Neo-American Church


Begin here—I’ve already told you what goes before.

Millbrook, early spring, 1968

“Well, where’s that flunky Rumsey and the Mad Scientist?” Bill Haines growled as he stomped into the press room. He was followed, in close formation, by Howie, Betsy and Thorin Druck, a trio commonly and derisively referred to by those of us who knew and loved them as “The Holy Family.”

There were at least thirty people in the converted garage of the old farmhouse which had sheltered Haines’ Sri Ram Ashram since Tim Leary, “the Mad Scientist,” had expelled the Ashram from the fifty-room Big House down the hill, in April of ’67, almost exactly a year before. Now we were all being ejected, not only from our dwellings, but from the 2,500-acre Dutchess County estate entirely. Tim, Haines and I had been served with eviction notices from the Hitchcock Cattle Corporation, signed by Tommy and Billy Hitchcock, ordering us and all the members of Tim’s League for Spiritual Discovery, Haines’ Sri Ram Ashram and my Neo-American Church to be off the property by May 22.

It promised to be a dramatic meeting. My wife Wendy and I, the Ashram members, and those Leaguers who had survived the winter were present out of immediate, if not desperate, self-interest. But the mixed bag of Vassar girls, freaks from Woodstock across the Hudson and visitors from New York who happened to be hanging around that day clearly expected to be entertained. Except for a few rooms, the Big House had been closed for most of the preceding winter and Tim, who hated cold weather, had been in California.

“Tim’s somewhere on the property,” I replied. “I don’t know where Rumsey is. Maybe they’re having a little advance meeting up at the Bungalow, or something, ho, ho.”

The “Bungalow” had been built in 1913, as a gift from Charles Dieterich to his son, Alfred. Rumsey, a non-practicing lawyer, was an old school chum of William and Thomas Mellon Hitchcock, who were twin brothers and bi-products of several generations of venereal congress between members of America’s most bloated plutocratic dynasties. The handsome twins had inherited enormous trust funds in their early twenties, purchased the estate in 1963, and then offered the “Big House,” a nineteenth-century extravaganza which had been the residence of the original owner, to Tim Leary, Dick Alpert and Ralph Metzner, as a “psychedelic research center.”

Why? The super-rich do not ordinarily do things like this, or anything remotely resembling anything like this, nor does anyone in any other economic bracket very often do anything like this, for that matter. Youthful folly? Courage of Psychedelian conviction? Sympathy and generosity? Boredom? Innocence? Arrogance? Curiosity? Lecherous anticipation of variegated choirs of marijuana goddesses? The hypnotic spell of Timothy Leary? Did the coup d’état of 1963 have anything to do with it?

I asked Billy about his and Tommy’s original motivations one time, after the whole project had been beaten into the ground by the powers that were.

“It was the only game in town,” he replied, which was a very Billyish kind of thing to say, and not inconsistent with any or all of the above.

Anyway, this magnificently generous, reckless and astonishing offer, for which both of them, and their wives as well, deserve the eternal gratitude of mankind and the perpetual forgiveness of sins, was made shortly after Tim, Dick and Ralph had been kicked out of Harvard and then Mexico because of their Psychedelian activities. They were desperately searching for a suitable locale and powerful patronage. They took one look at the Big House, two looks at the twins and, as Billy laughingly told a reporter during the latter days of the place, “promptly accepted.”

The combined wealth of the then resident Hitchcocks: Billy, the prime mover; Tommy, who was always somewhat reluctant; and their sister Peggy, always an enthusiastic participant, was well over one zillion dollars, or something like that, on tap and on order, and raining down from above in refreshing, timely showers. Their father had died in an airplane crash early in WWII, and their mother, who had never remarried, lived in New York City in a Gracie Square apartment overlooking the mayor’s house and the East River, and rarely visited her children’s private playground.

Under the circumstances, at once so desperate and so grandiose, I think my speculation about a little advance meeting was immediately under-stood by my fellow residents as meaning what I intended; that possibly one more Byzantine twist was about to occur and the grand master himself would sell us all down the river.

“Let’s not get paranoid, Kleps,” Haines said. “It’s too early in the day.”

There was a titter from the audience. Our visitors seemed a little stunned to hear such cynical and jocular discourse between the chief boo hoo and the guru of the Ashram. They usually came, drawn by media images, rarely to see Haines or me, but to look the place over in a general kind of way and perhaps catch a glimpse of Tim in action, possibly levitating over hill and dale, or distributing iridescent capsules to the rest of us, whom they assumed to be his faithful and devoted disciples. They usually ended up at the Ashram because the rest of us customarily sent them there. Even if they read the local papers, it was always extremely difficult for visitors to understand what was going on and, very often, not much easier for those of us who lived there and were deeply involved in what was going on to understand what was going on.

