“Hot time, summer in the city…” song by Loving Spoonful
“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Carlos Castaneda
“When we convert a memory to words, we devalue it, as one drop of water in no way resembles the sea from which it came.” M Maeterlinck
What I wanted to be summer of 1970 was a Black Magic Woman (and a paperback writer). Ideally that meant I’d acquire experiences worth writing about and find a man to hex or bewitch. Nope. The ‘new girl on the mountain’ had a modest assortment of male friends; none ‘lit my fire.’ I had witchy accoutrements: tarot cards, poison rings, ankh pendulum, esoteric tomes… and a contrary attitude. I had no tribe, no life long best friends, no chic hippie seduction pad, and the squirreliest of clues regarding what to do about it. My parents were square, siblings non-supportive, and answers not forthcoming from book gurus or films. [if this paragraph feels amateurish, it is—lifted from lines I wrote at 18.]
I’d come of age, though there’d been no ceremony, no bat mitzvah or vision quest. There was no cataclysmic event whatsoever to mark the ocassion. My big bang indoctrination to sex had ocurred a year earlier with a lad more worldly than myself. He was someone I might have pursued further had dad not moved us (again), summer of 1969, from Philly to South Mountain in Western Maryland. Where were my people? Would I have to hitchike to LA or leap through a time portal to find them?
They weren’t anywhere in my line of sight, although the world is always closer, smaller than you think it is. That last year of high school, I attended a football game a county over, at a school I’d attended before we moved to Philly. I flirted with a boy who remembered me, my unruly hair, and ability to recite entire poems and risque rhymes. Three years later, he’d become my 2nd husband, the one I divorced in 1977, despite saying many times I’d never, ever marry…
Though I’d received good scores on my SATs, I accepted college would have to wait. My dad declared it was ‘important his son got a degree, his daughter’s didn’t need one.’ Besides, what coursework could I take that would provide a career path that applauded non-conformity? Ignoring senior prom and graduation ceremonies, I hop skipped to Washington DC after obtaining a Government secretarial job.
It was the right time to leave; there was an over-abundance of pro-nestrogen at the house on the mountain. I’d saved money from summer office and weekend waitressing jobs, and was inpertinently flumoxed about being mishandled and micro-managed. Time to make my own mistakes. Shortly before I fled the mountain, my dad (uncharacteristically) donned a Halloween wig and made a joke about a ‘village hippie sprawled under a spreading chestnut tree.’ He made us laugh. When I recall that moment, for some odd reason, I hear John Lennon lyrics pour from my father: ‘Instant Karma’s going get you…what are you thinking of? What on earth you tryin’ to do? It’s up to you, yeah you…’
There were other prophetic songs that played on the radio the summer of 1970. There was ‘Spill the Wine,’ by a group called War, and a song called War by Edwin Starr. Lines from the first song I chanted often that summer, at times feeling like I’d just escaped the ‘hall of the mountain king.’ While I never stood naked to the world, I did burn my bra at the National Mall, felt hot flames of discontent, and spilled loads of libations down my throat. Perhaps most tellingly, I fully embraced what became known as the last summer of hippie love; I embraced ‘long ones, short ones, brown and black ones, and a few crazy ones.’ I was no longer a ‘pearl of a girl;’ I was somewhere between a wild thing and the Guess Who’s American Women—in training to become Black Magic Woman.
It was an odd vocation to want to be someone who bewitched, blinded, and cast spells on men. Did I sense even then love was more alchemy and illusion than a high quality emotion. If it could make you sick, it must be a germ. If it could blind you, it was hazardous to your health. If it turned you into an addict craving the oxytocin, dopamine, and beta-endorphins love produced, it was a drug to avoid. Love was evolution’s way of soliciting cooperation and obtaining control through chemically based emotional dependency. It was better to learn how to wield the wand and merely observe its darker components: jealousy, fear of loss or abandonment, resentment, mistrust, abuse, and hatred—love gone ferally foul.
