Becoming the Whale
They call me an outside agitator. “Call me Ishmael.” I go by many names. But Ishmael I’m not. Never hunted whales. Only seen them when I was stoned or on acid. Never been whale watching, either. I once saw Killer Whales, the endangered Orcas of the South Sound, swimming a foot away from me while I sat alone stoned in my living room, the curtains drawn, listening to the siren songs of Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.” Then I became the whale, and dove into the mysteries of the deep.
The Devil’s in the Details
So, yeah, please allow me introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. You know it. You’ve listened to The Stones. I’m not the Devil, though. Yet, I revel in details. Details reveal the world and lift the curtain we hide behind to tell the truth, to find the truth. The Wizard of Oz agitated his world from behind the scenes, only to be revealed by Dorothy. Agitation comes naturally here on Planet Earth. Agitation requires detail; it’s the way agitation works. You have to have some kind of plan. You can’t fly by the seat of your pants or skirt. You have to pull yourself along inside the Orca’s agitated wake to come out the other side. The Orca will pave the way to peace. If the Orca fails, then we’ll always have cranberries.
The Great Cranberry Scare of 1959
Leading up to Thanksgiving 1959, the word was in over the wires: Do not eat cranberry – it will kill you. Contamination was widespread, the public in panic. Hey, this was the ‘50s, bombs and cranberries. But I was nonplussed, because I hated cranberries as a kid. It wouldn’t kill me to have the cranberries go missing in action. At our Thanksgiving dinners we always were served the canned cranberry gelatin. Open the can and scrape it out with a spoon, flop it on a plate with a splat and retch. My mother and father always made sure I had a good helping heaped high on my plate, though. I come from a large family, and my parents couldn’t police me (too much arguing going on around a table of twenty), so when they weren’t looking, I’d feed it to the dogs under the table, who were lying at my feet, slobbering hounds that they were — they’d eat anything that wasn’t nailed down. I digress.
Vagabonds of the ‘60s
Almost exactly ten years after the Great Cranberry Scare of 1959, I traveled with Sven and Autumn to Washington, D.C., to join in on a march on November 15, 1969, to protest the Vietnam War. We took off from school, intending to be away for a week. We headed out of Denver east on I-70 in Autumn’s 1963 Chevy Impala. Cutting classes was nothing new for us. We seemed to live our university lives in absentia. My grades, of course, suffered every time I absconded with my mind, but I was never in danger of flunking out. Still, it worried me to be away, and when I got back I always had too much catching up to save my sorry ass from getting F’s in my classes. We were on the road, it seemed, all the time. Vagabonds of the ‘60s, hippie vagabond agitators.
Return to the Cranberry
We lit up a couple of numbers and passed them around. We were all stoned out of our minds as we headed over the Colorado border, breaking into the frigid, snow-dusted wheat fields of Kansas. Unbeknownst to me, Sven had brought along a couple of cans of you-know-what. He leaned over his pack and lifted out two cans of the gelatinous cranberry-in-a can. He held them up triumphantly. I nearly had a heart attack. After we passed Hays, Kansas, he pried open a can and told me I was in for a treat. Said, this stuff tastes out-of-this-world when you’re stoned. Just the thought of canned cranberry nearly made we want to jump ship, but after the initial queasiness wore off, I decided I’d take a piece.
Roger’s dog was sitting next to me in the back seat, panting. I could tell that the smell of cranberry was tickling his senses. Sven dished out a slice and handed it back to me, a mischievous grin plastered across his lips. I gagged at the sight and smell of it. The jiggly maroon mass seemed to crawl across the palm of my hand like it was the incarnation of The Blob. Was I supposed to suck it up like a vacuum? I had visions of it growing into a giant crimson fiend and consuming me and Steve McQueen alive. With aplomb I held out the palm of one hand and Roger’s dog bit into the red menace, his tongue agitating like a windmill run-amuck in a hurricane.
Yes, the ‘60s were a time of agitation. A perpetual washing machine in full-tilt, joint-smoking, acid-fueled fun. Still, when you think about it, all times are times of agitation, just the degree of difficulty involved living in one time as opposed to living in another separates one turbulence from another. They’re not all the same, even though history has a way of repeating itself. The ‘50s seemed halcyon, calm, especially after the upheaval of World War II. Still, when I experienced the Great Cranberry Scare, something awoke in me for the first time in my young life which told me there was danger ahead. Beware. That all wasn’t what it seemed.
The ‘60s followed and saw an awakening of love — great love, extreme love — as though we hippies wanted to make a statement of how starved the world was for love and peace, and yet, like the yin and yang, great conflict surrounded our movement. Another kind of trouble, the old white man world order, aligned itself against us as it does today. Yes, it was a time of great love and conflict. But we did deliver the love. Love was all we needed.
In the ‘60s and early part of the ‘70s it seemed to me the act of protest was the norm, at least for those of us young enough to try to steer our fate away from the hands of our older white masters. We thought nothing of getting into a car and driving great distances to take part in a march. Whether it was saving the Earth, trying to bridge the racial divide or rail against the war, we tried to be there. It was the only way to force change. Voting, it seemed, was out of our hands, fixed, gerrymandered, even back then. Gerrymandering is not new. Been around a long time. Not thankful for it. But once people find power, they want to stay in power and will do most anything to keep the status quo. Like “The Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. The oppressed, once they overthrow the status quo and rise to power, use their newfound power and oppress the ones they have overthrown. It goes around and around. Nothing changes and everything changes. A vicious circle. Of agitation.
Cranberry à la Carte
We reached the nation’s capital in two days of continuous driving. We were meeting Haggis Altoona there, our drug dealer and friend. His mother lived in a suburb, so we had a place to stay over the Thanksgiving holiday. After consulting numerous maps and asking directions at three gas stations, we finally found his mother’s pad, a two-story, ‘50s “Leave It to Beaver”-style house tucked away in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood. As we pulled up into the driveway, Haggis came out to greet us. I was about to open the door when Roger’s dog started to dry-heave, his stomach in turmoil. Seconds later he barfed up a pile of the canned cranberry on the seat next to my lap. And don’t you know, it looked and smelled the same as when Sven dished it out of the can. Oh yeah, tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough. Time to agitate.
Up next: The Vietnam Protest in Washington, D.C.