I know I am not the first person to shed a tear at the post office. Mail often contains emotional content like wedding or birth announcements, or can deliver sad news.
However, none of the above caused my eyes to well up Monday afternoon in the lobby of the Crescent City Post Office. I reacted to the sentiment behind a package I received. This unexpected trip down memory lane came wrapped in the plain brown corrugated cardboard of Amazon.com. Inside were a book and a message signed “from your best friend in the whole world.”
The book is simply called “Hippie” and it chronicles the timeline of hippie-ness from 1965 to 1971 with photos, quotes, images of concert posters and the words of British author Barry Miles, who also wrote Paul McCartney’s biography.
I was never a real hippie and neither was my best friend. We were just 15 in 1965, studying Latin and other college preparatory courses at a private Catholic high school. We lived in the suburbs south of Los Angeles.
As I scanned the pages of “Hippie,” I saw familiar places and faces. Just barely into the book, on page 10, Beatlemania begins to unfold. Like millions of other fans, I first saw The Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”0 That night I wrote in my diary that there was something “very special about these four long-haired guys.” I went to their concert at the Hollywood Bowl during their first U.S. tour in 1964 and again in 1965. In July 1971, while the same friend who sent me “Hippie” and I explored London together, we encountered John Lennon and Yoko Ono and got their autographs. A photo of John and Yoko’s bed-in for peace is on page 329.
Back to 1965. Sonny and Cher’s first album was released (page 33). On the cover, Sonny is wearing an animal fur vest and Cher shyly looks out through long black bangs. That’s how they looked when I saw them perform “I’ve Got You, Babe” at a Friday night dance at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena the same year.
While Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters were driving around the country in their bus, Further, and connecting with Timothy Leary, I was simply observing. Change was on the TV news, in magazines and newspapers, and in the music we were listening to. Apparently even the nuns were listening. The lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” were on the bulletin board of our homeroom in junior year. Could “dancing beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free” have been a mantra? Most of our teaching nuns left the convent by the time we graduated.
In 1967 I belonged to an organization called the District Attorney’s Young Citizens Council. The Watts riots in the summer of 1965 had spurred Los Angeles District Attorney Evelle Younger to reach out and engage young people in the business of getting along with authorities. DAYCC members were going to be interviewed on local television. As we walked on the set, I saw Gracie Slick walking backstage in a long dress and hooded cape. She had just taped a show with the Jefferson Airplane (page 45). How could either of us have known that three years later we’d be neighbors on Fulton Street in San Francisco?
The “Hippie” scrapbook goes on for seven years and 379 pages. I am not a voyeur of those times, but someone who brushed shoulders with it. Living legends like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and James Taylor appear like old friends. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison stay forever young.
More endearing and constant than the characters in “Hippie” are the friends I shared those years with. Denise’s message on the packing slip was, “Don’t ever forget we were there. We were free…and still are.”
Note: “Hippie” is not for everyone. If it were a movie, “Hippie” would be rated “R.”