, blonde and busty American Girl who seemed soft and childlike in contrast to Ralph’s Germanic seriousness. Somehow, Ralph projected an aura of conventionality and conformity no matter how unconventional, and even illegal, the activities in which he was engaged. He had the makings of a “master criminal” in this respect. Every time I talked to Ralph I was acutely reminded of the dutiful grinds who had made up my circle of chess-playing friends at Concordia, my Lutheran prep school in Bronxville. Cynical to a fault in private, they had all behaved like perfect robots in public and had routinely collected A’s in every subject while I flunked, or barely passed, everything in sight.
Jackie and Susan Leary. Both cute kids: sixteen and fifteen, or fifteen and fourteen, or somewhere in that happy bracket. They were happy then, and I don’t think their father’s oddities, our internal community conflicts or their experience with psychedelics made them unhappy in the days to come. To the extent that they did become screwed up later, those who assaulted their religious community and persecuted their father and their way of life should not only be blamed but also tried and punished for crimes against humanity.
Maynard Ferguson. A famous Canadian trumpet player and band leader whose name did not ring a bell with me, which astonished him. Perhaps the sanest guy in the place. Charming wife, Flo; extremely super-charming daughter Kim, thirteen; son, six; baby, two.
The visitors were:
An aging, blonde blues singer, said to be even more famous than Maynard, but whose name I didn’t recognize and can’t remember. She looked sad, wore beautiful clothes, and said little. I think she was even drunker than I was, which was pretty far gone as the evening advanced. Not only was there an open bar (a year later, every bottle would have disappeared in fifteen minutes, to be guzzled at once or hidden in self defense) but I also had my usual pint of brandy stashed in the john under the stairs on the first floor.
Allen Atwell. A professor of art at Cornell. He was preparing for his first “session,” as trips were called in those days, to be held in the tower room, the highest room in the house, that very evening. Allen, who looked a lot like Abraham Lincoln after a hard night anyway, appeared particularly resigned at the time.
I went to take a look at the tower room (we will get back to the other visitors) and after many a twist and turn through dark corridors carpeted in worn red plush, I found it at the top of a small spiral staircase. There were windows all around and I could see the lights of Millbrook twinkling in the distance over a landscape of moonlit snow and dark masses of fir and pine. Two fat candles were burning, and some incense, and a cheery fire in a cheery fireplace. Oriental rugs. A low bed. A statuette of Buddha. A statuette of Shiva dancing on Yama, as usual. Trays of candy and nuts and fruit. A copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. A copy of the I Ching. From a speaker in the corner came the drone of a Zen chant, not too loud, and quite pleasant, it seemed to me.
Tim’s basic method in those days, I later found out, was to attempt to structure other people’s LSD experience in terms of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is the prime text of the most supernaturalist, deviant and degenerated form of “Buddhism” on earth, namely, Tibetan Lamaism.
It’s great stuff for the social control of an ignorant peasantry, and that’s about it. A first-class horror show to terrify the kiddies into mindless obedience. An infallible Priest-King. Ruthless taxation to build gigantic edifices for the religious bureaucracy. Institutionalized pederastic, homosexual buggery (“celibacy”). Why go so far afield when we have so much of that so much closer to home, like in Massachusetts?
Many people who never have visionary experience on LSD learn just as much as those who do, if not more. Elaborate embellishments, crazy or not, tend to distract attention from the present and stagnate thought in a morass of enigmatic imagery.
A succession of fantastic spectacles is all well and good, but people must learn to ask the right questions before they can get the right answers. Preposterous stories and garish interior decorations never sent any steamboats up the Ganges.
As decor, I like first-class Oriental art and, as metaphor, it’s often instructive also, but you don’t need metaphors if you have the thing itself, and the thing itself is psychedelic experience.
Novice trippers were heavily “guided” in those days. Everyone, me included, thought they could be and should be. It sounds right and reasonable in terms of ordinary life, but it just doesn’t work that way. Ralph Metzner was to guide” Allen Atwell.
