I'm writing this a few days after my 51st birthday, where someone completely surprised me with tickets to the upcoming 'Wavy Gravy 75th Birthday Benefit Concert' at the Beacon Theater on May 27th, 2011.
Photo from Wavy Gravy's charitable organization: www.Seva.org
(click here to read the wikipedia page on Wavy Gravy: http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wavy_Gravy)
Why is this significant to mention at the beginning of this chapter ?
Well, after returning from the Vermont Rainbow Gathering over the July 4th weekend 1991, the Universe took me through many months of modest challenges and spiritual tests, none of which added up to a 'Major Trial-By-Fire test', at least as far as I can recall 20 years later.
The next Major test began the day in April 1992 when I somehow got hold of Wavy Gravy's brand new book "Something Good For A Change" (St. Martins Press, Pub. April 1992).
Even though I hadn't taken any mind-altering drugs since my mid teenage years, I was still very attracted to psychedelic imagery with its brilliant day-glow colors and fluid designs.
And there was Wavy Gravy's face, sitting in the middle of this extraordinarily hallucinogenic book cover....The Hippy Clown of Woodstock fame, talking about his approach and past actions to trying to change the world.
That I would magically end up at his clown camp, Camp Winnarainbow, in Laytonville,Ca during the summer of 1994 is a whole other story.
Right now however, in April of 1992, I was being shaken up again by the Universe to prepare me for another Major test: transforming me into the 'Hitchhiking Hippy Rainbow Clown Healing Minister' and sending me on a long trip far away from my comfortable Long Island home.
Apparently, the Universe was taking me to the Southwestern USA, beginning with the 1992 Rainbow Gathering somewhere close to Durango, Colorado, near the New Mexico border.
I had heard that this year's Rainbow Gathering would be 'somewhere near' Durango when I went to a New York City Regional Rainbow Gathering Picnic on the Great Lawn in Central Park sometime in May.
I think I was told about Durango from a guy named Alvin who had painted his whole body BLUE like the Hindu God Krishna or Rama, and was, as I recall, flapping two huge, psychedelically-painted wings that were somehow attached to his arms. Alvin was running all over the Great Lawn flapping these wings. And he was completely NAKED !
Some interesting people associated with these Rainbow Gatherings, I was no doubt thinking to myself !
Perhaps it was Alvin's example that the Universe wanted me to follow when I was told that I wasn't going to minister to the hippies at this year's Colorado Rainbow Gathering wearing button down shirts, long pants and dressy vests.
No, this time the Universe wanted me to adopt a unique hippy persona and adorn a wild hippy costume.
I was to go to the 1992 Rainbow Gathering in Colorado as the Hippy Clown Healing Minister.....and I was going to look the part !
So much for my Masters Degree and my successful 5-year stint at teaching Physics.
I was now, at 32 years old, about to give everything up to be a Hippy Clown !
Oy Vey, how did I get myself into this mess, was what I was probably thinking as the Universe yanked me into a local Christian religious bookstore and had me try on and buy a huge purple satin Gospel robe, like the ones Gospel singers wear.
This was to be the 1st layer of my Rainbow Gathering Clown-Healer-Minister costume.
So I was to walk around the Rainbow Gathering in a purple satin Gospel robe and offer healings to the hippies.
I could just about digest this vision, when the Universe gave me the next phase of instructions for my costume....
And boy, was this a doozy !
I was to take all of the hundred-plus wildly-designed and brilliantly-colored silk kerchiefs that my mother had collected over the years from her tag and garage sale exploits, and attach these kerchiefs to every square inch of this purple Gospel robe.
I know, I know ! It’s extremely hard to visualize.
Well, try to imagine a wildly long-haired shaggy sheep dog who's fur was dyed all purple and then, over a hundred pieces of odd-designed and colored fabrics were tied to each cluster of shaggy hair.
I guess it would kind of look like a psychedelically colored "Cousin It" from 'The Addams Family'.
Yes, I know this is all very, very strange !