I marvel that I was drawn to this capitol city twice, in 1970 and in 1977, both times in flee and search mode, summering, simmering, nursing hurts and confusion by trying on a larger sized reality. Certain memories from those two summers appear fully formed, like an immortal offspring emerging from Zeus’ swelled head. There was a flower pot flung at me (1970) from a window three stories above, missing me by two inches. There was unexpected, awkward, amazing sex in a utility closet of a museum. I visited a busy DC doctor’s office wallpapered with huge orange flowers and lots of chrome; he gave me a prescription for the pill. It caused feelings of trepidation and exeleration. There were so many new tastes and scents to sample in this internationally inclined city. An entire new world was opening—but more like a giant Venus Fly Trap than a Broadway musical overture.
In the 70s, answers were always Up Around the Bend, a place I was headed toward, el condor pasa (if I could) only find a way to.raise the hemline of reality (per Tom Robbins). In Washington D.C. my sandles clad feet navigated streets first laid out in 1791 by Freemason Pierre Charles L’Enfante. A free guidebook revealed L’Enfant linked major city sites to the centrally located Capitol, placed on a ridge. Compass lines radiated outward, creating NW, NE, SE, and SW quadrants. Streets running North-South were numbered, while those running East-West were lettered, except there were no J, X, Y, or Z streets, and two B Streets. A bunch of diagonal avenues were named for US states. DC’s architecture had height limitations and was conservative, with lots of classical elements. Its many memorials and monuments allegedly provide clues if you knew what to look for—horse with two legs on ground—rider died in battle; all four feet on ground—rider survived battle; if right hand forms OK symbol…
Considering the number of homeless, and muggings and murders that occurred there, I perhaps shouldn’t have spent so much time (in 1970) in the western end of Rock Creek Park and adjoining cemetery. I was drawn to the shrouded bronze figure by Saint-Gaudens called The Mystery of the Hereafter. Henry Adams, a descendent of two presidents, commissioned it after his wife committed suicide.
Never mind that its rocky creek was polluted, the area littered with trash, and many of its trails were overgrown. People found stray sniper bullets lodged in trees; mutilated animals, rumored to have been used in voodoo ceremonies; and the occasional dead body. Another favorite place I frequented was Dumbarton Oaks Park (Georgetown), which had a lover’s lane, stone foot bridge, and beautiful formal gardens.
I kept a clipping of the 1964 Washington Star article of the curious murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer, the ex-wife of a clandestine ops CIA agent, and JFK’s mistress (see JFK’s passional love letter to Mary, auctioned in 2018). Her body was discovered on a carelessly maintained C&O canal towpath, near a vine covered, grafitted tunnel. The canal didn’t become part of our national parks until the 70s. Of course, I had to visit all the related sites and do my own investigating.
Mary was a rising artist with a studio in the garage behind Ben Bradlee’s (Newsweek, Washington Post) house. She was the daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvania family. Her sister Tony was married to Bradlee. Police arrested Ray Crump Jr, a mentally unstable black man who said he’d been fishing nearby. He was seen standing over Mary’s body. Ray was acquitted due to lack of evidence. The gun was never found though that part of the canal has been dredged several times. Her diary was also confiscated by the CIA.
Whoever killed Mary on 10/12/64 accosted her in the woods near the canal. (Is it mere coincidence 10/12 was also Aleister Crowley’s birthday?) She managed to cry out, and left bloody streaks on a birch tree. The killer dragged her to the towpath and shot the promising artist again, this time in the chest. In two days time, she would have turned 44.
Mary had experimented with drugs (Tim Leary was a mentor) and some say she painted to help deal with grief over the death of a son, killed in a car accident. Their sons’ death precipitated the end of the marriage, but not the end of the CIA’s interest in Mary. She took train rides (with follow artist Ken Noland) to Philly to work with an orgonomist to help release psychological blockages and achieve mind blowing orgasms.
