Neo-American Church

Chapter 32


Yes, Dowley was a good deal wilted, and shrunk up and collapsed; he had the aspect of a bladder-balloon that’s been stepped on by a cow.

The only thing in the room that I didn’t want to look at was the damned black tanka. What the hell, I was already dead, wasn’t I? This was a heavenly room with beautiful people in it. No grim and terrible symbols were required. Unfortunately, the black tanka is regarded with superstitious awe by the lower, laboring class of Tibetan Lamaists, feelings carefully fostered by the upper, priestly class of Tibetan Lamaists, who live off of them. One must carry the artifact in a special container and go through a tedious ritual when crossing water. Curses for mishandling, and so on.

To hell with that. I interrupted Haines at his Om drawing and directed his attention to the tanka. “Doooo yoooou waaaant that thiiing up there?” I asked. My voice sounded like it was coming from the bottom of a barrel.

“Nooo. It’s just one of Sham’s little tricks,” Haines mooed.

I turned to Billy, who was watching Bali draw another fancy Om in the garnets, and asked him the same question.

“Whooooo, me?” Billy asked, startled. “Noooo.”

Billy was somewhat out of it at that point, to be sure. Bill later told me that Billy had asked him, early in the trip, if he, Billy, was “really” Billy Hitchcock, who owned “this place.” “Boy, was I tempted,” Bill laughed when he told me about it, “but I patted him on the shoulder and told him of course he was.”

Bill heard Billy’s reply. “Do you want that tanka up there, Bali?” he asked.

“Are you kidding?” Bali asked, flashing a look of great disdain at both the tanka and Sham.

“Come on,” Bill said. Bali and Bill both got up and made it over to the screen, where, with what seemed unnecessary violence, they tore the tanka off its moorings and tossed it in a corner.

The look on Sham’s face, as he witnessed this act of desecration, was one of horrified disbelief, but the mood of the room immediately went up another notch, as the screen regained its original clarity and lightness. Decorations and music are the closest thing on a trip to “control board” functions. Every little variation has an enormous and immediate effect. Art is magic.

The next act was put on by Marco and Beatrice, who started rolling around on the bearskin rug growling and pawing at each other like a couple of bear cubs. Kind of cute. This went on for some time. Billy and Aurora were talking to each other. Haines was telling one of his hilarious anecdotes to me, Bali, and Suzanne, who had joined us on the floor. Tommy and Sham remained in place.

I heard a car door slam outside, and went out in the still falling snow to see what was up. A pretty young girl was lost in the maze. She was looking for someone I didn’t know, whom she thought was staying at the Gatehouse. Tommy came out, and gave her directions. I went back in. Haines was in full form. He was making comments on everyone else’s trips. Marco and Beatrice were getting most of the heat.

“Go get her, Marco. Atta boy. Claw her eyes out,” and so forth.

Aurora, who seemed lost in the music most of the time, and content to be there, urged Haines to “relax, reeelax.” Bill responded by saying, with mock ferocity, “Don’t tell me to relax. I don’t like to relax. You relax.” Aurora laughed.

Tommy, Haines noticed suddenly, had disappeared.

“Where’s Tommy?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “The last time I saw him he was outside talking to the girl who wanted to go to the Gatehouse.”

“Aha.” Haines had missed the whole incident. The situation, however, was instantly clear to him. Tommy was down at the Gatehouse fucking merrily away with the girl, while poor Suzanne was abandoned to her fate. He insisted she move in closer.

“Don’t worry, Suzanne,” he said. “These Mellons are all alike. We’ll take care of you.”

“What do you mean?” Suzanne asked. She looked frightened.

“I mean you shouldn’t worry about Tommy being down at the Gatehouse with that girl.”

“Oh.” A few minutes later, Suzanne got up and went to her room. When she returned, she said nothing, but listened attentively to Haines’ line of chatter with a drawn face and haunted eyes. The next day we found out why. Tommy hadn’t gone anywhere with the lost girl. After giving her directions, he had gone to bed. When Suzanne looked in their room and saw him lying down with his eyes closed, she thought he was a dummy placed there by Haines to test her faith, or something. This had not made for an enjoyable trip from Suzanne’s point of view, to put it mildly.

Every big-dose group session will produce one person who will make most of the definitions and generalizations, whether you plan it that way or not. Haines usually played this role very well, despite occasional slips. It took some pretty inventive paranoia on Suzanne’s part to convert Bill’s error into a full-scale bummer. The field for misunderstandings is wide when the trip’s participants have only recently been introduced to one another, and it is important to avoid literal-mindedness and to remember that many words and expressions have more than one meaning, and things are often said in a joking and ironical spirit or on the supposition that you know something that you don’t. Names can cause endless complications: “Hope is useless.” “Dawn will never come.” “Where is Charity?” “Have Faith.” “Let’s do it on Tuesday.”

