From Part Two
“Casey, you’re a Celtic knot.” Alix giggled as she passed Rain the joint. The smoke Casey had been holding in exploded out of his lungs. He coughed long and hard, drowning out the chorus of “People are Strange” by the Doors.
“Are you all right?” Rain squinted through her granny glasses.
Casey nodded, his throat so raspy he couldn’t speak.
Rain crossed her legs Indian-style and took a hit off the J. She held it in, exhaled quietly, then passed it to Dar.
“What do you mean, Alix?” Casey finally croaked.
Alix tucked a lock of blond hair behind her ear. The six of them were on the living room floor of the apartment, a shabby space with yellowed shades, torn linoleum, and cracks in the walls. “You’re always making connections,” she said. “With people, places, events. You twist things all together. Like a Celtic knot.”
“Aw, man, you’re just stoned.” Payton wiggled his fingers and sang along with the music.
“Cool it, Payton.” Dar raised a warning hand.
“It’s all right.” Alix gently stayed his hand and took the J from his fingers. She passed it to Payton. “Actually, a Celtic knot is a symbol for the complexity of the universe. No matter how our lives play out, we’re all intertwined. Twisting and weaving and overlapping. No beginning. No end. Here, I’ll draw it.”
“Alpha and omega,” Teddy said. He lay spread-eagled on the floor.
“Right.” Alix got up slowly.
“You all right?” Dar and Casey said it together.
She giggled again and grabbed the back of the couch. “Trippy. I guess I’m a little high.”
Dar’s eyes, always dark and brooding, were edged with concern. He looked liked he wanted to rescue her, Casey thought. He usually did.
“Just sit,” Casey said before Dar had the chance. “Don’t draw anything.”
But Alix shook her head and went to a large leather satchel in the corner. She fished out a pad and ink pen and started sketching. A minute later she brought it back and handed it to Payton. “See? It folds back on itself. Nothing lost. Very economical.”
Payton stared without comment, took another hit, and passed the J to Teddy.
Casey peered at the sketch over Payton’s shoulder. He saw a circle with lots of overlapping lines and squiggles. “Far out,” he said appreciatively.
“That’s you. Symbolically speaking.” Alix plopped back down beside Dar.
“Hey. This is good shit.” Teddy exhaled and passed the joint back to Casey. “Where’d you get it, Payton?”
Payton scratched his forehead underneath his rolled up red bandana. “Uh… some guy.”
“Casey scored it,” Rain said. “Not Payton.”
Payton shot her a dark look.
“Well, he did. We were in Old Town, looking for copies of The Seed—you know, the special one with the psychedelic ‘Yippie’ on the cover—and we met this guy. Casey started rapping with him, and a few minutes later, we walked out with an oz.”
Alix splayed her hands. “Connections. See what I mean?”
Dar took Alix’s outstretched hand. She snuggled closer to him.
Casey tried not to notice. “Where’s the hemostat?”
Teddy sat up, found it, and handed it to Casey. Casey clipped it to the roach, took one last hit and passed it back to Teddy, who took another toke, then dumped the hemostat and roach into a large ashtray.
Payton sighed. “So what’s the program, group?”
“I Love Lucy,” Teddy said.
“Star Trek.” Casey blew out the last of the smoke.
“The Flying Nun,” Alix said.
“Fuck it.” Payton shook his head. “And you call yourselves activists?”
“We boldly went where no man has gone before,” Teddy said in a stagey, TV voice.
“And met some very spacy creatures,” Casey added with a laugh.
“We’ve done our part,” Alix said.
“Wrong. ‘There can be no peace until every soldier is out of Vietnam and the imperialistic system is destroyed.'” Payton scowled. “Quick. Who said that?”
Casey rolled his eyes. “Give it a rest, Payton.”
Payton persisted. “Who?”
“Rennie Davis,” Dar cut in.
“Give the man a medal,” Payton said.
Alix and Dar exchanged looks. “Alix has a point,” Dar said. “We brought thousands of people to Chicago. Discredited the government… and the party that got us into this mess.”
“So we brought the war home for a few days.” Payton shrugged. “The war didn’t take a few days off. And the pigs are still in control.”
“You can’t run the world according to Mao’s little red book, Payton,” Rain sniffed. When Payton arched his eyebrows, she added, “I saw you leafing through it the other day. That’s dangerous.”