Haines sat down on a ratty old couch facing the open garage door. He was in full regalia: yellow robes, sandals, beads, heavy cane to poke the female members of the Ashram in the crotch with if he felt they were “asking for it,” so to speak.

The air was balmy again and full of bird song, the view delightful; gardens, fields, woods, winding roads leading off towards “my” Gatehouse and Millbrook, town of, beyond.

All of us were feeling a lot of plain, old-fashioned grief at the prospect of being driven from this earthly paradise but, just like Adam and Eve, what we talked about was how to make as good a deal as possible with the landlord.

“I hope you’re prepared to explain why you let Marlowe take the furniture?” Haines asked.

“Yeah, Kleps,” Howie Druck added. Howie, head of The Holy Family, was twenty-six. His wife, Betsy, was twenty-three, and her son by prior alliance, Thorin, the only human being Haines seemed able to relate to without intermittent torrents of abuse, was three.

“Why didn’t you stop him?” I asked Haines.

“I am a man of peace. I keep telling you, Kleps, that one of the principles of yoga is non-violence, but you don’t seem to believe me.”

I sighed. The day before, an excited Howie had appeared at the Gatehouse with a story about how Allan Marlowe was up at the Big House loading a U-Haul trailer with articles of furniture that most definitely didn’t belong to him. Tim was away lecturing and couldn’t be reached. Marlowe, Howie reported, had said Rosemary (Rosemary Woodruff, Tim’s constant companion at the time) had given him permission to take the stuff. Haines had asked him to wait until Tim returned but he refused. According to Howie, Marlowe was crazy. The secret League name he had given himself was Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future and, because he had once thrown a dinner plate at Bill during an argument over vegetarianism, he was “violent.” It was time for SPIN to go into action.

Frequently, when there was a crisis of this sort on the property, Haines would phone or dispatch a messenger to urge me to “send SPIN into action.” SPIN, the Society for the Prevention of Injustice to Neo-Americans, was not exactly operational, as Haines knew full well. Once again I regretted ever inventing the damn thing. I drove to the Big House and found Marlowe, assisted by a confederate I didn’t recognize, struggling in the main hall with a ten-foot-high oval mirror in a gilded frame we later found out belonged to Maynard Ferguson, the band leader. Just being in the Big House depressed me. Most of the electricity and water was off, the remaining Leaguers were camped out in the woods in tents, and the mansion was inhabited only by rats and cats and phantasmagorical images of cherished people and weird scenes now long gone.

Marlowe had a wild look in his eyes, which showed he was feeling normal, I suppose. Yes, Rosemary had given him permission. His conduct was none of my business since I was not a member of the League and he wasn’t a member of the Church.

In a way, I was half a member of the League, since Tim had started to initiate me the previous fall when we were both half crocked and he was trying to abandon Rosemary to my keeping while he took off for Las Vegas. Rosemary had reminded him he was violating the bylaws of the League by acting without consultation with the rest of the group and, after remarking that such shit cut no ice with him, he had desisted.

No, Marlowe had said, he couldn’t wait. The U-Haul was rented for only one day. I shrugged and left. The police, Tim had said, should never be called under any circumstances. Although I thought this a reasonable general rule, I had violated it by calling the state police, not the local county thugs, on two occasions without evil consequences.

“I don’t see how he can get pissed off at us,” I said.

“I’m afraid I do,” said Haines, puffing on his pipe (strictly tobacco; Haines rarely smoked the Lesser Sacrament, although he enjoyed it in edible form every now and then) and assuming an air of confident but burdensome insight into the minds of men not granted to lesser mortals. Bill’s forecasts of Tim’s conduct were almost always for stormy weather in the near future, and I had to admit he usually had Tim’s moves “psyched out” better than I did, but to predict trouble over a few pieces of furniture, however fancy, at a time like this didn’t make much sense to me.

For weeks Tim had been preaching to Bill and me that our response to the eviction order would determine the fate of the psychedelic movement and world history for eons to come, so we should all defy that spoiled rich brat Tommy at the risk of imprisonment if necessary. Passive resistance, of course. Caves in the hills. TV crews would flock. The hypocrisy of the Republicrat bosses of Dutchess County, who had been raiding the estate repeatedly to harass any one of us they felt like harassing, while treating the owners and rulers of the place as if they were invisible, would be revealed for all to see. Tim’s pitch made sense, sort of.

