Neo-American Church

Chapter 9


They were always having grand tournaments there at Camelot; and very stirring and picturesque and ridiculous human bull-fights they were, too, but just a little wearisome to the practical mind.

On returning to the North Country and the world of public education, I found I had a new moral problem: I knew about something good, didn’t I? Well, unless I was satisfied to play the part of a hack and a hypocrite, I had to do something about it. I had to spread the word.

But, I must admit, for almost a year, I didn’t. I had a good family and bad habits to support, so I went about my business as usual. When I had time, I worked on my book.

Tim, Dick and Ralph, down at Millbrook, were not behaving much differently. The professional, scholarly, literary, and scientific ruts to which we were all accustomed continued to be followed, and the words “revolution” and “movement” had imaginary quotation marks around them if they were used at all.

As for religion, well, yes, so far as other people’s religions were concerned, and the older, odder, vaguer, more primitive and distant the better, it was now seen, in the light of psychedelic experience, that it was not necessarily all mumbo-jumbo after all.

Personally, however, we were above all that. We were psychologists living in the twentieth century. Scientific research was the name of the game.

But something known as “visionary experience,” as distinct from hallucinations, delusions and imaginings, was back in the lexicon, and with a new twist. This was highly disagreeable to many powerful and entrenched interests, some of whom thought they had slaughtered all these animals a long time ago and sent their lifeless trophies to the taxidermists, but they had not defined themselves as combatants as yet and neither had we.

So I finished the school year of ’64 without serious trouble. When Sally had thrown her first I Ching hexagram at Edwards she had been informed in no uncertain terms that she was pregnant, and she was. Klytie was born on July 14 at the hospital in Star Lake, another small town to which we had moved; prettier than Edwards, with more and better conveniences. Sally, Susan and the baby stayed at Manhasset for the balance of the summer, while I went off on various jaunts. Poker games with old pals and parties with old palettes, in a triangle from Port Jefferson on Long Island to Plattsburg to Syracuse and back again.

This sporting life, I found, wasn’t as much fun as it had been. I was preoccupied with philosophic questions. When I told my old friends about my new interests, the subject was usually quickly changed to the tried and true, although at Syracuse I found that an old pal, Karl Newton, M.D. (a shrink) was very interested, as were some of the other high-IQ people around. I stopped off at Millbrook two or three times for brief visits during that strange summer following the JFK assassination.

Nothing very remarkable happened, but people in general seemed to be in a peculiar frame of mind. Had a cabal of some kind taken over their government? I came to believe this in the years to come, but at the time I was as uncertain and confused about it all as the next guy. Joining the Millbrook community seemed to be an economic impossibility and that was that. At least the place existed. This meant a lot to me, as it did to many other people who had become bored and angry with the materialism and militarism of American life and dazed by the truly bizarre events in Dallas.

The main thing I seemed to be doing was wasting money. Perhaps, unconsciously, I was trying to wreck my 9-to-5 existence. I usually had no summer vacations in those days. As I often put it to people who inquired, if I wasn’t “in school,” I was “in prison.” It never entered my head that it was possible to do anything without, sooner or later, working to pay for it. What was I supposed to do, rob banks?

When the 1964-65 school year started, Sally seemed happier with two kids to look after than one and we had found a better house than usual in Star Lake, a town with the woodsy atmosphere I favored. Even if my novelistic effort seemed labored and derivative to me, with bright spots here and there, the Millbrookians seemed to like it, and after all, it was only the first draft.

Consciously, I didn’t want to get fired, but by mid-winter my driver’s license was suspended for speeding, and Sally had to bundle up Susan and Klytie every morning and drive me to the schools, often over icy roads in abominable weather. Each of my four violations had been for going ten miles or so over the limit on deserted straight-aways cutting through the forest preserve. Was the well-known “unseen hand” at work? Could be.

These ambushes, always by the same cop, may well have been a deliberate shot across my bow, an introduction to harassment by selective enforcement. As I would learn in the years to come, it’s the American Way of disposing of dissidents. Virtually every car that passed him was exceeding the speed limit. On the other hand, I was the school psychologist for the area and it was my job to tell people the truth about their kids. My antagonist may have been some local dull-normal kid’s mother’s brother-in-law, or something, getting even because I had said that it was bad luck with the genetic lottery, rather than bad teaching or moral depravity, that accounted for the kid’s low grades. A lot of people, for wildly different reasons, hate to hear this.

The FBI paid us a visit, without a preliminary phone call, one Saturday afternoon. Two young guys in gray flannel suits, very polite, very pleasant. They just wanted to discuss the subject. Nothing alarming was contemplated, etc. I asked them to sit down, the usual arguments on both sides were trotted out, and they left.

