A startling memoir that conjures the transcendent oneness of humanity and poses our most urgent question: Why are we allowing Donald Trump to become the ‘extinction president’?
‘Love in the Time of Trump’ recalls the psychedelic ’60s and the progressive human values born during that transformative period. It also sounds an alarm amid the repressive politics of our present day, when an emerging, corporate-driven fascism threatens to dismantle our democracy and yoke the lives of working people to the enrichment of the few while destroying the natural life of the planet. This contrast evoked via memoir recounts the formation of a personal perspective that warns of approaching disaster while hoping that it can still be avoided.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-44
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I began writing a memoir not because I felt my life was particularly exciting or was of more interest than the lives of many I'd met along the way, but because I had no choice. It was the only thing I was allowed to write. I had tried a novel, a thriller set in Singapore, where we'd lived for almost 12 years — me, my wife Miwa and our son Emerson. While living in Asia for more than two decades working in media — newspapers and wire services — I had managed to write two books that were published by ME Sharp. One was set in Japan and dealt with the trade frictions of the '80s and '90s, while the other concerned terrorism in Singapore and Southeast Asia after the 9/11 attacks in the US. They were generally used as secondary textbooks for university classes and not widely read. In attempting the novel, I found myself often writing about my psychedelic experiences in San Francisco in the late '60s and early '70s, though they had little to do with the subject matter of my "thriller." Still, these images kept appearing in the forefront of my thoughts, scratching at the door like a cat who wanted to go outside. So after finishing a rather strangely shaped novel and throwing it in the dustbin, it was obvious that the cat had to be let out. Thus, for that reason alone, not a conscious decision on my part, a memoir was born.
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. — Friedrich Nietzsche
Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself. — Carl Jung
I walked across the spacious lobby toward the heavy glass doors of the Seattle skyscraper on my last day of work after being put out to pasture by the head office in New York, my mind swimming with thoughts both urgent and whimsical. It was just business, but what was I going to do? I had planned on two more years with the company, taking me to an even 70 years of age and my son having graduated from university. Our medical benefits would be cut. Tuition at the University of Washington was formidable for even an employed journalist to scrape together each quarter, and I was determined that Emerson would not be forced to begin his life hamstrung by student loans. The timing of the company reorganization was unfortunate. Newspapers were shutting down. I was growing old. No obvious employment options came to mind. We had a problem. I had often wondered what happened to old hippies. Was this it? They were cast out onto the sidewalk?
“What’s the news?” boomed a familiar voice, that of Vince, the sizable security guard who patrolled the high-ceilinged space of the first floor lobby, including the bank and Starbucks, where we both took our coffee breaks.
“Hey Vince,” I managed, stopping by the front desk and trying to act normal. “Not much. Donald Trump says he’s going to run for president as a Republican, stop immigration from south of the border and that kind of crap.”
“He can’t win,” Vince said dismissively. “Everybody knows he’s a clown.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t have a chance,” I agreed, although given the strange nature of the day, I was already filled with shadows and almost any miserable event seemed possible.
“Later,” I said, nodding. Reaching the front, I pushed open one of the doors and exited onto the sidewalk amid the busy human traffic on what was otherwise a warm, breezy day.
As I turned the corner and headed downhill toward the harbor, for some reason I found myself contemplating the final Grateful Dead concerts in Chicago. Those and the abrupt end of my own career as a wire-service editor seemed to offer some perspective on a larger situation — my entire generation was gradually passing away, first toward irrelevance and then inevitably heading for the dustbin of history, leaving behind an increasingly troubled and dangerous world with which our descendants would be forced to struggle.
For that, I felt regret and a touch of shame. We were leaving what we had taken as our primary task unfinished. I’d hoped, we’d all hoped, that it would be different, that we’d leave our children a better world, if not an earthly paradise then at least a trending reality that we, humanity, were advancing toward a more harmonious and peaceful existence. And for a time it had actually seemed so.
