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Truth as a Possibly Illegal and Addictive Substance

Published: June 26, 2017

The cloak and dagger dangles,
madams light the candles.
In ceremonies of the horsemen
even a pawn can hold a grudge.
—Bob Dylan

To tell the truth about those years, you’d have to begin with the observation that truth was, like all precious commodities, in very short supply. Like LSD from Sandoz or pharmaceutical cocaine, truth was rumored to be everywhere but became scarce when you attempted to score.

If your ambition was to make a market in Truth Futures, you were in business. No problem and plenty of willing buyers and sellers. But if you just wanted some truth of your own, to get you through the night, your head was straightened on that score in no time. After a few attempts to lay your hands on some actual truth, you came to understand that such a quest was against the secret rules. Scoring pure, uncut truth was not even a part of the game. It wasn’t what was “happening, man.”

What was happening wasn’t, to be sure, the only game in the big BeHereNow Casino out on Sunset Strip, but it was the most fun and everyone, well, almost everyone, wanted to play at its table hoping that their new and improved revolutionary system for revolution would beat the dealer. After all, not to be part of what was happening in those years was, in a sense, not to be.

So you learned that as long as you confined yourself to speculation of what the Revolution might be like and what the world after the Revolution would be like, there was no end to truth. But if this made you nervous and you asked any of the fellow players for a little hard truth, a little coin of the realm to cover your margin and theirs, they were quite content to drop a brick of Acapulco Gold on your head and call it The Philosopher’s Stone. And because stone was a state of mind, you were left with a headache, a heartache, and overdrawn at the First National Bank of Angst.

Man, you weren’t happening.

What was happening was all that mattered. It was the predominant concern of the decade. “What’s happening?” was a greeting and a secret sign that would determine if you were one of the elect and the saved. It was later compressed, as was most of our secret language, into a statement: “Happening, bro.” Hard to translate now, but it made sense at the time.

Like the ancient and biblical phrase “What is truth?”, “What’s happening?” did not demand any response more specific than a shrug and a suitably stoned smile. A verbal response would be offered only as long as it began in and returned, at regular intervals, to a rippling fog that covered all our shared mental landscapes like the mist in a Japanese samurai movie.

The decade was burnt as crisp and dark as a napalmed child; was as grotesque as a president dangling beagles by the ears or lifting his shirt to display a scar the shape of Southeast Asia on his paunch. But although the grotesque darkness was visible from a distance, it was nearly impossible to discern in close-up. Only perspective makes proportion visible and perspective was, like truth in those years, something always in very short supply.

The world beyond our sheltered enclaves was etched in high relief and we despised it. Our own little hamlets and personal universes were said to exist somewhere beyond the linear-verbal, over the rainbow, on another bardo, and boasted sweeping views of the Twilight Zone. It was a housing development constructed in the ether and, as such, it contained no firm place to stand. It had lots of golden levers of great length and a host of theories that would serve as crystal fulcrums. In conversations fueled late into the nights by espresso, tobacco, jug wine and gage, hashish, and Tijuana Gold, the levers and fulcrums were manipulated without pause and with great skill. But with the elimination of the ether and the sphere of the fixed stars there was, at the end of those long nights and their dreams, no way of using these ornate tools — no matter how long, no matter how precise — to alter the orbit of the Earth.

So it was that we spent most of those years polishing the levers and fulcrums while blithely ignoring the absence of foundations. This didn’t faze us. We were the Cosmic Commandos. To us, truth and lies, granite and quicksand, were mere illusions, shabby manifestations of the material plane, that old rusty reality that everyone on Earth would junk as soon as they saw what we saw, and we saw The Light.

Read more of Gerard Van der Leun’s “Ceremonies of the Horsemen” at American Digest.

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  • Loved it. I was only a suburban hippie at a fine east-coast college at the time, but I caught some of this in the wind.