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look, it’s the Pillsbury Doughman!

March 26, 2011

Enroute to my last duty station in Albany, Georgia, my wife Suzy, son Chris and I

stopped at her older brother’s home in Louisiana.  It was election day 1968.  As

Nixon was defeating Humphrey, networks were showing campaign highlights.

I stared slack-jawed at clips showing LBJ’s withdrawal  from the race, Eugene

McCarthy’s left-flank challenge, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, George Wallace’s

candidacy, and the infamous clashes between protestors and the Chicago police

at the Democratic convention.


I knew all this had happened, but overseas news was rudimentary.  There wasn’t

much source for video then.  The official military newspaper, Stars and Stripes,

was mostly pro-war pieces and sports box scores.  The clips were mind-blowing

to me.  What had happened to this nation I’d returned to?


My new job was unit diary clerk at a supply center near Albany.  The diary is the

official record of the happenings of a Marine company.  I’d been there a month

when Bob, another recent returnee from Vietnam, joined our office.  We had very

similar negative attitudes about the war.  We became fast friends, fueling each

other’s bitterness.


There were other dissenters on the base, but they chose — like Bob and me — to

protest subtly.  One Marine on the staff of the base newspaper ran a piece that

purportedly preached against the evils of street drugs.  The article offered full

details about how hippies grew pot and morning glories.  Another malcontent

slipped a clip from a nudie flick into the coming attractions at the base drive-in

theatre.


Near the end of my time there, I was part of a ceremony that honored a Marine

for killing 30 or so of  the enemy.  I stood at attention in the ranks, burning with

rage.  How could I tolerate being in an outfit that lauds members for killing other

humans, and all under color of Christianity?  The only thing that kept me from

throwing down my rifle and walking away was knowing that in a month or so I

could walk away from all of it as a free man.


I got a little satisfaction after the ceremony when our platoon marched back to

the barracks.  The inexperienced second lieutenant handling us was positioned

too far back while calling cadence to the troops.  When he called “halt”, the front

half didn’t hear him and kept going.  He had to chase after them, allowing the

static half to laugh at him.


Bob got out the week before I did.  My wife and son were already back in Louisiana

waiting for my return.  Bob invited me and Jim, the friend I had visited near the

DMZ, up to Atlanta to party.  Jim had just gotten out of the Corps on his own recog-

nizance, so to speak.

.

Bob was an Atlanta-area native.  Atlanta had a very active hippie scene then, and he

had things all set up.  Jim and I drove up from Albany.  We met up with Bob and

went to a coffeehouse.  Before we went in, we all took a hit of acid and smoked a

joint.  That was my first ingestion of either substance.  You could argue that prying

off the top of your skull shortly after service in Vietnam might not be prudent, but

it seemed like a splendid idea at the time.


Fortunately, Jim was a seasoned psychonaut.  He served as my guide and watched

over me.  We went to someone’s apartment and listened to the legendary album

Super Session”.  I went to pee afterwards and thought I’d stood at the stool for two

hours.  I worried about the lines outside the bathroom door.  Jim fetched me and

said that my bladder and I were fine.  Later, as I was peaking, I thought to myself

“So this is what it’s all about.”  I looked over at Jim, who was sitting on the far side

of the room.  He smiled and nodded.


After some obligatory Moody Blues and numerous joints, a bunch of us went out

to get snacks.  We stopped at a donut shop.  There was a tall, burly man in the back

kneading dough.  To me it looked like, rather than him having his hands in the

dough, the dough extended up and comprised his entire body.


The next day I went to a happening in a park that was like the one in the film “Hair”.

Later I sat on a curb in an Atlanta suburb and cried.  The day after that Jim and I

drove back to Albany.  We didn’t say much.  Both of us had private gathering storms

to prepare for.

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2 Comments
  1. April 2, 2011 12:45 pm

    My favourite blog entries are always these very personal stories.
    To get off on my own little tangent: my first experience of “the universe and everything in it as one” came after eating magic mushrooms one night in northern New Brunswick. I remember looking up at the moon and stars and feeling they weren’t that far away.
    My little aside in response.

    • April 2, 2011 4:33 pm

      Well said. In almost all my psychedelic experiences I’ve felt an oceanic sense of oneness with nature. I’ve watched a lion’s-mane jellyfish for hours and been captivated by a spider weaving its web. This can be dismissed as navel-gazing, but reduction of ego is key to it all.

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