Though their three year affair had ended before JFK was assassinated, Mary didn’t accept Warren Commission Report findings (released several weeks before her murder). After her death, many didn’t accept police findings either. Her wounds would have bled profusely, however, there was little blood near her body. Few photos were taken at the scene of the crime and look staged. A witness that claimed to have been repairing a stalled car when he saw Mary minutes before she was shot couldn’t produce the car or any paperwork for the car. A witness that could prove Ray Crump didn’t shoot Mary disappeared. . .
The case remains unsolved—and speculation remains the diary found and destroyed was just one of Mary’s sketchbooks. The one containing all manners of intimacy—drugs used, pillow talk with lovers, and info about Cuba, the Bay of Pigs, and CIA, may yet resurface and set the record straight’ish. The site where Mary’s body was found is north of the canal’s 1 mile marker. There’s no official plaque to acknowledge the spot, though I read a cross was erected (43 year after her murder) in front of a tree near where her body lay.
The summer of 1970 I bought my first official journal. I’d had others, sort of—amateur, pedestrian longings written in the margins of high school World Lit notes, scribbled on blank pages at the back of books of poetry and fiction, and pre-post it gushy love notes and ticket stubs pasted to lined note paper and hidden inside album covers. My mother was a terrible snoop, critic, and punisher. But she never found those snippets, nor what I’d hid in the guts of an old phonograph. Details of my first sexual encounter appeared at the end of Agatha Christie’s Mysterious Affair at Styles. My first haunted house experience remains at the back of my early 1900s copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. My strategy was part Purloined Letter, part genius of Lucille Ball, who faked a hunger strike by hiding cheese, lunchmeat, and bread slices between the covers of books.
I explored DC’s streets, charmed—if not enchanted, full of curiousity. I was on a first name basis with 100s of individual statues of people of stature—Joan of Arc, poet Khalil Gibran, Dante, Sir William Blackstone, Simon Bolivar, Marconi, Marquis de Lafayette, and the Aztec god of flowers Xochipilli. There was a Temperance Fountain near the Mall (which I avoided), a hidden door inside Lincoln’s Memorial that led to a cave underneath, and 23 zodiacs in public buildings (Library of Congress, Federal Reserve, National Academy of Science…). Decades later scholar David Ovason wrote ‘DC’s layout and architecture was devised according to occult principles, harmoniously aligned with 3 stars of the constellation Virgo, and generates a magical spell…’ I was in the right place; the time, however, wasn’t quite right.
This city in the 70s was also, per my hormone heaving self, a sexually charged city, named for Roman Goddess Libertas (perhaps). It was here I’d attend the first of what newspapers called ‘erotic art exhibits.’ I’d sit in artsy theatre houses and watch soft porn movies; or dash into the ladies room at a trendy nightclub and know there was a couple in the stall next to mine doing the vertical mambo. It was also in DC I raised my already ABnormal temperature reading bootleg copies of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, and Air Conditioned Nightmare. It made me hungry. What I learned by reading and watching I clumsily applied to real life.
Miller’s descriptions of Parisian La Bohme were both gross and intoxicating. Here was a unadulterated portrait of the human condition. I vowed to visit Paris and walk its boulevards and alleyways. In 1977, I met an older man who introduced me to marvelous French writers: Rabelais, Celine, Golan, Nin, Balzac; works of artists like Lauttrec, Monet, Matisse, Rodin, Braque; and spectacular regional French cuisine. This was what I’d been craving. He took me to Paris, to his sibling’s house on the Rive Gauche, to the city of his birth on the cote d’azur, to castles in Brittany and Burgundy, to cognac country, and places that bore deep, war inflicted scars. He carried a few substantial wounds as well.
He corrected my fractured French, upgraded my bohemian wardrobe, and tried to teach me the romantic aspects of love ala mode Francais. He also initiated and enlightened me regarding sophisticated aspects of this city of politicians, diplomats, and American avante garde. I was introduced to its vibrant international community, to winding back roads along the C&O canal, and hideaways that stayed open after closing time. They served booze in china cups and food in doggie bags. There was always someone with a voice and a guitar or drum sticks. The music was more jazz than rock, more plantive cry than joyeous noise. There were no S&G dangling conversations or superficial sighs. It was all brilliant discourse, full of antimated gesturing and passionate words spoken in languages I barely understood, yet somehow managed to grasp.
