I don’t really know much about the brain of teen girls. As a man, the female psyche must on some level remain for me, as it was for Freud, “a dark continent” (The Question of Lay Analysis, 1926). Freud was prescient enough to know that the mechanisms he studied were the objective mechanisms of identity formation — not the subjective experience itself (the dark continent). He was also progressive enough to warn his fellow analysts against “underestimating the influence of social customs” in discussions of gender and to emphasize that “the proportion in which masculine and feminine are mixed in an individual is subject to quite considerable fluctuations” (Essay on Femininity, 1933).
But enough about Freud. After all the psychology and philosophy and literature I’ve read, I think my daughter (I believe 14 at the time) most succinctly expressed, by accident one day, exactly what it feels like to be a teenage girl. We were wandering a city in Spain — Barcelona, Madrid, I forget which city — and were in a green space filled with monuments. I had momentarily lost her, and then I heard her voice near a monument and came back up to her.
“Hey there. What ya doing?” I asked her.
“Singing. And thinking about how weird I look.”
She tossed the line off casually, but I thought that that was it. The rich and contradictory inner life of the teenage girl in a nutshell.
Now I welcome feedback from those of you who actually were teenage girls (and from those of you who weren’t — unlike some of my younger liberal friends, I reject all restrictions on what you are allowed to say, think, or do, based on your demographic identity).
In light of Colin Kaepernick’s NFL protests, I thought this 1969 version of the American national anthem timely once again, full of complex emotions for a complex patriotism – you can hear the social chaos, the agony and machinery of war, but also genuine affection and all manner of poignant emotion. Hendrix brings the anthem into the moment in a way that might rattle rote memory patriots as well as easy-gesture protesters, bringing both groups one step past their comfort zone, one step closer to the hippie ideal where we break through conventional ways of doing things and recognize that we’re all in this together.
“People don’t hitchhike any more.”
“It’s harder to hitchhike these days.”
I started hearing these comments in the 1980s, but I never found them to be true. Until Jackson, Mississippi, two days ago. OK, I admit, I haven’t hitchhiked in the U.S. since the early 1990s, so there’s a gap in my data. But still, people really tuned me out in Jackson. It took me about 3 hours to get from New Orleans to the south side of Jackson. Then a 3 hour wait. Then a ride to north central Jackson. Then a half hour walk to find a spot and 5 hours in the beating sun with no ride. Sunset. Cheap hotel. The next morning, another 5 miles walking the shoulder and 3 hours burning sun before I finally got a ride out of town.
But first, before Jackson, the endless rows of debris from gutted houses after the Louisiana floods.
Then a few good rides out of Louisiana and into Mississippi. The country people — the less educated the better — helped me through. Blue collar guys going to construction sites, chain-smoking women with raspy voices and straw hair, the Pentecostal missionary. But Jackson, that was rough. Until a tattoo artist fresh out of prison finally picked me up and drove me into the pine forests between Jackson and Memphis.
A scrap metal dealer asked me how long it took me to hitchhike from Mississippi to Germany. Nice as could be, clueless, big on the second amendment, an avid voter, and not for Hillary Clinton. Who was I to argue? When he dropped me, he didn’t want to let go, but kept talking to me while I stood with the door open.
I couldn’t take the sun any more on my arms and neck. I harassed people at the truck stop. The truckers were sympathetic, but this was not the 1970s. Nowadays, insurance rules forbade them from taking on hitchhikers, and trucking companies had cameras in the cabs. The great age of trucker-hitchhiker camaraderie was gone. The manager kicked me off the property but not before an old guy offered to take me halfway to Memphis.
Next stop. Skin baked. Butterflies on the side of the road.
I hovered by the gas station door and asked the first guy who pulled in with a pickup if he could help me with a ride to Memphis. He wasn’t thrilled, but let me in. In a half hour, we were fast friends. His wife had just got out of the national guard and was studying biology on the G.I. Bill. He had flunked English through high school and had barely gotten his GED. Now he and his brother had two trucks zigzagging around the country delivering trailer homes on recurring contracts. He took me all the way to Marston, Missouri. The lady working the truck stop counter there was chatty, supportive. Where the other manager had kicked me off the premises, she would have no doubt badgered every driver in sight to help me out. You never know what you’re going to get. But my plans had changed. Rachael was now on the way down from St. Louis, so she and my driver, Billy, and I met in Marston for coffee. Then Billy headed north to cross paths with his brother on I-57, and Rachael and I turned southward, back through the heart of the Bible Belt before we could reach the French Catholic swamplands of Louisiana and the lazy, humid, brass-band nights of New Orleans.
