Thursday, August 20, 2009
I WAS AT WOODSTOCK, MAN
During these lazy last days of summer I’m having a really hard time trying to focus. Every time I come up with an idea for a column, my brain gets all A.D.D. and what begins as “Great Day Trips” somehow morphs into my giving the dog an embarrassing haircut so I can save money and stop getting my own embarrassing haircuts. I mean, when your dog’s grooming costs more than yours, and her hair looks better, there’s a problem, right? See what I mean? My linear thought process seems to be on vacation which isn’t good because I’m on deadline. Wait…look at all those hippies on television…what channel is this? What? The 40th anniversary of Woodstock? Get out! I was at Woodstock, man.
The summer of ’69, the summer of love, was the summer of my fourth birthday, and believe it or not I have really clear memories of it, albeit filtered through the prism of a 40-something woman. I was at Woodstock, but like everything else in my sordid life, I arrived the day everyone else left.
Every year in August, my old man would load up the Ford Falcon and take us to Callicoon, New York where his hard drinking retired Army Air Force brother, Jack, and his German wife, Friedel, lived. I always loved to say the name Callicoon—it sounds like the bastard off-spring of an alley cat and a raccoon. (See what I mean about my focus?) We were to learn on our trip that Callicoon is 12 miles from Woodstock. Was my old man in for a surprise!
Although I consider my father revolutionary in many ways, he took no part in the ‘60’s counter-culture. He was strictly a product of the Depression and WWII. Framed pictures of Franklin Delano Roosevelt hung on our walls; Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters continually played on our “pulled from someone else’s trash” RCA stereo console— just like the kind Monty Hall used to give away with a remote control color T.V. behind Curtain Number 3 on “Let’s Make a Deal.” Anyway, “Mele Kalikimaka” is to my family what “Silent Night” is to others. It wasn’t until I entered Kindergarten that I learned WWII was over and FDR had died; I’m still waiting for the Depression to end.
The point is, driving through Woodstock with John Wayne as your tour guide is pretty memorable. Words like “hop-heads” and “ja-boopies” resonated from the driver’s seat and still cloud the air over Woodstock. As we drove along those mud-caked single-lane roads, my brother and I ogling the barefoot stragglers in their crocheted vests and ponchos from the safety of the wagon’s backseat window, I felt like I was in Oz. It was also the closest me and my brother would ever come to our parents taking us to Jungle Habitat—the place designed to make you feel like you were driving through Africa; you stayed locked in your cars with your windows hermetically sealed in August sweating your ***** off while dodging wild animals teed off from living in suburban New Jersey. Instead of wild animals, hoards of hippies surrounded our car thumbing their way home.
As the Falcon sputtered along, John Wayne turned into Rhett Butler as my old man instructed us with a wave of his outstretched arm to take a good look around at the wasteland that lay before us. The back of his head shook in consternation and I could see his aggravated expression reflected back to me from the rearview mirror. Gone was the love and peace and flowers; all that was left was a psychedelic mess of dried mud and filth and trash. From my rolled down window my eyes followed the dried muddy footprints now baked into the earth—the La Brea tar pit of a barefoot generation. The generation of peace left its mark in many ways, but on that sunless summer day from the backseat of a white Ford Falcon my embryonic wonderings marveled…so many footprints must be leading to somewhere, and all I wanted to do was follow them.