He told us how he had visited Tommy at his apartment in New York, gotten drunk, and ranted and raved at him for hours to no avail. Tommy was determined to play the “aristocrat-serf” game, Tim said. Billy was pretending Tommy was forcing him to go along by invoking hitherto unmentioned rules of their cattle-farm corporation, which held title to the property.

Tim assumed, and so did we, that Billy had become as eager as Tommy to throw us to the wolves in order to avoid getting fanged himself and stuck with all the bills for bail and fines. This was only natural, but Tim took a very adversarial position, at least in his speeches to us. Billy and Tommy were playing “money and power games” but we should not allow ourselves to be seduced by mere gold when such high principles were at stake.

Although Bill and I now had our own arrangements with the landlords, including deeds of a sort, complete with a map which had been published in the local weekly, Tim had been the instrument of both our original entries. We had come in under his wing. I felt that if Tim wanted to put up a fight, some kind of primal fealty obliged me to stand with him, and I said so.

It seems absurd at the time of this writing, but those were strange times and Millbrook was a very strange place.

When Bill also accepted Tim’s strategy I was astonished. It was the first time in a long time all three of us had agreed to act in concert about anything important and it was a refreshing change. Although we had not distinguished ourselves as models of amicability during times of peace, when it is only natural to go your own way if no great harm is done by it, we were now united in defiance of a common foe.

Charlie Rumsey was probably authorized to offer a few thousand if we would leave quietly; Tim would tell him we were staying no matter what; Haines would declare, once again, that if he went to jail “Tommy and Billy will be in the cell right next to me”; and I would, what? Probably tell Charlie, keep it simple, that I was simply following Tim’s lead as I had promised.

When Tim and Rosemary walked in everyone brightened up a bit, even though Tim looked tired and grim. They sat down in a very unrelaxed way, in chairs which two polite visitors gave up for them. No, Rumsey hadn’t arrived yet. Yes, the lecture had gone well, as usual. Awkward silence. Tim was obviously displeased by the large number of people present. Oh well, I thought, we can always move upstairs.

Me: “Tim, did you hear about Allan Marlowe taking some furniture from the Big House yesterday?”

Tim: “What? Marlowe took my furniture? Why didn’t you stop him?”

Haines: “He said Rosemary gave him permission. What the hell were we supposed to do?”

Tim jumped up and left followed by Rosemary. Fifteen minutes passed during which Haines moodily examined the floor at his feet, employing the tip of his cane as a probe. I closely examined the picturesque landscape framed by the open garage doors.

Tim and Rosemary returned, faces rigid. Tim pointed an accusing finger at Haines and me and said (exact words):


They left without waiting for a reply. The next day a moving van appeared and loaded up all their remaining possessions.

There never was a meeting with Charlie, or any other kind of general landlord/tenant meeting. Except for the documents mentioned in this book, nothing was ever spelled out, much less resolved.

I didn’t see Tim again until fall, when Billy and I went to visit him in the hillside house in Berkeley none of us at Millbrook knew he owned until it was all over. He was sprawled out on a wooden deck overlooking the bay, surrounded by “White Panthers” and others of similar persuasion, who were telling stories about blowing up power stations and other acts of wanton destruction, as was then the fashion. The presence of William Mellon Hitchcock, a capitalist if there ever was one, didn’t faze these guys a bit. Were they aware Tim held stock in New England Nuclear, and that they were suggesting that he destroy his own property? Probably not, but it wasn’t impossible some of them owned stock in New England Nuclear themselves, such were the bizarre mores of Berkeley in 1968.

Had he ever gotten his furniture back? “No,” Tim replied with the utmost blanditude, “as a matter of fact, most of it belonged to Maynard.” Then he showed me a copy of Horizon magazine that featured an article on Millbrook entitled “Boo Hoos and Gurus,” with a nice picture of me leaning out of the top window of the stone tower on the bridge behind the Gatehouse with my arms out as if I were blessing the multitudes or getting ready to take a swan dive. The greatest practitioner of the political arts I have ever known had once more succeeded in changing the subject by substituting an “upper” for a “downer,” perhaps his favorite rhetorical trick in a large and varied repertoire. A week or two after Tim’s abrupt departure, the Ashram settled for $25,000. The Neo-American Church got $10,000. There were several reasons why I allowed myself to be shortchanged, not one of which, I can now see, was worth a nickel on the open market.

Otto H. Baron von Albenesius got $1,500. We will meet the inimitable Otto later.

As far as I know, nobody ever found out what Tim got, if anything, for “going over to Tommy’s side,” whatever that means, if he did.

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