Sunday, June 4, 2017

Excerpt from Chapter 11: Hotel California

‘Walter’s beat up van pulled discreetly into a parking lot adjacent to a low-rise apartment building on Lander’s Street, in Southwest San Francisco. One block north of the San Francisco Mission, perpendicular to Market, Lander’s runs between 14th and 16th.
    It was almost 6 am. According to our guidebook, Jan (who’d earned the right to take full charge of mapping our hostel stays) figured we were close to one mile from the hostel. Abiding by hostel procedures firmly outlined in the book, we’d have to wait until 5 pm before check in.
    Carole kindly offered her apartment to anyone needing a place to crash for a few hours or wash up. Everybody, including Walter, took Carole up on her offer. Alongside capable Snowmaker at the wheel, our first mate had been instrumental in aiding our group to safety, not once complaining about fatigue, hunger or requiring a pee break. Despite Walter's traps, we were grateful for our quick thinking cohorts.
    Small and sparse, otherwise, the apartment was clean and cozy. Following a short introduction to Carole's roommate and lover, Willow, a tall Hispanic woman in her late thirties, rolling out our sleeping bags on the living room floor, Jan and I attempted to grab some shuteye. Others snatched vacant couches and chairs scattered about the room. Stretching out after crunching into cramped quarters dreaming up ways to avoid Walter’s hulking, threatening form was a luxury. Neither one of us wanted to go through that again. Especially Jan.
    Slumber was short-lived. Shortly after laying down our heads, sunlight crept through the blinds, casting its scope along the surface of the floor. Illuminating tiny dust particles floating in front of a picture window, its span engulfed the entire room. Yielding to the morning radiance, despite having spent more than eighteen hours with a bunch of people in a rusty van, surprisingly, I felt rested.
    Members of our grungy group took turns using the bathroom for a quick whiz, crap, and scrub up. Thanking Carole and Willow for their hospitality, Jan and I bade our fellow road warriors goodbye. Soon, we would disperse in different directions, vanishing from sight, as if the entire journey was an apparition. With more gall than brains, Walter asked Jan to stay in touch, telling her she’d be welcome to crash at his buddy’s place whenever she returned to Vancouver. Practically pushing me out the door of Carole’s apartment, my friend couldn’t get away fast enough. Stepping out onto the brilliant concrete sidewalk, we considered how to play the day.
    First priority was to find something to eat. Since dining on a turkey feast and all the trimmings in Aldergrove 48-hours before, Jan and I hadn’t consumed anything other than Nanaimo bars, pop, and candy. Jane’s meal felt like a lifetime away.
    Needing to get our bearings, looking around, I stared down at the beat up pavement, a platform for damaged, overstuffed garbage containers. Graffiti-laden brick walls barely disguised grubby buildings. I began to panic. Maybe having a wild hair about travelling to the Golden State had been in haste.
    Having been away from home eight weeks, to date, we hadn’t dealt with anything insurmountable. A couple of close calls were the extent of it. However, morning light has a way of throwing a beacon on cracks often overlooked after dusk. Had our trip to San Francisco been less complicated, we’d have felt more optimistic. There was no point dwelling on the past. Jan and I were BIG girls – new to a city upheld by its reputation for liberal attitudes. From what we could tell in a very small window of time, San Francisco surely had verve. Hoping to attach ourselves to that free spirited fiber, excitement awaited around every corner.
    Though sunny and warm, a hard wind blew in off the bay, motivating us to dig sweaters out of our packs – just in case. Finding a grocery-gas station, we cashed in two $20 traveller’s cheques, and picked out a couple of bagels at the adjoining breakfast bar. Packs secured on our backs, Jan and I walked over to Mission Delores Park to collect our thoughts. According to Jan’s guidebook, the green space was one of several parks scattered throughout San Francisco, Golden Gate being the largest. At one point or another, we’d try to visit them all.
    Sitting on the grass mid-morning, eyes darting everywhere, we were struck by the sedate atmosphere. Overhead, smeared across a sapphire blue sky, jet streams created an impression of flecks on glass. Other than enjoy the pulsating sunshine and spring foliage, people didn’t appear to have anything pressing. Several feet away on the flattened grass, catching winks, slouched a pair of drunks. To our immediate left, an African American couple played peek-a-boo with a toddler. This was Tuesday morning. Late April. Not an official holiday. Why weren’t people at work? Around us, men, women and children engaged in varying groups: eating, snoozing, reading, as if time had stopped. Having been raised in an environment wherein the rapid pace of the status quo often eclipses the simpler elements of life, I wasn’t used to this.
    Leaving Mission Delores Park, lugging our packs like storm troopers for the better part of the afternoon, cautiously, Jan and I roved the neighbourhood, people-watching, window shopping, making mental observations about the rougher brand of hippies, freaks, and greasers loitering outside of storefronts, greasy spoons and head shops. Marching up and down the hilly San Francisco streets, doggedness in our steps, we sampled treats in Just Desserts, assessed the frontage at Modern Times Book Shop on 24thStreet, and purchased food items from Safeway. Despite being whipped by raw, relentless wind gusts off the bay, my jeans and plaid flannel shirt kept me comfortable. Mid-afternoon, winds calmed. Filling our nostrils with an intermingling sample of salt and ocean fish blowing in from Fisherman’s Wharf, the balmy sea breeze reaffirmed why we’d travelled to California.
    Jan and I returned to Delores Park. In one hour, we would head over to 101 Steiner Street. Check in at The Holy Order of MANS youth hostel. Having read rave reviews about the place in our guidebook, according to Jan, a maven in her field, the hostel came highly touted. Disregarding the questionable neighbourhood and unfamiliar name for the place, the residence we’d assumed, was some kind of holy monastery doubling as a shelter for travelling youths. After six weeks living at the Y, anything would be an improvement.
    Besides, reviews don’t lie.
    Charting our map of San Francisco, close to 5:30 pm, Jan and I found ourselves at the foot of a narrow, Victorian style, four-story turreted structure painted grey. A couple of fan palms and a single Maple tree stood on opposite sides of the residence. 101 Steiner Street was the correct address; yet the building didn’t appear to represent a youth hostel – more like somebody’s private home. Adjacent to Duboce Park in the lower Haight district, The Holy Order of MANS Youth Hostel was stationed in a locale my parents would consider a less than desirable part of the city. On the outside at least, the joint appeared A-Okay.
    Climbing the front steps toward the porch, putting nebulous first impressions aside, Jan rang the buzzer. We waited. Appearing from inside the vestibule, a mild-faced young woman wearing long brunette hair parted in the middle and fastened at the back of her head, pulled open the screen door. She introduced herself as Reverend Mary. Appearing at her side, in bushy beard, and dark, horn-rimmed glasses stood a late-twenties dead ringer for a priest. His name was Brother Bruce. Both were outfitted in traditional Catholic style clergy garb. I studied the couple’s attire more closely. Fastened with a woven jute belt, Mary’s powder blue tunic covered everything from her neck to her ankles. Her counterpart, a white clerical collar creasing his chin, was dressed neatly, in jet-black shirt and black pants. Hand-carved wooden crosses attached to leather cords fell at their midsections. Possessing enormously translucent eyes, Mary and Bruce beamed like a pair of godly Caucasians.
    Believing for a moment that we’d trespassed into some sort of hard line Holy Roller church rather than the folksy peace and love communal envisaged from the name of the hostel, I hoped there wouldn’t be reason to leave. It had been an exhausting last couple of days.
    “We’re looking for a youth hostel.” Jan piped up. “Are we at the right address?” Reaching out to squeeze our hands, an assurance that we had not made an error, Mary beckoned the two of us inside. Apparent by the bemused looks upon their faces, our hosts were used to confounded guests.'