As a point of design, I sewed little loops all around the purple robe and then tied the kerchiefs around the loops such that they drooped down on both sides of the loops. The kerchiefs could be kept separate from the robe while I was traveling, and then assembled when I was ready to "put on my minister's robes", so to speak
So off I went about a month before the 1992 Rainbow Gathering, carrying on my back one massive backpack with my sleeping bag, dome tent, and other survival gear, while holding another slightly smaller backpack in my hands, which carried the great psychedelic 'Cousin It' costume-- Ooops, I mean the incredibly Sacred and Divinely-designed masterpiece of a costume, tailor made just for my incredibly important upcoming ministerial mission to the hippy gathering in Colorado.
Starting to get the picture ?
Yes, the Universe does like to make fools of us from time to time !
But the Universe definitely outdid itself this time !
So onto a Greyhound bus I ascended and cross-country I ventured, landing in Durango, Colorado with my 2 massive backpacks.
My 'regular' traveling clothes included a hand-woven, beautifully-colored, patchwork-patterned Guatemalan shirt-jacket, and tan-brown Turkish pantaloons. Indeed, I was still a sight for wonderment in these regular ‘traveling’ clothes. I was constantly reminded that I looked like the biblical Joseph who wore the Coat Of Many Colors.
In addition to my already colorful hippy-like appearance, one of the first things that the Universe had me do when I got off the bus in Durango, was to go straight into a pawn shop and buy a Ukulele.
Yes, a Ukulele !
I didn’t play the Ukulele, but I learned quickly how I could transfer my old guitar playing knowledge to this cute little ‘toy’.
The very next instructions I received from the Universe was to get a safety deposit box in a Durango bank to keep my ID and money while I was hitchhiking around.
So now, besides my 2 massive backpacks and my Ukulele, my only other accompanying accessory was an elastic band that I attached around my ankle with the key to this deposit box.
So with only $5 in my pocket and no ID, I stuck out my thumb for the very first time in my whole life (as far as I recall) and began hitching rides with anyone who had any idea where the actual Rainbow Gathering site would be a month later.
Oh yea, there was one other thing the Universe had me buy in Durango before I stuck out my thumb: a Sharpie magic marker. Before hitching my first ride, the Universe had me make a sign with the magic marker, writing the following words on a piece of cardboard: “Psychic Readings: Donations Accepted”.
Apparently, the Universe was going to support me financially on my hitchhiking journey through donations received from psychic readings.
“Cool employment opportunity”, I was probably thinking to myself at the time !
Anyway, according to the State of Colorado's Official Report about the 1992 Rainbow Gathering, the actual Gathering over the July 4th weekend took place at the Overland Reservoir on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, near Paonia, Colorado.
I eventually got there, and had an amazing experience over the July 4th weekend, but the wild, labyrinthine journey that the Universe mapped out for me in the month preceding the Gathering, hitching rides and landing throughout Colorado and New Mexico, encompassed a whole world of experiences into and of itself.
No hippies that I came in contact with in the month preceding the Gathering knew with absolute certainty where the actual Gathering would be held. Many had 'heard somewhere' that one site or another would be the eventual location.
I naively followed a number of these 'leads', and asked the people who picked me up hitching to drop me off at this or that town, highway, or forest.
One of my first hitches took me out to some highway marker on some lightly traveled highway, far away from any recognizable civilization.
When I realized, after looking around for a number of hours, that there was not a soul in sight at this location and that it couldn't possibly be the site of the Rainbow Gathering next month, I stuck out my thumb only to find that not a single car would pass by for long periods of time, and these infrequent cars just whizzed past me as if I were invisible.
This was when the Universe began to reveal to me some of it's 'Divine Purposes' for asking me to purchase a Ukulele.
With my 2 massive backpacks on the side of the road, I was guided to take out my Ukulele and start singing and dancing wildly in the middle of the road.
With my Guatemalan 'Coat of many Colors', my Turkish pantaloons, and my Ukulele, I was no doubt quite a vision for the infrequent passing cars.
Amazingly enough, after I performed my Ukulele 'shtick' for the surrounding highway trees and forest animals for only a few minutes, I was picked up by a small school bus full of teenagers.
