Neo-American Church

Chapter 37


Sleep? It was impossible.

In late June, I invited Tord Svenson to move into the third floor of the Gatehouse and he promptly accepted. After a reorganization of his company, he had suddenly found himself out on his ear. His former employer, a right-wing libertarian, had told the FBI to shove it when they called to voice their apprehensions about the notorious Keeper of the Divine Toad of the Neo-American Church being allowed to work for a living, but New England Nuclear, the new owner, saw the matter in a different light. When Billy heard about it, he seemed greatly amused.

“What’s so funny?” Tord asked. We were all breakfasting on the porch on perch I had caught in the lake that morning.

“You’re going to love this one, Art,” Billy said. “Guess who owns stock in New England Nuclear? Tim Leary. I bought him in just a month or two ago.”

Was that so? Maybe Haines wasn’t so crazy after all. Nobody was buying me stock in New England Nuclear or anything else.

“Listen, Billy …” I started to say.

Billy waved his hands as if brushing away flies. He knew what I was going to say. I shouldn’t worry. He had all kinds of plans. He had to work out a tax deductible way of doing it.

OK. I changed the subject.

Tord, from the beginning, was bemused and morally offended by the feudal realities of life at Millbrook. His Scandinavian, populist principles were constantly violated right in front of his eyes. Every day, after visiting around the property, Tord would return to the Gatehouse with hilarious reports of a new outrage of Tim’s or Bill’s he had witnessed, but his sense of humor abandoned him when it came to the Bungalow and its inhabitants. Those pills were too fat to swallow. As we shall see, Tord’s social ideology eventually proved stronger than his psychedelic experience.

Tord remained in contact with Lisa Bieberman, although she had viciously and unfairly attacked Tim and me in her Psychedelic Information Center Bulletin. When The Group Image and a couple other egalitarian primitivist “tribes” moved into the round barns in the woods at Tim’s invitation later in the summer, Tord identified with their attitudes more than he did with mine, Tim’s or Bill’s, although he had to admit that these groups were composed, generally, of stupid slobs and led by bumptious oafs.

If the place had lasted, I think Tord would have developed into a natural leader of a group of somewhat higher-class egalitarians on the property, which would have been interesting and OK with me. As for my philosophic conviction that all of my experience was a hallucination and that was that, Tord, once he caught on, didn’t want to hear any more about it.

“I know what you think, Art,” he would say, cutting me off when the subject came up, “but I just can’t buy it. Don’t you realize it’s completely insane?”

This reaction did not make me angry. At least Tord saw what was involved, and didn’t give me the usual song and dance about how right I was, followed by a demonstration that not a word I had said had penetrated.

The 2,000 Catechisms came back from the Roman Catholic monastery across the Hudson, where Haines had sent them to be bound. Without commenting on the contents of the monstrously heretical document in their hands, the monks had done a good job. And they had done it with cheerful demeanors to boot, Haines maintained. If so, good for them. It’s been my general experience that you never can tell about monks.

Now the Alan Burke Show had to be dealt with. It was a clone of the Joe Pyne Show in Los Angeles, with New York characters instead of Californians.

Purveyors of outlandish doctrines of all kinds were invited to appear and then subjected to their host’s ridicule. An on-screen exchange which occurred between Paul Krassner, the editor-author of The Realist, and Joe Pyne, a fascistic lunatic, who happened to have a wooden leg, demonstrates the spirit of these productions:

Pyne: “Tell me, Mr. Krassner, do those acne scars of yours bother you much?”

Krassner: “Not much. Tell me, Joe, I have always wondered, do you take off your wooden leg before you make love to your wife?”

The decorous conventions which applied to exchanges in Senatorial hearings did not apply.

I went up to the Big House, where Tim still maintained an office and a bedroom. Although he and Rosemary had an expensive tent on Lunacy Hill and the best camping gear money could buy, they spent a lot of time, including sack time, at the Big House. This didn’t go over very well among his followers, whom Tim had firmly rusticated, rain or shine, or worse, under intermittent drizzles from sullen skies, beneath plastic tarps and mildewed canvas for the entire summer.

(I have one piece of advice for any readers who may find themselves, through necessity or by design, tenting out for any protracted period of time: Make a platform. One can usually find scrap plywood and two-by-fours at the local dump or a construction site. Ask around. If necessary, make the platform in sections and bolt them together. Support it with as many bricks or cinder blocks or empty paint cans as you can find or transport, but make it level and raise it off the ground. A flat, level, stable floor under a tent makes all the difference in the world.)