It was a glorious disaster, a sublime time. Despite simmering passions and intensity, I remained more interested in the magic of love, in magic in general—its glamours and enchantments, and quests for grails and unicorns but not their capture and exposure. I liked being held; I didn’t like being squeezed, manipulated, or handled. Seduction was grand, possession was not. I refused to be prize, pawn, or pariah.
Besides, no one ever asked Galatea how she felt. Sculptor Pygmalion crafted an ivory statue that personified his ideal woman. He fondled and adorned the statue, fell in love with it, beseeched the gods to animate his statue. Aphrodite heard his pleas. Pygmalion and Galatea, his statue brought to life, married and had children… A similar fate beheld Pandora, a woman made of ‘evil’ clay, brought to life by Hephaestus upon Zeus command. She was used to explain to mortals how evil entered the world.
By 1977, I considered creating an inventory of encounters and short term relationships; I was losing count. Would that be ‘kissing and telling’ or simply taking a head count? My daughter, the result of a short term relationship when Viet Nam was winding down, would be five soon. Marriage was culturally accepted the world over. Antiquated laws remained on the book regarding just living together.
Real love, if it existed, remained elusive. Men were deceivers; our bodies were traitors; conditioned to respond to what Auden called an ‘intolerable neural itch,’ craving Phenylethylamine (PEA), a natural amphetamine that bestowed emotional highs. Love was a chemical cocktail, nothing more. I needed to understand better this thing some thought ‘made the world go round;’ and others were sure was a battlefield, a deadly evolutionary trick.
French wives I observed were fascinating—self assured, demanding yet captivating, smart, savvy, exhibiting infatuation with themselves and their partners. The French were famous for ‘liaison amoureuse.’ Flirting, overt sexual signals, and infidelity were acceptable if discretion was observed. Perhaps this kind of marriage would work—third time’s the charm? What’s the equation ‘tragedy plus time equals comedy?’ But that’s another story for another day…
###***###***### Part 2 of Simmer arriving in June, in time for escalating summer temps…and includes a near death experience, August 1970 Women’s Lib March, and uninformed decisions and consequences written in the indelible ink of memory.
I loved this Jo. In particular, for how Henry Miller worked his magic on you, and how you ended up in France to put Hen’s theories to the test. Miller was the one who led me firmly away from the straight and narrow. Your amorous adventures would have pleased him immensely.
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Thanks very very much; part 2 is steamier…and scarier. Miller’s still a touchstone; fabulous to read he made an impact on you also. Look forward to your next slam dunk ball of prose!
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Part Two cannot possible reach the heights of this!
‘There was unexpected, awkward, amazing sex in a utility closet of a museum’
No guilt, no shame, a little bit of pride and a good time had by all; we don’t need to dress our memories in sackcloth and ashes. This is a rich seam, or vein as Dorothy Parker would have it, to open up. It sounds like you’ve lived several lives, or at least have enough incidents to fill them. Off to do some research on Mary, did my uni dissertation on JFK, and you’ll be surprised to hear that she was not mentioned!
Looking forward to part 2, and a re-read of part 1.
Nice profile pic too!
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Oh dear, nice of you to say so but it shows my aging Maggie Mae face…and freckles. Yep, still unabashed and learning… your awesome output of critiques continues to amaze (and delight)! Summer blockbusters are what I used to like about the months that frazzle my skin and make me hide from solar rays. Simmering is the result of someone close to me daring me to tell the truth of my ‘misspent’ but unapologetic youth. What does a hungry clock (figuratively) do? It goes back for seconds. I think June’s Part 2 of Simmering may change your mind…
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That’s what I’m here for!