The Dead had produced 50 years of music, beginning as a hippie band in San Francisco, Bob Weir 16 years old, acid tests, Ken Kesey, Haight-Ashbury, the whole revolutionary flower children bloom, a time when there had been a conscious, collective effort to improve life on earth. Perhaps it had been naïve, but we had made some progress, and now it seemed to be floundering amid a cultural backlash. I’d never been what I would call a devoted Deadhead, but I liked their music and had seen them many times through the years, from their San Francisco home court Fillmore West to Portland to Eugene to Las Vegas and San Diego, with Quicksilver Messenger Service or Bob Dylan, always the Dead with plump old Jerry Garcia jamming and soaring into rhythmic filigrees of pure rolling, rippling Americana and that iconic psychedelic skull split by a diagonal bolt of lightning. The first time they appeared in Vegas, in the early ‘80s, I’d returned to the Sun newsroom and written a front page story that had led with something like: “Florescent pink clouds stretched across the sky like skeletal fingers above the Strip as an unusually freaky crowd filed into the Aladdin Casino’s auditorium.“
I would not be attending any of the final concerts in Chicago, where Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio was to fill in for the deceased Jerry, but an amazing number of stories, pictures and videos of the band had crossed the wires and internet. Even the Wall Street Journal was covering them like they were star investment bankers rather than grizzled old musicians. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, all the major newspapers were doing stories along the “end of an era” theme and it was slowly sinking in that, yeah, it was probably that, the band and the rest of us were becoming ever fainter, fading away toward our finale. “Here comes everybody,” as Joyce had written, entering whatever was next—or wasn’t. There was a serious strand weaving through my thoughts that seemed to brush up against death; I couldn’t help but see us all reflected in those old men with their guitars and drums making that great music, but slated fairly soon to go the way of Elvis, Mozart and every leaping hominid who’d ever beat a rhythm on a log or chanted around a fire. My generation was on the way out and the world would keep on turning without us, which for some reason irked me. Events would continue to unfold with all that entailed, all the cruelty and slaughter, the healing and kindness, the human and inhuman. This was the nightmare of history from which Joyce’s Stephen had tried to awaken, and these days it only seemed to be worsening.
What remained for us? Only to leave behind anything worthwhile that we may have gleaned during our years. The Dead did so through their music, I had written the occasional book or article and tried to impart to my son some crumbs of wisdom obtained during my years, mostly in vain, but who could blame him for seldom listening? He was young and shiny, studying computer science, coding, bursting with potential and possibility, while his father was a gray-bearded editor incapable of helping with his calculus homework. In my son’s mind, I was fairly certain, he had already surpassed me. And that was the way it should be. I recalled experiencing a similar feeling toward my father, the old logger who’d never finished high school, and my son was a much better kid than I’d been, smarter, more disciplined and less wild, if still prone to those occasional lapses in judgment that typically involve a failure to think — youthful brain chemistry. They are distinct realms, his and mine, though it makes me happy when they overlap and we can talk seriously. Emerson takes off on trips with our four-wheel-drive truck and walks up mountains to clear his mind. He has sharp edges, doesn’t drink alcohol or smoke weed. He studies hard for long hours. I recently came across a telling quote in a magazine article that went something like this: “The world belongs to those who code and the rest will be left behind.” This thought filled me with a clear apprehension of my becoming obsolete, along with an odd sense of relief and gratitude at the prospect.
I made my way down the steep incline of sidewalks amid the bright summer day toward the ferry for Bremerton, where we’d lived since returning from decades working in Asia. Puget Sound stretched out in deep blue, crisscrossed by the wakes of harbor traffic, gleaming beneath the sun as jagged teeth took a bite from the sky — the Olympic Mountains beyond the Kitsap Peninsula.
Once inside the ferry, I settled into a compartment by myself on this last commute. I had been re-reading Ulysses, but left it in my backpack, put on my headset, plugged into the iPhone and selected a Dead concert that I’d attended in Portland with my friend Vernon when Mount St. Helens had erupted a second time and we had emerged to a stormy night sky streaked with lightning and volcanic ash falling thickly across our windshield. I clicked on “Fire on the Mountain” and grooved to the familiar chords as the ferry’s engines revved and vibrated beneath me and we gained momentum pulling away from the dock. I couldn’t recall if we’d taken LSD that night or smoked some good weed. It had been more than thirty-five years, but even if my memories were fading like ancient black-and-white photos, the Dead’s music remained vital and classic. Gazing out the window, I lost myself in the songs and the natural beauty of the Olympics, which, weather permitting, never grew tiresome. And there, with my eyes wandering randomly over the mountain peaks, memory overtook me as I recalled San Francisco in the late ‘60s:
I had arrived in the Haight after the Summer of Love, when the cultural bloom had already begun to fade toward decadence, although that was relative because after four years in the Navy, the lively San Francisco neighborhood was a wonderland of freedom for a newly discharged sailor. I found a cheap studio with shared bathroom facilities in the hall and a bay window overlooking the busy street, enrolled in San Francisco City College, signed up for the GI Bill and began making up for lost time. I didn’t know anyone and it didn’t matter. I received a recruitment letter from the CIA because I’d set in their IFF codes on carrier-based jets, which I threw away. I’d had enough. I’d done my duty, but I was glad it was over.
