In Berkeley, California, I took a job on a street called Telegraph Avenue, a few storefronts down from a school called the University of California, Berkeley Campus, in the year 1967. How could a young man from Buffalo possibly know that he had landed in the pinpoint epicenter of a movement that was about to alarm-clock the world, and change human consciousness for good. Even though its influence appears to have been fully squelched, in fact, it was a consciousness earthquake in an ocean of business as usual whose tsunami even today is heading toward our shores. In about 2013 the wave should wash over our misconceptions, and open our hearts to one another and open our eyes to the stranglehold that fear and cultivated unconsciousness has had over our country and the world. There is no such thing as driving revelations underground. Eventually truth always rises up from what everyone thought was its grave.
I sold cameras at this Camera store and took in film to be developed. In those days, black and white film was dirt cheap, and color prints were expensive. There were no pixels, only grain. Interesting people opened the great glass front door and walked up to one of us standing behind the counter. They spoke to me as if I were a normal human being, expecting me to know things about cameras. I had taken any number of photography courses in college, even gone to see one of the truly great photographers, Minor White in Rochester, New York as an art student and had dinner with him and a few of his students. I guess I was as right for the job as any kid my age, which was twenty four.
When they walked in with a roll of film in their hand, my automatic response was to snap out an envelope and prepare to write down the type of film it was, and their name and phone number. I laid the envelope onto the counter and wrote down B & W, Tri X, 36 exp. PRINTS
“And your name?”, I asked, on automatic.
“Hal.”, he said.
I looked up at him. He would be easy to remember when he came in for the prints. His face was strong, handsome, with rust colored hair, freckles and a thick mustache. He was young, but older than me. His jaw line was strong enough to have only a mustache. He had a face like an old Rembrandt painting, one of the guys in Night Watch, the one with the pointy beard who stood looking forward. He wore a leather jacket that was dark tan, khakis and a guys kind of shirt.
When I asked for a phone number, he gave a small shrug dismissing the idea.
When he came in the next day to get his film, he came over to me and I remembered him. I got his prints, and he left off another roll of film. I wrote down ‘Hal’, and we had a good connection. I liked him. At the same time, I never wanted Miriam, whom I lived with, or behind, to ever know a guy like this even existed. If I ever got to know him, it would be my friendship alone, and he would never know I even had a home.
On the third time of Hal’s coming in with film, he stopped before leaving with his prints and looked at me.
“There’s something I’d like you to see.”, he said to me. “Can I come by after work and pick you up?”
I looked at him. There was nothing sexual in his energy. He actually had something that he thought that I would be interested in.
“Sure.” I said. “I’m through at five.”
We nodded to one another, and he left the store.
The day went by from eleven. At lunch time I went across the street to a small open air stand that served brown rice. I had fallen in love with the taste of brown rice with soy sauce and little scallions and toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top. It drove me crazy. I had no idea it was probably good for me. I think it was the toasted sesame seeds that got me.
I worked the rest of the day, and we closed the doors at five. A few minutes after the door was locked, Hal came to the glass door and peered through the glass to see inside. I went over, opened it and left the store with him, asking Tom to lock it after me.
Hal and I walked down Telegraph Avenue and around the corner to his car. It was a Triumph, like the Tarot card, a square bodied sports car convertible. The inside had wooden panels and I slid down into the passenger seat. He started it up, and he pulled the car out into the street and headed toward the freeway.
If we spoke, I don’t remember our conversation because of the car engine. There was a relaxed silence. We drove out onto the freeway and headed north. I think it was the noise of the freeway and the fact that we were essentially outside in a convertible with the top down that kept any conversation to a few quick observations. The drive was spent looking out and wondering where in hell we were going.
We drove for about forty minutes, and dusk had become darkness. We drove in the darkness for another fifteen minutes, and his little, angular car slowed down and turned into a dirt driveway that led to a large barn about one hundred yards ahead. Outside of the barn were motorcycles, big Harleys. Hal stopped along side one of the cycles, shut the car down and we got out.
I looked at him. He nodded toward the closed door. He walked to the door, opened it and I followed him in. Once inside, we nodded to a randomly gathered group of men. There were no women inside the barn, and the men were all motorcyclists. They sat around, talking, smoking and drinking beer. We went in, and I took a seat on a bench and he left me there while he said a few words to one or two of them. Hal was not dressed like any of them, as they had insignias on their black, leather jackets, and although he, too, wore leather, his seemed stylish and coming from wealth. But somehow, he was one of them, accepted by them without a blink.
He came back and sat next to me after having smoked with one of the men. We stayed there, and I absorbed the feeling of being comfortable and almost accepted by a motorcycle gang in their haunt. It was like having a dream. How could someone like myself, in my khakis and pale blue button down collar shirt and polished black shoes be suddenly transported into a building filled with some of the wildest men on earth, relaxed and comfortable. In a while, Hal nodded again to me, and we left the barn.
Back on the road, blackness had become total in the countryside without lights. We saw only the road before us. In a moment, Hal lowered the car into low gear and we slowed down rapidly. He suddenly turned off the road and drove the car onto a field, stopped the car and turned off the motor. With the lights left on he hit the high beams. In the absolute blackness of the country night, the lights illuminated a single plant in the dark field. It was an angular plant, like Hal, with five or six inch long stems that veered off this way and then that. Each stem of dark blown wood held on the end of it a lone, tiny white flower. The flowers were round and compact, like stars or atoms, and like stars they were each held far apart from one another. In the night, they looked exactly like little stars. I stared at the plant, not knowing what to do.
Hal turned in his seat and stared at me until I looked at him, eye to eye. He said,
“When you take LSD, and you look at this plant, you will understand the whole universe.”
We looked at one another until his words found a home somewhere inside of me, and I looked back at the bush. It’s flowers held in such a way that each one appeared to have no connection with any of the other flowers, yet each was the same single plant. There was only one plant, with a thousand little faces.
He started the car again, drove backward out onto the road and silently we drove back to the photo company, where he dropped me off. I never saw Hal again, at least, never again as Hal.
Short Story and Cover Painting by Ross G. Drago
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