Monday, May 14, 2012

Once a Hippie and Now...?

All manner of hippie stuff
On a bright sunny day I elected to get an instant dose of country and nostalgia less than a half hour from my home in Venice.  Winding through the Santa Monica Mountains I passed the crystal store and had a flashback of an old friend from college days.  'Whatever happened to Steve S?'  He loved Topanga and all aspects of the hippie culture.

Always an early adopter, he introduced us to marijuana and then various other consciousness altering substances.  As young suburbanites we yearned to get out of the housing tracts and into the bohemian vibe of Topanga.  Many weekends we would race through there in my little red sports car and stumble upon parties and love-ins.  In those communal days, as long as you were wearing the appropriate threads (clothes) you were welcome.  No invitation needed.  It was the era of free love, community, and music.

Creekside dining @ Inn of the Seventh Ray
An old friend reported that Steve S. had pursued a career with the unemployment department in state government.   Searching through Facebook I found him and we connected.   It turned out he had recently retired and was now free from the daily work grind.  Always musically oriented (he was a major fan of Rod Stewart), he used to play guitar in college.  I figured he would be playing a lot of guitar and taking a lot of foreign trips (he once did the almost mythical overland trip from London to Kabul, Afghanistan). 

We arranged to meet at the classic Topanga restaurant, Inn of the Seventh Ray, to talk old times and get up to date.  Set creekside, the Inn is an institution with healthy organic food and even better atmosphere...serene and in nature.  My overt and sincere agenda was to catch up with an old friend, my covert motive was to see how he was faring in 'retirement' given my own rocky transition.  We had similar backgrounds with secure, highly structured careers in government service that led to post work pensions, we grew up in the suburbs, and we were comrades in the cultural revolution of the 70s.    Our paths diverged when he transferred to San Diego State and I went to UC Berkeley.  Although he eventually joined the Employment Development Dept (after years wandering around the world and academia) and I became a teacher and administrator with LAUSD, we had a lot in common.  And as the song said, 'what a long strange trip its been.'

After catching up on history, he shared the challenge he has managing his time.  With its lack of imposed structure, his new lifestyle has presented unexpected dilemmas and rewards similar to those I have written about throughout these blogs.  But the issue that hit him by surprise was our old friend cannabis.  He related his dance with the herb, like it was a long lost girl friend.  Still loves her but has a hard time sorting out the mixed emotions of attraction, disappointment, and addiction.

Sacrament or devil's weed
Posted over the creek, listening to the bull frogs and watching the hummingbirds, we got down to the nitty gritty (as we used to say then).  Turns out he goes on binges of ingesting marijuana every day for weeks at a time and then goes on the wagon.  In order to stop, he'll go out of town for a couple weeks.  Then upon return, the siren calls and the easy entertainment and comfort is too much to resist.  Betty Bong beckons and he fires up again.  She seduces him like Salome and her seven veils.  Sometimes exciting and thrilling and other times an addiction that saps energy and will.  What troubles Steve is that he has worked for thirty years to have the freedom to do what he wants and he likes to get high.  But the simple pleasure has become problematic for him.

It has been reported that with the aging and retiring of the Boomer generation, the old pipes have been dusted off and more weed consumed by the now older ex-hippies.  So, it doesn't seem to be a situation unique to my old friend.  Many questions arise out of this dynamic:  1)  Managing and limiting use when the usual constraints (job, kids in the house) are gone, 2)  Health considerations when old habits are imposed on an older body (hang overs, excessive eating--'munchies'), 3) Possible enhancing fun and patience in learning new skills, 4)  Integrating the emotional and spiritual insights into the latter stage of life.

The struggle of my successful, affluent, professional friend is not anomalous.  The journey of older life can and should be filled with indulging in preferred recreations.  It may also be a time of spiritual questing and discovery.  New or long dormant interests in creative arts can at last be explored.  Coming from a pleasure seeking generation in the 70s, our formative years were indulgent.  Being conscious of one's age requires threading the needle between a possibly sacred experience that reveals and expresses deep seated desires and  and a sacrilegious excess into escapism and dependence.  How one navigates this path can facilitate the redemption and reward for all we aspired to in our youth or a journey down into delusion and escape. (By the way, reefer could be replaced with any pleasure done to excess; food, travel, alcohol, yoga, consumption).  Dive into that cauldron find the tasty mix that satisfies and keep your eyes on your dream.

The answer may yet be Blowin' in the Wind.


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