by JT Hilltop
We all had our demons but sometimes I felt as though I had more than I deserved. Seems I was given a lion’s share of self destructive tendencies and sometimes took to creating my own. Yea that’s me, JT Hilltop, king of demon manufacturing. Never could figure out why, It’s not like I grew up in a dangerous town or in a bad family situation. I mean Centerlawn was like this sprawling suburban paradise beach community jam packed full of upstanding citizens. It was actually once my father’s summer retreat from the perils of his Brooklyn childhood. Apparently my Grandparents took him and my uncles here for two weeks every summer and for them it was like vacationing in The fucking Garden of Eden or something like that. That’s where I grew up, Centerlawn “Lawn Guylan” a sleepy little North Shore haven just below the Gatsby Gold Coast section of the island. A town of great cultural diversity. Irish, Italian, Jewish, German, and various Latin ethnicities flocked to the small coastal town to escape the growing fears of living in the tough cement neighborhoods of New York City, The Bronx, and Brooklyn. It was an innocent and pioneer like community of urban sooner and boomers. They formed close knit ties with diverse neighborhoods where families looked out for each other very closely. Too close for my comfort because made it very difficult to get away with any bullshit, which is supposed to be part of a growing young mans diet. One neighbor saw Joe’s son smoking a cigarette, another noticed my sister with a boy much too old for her. It was like CCTV only verbal. You couldn’t flirt with the next door neighbors daughter without the entire block asking your intentions. It was always a bad situation if my Mom said, “where have you been?” Do I run the risk of telling a lie and hope no one saw me, or fess up with the strong possibility that a nosey neighbor told my Mom she saw me at the mall? If only these were the toughest decisions to maker in this so called Hamlet then I may have lived a simple mundane life like everyone else in suburbia. I’d have gotten a good job, settled down, raised a family. The American dream was right in front of me like a brass ring and all I had to do was reach out and grab it. But alongside that brass ring, was a tempting seductive lure far more dangerous than any forbidden fruit. And I really dug forbidden fruits!
If you knew the right people it was a world filled with money, drugs, crime, and the promise of unrestricted sex but the price was a piece of your soul. A big piece. If you put up your innocence as a down payment you were promised thrilling high speed ride with many salacious twists and turns. It wasn’t hard for my best friend Ken and I to choose to ride that ride. Adventure was in our blood and we thrived on tickling our adrenal glands, especially when we got high. Ah yes, getting high. The norm in high school. More than just a kick or a pastime for us we had turned it into a Goddam art form. Bongs, water pipes, chamber pipes, and assorted “drug paraphernalia” at the tips of our fingers. We could get rolling papers right up the road at the stationery store, or hitchhike into the village and go to a head shop for an assortment of pipes and rolling machines. We even had special names for our smokes, Panamanian Red, Acapulco Gold, Green weed, Skunk weed, Wheelchair weed, and on and on. One friend, Patrick, even had a six foot bamboo pipe that took two people to use. That little beauty filled the whole six foot of length with one hit of smoke so huge it could fill up the lungs of a fucking elephant. And let me tell you when that hit filled your lungs it would take a damn elephant not to cough. That was my favorite smoking implement but it didn’t come out very often. What the hell, I guess I would have had an impossible time sneaking something like that out of my room too. But Patrick’s parents were pretty naïve and he got away with all kinds of shit. Me and Ken had to be careful, our parents were stricter than most. That made escaping or hiding from the cops so alluring. If the pigs catch us at our shenanigans the amount of shit that would hit the fan could cover a football field. Maybe two.
In the backdrop of this little utopia was a huge cauldron of a media inspired sizzling hot generation gap. A war in Viet Nam, a disregard for civil rights, women’s rights, and youth rights, added to the police brutality all over the country had boiled to the top and threatened to spill over into the kitchens all across Centerlawn pitting sons against fathers and daughters against mothers. It was no wonder all we ever cared about was getting high. My brother was in the army and if things continue the way they are my entire neighborhood would be in Viet Nam in two years. Being in high school sucked, but it sure was better than being shot at. Anyway, time for some old fashioned get high, let the search begin.
I. School Daze
A typically boring day in school, cutting class was necessary to keep from dying o0d boredom. So it was time to go and look for a little buzz. By now almost everyone in my high school was smoking pot. So much pot in fact we wondered if that was how it earned the term “high” school. We knew that was just a joke of course but the amount of marijuana in the hallways was really was substantial. I had earned a reputation for being one of the more prolific puffers. I could puff a huge doobie all by myself and still be able to go to any class and function. Except maybe gym. Yea the “jocks” Those boneheaded sports enthusiast loved to pick on us longhairs. They talked like what I assume was the Cro-Magnon vernacular saying well thought out repetitive jokes like “Hey, is that a girl in our gym class? Hey girlie, the girls gym is next door.” So many times I wanted to say something like “Oh I know, I share a locker with your girlfriend”, but I am much too nice a guy. Then again maybe it was because they would have kicked my ass with their Charles Atlas biceps. Not wanting to get sand kicked in my eyes I opted for keeping it an inside joke. They really would kick my ass if they ever found out I had sold and smoked pot with most of their girlfriends at one time or another.