Never agree or disagree with anything unless you are sure you understand what is being suggested. Is it is OK to “let go”? Before you reply in the affirmative, consider all the possible implications of such a request, or stand back.

When a true paranoiac is doing most of the generalizing and defining, the number of covert operations and devious intrigues one may see all around can quickly reach critical mass, and the scene may degenerate into a tangled web of truly bizarre machinations. Experience, per se, doesn’t necessarily prevent this kind of thing. Anyone fixated at the occultist level will inevitably put the people he “guides” on paranoid bummers. Marco, a strong personality, would have done exactly that with his walkie-talkie and growling animal acts if he had been tripping with a bunch of inexperienced kids instead of hard-bitten veterans of the Psychedelian wars such as ourselves.

Suzanne was the only “kid” in the room. Everyone else, including the novices Marco and Beatrice, was a full-blown “character,” and not about to change his or her ways to suit anyone else’s convenience, acid or no acid.

As dawn was breaking, I took a stroll around the house and was joined by Marco. When we came to an open door leading to the cellars under the house, Marco, with a sinister chuckle, suggested that we “go in there.” I just laughed, shook my head, and we moved on in the crisp snow.

The conversations I had with Billy during the trip were all most pleasant and instructive. His line amused me and my line amused him. Everything seemed to be out front. At one point, Billy asked me to come over and look at a large painting which hung on the wall next to the French doors to the patio. It showed Henry VIII on his throne, sternly ordering Sir Thomas More, with dogs yapping at his heels, out of the royal presence. The painter’s name was Pott.

“I want you to remember that, Art,” Billy said with a big grin.

“I should think we could improve on some of these old routines, Billy,” I replied, in the same spirit.

His favorite stories were of the incredible fuckups of the past two years at Millbrook.

“Yeah, we have had some real con artists around here,” he concluded, after a story about the inventor of a diamond-making machine he and Tommy had installed, for a while, in the basement of the Bungalow to do his stuff. (This isn’t as silly as it sounds if one assumes a conspiracy between DeBeers and General Electric, as many do.) Then a sudden realization seemed to hit Billy hard.

“… but I have a feeling that maybe we haven’t seen anything yet.”

“I certainly hope not,” I replied, and so it would be.

Aurora danced up to me and said, “Arthur, I understand you. It’s all a dreeeem.” She flung her arms wide to include the whole room.

“Right,” I said, giving her a hug. It seemed to stick, too.

The night’s anticlimax was provided by Sham. I think he realized that everyone would ignore him unless he spoke up, so he became extroverted in the early morning hours. He went out in the hall and brought in a some small carpets which he unrolled for Billy’s inspection. Billy was polite. Haines, however, was offended.

“What do you think this is, Sham? The Calcutta bazaar?”

Sham chose to interpret this as a joke, and laughed nervously. Then he invited Billy and me, Bill and Marco having gone to the library, to come back to a bedroom and see something “really rare, for men only.”

What Sham had to offer next were several prototypical “Little Dirty Comix” in the lowest aboriginal shamanic tradition. All the women were butterballs. My favorite showed one of them being lowered in a basket, with her elephantine rump bulging out of a hole in the bottom, over a grinning fool lounging below. We were by no means completely straight at this point, and the contrast between this part of Sham’s act and his former imitation of a graven image was too much for me and too much for Billy also. It was impossible not to laugh in the poor bastard’s face. Billy told me he bought some of the stuff later. He hated to make anyone feel bad, and although he would frequently lie his head off, I never saw him behave with other than the utmost politeness to any desperate beggar or seemingly sincere pitchman who got within range.

When the sun cleared the trees, everyone went outside to appreciate the brilliant landscape. The sky was clear. It was lovely outside. We all strolled around for a while, and then came back in to have a buffet breakfast. Mary was busy vacuuming the living room. Bill’s fake jewels were all neatly gathered together on a piece of paper on a coffee table.

On the way back home Bill said, “Well, you and Billy seemed to hit it off quite well, Kleps, and naturally, I got stuck with dear old Marco.”

I told Bill about Marco’s suggestion that he and I explore the dark cellars instead of enjoying the sunshine and the snow, which Bill thought was pretty hilarious, a good example of the comic-book villainy Marco had projected on the trip.

“That’s what gets me about him,” Bill said. “I had to keep reminding myself; this guy is for real. But, he’s really sort of a nice fellow, despite all the paranoia. What am I saying?”

“He like Otto,” Bali said.

