On May 4, 1970, I woke up to news of the shooting at Kent State University in Ohio. Four dead in Ohio. Tin soldiers and Nixon coming. The lines encapsulate that time with pinprick accuracy. “Ohio” was written by Neil Young in reaction to what happened on that day, recorded in June, 1970 by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Haunting: Four dead in Ohio. That moment riled me to my withers and made my heart ache. Life pressurizing itself to the vanishing point. Full steam ahead.
Purpose plus resistance equals conflict. Students all over the country were protesting, with purpose—resisting. Conflict ensued. Riots broke out. Inner cities were going up in flames. The extension of the Vietnam War into Cambodia added fuel to the already raging fire. Nixon (I am not a crook) wasn’t winding down the war, he was putting it into overdrive. His jaundiced outlook on life would have cleared up if only he had cracked open a bowl or two of Haggis Altoona’s excellent African Hashish. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
The anti-war movement, the fight for civil rights and the rise of marijuana were firmly wedded together in the struggle to overthrow the establishment. Marijuana was the fuck you in the face of authority. Soldiers, White and Black, were dying over there, and over here, too—in the South, where America’s own apartheid reigned as though Cerberus, the Hound of Hades, were in control. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down on April 4, 1968. Bobby Kennedy on June 6, 1968. Two years later, four innocent students in Middle America. Rural Ohio, of all places. Only ten days later, on May 14, 1970, two Black students were killed and twelve more injured when police fired for thirty seconds into a crowd protesting at Jackson State College in Mississippi. Take another hit, my friend, take a big one. Question authority, smoke more weed. Blow smoke at the police. They’re coming for you.
Time’s Arrow moved inexorably onward…the violence, the marches, the bloodshed. The country lit and flaming. Sven, Autumn and I had recently joined SDS. Thousands of us planned to take over the University of Denver, occupy it, disrupt classes, make the school our own. We’d show those thugs in Washington a thing or two. Peace, love, Hell no, we won’t go! It was one thing to occupy the administration building, and we could have. We could have torched the place, but didn’t. We decided to veer in a different direction from our cohorts at Columbia and Berkley. We moved in and occupied the green spaces of the university, at first with tents, then decided to build a city of shacks and shock the authorities. Rock bands were coming, playing for free. I never heard of any of them.
A two block village green divided the business school and fraternity row. Here, we decided to build our city. We called it: Woodstock West. On the north end of this green space, Evans Ave ran east and west, and on the other side a smaller green lay spread out over a gentle rise, where the rallies would be held. Back down on the green space, across the street, we began to build structures out of discarded wood and refuse we collected from all over Denver. We were erecting a golden city in the sky. For all the world to see. Build, not burn. That was our motto.
The next day we received orders from the authorities to cease and desist. Cease and desist? What the fuck? But the word got out, so more folks arrived and began putting up more structures. The place was becoming a hornet’s nest. We vowed to never abandon our shiny, new huts made from the finest rotted wood and cardboard, even though we knew the police weren’t bluffing. We didn’t have guns, but we’d fight and push them back. We’d chant, death to the pigs!
We put our flophouse together with four doors, each spaced a door apart, creating an eight-sided structure—a sort of octagon. We found a long, cylindrical pole made of cardboard and positioned it in the middle of our one room, so that it ran vertically from the ground to the top of the ceiling, anchoring our whole rickety opus. Four doors and four openings, equaling eight contrasting Universes we could step into, depending on how fucked up we were. Yes, we were full of shit and artsy-fartsy. We named our new home Diogenes’ Dungeon, where all good ideas went to die and were reborn into ideas for the new age—with the aid of a voluminous stash of pot and hashish we smoked around the clock, of course. Sven found a sign that read Business Zoned and slapped it on the front of our creation. Oh yeah, the sunshine of my love—we’re open round the clock—business is booming.
The next morning I woke up on the ground in my sleeping bag. Beside me on our cut-off-at-the-knees couch was a woman my age. She had a tie-dyed shirt and bell bottom blue jeans, and was curled up like a lioness on her side, snoring like a chainsaw. Beside her lay an empty, overturned bottle of Southern Comfort and a hash pipe. Janis Joplin? Was I in the throes of a hashish-induced mirage? I blinked, then blinked again. She was still there, but it wasn’t Janis. I got up my courage and nudged her. She stopped sawing, cracked her eyes open and smiled. My brain was strung with spider webs and I was groggy from all my letting-loose the night before. I was about to ask what her name was, when Sven stuck his head through one of the doorways and yelled to get our asses out of there—they’re coming. Then he disappeared.
Diesel fumes wafted in one of the doorways, rankling my scrambled senses. Then I heard a deep, continuous gurgling, almost as if a tank were climbing over crump-hole. The hair on my neck shot straight toward the ceiling. I was sure the Universe was being sucked sideways through the rim of a beer bottle. I looked out one of our four doorways. A giant, gleaming, rectangular steel blade inched toward me, curling dirt neatly up over its curved top like a wave. I realized in my stupor what it was—a fucking bulldozer, a big yellow one, the Cat of Cats, a Caterpillar D-9 with 385 HP—about to run our shanty over. With us in it! Vacate the premises, came a voice over a megaphone. We grabbed our paraphernalia, crawled out the back door, and took off though the maze of razed structures. The mystery girl veered in one direction and I, the other. I never got her name and never saw her again. Maybe she was Janis—disappearing down the rabbit hole of a parallel Universe. Full steam ahead.