Whenever I got bored, which usually only happened on school days, I engaged in a ritual tradition that Ken and the rest of my band of merry marauders enjoyed engaging in called “Find some Buzz”. We would go in search of anyone that had a joint, or a chunk of hash, and ask them to front us a hit. More often than not when a good friend came by they would ask us if we wanted some buzz before we even asked because we always shared our stash, no one really liked to smoke alone. It wasn’t really unusual for Ken and I to run into each other in school because we had a certain few places we always hung out at that were prime hiding spots while cutting class. Today would be no different. “Hey dude, I have a fucking brilliant idea.” Ken was the idea man and had tons of them. “And we should start saving money for it right now.” As always, Ken immediately garnered my curiosity having blown me away with truly great ideas so often. Ken was brilliant and creative. Many of the other students laughed at him back in Jr. high, because when he moved here from Oklahoma he was the first boy in school to have really long hair. All of five foot tall, he had long flowing blond hair that was parted in the middle cascading over his shoulders and half way down his back. He had a rebel soul and I was drawn to him instantly. Like most of the male students, I had started growing my hair long in part to look cool, but more importantly to piss off my Mom and Dad. Most all of us had developed a twitch from keeping our long bangs out of our eyes. We all wanted to be Beatle “moptops”. But Ken was ahead of the curve and had already grown his hair long like……well like a girl. That was also part of Kens appeal, he seemed to know ahead of everyone else what was in style before it actually came in style. He had gone from a long haired geek freak that was made fun of, to a well respected member of the hippie rebellion ranks. Proudly I admit I had much to do with his rise to “coolness” because I was considered one of the “cool” kids since fourth grade. It wasn’t that I actually was cool, but I had an older brother and even older sister who had created reputations with the teachers. Those reputations preceded me. I was cool by association. I played football and baseball with the “older” kids, got rides in my sisters boyfriends “Surf Woody”, and just always hung out with the older kids. So my becoming Kens friend had helped him gain acceptance and move up the hipster social ranks quickly with my friends. It wasn’t long until they too saw how insightful he was to popular culture and trends. Before the end of the 9th grade we were all growing our hair long, and wearing cool clothes like bell bottom pants and double breasted balloon sleeve shirts. Checks, stripes, paisley prints, the brighter the better and no worries if it doesn’t match. Now we all had real long hair, afro’s, long straight hair, super curly locks or like mine long wavy banana curls.
My first thought was to relieve the boredom so I told Ken, “Cool dude, but lets go out to La Bomba and do a bowl first. You still got that hash?” As always, Ken would came through. “Of course bro, some nice opium streaked black Afghanistan. Lets go asshole.” I hated his “lets go asshole” phrase but he always sang it like a commercial jingle and everyone laughed, so I just dealt with it. Off we went to the parking lot to climb into my car to smoke some hash. My little red Simca, A French sedan type car that was Frances answer to the Volkswagen, “La Bomba” is what we called the car and it was our entire groups pot smoking haven. I never locked the doors because so many of my friends used it at various times of the day, even if I wasn’t there. But this day, at this moment, no one else was around. I could tell Ken was happy about that because he really wanted to talk about his idea. Tell you the truth, I was pretty anxious as well. As he filled his chamber pipe with a small piece of black hash I needed to know. “So Ken, what’s this new idea?” Not a ground breaking or earth shattering way to ask but I got my question out. “ Well, here’s the thing.” I heard the match strike and light up as he put the pipe to his lips and lit the hash. He spoke as he was inhaling and his voice got lower and stranger as he talked as if gasping for a last breath but had to get a statement out. The interior of my little red bomba filled up with the sweet herbal haze of hash smoke. In between inhaling and holding the smoke Ken laid out his plan. We would be graduating in two year’s and with no job or plan for college Ken was open for an adventure. I did have a job, but it was just a job not a career. I was up for adventure too and most likely not attending college either. The choice was basically go to college, get drafted, or leave the country. I was smart enough for college but my grades had fallen substantially over the last two and a half years. I stopped putting in any effort after my Dad called me a worthless communist because I did a project about the dreaded USSR and the positive side of Socialism. I took the point of view that they had some redeeming values. Controversial but worthy of an A+ from my “liberal” social studies teacher. Instead of being proud he freaked on me. What an asshole! Anyway our fates will be in the hands of our government considering we would more than likely be shipped off to Viet Nam. Ken thought we could save up some cash, get a video camera and supplies, and head out to Chicago. “Jesus shit man, we can burn our draft cards and just get the fuck out of town.” His idea was to start at one end of Rt. 66 and travel to the other end to Santa Monica where we could settle in with the hippies of California. “You know man that’s a great fucking idea, we can be like those two guys on Rt 66, I’ll be Buzz and you can be Todd.” Ken gave me a punch, “No fucking way man, I’m Buzz, you’re more the Todd type. If either of them dudes were around today Buzz would definitely be in a band. Todd would have a silver pen!” Ken had a love of guitar and film and I wanted to write. His idea was to basically make a kind of documentary of the trip, Ken with his camera and me with my pen. “Bro, you can write the whole thing down in your notebook.” Yea, my notebook, JT’s bible. I took my notebook almost everywhere convinced I was the next James Michner, Jack Kerouac, or maybe even Ken Kesey who wrote about the life of the Merry Pranksters. My book was full of poems, short stories, or just a few of my abstract observations. Ken’s idea blew me away. To me it was brilliant, the chance of a lifetime. RT 66 was so historic, a television show, the route for all the dust bowlers of the 1930’s who fled to California to escape poverty. Route 66 was the sort of scenic route people took who just wanted to migrate to Los Angeles. I mean Jesus shit, the fucking stones do a tune about it. Brilliant choice, from Chicago to Los Angeles via Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. Ken shot me his infamous shit eating grin and said, “whatcha think, lets go asshole.” I was sold instantly.