(from Suburban Misfits)
(This is one of several monologues that serves as inspiration for the film script Road to Nowhere)
I miss you, though moving back in with my family wasn’t as much a culture shock as I thought it would be.
My old room was much the way I remembered it, Pop Tart boxes still pasted to the walls my version of pop art.
The blinking yellow traffic safety light my brother stole as a joke is still under the bed though the battery has run out so it doesn’t blink any more.
I even found some of my old art work, those simple line drawings inspired by John Lennon I thought were so clever when I was still in high school.
Now they speak of another person entirely, one full of dreams which could not help burst of me in every line.
While the art is flawed and primitive, it has an energy my more sophisticated things today lack.
I know I’ll never get that energy back.
Right after you left for California to see you sister, I found myself preoccupied with what you were saying, how New Jersey and New York City had become a cancer consuming people and land, a cancer that erases all those precious old ways of life most of us treasured about living here, the roadside vegetable stands, the narrow roads full of farms, the green hills in the distance.
You left seeking to regain them, although I don’t see how San Francisco could be much better.
I suppose you had to go see for yourself.
Sure, people around here have become rushed and rude, and life painful. Yet it seems all a by-product of civilization itself.
You can’t have all the conveniences and privileges of our times without also taking some aspects of hell.
I know what you said about making your own community.
I also remember what you said about my leadership abilities, after you had seen how I deal with all the kids in neighborhood.
Those are the reasons I went north with Hank and Kenny looking for land.
The newspaper ad in the New York Times made it seem perfect: a 100 acres near the Canadian border – far enough away from civilization to actually try the experiment.
And not a two-car garage in sight.
You would have loved it. Hank and Kenny did.
Maybe it’s me. But those two have grown crazier than I remember – even though in looking back in the photo album they look largely the same as they did in 1967 when I met them. Both of them wearing variations on the same hippie garb I thought of as crap back then.
People are supposed to change over the years, and yet after five years, they looked and acted the way they always did.
And there’s the rub.
I think I’ve changed when they have not.
I want something – and haven’t a clue what they want.
You complained about me being too carefree, you should see them.
They would have danced on the hood of the car they would have. As it was, they sang at top of their lungs to every song on the radio, banging on the back of the seat or the dash board in their enthusiasm. My head still throbs to the back beat.
More than once along the road I thought of tossing them out. But driving Hank’s car I’m certain he would have called the cops to say I stole it, if I did.
All those two wanted was a good time and saw the drive north as easy escape from dull routine of their jobs.
“A community?” they said. “Sure, why not? Anything to get out of the city.”
The two of them chattered on about camp fires and sitting around singing songs, when I wanted to hear a little about how willing their were to handle the back breaking work it would take to make a success of any such endeavor.
How would we raise food? How would we keep warm in winter?
How the devil would we keep out of each other’s way, or deal with the local community who certainly have problems with a pack of hippies moving in?
How would I handle depending on them when they irritated the hell out of me after only a few hours on the road?
I kept thinking of those old drawings of mine, and how I needed to get back to that way of thinking, something I knew I would never achieve living in the old neighborhood.
I kept thinking of your trip and understood how sometimes you have to step out of your own life so you can take an objective look at it.
I missed that old innocence nearly as much as I missed you.
And then, I found myself falling into their madness, beeping the horn to old Rolling Stones songs as if we got onto the New York Thruway.
When Hank fell asleep, I even plotted with Kenny to yank off Hank’s pants and hang them out the window.
And for a time, I felt as if I was back in 1967 again, all of his dreaming the same wonderful and exotic dreams of peace and prosperity, as if we could change the world with our singing or some the murders with only one Kennedy and let Martin Luther King keep on preaching.
Even the radio seemed to agree, playing song after song from that time as if we had actually gone back in time.
I guess it evaporated again when I thought about you, and thought about where you were and why, and how much you would have loved the mountains and trees through which we were driving.
No suburban blight had reached this far up into New York State. We passed only pockets of buildings, small villages snug in the cusp of hidden valleys, isolated from the harsh world of the city by ridge after ridge.
We seemed to have reached the perimeter of civilization as if we had launched ourselves through time and landed on another, simpler planet.
And even as I basked in the glory of what I saw as your world, I began to miss the world I most thought of as my own, as if the smog, beeping hors and rushing people had become much more a part of my basic nature than all of the trees and bubbling brooks.
I felt precariously balanced, riding along a very narrow ridge waiting to fall one way towards your world and other towards my own.
Strangely enough, the farther we got from the heart of the city the more attractive it seemed.
That was until we reached the land.
Oh, Jane! It was glorious. Like no hippie haven I could have ever imagined, as diverse in its various aspects as the world itself, from dry meadows and rising elevations at one end to a murky river shore at the other – and in-between a little mountain with trees and small plateau, more than enough to support us all with its potential for farming and isolation.
Large enough to make it possible not to see another human being on any single day.
Had I the money, I would have bought it right then and there, and envisioned myself as leader of a new school of Hudson River painters, capturing the beauty of this place for a whole world to see.
And I knew I had to bring you back so that you could see it, too.
Had that been the end of it, I would have forced Hank to withdraw his father’s money for the deposit.
As it turned out, we were not as alone as we thought. Others hippies had migrated north and had taken up residence on nearby plots of land, some of whom had already worked out some of the more aggravating details of community.
One group had already built a dome out of empty beer cans, drinking their way to a new world. They hammered flat each can after they had finished it, and after a year, had nearly completed their effort.
But the year in that world seemed to have made them a little savage, losing some of the refinements civilized life tended to endow us with. Some could barely talk, communicating with us in grunts, and showing no inclination towards greeting us strangers warmly. They like old clans could care less about what went on beyond the boundaries of their own land.
They seemed to praise simplicity to the point of stupidity. They had no magazines, no newspapers or TV. And even though they had brought books with them, a dust had settled over those I saw, suggesting no one had read any of them in a while.
This shook me, and I was still shaking half way back to New Jersey.
The other two had finally fallen asleep after hours of ranting over the possibilities. They were already making plans for a dome of their own.
I let them dream.
Maybe I was a little angry at them, and at you, for your ability to accept that way of life, to cut off a whole portion of yourself without feeling pain or loss.
I need those things which were not part of that world, the thriving, intelligent life of the city, flawed, poisonous, but vibrant and fresh as well.
And I knew as I write this how you will react.
But I am tilted, too far towards the city to ever leave it, and I’m afraid I startled the hell out of those two when we reached the highway, gunned the engine, screamed “Karabunga,” the old surfer’s yell, and rushed down the highway full tilt towards home.