“Shit, Rain.” Payton ran a hand through his long blond hair. “We invade a country, dump bombs on the people, and risk the lives of millions. All in the name of ‘Peace with honor.’ Now that’s dangerous.”
“Hey man, Payton’s right,” Teddy said, coming to his defense. “Look what happened last week. Troops in the street. Fucking bayonets and tear gas. Mass arrests. This isn’t America. It’s Nazi Germany.” He pulled out a cigarette from a crumpled pack, struck a match to it, and took a long drag.
Alix frowned. “I thought we all agreed it was time for a break. And you shouldn’t put that poison into your lungs.”
Teddy took another deep drag. For spite, Casey figured.
He went to the window, only half-listening to the bickering. Below was the intersection of Sedgwick and Willow, a few blocks north and west of the heart of Old Town. The neighborhood was in transition from an artists’ community to a home for hippies, and some of the buildings were abandoned factories that had been divided up into apartments. Theirs wasn’t much more than a few rooms with bare bulbs and the occasional cockroach, but the rent was reasonable, and at night you could imagine you were on the Left Bank of Paris or Greenwich Village.
Casey had never thought of himself as a connector. Then again, over the past week they’d formed their own personal collective, Payton called it—and it had been Casey’s doing. His and Alix’s.
* * *
Casey and Dar had come on the bus from Michigan on Sunday, August 26th, the day before the convention started. Teddy was on the bus too—Casey vaguely recognized him from campus demonstrations. They struck up a casual conversation, and when Teddy asked where they were staying, Casey told him he was from the North Shore but wouldn’t be staying at home. His parents didn’t understand. He and Dar had heard about a youth hostel somewhere in Lincoln Park. When Teddy asked if there might be room for him, Casey said, “Why not?”
They arrived just in time for the Yippies’ Festival of Life concert and spilled into Lincoln Park along with five thousand other people. An hour later, Casey hooked up with Eric Payton. He’d hitch-hiked from Iowa City where students were into corn more than politics, he said. One of the few activists on the Iowa campus, Payton claimed he’d heard about Dar through the Big Ten inter-campus grapevine.
The four of them hung out that afternoon. The sky turned overcast, the PA system wasn’t the best, and you could hardly see the singers, but they were grooving to the togetherness, the free dope, and the sheer numbers of people.
Then somebody tried to bring in a flatbed truck to use as a stage, but the cops refused to let it in. People started throwing rocks—so the cops said. Casey never saw anyone throw as much as a pebble, but he heard taunting and shouting and lots of profanity. The cops retaliated by sweeping into the park to bash heads.
Looking back, he supposed it was inevitable. Everyone knew there was going to be trouble. Hell, the Movement had been encouraging people to come to Chicago to disrupt the convention. The four of them had hung back. This wasn’t an organized protest, Dar said, and he didn’t like unplanned demonstrations.
“We might not embrace a capitalist society,” he’d said in his authoritative campus-leader voice, “but we’re not anarchists. Chaos is not an alternative.”
Payton looked like he wanted to argue, but Casey stared him down. Payton kept his mouth shut.
When the 11:00 P.M. curfew rolled around, a crowd of people moved south from the park to the area between Stockton and Clark. Police rushed in with clubs and tear gas, pushing the crowd further south into Old Town. Casey saw a news reporter get clubbed by cops just for asking a few questions. His anger flared, and he glanced over at Dar, certain Dar was feeling the same way. But the light was spotty, and Dar’s expression was unreadable.
Then a line of cops moved in, squeezing them from the rear. Casey heard a pop and a clink as something hit the ground. A metal canister rolled toward him, sizzling as it turned over. A fog of white billowed up from it.
“Tear gas!” someone yelled. “Back off!”
Enveloped in the gas, Casey’s eyes began to sting. He felt as if flames were crawling up his nose. He wanted to squeeze his eyes shut, but a flood of tears poured out. His throat started to burn, and he couldn’t stop coughing. He staggered back, trying to hold his breath. He wanted to cover his face with his hands, but touching his skin made things worse. He stumbled over a curb. He heard shouting. He was yelling for Dar. Dar didn’t answer.
A slice of light cut an open space through the fog. He lurched forward, gasping for air. That’s all he wanted. Clean air. If he took in little breaths instead of big gasps, he discovered the pain wasn’t as intense. He stumbled toward the sliver of light.
