I turned in early and read by flashlight last Thursday night. A storm earlier that afternoon had caused a power outage that randomly impacted scores of homes around Lafayette Square. By morning, power had been restored and I went about the business of rebooting electronics, resetting clocks, and reprogramming smart plugs to ensure lights would go on and off at their designated times. Shortly after completing resetting electronics, the power went off again on Friday afternoon and remained off, until somewhere around 7 pm on Saturday. It felt personal, but instead of brooding about my powerless position any longer, I gathered my collapsible camper’s chair and a couple of drinks and trekked across the street to the concert in Lafayette Park. Some music and the company of community seemed in order. The performing band was loosely modeled after and played Crosby, Stills, and Nash cover songs. It was a good way to spend my time before the promised restoration of power by 8 pm. An especially pleasant bonus was the scorching heat we endured for the week prior was pushed aside by a cold front offering us all the delight of an early fall-like evening.
I unfolded my chair and claimed a shady spot next to a cheerful group of seniors who arrived well-equipped with food and wine, and nostalgically outfitted to recapture the magic of the late 60’s and early 70’s. They, and indeed much of the crowd, all looked prepared to glory in the iconic harmonies of our collective memory of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash vibe. My concert neighbors were adorned in tie dye T-shirts and shorts. I must admit to feeling somewhat embarrassed by the old men who gathered their corn silk thin hair into tiny man buns the size of walnuts that sat atop their heads; others constructed desperate pony tails from the remaining side curtains of long hair that made no effort to disguise their 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 under which his silver locks cascaded 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 plucked from the cast of COCOON carrying on like the kids we once were. I felt as if I had established my camp next to Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. It was comical but honestly I was conflicted about whether it was all in fun or just an early Halloween experience that gave those denied the experience of the ’60’s a chance to try it on. It was an ungenerous thought, so I relented and chose to believe it was all in good fun. There was raucous laughter and my concert neighbors all seemed to be enjoying a delightful time. I observed all this because I was sitting, perhaps 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 when alone in a crowd- watched people which was promising to be as good as the concert itself. Soon, 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 agitated 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 scattered across the concert venue. But Pork Pie was riled about something to do with the proximity of the kids to what was apparently his group. Pork Pie seemed quite possessive of his staked out land claim. I deduced this because when Mutton Chops arrived with his wife and attempted to set up camp next to the Merry Pranksters he was unceremoniously directed to find a different spot as the group, Pork Pie explained, was waiting for still more invited friends. Poor Mutton Chops, decked out in tie-dye from head to toe seemed to me like he was very much in the right place, but alas, turned away, he and his wife found a spot a few yards closer to the stage. Mutton Chops took it surprisingly in stride although I overheard him say he would not share any of the pizza he had picked up on the way to the park. Anyway, the aforementioned family encamped behind the Merry Pranksters had two small children. Unprovoked, as far as I could tell, Pork Pie turned around and spoke sternly to the parents, 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 suggested an intrusion on his personal territory. Again, an odd thing to say at a crowded concert billed as a family friendly event.
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 the family to move, citing their insensitivity to the realities of the pandemic, vaccinations, and how he had sacrificed seeing his grandchildren. Again, the slack jawed children studied Pork Pie with bewildered 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 to the family and asked, “Is he serious?”
“Oh yeah.” The father answered solemnly, prophesying once again, “It will all come back on him”.
“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 banished family’s place behind the “Merry Pranksters”. She conveyed her outrage and incredulity that these two children had “encroached” on their space.
“Clothes make the man”. “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. We all get it. And, I largely agree with both. So, now let me add another; dressing up as a hippie doesn’t mean you reflect the values of those who pioneered the look- How you clothe your body does not always reflect the values you possess in your heart. But isn’t that the difference between clothing and a costume. Of course, you may think that ‘values’ and ‘the hippie look’ have nothing whatever to do with one another. And while that may be true now, it wasn’t way back when. When I was what people called a hippie, I just got used to other’s assuming that how we looked reflected a poor set of values, including being unAmerican, anti war, dope smoking, free loving, space cadets. But, in fact, there were an unwritten but clear set of values that were very much apart of the movement and were expressed through “the look”. If nothing else, it screamed, “I’m not like you! I’m different and stand for that which is different.” I am probably the same age (or close) to most of the Merry Pranksters who were my concert neighbors, so I wondered if they had been part of that culture. I certainly was. I loved the three days of music, rain, mud, and gentle people I can barely remember called Woodstock. I was a regular at the Filmore East, and I was there when the crowds knocked 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? as a teenager. I had hair that fell below my shoulders, and drove a ’64 Corvair with a home loudspeaker the size of a passenger perched in the back seat before cars were equipped with 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 the so-called 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 big-hearted. What means something is the kindness of the Allman Brothers meeting my family after a concert at the Filmore because members of their family knew my parents. What means something is when a member of the band 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 very middle of the venue. 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 fine if you want to look like many of us did in the late 60’s. I don’t know why you would if your values were not somehow consistent with the people you are modeling yourself after. Maybe your experience of the 60’s didn’t go so well for you. 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. Its fine to make your statement now if you couldn’t back then. But, no poseurs please. I think if you want to look like a product of the 60’s culture then consider embracing one phrase that characterized the behavior it promoted-
“Oh wow, man…. Mellow out because you’re bringing me down”.
August 15, 2021