It was the summer of 1968. I was done with teaching for now and out looking for a job. I found one almost immediately at the university in the Psych. Department. They had a federal grant to study Head Start programs around the state to see if pre schools were an effective use of government funds. I was impressed. I did not realize that our government exercised such detailed oversight. I thought they just saw a problem, threw some money at it, and let the chips fall where they may, until they took the money away and threw it at some new problem. But, anyway, not the case with Head Start. Apparently twelve different universities scattered around the nation where conducting a variety of studies. All of the projects were set up to test all Head Start students at randomly selected centers both pre-program and post program.
I worked from a little office, on the other side of the same park where I lived, with some very interesting characters. Our secretary, Jackie Jarvis, was from Jamaica. She could speak the “patois” of the island. She was exotic and, at times, raunchy. Our boss was blond, Scandinavian, gorgeous, and from a wealthy family. I was a tester and a coder. Reenie, the other tester was a thin blonde dying to be in love with our Jonnie. The three of us would be scheduled out of the office traveling several days per week and in the office coding the days when we weren’t traveling. Most of our traveling was done as day trips. At one center we did have to stay in a hotel for a week at a time. This was a busy job and a great job. Of course, four-year-olds are not very verbal, so IQ questions were pretty basic. Introduce subject to cow, show picture, say – “This is a cow.” Show next page with cow mixed in with other animals. Ask, “Can you find the cow?” Head Start children were often even less verbal than a typical four-year-old as Head Start looked for children who were “disadvantaged” in some way (often in several ways). Some of our urban kids had never before seen or heard of a cow. The rural kids had. It made a difference, but even so you could see that the tests revealed information about cognitive content and process. Other tests asked basic questions – What is your first name? – What is your last name? – Point to red. – Point to the circle. – Who is your best friend in school? Every child in our sample schools was tested.
Jon, Jackie, Reenie, and I loved our jobs. We felt the task was relevant and the job was not difficult. We were all so light-hearted together, laughed so much and smoked so many cigarettes. You could smoke cigarettes almost anywhere in those days, except in the Head Start centers. You could smoke in offices, in restaurants, in cars, in homes, at outdoor rock concerts, in hotels, in airplanes. Reenie and I smoked up a storm riding to the various centers while she pined over Jon, who, if we were to believe Jackie, was not interested in women. Reenie refused to believe it. So we would smoke and Reenie would yearn as we criss-crossed the state testing four-year-olds. We also had to have a year-long study. We chose the area of “positive” and “negative reinforcement” or “praise” and “blame”. We would quantify the amount and type of “praise” or “blame” given to each subject on a grid, code our findings in FORTRAN and forward them to the federal government.
Every Friday we would rest in the office and Jackie and Jonnie would start. It always began the same way. “Jonnie, my left tit itches,” Jackie would say, in her lilting island way. And they would be off, on a perfectly safe but exceedingly hot sexual riff while Reenie and I listened, at first shocked silly, eventually used to it, happily entertained.
Although I was busy during the week I was still available to go barhopping with Annie on weekends. Sometimes Reenie came along. Luke still showed up from time to time with some pot that we were all happy to smoke. We’d get the album cover and the papers and the rolling lessons would begin. Rolling a good joint took time and concentration especially if it wasn’t the first one of the evening, if the music, maybe a Beatles album, was sucking you in and out like a tide and everyone was mellow and hungry. Small, tight, and uniform were the qualities you were judged on. As the “j” passed from person to person, as breaths were held all around the circle, the “j” could not fall apart enroute and had to last down to the hot rolled paper at the end when only a roach clip would safely hold it. Sometimes there was hashish in a small pipe or a hookah or a bong. People dropped by, time flew away like bubbles- oh, look at that – pop – gone – where’d it go, next bubble – oh-h-h.
We started out conservatively, me in my little teacher clothes, the stockbrokers in their office clothes. Annie and I continued making the rounds of the bars, admittedly sometimes setting off slightly stoned. But my new job did not require formal attire and we were living near a big university. Everyone was getting “hippified”, groovin’, with long swingy hair on boys and girls, afros everywhere, dreads. Gradually we put aside our mini dresses and our skirts and blouses. We shopped at the army-navy stores – painter jeans (both the cream and the blue), and work boots – at the import store – embroidered tops from Mexico and India. We wore beaded or macramé bracelets and sometimes headbands. Annie left her job working with the stockbroker. She took a job in retail. She was not so into the pot scene but liked being stylish so she looked the hippie part.
Summer was the best time to be a hippie because what was happening was a group phenomenon and people liked to parade around the university area with other “freaks”, or sit on a sunny hill, across from the main university business district, with very little grass, dubbed “the beach”. We attended outdoor concerts all that summer where joints were passed through the crowd. “Give peace a chance.” It was a huge love fest. We felt that we were all one consciousness, one mind, and one heart. Since the communication was mostly nonverbal except for whatever music we were listening to, and a few polite “man, want a hits” accompanied by an arm tapping yours with a joint held out for you, it was easy to be in sync. We all did our weekly work, but it wasn’t what our life was about. “We can change the world, rearrange the world.”
Lena came by our place with a kilo of grass. That was a lot of grass. Grass usually came in nickel or dime bags, which after you picked out all the twigs and seeds, had to be used sparingly. We knew grass was illegal so we did hide it. We also knew how to act straight even though we were stoned “out of our gourds.” But it didn’t feel all that illegal. Everyone smoked right out in the open. In the neighborhoods where we lived people smoked pot in cars, even at indoor concerts. Rarely was anyone arrested unless they were belligerent or rowdy. We called the cops “pigs,” but they usually showed remarkable restraint where we were concerned. I only realized how different the rest of the world was when I went home to Smithvale on Sundays. At first it was easy to blend my two world, but as I became more of a “stoner” it was much more bizarre to go home.
So Lena brought the kilo to our apartment and we all helped clean and weigh and package it. With her New York City connections she had decided to go into business. We got so high just breathing and handling the marijuana, not smoking it, just taking it in through our pores, a magnificent “contact high,” that we gave no thought at all to the legality, morality or anything but the pleasure of the music pounding around us, and the conversation, however repetitive and evanescent, and the high.
Sometimes there were parties with outsiders. Linda knew a lot of people. Annie always had some cutie hovering around. But I liked it best when it was just “family,” especially with Linda trying to steal all Annie’s men. I found I did not like conflict. I was a peacemaker. I wanted life to flow along happily from day to day without personal stress. Where there are people, there is always conflict, which even I, with all my talent and energy, could not defuse.
By the summer of 1969 we were many tokes away from the summer of 1968. Life was very, very good. Even news from the world outside reached us only intermittently. The fact that campus strikes could and did become violent registered. Black Power registered. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King made a huge impression. But our revolution was non violent. It was all peace and love. We were aglow with the wonder of “grass”roots, evolutionary change, at least some of us were. When Bobbie Kennedy was assassinated sadness and fear rocked paradise, but paradise steadied again and “Reefer Madness” ruled the day. “Don’t bogart that joint.”