Zen and the art of Culinary Maintenance by JT Hilltop

 

Centerlawn, 1971
Centerlawn. That’s where I grew up, in my parents suburban dream just east of the Gold Coast Great Gatsby section of Long Island. 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 likely headed for Nam soon 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 dodging bullets and bombs. Anyway, time for some old fashioned get high so let the search begin.

Chapter II The Dream Is Born

A typically boring day in high school where cutting class was a necessary event to keep from dying of boredom. Some of us made it an art form which most often was accompanied with a search for a little buz or someone to share yours with. Three years ago pot smokers were a small group but now the non pot smokers are a small group and most of them were considered “narcs”. So much pot was smoked daily in school that we sometimes 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 exchanged in the hallways was really was substantial. My particular clan of cronies had earned a reputation for being some of the most prolific pot puffers. I could smoke a huge doobie all by myself and still be able to go to any class and function. At least I thought I was. Any class except maybe gym anyway. Yea the “jocks” Those boneheaded sports enthusiast loved to pick on longhairs. They talked in 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 many of their girlfriends at one time or another.
Anyway, 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 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 unusual for Ken and I to run into each other in the hallways 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. My best friends voice startled me, “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 six, 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”back then 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 would be 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 for some weird reason I was always allowed to hang with 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 so you could say I was cool by association. I played kid rules 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.
But the first order of business was to relieve the boredom with a little herbal remedy. “Cool dude, but lets go out to La Bomba and do a bowl first. You still got that hash?” As usual Ken 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 question but it‘s hard to talk while smoking hashish. “ 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 at the time I thought 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 observationsand 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.
TBC

 

Pieces Of The Past

yesterday

 

Tiny brushstrokes of a portrait

Pieces on a canvass

Time bandits

Stealing moments

Charting memories

A life on loan

In the end alone

Just pieces of the past

 

Yesterdays pieces of ourselves

Parts of our puzzles

Triumphs and troubles

Maps of our experiences

No glory just our story

What are were

Flesh blood and bone

In the end alone

Just pieces of the past

 

Lyrics of our songs

Sung with glee

Enthused

Tempered with blues

Notes on a scale

With a soft groan

A whispering moan

In the end alone

Just pieces of the past

 

We are the words of our poem

Gloriously described

On our hearts inscribed

Words of love

Hopes and dreams

Written by us

And those we have known

In the end alone

Just pieces of the past

 

A patch quilt of memories

Past and present

The good and bad

Bought and spent

Inerasable lines

Deep and furrowed

Reaped and sown

In the end alone

Just pieces of the past

Never meant to last

Pieces of a storm

Here and gone

Passing through

Today

Never meant to stay

How fast we’ve grown

To be alone

Alone at last

Just pieces of the past

Visit but don’t stay in yesterday for the destination is not of our choosing. Our journeys however belong solely to us….PEACE

 

Taking Chances

take chances

This could be dangerous lets think it through
Young minds considering the wrong side of the law
None of us sat back but dove straight in head first
Without a thought if any consequence lay in store

Way back in the days when we took chances
We let not a soul tell us how we should act
Pissed in the wind without using protection
Mindful supervision was something we lacked

Back when we were young
Left no single bell unrung
No song unsung
No fence could keep us away
All we did all day was play
Doing it our way
Took on every single dare
Lived a life without care
So full of flair
Lives were full of fast romances
Writhing in horizontal dances
Just taking chances

Back in the day without a worry to be had
On life we kept the toughest stronghold
Indestructible bodies we were never defeated
Taking chances was just the way we rolled

Then our own children broke all of our rules
Responsibility suddenly became our new goal
Protecting our own kids from making our mistakes
Trying to teach them the safest way to roll

Back when were old
Talked of how we rolled
We broke the mold
Taught our children rules
They laughed at us old fools
Stubborn mules
Taught them what to see
Be the best they can be
Be better than me
Tried teaching them from the start
Taking dares won’t set you apart
Taking chances is not so smart

