A TEMPERING OF DREAMS is a novel: pure fantasy with imaginary characters, and no effort whatsoever at historical accuracy. It is based on remembered images of a bygone time, and has no particular purpose beyond enjoyment. It will appear serially as each chapter is completed; there is no schedule. MG,Jr.
“Oh man!, I’d give up every kind of drug if I could get a motorcycle.” Balmy spring sunshine fell through Bernie’s long brown wavy curls and onto his Italian Renaissance painting of a face, which gave its smooth light skin a soft glow while casting his slightly sunken cheeks into muted shadows. Joe had just told him of a classmate whose father was gifting his son with a new Honda 350, and Bernie just shook his head slowly and gave his reaction to the news in the typically soft calm laconic way in which he spoke, moved, and did everything.
The three of them were shambling across the ragged green lawn inside the Men’s Dormitory Quadrangle in the Spring of 1969, each thinking about something completely different from sitting inside stuffy college lecture halls taking notes on the droning instruction they would need to pass exams on to prove to their Draft Boards that they deserved to keep their student deferments from military service.
Joe was the guru of marijuana rituals in the freshman dorm where Sergio had met him in the Fall Semester of 1968, and been initiated into the smoking arts in Joe’s dorm room bubble of nighttime darkness suffused with Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” issuing from the little record player. Joe, Sergio and a few others on that third floor smoked grass at night as if ancient Hopi men enwombed below ground in a darkened kiva immersed in their merged meditations. As freshmen not from rich families, and shy, these guys had no chance of gaining any of the coeds’s attention at the mixers put on by the Resident Advisors of the men’s and women’s dorms, because there were always plenty of upperclass men with cars, money, grass and experience in attendance, to offer the freshman girls much better opportunities for fun, and better prospects for their husband hunting.
So Joe’s nightly hazy blue bubble of Dylan-infused darkness, with sporadic little orange flashes of flame pulsing out of matchheads and into joints being sucked on, was a refuge from a dangerous and unfriendly world for these boys fresh out of high school and precariously shielded from the Vietnam War by the uncertain promises of their 2-S student deferments.
Joe had a hooked nose set above thin lips always cast into a slight smile for a pleasant face rimmed by dark bushy hair that made him look like a bemused lanky overgrown cherubim. Joe was from Colorado and wanted to be a poet, but his rancher and coal business father insisted he major in economics and plan on joining his company. That is why Joe had made sure to get himself into the University in Philadelphia instead of going to college at Colorado State, and he was hoping to figure out a way of escaping from his preprogrammed fate before graduation in four years, or perhaps sooner if the draft came after him since his grades, except in English, kept sinking. Joe smoked dope all the time, both for his poetic art, and just to make the best use of time during the uncertain duration of his term of freedom.
As usual, Joe was dressed in his blue pajamas, red bathrobe and tawny corduroy bedroom slippers, whose soles were worn ragged by always being scrapped along the asperous surfaces of the sidewalks and streets of the campus and the city, by Joe’s shuffling gait. He was accompanying Bernie on his way to meet Bernie’s friend on the far side of the Quadrangle from whom Bernie got his psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. Bernie, who was Joe’s supplier of grass, had fallen under the spell of mushrooms and acid, and had introduced Joe to psilocybin who also fell in love with it. So Joe was going along with Bernie to buy some for himself. Sergio got his weed from Joe, who was sweet and hardly ever took any money for it, in this he was a missionary: “Everybody must get stoned.”
Sergio liked these two easygoing guys. Bernie was the stereotypical image of a tall lanky hippy. He was bare chested except for a loose and open rawhide vest with dangling strands of fringing that swayed as he walked, he had a rainbow of colors beaded necklace threaded by a rawhide shoelace that hung down to his breastbone, and a similar bracelet that hung loosely around his slender wrist. His unbelted bell-bottom blue jeans were faded, with the frayed stringy bottom edges of the overlong legs dragging along the ground and drooping over his big dusty bare feet. He was beautiful, Jesus never looked better. Bernie was a biology major, maybe. He wanted to walk through verdant landscapes under sunny skies catching glimpses of wildlife, and collecting mushrooms in the woods. Bernie Petrocelli’s people were Italian, his father ran a small produce market in a rural town.
Sergio had joined Bernie and Joe Willis on this languid trek because he wanted to see what the single occupancy dorm rooms for upperclass men looked like in the only corner of the Men’s Quad where they had them, because he’d applied for one for the following Fall Semester of his sophomore year. Sergio was an engineering major because he liked airplanes and submarines and motorcycles and sports cars, and dreamed about someday having his very own sports car manufacturing company like Enzo Ferrari. Sergio wanted to build his own slinky fast-moving motorized chariots. Like Joe, Sergio Romero was of average height unlike willowy Bernie who was noticeably taller, and Sergio dressed like the typical suburban New York kid that he was: with a soft-patterned button-down long-sleeve cotton shirt open at the collar, golden-colored brushed cotton bell bottom jeans cinched with a thin wide brown leather belt that was closed by being looped around through a big brass ring, and squarish suede shoes. Sergio was a Puerto Rican from New York. He had dark wavy hair that he’d let grow out over his ears and down his neck, a wide nose, brown eyes, and a moustache like that of the 1940s movie stars he liked, and that trailed off the upper corners of his thick-lipped mouth, and he had a coffee-and-cream colored skin tone.