It was a 'Waldorf ' school bus, apparently on some school trip.
To this day, I am not sure if there was any significance to me being picked up by a 'Waldorf' school bus. Back when I was getting my teaching certificate on Long Island in 1984, I observed classes at a great Waldorf School that was associated with and situated on the campus of the University I got my Physics degree from. Waldorf Schools were founded by Rudolf Steiner, a great mystic of the last century who I have not gotten any guidance to familiarize myself with over the years.
Perhaps the Universe will eventually guide me to study more about Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf Schools.
If you'd like to learn more about Steiner and Waldorf education, here's some Wikipedia links to read:
Anyway, I guess it was the open-minded Waldorf teenagers who convinced the chaperones and the bus driver to stop and pick me up.
It was most definitely the open-minded Waldorf teenagers who affectionately kept shouting for me to play them a song on my Ukulele as the bus rolled down the highway.
I don't remember why I chose to play them "Your Mama Don't Dance and Your Daddy Don't Rock and Roll" from Loggins and Messina, singing at the top of my lungs and strumming the Ukulele wildly while standing in the extremely narrow space separating the driver from the seats.
The teenagers dug it, but I'm not so sure about the chaperones and the bus driver.
Was it THEM I was referring to in the song I was playing ?
In hindsight, they probably DID think I was referring to them.
Please accept my long overdue apology Mr. and Ms. chaperones and bus driver !
I guess the Universe was just giving me a little taste of what it feels like to be a 'Yippie', as in the scene of the 1979 movie "HAIR" when Trent Williams does a Chuck Berry slide down the impossibly long table filled with extremely expensive foods and adornments at some rich woman's party.
To watch this specific scene from the movie 'HAIR' on YouTube, click on this link:
Being born at the dawn of the revolutionary 1960's (B. April 1960), and having a mother who was involved in Vietnam War activism, and who also took me and my sister to see "HAIR" on Broadway in 1968 (the movie HAIR came out in 1979) , the seeds of rebelliousness were no doubt planted in me at a very early age.
But back to my story....
Not really having another 'lead' as to where the Rainbow Gathering would be, I told the Waldorf bus driver to drop me off as close to Durango as possible.
Since they weren't going all the way to Durango, they dropped me off at another obscure highway marker on another lightly traveled highway, nowhere near any recognizable civilization.
I thanked them and waved goodbye, as I stood standing once again in the middle of the road with my Ukulele, ready to do my 'shtick' once more for the surrounding highway trees and forest animals.
But this time, something a bit more ominous awaited me as I began to sing and dance wildly in the road.
Within seconds of doing my dance, I suddenly heard from a distance a multitude of dogs barking loudly.
And the barking kept getting louder and louder, until I finally got the sense that a huge pack of angry dogs were fast approaching me from beyond an embankment that I couldn't see over.
Having virtually no experience with dogs (I've always been a cat person) in this life, no less a pack of angry dogs heading straight towards me, I guess it would be honest to say that I was scared shitless (please pardon my language) and I was preparing myself in these final seconds to be mauled to death or at the very least disfigured beyond recognition.
But my inner faith took over and I tapped some ancient sense of 'knowing' that I somehow knew how to communicate with animals.
I magically accessed this ancient knowledge in the few seconds left before the salivating teeth of about 8 huge angry dogs reached the cotton fabric of my Turkish pantaloons.
Standing calmly and perfectly still in the middle of the road, I gently gazed at the approaching angry dogs, and somehow magically, they all of a sudden stopped barking and just stood still, even backing up a bit.
It was then that I heard a screen door open in the distance and a woman called out for her dogs.
She came running out from her house up the hill that lead to the embankment, calling for her dogs to leave me alone and come back to the house.
But as she finally emerged at the embankment and saw the calm state of her ferocious watchdogs and me with my Ukulele calmly standing there, all I could do was smile at her.
If she thought that I might have been trespassing on her property, she didn't say anything. She just smiled back at me and coaxed her dogs to come home leading them back over the embankment.