I found Tim, spic and span as usual, in his spacious, elegant room and at his desk, typing away with a jug of burgundy at his side. He seemed undisturbed to hear that I would be on TV again, and pleased that I had come to him for advice.

“Smoke a joint to make you high, Arthur,” he said, “and take some speed because it will make you feel good. Stay away from booze. That’s what I always do.”

Old rope trick? I don’t think so. It was excellent advice. Tim wasn’t always “on the job,” so to speak, and we were genuinely fond of each other, sort of, each after his own fashion. And this conversation was private.

Wendy, Tord and I drove down to the city in Tord’s old Citroen. Wendy’s parents, whom I hadn’t met, were out of town, but we would use their apartment to get ready and to watch the show later. One of Tord’s jobs was to round up some speed from one of our members in New York. I had to buy some clothes. Mike Duncan had called, and I had invited him and Gai, who were now married, to come over to the apartment to watch the show.

Wendy’s parents’ apartment, which overlooked the Planetarium on the Museum of Natural History grounds, was just what I had expected, based on Wendy’s descriptions. It was hard to believe that anyone actually lived in the place, which closely the resembled the “rooms” of furniture set up in department stores. There wasn’t a book in sight, except for some kid stuff in Wendy’s old room. They meant well. Just ignorant, that’s all.

After I had taken it all in, Wendy said, “Well, maybe now you understand me better.”

Her tales of life at the old homestead had been chilling my bones for some time, but she was right, one picture was worth a thousand words. It was incredibly impersonal and cold.

Wendy’s father had just concluded a deal with Sears Roebuck to sell them his shirt factory in South Carolina for a flat $1,000,000. They planned to sell the apartment and move to Palm Beach in a year or so, which they did, after first going to England to buy a white Rolls Royce. All very innocent. I never felt any serious hostility from either one of them, or very much of anything else either.

Before we entered the studio, I absorbed a joint, as Tim had recommended, and bought two miniature bottles of brandy. I was nervous as a squirrel, and since I was cold sober, it seemed to me that one or two nips wouldn’t make me unintelligible.

While we were standing around in the lobby with Tord waiting for our contact to appear, the “personality” who would precede me as a “guest” swept through, surrounded by her entourage. It was Dagmar, the big-boobed girl of the Jerry Lester Show from the early days of TV. The receptionist had just told us Dagmar would go on before I did.

“Well, what does that mean, Art?” Tord giggled, as this apparition swept by.

“It’s obvious, Tord,” I replied. “She represents the past and I represent the future.”

Tord groaned, then cackled.

Our boy showed up and handed me a folded paper. When I asked him what it was, he said, “Never mind, just snort it. I guarantee you won’t have a worry in the world five minutes later.”

OK. We went up to the guest waiting room and sat down. There was a monitor on the wall. Dagmar came on. Babble, babble. As I had been prior to the Senate hearings, I was so nervous I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said. I was out of touch.

I went to the men’s room and snorted the pinch of white powder in the paper and then downed both bottles of brandy. When I was directed into the studio during the intermission to take my chair, Burke had disappeared, probably for his own favored refreshments. I had to sit there for a while, silently staring at the audience, which contained a grinning Tord and a winking Wendy.

Burke came in and introduced himself. As soon as he did, I got the same sensation of being slightly lifted up in the air that I had felt just before the Senate appearance. I chatted merrily away with Burke as if we were neighbors meeting at the corner bar. After I had concluded an amusing anecdote, Burke suddenly looked apprehensive.

“Listen, Art. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the format here, but I should warn you. Have you ever seen this show?”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s simple. The guest gets advertising at the price of blood, right?”

Burke looked even more dismayed than he had originally.

“Well, I guess you could say that, but it isn’t always that way.”

As soon as the interview got rolling, it became obvious that I had charmed Burke. The guy simply liked me and he couldn’t do anything about it. His attempts at insults turned into twisted compliments. My cause was bad, but he had to “admit” I was an “attractive person, and an effective missionary for what you believe in,” as he said at one point.