The idea of that Honda 350 motorcycle made them all think, especially after hearing Bernie, the most committed pharmacologist of altered consciousness that both Joe and Sergio knew, admit so frankly at how fulfilling possession of such a transport mechanism could be in comparison to all his chemical forms of daring personal exploration. While Joe thought the idea very appealing, as Arlo Guthrie had expressed in song, he still believed some caution was warranted because his hero, Bob Dylan, had been laid up for quite some time the previous year after he’d fallen off his Triumph motorcycle on one of the byways of Woodstock, and Richard Fariña — “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me” — had fatally fallen off of his own motorcycle in Carmel, California three years earlier. And nobody believed Joe would ever give up grass for anything, because it formed his protective cloud of sanity.
Sergio had read the road test report on the Honda 350, “It’s got a twin cylinder overhead valve four-stroke engine,” he told them. He routinely read car and motorcycle magazines, and he hoped to save up his summer job earnings to be able to buy one in maybe two years. He figured that remote as the prospect of getting that bike was for him, it was still more likely than being able to get a girlfriend, and probably safer. Bernie and Joe would have wanted girlfriends too, but that seemed impossible for all of them under their present circumstances. So thank God for weed, and mushrooms, and car magazines, and Joe’s record player, and Draft Cards with 2-S printed on them. Maybe next year they’d each meet and win over some lovely freshman coeds.
They reached the far side of the Quad, with an archway shaped entrance to that 19th century pseudo Oxford-Cambridge architectural style brick-red masonry complex of sleeping quarters that was everywhere edged and trimmed with sandstone ornamentation that featured so prominently in the promotional photographs used by the University. Bernie and Joe entered and went off to the left to find their supplier, while Sergio went right to seek out the first floor room he’s been told he could inspect. It was narrow, the size of a small storage room, which is probably what it had been until the 1940s, and just big enough for a single bed and a desk, and a tight little closet. It had a small window high up at the far end above the desk. What else could he possibly need?, since he expected to just sleep there, and be studying math and physics and chemistry most of his time awake, and go out for meals and doing his laundry.
Sergio arrived at the main archway shaped entrance to the Quad from 38th Street, halfway back from his room inspection at the far side of the Quad, and went to the checkerboard of mailboxes under the archway. He unlocked the one for his room and took out a long envelope. It was a letter from his mother, and that was always nice. He walked happily past the line of stinking Ginkgo trees along the side of the building at the close end of the Quad, and into his Residence Hall, upstairs to his room, and sat on his bed opening his letter. A check made of light blue paper fell out, $100, he loved his mother. He pulled out a sealed letter from the envelope, it was from the Draft Board. That could not be good, his heart sank, his stomach tightened, and his asshole puckered.
A cover letter stated: “You have been reclassified as 1-A because of your academic failure to maintain the grades necessary to merit a Student Deferment.” A new Draft Card was enclosed, with “1-A, immediately available for military service” printed on it. A second letter began: “You have been selected for military service….” and went on to require Sergio to report to a Draft Reporting center in New York City by the end of the month.
Panicked, Sergio rushed to Kenn Lancaster’s suite on the first floor of his Residence Hall. Kenn was a graduate student writing a thesis in political science, and had the job of being the local Resident Advisor in this freshman residence hall. Kenn was a cleancut man from Shaker Heights, Ohio, with light straight thinning hair, a narrow face, and who dressed in the casual collegiate men’s style of the time of button-down shirts, slacks and penny loafers. Kenn’s suite was supplied with a telephone, and Sergio quickly explained his need for using it. Kenn nodded seriously, and walked off to let Sergio make his call.
“How can you say I failed academically? I made the Dean’s List, and I have the letter to prove it. How can you take away my student deferment, you’ve made a terrible mistake!”
The witch at the Draft Board answered in her nasally voice, “You have to come in and report, follow the instructions in the letter.”
“But you’re completely wrong!, you’ve made a mistake!”
“Your name is Sergio Romero, right?”
“Well our records show that you flunked out of college, so you no longer deserve a student deferment.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. You’ve obviously confused me with someone else.”
“It doesn’t matter, once we start the process we just keep going.”
Sergio was thunderstruck. He put the phone down, standing still, his mind paralyzed. Kenn came out of his bedroom and up to him, and Sergio told him what had happened. Kenn took the Draft Notice out of Sergio’s hand and read it through. “You know,” he said, “at the bottom here in small print it says if you have any objections to this notice, you can write a letter to the Draft Board asking for a review hearing of your case and your reasons for wishing an excusal.”
“The end of the month. I’ll bet it would buy you some time.”