Time is a boulder rolling downhill
Gathering moss like no rolling stone
Of all the things we wish most now
We hope we never have to go it alone

I coulda been a contender
A lifetime full of splendor
But I surrendered
Never made a name
Never found my fame
So who’s to blame?
Take a closer look
At the chances we took

ONE REALLY BIG SPECIAL NIGHT IN ‘64

beatles #1

It was 20 years ago today, Sergeant Peppers taught his band to play. I doubt there is anyone in America of my generation that’s not familiar with that line. But on February 9th, 2014 it was 50 years ago today that counted. That was the day America was ready to….Meet The Beatles. After that night came a plethora of new albums, Magical Mystery Tour, Rubber Soul, Revolver, The White Album and more. Help, Its Been a Hard Days Night here on Abbey Road. 50 years ago! Yea, a lot has been made of the recent 50 year anniversary of the Beatles conquering America. But nothing really caught any of the energy that one special evening created. Five songs transformed a generation, gave it something to identify with. The Beatles merely changed the way we spoke, the way we dressed, the way we listened to music, the way we viewed our politics, and in general the way we lived our lives. And it all started on one night all across America in households of families huddled around a Sunday night ritual. The Ed Sullivan show, an institution in the days when most families had only one TV set and the whole family sat and watched it together. Back in those days dinner was served at the same time everyday, an you couldn’t leave the table until you finished everything. Yea, even the vegetables! After dinner the family gathered around the TV set to watch whatever Dad decided we could watch. Saturday mornings we had cartoons and the television belonged to us (so long as our chores were done) but at night there was no democracy. Fascist Pops was in control of what we viewed and we were the remote controls. “JT, go put on channel four. JT, turn this up. JT, fix that horizontal bar.” Pretty much the same in every house, and Sundays were family night. For us it was the same every Sunday, Lassie, followed by My Favorite Martian, followed by The Ed Sullivan Show all on CBS. If I was allowed to stay up after that I had to change to NBC and we watched Bonanza. February 9th 1964 started out just like any other Sunday night, I had no clue what would occur on that special night.
IMHO the Grammy tribute fell way short of recreating any of that energy, not focusing on what that special night really created but instead used it as a promo for Grammy winning acts, popular actors, and an audience that never got a chance to understand the importance that night held to my generation. So I’ve taken it on myself to attempt to capture a slice of the energy released on that special night 50 year ago. For me and my classmates way back in February 1964 that performance was a game changer. A life changer! The moment the first set was over I understood intuitively that something had changed profoundly. For the first time I had my own music, a music made just for me and all I wanted to do was be like The Beatles and listen to more of their music. First I had to wash the Brylcreem out of my hair, remove the slicked back greaser wave and grow my hair. I would have bangs starting the next morning. I wanted to be like The Beatles, those dudes were fucking COOL!
Before that evening like most of my friends I was a follower, a sheep spinning my older brothers 45’s. Not that it wasn’t good music, it was great, but it wasn’t mine and it didn’t have the oomph I would come to know and love. The year before that special night I got my first record player for Christmas. It was a cheap record player that could only handle one record at a time and had one cheesy speaker built in its self contained carrying case that couldn’t go more than four feet away from an electric outlet without an extension cord. My record library consisted of Oh My Darlin’ by Huckleberry Hound, The Theme to Mr. Ed (of course of course) The Chipmunks Christmas song, a searing rendition of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, and Sherry by the Four Seasons (That one I stole from my brother, hope he doesn’t read this). But that Sunday night changed all that. In my pajamas with spacemen in spacesuits all over it I sat right in front of the TV. I heard that some Beetles were coming to America, and all I knew at that point was they played music and made girls scream. I was prepared to hear something like The Everly Brothers, or The Beach Boys, or maybe even Bobby Darrin. My parents played Frank Sinatra, Al Hirt, and Andy Williams on the family console but I knew it would be nothing like that. Maybe its four British Elvis Presley’s? But when that first song began, a song called “All My Lovin” my mouth dropped. It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard. And the four guys, long