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Bad Moon Rising

Ed Gorman

“A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.”

- Ronald Reagan

“Good morning! What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000.”

- Wavy Gravy at Woodstock

“We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

- President Lyndon Johnson

“There’s a bad moon on the rise.”

- Creedence Clearwater Revival “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming…

Four dead in Ohio.”

- Neil Young’s “Ohio” about Kent State

JESUS CHRIST WAS NOT A HIPPIE

In the summer of 1968, the good Reverend Cartwright, last seen setting himself on fire while attempting to burn a huge pile of Beatles records, purchased six billboards around town to make sure that believers and nonbelievers alike got the message that Jesus Christ had not been like hippies during his time on earth.

Three weeks earlier, an eighty-six-year-old woman had written the local newspaper to defend our resident hippies from the slings and arrows of those who hated them. She said that given how the adults had screwed up the world there just might be a chance that these young people had some ideas worth listening to. Further-and you can imagine the bulging, crazed eyes of the good reverend as he read this-further, as a lifelong Christian she was pretty sure that if Jesus Christ walked the earth today he would walk it as a hippie. Not, I assumed, in Birkenstocks, but you get the idea.

So now Reverend Cartwright was on the attack. Seeing the billboard, I realized that it was in fact time for his radio show. Lately I’d been using it as my humor break for the day. For lunch I’d pull into the A amp;W for a cheeseburger and a Pepsi and sit in my car and listen to his show. It always opened with a tape of his choir-one of the worst I’d ever heard-singing some song about the righteous Lord and how he was going to disembowel you if you didn’t do exactly what he told you to do. Then the reverend would come on. He always opened-as he did today-with the same words: “I spoke with God last night and here’s what he told me to tell you.”

I’d been hearing his show all my life. My father used to listen to it on the days he wasn’t working. He’d laugh so hard he couldn’t catch his breath at times. I’d be laughing along with him as my mother would peek in and say we shouldn’t be wasting our time on a moron like that. But then, she didn’t understand our weakness for The Three Stooges, either.

Today, as I jammed extra pickles under the top of my bun, the reverend said: “If Jesus Christ was a hippie, as some local infidels are saying, then that would mean that Jesus Christ would sanction what goes on at the commune right on the very edge of our town. A town I have personally sanctified to the Lord. If you will support me with your prayers and your pledges I will see that that commune is closed down and the infidels driven from our midst.”

His pitches for money were the dullest part of the show, and since he was obviously headed in that direction I twisted the selection knob looking for some news. I counted three stations playing “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” a song critics likened to a three-minute hillbilly version of the novel Peyton Place.

I found a newscast and quickly wished I hadn’t. The war the war the war. It had brought down LBJ and had returned to prominence Tricky Dick Nixon.

When I finished eating, I sat back and smoked a cigarette. Right then I felt pretty down, but nothing would compare to how down I would feel less than ten hours later.

PART ONE

1

“I am just way too groovy for this scene, man.”

If you were a teenager saying “groovy” you could get away with it. If you were a thirty-four-year-old Buick dealer all gussied up in purple silk bell-bottoms, a red silk shirt, and a gold headband, all you were was one more drunk at a costume party where everybody was dressed up as hippies. Or their idea of hippies, anyway.

“That’s you all right, Carleton,” I said. “Just way too groovy.”

Wendy Bennett gave me a sharp elbow, not happy with the tone of my voice as the six-two Carleton Todd swayed over us, spilling his drink all over his hand. These were her people, not mine. Wendy Bennett came from one of the most prominent families in Black River Falls. Occasionally she wanted to see some of the friends she’d known from her country club days. Some of them I liked and surprised myself by wanting to see again. They were ruining my old theory that all wealthy people were bad. It just isn’t that simple, dammit.

“Don’t worry about ol’ Carleton,” Carleton said, his eyes fixing on Wendy’s small, elegant breasts. We both wore tie-dyed T-shirts and jeans, our only concession to costume. “I’m used to his insults. I was just in the TV room watchin’ the Chicago cops beat up the hippies. Your boyfriend here called me a couple of names in there.” He opened his mouth to smile. Drool trickled over his lower lip. “But I called him names right back. If I was a cop I’d club every hippie I saw.”

“Carleton, you’re a jackass,” Wendy said, steering me away before I could say something even nastier.

Don Trumbull’s mansion sat on a hill in what had been forest, a bold invention of native stone, floor-to-ceiling windows, and three different verandas. At night the windows could be seen for half a mile. Now, like people in a play of silhouettes, human shapes filled the glass lengths, many of them wobbly with liquor.

“I’m proud of you.”

We were on one of the flagstone verandas, the one that loomed over the downslope to the river. Moonlight glittered on the water and stars served as a backdrop to the pines that staggered up the steep incline of the far hills.

Men with Rotarian eyes drifted by, slightly drunk and silly in Nehru jackets. I wondered if they hated costume parties as much as I did. Tonight’s fashions were dictated by all the slick magazine spreads about hippies, the problem being that the spreads featured Madison Avenue hippies. Collars so wide and droopy they looked like elephant ears; medallions that would have suited Roman soldiers; and of course fringed leather vests for both men

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