Thursday, September 22, 2016


184. BARREL 
The first time I saw the zoo
in Central Park, I was totally
fascinated. Back in Summer
'67, that was a basic and
standard headquarters for
Hippie nation, USA. There
would be kids teeming,
uptown a little more, along
Bethesda Fountain and all
the tunnels and bridges and
water-sprays up along that
way. There was a bandshell,
and the promenade along
what's called 'Poet's Walk'
was always filled with
kids, stoned, dazed, dizzy,
crashing out on the grass
or blankets. The probable
worst music in the world
was playing everywhere.
It seemed, to my notice,
that two things were
most obvious  - to me,
I mean, sort of an exile
in my own land. One
was of how the more
weak a character was  -
some floundering
half-brain hippie girl
or guy, the worst their
for their own idiocies
became.  Like them
trying to prove their
hippie-smarts or rank
by overdoing it. It's still
like that  -  alcoholics,
parading around while
stammering drunk, and
assuming thereby that
everyone else wants to
be just like them. In this
case, for these new kids,
it usually meant (proving
their 'hippie cred') clothing,
or lack of it. Nakedness.
Girls taking off shirts and
then just sitting around as
if they were unaware. Or
taking off everything. Same
for guys  - a lot of that went
on, and 'park service' forces,
or police, unlike today, weren't
around enough, or strong
enough, to do anything
about it. I think, as well,
that a lot of it had just to
do with the way society
then was : No one knew
anything about this 'hippie
epidemic' stuff. People ran
confused and scared.
Nobody knew what to
do. These could be
anybody's kids, and
everyone was going
through some sort
of family reckoning  -
kids in revolt, running
away, getting high,
skipping school,
screwing like rabbits,
each and every chance.
That entire promenade
was coated with kids,
all hours. Families and
Moms and Dads were
all confused, because
in their opposition
and stress over all this,
people like Sammy
Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra,
Dean Martin, and such
would all of a sudden
show up siding with the
kids, acting and looking
like hippies themselves.
Parets turning on the TV
and being startled to see
that there was, it seemed,
no support left, nothing to
remain beneath things to
underscore and bolster
them.The other thing  -
and this was curious  -
was how everyone
seemed to just assume,
for purposes of air-headed
bubblyness, that anything
have to do with 'Hippe'
just clouds and happiness
and birds and glee.
Light-headedness was
everywhere; a really poor
translation of all that
gloom and hate and
angst and disquiet that
really ran there. Many
of the 'Hippies' or
proto-hippies I met
were, by contrast and
in actuality, dark and
brooding souls lost and
clinging to some deep,
charcoal-colored cloud.
Bop-headed simplicity
simply came down to:
'I've looked at clouds
from both sides now,
from up and down but
still somehow, it's
clouds illusions I recall.
I really don't know
clouds, at all.' As Joni
Mitchell would put it.
So, what is that? An
optimistic pessimism, or
a pessimistic optimism?
I never knew.
Down from there, 20 blocks
maybe, parkwise, was the
Central Park Zoo. If you
entered the park at its
normal entry-points, 59th
street all along, and just
started walking north,
it was the first 'thing'
you came to, within the
park itself. There was a
group of benches just
before, always filled,
way back then, with the
normal assortment of the
old, dazed elderly, staring
away their time, into
space, rolled up too, and
quite quiet; newspapers and
old strudels, and the more
usual, and more prevalantly
predictable, street person,
bum, wandered, rolled-up
newspaper type itself  -
the sort of people-supply
needed for, say, Weegee
or Diane Arbus work.
I almost hate to sound this
note once again, but this
was all in the old days.
It's not like that now at
all. It's all been fixed over,
the two zoos (I'll get to
that) are now all properly
'zoo-correct' : no small
enclosures, dark and 
looming pen, nor any 
animal jammed in
and neglected. Now it's
all quite happy, light 
and airy. Back then, 
it was a canyon in the 
woods, of a sort, dirt 
and grass and some
stoe buildings surrounded
by the majesty of all 
the well-lit, tall buildings 
ringing the park. It simply 
had to be seen to understand. 
A complete other place, a 
wonderland of something. 
You could walk freely,
 through small buildings 
or outdoor cages, and
see lions and tigers, 
elephants and pumas. 
The seal pond, in the
center, was  -  with 

steps  -  an amazing 
play stage where seals

frolicked and flipped 
in water, cold or warm. 
Nothing was unhappy,
except the people.  
Now it's all happy 
people, and whatever's 
in captivity is, I guess, 
just managing. One 
way or another, zoos 
are correct now. As 
usual, it's the people 
you need to watch out 
for, and they're not (yet)
caged. It was an adult 
place, serious intent, 
and trying to be 
informative and intense. 
Effort accepted. There
was a slightly British
feel to it, Victorian wildlife
collection stuff, a big old
brick armory building, 
also Victorian, used as 
headquarters. Another
great attraction was the
Monkey House. Just
what it said, a building 
filled with monkeys  -  the 
craziest creatures you'd ever 
see : spitters, vamps, clowns,
mimics, all at once. The
attendants, ever wary,
would just stand their, 
like apes, themselves, 
with hoses and shovels 
always at the ready. Anything
could  break out, at any time. 
Monkeys, screeching or 
screaming, on the prowl or
throwing food. Monkeys with
boners, screwing the bars or the
wall. Pissing all over. Off to the
side, and behind this, yards
off, was the 'Kiddie Zoo'. 
Or 'Children's Zoo', as 
it was put. That was a
real turn-on, a center 
of activity, for the 
Hippie crowd. Flowing, 
beautiful girls draped 
over huge tortoises and 
turtles. Weird, show-off, 
fey boys hugging ducks 
and goats and sheep. And
everyone as spaced out or
zonked-high as could be.
Peanuts and pretzels, 
everywhere, being 'fed'
to the animals, everything 
from flying squirrels to 
zipper-barreled musk-rats, 
(made that up, no idea), 
running around. It was 
completely innocent, 
hippied and wild. 
Brain Paradise for sure. 
A hundred little Alices, 
these kids, sunk in a 
hundred little fantasies 
of hippie gut, food, 
love, lust and mayhem. 
With, oh, so much 
more to come.

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