Tapes from California: Teenage Road Tripping, 1976 © 2017 Jill C. Nelson



Saturday, December 31, 2016

Excerpt from Chapter 40: Chaos Leads to Order

Chapter 40 excerpt: Chaos Leads to Order
'Restless and bored, Jan and I watched brightly coloured sailboats chase one another out on the water. Deciding to head back by bus, it would be nearly five when I reached the hostel – the appropriate time to return to the bubble.
   Jan would catch up later.

Without vocalizing it, almost telepathically, an underlying need for space had been established. To allow one another room to breathe, Jan and I recognized the time had come to slacken things. Perceptibly and emotionally, my friend wanted to stay at arm’s length, at least until I made my decision. In my gut, I felt a shift was imminent. I simply could not go on much longer agonizing about what to do about my immediate future.

   Something hit me that morning during services at Cole Street. Apart from a measure of familiarity with the Brothers, Sisters, and few of the novices at HOOM, I knew very little about the Holy Order of Mans organization. Though I’d leafed through a copy of The Golden Force, the group’s practices, procedures and faith origins eluded me. Designed to enlighten, I knew that certain segments of the book were crafted to flatter supporters and impress colleagues while goading outsiders into believing that HOOM members were part of a private and elite supernatural society. Knowledge of the Order was shaped from what had been told to me by partisan members.
   This wasn’t acceptable.
   Even Brother John reminded me not to get sucked in by other people’s opinions.
   Mystifying me, I hadn’t given The Golden Force a fair trial and intended to read it whole.

