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Freshman hippie wannabe

March 20, 2023
In 1968 I was a fake hippie at the University of Montana in Missoula.

September, 1967, University of Montana in Missoula

My mother insisted on helping me make my bed to get me settled. I was a freshman in 1967. Mortified that my mother was there, helping me move into Craig Hall. Then it was a men’s dormitory.

“Please mother, don’t,” I begged her. “Just leave me here!”

For background, I must note that there are grand old dormitories at the university. But Craig Hall doesn’t come close. It is ugly, plain and square, like it has a military crewcut. It stunk like a locker room. Sweat, only mingled with the odors of shoe polish and Brasso. The R.O.T.C. guys were always shining their brass belt buckles. Lots of guys didn’t change their underwear very often. They used cheap cologne and underarm deodorant.

I was familiar with all of the dormitories because, as an adolescent growing up in Missoula, I explored the university buildings every night after school. I did so for at least two years, hundreds of forays into the unknown. I knew secrets about the buildings. I had crawled through tunnels connecting the buildings.

But God! in 1967, as a freshman in college, I was lonesome! We lived in Dillon since the seventh grade and I didn’t much know anyone in Missoula except a few of my uncool friends from high school. I looked for some hippies around campus, but I couldn’t find any. At least none the first day I looked.

My dorm room had a grimy ground-level picture window, a marvel of architecture. Marvelous because it had been designed as if to eliminate any possible grace or beauty.

It was closest to the north outside door of the building, where countless feet tromped past my door to class every morning. The sound of anxious feet made me feel anxious too, like I had to join in the rush. My accommodations: Unsatisfactory. Just like my roommate, can’t remember his name, the super straight college freshman. Not artistic. Not cool. Not rebellious. Totally beat down by the establishment.

He had bad habits: he kept his hair short, he shaved, he didn’t like me, he talked in a loud voice, like someone from New Jersey. He had learned these habits at a military academy where his parents had sent him.

He had been a teenage criminal. Like me, he majored in journalism, one thing we had in common, although he said he didn’t care about journalism.

We treated each other politely, at first. He suggested I sleep on the bottom bunk, so I did. After all, my covers were neatly tucked in there.

I laid down on the bottom bunk and he climbed up to the top. I pushed my feet up against the springs overhead to jog him up and down. He responded by threatening me with a shocking surprise that would be quite painful if I did that again, so I didn’t.

He told me that he didn’t like me. He said he rejected all my values. Hippie values. Peace, love, drugs, rock and roll, sexual adventures.

One day, entering the room, he told me, “You are a nihilist. That’s right, a nihilist.”

He laughed. I had no idea what he meant. He said we had nothing in common. He didn’t like illegal drugs. He said he lost a good friend from a heroin overdose. Of course he was lying. Wasn’t he? I told him that hippies don’t take heroin. Just psychedelic drugs. For recreation and introspection. For scientific purposes. Like getting high.

Even more disgusting, each morning my roomie (his word) brushed his head briskly for about 15 seconds with a pair of brushes he kept on his well-organized dresser. In turn, I snubbed him and typically rolled out of bed chanting some secret hippie stuff. I often put on yesterday’s clothes and headed to breakfast. Or else I rolled over and skipped my 8 o’clock class. Or both.

After the first quarter I saw the military man roommate maybe once more, between classes. He was friendly. Said he got just one B, the rest A’s. Hell, I did just as well as he did. Well, not quite. But pretty good anyway. Good enough.

Missoula had always had beatniks, now it had hippies. Trouble is, I didn’t know any. At least not in Missoula. My brother and his friends in Eugene, Oregon, turned me onto pot when I ran away to visit them during the previous summer.

I wanted to find some hippies. Some dope-smoking people willing to share with me.

How to define hip? I’ll tell you. A hip person wasn’t straight. Straight people caved into the pressure from the town folk, their high school teachers, their adult relatives, their jock friends. These people made them get a short haircut and wear regular straight clothes and abstain from pot and drink plenty of alcoholic beverages and smoke tobacco cigarettes. Also watch TV. In short, straights were conformists.

Straight people were well-groomed and cared about television and sports and didn’t question the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. Straight people were mean. Straight people were knee-jerk patriotic and were allied with the old guys who belonged to the Elks or Masons or some other organization. They were the problem. Hippies were part of the solution, the revolution for peace and justice and harmony.

When I got up I did my best to act naturally. My hair was growing long, same with my beard. In that way I hoped to attract persons of like interests. Interest in being a part of the counterculture. You see, the counterculture people dressed in glorious colors, exercised the freedom to seek self-gratification. Freedom to shun the military and war. In those days all young men had to register for the draft in their hometown.

Eventually I made some friends with like-minded people, but it took weeks.

My friends spoke honestly and kindly, mostly. Unless angry. We were rebel men and women who hung out together wherever we could.

We were not locked into having to ask for dates to get together for university-sanctioned social events. Like in sororities and fraternities. Frat boys were not cool. They reeked of sexism, alcoholism, and underarm deodorant and aftershave cologne. My friends shunned all that. We looked and smelled naturally. Of sweat, of tobacco and incense. Sometimes of marijuana.

Those days were the nascent time of hard rock and electric blues music. I know that’s hard to believe now, but it was.

The folk music scene was drawing to a close in 1967. It had been reviled by the anti-communist John Birch Society that spread propaganda lies like, “buying a Bob Dylan album puts money in the hands of communists; even buys the bullets that kill our soldiers in Vietnam.”

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were some of the pioneer musicians prior to 1967, followed closely by the “summer of love” psychedelic San Francisco bands: The Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. I almost forgot Procol Harum, which also started out in 1967. From the east coast came Velvet Underground. Frank Zappa came in that first wave. Creedence Clearwater Revival came in later. Also about a year later was Cream and a list of newer bands. Raw energy, message of freedom, anti-war, anti-establishment.

The straights in Missoula, on the other hand, listened to top 40 hits: A few big stars making music highly processed with violins and horns. Pabulum.

We didn’t shun all responsibility, although the straights often tried to portray us that way.

It always boiled down to hairstyle.

We hippies bravely fought the pressure to conform to “straight values.” Someone yelled at me from a car to “Get a haircut!” My mother told me to get a haircut. My track coach in high school threatened to pull my beard out with a pair of pliers. My sister’s adult friend told me in a forceful way that my long hair was unacceptable. There was a song on the radio with the lyrics” “…are you a boy or are you a girl? With your long brown hair you look like a girl?” Anti-hip songs with messages opposing marijuana, other psychedelic drugs, mocking the anti-war movement. We had to stand up tall for our values.

That’s what we were about. Freedom to be hip, to have hip friends, to be members of an underground culture that could fulfill the American dream of self-determination.

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