'Nice day so far', I was no doubt thinking to myself at the time !
I'm not sure how this particular day ended, since it was so long ago.
But this was a typical day of hitchhiking in the month preceding the Rainbow Gathering.
I was dropped off in so many different locations, and when it got dark and there were no cars picking me up, I simply had to decide to sleep 'WHEREVER MY FEET LANDED'.
So me and my dome tent might possibly have been spotted at the break of day in any one of many obscure locations.
I slept in densely wooded parks, in back of churches, right off the sides of highways, etc.
Once in a while I would hook up with some similarly hitchhiking traveler or some migrant worker, who would also be looking to pitch a tent for the night. So we would find an isolated place together.
If it was pouring rain and I couldn't imagine hunting for an isolated place somewhere, getting soaked while setting up my tent, I would just hide under bridges or some protective overhang and try to get some sleep if I could.
I even, and I'm really not too proud to admit to this, jumped underneath the tarp of some person's parked open-backed pickup truck and crashed for the night.
As far as my 'money-making occupation' of doing psychic readings with my cardboard sign, it was basically the same sort of scenario: I would be dropped off from hitching at some town or village square and I would just 'set up shop'. 'Setting up shop" meant that I would pull out my cardboard sign and amazingly the Universe would bring me people to psychically read. And these people would be happy enough with my readings that they gave me money, when they didn't have to.
There was nothing overwhelmingly dangerous about 'setting up shop' wherever I landed, except in so far as I was on the street, vulnerable to the weather, to trouble-making or intoxicated people, to potentially unhappy recipients of my readings, and so on.
Again, I believe that I was protected by the Universe while I was on the street, because I never had a bad incident doing readings in my 2 years on the road.
Virtually every time that I 'set up shop' on the street somewhere, the Universe would put at least $50 in my pocket by the end of the day.
With this 'steady income', I was able to buy my daily diet of peanut butter, bread, water, and perhaps some other more exotic dish.
I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I even jumped into the garbage bins of supermarkets to pick out perfectly fine fruit and vegetables that were thrown away for having some tiny stale marks on it. I learned how to 'dumpster dive' from one of the many hippies I ran into during my travels.
I also ended up spending some 'quality' time with a few of the people who picked me up hitching.
I spent some good quality time being 'adopted' for a few days by a hippy family who was traveling in the complete opposite direction as the Rainbow Gathering. The Universe still told me to hop into their overcrowded. on-its-last-legs van, and I spent a few days hanging out with them in their very cool Adobe brick house that they built, way up on some isolated hilltop in New Mexico, with breathtaking scenes surrounding us from all sides. There was no running water, so we had to make frequent trips to the nearby water well. We also had to use an outhouse to go to the bathroom. I, in turn, gave them all psychic readings as my 'board'. The kids eventually started to whine a lot since their parents were paying so much attention to me, and so it became obvious that I needed to 'move on'.
So back to the road I went, thumb outstretched once again.
Another couple of days of 'quality' time was spent with a burly, mountain-man-like, long haired hippy whom I'll call him 'Mr. G' . He was living in the back of his tiny truck-camper, I think the brand of the truck-camper was called a Chinook. He owned a small piece of land in a New Mexico sage brush area that he was planning on building his house on in the future. For now, I just pitched a tent on his land while he lived inside his Chinook, and we hung out for a few days, going to hot springs among other cool places. This was my final hitch before the Rainbow Gathering, because I ended up traveling with Mr. G and a few of his other friends to the Gathering, all of us squeezed into his tiny Chinook. As payback for his hospitality, I did quite a number of energy healings on him.
Hanging out with Mr G. and the Adobe-home family in the New Mexico hills was very cool, and greatly added to my sense that the Universe 'had people and experiences waiting for me' in the Southwest.
There were other experiences that the Universe 'had waiting for me' however, that weren't so pleasant, to put it mildly.
These were the real tests of faith and courage that the Universe had brought me out here to 'initiate me' with.
The following sections describe a few of the most challenging of these trial-by-fire 'initiations'.