Jack Spratt. (I can’t remember his name.) Jack was a “rich drunk from Syracuse” as Tim put it. My university town. Fat, intelligent, about forty-five, the only person present wearing a tie. He was there to be “cured,” and was waiting for his second trip. On his first, he had by no means surrendered his bad habit as a result of meeting the Lord of Death face-to-face. On the contrary, perhaps.
Albert Mole. Can’t remember his name either. A large, flabby and fuzzy clinical psychologist from Buffalo, who was my first introduction to the foil or scapegoat archetype usually present in every Psychedelian community. Would that every one of them were as bumbling, foolish, and harmless as Mole. As Ramakrishna said of his nasty cousin, who was always hanging around, when his disciples would ask him why he patiently endured such an obnoxious presence, such characters “thicken the plot,” and it is usually a good idea to leave well enough alone. As often as not, the replacement, and a replacement seems to be inevitable, will be twice as bad as the original. Don’t put too much pressure on your casting system.
Mole’s specialty was snouting out the presumably diseased and clandestine psycho-logical forces at work in the place. I don’t think he knew how to do anything else.
When I told him that I was having one of the most fantastic and delightful experiences of my life, although I hadn’t taken any drugs, he said that though everyone was certainly “very friendly,” he couldn’t approve “for example, of the obvious seduction of a teenage boy.” He glanced suggestively towards Dick and Jackie who were sprawled out in earnest converse under the soft and twinkling radiance of a magnificent demonstration that a gentle joy can be found in the Gothic and grotesque (a twelve-footer). Mole never relaxed, and finally fled.
If it was difficult for visiting psychologists and psychiatrists to hang on to the detached, inquisitorial role at Millbrook in the early days, it just got harder later. The place was too seductive for that, even during bad times.
Straight newspaper reporters and others bent on “exposing” our hidden agendas were usually disabled for similar reasons. Both cynical and inquisitive, they were fixated on discovering what was “really happening,” but no matter how ingenious the questions or ingratiating the style, no cross examination ever revealed anything that satisfactorily explained, within the very narrow and materialistic conception of human nature with which they and their bosses and clientele were familiar, all of the puzzling talk and nuances of feeling and conduct they witnessed. I think this is true of Psychedelian communities in general.
The hardest part to swallow, often as not, for a professional shrink or hired scrivener in the service of the Ministry of Truth, is the general high spirits and good-natured camaraderie which prevail. The jokes, frequently self-deflationary, conflict with his most cherished categorizations of human nature. There is so much honesty and spontaneity that he begins to think the whole thing is a put-on.
I think Mole was deeply offended by Dick’s blithe spirits and unabashedness. Why wasn’t Dick wracked with resentment over his loss of status in the academic world? Where was all the self-justification and self-analysis one Jewish psychologist had every right to expect from another?
It came out later.
Mole could usually be found in the kitchen, nursing a drink, where he brought up, one after another, every historical and theoretical model and just plain silly notion he could think of in the hope that one of them would be accepted by the rest of us as the way to understand psychedelic experience, so he could then dismiss the whole thing as an imitation, probably shoddy, of something else, or not worth bothering about for some other reason.
He seemed to wither visibly every time someone insisted, as they invariably did, that although there were parallels, the experience was really incapable of being understood or appreciated by the uninitiated. The terrible burden which this truth, combined with demonstrations of non-harmfulness, places on the flattened and homogenized products of America’s psychiatrist and psychologist mills cannot be overestimated. I think most of the anti-Psychedelian academic cant, and the slovenly “research” designed to support such cant, is prompted by the terror which grips these wimps at the thought of being expected to take the stuff themselves. Mole, maintaining his defenses against this dreadful possibility, quickly dismissed me as a credulous fool. (Either you are a credulous fool or I am a coward, therefore you must be a credulous fool.) I was left mostly in the company of my natural ally, Jack Spratt, the only other heavy boozer present.