Sally did not appear during this exchange. When the G-men left, I found her crouched at the top of the stairs with my little automatic pistol in hand. I was stunned. The extremely combative inclinations of her illustrious forbearers had apparently risen up, brushed common sense aside, and taken over for a while. I gently removed the weapon from her grasp and spoke a few words of admonishment, not unmixed with awe, and she quickly calmed down.

Events cast their shadows before them, all right. In a way, I guess, Sally saw the battle lines more clearly than I did.

I knew very well that my new and very exotic way of looking at things, and my new interest in psychedelic drugs, would not go over very well with most of the public school principals and superintendents to whom I reported, but I did my best to continue functioning as I had in the past, on the theory that the fellow professionals with whom I associated on my own time, and the kinds of psychological research in which I took an interest, were nobody’s business but my own.

I’m sure there were leaks. I had teacher friends, whose views on other matters were similar to my own, in whom I confided.

My attitude became public when the rulers of New York State decided to increase the penalties for the distribution of the Lesser Sacrament. Under the governance of mass-murderer Nelson Rockefeller, these sadistic laws continued to escalate until the suffering imposed on pot smokers equaled or exceeded the punishments for robbery and manslaughter. This witch hunt provoked me to write a “general report,” which was a mimeographed paper I occasionally distributed on a subject of general interest, on marijuana.

There wasn’t anything in this brief essay that wouldn’t be regarded as standard liberal opinion in future years: Don’t become alarmed at a little experimentation; cannabis isn’t addicting; it may well have medical and psychological usefulness; the facts aren’t all in; the laws are much too harsh and ought to be moderated, etc., etc.

What the hell, I thought to myself. If a psychologist with my kind of experience couldn’t express a minority opinion on a matter such as this, of what use was the First Amendment to the Constitution?

I was fired the next day.

The school boards of two of the four districts I served voted for me, and two voted against me, but this was enough to terminate my services, according to the rules then in place. The M.D. president of the school board in Star Lake, a Dr. Person, led the attack. No official reasons were provided, which was legal because I didn’t have tenure.

Note that two of my school boards stood by me. The public education establishment in those days was not nearly as supine or irrational as it became in the decades that followed, although the first serious capitulations to the forces of unreason were beginning to appear as the parents of low-IQ children organized and pressured the schools to ignore all but the most extreme differences in intelligence and achievement in promotion, grade placement and, eventually, in almost everything else including graduation from high school. Educational psychologists were demonic figures to these people. Since discrimination on the basis of race was bad, all discrimination was bad and all integration was good. The fact is that discrimination and segregation for the right reasons are the corner-stones of all good educational systems. But it was early. The dumbing down of American education had just begun. Because Sputnik was still fresh in people’s minds, there were countervailing forces at work, now (1994) almost entirely vanquished. Maybe I got out just in time.

Fortunately, I had just borrowed a couple thousand. Instead of buying a new car, I went over to Cranberry Lake, about ten miles from Star Lake, and started asking around for something roomy and isolated off the road and on the shore, 90 percent of which was in the forest preserve and declared “forever wild” by the New York State Constitution.

It was nice, if somewhat anxiety provoking, to be free.

The major insights gained from psychedelic experience are at odds with the myths and fantasies of institutional life in a dualist culture, and it is most often not a matter of choice that “turning on” and “tuning in” are swiftly followed by “dropping out.” It isn’t impracticality, per se. Psychedelians worry about survival problems as much as anyone else in trouble. It’s often a matter of gagging when called upon to pronounce the prevailing incantations, once one no longer believes in them.

The few supposedly turned-on professionals who manage to remain in institutional life doing research and teaching will often be found, on close examination, to be not turned-on at all.

Gwenn Longbotham, former bee hee of Burlington, Vermont, told me about some isolation chamber research she had done with Jean Houston, who had been anointed as an authority on LSD by the mass media and mass publishing. Gwenn asked Jean if she had taken much, and Jean said she had had one 50-microgram trip, period.

“I’m too analytical,” Jean explained, with a brazen smirk.

Yeah, sure. That’s the problem with all these great-mystery-that-surrounds-the-pyramids kind of people. (See Mind Games, Viking, 1972.) They are too “analytical.”

As an Aries kind of guy (I regard astrology as just another frame for synchronicity, a convenient typology for the cast of characters, and not a matter of “influences”) and a son of a Lutheran minister, it was unlikely that I could have maintained a fraudulent persona for long, but it took years before I fully accepted this fact. True, I was free of many restraints, but I was also free of $500 paychecks every two weeks, which I didn’t like at all.

In private, Tim was pretty good at accepting the grimmer consequences. I remember one occasion in particular, when I was bitching to him about the amount of dog, cat and goat shit in and around the Big House during the last few months when the place had disintegrated into a mere comfort station for people and animals living in the woods. Tim, who was very fastidious personally, replied, “Art, that’s your problem. You have to learn to love shit.”


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