hair shaking as they sang, were just about the coolest things in the universe. I watched and memorized their names, on drums some guy named Ringo. Who has a name like that?! Cool! George, Paul, and sorry girls he’s married John. I knew in an instant this was something I had been waiting for without knowing I was waiting for it. The next tune was called “Till There Was You” sung by the cute guy Paul. In the house next door I heard a blood curdling scream. I looked up startled and my Dad and Mom were chuckling, “Mollie, can you hear Christine next door?” laughter, “Yes I can Joe, listen to her screaming like a banshee for these kids” Christine was my 13 year old next door neighbor who sounded like she was being tortured by the boogey man when in fact in her mind she was asking Paul to marry her. Very loudly and in an eerie shrieking kind of way. Mom an Dad got a good laugh from those cute mop top boys from England. Not quite as funny the next morning when I came downstairs with my hair combed over my forehead in an attempt to copy the look. “You march right upstairs and fix your hair young man!” …..“But Mom!! I wanna………Yes Mom.” That was the first of many years of arguments I would have regarding the length and style of my hair. And it all started on that one magical special night. They finished the first set with a fast rocking tune “She Loves You”, which had all of the kids in school singing yea, yea, yea on the playground the rest of the year.
After another act or two the boys came back for two more songs but it wouldn’t have mattered, the die was cast they had already conquered the youth of America. We were in hook line and sinker. They played “I saw her Standing There” and “I wanna Hold your Hand” what would become two more love anthems of the young. In one special night I had five new favorite songs. I got rid of my 45’s and began swearing a collection of nothing but Beatle songs after that. I had MY music now, not my brothers, not the kid up the blocks, MINE! I bought teen magazines to read about them, had Beatle trading cards, bought many of their 45’s, and a Beatles poster, all of which would make me a bazillionaire if I had them now. As the years passed I could follow my social development by what album came out next. My hair, my politics, my view of love, my global presence all coincided with what the Beatles did on their next album. I didn’t realize it at the time, but every Beatle album I ever listened to could be called a greatest hits album. It was as though they couldn’t make a shit record if they tried.
Whatever The Beatles did I tried to do. As they grew their hair longer so did I, when they dressed more colorful so did I, they talked slang, I talked their slang too, they smoked pot I tried it. I couldn’t get enough information about them. I followed their trip to India in the magazines and adjusted my life around the Fab Four. I especially tried to be like John. Whatever The Beatles said or did validated my doing the same. Not so much for Mom and Dad though, the chuckling over the cute mop tops morphed into a major bone of contention with the generation gap battles. No longer cute and funny lads they were viewed as destroyers of youth, the antichrists. What they really did was to give a voice to a generation and let us know its not only okay to question authority, its a responsibility when authority is being misused. Protest against wrongness, against war, evil and hatred, share love and peace and harmony. What a horrible message to send to kids. Joe McCarthy would have been incensed. With music as their only weapon they conquered us and spread the concept of peace, love, and togetherness to the masses. The Flower Children, The 60’s fashions, The protests, the outdoor concerts, all the positive aspects of the era can be traced back to The Beatles. The Beatles were the truth and the truth set us free. It all began one special night.
I truly hope that another generation of youth will have a perfect storm, a perfect harmony of lives that can reset perfect balance in the Universe the way the Beatles did for mine. Four guys, strangers, all from the same area meet in another country and become a rock and roll band and set the world on its head. Why those specific four? Why that specific area? Why that specific time? Four guys, all with extreme talent that compliments each other forming an unstoppable force. When the world needs it the Universe has a way of supplying the perfect storm like The Beatles. We need a perfect storm now, we need another Beatles. But I just can’t see that happening, the good karma, the positive energy, the light through the darkness coming together at the exact moment, the exact time, for the exact reason. I just can’t! But Hell, I’ve been wrong before, and if it can happen I’ll be glad to be wrong again. C’mon Universe, now more than ever, we need some Beatle magic. Give us just one more “One Really Big Special Night”……PEACE