On the late return of Ralph, Susan, Dick, Jackie and Kim, all in a cheery mood with skates slung over their shoulders after a long game of hockey on one of the ponds, Mole shrank once again. “Are they pretending to be normal?” he probably asked himself.
To my expressions of appreciation of the healthy-minded, happy atmosphere which prevailed, Jack Spratt replied, “I’ve got to admit these people know how to make a person feel at home, but I don’t go in for all this Boy Scout stuff. Make my own bed and help with the dishes? I have always been happy to pay for that kind of service.” It was clear that Jack regarded me as a fellow patient in a strange and very badly managed psychiatric hospital, so I told him about my mescaline trip.
“I guess I want to see the Clear Light or achieve Enlightenment, or whatever you want to call it,” I said, capitalizing those nouns and tossing down another belt.
“I don’t go along with all that stuff,” Jack replied, and refilled my glass and his own.
Later, Maynard told me that during one of his all-night parties in the large room below the tower, during which it was not unknown for a certain carefree abandon to overtake the participants, who might then, as like as not, disport themselves, whatever their age or sex, in a manner inconsistent with prevailing middle-class American mores, Jack Spratt had briefly appeared at the open door, having descended from the tower, where he was having his first trip.
“He just stood there gaping at us like he couldn’t believe his eyes,” Maynard chortled. “Then he said, ‘Christ, it’s crazy enough up there but down here it’s completely insane’ and went back up to the tower.”
Susan Leary showed me to my room, one of eight or nine in the servants’ wing over the kitchen and laundry. Everything was neat and clean. I unpacked and took a bath across the hall in a deep, enameled-iron, old-fashioned tub.
Conversation at dinner, which was served at a long table (with legs) with everyone seated on chairs (rather than on the rug), was as animated, natural, amusing and educational as anything in my experience with dinner table conversations. Mole wearily punched away at Tim but, after days of failing to connect, it was pretty clear that he no longer had much heart for it. Tim would laugh at Mole’s comments and dryly and slyly make a remark which would not directly answer what Mole had said but instead undercut him somehow, sometimes in two or three different ways, making whatever Mole had said seem ridiculous and unworthy of serious consideration. I was impressed by Tim’s display of rhetorical skill, and did not think Mole deserved any better treatment than he got.
Tim was never reluctant to deliver snap judgments, like an undergraduate psychology student, when he thought the occasion and the person seemed to call for it. It was a habit I shared. When not being paid for my professional services, I see no reason to deny myself the same liberty to bandy ideas around which everyone else enjoys. “Judicious” or even “sober” discourse did not prevail. One might shoot the shit with carefree abandon and not be held to account for every minor error or self-contradiction.
Everyone, Mole excepted, was making the standard upper-class assumption about one another’s morals and mores: You are an honorable and well-intentioned person until proven otherwise.
As (in the best of times) in the House of Commons, so long as this assumption is maintained, people may flatly contradict each other as to fact or theory, argue endlessly about what is logical and what isn’t, call an opponent’s motives, or even his sanity, into question, and even express moral disapproval, in the sense of differing moral interpretation, without anyone’s essential dignity being threatened in the slightest. Even one stupid and/or ignorant and/or deranged person in such a group drastically degrades its quality, like a fly in one’s soup. Being an intellectual isn’t necessary, but being intelligent helps a lot.
I didn’t know it but this delightful scene was already doomed, because Tim had decided to play it as a politician rather than as a scientist or philosopher. Charming, modest IFIF was to be abandoned and the grand and mysterious Castalia Foundation erected in its place. Metzner was pushing the books of Herman Hesse, an author not well known in America at the time. Hesse was a talented but virtually humorless fantast whose imagination generally, but with some interesting and pleasant exceptions, ran in the direction of hermetic mysteries, cryptic images and grandiose hierarchical associations. “Meta-political,” one might call this model, or “Masonic, sort of.” Soon, almost all Psychedelians would be oriented towards appealing to popular tastes, “reaching” the public, “molding” opinion, and changing, or preventing change in, the laws.