“Hey, you.” A girl’s voice came out of the darkness. “This way. Come this way.”
The streetlight pooled on the pavement, but all he could see was a silhouette. A girl. Slender. Not tall. He squinted through his tears. She was making big circles with her hands, beckoning. He started towards her but tripped on the curb.
She helped him up and led him down an unfamiliar street. At the corner she turned right and went behind some buildings. He had no idea where Dar and Teddy and Payton had gone. The walk and the fresh air helped—his vision was still blurred, but the fire in his throat was subsiding. The girl cut across a lawn, down an alley, into a building. Then up two flights of stairs. He could still hear the din from the riot, but the shouting was a few decibels removed, the sirens less shrill.
Inside the apartment, she made him lie on a ratty sofa and gently washed his face, arms, and hands. When he started to feel human again, he thanked her.
“That’s cool. Glad I was there,” she said.
“I’m Casey. Who are you?”
“Where are you from?”
“Indiana. I came in for the convention.”
“I came in from Michigan.” He propped himself up on his elbows.
“We have a… well… I go to the Michigan shore sometimes.”
Casey nodded and looked around. “How did you find this place?”
“Um… a friend from home hooked me up with the man who owns the building. There’s a film studio on the first floor. The guy let me crash for next to nothing. He said the lights would make people think twice before ripping off his equipment.”
When she got up and went into the kitchen to rinse the cloth she’d been using, Casey took a good look at her. Long, wispy blonde hair framed her face, and her blue eyes were huge. Her nose was long, but her lips formed a perfect bow when her face was in repose. But that rarely happened, he came to realize. Her mouth twitched when she was amused. Which was often. And when that twitch turned into a dazzling smile, as was the case now, Casey’s heart cracked open.
Once he could breathe again, they went out to find the others, doubling back through side streets and alleys. People were gathering at Grant Park, they learned, so they headed south along the lakefront. The weather cleared, and a silver moon slid across the night sky, trailing a veil of sparks on the waves. By the time they reached Oak Street Beach, with the twinkling expanse of water on one side and the lights from the buildings on the other, Alix said she’d never seen such a beautiful city. Casey felt a swell of pride.
A crowd of about a hundred people huddled on the beach around a campfire. As they passed, Casey called out for Dar and Teddy. They heard a few shouts back of “Not here, man,” and “They’re waging the revolution.” Then a female voice called out, “Teddy Markham? Are you looking for Teddy Markham?”
Casey’s pulse quickened. “You know him?” he yelled back.
A girl disengaged herself from the crowd and trotted over. She was small, with long silvery blonde hair that glinted in the moonlight. She was wearing a denim jacket, jeans, and granny glasses. A camera encased in a macramé sling hung from her shoulder. “I haven’t seen him, but we went to high school together.”
“Who are you?”
Rain hesitated. “Julie.”
“Cool.” Casey nodded.
Alix stepped forward. “I’m Alix.”
Julie started to sway. Alix grabbed her arm. “Are you okay?”
“I was gassed earlier. I guess I’m still kind of messed up.”
“Me too,” Casey said. They exchanged nods. Then Casey said, “So have you seen Teddy?”
“You know, it’s weird. I hadn’t seen him in over a year, but I thought I saw him earlier. In the park. He’s got long sideburns now, right?”
“But that was hours ago. I don’t know where he went.”
“Okay. Thanks. Peace.” Casey turned to go.
It was Alix who intervened. “Hey, Julie. You have a place to crash tonight?”
She shook her head.
“You want to stay with us? We have a place in Old Town. Running water and everything.”
Casey, elated that Alix had used the pronoun “we,” sidled closer to her. Alix didn’t seem to notice.
Rain did, though. Casey could tell. But all she said was, “That would be far out.”
The three of them walked to Michigan Avenue and caught a bus to Grant Park. Searching the crowd, Casey spotted Dar and Teddy and Payton. They’d marched to police headquarters at 11th and State, but the cops had forced them back to Grant Park.
Casey made introductions.
* * *
That was a mistake, Casey thought now, as he stared out the window in the apartment. From the moment Alix and Dar met, he didn’t stand a chance. It didn’t matter that they were totally mismatched: Dar, tall and brooding, from blue-collar Detroit; Alix, fair, petite, almost ethereal, from the wheat fields of Indiana. They couldn’t take their eyes off each other.