Yes, that was it. Marco was like Otto. We didn’t see much of Marco thereafter, but later Billy told us about his further adventures. Marco had returned to Venezuela, but wasn’t willing and/or able to play the political game the way he had before. A kind of reductio ad absurdum seemed to set in. After a frantic phone call from Beatrice, who was convinced her husband was about to be assassinated, Billy flew down and brought him back to the States, where Marco had another trip and decided he didn’t really want to be in politics after all. He went into business instead.

While walking down an ordinary suburban street with Billy one day in Venezuela, Billy reported, Marco had illustrated some point he was making by shooting a hole through the front door of a house they were passing with his .45. By leaving South American politics for business, Marco moved up a notch to a more honorable life, unless he dumped radioactive baby food on the market or something like that.

Mythically, Billy didn’t have anywhere to go on the Fazzm up-side. He was already doing a fine job as an aristocrat, just by providing the setting for something new and important to happen naturally, without paying any attention to the customs, precedents or even laws which restrain the powerless. A high and creative function. Too bad more rich people don’t have the courage or imagination to do it.

Back at the Big House, I went right to bed. When I woke up, in the early afternoon, I felt fine. No hangover, no fatigue, no regrets. The world in general looked like it had “taken a bath,” as Psychedelians often remark the morning after.

The usual post-mortems were being held in Bill’s room. First Bill would tell a story and then Bali. The kids were delighted.

“Well, Kleps, what now?” Bill asked. “We’re in,” I said. “If we’re not, I’ll turn in my psychologist’s badge. The key to the whole thing is not to think in terms of conning Billy. He’s no fool by any means, and he is just as whacked out as we are. I think we should be completely out front with him. If you ask me, Tim and the League people in general have screwed themselves up with Billy by trying to put moralistic pressure on him. They try to make him feel guilty for being rich. Just because they see things that way when they get stoned doesn’t mean Billy does. You heard some of those stories he was telling me?”

Bill nodded. He was attentive. This was serious business.

“Well,” I continued, “he’s never really been conned by anyone, including Tim. He just plays along for the fun of it. If he likes us, and I think he does, and if we put on a good show, I think we are secure here for the foreseeable future, but appealing to his idealism or his conscience won’t get us anywhere. He’s just as cynical about human nature in general as we are, if not more so. As for big money, I don’t know.”

(I was wrong about one thing, Billy was snookered constantly, particularly by Tim. He did not, however, stay conned for long and passed on easily to other things rather than waste the fleeting hours on pointless recriminations.)

“Well, does he believe in psychedelics?” Wendy asked. Wendy, I noted, was looking a hell of a lot better than she had the day before. Apparently, the trip had cut a few of the bonds I had woven around my libido.

“Yeah,” Bill added. “What about that? I must confess I couldn’t figure out what any of them thought about it. Could you?”

I had to admit that I didn’t know either. It seemed to me Billy had a profound distrust of abstractions, and made his decisions on the basis of intuition and feeling, but it seemed incredible that anyone could take so much acid without having some kind of philosophic theory about what was happening to him when he took it.

“Do you think he’s enlightened, Kleps?” Howie Druck asked.

I couldn’t answer that question then, and I can’t answer it now. Billy occupies a peculiar place in my private hierarchy of important people; sort of off to the left in a private box of his own. I think I can usually see the world pretty clearly as others see it. In Billy’s case, I can do this up to a point, and then: zilch.

Later, as I was sitting in the common room looking over some art Michael Green had finished, Wendy came over and asked if I intended to work that evening.

“Yes,” I said, “as a matter of fact, I need someone to strip for me.”

“Stripping” was tedious work in those days, accomplished with razor blades and rubber cement, to replace errors with corrections in the photo-ready copy, and to justify the right-hand margins, and Wendy hated to do it as much as anyone else, if not more so.

“Arthur, you know I will strip for you any time,” Wendy said, with a charming giggle, followed by a nice, old-fashioned blush.

Well, here we go again, I thought to myself. That night, despite a brief lecture from me on how little she should expect from her new roommate in the way of Eternal Devotion, which condition I had come to view as a form of insanity that had almost finished me off, Wendy moved in. My views on this subject, she professed, were also her own.

Some lucky and/or fast-moving single got Wendy’s room in the servants’ wing.

The synchronicity of losing a wife to a guy named Green and then appropriating a mistress from a guy named Green made me wonder later if money wasn’t the key factor in both events. Could be.

A few months earlier I had been a penniless emotional wreck in a Florida jail. Now, thanks to the Supreme Sacrament, I was living on a 2,500-acre private estate in a fifty-room mansion, with a pretty and charming young lady, who had exactly the skills I needed for the work at hand, and rich parents besides, and I was surrounded by jovial and fascinating friends and companions, some of them zillionaires, who were eager to help me do exactly what I wanted to do—produce a book.

I didn’t have a worry in the world.

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