Nothing wrong with that, but crucial questions about content and doctrine were being swept under the carpet because of the perceived need for popular support. And, stylistically, I preferred the original light-hearted and frankly elitist spirit of things.
But popular revolutionary movements do not run on refined tastes and high-class social standards. The “troops” demand easy answers and familiar story lines. They have a limited vocabulary. The politics of the Psychedelian revolution, as Tim saw clearly and early, would be like selling beer, not champagne. Support would come from many odd quarters but the objective, as in all revolutions, would be to “capture the hearts and minds” of the only class with hearts and minds as yet uncaptured: the young.
The point of view expressed in my “Neo-Psychopathic Character Test” was something of a novelty then and it may have had some effect on Tim, confirming opinions he already held about the desperate condition of the old culture and the direction in which one ought to look for help.
Allowing visitors to drop in and out at all hours of the day and night was a pain in the ass, but Tim could not, as a good politician, prevent it. Towards the end, he withdrew to the third floor and had a private kitchen installed but the public image he projected was usually one of utter accessibility.
In the beginning, though, it was a high-class show and the memories I retain of Millbrook as it was then, although many satisfactory things happened later, are lit by a special and magical light, like the memories of the Christmases of childhood, or scenes intensely imagined in one’s most cherished works of fiction.
Tim, Ralph and I went for a walk late in the evening.
Late in our conversation, which was pretty philosophical, I asked, “Tim, is anything more important than anything else?”
Tim said nothing for a moment and then pointed to a snow-laden branch hanging down in the roadway.
“Look at the way the snow shines in the moonlight. Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Evasive, yes, but wrong, no, since whatever is right in front of your nose, so to speak, is always the most important thing. But it wasn’t the branch that was occupying my attention at the moment I asked the question. It was Tim, and it was Tim who was the most important thing in my world at the time, and he should have said so.
But that is a hard thing to say to anyone.
I was put in charge of Allen Atwell’s music program that night, which amounted to no more than taking records from an approved collection and putting them on the turntable, in a room below the tower. Every now and then Ralph would pop in and ask that something be changed, or to turn the volume up or down. We started off with ragas and Zen chants and such and followed with Beethoven. After an hour or so, Ralph announced Allen didn’t want any music at all, so I split for the kitchen.
Musical tastes tend to go through some radical changes as people get higher and higher. Indian music seems to help stabilize a high because it in no way encourages you to notice the passage of time, or better, to notice time has stopped passing and instead is sort of loitering around shooting the shit with space.
As seriality is re-established, taste seems to depend on what kind of trip you’re on, and music problems, if any, are usually the result of idiots controlling what is being played, a role often conceded to them by deaf custom.
When some kid puts on the latest rock star, a record he and his friends have been playing repetitiously while inhaling the lesser sacrament, the room will often empty in minutes. Bob Dylan’s early songs and almost everything the Beatles produced hold up well (what more can I say?) but rare indeed is the devotee of screaming adolescent anguish who can tolerate his favorites when he is on the Supreme Sacrament, which doesn’t mean he won’t put them on for everyone else’s benefit while he himself departs, perhaps to listen to the music of the spheres and the hooting of owls in a distant pasture or orchard.
Bad music doesn’t just cause people to scatter. It is also one of the few things, aside from active malice, which can directly and reliably cause bad trips.
When someone flips, check out the music being played or what has just been played. Often it will be an exhibitionist making millions from his contemporaries by moaning, groaning, and shrieking about how fucked up he is. Under normal circumstances, a performance of this kind may reassure the similarly afflicted that they are not alone, but it will simply encourage bummers on trips. Older people often like sad, romantic songs involving wails from jails by downhearted quails, and the like. Beware. If such stuff is played on a trip, gloom will prevail and many of the participants will remember previous engagements at the nearest saloon.
