A storm had cut the power off last Thursday night, so, I went to bed early and read by flashlight. By morning, power had been restored and I went about the business of rebooting electronics, resetting clocks, and reprogramming smart plugs so the lights would go on and off at their designated times. The power then went off again on Friday late afternoon and remained off, until somewhere around 7 pm on Saturday. Rather than brood about being powerless as I had already done most of the day, I gathered my collapsible camper chair and a couple of drinks and trekked across the street to the concert in Lafayette Park. I planned to spend some quality time listening to a cover band that mostly played Crosby, Stills, and Nash songs, and wait for the promised restoration of power by 8 pm. An especially pleasant bonus was the scorching heat we endured for the past week had given way to a cold front that provided us with an early fall-like evening.
I unfolded my chair in a shady spot next to a cheerful group of seniors who looked like they were reliving the glory days of the late 60’s and early 70’s perhaps to somehow capture the Crosby, Still, and Nash vibe. Lots of tie dye. Old guys with thinning hair wore man buns; others constructed desperate pony tails from the hair they had let grow that still screamed male pattern baldness; still others just let their long white hair hang naturally or, as the man next to me did, sported a pork pie hat under the brim his white locks cascaded almost to his shoulders. Beards, mutton chops (yes, mutton chops), and of course, women’s hair dyed all the colors of the rainbow. We looked as if we had been transported back to the late 60’s except we kept the physical traits of our real age. (I’m trying to avoid saying ‘old’.) I felt as if I had established my camp next to Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. It was comical but fun, I suppose. There was raucous laughter and all of them seemed to be enjoying a delightful time. I observed all this because I was sitting, I imagine some thought rather sadly, all alone. My wife decided to spend a few days with her son in California, so, I indulged in what we all do- people watching which surely would be as good as the concert itself. The announcer stepped to the microphone to tell us the concert would be delayed for 30 minutes due to some sound equipment which had arrived late, but the Merry Pranksters “went with the flow” and enjoyed their picnics, their wine, their families and friends, and the excellent company they clearly offered one another.
All this good cheer was why the mostly unnoticed events that followed were so jarring. The senior with the long white hair and beard, wearing the pork pie hat, unpredictably became disturbed when a young family spread their picnic blanket and encamped behind the Merry Pranksters. The space between the newly encamped and the Merry Pranksters was no different than the space between other parties. But Pork Pie was riled about something to do with the proximity of the kids to what was apparently his group. I deduced this because when Mutton Chops arrived with his wife and attempted to set up camp next to the Merry Pranksters he was asked to find a different spot as the group was waiting for still more invited friends. Poor Mutton Chops, decked out in tie-dye from head to toe looked to me like he was in the right place, but alas, turned away he and his wife found a spot a few yards closer to the stage. I do have to say that Mutton Chops took it surprisingly in stride although I overheard him refuse to share any of the pizza he had picked up on the way to the park. Anyway, the aforementioned family had two small children and Pork Pie turned around and spoke sternly, warning them to make certain their children didn’t “encroach” on their (his) space. “Encroached”, I thought, was an unusual term. It seemed odd, since it means an intrusion on one’s personal territory.
I wondered for a moment if I had heard what he said correctly. Then I wondered if he was joking. The children looked at Pork Pie as he issued the warning somewhat confused. When I looked back at the family, they obviously decided to roll with it and expressed no upset. That’s when I thought Pork Pie had been joking with them. Five minutes later, it became clear it was no joke. Pork Pie stood up turned around and shouted at the family. “Your children are encroaching on our space!” (Now, consider there were maybe five or six hundred people people gathered together for the concert.)
He essentially directed that the family move, gas bagging about the pandemic, vaccinations, and how he had sacrificed seeing his grandchildren. Again, the children studied Pork Pie with slack-jawed expressions. The family started packing their things, the father remarking calmly that “all this will come back on you” a Karmic expression of his hoped-for justice.
I turned again to the family and asked, “Is he serious?”
“Oh yeah.” The father answered solemnly. “It will all come back on him”, he repeated.
“You want to sit here?” I gestured to the space on the other side of me.
The mother smiled, then chuckled. “Normally, I’d say yes, but I’m just not up for this.
The family packed up their wagon and left to find a new spot.
Pork Pie filled his wine glass and returned to his conversations. The woman who I imagined was his wife, spoke to the couple and their two barking dogs that took the family’s place behind the “Merry Pranksters”. She conveyed her outrage and incredulity that these two children had “encroached” on their space.
“The clothes make the man”, you’ve heard it said. And, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, we all know. Yeah, I agree with both. So, now let me add another; embracing the hippie look today doesn’t mean that you reflect the values of those who created the look- that you reflect the values of what was the hippie culture. Of course, you may think that ‘values’ and ‘hippies’ are mutually exclusive. When I was one, I just got used to it. But, in fact, it simply means that their values are incompatible with your own. I am probably the same age (or close) to most of the Merry Pranksters who partied next to me so I imagine they may have been part of that culture. I certainly was a part of the hippie culture back then. I attended Woodstock, was a regular at the Filmore East, and was there when the crowds pushed down the walls at the Newport Jazz Festival while Sly and the Family Stone were performing. I hung out in Greenwich Village at the Café Wha? and Washington Square. I had hair that fell below my shoulders, and drove a ’64 Corvair with a giant wooden home loudspeaker in the back seat before cars had elaborate sound systems.
So, what?! Really, who cares about “the look”? None of this really means much, or better, none of this should mean much if it means anything at all. But, I’ll tell you what does mean something- the kindness I always encountered at the scores of music festivals I attended that were attended by no one but hippies. There were lots of children at Woodstock (and some births!) and the children were always welcomed, cared for, and looked after. Remember how stunned people were by the generosity shown between attendees at Woodstock. People were good to one another…kind and generous. What means something is the kindness of the Allman Brothers meeting my family after a concert at the Filmore because members of their family were close to my parents. What means something is when a member of Chicago came to our house one evening to take pictures with my kids. (I had conducted a memorial service for one of the band member’s adopted mother.) Kids were not sent away for encroaching on another’s space. My family wasn’t sent away for encroaching on a rock star’s space! It’s disingenuous to suggest that Pork Pie’s concerns were for the child, or for himself and family. The concert was billed as a family event. If you wanted to social distance from others, you wouldn’t sit in the middle of audience. There’s lots of room in Lafayette Square Park. The incongruity of Pork Pie’s look with his harsh words was jarring. I think it’s great if you want to look like what many of us did in the late 60’s. I don’t know. Maybe your parents wouldn’t let you grow your hair long, or dress outrageously, or caught you smoking a joint so you couldn’t be part of that culture. But now that you run your own life, you can look however you want. But, most importantly, no poseurs please. I think if you want to look like a product of the 60’s culture then consider embracing the phrase that characterized the behavior it promoted-
“Oh wow, man…. Mellow out!”.
August 15, 2021