These days, San Francisco may be just another tech city like Seattle, but it was different then. The street was alive with hippies; weed and psychedelics were plentiful, although cocaine and heroin had begun encroaching, as were dealers who now packed heat, students, criminals, cops, drifters, black cats on the hustle, gawking tourists, wannabe musicians, bikers and crazies who’d been drawn from everywhere, lots of crazies. I later read that George Harrison had visited the Haight of that era and found it disappointing — full of bums and drop-outs, when he’d thought it would be “a brilliant place, with groovy gypsy people making works of art and painting and carvings in little workshops.” Even a pale reflection of that vision was decades down the road, and right then it was mostly chaos in the streets with an exuberant circus atmosphere obscuring a growing crime and VD problem. At least AIDS hadn’t yet arrived on the scene. My bay windows looked out over all of it, and I stayed there for several months before moving down around the corner into a communal flat on Page Street with a group of friends.
Often referred to as the “counterculture,” we regarded one another with an unusually high degree of trust, which easily become affection. We recognized our peers by our long hair, our clothing of embroidered denim and leather and Indian or Afghani cotton, our thunderous music, the Dead, Quicksilver, the Airplane, the Beatles and the Stones. We had taken psychedelic voyages, we were heads, we were all right. I often thumbed rides between San Francisco and Oregon, and time and again a VW microbus would pull over and I’d end up smoking dope with a group of new friends as we rolled along the highway, then we’d part with shared phone numbers and words of brotherhood. There was a closeness that was assumed and if we could help each other we would, a few bucks for gas, a bite to eat, we got by. One night at a party in Berkeley I ran into an old navy buddy accompanied by two hippie chicks. He had ringlets of curly hair spilling down over his shoulders and was going to art school. We embraced each other. We’d made it, we’d found solace and community. Neither of us had any idea what might come next. We were gratefully living life here and now.
I met a biker through a job I had for a few months before school started, working at Hunter’s Point shipyard with a team of sanders. One of our crew was a vice president of the Sons of Hawaii Motorcycle Club, a former paratrooper named Richie of Puerto Rican descent and therefore qualified for membership in the brown-skinned clan. They had an old three-story building off upper Market Street up against a freeway overpass that I visited occasionally to score psychedelics. There was usually a row of gleaming customized Harley-Davidsons lined up in front, and huge Samoans who looked like NFL defensive tackles lifting weights in the shadows of the spacious building that was hollowed out like some ancient Viking mead hall with black lights and luminous posters. Richie was a stand-up guy and his buddies seemed pretty solid.
Out on Haight Street, I met a Canadian cat with long, stringy blond hair named Doug who was cool, albeit a junkie who couldn’t kick, though he tried several times and severely cautioned me to never start down that road. I’d smoked opium and didn’t really like it. Opiates were just chemicals that told your brain to feel good. I’d been given Demerol in the Navy when my jaw was broken and it was pretty much the same. I seemed to be a naturally psychedelic person and was perfectly happy to heed Doug’s good advice, especially after seeing him one morning, green with the cold-turkey sickness and retching helplessly into a bucket beside his bed.
My most enduring friend turned out to be a smiley fellow named Joe Cherney who I met in a journalism class. He was a native San Franciscan, an oddity among a neighborhood of transients, and the grandson of a famous lawyer who’d written a book and was said to be the inspiration for the TV lawyer Perry Mason. Joe and I hit it off and remained friends for decades, until he died of diabetes complications at about 60, still living in the city, cheerfully driving a limousine and touring the Napa-Sonoma wine country. He was a lovely person with a great, open heart.