Haines, who patiently tolerated kid music under ordinary circumstances, smashed quite a few records on trips during the years I knew him. He would point out that the person who put the record on was no longer present, and apparently didn’t like the record any more than Haines did, so he felt justified in disposing of it as he pleased. Good point.
Late that night, as I was sitting around the kitchen mulling things over with Spratt, Atwell drifted in like a ghost, his big brown eyes shining and dilated.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“Beautiful, beautiful …” Allan said, putting some coffee on. “But I seem to have switched sides. My left side is now my right side and my right side is my left side.”
We didn’t know what to say to that.
“As a matter of fact, I think I left part of myself up in the tower. I have to go back and get it.” He drifted out of the room.
I got up and turned off the burner under the coffee pot. Although still determined to do it, I was becoming seriously apprehensive about taking acid. Strange visions were OK, but I’m the kind of guy who likes to know which side is which. And, if at all possible, I like to have all of myself in one place at the same time. I went to bed.
The next day, in the early afternoon sunlight, I took Tim and Susan to town to buy groceries. I put the top down, although it wasn’t really warm enough, just for the fun of it.
In town, Tim was greeted by storekeepers and townspeople alike with what seemed to me an affectionate regard. He amused people. They liked his style and so did I. And Tim seemed genuinely happy playing the role of “one of the boys,” fellow villager, and good neighbor, with a few easy bantering words for one and all. I was charmed and impressed. Tim, I thought, was definitely my kind of guy. While Tim and Susan filled up their carts, I popped into the liquor store next to the small supermarket. Eddie, the genial owner, with whom I was destined to have a long and mutually satisfying relationship, introduced himself and had me pegged by asking a few questions. A “Dieterich Estate” visitor who might move in? Fine. Fifty bucks or so more a month more for Eddie.
There were ups and downs, but there was very little general animosity towards us from the regular residents of Millbrook until the last months, and even then it was clear that their irritation was not with the us, the established freaks, but with the dregs from New York City who had taken advantage of Tim’s blanket invitations to come up and squat.
Not antipathy, but civility, tolerance and much more sophistication than I would ever have predicted were displayed by these folks, many of whom were the products of a high-IQ Italian gene pool of masons and other craftsmen who had built the estate. The Ashram got a line of credit at Marona’s grocery store, and even minor transgressions of the law were sometimes covered up for some of us who had been around long enough to be trusted.
Hollywoodized persons who have been brought up to believe that all small towns are inhabited by sinister and depraved morons who live on the take from unwary motorists may think I am blinded by sentiment, but if there was anything psychologically septic about little old Millbrook, town of, I never discovered what it was. Trixie Belden and Norman Rockwell would have felt right at home and so did I. (Nancy Drew might not have felt at home, but Nancy is a wooden dummy written in leaden English, while Trixie has life, as does the clean, workmanlike prose she is mostly written in.)
I bought a case of Hennessy. Tim approved. I gave him $50, which he liked even better, having spent about $300 in the grocery store. We picked up the mail, loads of it, and did a few other errands. When we got back to the house and parked, Dick stuck his head out of one of the windows in the servants’ wing and shouted down, “You all look like an advertisement for the American Way of Life,” meaning the convertible and the bags of groceries and we three handsome people, I suppose.
With Kim’s help, I stashed the groceries in the storeroom behind the kitchen, where I couldn’t resist re-enacting the classic scene from the romantic novel in which the mysterious stranger embraces the gorgeous maiden.
The next morning I went to Manhasset to pick up Sally, and returned. What the hell. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And the whole business seemed saner, somehow, with my better half at my side.
Sally’s one and only visit to Millbrook was not a success. She was terrified, not by the presence of acid and marijuana, but by the people and the setting, and she stayed in our room almost all of the day and evening. It was “just too much.” Her first words in the car the next morning when we drove away were, “Did you see the dresses on those girls?”