Later, Tord told us that two old ladies behind him in the audience had been deeply offended by the entire proceedings, particularly the breaks, when Burke and I, obviously not angry with each other over the sharp words we had exchanged about the issue at hand, engaged in friendly conversation off the mike. “Look at that. They’re laughing together. This whole show is a fake!” he reported one of these venerable vultures saying to another.

Meat Hook, deranged as ever, was in the audience by special invitation. He initiated the question and answer period at the end of the show by citing “scientific” research results of the “of 13 alcoholic, junkie-prostitute speed freaks who smoked an ounce of hashish a day for 13 years, seven reported feeling nauseous” or, “of 47 stark-naked human chromosomes hosed down with a solution of LSD and Drano, 42 were wounded, and five gave up the ghost” variety.

Following this recitation of the latest hokum, Baird delivered his standard line of paranoid, rambling, and frequently incoherent denunciations of all who dared to touch anything not blessed and thus sanctified by the American Medical Association, as he, Meat Hook, had been. Bishop Fulton Sheen, whose crazy sermons were televised in the ’50s, may well have been Meat Hook’s model and inspiration. (Offhand, I can’t think of anyone else in the same class. “Fundamentalist” TV preachers don’t even come close.)

I called upon “our chemist,” Tord, to reply with his analysis of the scientific evidence on the subject, which Tord did with great aplomb, causing a minor sensation also, I suspect, because of the contrast between his learned mini-lecture and his appearance, highlighted that day by a light-blue, fluffy, synthetic fabric vest, which didn’t close over his broad chest. He probably impressed some members of the audience as a Viking throwback, intent on new crimes even more dreadful than those practiced by his notorious ancestors.

As for Baird, who for years ran a “cold turkey” drug clinic in Harlem and once told a reporter he thought all “drug pushers” (any kind of drug not controlled by the AMA, and in any amount) ought to be “hung from a meat hook, live,” my calling him “deranged” is not just an idle insult. I mean it the way I meant it in the old days, when I had to make everyone understand that the kid or prisoner or patient in question was not merely peculiar but seriously nuts.

Later, Carl and Bernie told me Meat Hook had told them, in describing the way he ran his drug clinic in Harlem, that he didn’t “fool around with these characters.” He took them to a darkened back room and examined their cocks by the light of a candle to make sure no drugs were concealed under foreskins. He also sang the Star Spangled Banner at football games, my favorite sidelight on this incredibly demonic personality. With enemies like Meat Hook, one might ask, who needed friends?

The show had been taped for later broadcast. Back at the apartment, I had the narcissistic pleasure of watching myself on television for the first time. It seemed to me I had done OK, and everyone else thought so too. In fact, I was warmly congratulated by one and all at Millbrook. Billy said that the party at the Bungalow had been a big success. Sam, who attended, wanted to know if he could buy a film of the show for the edification of his guests in the Caribbean.

Tim was astonished. “I didn’t think you could do it, Art,” he admitted, and then told me a story about how a Vassar girl he had met on a train the next day had bent his ear about me. She wouldn’t believe I was in my late thirties. I had looked about twenty-three on the tube, she said. That impressed Tim, who later walked off a TV show when the interviewer told him he looked old.

I was saddened to learn, however, that my pet crow, Swami, tenderly raised from infancy at the Gatehouse, and left at the Ashram while we were away, where he ordinarily played raucously and happily with the cats (a fast peck at the tail, and a strutting retreat) had kicked the bucket and joined the choir during our absence, after taking a short snort of Al Bonk’s ceramic glaze. In Arizona, Bill shot Wendy’s cat, Trenton, daughter of Philadelphia, whom Wendy had left at the Ashram when we went to Vermont. The sinister implications of these events, I am happy to say, have not preyed on my mind much ever since.

When things at Millbrook started falling apart, so did my public performances. Tim’s original estimate of my ability along these lines (“unreliable”) was not far off the mark. Tim had the same problem.

On one show we watched at the Ashram, Tim, eyes glittering, seemed to be a virtual superhuman manifestation of pure intelligence and truth, laying waste the opposition’s arguments like an avenging angel. On another, a “Playboy Penthouse Show” or something like that, he came off like a rambling, disconnected old man incapable of reading a timetable. It all depended on “where his head was at” that day.

As our Psychedelian community withered under the attack of the Sado-Judeo-Paulinian mind police, my interest and willingness to participate in these inherently corruptive rituals rapidly waned and then vanished. I was never good at it. Those levitations were a lift, sort of, but I now look down on them.

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