It wasn’t all good. The Haight at that time was overpopulated with unleashed dogs. No one curbed their dogs then, and it’s possible that that deplorable situation may have been responsible for the excellent addition to common-sense manners of the pet clean-up, another good thing from the ‘60s, along with human rights, environmentalism, feminism, organic food, legal marijuana and giving peace a chance. The Haight may have been only a “hippie dream,” but positive values were harvested from it and they stayed with us.
Still, another constant irritant was a barrage from spare-changers, many of whom apparently felt so entitled that they would glare at you and mutter if you failed to contribute, whether or not you actually had any money. I was reminded of this practice years later in my journalism career when set upon by beggars in India, but in that barren landscape of perpetual smog, they were usually children or people who were badly crippled and unable to work. On a street in Agra outside the Taj Mahal, I gave a boy with one leg all the cash I had in my pockets and wished I had more, feeling helpless before the overwhelming realization that if I gave away all my money for the rest of my life to these truly needy people, it wouldn’t amount to a drop in the miserable ocean of their poverty and suffering. The change-cadgers in San Francisco were another matter, generally participants in a larger philosophical view that dictated against any contribution of work to a corrupt society run by “The System,” a questionable moral view that flowed easily and all too often into a kind of rationalized laziness. I remember when a friend, a “peoples’ lawyer” who often defended drug busts pro bono or for a few lids of good weed, exploded at an aggressive panhandler: “Quit ripping off the people, you dirtbag! Go rip off the man!” The spare-changer was shocked into silence and at a loss for words. It was a unique time and place.
And still, given its shortcomings, and there were many, there was a wild, almost primal sense of celebration that pervaded throughout the neighborhood, where girls blew bubbles that floated above the sidewalks, people lounged on grassy hillsides in Golden Gate Park and passed around joints and went to the Fillmore in the evenings to catch some of the greatest rock bands and blues musicians ever to grace the planet. It was a magical time. In essence, we were free, we had answers to questions that our parents had never thought of asking, or believed we did, and there were a lot of us, a generation with long hair and bell bottoms enjoying a global party and changing the world into our likeness from the Haight, the psychedelic source of our way of life. It was just a matter of getting everyone else on board, just a matter of time. Love would change everything. People just had to get together. Or so went the accepted wisdom. We had no inkling of the massive cultural backlash we were stirring up in the nation’s conservative heartland, or that it would reverberate for decades to come.
Popular music at the time was actually fairly erratic and ranged from insipid “bubble-gum” music as we called it to “heavy” songs that could move your heart with inspiration. The good songs were often filled with spiritual imagery that we followed closely, parsing words and phrases for meanings and insights. Eric Burdon sang of religion being born at the Monterey Pop Festival, Blind Faith played in the presence of the Lord, Van Morrison went into the mystic, George Harrison had his sweet Lord and Pete Townsend sang prayerfully of the preserver and protector of us all, without beginning and without end. And of course the Rolling Stones, being the Stones, had sympathy for the devil. This sort of music was as much a part of the times as smoking grass and eating mushrooms, and was partly a result of those very pastimes.
About 10 years later, when I was working for a newspaper in Las Vegas, an old Variety music critic asked me with a cynically arched eyebrow how we could have been so arrogant as to believe that we could change the world. I didn’t know, I told him, sheepishly, it’s just the way it was. He snorted derisively. Still, we had made a difference in the culture, I thought, we had changed its direction. And for all the foolishness and also the good things that have grown out of hippie culture’s short-lived, transformational existence, there is one aspect that has not been fully appreciated and integrated into modern society, the central aspect in my view, and that is the awesome power of psychedelics — magic mushrooms, LSD, peyote — which provided the mindful heartbeat of the times. These were never really “recreational drugs,” although many careless, misguided souls (including myself) sometimes tried to make them so. They were and remain powerful shamanic medicine for psychological ailments and transcendent portals to spiritual realities familiar to native peoples for millennia that now more than ever need to be openly, and carefully, accessed. They are a time-honored pathway for the transformation of human nature into something better. They are consciousness medicine. Of this, I was and remain certain, and believe that research being done today will identify new avenues of psychedelic therapy (this is already happening) that will help millions of people resolve serious psychological problems and even to evolve spiritually.