   My pragmatic self-resonating, since all of this wavering began,, I might be contemplating enlisting for some freakazoid show after all, just like the Moonies – a group capable and culpable of harvesting brains on loan. In all fairness, the possibility couldn’t be disregarded.

   Riding the trolley up hill, I hopped the bus for the final stretch of the ride to Steiner Street. Playing it safe, I dawdled in Duboce Park where Jan, Beth and I’d held our private party two nights previous.

   A couple of HOOM kids I hadn’t met before crouched on their hands and knees, worked the soil garden next to the hostel. Spotting me, they meandered over. The female, Rebecca, made a formal introduction. Timidly, Thomas held out a violet flower picked from a sweet pea plant.
   Would I like to have it?
   Thanking him, I accepted and waited to see if something would transpire.

   In recent days, veterans and new members of the Holy Order seemed to scope the hostel and its hinges like ants. In case there might be reason for it, I kept my ear to the ground. As I’d discovered with Joanne earlier, in all probability, Rebecca and Thomas were merely being friendly.
   HOOM folks might be the appendages of a cult, but so far, instincts told me they were trustworthy.

   A slight, cherub-faced girl with blue-grey eyes, Rebecca’s demeanor was gentle, kind. Early into her career as a novice, the 18-year-old worked part time on Clement Street at a fruit shake bar called Haven. I couldn’t resist asking Rebecca why she’d decided to join the Order.

   Having come from a troubled background, Rebecca admitted she was seeking love and stability in her life. An instinctually spiritual person, the novice had a close friend that recently became a Sister of the San Francisco chapter. In turn, the friend invited Rebecca to attend some of HOOM’s meetings. Upon completing reading The Golden Force, Rebecca asserted its message and accounts spoke to her in a way that she had never before known. Believing HOOM to be her calling, Rebecca was convicted, yet conceded the choice she made wouldn’t necessarily be what others might choose.

   Thomas and Rebecca left the garden to head over to Safeway, leaving me alone with my thoughts. Did a definitive answer really did exist in the galaxies somewhere? I felt asinine believing there might be a remote possibility.

   “So… are you going before the council?”

   I swerved my head around. There stood the Good Samaritan, proudly, as if he knew something I didn’t. For a smartass second, I thought about sniping, who wants to know? And decided against it.

   “I don’t think so. No. Why do you ask?”

   “I’m psychic.”

   “Oh… Is that it?” Obviously, my fence sitting was a topic of conversation in a certain neck of the woods. Inspecting my chest, Teddy grinned. “I’m glad to see the jacket is keeping you warm.” Casting my eyes down the front of the green kangaroo, I felt the wind kick up as it often did late in the afternoon, and was happy to be zipped inside of the coat.

   “Thanks again for letting me use your jacket. It’s real cozy. I don’t feel right keeping it though. Are you sure I couldn’t buy it from you?”

   “It’s yours.”

   When I started to gripe, Teddy mimicked my complaint. Then, as if remembering something, without saying a word, he got up, darted across the street and ran toward the manse.

   I watched the Good Samaritan pose precariously on one foot on the front porch, the house where he now resided full time. Apparent that something was on his mind, in less than thirty seconds, Teddy turned on his heel and zoomed back. Straightforward, he pressed again, “So you’re not going before the council?”

   “The council? Um…No, not yet. Actually… I didn’t realize there was a council.” Unsure about sharing the extent of my indecisiveness, and wishing that Teddy would say something to convince me to stay, I stated flatly. “Jan and I hope to leave the city in a couple of days.” As if studying the outcome of a science experiment, The Good Samaritan narrowed his eyes. “Have you got a pack and everything?”
   I sure did. The thing was starting to weigh like a 100 pound anvil. Uncertain where this conversation was going, I nodded. “Yeah.”

   “So are you going north?”

   “Eventually, yeah. Back to Canada… But not home right away. Why?”

   Firing skinny arms and spider-like hands into the air like a rocket, Teddy replied. “The reason I ask is because I’ve got a really good pack and I’ll give it to you. I know you don’t have much in the way of travel necessities.”