Rain saw it, too. Although she pretended to be excited about reconnecting with Teddy, Casey saw her glance at Dar and Alix when she thought no one was looking. Teddy seemed restrained, but whether that was because he’d unexpectedly hooked up with someone from high school, or because of the vibes from Dar and Alix, Casey didn’t know. The only one who seemed oblivious was Payton.
Dar made sure he sat next to Alix on the bus back to Old Town, and he offered her his arm—almost tenderly, Casey thought—as she descended the steps. Back in the apartment, when Casey finally crashed in one of the bedrooms, Alix and Dar stayed in the living room, talking softly. Casey tried to deny it, but envy gnawed at his gut.
The convention was marked by flashes of exhilaration and moments of fear. There was no master plan. Demonstrations erupted opportunistically—someone wanted to march to Grant Park, someone else wanted to liberate the Amphitheater, someone else to overrun the Hilton. Squads formed and split off, only to be stopped by the cops who overpowered them with billy clubs and tear gas. If not for the injuries and arrests, it might have been funny, in a black-comedy, Lenny Bruce kind of way, Casey thought. Everyone was playing their assigned role.
Through it all, though, Dar was their leader. If he ordered them to march, they marched. If he ordered them to hang back, they hung back. Casey understood Dar’s need to right the wrongs of the system and insure that every member of society had a piece of it. That system had failed his family—his father had killed himself after losing his job, he’d told Casey. He didn’t want it to fail others.
“Isn’t that just another word for Marxism?” Teddy said one afternoon when they were relaxing in Lincoln Park between demonstrations.
“Not necessarily,” Rain said. It had only been a day or two, but Dar seemed to exert a pull on the rest of them. Rain and Alix hung on his every word; Rain even mimicked Dar’s language. “There used to be a balance in this country between social conscience and militarism,” she said soberly. “But we let the military-industrial complex throw it out of whack. We need to restore that balance, and the first step is to stop the war.”
Payton was different. He had a reckless streak and favored bold, flashy moves. Like the night he convinced Rain and Alix to sneak into the Hilton where a lot of convention delegates were staying. Their mission was to throw open the doors so protestors could overrun the hotel. Alix and Rain had gone to a Salvation Army store for second-hand high heels and cocktail dresses and nervously presented themselves at the hotel’s entrance. When questioned, they claimed to be meeting Humphrey campaign staffers in the bar. The doorman seemed inclined to let them in until a security guard demanded IDs they couldn’t produce, and they were kicked out. Later that night a crowd of protestors smashed through the bar’s plate glass window.
There were quieter, peaceful moments, too: a rally in Grant Park where they listened to Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg, and Norman Mailer… the night Alix anointed Julie “Rain” because of her silvery hair… the afternoon when Rain found someone to take pictures of the six of them together.
When the convention ended, Dar decided to stay in Chicago. He would have more impact working for change on the street, but everyone knew he wanted to be with Alix. Alix would stay also. She’d never been much of a student, she said. Her parents wouldn’t be happy, but she could handle them. Payton had dropped out and would be staying, too. Universities were the handmaidens of the establishment, he said, sucking your life-blood and turning you into corporate drones.
Casey was torn: he enjoyed campus life, but Dar was his best friend, and loyalty trumped school. He decided to stay too, but couldn’t tell his parents—they’d try to talk him out of it. Instead he confided in his sister, Valerie. She’d tell them. She owed him, anyway—he’d covered for her abortion six months earlier.
Rain couched it in political terms. Her father would be angry, but going back to campus life would rob her of the chance to change society. Her mother, a long-time labor activist, would understand—Rain was practically a red diaper baby.
Teddy wanted to stay as well, but knew his father would be furious. So he decided simply not to tell him. By the time he discovered Teddy wasn’t back at Michigan, it would be a fait accompli.
Alix talked to the guy who owned the film studio and came back with good news. They could all live in the Old Town apartment, provided they chipped in thirty dollars a month per person for rent. No phone or TV, but those were the earmarks of a materialistic society anyway. They didn’t need superficial contrivances.
That’s the way it started, Casey thought. People sharing their homes, their money, their beds. Together they would change the world.