So do people hitchhike any more? Is it harder to hitchhhike? Flying in your own car would take 8 hours from New Orleans to Marston, Missouri. It took me 27 hours to go the first half and 4 hours to go the second half. Draw your own conclusions.
As I travel Europe, my friends here are mystified. How does Trump say these things and still get nearly half the people behind him? Europeans get the same mainstream news that we all get worldwide, but there is something about the U.S. that is invisible to them — namely, they do not see the 24/7 blanket of right-wing talk radio in all 50 states (in addition to Fox news). Drive across the U.S. and at every point you can pull in 5 or 6 right-wing radio channels (not to mention conservative religious channels) all day long that have said for years said the same kind of things that Trump is saying now. It is that invisible blanket that has made this kind of talk normative in a way that is perhaps not quite fathomed by those outside of the U.S.
At least that’s one explanation. I welcome others.
Another excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Hippies. (Log line. In this overdue epic of the Age of Aquarius, Jazmine, Ziggy, Ragman, and a coterie of hippies struggling with the contradictions of the 1960s counterculture discover an LSD-spinoff drug that triggers past life regressions and sweeps them toward a dramatic climax.)
“Hey, Pepper, that bandanna looks great on you.”
“Did the priestess come in today?”
“Yeah, bitch was there,” said Pepper. “Complaining about horse shit from the tourist carriages on Royal Street.”
“I thought horse shit was her specialty,” laughed Jazmine. She stood, stretched, and tossed the magazine on the lower shelf of the open pantry.
“Let’s sit outside,” said Pepper. “It’s a nice, clear night.”
They stepped out to the yard just as the spring sun set and sat on the benches at the small picnic table. The night was clear but the air dense and humid, with a moist citrus scent coming from the small satsuma tree near the alley that ran from the yard to the street.
Ziggy brought out three plates and Ragman filled four jelly jars with wine. Zig and Jaz and Rag dug in, and Pepper took a sip of chianti and looked up. She was engrossed with the sky, or something in it, but she said nothing.
“You make the simplest things taste so good,” Jaz said to Ziggy.
“How about you?” Pepper addressed Jazmine. “How you doing?”
“I mean that trip the other day. The tan acid. What do you think? Was it good? Bad? Weird.”
“Well, it was quick in and quick out, just like Rag predicted. That’s good.”
“That’s really good,” said Pepper, and she looked back up at the sky.
The others ate in silence, enjoying the crickets, the bird chatter of dusk, and the occasional sound of a VW bug torqueing around the potholes on St. Roch Street. Rag bussed the plates and refilled the wine.
“That’s why I never did LSD after that first time with Gina and Tex,” Pepper continued, as if there were no pause. “It was cool at first but then the long agony of coming down. I remember driving across the 24-mile bridge at night and seeing monsters coming out of the water with each turn of the waves, over and over in a hellish rhythm. And then I felt all the organs inside my body splitting open. I could see them and feel them tearing. Fuck that.”
Ragman had come back out and was lighting two tiki torches at the ends of the table.
“What the hell were you doing driving while tripping?” he asked.
“I wasn’t driving. Tex was.”
“Oh, that makes it all better,” joked Zig. “TEX was driving while tripping.” They all chuckled at the reckless absurdity of it all, knowing that at least this time all turned out safe.
“But listen,” Jazmine said. “You could even do this stuff, Pepper. There is no long, dark coming down part.”
Rag fired up a joint. The match momentarily lit up his face. The hazel eyes gleamed, the cheekbones more prominent as they tapered down to the point of the light brown beard. He looked for a moment like one of the plastic devil heads that come from claw machines. He inhaled hard on the joint and then passed it to Zig, who sat on the bench next to him across from Pepper and Jaz. Rag momentarily held the pot in his lungs and ran his hand through his flowing brown hair.
“What are you thinking, Rag?” Jaz asked quietly. The flickering of the tiki torch pulled the violet highlights from her eyes.
Rag was equally quiet as he spoke: “This shit could change everything.”
Zig took his hit and passed the joint to Pepper. The earthy sweet smell of marijuana mixed with the citronella fuel of the tiki torches, wrapping the four faces at the table into their own world. Jazmine, with her dark eyes and ivory glow, fiery Pepper with the ice blue eyes, Zig with his rectangular face framed by long curling black locks, and Ragman: faces close together, dimly lit against the darkening sky, all feeling the wrap and pull of pot-forged kinship, but the attention was on Ragman.