The ferry’s horn blew a warning to a group of pleasure boaters. Freed suddenly from my reverie, I looked back out the window. The Olympics were obscured now, hidden behind nearby hills lined with the stately waterfront houses of Bainbridge Island as we chugged along the channel toward Bremerton. Occasionally, we could see orcas from the ferry, but their pods were dying out along with the salmon they fed on. I considered the global business-wire agency and the career that was now behind me. Would I miss the job? Probably not. It had been good work that paid well for journalism, which was modestly rewarded at best for such a nail-biting, stressful way to make a living. Still, I had never been in it for the money, and the rush of breaking news just wasn't as exciting as it had been in the beginning, when I used to joke about having adrenaline for breakfast, sending out fast headlines and follows. After 18 years of labor, the wire had become stale. It was all about the markets these days, and I’d never cared much about enabling the world’s investment bankers and financial traders. I just enjoyed news. I would miss many of my colleagues, those who weren’t too wrapped up in themselves. Journalists! I smiled, realizing that it was clearly time for a break with the past, that a new phase of life was beginning, like it or not, and even if there were difficult financial straits to be navigated, I had accumulated some assets and there would be a way through this for us, my wife Miwa, our son Emerson and our three cats.
My attention was then drawn toward the next compartment, where a young man with longish blond hair and a silly grin was chatting with three companions. His eyes were watery and his face beaming as if he’d been smoking some good grass, which may well have been the case; it had recently been legalized in the state of Washington. I was reminded of some of the wanderers and seekers I’d known those decades ago in San Francisco. His clothes, denim trousers, shirt and jacket, were worn and frayed but clean. Beside him was a bedroll and backpack sporting a single green peace symbol. He traveled light. You didn’t often see such characters nowadays. His companions, clad in brand-name clothing, appeared prosperous, bent on achievement amid the quiet conservatism more typical of today’s youngsters in what has become in so many ways a harder world, yet this fellow was the center of their attention. He had few possessions and seemed at ease with his life, although he might well be headed toward disaster in his later years if he didn’t manage to build some sort of skill-set and put away a nest egg. His tarot card, of course, would be The Fool.
Still, there was something familiar about his attitude, his disdain for material things so widely assumed to be important. Then it occurred that this kid could have been me, those years ago when I’d set out on my own fool’s journey. Vernon used to joke about my tenuous grasp on “real life” — free of complexity, pragmatism or plan — and I’d just smile, blessed with an unyielding certainty that my simple forward motion was carrying me ever toward the mystery I was seeking. My life had played out in a series of phases with fresh beginnings, new jobs, female companions, exotic countries and cities for exploration, before returning to the beautiful Pacific Northwest for what would be its inevitable conclusion.
Like us all, this boy had only a limited period of youth to enjoy with such easy grace. By the time he hit 40 his magic would wear thin if he hadn’t found what was meaningful and become himself by creating his own pathway and livelihood. There was always a danger of degenerating into a drug addict or an alcoholic, a derelict with no purpose, nowhere to go and no reason to be, the wasteful path that Vernon had followed in the end. Sadness crept in like a shadow, as it always did when I thought about my old friend. Still, this boy seemed different, more confident and solid, less fragile than Vernon had been. He seemed free, which was really just a state of mind, of being liberated from your own thoughts and conditioning. He would probably grow naturally into his next stage and become a carpenter, a marijuana farmer or maybe a software coder, what did it matter so long as he found himself and did something true and productive.
As the ferry began to slow, nearing the small Bremerton ferry terminal that nestled beside the towering cranes of the naval repair facility, he was laughing heartily, obviously enjoying the good company of his companions. I couldn’t help but smile and silently bless him, wishing him well on the journey that lay before him. At the far end of the shipyard rested the mothballed USS Kitty Hawk, the last conventional Vietnam-era aircraft carrier, awaiting the final call for the scrap heap.
I unplugged and removed my headset, packed up for the ride home, where the lawn needed mowing, where serious financial discussions awaited, where new sources of income would have to be found by an aging worker amid a declining industry, where I had fully intended to finish my working life, but not quite this soon.
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