Sally’s father, Murray Pease, was Conservator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she was descended on both sides, Peases and Jewetts, from the theocratical oligarchy of colonial New England. In order to eat, we later sold some documents with Paul Revere’s and Daniel Webster’s signatures on them.
Her parents were part of an exclusive WASP society and cultural world, now much reduced in power and influence by the power of gold but far from dead, which was at that time well-represented by the “real” New Yorker of old and the New York Herald Tribune. Despite her family background, Sally either ignored or was aversive to most distinctions of money, power, intellect and even taste. She liked ordinary things to the point of being virtually ambitionless, an appealing trait in some ways, but exasperating in other ways.
Billy’s sister, Peggy, and a friend had come over for drinks and dinner in $10,000 designer evening dresses or whatever and that was “too much.” Dick Alpert wandering around the house looking through “psychedelic spectacles,” a tiny strobe just then invented (whatever happened to it?) was “too much.” Almost everything she saw and heard at Millbrook seemed to be “too much,” which was Sally’s favorite superlative anyway, and I later managed to decipher what she meant by it. By “too much” she meant too much. This did not bode well.
Susan, our three-year-old, complicated matters also. If we moved in, and I had no paying job, Sally would have to get one, and all kinds of complications would arise.
Tim, Dick and Ralph and I had circled around the subject. Assuming I could find a way to support myself and my family, and started gobbling the stuff the way they did, and if Sally decided that it wasn’t “too much” after all, well, it looked like a cinch, sort of.
The most essential requirement, congeniality, was present to an astonishing extent and everyone seemed to recognize it. I just fit in somehow and that was all there was to it. It seemed inevitable that the relationship would persist and deepen. Do not, and should not, birds of a feather flock together? Sure we should, if only to communicate with each other in a language we all can understand and to scare off birds of other feathers who seek to replace our eggs with their own.
“When,” it seemed, was the question and I had resigned myself to the possibility that it might be the question for a long time. But, who was to say? Maybe some clinic, hospital or “school” for retardates in the area was looking for a clinical psychologist who would work for a mere pittance. If it allowed me to live at Millbrook, I’d take it.
So, maybe this, maybe that.
We went back to our rented house in the tiny Adirondack community of Star Lake, where we had moved from Edwards, and I immediately started writing a fantastic novel about the adventures of one Christian H. Christian, who visits the headquarters of “The Flower Fiends” and is transported into other realms. I sent a few pages to Millbrook every other day. It was mildly amusing in spots but didn’t really make it, and I eventually consigned it to the flames.
Tim, Dick and Ralph’s conversion of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a copy of which Tim sent me a month or two later, did not, in my opinion, make it either, but was published by Mystic Arts, a publishing house in Hyde Park, NY, very close to Millbrook, and sold quite well. “See, Arthur?” Tim said, holding up a royalty check for $1,600 for my inspection as we were having coffee across from the courthouse in Poughkeepsie during the final days.
I’m sure that what he meant was, “See what I get for publishing horseshit? So why don’t you do it, and make me feel better?” but I can’t authenticate that interpretation in any way.
According to Tim’s letter which accompanied my copy of the book, this bowdlerized “translation” of the Lamaist scripture was to be the first of a series which would include Alice in Wonderland and the Inferno . The latter concoction, Tim thought, would particularly please me, although why he thought so he didn’t say.
The fact is that I had then and have now a low opinion of all of Dante’s literary product. As Blake put it, “Dante saw devils where I saw none.” Likewise, I’m sure.
This may have been the first instance of Tim projecting his neuroses on me, a Freudian mechanism which would balloon to gigantic proportions in times to come.
I knew nothing of the “infernal aspects” of psychedelic experience which are so garishly depicted in but, I thought at the time, since my full-scale visionary productions amounted to a measly fifteen hours or so, a trifle compared to the hours logged by the mighty of Millbrook, I felt that I could only politely question, not assault, as I have since, this stupid, ignorant, crazy and evil book.
