A Dangerous Drug

This excerpt from Double Mirage, describes the period of time after turned 18 in 1967 to the time I decided to evade the draft in 1969.  

Nineteen years old, and living in Los Angeles, I was a stranger living in a strange land. Some historians might say, “Hey, that’s when Dan was radicalized.” Well, it started way before that, but the experience of the big city greatly shaped my view of the world.

I came from the country, no, not a farm, or a small town somewhere, but from military housing, built adjacent to Lemoore Naval Air Station in California, surrounded by cotton fields and warplanes. My father, an enlisted man, lifer, had a life changing event and spent most of his remaining 30 years in a sanitarium. His home of record was Los Angeles, so my mother decided that’s where he should go.

My mom, a newly licensed driver at age 50, drove us to my Grandmother’s house in Venice, a Los Angeles neighborhood. My body rebelled against this move. Even though I had been to LA before, this time it was different. I was going to live in this vast wilderness of buildings. I felt ill mentally, almost as if the world was moving by me, and I was just a witness.

A few years later I read Sylvia Plath’s, The Bell Jar. Her character, Esther, was on her way to a sanitarium. As she approached the hospital, accompanied by her mother and brother, they crossed a bridge:

Water, sails, blue sky and suspended gulls flashed by like an improbable postcard, and we were across.

It reminded me of my journey.

A week or two later, Mom found an apartment. I had my own room. I gradually assimilated into this new life. I started listening to Pacifica radio, reading the Los Angeles Free Press, and visited their bookstore in Westwood. This is where I bought Revolution for the Hell of It and Soul on Ice, and it is where I got the Tao de Ching and the I Ching.

My politics were getting more left as time went by, greatly influenced by what I was hearing on KPFK, the Pacifica station. But they had more to offer than just politics.

They had Alan Watts.

At this point in my life, I hadn’t “experimented” with drugs. But I was eager to try. Anything that fucks with your mind is a dangerous drug, where it be heroin, LSD, alcohol, the Bible, or Alan Watts.

He was the master of the lecture in that he engrossed the listener into thinking they weren’t being lectured. i painlessly listened as he humorously compared east and western philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity.

He talked about the Tao. I was already familiar with the Tao. Ironically, I was introduced to the Tao by a Navy captain’s son with whom I used to hang out with. We had a little gang who stole alcohol from our neighbor’s refrigerators.

The Tao would become the cornerstone of my life or at least the way it was interpreted by Gia-Fu Feng, specifically the words “The Gate to All Mystery.” Watts, with whom Gia-Fu worked, was called by Watts, “The real thing.”

What it means for me is that I could know and not know simultaneously. Every discovery reveals a deeper mystery, and the greatest knowledge is the acknowledgment of that mystery. I was slowly assimilating my identity as an explorer.

Exploration is another one of those dangerous things. The promise of each journey is enlightenment, but there is a sea of psychosis, and hell fire spitting that can mess with your perfectly intended day.

At night I listened to Alan Watts, but by day there I had classes on western philosophy at Santa Monica City College. I learned everything from Socrates to Descartes. It was taught by two professors. You can tell they loved their job. They hadn’t been disillusioned yet. They are good. And I listened to and thought about each word. I fail both semesters. It was time well spent. It was a wonderful failure.

My not going into the Army depended on me keeping my student deferment. But I didn’t, and I was ordered to report. I didn’t do that either and by April of 1969 I found myself at my friend Linda’s house in Canada.