Neo-American Church

Chapter 5


What dream? Why, the dream that I am in Arthur’s court—a person who never existed; and that I am talking to you, who are nothing but a work of the imagination.

I waited for Easter vacation with high expectations, and when I entered the Millbrook grounds I was determined to stop treating the place like an amusement park. Instead, I would arrange a “session” right away and be cooperative and act like a “team player” for a change. Humility, that was the ticket. Sobriety. Sanctimoniousness, even. I knew I could do it if I tried.

I walked through the wide-open front door. Not a soul in sight, so I took a chair in the library and started editing my latest installment of Divine Toad Sweat, the provisional title of my surrealistic novel.

When the house Lolita came in, squealed “Arthur!” and jumped on my lap and stuck her tongue in my ear by way of greeting, my adopted persona was seriously shaken, but I did not respond normally. Instead, I thought of the classic temptations along the same lines resisted by the heroes of the kinds of myths and literary fables I was reading those days, gave her a peck on the cheek, and said, “How’ya doin’, kid?” or something similarly idiotic. I don’t remember exactly.

This bizarre non-behavior didn’t go over very well, as one might expect. I was profoundly shocked myself and, once my vital signs returned to normal, wondered if I had made the right decision. I felt like I had torn up a check for a million dollars. Had I gone totally bananas, or what?

Since the truly extraordinary A+ cupcake was soon replaced, as the focus of any stray erotic impulses, by a standard-brand B- Chinese cookie of legal age, secretary to the well-known mad scientist Andre Puharich, who was to function as a thorn in my side during the next forty-eight hours or so, maybe I had. But then again, people have been known to go to jail for a long time for toying with cupcakes, no matter what the provocation, so maybe plain fear explained it better than all that mythic stuff.

Ling-Ling was on close terms with Tim at the time, but disavowed any intent to perpetuate the relationship when I inquired. Her reason for being at Millbrook, aside from screwing around and getting stoned, was to advance the cause of a tiny device, contents unknown, which, when attached to any bone of the head, would unfailingly permit the deaf, even those devoid from birth of any auditory nerve, to hear with perfect clarity. This miracle was said by her to have been invented by Puharich and was in his possession.

First visit: tiny strobe glasses. Second visit: tiny ear box. OK. Hewing faithfully to my credulity, I took Ling-Ling’s word for it, and waxed enthusiastic, although I would have been suspicious, if not derisory, under any other circumstances.

She asked me whom I wanted to trip with. I said Tim and any girl or girls who might want to go along for the ride. How about her? She said “maybe” and we went upstairs to talk to Tim, who greeted me with generous praise for Divine Toad Sweat and generally made me feel welcome.

Tomorrow night? Sure. He was looking forward to it already. If anyone else wanted to join us we would discuss it. Meanwhile, I should read Hesse’s Siddhartha, a copy of which he plucked from his bookshelf and handed me. We talked for a while about Hesse, whose Steppenwolf I had recently finished reading, it having been recommended by Ralph Metzner on my previous visit.

Tim showed me around. Changes had been made. Someone had created a “meditation room,” by padding a closet off the third floor hall. Ralph now had an electronic workshop, with a contraption squatting on the table that looked like a prop for a science fiction movie. In a mimeograph room, stacks of circulars announced the replacement of IFIF by the Castalia Foundation of Millbrook, New York.

There was a quote from Hesse’s The Journey to the East pinned up in Tim’s room, in which the protagonist asserted that the major events in the history of Western Civilization were no more than stages in the history of “our League.” This caught my attention, as it had when I first read the book. Interesting. Grandiose paranoia on the face of it, but, well, hmmm.

As an allegory for the ancient and various manifestations of Psychedelian religion in human history, “our League” was arguably far more important than the history of war, or any other historical theme for that matter. It was not irrational, or even strange, to say that religion was more important than anything else, and if the use of psychedelics gave rise to the good, the true and the beautiful in religion, as distinguished from all the shit, well, there you were. I had found everything Wasson was saying along these lines to be very persuasive, and I was happy to see that Tim, evidently, did also. Good.

Could I run a mimeograph machine?


I had always been happy to have the taxpayers provide such services.

“What, man, you can’t run a mimeograph machine? Don’t you realize that mimeograph machines are absolutely essential to every revolution?” Tim laughed.

I said he was right, of course. Should any tedious but necessary services along these lines be required, I would learn, and put my shoulder to the inky wheel like anyone else around.

The whole house had taken on an appearance of contrived bohemianism, with most of the heavy furniture, including the legs of the dining room table, stowed away in the basement and storage rooms, and lots of cushions and mattresses covered with intricate prints substituted.

Tim turned me over to Susan Metzner, who assigned me to a room. She said she hoped I didn’t mind sleeping on a mattress on the floor. On a group trip everyone had decided to throw the beds out for “aesthetic reasons.”

“Well, considering what you are trying to do around here, anything disorienting is good, I suppose. Like Tim said in that speech in Sweden,” I said, trying to be compliant once again.

Susan said I might have the wrong idea about what they were trying to do. She didn’t say what it was they were trying to do. Normally, I would have questioned Susan’s ability, or anyone else’s ability, mine included, to identify with any certainty what a group of people such as this were trying to do, but I was playing the game of taking things at face value, and was therefore appalled, sort of.

