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1967 Downstairs Coffee House

April 20, 2015
John Herman and I had recently learned how to smoke cigarets in Missoula in 1967.

John Herman and I had recently learned how to smoke cigarets in Missoula in 1967.

I wasn’t homeless in Missoula in the winter of ’67, but my fake hippie university student friends and I had no place to socialize during the freezing winter evenings. At least none that suited us. The Dean of Women, in particular, kept a tight grip on us freshmen. Women directly, of course, but that meant we men were also hobbled. None of us were old enough to go in bars. We didn’t want to go in bars! We wanted to be together, and we were–during meals! The student union building was always locked after meals were over. We wanted a place to go evenings. We required ourselves to be freely together indoors. We were not allowed to live anywhere but in the dorms. I wrote a letter to the editor complaining of the intolerable conditions!!
Oh, we could have watched TV in the dorms with the other men or we could have gone to one of those off-campus religious places with organized activities, such as sitting around in a circle. We had had enough of that. It wasn’t cool. We were into more, uh, Eastern religious experiences. You know, like George Harrison. We were against the war! I was afraid of the war!
Cool in Missoula in 1967 was the “Basement Coffee House,” open to hippie men and women, fake or real, every evening in the University Congregational Church, about 3 blocks from the campus. In those days my friends and I could go there with no fear of being hasseled by religious zealots, and the entrance to the coffee house was in the back of the church, through the playground.

In 1978 I published a magazine, “The Portable Wall.” One of our group of counter-culture types, Jonna Rhein, wrote me a letter with a reminiscence:

Hello All,
Reading over the last “Portable Wall” I found my interest leaning toward the letters, hearing about Larry, Theresa, Kim, Brenda–etc., etc., my eyes closed, candles lit about the room and I found myself in the cellar of a church on University Avenue. A bit of a glazed look to my eyes–drinking apple cider, hot & spiced, sitting around–it being so dark one can hardly see–listening to a young college fella and his guitar. I just flashed on the classic story of John Herman, titled, “Job at the Gas Station”: those were the days when the large red bouncing balls with handles were fashionable–John’s first day on the job–this gas station had a special on those big bouncing balls–John was told to go into the storeroom and practice bouncing–on the balls–to sell them. John was found two hours later in the storeroom with his head in his hands, moaning, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.”

We went to the Downstairs Coffee House as often as we could. There was music, great-looking chicks who, for a quarter, served up coffee, hot chocolate or cider; it had lots of room and homemade tables from wooden cable spools with checkered tablecloths and like she said, dark except for a chianti bottle with a candle.

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