   Slack-mouthed, I stared back at him. “Give? As in for free?” I blinked hard. “I couldn’t accept your backpack…. unless you’d consider selling it. I don’t have much money, but I could write you an ‘I owe you…’”

   “Forget it then," he snapped. "I wouldn’t sell it to you. You can have it.”
There was positively no way in hell I was going to sponge Teddy’s pack, even if the prospect of having the Good Samaritan’s backpack for keeps was unfathomable. I had seen it once, weeks before. Black and grey, the oval shaped nylon sack had a couple of literary quotes written across it in dark marker. White gardenias were fastened to the zipper by a bungee cord.
   Teddy’s bag was amazing. Jan and I were both wholly impressed.

   “Well, thanks.” I felt my face glow beat red. “I’ll think about it.” Faking that I’d never seen the pack, apparently up for grabs, I continued to play dumb, “What’s it like, anyway?”

   Expecting to be regaled with an incredible story attached to the origins of the knapsack, I sat back and waited for Teddy to elucidate about his pack’s history. What he divulged wasn’t an elaborate tale at all. Quite the opposite. In taciturn voice, he contended, “Oh, it’s been very good, very loyal.”

   As if I needed convincing, the Good Samaritan was quick to reassure. “It’s a beautiful pack. There’s not another one like it.” Like dew coating a meadow at dawn, past years and memories flashed briefly across his wistful blue eyes. “It took ten years for me to build it up to what it is today, you know," he said. "I don’t take giving it away lightly.”

   Teddy’s emotional attachment to his beloved backpack suggested a parent crowing over a growing child, reticent to let him loose to the world, yet believing it a necessary measure for personal growth.
When we’d first met him, Teddy talked of living out of his backpack for four years after leaving Vietnam and his ex-wife behind, spending weeks surviving in the desert before coming to San Francisco. His knapsack represented friendship, faithfulness, devotion. It was his second skin. What Teddy had withheld about the pack was the beef of the story.
   I’d have to imagine the rest.

   We broke into a little comedy skit: The Good Samaritan offering me his pack – my refusal unless I could pay. Struck by the absurdity of going around in circles, like an Abbott and Costello routine, we both started to laugh. Before I knew it, it was time to break up the party. Starting toward the manse, the Good Samaritan halted. Then he turned and looked me up and down. “So, you’ll be here for another day or so?”

   Reaching both hands upward, I pulled my long, thick hair to the back of my head, formed it in to a ponytail and smiled flirtatious. “I think so, yeah.” Dipping his head in courteous fashion, Teddy broke away and ran across the street. Reaching the lower steps of the manse porch, he performed a tap dance on each cement block until finally touching down softly on the verandah. I
   f I hadn’t been awestruck before, now I was money in the bank.'

Tapes from California: Teenage Road Tripping, 1976 © 2016 Jill C. Nelson

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Excerpt from Chapter 50: Loopy in Kamloops

Excerpt from Chapter 50: Loopy in Kamloops

'Lying flat on my back on my sleeping bag, staring upward at the V-shaped peak where tent sides meet, I watched mosquitoes congregate to conspire the long night ahead. Directly out the west window, indiscreet, the sun folded into candyfloss pigments of orange and pink. Allowing ideas from the passage to percolate, something hit a nerve. More than anything in the world, I wanted to be happy. Not for passing bursts, but for long, undulated periods, where emotion could be amassed and the afterglow of happiness preserved.
   Maybe there was a way to channel bliss somehow.

   There is a beautiful narrative in J.D. Salinger’s Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, in which Seymour Glass describes a perceived, permanent yellow stain on his right hand, a leftover from brushing against a playmate’s buttery dress during his childhood. Through recollections and emotions, perhaps symbolically, we have the ability to engender the same durable effect. Fishing in a pond of happy memories, possibly there is a means to train ourselves to summon joy at will, and provide nourishment during dry spells. If the law of vibration detailed in the Holy Order of Man’s digest really works, and there was evidence of it through our basic requests, maybe then, all one needs to do is believe in happiness.
   The rest will take care of itself.
On Friday, a few days beyond June 21, morning is grey, chillier than the day before. Not a drop of precipitation in sight. Thanking Paul for our stay, at half past seven, Jan and I made our way from the Kamloops hostel out to the highway. Stale sesame seed bagels tucked deep in our packs, we hoped to get a head start. Other travellers, also moving east, had already packed their gear.
   Watching a torrent of cars and transport trucks blow by in haste, loitering on the shoulder of the TransCanada, we contemplated the trip ahead. Habitually, Jan and I willed a harm free journey. Counting our flight to Vancouver,  in four months, we'd logged close to 6000 miles. Having been in near constant motion since leaving our jobs at the hotel in March, it hadn’t felt like a stretch. The unknown quotient of the remaining weeks of our trip was a thrill. Along with the rush of day-to-day adventure, came the proverbial ache of anxiety.
   The yin and yang of confronting a faceless future.'
1976: Tapes from California © 2016 Jill C. Nelson