“Christ, I hope not,” I said. The fact was that “we” was being used very loosely around “Der Alte Haus” (as the original owner had called it). Millbrook was riddled with subterranean rivalries and ideological conflicts but everyone was playing it, as a revolutionary cause encourages one to do in some ways, as if no legitimate differences of opinion about anything important existed or could exist. Axes were being ground all over the place.

Pronouncements about what “we” are doing are most often used not to cement groups but to split them. The class level had gone down a notch. The game of gentlemen and scholars was over and the games of moralist-sinner and doctor-patient and good guys and bad guys had begun. It’s a sad thing to see, and perhaps for the best, I didn’t see it, at least not clearly (“accept” it) until much later.

After dinner that night, Tim insisted that we all play a “Magic Theater” game. This was to be only a small part of a larger version she and Tim were working on, Ling-Ling informed me. One was asked to write down on a folded slip of paper the first thought one had, on reading the thought of the last person to play, and then to pass the list on with only one’s own contribution showing, so a long chain of semi-free associations resulted. This we played on the table top without legs on the rug in the dining room, by the light of candles and the fireplace, while reclining on cushions and pillows and drinking brandy. Living on the floor under such circumstances is an entirely different kettle of fish than doing it in an abandoned house on bare boards and vomit-soaked mattresses surrounded by syphilitic and schizophrenic psychopaths while drinking Sterno and sniffing glue. Poor people need furniture, only the rich can afford to live on the floor.

The objective of the game was, Tim announced, to discover how “all of this” would end.

I forget what Ling-Ling wrote on her fold of the paper, but the image which came to my mind on reading it was of a dock in Amsterdam, lapped by the sullen Ij.

It didn’t seem to have anything at all to do with Ling-Ling’s contribution.

“Really?” Tim asked, when he read the completed page and came to my image. Nothing else was geographic.

“God made the world, but man made Holland.” It doesn’t surprise me that this notably empiricist society has learned, by and large, to tolerate Psychedelianism and often to enjoy the sacraments thereof, while more “romantic” nations generally still see the whole thing as some kind of giant bat out of Hell that everyone should throw rocks at.

Wasson and Tim and a number of other amateur anthropologists encouraged legions of kids to identify the psychedelic experience with primitivist escapism. Pueblos and hogans in stark surroundings, complete with charmingly flea-bitten shamans who could be manipulated with the greatest of ease with petty cash, were thought to be “where it was at” for a long time.

I consider this whole mystique to be almost total horseshit.

Psychedelic experience encourages and, in some cases, demands, the recognition of beauty, both natural and fabricated. There isn’t anything uncivilized about this, unless one defines “civilized” in a stupid, uncivilized way.

The sacraments will, if you let them, produce a cool and sophisticated perspective, full of nuance and intricate and often ironical allusions and reflections.

I got pretty bombed on grass and booze and went to sleep in the meditation closet.

The next morning, at breakfast, which everyone fixed for themselves and ate at the kitchen table, Ling-Ling told me she and Tim had gone through the entire house, neglecting only the meditation closet, looking for me the night before.

“Why?” I asked.

“Oh, Tim had some bright idea he wanted to tell you about.”

“Well, what was it?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter now,” said dear little Ling-Ling, girl mystification expert. I never did find out what enthusiasm had animated Tim, since much more important matters were to claim my attention a few hours later.

The trip was set for that night. Ling-Ling “didn’t know” if she was going along or not. I decided to erase all such social trivia and devious Oriental machinations from my mind, as best I could, to prepare for the no-doubt earth-shattering revelations to come.

A quiet morning walk in the sparkling woods was what I needed, I decided. I set off past the Bowling Alley which was an enormous chalet, built of huge stones, wherein the former lord of the manor had amused himself and his friends under murals showing famous Hudson Valley horses and horsepersons of the 1800s. The road curved under budding maples and tall stands of spruce which shaded a burbling stream. The stream was captured by a stonework dam and then passed an ironwork gate to a road which led to hundreds of acres of wild country to the north, including the hills later to be named, appropriately, “Lunacy” and “Ecstasy.”

The road curved gradually back towards the south. To my right was a gentle rising slope planted in baby spruce, which faced some sunlit hills and fields through a frieze of trees lining the other side of the road.

I had a drink from an old-fashioned water pump which was conveniently situated on the hill and sat down on the grass to think things over. What went through my mind were the same old questions which world literature and the conversation of drunks will indicate are pretty common concerns.

Why am I here? What is all this for? Who am I? Where am I? And other stuff along the same lines.

My one and only big trip had not advanced my progress in finding answers to these fundamental questions, but it had prevented any escape by way of reductionism or displacement. I was unable to think of myself as either an odd product of blind chance, or a deity’s dummy, being punished for getting my cords tangled, or having my faith tested, or whatever. Until I had good answers, I was pinned in place.

So, my mood was one of genuine perplexity, which is a rare and sublime mood, as Lao-tzu observed.

On an impulse with no conscious antecedents, I placed my right hand on the earth and crooked my left back toward the sky, and asked, “Where am I?”

Nothing happened, but I maintained my position for fifteen minutes or so, rejecting any ideation which rose to the surface, and hoping something remarkable would occur. No soap. I relaxed. As soon as I relaxed it occurred to me that my assumption that nothing had happened was gratuitous. Why not assume something had happened and be alert to recognize it? I got up, dusted myself off, and walked back to the Big House, determined not to alter my mood, no matter what happened.

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