Sergio rushed back to his room and immediately typed out a letter to the Draft Board, requesting a review hearing, on the mechanical Olympia typewriter his father had given him as a High School graduation present. He threw on a corduroy jacket, left, took his letter straight to the Men’s Quad Post Office, behind where the mailbox array was, bought an envelope and stamp, sealed the letter and addressed it, and put it in the US Mail postbox.
Then he went out across 38th Street and down to College Hall, bypassing it since he had no appetite for eating a bland mushy Meal Plan dinner in the Dining Room, and across the Campus Green under the oaks and maples to 40th Street, and into Smokey Joe’s. He asked for a beer at the bar, which he knew he’d get since he dressed conservatively enough, and sported a moustache, which both made him appear like an over twenty-one-year-old man legally allowed to buy beer, instead of an underage 19-year-old college kid. He went over to the cigarette machine, popped in two quarters, and pulled the lever for a pack of Winston’s. He lit one up and sucked in that first sweet tobacco flavored hit of little death, sulking over his beer.
Three people walked into the darkly wood paneled cavern that was Smokey Joe’s, from the dusky light out on 40th Street, two men and a woman. The men were the usual sort of shaggy-haired loosely dressed college men, obviously not freshmen, maybe frat boys. The woman was stunning. She was tall, statuesque, with a full bosom like Sophia Loren, nicely rounded not overlarge butt discernible under her dark brown miniskirt sashed with a braided belt, and long lovely white legs extending below that brief enticing veil over velvety dreams. She wore a large brimmed dark brown floppy hat from which cascaded long glistening waves of lush dark wavy hair that framed her smooth almond shaped face with its bright dark eyes under unplucked brushy brows, a rounded nose and full lips beneath which white teeth flashed out through her animated smiles as she spoke with her male companions. She wore a short fake fur jacket opened in front, giving a fine view of the rolling hills carpeted in a stretched maroon turtleneck blouse.
“What’ll you have, Elena?” her trailing wolves inquired.
“Oh, just a Pepsi.” Which the men ordered along with with their beers and three slices of pizza. Sergio watched that fluttering vision of feminine loveliness eating her pizza and sipping her Pepsi, obviously amused and delighted by the eagerly hopeful attentions from the two guys whose simulations of knowledgeable maturity and cool were being projected with anticipation. Sergio took slow drags on his cigarette between sips of his beer, watching from across the room.
“A Pepsi,” so Elena was a freshman. That meant she lived just down 40th Street from Smokey Joe’s, at Hill House, the very modern Women’s Dormitory, which would definitely have a reliable heating system, and also housed its own fine quality Dining Hall. Hill House was a square smooth-face red brick colored three story building centered in its own green adjacent to grassy playing fields, and surrounded by an empty moat fenced on the outside with a tall black iron fence whose sturdy vertical railings were topped with deeply hooked outward and downward facing spikes. It was a fortress, and the only way in or out was across a causeway, gated at both ends, over the moat to the barred pair of heavy doors of the guarded entryway. The outer gate was opened at 8 am and closed at 10 pm, and the entrance was always guarded to prevent any but the resident girls from entry during visiting hours without permission from one of the girls, who could appear in person to escort her guest in from the reception lobby, but usually just called over to the entry desk from her room suite, which all had telephones. The Hill House girls lived in the modern 20th century of the 1960s, the Men’s Quad boys lived in the tattered remnants of the 19th.
Sergio felt a tap on his left shoulder. It was Joe, he’d not seen him come in. “I see you are observing the circling of Ruffed Grouse about an alluring hen,” he said with his usual smile.
“And I notice you are indulging in traditional libations and aromatics. You must be cogitating on deep matters.”
“Yeah Joe, they took away my 2-S”
“Oh, that is indeed deeply disturbing. Why?” and Sergio told him the story.
“Well, then we must await the correspondence in a week or two. Did you eat?”
“Agreed. Why don’t I buy a pizza here, and we repair ourselves to my room, to nourish our bodies there, and our spirits with some grass? Tomorrow you can begin thinking of what might have to be done, tonight we can just be.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s do it.” And Sergio finished his smoke and beer while Joe ordered the pizza and they waited for it. He then noticed that Elena and her suitors had left while he had been talking with Joe. Maybe she went to their frat house to smoke some joints and play pool, he could imagine her leaning over in her miniskirt to take a long shot across the pool table, or maybe she just went back to Hill House to study, but she looked too popular for that. Anyway, now he had a mission: “Get laid before I get killed in Vietnam.”
“Bernie gave me some hash,” said Joe, dropping a green pellet into a short squat onyx pipe. “Take a hit” he said solicitously, flicking his lighter onto the hash as Sergio sucked in the burning haze hard. His mind unglued and he expanded out into viscous sensation. He and Joe traded hits from the pipe consuming the hashish till they were each far gone deep into their own vast private inky stoned nothingness. Outside Joe’s window the night was black and still.
A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 2
10 May 2022