“I saw that too in Berkeley. There was such a narrow range of fashion to fit into — like an old-time corset. And any transgression of what passed for fashion could put one on the outside looking in. How could you breathe?”
“There were values markers like cars and expensive consumer goods but I don’t know if it was that bad in Bellingham, as far as clothing fashion went but as an older friend who was yet to be drafted told me ‘to get a date, you need either an old Volkswagen or a new sports car.’”
“I think you miss my point. It wasn’t just clothing that was a fashion statement, it was whole lifestyles. Like the superstition of card reading and crystals.”
“Well, you know, it was this constellation of fashion factors and veteran status that for me made for a very long winter. In spring I moved across town to a place of my own and advertised for a roommate. I found one and he did have a new sports car. But then there was the veteran thing, the accounting for your time thing, proving you weren’t a narc thing, and figuring out the norms of a whole new youth culture. What didn’t help at all was that one of the guys next door was a coke dealer and got busted a few months after we moved in. There were cops crawling everywhere.
“Actually now that you mention the corset, I think there was a bewildering array of fashions to incorporate. I couldn’t keep track of them all. Culturally, it was a whole new thing.”
Marge had been right about that. Back east there was pre-Woodstock and post-Woodstock; that was a division even on the west coast where almost no one had gone. You were either part of the Woodstock generation or you were straight, as in lame, not hip. In Bellingham the Haight-Ashbury scene had had a big influence a few years earlier. But more than that even, over the years I’d been gone, nearly a decade, a new culture had grown up. There was no way to catch up and it was like being an undercover agent, eventually you’d slip up and your cover would be blown. But I tried.
I tried to explain to Agnes the arcana of the times and the degree to which superstition has invaded the culture. She seemed puzzled. I tried an example.
“One day I was hitch hiking back from class on High Street and a couple of hippies in an old VW picked me up. The passenger said,
‘Hi, what’s your sign?’
‘What’s your moon sign?’
‘What’s your rising?’
‘Do you get your way a lot?’
And so it went. By that time I’d learned the necessary basics of astrology to be able to answer such questions.”
“There was a lot of that in Berkeley too,” she said. “People were reading Tarot cards and studying the i Ching as though it was on the final exam. I thought it was absolute nonsense. And then there were the people who had taken up Buddhism or Hindu traditions. First it was Zen then the flavor of the week. It wasn’t like they had grown up in a Buddhist culture like so many Vietnamese. As you know I’m Catholic but I’m tolerant of the Buddhist culture. They supported the peasants where we Catholics didn’t. But I saw precious little tolerance within these splinters of American culture.”
Agnes seemed annoyed at having been expected to join in with what she had termed superstition.