House of the Dead
Crossing Ashbury from Shauna’s to the House of the Dead, Jimmy’s ethical system underwent a radical shift. A year before, his moral calculus placed a high value on authenticity and the rejection of hypocrisy: not the hypocrisy of feigned or unfelt piety, but the hypocrisy of acts inconsistent with, or the failure to act upon, one’s beliefs. Goodness had nothing to do with it. He had been in love with two women, Cathy and Shauna. Authenticity required that he ask them openly to accept his duplicate but not duplicitous feelings and to respect his honesty for doing so. As a result, he had hurt Cathy and lost Shauna, but preserved, he wanly wished, the authenticity of forming his own self.
His personal model of the inauthentic self had been fellow radical Jerry Rubin. It was Cosmo — where is Cosmo anyway? — who described Rubin as “the mime of revolution” and a brilliant mime he was. He was even able to imitate speech with speech, a real coup de mimesis. When he pantomimed an International Youth Party (Yippies) it existed, though there was none. He invented a Revolution that Wasn’t and recruited people to it, mostly those who scorned the revolution that was, like the guy who told Jimmy the Cuban Revolution couldn’t be real because the masses weren’t fucking in the streets. Rubin, by impersonating the revolution, made it more real than any mimed wall, for people broke their heads against Jerry’s mimicked glass, but his finest hour came when he offered himself to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, face bold with warpaint, bandoliers across his naked chest, miming the Committee’s worst hallucinations. Mocking what was false by being what was false — the enemy’s vision of a revolutionary and not a revolutionary at all — he was most true. He became the genuine inauthentic imitation of the movement he represented. The House UnAmerican Activities Committee fell to pieces at the sight.
Jimmy’s moral shift occurred like this: by 1968 the lies were so unbearable, the crimes so overwhelming, that authenticity and non-hypocrisy no longer preserved one’s self or humor. After Tet, everyone knew. No farmer in North Dakota fretting the high price of seed, no engineer in Huntsville preparing the first moon landing was excepted. If one chose not to act against the war, one was for the war. Television murdered ignorance; body bags murdered innocence. This is the crime of which I accuse my county and my countrymen, James Baldwin wrote, for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.
One’s stand on the war now overrode one’s character. Mountebanks, Car Thieves, Second-Story Men and Junkies, Mimes of Revolution, Authentic Shits, Genuine Swine, Con Artists Against the War: good. Fine. Sign up here. A friend of Jimmy’s in Chicago invented an organization, Stalinists for Peace; everyone took it for real.
On the other hand, Loving Parents, Writers of Great Works of the Imagination [example, Ralph Ellison], Labor Heroes of the 30s For the War: demoted, stripped of all respect and claims to be authentic, hereafter to stand in relation to morality as The Monkees to rock music.
Which bore on Jimmy as he climbed the stairs with Cathy to the Home of the Grateful Dead, and the evening surrounded them like zombies. The door was answered by the same Hells Angel who guarded the backstage rope in the park.
“Apparently the Harley-Davidson of Fate has sent us back to you.” He figured if he could face Beef, he could face this one.
The Angel said:
“Don’t fucking bug me, sissy.” And shut the door, but against the jamb of Jimmy’s bootheel.
“Beef sent me. Ok?”
“Who you want to annoy?”
“He’s not here.”
“I knew you weren’t a fuckin friend of Jerry’s.”
“Look. When they were the Warlocks they did a benefit for SNCC. I organized it. That makes us old friends, back when you were riding a tri —”
“Don’t say it.”
“I’ll take Zeke.”
The Angel pointed them toward the living room.
“Not bad,” Cathy whispered. Did she mean Jimmy’s performance at the door, or the lace curtains, convivial hip decor, crystals and crucifixi, music from above and below? She did not mean the American flag above the cast-iron fireplace.
Zeke wore pince-nez. In another life, a merchant-prince, a trader in Flemish silks. He motioned them to a table by the bay window. Yes, he remembered The Girl. First time he’d seen her. Thought she was with Steve Miller or Moby Grape.
“She was raw. Edgy. Not one of ours.”
Cathy ducked inside herself. Not one of ours.
“Was she talking to them?” she asked.
“With them. Of them. That was my impression.”
“Rich, poor, groupy?”
“Angry.” A hand foisted a joint toward Zeke; he drew deeply, passed it on to Jimmy, who waved it off. “I forgot,” said Zeke, “You’re pu-lit’i-kul.”
“Not that,” said Jimmy. “It makes my brain cells wash up on the beach.”
Pig Pen passed, looking like himself only more so, in broadband redandwhite stripes.
“You think she lives in the Haight?” asked Cathy.
“What’s your name again?” He liked her.
“Not if she has any sense. You heard about the chick they found wrapped in plastic?”
“We knew her, actually.”
“Scene’s fucked. Mold on everything. Color of cops.”
“You got raided.”
“Bad drugs driving out good. Pigs and Mafiosi. We’re gone. The Summer of Love defoliated the joint with so much media everybody’s a plastic flower-power sticker. We found a place in Marin. Studio space, trees, yard, view of Tamalpais. You can see who’s comin before they knock down the door.”
Zeke remembered the original question. “I feel sorry for these chicks from Minneapolis, I really do. Dope em up, turn em out, process the meat, they wander around in an amphetamine glaze.”
“You think she’s from out of town.”
“She seemed new to the scene, but not Minneapolis. Asking questions.”
“I didn’t hear her. You know when a person asks a question. They lean in, the dude shakes his head, they nod. She could’ve been trying to score. Get laid.”
“I’m sorry you’re leaving,” said Jimmy. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way, was it?”
“Nah. We were supposed to rip off Warner Brothers, not the other way round.”
“You got Bugs Bunnied.”
Zeke laughed unheartily.
“I didn’t know you politicos were funny,” he said. “Yeah, it was supposed to go the other way. Money from the labs to pay the bands, bands provide the soul, Diggers give out free food, KSAN, free medical clinics, free schools that don’t fuck up kids’ minds, our own newspapers, you dig, a whole network of our own thing.”
“And now it’s over?”
“The bourgeois death trip cannot last, man. Meanwhile Warner Bros pays the rent, we do what we can.” Zeke stared into the immediate elsewhere. Jimmy was becoming stoned on ambient air. He had to ask now, in front of Cathy, not wait:
“What’s the scene with Shauna and Beef?”
Zeke’s gaze eddied toward.
“Beauty and the Beast hmm.”
“Is she on smack?”
“Isn’t everyone? Isn’t that what we’re talking about?”
“Nah. She’s too elegant.”
Break it off, do not try Cathy’s trust or Zeke’s goodwill.
“If the mystery girl shows up,” Jimmy said, “and you should learn her name, anything like that, please call Cathy.”
Zeke looked like he’d be happy to call Cathy.
“Or me,” added Jimmy. He took out a law office card, scribbled their home phone number on it, saw Zeke had no pocket in his robe in which to place a card, despaired. “I’m putting it on the mantlepiece,” he said, “Right here.”
They clasped hands upright.
“Shauna’s not on smack. Yet.” said Zeke. Then, each word timed to the beat of a heart, “The day she shoots up, the scene is dead.”