February 7, 2017

The Green House and Berkeley in the Sixties


But what of the green house?

If that house was not real, if it was not true, if it did not exist, what then did exist? What exists now? Where is the street beside the pale green house on the bright green lawn ringed with violet crocuses in the spring, shaded by three elms near the sidewalk and a rambling blackberry vine that clambered up the outside of the stairs and porches that linked the four apartments? That house where a few of the dreamers lived and others met, ate, loved, slept or passed through. What happened there between those ghosts made not of shadows but sudden shafts of sunlight?

Could they be called up? Brought back from the distances?

Could they be made to emerge from the dream and inhabit this present waking world amid the gaudy tokens and worn rewards of our despised surrender?

Would such ghosts, if caught in a web of words, stand and unfold themselves as they were, as more than they were, as emblems of the dream, wavering like rushlights in rooms made from mist, running along beaches smeared with seadrift and sunset, lounging against phantom trees on those parched and lawn-lined streets, talking and laughing in whispering echoes on porches through the warm, dusky evenings when the falling light caressed the harps of bridges across the bay and the music was made of its light, and the clouds flowing in from the sea over the shadowed hills moved to the music through all the past lost years like ships setting out for the Fortunate Isles beneath the burnt orange strings of the sun’s lyre stretched across the mouth of the bay?

Ah, but that lyre is an old lie. And there was no truth. And without truth, there was no foundation, and, hence, no enduring reality. There was only America, only one dream of America. No better or worse, no more or less real, than a thousand other dreams of America. It was a dream woven on the loom of the stars and the ocean that enmeshed that western city on seven hills which we watched at night from the green house on the flatlands across the bay. A thousand and one nights watching and telling tales which were, in the final analysis, but variations on a single theme of light reclaimed and held against the flooding dark for but a moment.

And then the distant guns coming closer, the bells, the sirens, the chopping whir of helicopters, the boots falling in lockstep, the thud of nightsticks, the crackling orders on two-way radios, metallic clicks, shotgun fire, the screaming…

We awoke in a metal dawn. The air tasted of rust. The smell of burning automobiles and tear gas was woven in the morning breeze and we slowly came to understand that the dreams were gone and only the nightmare was left. It was a slow nightmare which—if not exactly true, for truth in the nightmare was only propaganda—was at its bottom as real as the black neoprene bags on the tarmac in Saigon. And this reality in time revealed to us the final face of fear—a fear that was not a fear of death, but of continuing failure; of our failure to sustain the dream, to make it real, to constantly renew it. And this fear, a fear seldom spoken by any but known to all, kept us awake through all the years that followed and forced us, in the end, to deny not only the dream, but the very possibility of dream.

And in time we became like all the others before us although we had, like all the others before us, sworn that we would not.

We forgot the dream. We sold most of the records and purchased color televisions with cable hookups. We sold all the books and subscribed to a news weekly. We moved from the rented rooms, leaving the mattress, rug, and cat to shift for themselves, and made from what was real our cold comfort.

These days there is money to be made and property to be acquired. Now there is important work to be done. Now we have responsibilities to meet and, oh, that was all long ago. The green house is gone and we are changed, changed utterly. We no longer remember.

“Time,” she sang, “keeps movin’ on.”


Do not go.

Rest easy here with me.

I have not forgotten, nor have you. Together, we will remember. Together we will recall it all, as it was or as it should have been; it makes little difference. We shall walk back and raise it up; a testament to foolish desire, mistaken ideals, strong hopes, and wild nights; a place where there will be light and warmth and we will abide forever together as we were and as we wished to become. A small green house where there is always room for one more, if memory serve.

And memory shall serve. It is ours to command. It is the one thing of value which can be given but not taken. It is our past, our common history. We know it is beyond price. Why else have we been such haste to pawn it? Because it lends light to our present lives and hence we fear it?

Who among us does not secretly despise what we have made of our dreams? Who among us does not secretly loathe what we have become for the sake of this dubious reality?

It was better, clearer, cleaner and more strangely beautiful when we slept in the green house.

It was not a special place. It was ordinary. The most ordinary place in the world. If it was neither real nor natural, it was fraught with a strange excitement, fecund with endless possibility. It was built of a metaphysic so loose that the most absurd accident could happen and it would only be a part of the Grand Design. It was a place where revelation and prophecy were daily events, the Second Coming scheduled for tomorrow after lunch, magic considered merely another, older branch of science, poetry an acceptable mode of speech, and caricature a widely appreciated attitude. As far as we know Rasputin, William Blake, St. Teresa, and Walt Whitman had never lived in the green house, but they would have been welcome if they had wandered in.

Let’s go then and knock on the door.

All you’ve got to do is step right up.

All you’ve got to do is ring that bell.

You can come as you are.

There’s nothing to be hung about.

There is some wine for the asking, music always playing, pipes forever smouldering. Perhaps there will be some hashish, or the more exotic opium. Perhaps there will someone to meet and take home later. Perhaps there will be a chance for love among these phantoms—among these phantoms we have set to sleep in music that our dreams remind us.

Posted by gerardvanderleun at February 7, 2017 10:03 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Awful quiet around here....maybe you and I are the only ones left who remember this, the sudden loss of the sense that all would be well just because. I wasn't in Berkeley, I was in Texas, but the same sense prevailed: the world was Spring, love would prevail.

And the best thing about the '60s was that we were younger, after all - though I'm not sure I'd care to be young now. Beautifully rendered, by the way, as always.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at February 7, 2017 4:43 PM

Does anyone remember Lee Hosten? He came to London from California to raise hell, sell weed and change the world. Drove a hearse around Bayswater. Got busted in Notting Hill, smeared his cell with shit, then bought the whole contents of a flower store in Ladbroke Grove and had it delivered to the police station addressed to the man. Often wonder what happened to him. Strange planet, 1969.

Posted by: Frank P at February 7, 2017 5:12 PM

For me that green house you speak of so movingly will always be green and alive as home.
That home was bursting with worthwhileness.
As adults now we must teach our young what made life worthwhile for us, and hope they learn, and hope they yearn for their green house on the hill or shore of forever.

Posted by: Howard Nelson at February 8, 2017 9:48 AM

"I will tell you the truth of this:
God created youth and the joys of men.
They cannot from the first bear the fruit
of maturity, but take joy
in the world's pleasures, until a number of winters
have passed away in youth, so that the spirit loves
the look and substance of a mature state,
which many men throughout the world fittingly
serve in good ways of life. These men show wisdom
to the people, forsaking pride,
after the spirit puts to flight the foolishness of youth."

Posted by: Bunny at February 8, 2017 1:26 PM

Jeremy's Gone Home, 2/1/17, RIP

Mark your hearts.

I believe he came into this world to help others display their compassion, just as he served his mentally disabled, soulfully enabled comrades. He did this with wit, jokes and puns, and immense sincerity.

To know him was to appreciate him, a hero burdened with psychological problems that bent his spirit but did not break it. Jeremy could be angry on occasion, but he could never hold a grudge; surely an awesome defect. He was not perfect, only most excellent.

So, we'll remember your love, and we'll remember your smile and laughter, we remember it now, and will, forever after.

Jeremy, your life and spirit, rare and well done!

Posted by: Howard Nelson at February 9, 2017 8:50 AM