Wednesday, November 27, 2013

John Stossel: "Be Thankful for Property." Which reminded me of my misspent youth.

William McKinley in winter, Ohio State House, Columbus. During an anti-war demonstration in the spring of 1970 or 1971, a yippie perched himself on McKinley's shoulders and yelled in response to the speakers, "Hard on, man! Hard on!"
Had today's politicians and opinion-makers been in power four centuries ago, Americans might celebrate "Starvation Day" this week, not Thanksgiving.
Actually, this reminded me of my early years, when I lived in a house just off the OSU campus in Columbus, Ohio that we shared with a large fluctuating population of hippies, yippies and "straights." My daughter Zoe just recently interviewed me on the subject for a college paper. The interview brought back lots of memories:
1. How extensive were your interactions with people who were considered "hippies"?
Well, I lived in a house with them, briefly dated a girl who followed the lifestyle, observed both non-political "lifestyle" types ("hippies") and political types ("yippies") at close range for several years.
2. How would you describe these people? (appearance, behavior, etc.)
I am tempted to say, "stoned" and leave it at that, because drug use was a common thread with hippies and yippies. Any drugs. All drugs. All the time. They were the largest class of absolute stoners I ever met in my life. The interesting thing was that they tried to convince themselves and others that drug use was, in and of itself, a socially uplifting experience. The whole "Tune in, turn on, drop out" mantra was designed to codify a lifestyle as a cultural and political statement, which I suppose it was but it was based fundamentally on narcissism rather than a functional social structure. That is, they were for dope, as long as they could borrow it from somebody and "free sex" (rather than "free love") as long as they weren't held to any commitment (a Crosby, Stills and Nash lyric of the time covered it, "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with," love being sex and permanently confused in the hippie's mind as the same thing, which it isn't). Indeed, the whole point was sex rather than love. They were all for what they called "communal living" as long as they didn't have to pay the rent, wash the clothes, buy the food, pay the utilities or absorb any of the million responsibilities of work and finance that it takes to keep a household running. (I lived in an old Victorian house on 14th Avenue in the University District of Columbus, Ohio with a fluctuating population of hippies, yippes and "straights" for more than a little while. The hippies were, almost to a man or woman, grasshoppers. The straights and, in one case, a yippie, were the "ants" that kept us from being evicted.) In appearance they differed little from the average university student of the time, tie-dyes and bell bottoms, tee shirts, long hair and facial hair on the guys (and the women's legs). The "women's liberation movement" manifested itself among the females chiefly by the absence of bras and the provision of free birth control pills at the "women's clinic" just off campus. As far as "behavior," well, they were stoners, which for us straights was either hysterically funny or tediously boring.
3. Did you have any friends who were hippies?
Sure. You don't think I could put up with that kind of behavior for very long in people I DIDN'T like, do you?
4. Did they ever talk about promiscuity or recreational drug use?
Talked, did, talked some more, did some more, changed partners, changed back. It was their raison d'ĂȘtre.
5. When do you think the height of the hippie movement was?
1967 - 1969. By 1970, they were tiring of the lifestyle and forced to face some of the unpleasant side effects of the lifestyle: overdoses, STDs, inability to maintain loving relationships in a milieu that demanded unfettered sex.
6. Did they ever talk about their views on Civil Rights or the Vietnam War? And if so, what were their opinions of them?
You've got to remember that these were essentially, except for the yippies, unpolitical people and frankly cultural ignoramuses and historical amnesiacs. They might go to an anti-war demonstration on a lark because everyone else was going but they found getting stoned at a rock concert to be more fun and even talked themselves into the proposition that getting stoned at a rock concert and shouting "F-CK!" along with Country Joe and the Fish WAS a political act. The Black Panthers or other serious political folks made them wet their pants (or panties) and when the tear gas started getting thrown around during the spring of 1970, the hippies and even the yippies were NOWHERE to be found. Hell, even the fraternities of jocks on 15th Avenue fought the cops in May of 1970. The stoners just stayed off the streets and complained about the pepper fog drifting in their windows.
Even the yippies were at their silly best at anti-war demonstrations. There was a big anti-war march to the Ohio State House where, outside of it along High Street was a statue of William McKinley. A yippie climbed up until he was able to find a perch on McKinley's shoulders, and every time some speaker would make a point, he would cry out ironically (instead of the mantra of the day, "Right on!") "Hard on, man! Hard on!"
7. Would you describe these people as having the same characteristics as the stereotypical hippie? (poor hygiene, promiscuity, extensive drug use)
See above. My favorite anecdote of one my hippie roommates from this period involves a guy named Tim (he may still be alive so we'll leave out his last name) . He once got stoned on acid and/or mescaline, walked down to the intersection of 15th and High at the entrance to Ohio State, took off all his clothes and began directing traffic. In the nude, did I mention that? It was a cold day, so I doubt he impressed any girls, but he had loads of fun until the cops came along and collected him. Of course he required bail money, which us straights put up for him, since the hippies couldn't be bothered by such unhip concepts as money and jobs to raise said money (although one turned into a dope peddler -- I won't say dealer, because he was, as with all hippies, fundamentally unserious and eventually ran afoul of the serious dope dealers who took a ball bat to his right knee cap.)
8. If they did discuss recreational drug use, what substances were they using and what were their opinions of them?
LSD was big at the time. Mescaline and magic mushrooms were popular. Various formulations of marijuana of course. Marijuana use was universal then, even among the straights. The hard drug stuff, heroin and cocaine, came later and brought their own plagues to those who stayed with the lifestyle.


Roger J said...

Thanks for the tour of the late '60s - early '70s, Mike. I just remember them as ugly, paranoid years and I was one of the "straights." Unfortunately, the passage of the decades has not put a golden sheen on those times for me. Then again, I was on a college campus with 6 men for every woman so I totally missed out on the "free love" thing.

Anonymous said...

Yup, pretty much how I remembered it.

Moe Death said...

Yeah, that's how (and probably why) I don't remember it. Thank God I finally grew up.
Bill and Domino

SWIFT said...

I think it was the summer and fall of 1972, some friends and I were working, sandblasting the Neal House Hotel, right across High Street from the Capitol. One afternoon, I walked across High Street to see the statue of William McKinley. I climbed up on the monument and discovered that weather and age had completely destroyed the tops of his shoes. Repairmen had filled the remainder of his shoes with cement and nailed small sheets of copper into the cement. No attempt was made to make the copper sheets even resemble a shoe. It was the worst piece of workmanship possible. This story is significant of nothing, but it is a memory I've carried with me all these years of Columbus.

Paul X said...

Well... a lot of generalization going on here. Even hippies are individuals.

Anyway, why look down on hippies? It's their life, and none of our business, as long as they are not imposing on us. If you voluntarily bailed them out of jail, and otherwise aided them, that was your choice.

Also, nothing wrong with learning through experience. Even hippies figured things out.

I prefer to look down on those who actively harm me: cops, bureaucrats and politicians. I would say violent criminals but most of them have gone into politics.

Anonymous said...

Great memory of a time I lived through without any understanding of what people were actually protesting and why they did not get along with their lives.

Very well conducted interview. You have another talented writer in the family.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.