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Chapter 9 Excerpt: "Luke"

View of Mt. Baker, Washington, from Aldegrove, B.C.
Chapter 9: Luke

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – Saint Francis de Sales

Awakening Easter morning, I peered through the bedroom blinds. The sky was a dull grey, no sunshine in the forecast. Despite the dismal weather, claiming her mm had a surprise, Yvette had gotten up, dressed, and encouraged us to do the same. Hidden inside of cupboards, next to books and between boxes of Crispy Crunch cereal were dozens of chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in coloured foil; a caring touch by Jean who rightly assumed we might be feeling homesick. After we finished gathering up the eggs, Yvette’s mom cooked us a hearty blueberry pancake breakfast. Around four, sisters, Louise and Linda accompanied by Linda’s husband and their three children, congregated around the living room in anticipation of a traditional Easter dinner. Somewhere within the commotion, Yvette’s much-lauded older brother called to apologize.
   Luke would be arriving late.
   The past several weeks, Jan and I’d heard many stories about Luke – all of them good. Whenever that happens, you wonder if a person can actually fulfill expectations. In my mind, I’d manufactured some Adonis-like human being with a six foot wing span. In this scenario, big brother did not disappoint. Arriving minutes before dinner, standing at a little over six feet tall, peering down from a pair of heart-stopping baby blues and wavy, chestnut brown hair floating past his shoulders, Yvette’s sexy, older brother easily lived up to the hype. One momentary look, and it was easy to understand why Luke drew people to him like shit sticks to a blanket – particularly women.
   Once introductions were over, we took our seats at the table set for twelve. Supplemented by the appropriate trimmings, Jean had prepared a spectacular turkey feast .
   In the midst of serving trays and casseroles dishes containing turkey, almond stuffing, scalloped potatoes, broccoli, squash, cranberries and rolls passed in conveyor belt-like fashion down the table, Luke absorbed some well-intentioned flak from his parents for his unconventional lifestyle. Currently staying  with friends nearby, a Jack-of-all-tradesman, Luke took on whatever work he could, dividing his time between Victoria, Saskatoon, and Mexico. For a fraction of what it would cost to settle in a major city, Luke’s dream was to live in the country permanently. The way he explained it, seemed natural.
   Despite fine-looking features, soulful blue eyes and liberal philosophies, what struck me most about Yvette’s older brother was his gentle deportment.
   At times, exchanges between parents and son were prickly. Staring down my plate, I listened alert as Luke softly deferred to Jan and me as unsuspecting allies, suggesting that our presence at the family table might help improve what he’d perceived his parents’ questionable opinion of their only son.
   The back and forth had reminded me of squabbles between Chris and my parents around the Sunday evening dinner table not many years before. Heated arguments about my brother’s hair length, his unsuitable clothing, and what they saw as a rebellious nature in general. According to Luke, Jan and I were doing the same thing he was, bucking conformity, trying to find a sustainable way to keep our heads afloat. Refraining from caving to societal traditions and parental expectations.
   I hadn’t thought of it that way before, yet when Luke had said it, it sounded sensible. Sane. Then again, every utterance from Yvette’s big brother’s princely mouth seemed reasonable. Much to their mom and dad’s dread, Luke pointed out, even his kid sister was an example of non-compliance. After all, Yvette had both feet planted firmly in her big brother’s shadow.
   After a time, somebody cracked a joke and people moved on to lighter dialogue. You got the impression this was the family norm. Relieved the conversation hadn’t spiraled into obtuse remarks or hostility – I’d noted that although members of Yvette’s family did not unanimously agree, they were civil and respectful of one another.
   Levity deflected beautifully. The absence of alcohol might have had something to do with it.
   Dishes magically cleared away. While Jean served homemade coconut cream pie and Nanaimo bars everybody milled about. Announcing he’d be returning shortly to his friend Mandy’s place in Langley, Luke asked Louise if she’d give him a lift. Prior to our trip to Aldergrove, it had been decided that Louise, who lived with her husband in Vancouver, would drop Jan and me off at the Y on her way home. From there, we’d take the bus back out to Betsy’s for one last night before departing with Walter and company next morning.
   When the time came, it was tough bidding Yvette yet another goodbye. Tears welling, the three of us made a firm promise to meet up in Banff that summer. Thoughtfully, Yvette wrapped up the remaining Nanaimo bars for us to take on the road.
   Mandy’s country home was a small, yet pretty, older house. Outmoded fixtures and a wood burning stove absorbed much of the main living area. Joined by her husband and young son, Mandy was moving to Hawaii and selling off several pieces of furniture. Looking over some of Mandy’s tables, Louise purchased two items for her apartment. When we about ready to leave, off the cuff, Luke made a proposal. Though careful not to commit, after our return from California in a few months, he might consider driving Jan and me to Alberta.
   I didn’t care if Luke’s offer was in vain and would never materialize.  
   Gesturing affirmatively, I concurred. “That could definitely work.”