On the evidence of my experience and the experience reported to me by a sample I think representative, I can now say that truly menacing visions almost never occur on acid trips, and the unpleasant spectacles which are sometimes seen, the “cartoon freakies” and such, amount to less than two percent of overall viewing time and have less emotional weight than the standard entertainments for children shown every day on television in the great American Insane Asylum.
On the other hand, if you insist on listening to “A Night on Bald Mountain” in a rat-infested cellar with cunning and malevolent acquaintances recently recruited from 42nd Street bistros, all bets are off, and all bets are off if you prepare for your trip by reading “that stupid book of Leary’s,” as John Lennon called it. Why did Tim go out of his way to evoke these images at the beginning of his Psychedelian career? (Ralph and Dick, I was told by Ralph, had merely “signed off” on it, because Tim said he wanted to maintain an appearance of collegiality, a classic Learian maneuver.)
The more I learned, the more inexplicable, except as a cash cow, Tim’s pushing of the TBD at the very start of things appeared. It was as if he deliberately and with malice aforethought polluted the Psychedelian cultural stream at its source and gave half the people in Psychedelian society (Lennon being a notable example of a good recovery) a bad set to start out with.
For years afterwards, kids told me they had, as novices, attempted to use the TBD as a “guide,” and they all reported anxiety attacks and various kinds of craziness leading to eventual frustration and exasperation, for which, at least at first, they had blamed themselves, not Tim or the book. They were not worthy of getting fucked over by class-A Tibetan spooks, or something like that. You had to be a big wheel like Tim, Dick or Ralph to deserve truly ghastly eeriness of this magnitude. To get the Lord of Death on your case maybe you needed a Ph.D., preferably from Harvard.
It’s true that Tim, as a good, crucifix-wearing Papist boy, had been brought up to believe in the efficacy of god/human sacrifice by means of prolonged torture and all kinds of related Judeo-psychotic ideation, with the usual consequences, and for a short time early in his Psychedelian career had imagined his “head was melting and running down” over his shoulders (personal communication) so I don’t claim he projected darkness when all was sweetness and light within. Even so, why push one’s personal nightmares on the public? He never talked that way in private, as far as I know.
Lamaism bears about the same relation to genuine Buddhism that the bloody-sacrifice doctrine of “St. Paul” and the blatantly insane Book of Revelations bear to the “Sermon on the Mount” and the Gospel According to Thomas, that is to say, almost no relation whatever, aside from contradiction. J.C., like Ramakrishna, was probably born stoned, but picked one hell of a time and place to pop out into, as it were. Given the context, it’s amazing that he said anything worth repeating. Thomas Jefferson was right about what should be retained and what discarded from the Christian canon.
I bought a pound of Heavenly Blue morning glory seeds, which were becoming popular because they were legal. Baby Hawaiian woodrose seeds, I learned later, are a better choice because they are much easier to prepare, with about 25 micrograms of lysergic acid per seed compared to one or two mics in Ipomoea seeds, but neither is as good as the New Reliable. (Both are nice plants for the porch.) If you want to try them, remove the shells (soak, dry and peel). As in the case of the humble peanut, it’s the seeds inside you’re after. The human gut is not designed to digest shells. On seeds one night, I had another visionary trip. In contrast to the mescaline blast, it was “dreamy” in the sense which implies vagueness or abstraction, although I wasn’t asleep or sleepy at the time it was happening.
There were three distinct worlds, but I retain only fragmentary memories of them (I remembered more the first few days following and should have made notes): a scene in which, on a beam of light, I entered the kitchen of a sort of tower dormitory in a world-of-the-future to remove a hammer from an ice tray; and a fantastic curtain that fell during what was clearly an intermission, depicting thousands of birds in flight in a sky of brightest blue.