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Slouching Towards Bethlehem Installment 1 of 8 Next
The DailyLit Originals E-text of Goodbye to All That, by Joan Didion

SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM

JOAN DIDION

THE CENTER WAS not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled even the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers. Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both the past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held the society together. People were missing. Children were missing. Parents were missing. Those left behind filed desultory missing-persons reports, then moved on themselves.

It was not a country in open revolution. It was not a country under enemy siege. It was the United States of America in the cold late spring of 1967, and the market was steady and the G.N. P. high and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose and it might have been a spring of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not, and more and more people had the uneasy apprehension that it was not. All that seemed clear was that at some point we had aborted ourselves and butchered the job, and because nothing else seemed so relevant I decided to go to San Francisco. San Francisco was where the social hemorrhaging was showing up. San Francisco was where the missing children were gathering and calling themselves “hippies.” When I first went to San Francisco in that cold late spring of 1967 I did not even know what I wanted to find out, and so I just stayed around awhile, and made a few friends.



A sign on Haight Street, San Francisco:



Last Easter Day
My Christopher Robin wandered away.
He called April 10th
But he hasn’t called since
He said he was coming home
But he hasn’t shown.

If you see him on Haight
Please tell him not to wait
I need him now
I don’t care how
If he needs the bread
I’ll send it ahead.

If there’s hope
Please write me a note
If he’s still there
Tell him how much I care
Where he’s at I need to know
For I really love him so!

Deeply, Marla

Marla Pence
12702 NE. Multnomah
Portland, Ore. 97230
503/252-2720.



I am looking for somebody called Deadeye and I hear he is on the Street this afternoon doing a little business, so I keep an eye out for him and pretend to read the signs in the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street when a kid, sixteen, seventeen, comes in and sits on the floor beside me.

“What are you looking for,” he says.

I say nothing much.

“I been out of my mind for three days,” he says. He tells me he’s been shooting crystal, which I already pretty much know because he does not bother to keep his sleeves rolled down over the needle tracks. He came up from Los Angeles some number of weeks ago, he doesn’t remember what number, and now he’ll take off for New York, if he can find a ride. I show him a sign offering a ride to Chicago. He wonders where Chicago is. I ask where he comes from. “Here,” he says. I mean before here. “San Jose, Chula Vista, I dunno. My mother’s in Chula Vista.”

A few days later I run into him in Golden Gate Park when the Grateful Dead are playing. I ask if he found a ride to New York. “I hear New York’s a bummer,” he says.



Deadeye never showed up that day on the Street, and somebody says maybe I can find him at his place. It is three o’clock and Deadeye is in bed. Somebody else is asleep on the living-room couch, and a girl is sleeping on the floor beneath a poster of Allen Ginsberg, and there are a couple of girls in pajamas making instant coffee. One of the girls introduces me to the friend on the couch, who extends one arm but does not get up because he is naked. Deadeye and I have a mutual acquaintance, but he does not mention his name in front of the others. “The man you talked to,” he says, or “that man I was referring to earlier.” The man is a cop.

The room is overheated and the girl on the floor is sick. Deadeye says she has been sleeping for twenty-four hours now. “Lemme ask you something,” he says. “You want some grass?” I say I have to be moving on. “You want it,” Dead-eye says, “it’s yours.” Deadeye used to be an Angel around Los Angeles but that was a few years ago. “Right now,” he says, “I’m trying to set up this groovy religious group— ‘Teenage Evangelism.’”



Don and Max want to go out to dinner but Don is only eating macrobiotic so we end up in Japantown again. Max is telling me how he lives free of all the old middle-class Freudian hang-ups. “I’ve had this old lady for a couple of months now, maybe she makes something special for my dinner and I come in three days late and tell her I’ve been balling some other chick, well, maybe she shouts a little but then I say ‘That’s me, baby,’ and she laughs and says ‘That’s you, Max.’” Max says it works both ways. “I mean if she comes in and tells me she wants to ball Don, maybe, I say ‘O.K., baby, it’s your trip.’”

Max sees his life as a triumph over “don’ts.” Among the don’ts he had done before he was twenty-one were peyote, alcohol, mescaline, and Methedrine. He was on a Meth trip for three years in New York and Tangier before he found acid. He first tried peyote when he was in an Arkansas boys’ school and got down to the Gulf and met “an Indian kid who was doing a don’t. Then every weekend I could get loose I’d hitchhike seven hundred miles to Brownsville, Texas, so I could cop peyote. Peyote went for thirty cents a button down in Brownsville on the street.” Max dropped in and out of most of the schools and fashionable clinics in the eastern half of America, his standard technique for dealing with boredom being to leave. Example: Max was in a hospital in New York and “the night nurse was a groovy spade, and in the afternoon for therapy there was a chick from Israel who was interesting, but there was nothing much to do in the morning, so I left.”

We drink some more green tea and talk about going up to Malakoff Diggings in Nevada County because some people are starting a commune there and Max thinks it would be a groove to take acid in the diggings. He says maybe we could go next week, or the week after, or anyway sometime before his case comes up. Almost everybody I meet in San Francisco has to go to court at some point in the middle future. I never ask why.

I am still interested in how Max got rid of his middle-class Freudian hang-ups and I ask if he is now completely free.

“Nah,” he says. “I got acid.”

Max drops a 250- or 350-microgram tab every six or seven days.

Max and Don share a joint in the car and we go over to North Beach to find out if Otto, who has a temporary job there, wants to go to Malakoff Diggings. Otto is pitching some electronics engineers. The engineers view our arrival with some interest, maybe, I think, because Max is wearing bells and an Indian headband. Max has a low tolerance for straight engineers and their Freudian hang-ups. “Look at ‘em,” he says. “They’re always yelling ‘queer’ and then they come sneaking down to the Haight-Ashbury trying to get the hippie chick because she fucks.”

We do not get around to asking Otto about Malakoff Diggings because he wants to tell me about a fourteen-year-old he knows who got busted in the Park the other day. She was just walking through the Park, he says, minding her own, carrying her schoolbooks, when the cops took her in and booked her and gave her a pelvic. “Fourteen years old,” Otto says. “A pelvic.”

“Coming down from acid,” he adds, “that could be a real bad trip.”

I call Otto the next afternoon to see if he can reach the fourteen-year-old. It turns out she is tied up with rehearsals for her junior-high-school play, The Wizard of Oz. “Yellow-brick-road time,” Otto says. Otto was sick all day. He thinks it was some cocaine-and-wheat somebody gave him.



There are always little girls around rock groups—the same little girls who used to hang around saxophone players, girls who live on the celebrity and power and sex a band projects when it plays—and there are three of them out here this afternoon in Sausalito where the Grateful Dead rehearse. They are all pretty and two of them still have baby fat and one of them dances by herself with her eyes closed.

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