1976: Tapes from California © 2016 Jill C. Nelson

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Chapter 44 Excerpt: Mirror, Mirror

Chapter 54: Mirror Mirror
Greater Vancouver

“If you are lacking certain things in your life scheme then you have not made the pattern for them, or you blocked it with another, or you did not think that you would have them anyway. So, did you get what you expected – Did you? Yes, I think you did. We have news for you – you do not face the world at any time; the only world you face is the world of your own being – body/soul/mind, and your atmosphere – which is your responsibility. You should prepare then. This is your world and your responsibility.” – The Golden Force, Chapter 3: Growth (pages 27 & 28). 

'Since leaving San Francisco, I’d started reading portions of The Golden Force, trying to digest the book’s message, and assimilate it with my pre-existing belief system. Deceptively taxing reading, the book required a good deal of thought and analysis. Until that point, I’d mostly read contemporary and classic literature, biographies, and true crime. Specific passages of HOOM’s holy book were not only demanding and tricky to understand, but hard to imagine assuming into my life. By adopting a more studious approach (not my usual forté), eventually, I hoped to grasp initiatives.

   It was too soon to know what I would do with the information.
   As of late, I’d found myself identifying with one of my literary heroes, twenty-year old Franny Glass, the chief character in J.D. Salinger’s immortal novel Franny and Zooey. As the story unfolds in the Glass family’s New York City apartment, having taken a sudden exodus from her studies, as if an appendage, Franny clings frantically to an anonymously written book of Russian origin; The Way of a Pilgrim. Her preoccupation with the book’s divine subject matter has driven Franny into a paradoxical, spiritually charged emotional state, causing her to question everything she had come to take for granted, exasperating her mother Bessie, and particularly, her brother Zooey.
   Given my incongruous state of being, I was beginning to appreciate Franny’s impasse. The fact the book had belonged to her beloved (and deceased) older brother Seymour did not escape me.
   The previous evening after Jan, Fujiko and I finished dinner, now Father’s Day weekend, I walked over to a Safeway to place a rare collect call home. Significant changes had transpired within the last couple of months.
   The conversation with my father went well. Dad and I reminisced about our family trip to Vancouver and San Francisco many years before. Then he passed the receiver to my mother. Filling Mom in about our recent travel adventures, eventually, I broached the subject containing the four-letter-word: H-O-O-M. Explaining there was a possibility I might return to San Francisco in the fall to join the organization as a novice-in-training, I stressed this was only one option of many. By her silence; I knew what my mother was thinking: She’s lost her mind. HOOM is an insidious cult!
   “What about St. Lawrence College?” Mom put forth a concerted effort. “I've sent in the $35 registration fee. I thought you’d at least consider it. All your friends will be going off to school.”
   I hated letting my mom down. “I don’t know.” I said. “I’ll first have to see what happens with HOOM. I’m not ruling anything out.”
   Negative propaganda surrounding counter cultures, communal lifestyles, spiritual cults and worse -- left wing, grass roots guerilla groups employing weaponry to overpower opposition, populated the news in the years leading to our departure. It was a tough sell attempting to mollify parents when stories of diabolical and violent masterminds such as Charles Manson, and more recently, the S.L.A. (Symbionese Liberation Army); a subversive group that headlined media outlets following the 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst, daughter of newspaper mogul Randolph Hearst, were in the forefront. These reprehensible stories left a sour taste in the mouth of parents and establishment – making it veritably hopeless to convince my mother that Holy Order of Mans was different.
   Thankfully, there wasn’t time to debate the issue. Keeping the call short, we segued into a softer, palatable topic. I told my mother how much I looked forward to seeing family again in less than two months. Mom was pleased to hear those words. The best part of returning to Southern Ontario was the prospect of seeing old friends again, though with everybody headed in different directions come September, our bittersweet reunion would be short-lived.
   Hanging up the receiver, something ugly dawned on me. By relating information I knew would upset my mother, unintentionally, maybe subliminally, I'd wanted to hurt her. If so, that made me a callous bitch. It possibly also meant I was hoping to seek revenge for something. In truth, I hadn’t expected my news bulletin to receive a warm reception. However, by stressing words such as if and maybe, I felt my update was delivered in a way that was acceptable. It’s about making a convincing sales pitch. Sometimes the manner in which an idea is presented is easier to digest than what is actually said. In my case, the strategy accomplished the reverse, harsher effect.
   If only I was able to convince myself.
  Returning to Steiner Street would depend upon what emerged in the coming weeks – if any of it still made sense. HOOM didn’t have quite the stranglehold on me it had one week ago.
   Still, it was there, persistent.'
Tapes from California: Teenage Road Tripping, 1976 © 2016 Jill C. Nelson

