I lit a stick of sandalwood incense, bent my knees into a half lotus, sent out good vibes to follow them throughout their day. As was my morning practice, I flipped the three Chinese coins we kept on our altar, wrote down the straight and broken lines, and consulted the I Ching to plan my day. Hexagram #8, Joining. Water above, Earth below. I read the poem, the Image, the Statement, the Commentaries. I opened the curtains, clouds and sunshine interspersed. Rain perhaps. Would it be male or female rain? She would know.
My new family, my lovers. He was my guide on my first trip (Mescaline). He taught me how to throw the I Ching and as we drove cross-country to join the vortex of the changing world, he taught me blues from the Mississippi Delta, kissing me back to my true self as we left my parents’ home. She we found at the first Human Be-in, and she was a finder as well, of wooden packing boxes in the trash bins in Japantown, which we made into book and record cases, old Chinese coins to use for divination, the purest sources for plant-based trips. She taught me the yogic Salutation to the Sun and told me I had Persian eyebrows. She was the first woman I loved.
We three newcomers to the Haight together made the security of home, and through our myths, the freedom to go out from there and explore, sniffing after new delights like the puppies that we were. The music, the art, our embrace of the word “freak”; all of these made me feel exhilarated and at ease. And now I had a day to myself to live in the present tense, to follow the advice of the ancient oracle: join.
It was a beautiful January day in 1967. They were all beautiful, each one a revelation in color, sound, new ways to join. I felt like Van Gogh come to Paris.
I decided to take peyote, to trip alone for the first time, unafraid because I trust myself enough, I trust the world enough. I am twenty years old and I make $25 an hour, enough to support the three of us. I go to the clubs on the North Beach and I dance and the voices in my head say something bad will happen to me. They’re the voices of my parents probably, but I maneuver my way through all that. He and she meet me at the bar when when I get off work at 2:00 AM. We take the trolley home. We take care of one another. And today I will go out and play. Stay in and play. Make art of everything. Make love of everything.
I’d been warned about the peyote, that it would probably make me nauseous. I’d heard the joke about finding the secret of the universe in the toilet, just before you threw up on it. I decided to skip breakfast and just take the sacred buttons, washed down with peppermint tea.
I smoked a joint, asking for blessings from the familiar consciousness alteration of Sister Marijuana, as the new more powerful Grandmother Peyote came on. Let the two plants Join in me.
The vomiting was minimal, perhaps because of the pot. I took a shower and then took another, because the first time I’d been too busy thinking to notice the delicious separation of heat and cold as the water cascaded down on me.
I decided to go out. Down the three flights, each step a portal to a new world of surprises as the wooden stairs rose to meet my feet. Wisps of conversation came to me as I passed my neighbors. I knew any of them would join me, if I needed help.
“Hi.” The girl in the second floor middle apartment was coming out her door as I slinkied down the staircase, and then I was lost in the tangle of her many shades of blond.
“Yes,” I agreed when my words found my mouth. “I’m thirsty.”
She laughed. “Okay. Want some tea?”
But I followed her inside, wanting to see her apartment, knowing she would welcome me. I put my hand out, she joined it to a cold glass.
“The cat I live with drinks that,” I told her. “Not cold though.”
“Today the tea is cold.”
I repeated her words as I made my way down to the sidewalk, the smoky taste still in my mouth.
“Today the tea is cold,” I told the first person I met.
“This chick is stoned,” he said. Jimi Hendrix music streamed out the window of the car beside us.
“I know that song! Catfish blues.” He had taught it to me as we drove across the land.
“That right?” The guy was sitting on the sidewalk, selling newspapers.
“Since when is the Oracle is color?” I asked.
“Only yours is in color,” he informed me. “The rest are still black and white. Do you want one?”
I considered. “I do. But I’ll probably lose it. And I don’t have any money. Besides, isn’t everything an oracle?”
“Everything’s an oracle,” he agreed. “But here’s your own personal copy of the San Francisco Oracle, in color.”
I walked on, the sidewalk purring below my feet. Three guys I’d seen around, one black, one brown, one white said, ‘Hey baby. What’s happenin’?” They seemed comedic but I remembered, Everything’s an oracle.
“Too big a question,” I finally answered.
“Do you want a surprise?”
“I’d better. Because I’m sure to get some today.”
They all laughed some more. “Close your eyes and open your mouth.”
I did as instructed. Something hot, then sweet in the center of my tongue. My fingers took out the pink blob. “What is it?”
“Red hots. Were you surprised?”
We parted and I wiped my fingers on the Oracle, left it on a bench for someone else..
I smelled vegetables, something I didn’t know, but fermentedly like sauerkraut, coming from the restaurant where the Jamaican dykes hung out and teased me as I walked by. Today there were two. “Darlin’. How you stay?”
What did that mean? I smiled and shrugged. “Ummmmmm. What’s that smell?”
“Ya mean goat curry?”
My stomach twisted. I could never eat meat when I was tripping. “No. Vegetables.”
“That’s de pepperpot. Spinach, collard greens, Scotch peppers, okra. Your Momma ever give you pot liquor?”
“No. I don’t know what it is.”
They laughed and said something to each other I didn’t understand.
“What do you call that music?” I peered into the dark restaurant.
“Dat’s party music,” said the flirty one. “Come in and party with us. We party better than dem rudeboys. You come party with the sistren.”
“Don’t vex her now, Rita,” her friend said. To me she said, “Ska. You call dat ska.”
“It vexes me to see her let dat fellow put just anyting in her mouth.” Rita pointed at the guy who had given me the red hots, then looked back at me. “You best be careful. Where’s your friend, the girl I see you with? She Indian, dat one, yes?”
“Yes,” I agreed.
“And how ‘bout you?” Rita took my chin in her hand and locked my eyes to hers. “You got some Indian in you too?”
I never knew how to answer that question in those days. “I have a little peyote in me.”
“Oh ho!” Rita’s friend – my friend – said. “That explain why she no want me goat curry.”
“I’m very thirsty.”
“All right, den. I bring you some ginger beer.” She disappeared through the darkened door.
“I don’t have any money,” I told Rita. Clouds gathered and I smelled the rain. “And I don’t drink alcohol.”
The friend was back, with a bottle. “She take peyote but she don’t drink alcohol,” Rita told her.
She laughed. “What are you, Rasta girl?”
“I don’t know.” I rolled the syllables in my mind. They tasted good.
“Here, Rasta girl. Ginger beer irie. Like root beer, but from the ginger plant.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“No trouble. Just drink it and take care yourself. Everything is everything.”
“Oh yes. Everything is everything.”
I made my way down the street, smiling, sipping the ginger beer, asking directions to the Panhandle.
In the park a tree called to me. A chick in a long flowing Indian dress, it’s mirrors reflecting me a hundred times, smiled up from where she sat blowing bubbles. “Do you know what tree this is?” I asked her.
“Sure. Live oak.”
“Perfect.” I sat down beneath the live oak tree. Flute and tabla drifted over to me from freaks out picnicking and playing beneath the next tree over . Sister Rain, down to kiss my face. I heard her in the sage smell, the resin in the clouds. I heard that song, that rainsong and breathed in deep for more. Beneath my thighs, the damp earth. I surrendered to her. Earth below, water above. Secure in Live Oak’s limbs, I dissolved as the rain, the rain came down.