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Excerpt from Chapter 15: Hitching a Ride

"Jan and I stood in the campground parking lot taking stock of the visual splendor. Shouldered between robust mountains, cerulean sea, sun and sky, the landscape up and down the coast from the mouth of the Big Sur basin was extravagant. For miles in all directions, daunting cliffs, accentuated by a profusion of colored cacti perched on jagged rock, stretched beyond where the eye could see. We couldn’t have summoned a more heavenly place to rest our heads.
     Employing the same tactic as the night before, when the park official was attending to young man driving a small station wagon, Jan and I sleuthed past the visitor’s booth and into the campground. Safe beyond the front entrance, we popped into the general store to pick up a couple dinner items and scoped the most idyllic setting to drop our tent. This would be a respite for our bodies and our minds.
     Below a wooden bridge, not far from a pebbled pathway, we found a spot adjacent to a brook. Large fir trees, and the rugged Santa Lucia mountain range seemed like old friends. Quickly, Jan and I set up our tent and unfurled our bags. Still ill equipped for light and fire, I hoped the temperature would remain relatively comfortable. Not wanting to give energy to negative thoughts, I didn’t express my fears. 
     Jan suggested we get our bearings.
     Suspended on a fallen tree trunk, bathed in blonde sunshine, I composed a letter to my family, and another one to Liz. Depicting our San Francisco experiences, I described Peter, Michael, Gerry, and the Holy Order. Two days had passed since leaving Steiner Street, I missed the place and the people in it.
     That morning, Jan told me she’d dreamed about Gerry and Peter coming to take us away. When she'd tried to cry out, her voice fell silent. In my letter, I told Liz about Jan’s dream, and more about Peter than I had mentioned to my family. After sharing the things I knew about him, I re-read the letter and thought it made Peter and his life seem depressing. Much of his life was depressing, but I didn’t want to her to think he was a loser – which he wasn’t. I added how when Peter entered a room, he was whistling, or carrying wild flowers. I told her he was helpful, a good listener, and fatherly in many ways. When Jan and I'd mentioned how Jan had been refused at the border during our first attempt across to Washington, Peter had taken the side of the officials. During our spiritual discussion on the second night, he nearly croaked when I admitted I couldn’t imagine being around in twenty years, much less know where I'd be in twenty days. He reminded me the world is a good place. "It’s getting better all the time,” he'd said. I should never forget it. I told Liz of Peter’s patience and fearlessness, and how close I felt whenever we talked.
     There were strong feelings.
     Liz and other friends knew I could be over the top once something grabbed a hold of me. No doubt, my family would be wary about some of the things I’d intimated.
     When nightfall came, our cheer fizzled. Just as the night before had sucked, this one did too – only worse. Here we were, nearing the end of April in California; it felt like January in Southern Ontario, mostly because of our inept sleeping bags. The gnawing in our stomachs didn't help – a bag of Fritos split between two people, and an apple apiece doesn’t cut it. My spirits low, I began to feel sorry for myself; that I was responsible for dragging Jan along on this unpredictable excursion. She had wanted to travel; there was no question in her mind or in mine. Still, Jan was sixteen months younger than me. A big gap. No doubt, she was scared shitless. I know I was – of all kinds of things – wild animals, and crazy rapists lurking in the forest seeking unsuspecting victims to overtake, and kill.
     As stupid as it might sound, freezing to death in our tent flashed through my brain, just as it had the night before. I should have been the prudent, older, protective sister. I was however, able to take comfort in the knowledge that Jan was above holding someone hostage for her own choices.
     Wide-eyed and shivering in my sleeping bag, I felt increasingly guilty. As of late, our trip seemed to be hitting the skids.
     The temperature dipped down to almost zero. It would be an unforgiving night."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Excerpt from Chapter 45: Hope reigns in Hope

Texas Lake Youth Hostel, Hope, B.C. 1970s

Chapter 45: Hope reigns in Hope

“We can't return we can only look behind from where we came.” – Eugene McNamara

     Excerpt: 'On Wednesday, my condition hadn’t improved leading me to believe I’d caught a bug after all. Regardless, Jan and I headed out early in the morning rain to purchase our bus tickets to Hope. Soon, we’d be on our way. 

    At half past one, our bus broke out of the downtown terminal driving eastbound on Highway 1 destined for Hope, Surrey, and Abbotsford. Deb’s hometown of Chilliwack was scheduled along our three and a half hour course. Encouraged by its name, traveling the TransCanada highway, we watched curiously out the window at green pastures, rolling foothills, and rivers that snaked through woodlands with hushed domination. Feeling upbeat about our next adventure, I was hopeful for all that Hope might bring.
    Seated next to me, chin tucked down, Jan wrote in her diary. I began reading chapter seven of The Golden Force titled “Universal Law of the Creative Mind.” The chapter talked of a dynamic life force living within and outside of us that materializes when summoned. “To harness and develop acceptance of that power with confidence is integral,” the passage stressed that the power of reception opens the door for all things to transpire. Creative and unfiltered thought processes brings about manifestation.
    The same song and dance.
    Reiterating the positive visualization technique Brother James had taught us when we’d first met him back in April, barring the odd exception to the rule, by keeping a clear-cut image in our minds of what we’d anticipated, for much of our trip, it had become apparent. Maybe it was because we weren’t aiming high enough. Possibly, it was because we’d deluded ourselves into believing that our prayers were being answered.
    I doubted it. Negative thinking works on the same principle as positive revelation. If you look ahead to darkness, it will befall you. Employing the formula, hope should be the alchemy of all good things.
    Nearing the Hope municipality, large billowing clouds that had supplemented us for a good portion of our drive through serrated mountains, touched the surface of the highway, enfolding our bus, and generating a stir of excitement amongst its passengers. Surrounded by the Cascade Mountains and thick secluded wilderness: valleys, streams, lakes, and the Fraser River (named after Canadian explorer Simon Fraser), we had penetrated a dream paradise.
    Pulling into the bus terminal, six and a half miles south of the Texas Lake Youth Hostel, Jan and I climbed down the steps and chilled. Purchasing a couple of muffins at a country store, we headed back out to the road to hitch the rest of the way to our destination. For our fee the hostel book promised breakfast and a light supper – a dinner meal sounded too good to be true – we knew from experience that it’s always best to show up with a semi-full belly, in case of food shortages.
    Walking out to the TransCanada Highway from the terminal, we didn’t have any difficulty soliciting a ride. Driving a light brown pick-up truck, an early-thirties woman pulled over to the shoulder of the road. Her name was Sharon. Smiling when we told her where we were headed, Sharon said that she lived and worked at Texas Lake and assured us we would love the hostel and its adjoining co-operative community.
    Nearing the Texas Lake premises, Jan and I gazed around at the mountainous setting next to a neighboring lake where rose-colored pickerelweed drifted restfully over a quickening waterfall. A pretty sight in summer, I imagined how the scene might appear in winter. Bleak, desolate, watchful.
    About to approach the dirt driveway, Sharon slowed down the truck, allowing us to observe various buildings of differing sizes; cabins for permanent residents, and sleeping dorms for travelers. There were chicken coops, a huge vegetable garden; an oddly shaped dome type structure in behind the main (big) house; cows and goats, dogs and cats. At first impression, once again it appeared that we had arrived where we needed to be. For the moment, the purr in the air was a knowing wink and the hurt of leaving Vancouver and our friends behind took a back seat. Texas Lake promised to be another wondrous designation – a utopian edition of a Bermuda Triangle sewn covertly into the planet’s seam. 
    A person would have to be steel hearted not to be seduced by the simplistic Texas Lake surroundings at first glance. A couple of decades away from melding into the technological age, 1970s youths took pride in small prizes.'

1976: Tapes from California © 2015 Jill C. Nelson