Robin Glen was not really the name of the town where I grew up, but as names go, it fits well enough. Orange groves carpeted the valleys. Avocado trees brushed the russet-colored hills. Snow-capped mountains glistened on the far horizon. In the days of my youth, Robin Glen was very much like one of those postcards they made about Southern California back in the fifties.
The town was so far off the beaten path, the eucalyptus lined back roads simply wandered up into the hills and stopped. Lots were zoned for folks to have farm animals in their backyards and most of them did. There was no proper civic center. A wooden packing plant and several aging office buildings alongside it served that function as much as anything else. Robin Glen’s ersatz municipal offices were down another nearby back street and possessed all the import of a weigh station. Few even knew of their existence.
I came of age in that town in the early sixties, in a Tom Sawyer kind of existence, and it was probably a bit more magical than that. As kids, we rafted down the Willowtree River on hot summer afternoons. We climbed to the tops of eucalyptus trees and swayed in the Santana winds. We haunted farmlands that ran through the valley and caught crawdads from old irrigation channels shaded by wild oaks and sycamores. My girlfriend Lila had a white horse and rode it like Lady Godiva once, out by the old reservoir. I knew a princess named Guinevere, who made two cops disappear. Yet the latter days of my youth were spent wandering that rustic valley in a growing state of confusion, loneliness and despair, looking for change, looking for adventure, looking for any kind of friend.
I presume that feeling of being lost and longing to gaze over the next hill have burdened every generation, since times immemorial, but they seemed to be particularly onerous in mine. Growing up in the sixties was to pass through a world of change and upheaval. The places of my youth were uprooted as I stood there. Things that surrounded me at ten years old simply weren’t there when I turned fifteen. I started out in life, believing we could change the world. I ended up struggling to find the ground under our feet. Hopes and dreams, I soon learned, held little currency with those who had come before me.
Conversely, my two older brothers came of age in the fifties, with bebop in place of the Beatles and conformity in place of the Vietnam War. There were no mind-altering drugs, no civil rights movement and few ideals. The most important thing to them was having good looking chicks and driving fast cars.
When they were of high school age, our family resided in the poor part of town, the result of my father having filed for bankruptcy before we moved out to California. We had a modest home in a neighborhood mostly populated by Okies. Droves and droves of these farm folks had come pouring out of the southern plains and into our cookie-cutter neighborhood, just about the time we were pulling in from New England. Two years after we arrived, half the block was still raw dirt. Few of these Okies ever bothered to landscape their front yards. To them, the front of the house was a place to park your truck.
Long before any of us arrived there, the Mexicans had burrowed their way into the older neighborhoods across town. I rarely saw them except at school or when I walked to the old movie theater downtown. Unlike the Okies, the Mexicans primped and made their homes nice, but white folks never much accepted them and a lot of their kids turned to gangs growing up.
In response, my two older brothers formed a gang of their own and made a point of beating the crap out of their Mexican counterparts as often as they could. If my brothers weren’t chasing girls or beating up on Mexicans, they were poking fun at the Okies. They got a lot of miles out of walking up and down in front of our house, their pants pulled down low to show the crack in their asses, pretending to be a couple of hicks.
All this represented a premature coming of age for me. At five or six years old, I witnessed young men with pompadours doing the hanky panky with high school girls wearing mohair sweaters in the back seat of hot rod cars. I saw my two older brothers drinking beer and kicking ass and was led to be curious about things long before it ever occurred to the other kids in my class.
Thus, I became something of a pied piper, and a scourge to all the parents who encountered me.
“Don’t bring that Paulie kid around here anymore.”
By the time my father became successful again and bought the house in Robin Glen, that had become the recurring theme of my young life.
We hadn’t been in Robin Glen two weeks when a construction crew came and installed a pool in our backyard. A snazzy enclosed patio followed. There was a fountain off to one side and orange trees along the back fence.
By then, what had been a sweet poet of a young boy had become a full-fledged rebel. Having watched my two older brothers grow up, and having battled endlessly with my father, I was already a bad seed at eleven years old. I remember deciding, what the hell. If everyone thinks I’m trouble, I may as well embrace the part.
Then I met Lila and a bit of my cynicism fell away. We had chanced upon each other on the way home from school one day. It was one of those autumn days with blue skies and passing clouds. One look and I was swept away.
Lila was very fair of skin, with almost white hair. Early on, we rode her horse out by the old reservoir and made love on a blanket beneath a sycamore tree. Both of Lila’s parents were college professors and when they learned about us having sex, a crash course on birth control followed, along with instructions to do it in the house, not out in the woods. And don’t tell anyone about the arrangements. Their concern was for our safety, nothing else.
I spent many of my summer days rafting down the Willowtree River with my friends, drinking beer and doing all the crazy things that young boys will do when left alone in the world. Then one day my eldest brother turned me onto marijuana and my journey into rebelliousness had taken a radical new turn. Old friends disappeared. New ones came into my life.
Later that year, when Lila learned I had smoked grass, she came around in a sports car with this older guy named Jim. I crammed into the backseat and we went to smoke a joint up in the hills.
Coming on, I suddenly felt claustrophobic and tried to crawl up front for a breath of fresh air. After a good laugh, we drove to a local burger joint and satisfied our munchies.
The Beatles had come out with Revolver that Christmas and Lila brought the album over during a big party at our house. Lila and I snuck off to make love behind the twin beds in my bedroom. After we had dressed, Lila told me about hanging out with The Doors and Love on the Sunset Strip. She knew Leary and had access to Owsley vials from her friends in Laguna. She had not told me any of these things, for fear I would blow her cover. Now that I had turned on, she figured she could trust me.
The next night, Lila took me over to this Victorian house in the old part of town. The Jefferson Airplane was playing when we went into the dimly lit living room. Incense burned. Everyone was getting ready to go out for the night. A guy with hair down to his waist was sitting in a wing back chair, lacing up a pair of knee high moccasins. Wanting to look cool, I lit up a joint from my own stash and passed it to him. He broke out in laughter. Not yet very proficient at the enterprise, the joint was more paper than grass.
“Hey,” he called out. “You’ve got to come see this joint.”
A couple of guys came in and they had a good laugh. I wanted to hide.
Once the laughter had subsided, Lila showed me how to roll a proper joint. A lot more happened that night. I saw my first rolling machine. I experienced my first freak nightclub and light show. I learned how to turn a filtered cigarette into a joint. By the following week, I was a master at turning out bombers.
Both my parents were working that year so as school started up again, three of my new friends took to stopping by the house every morning to smoke a joint. Sometimes it rained and we had to smoke the joint inside. Then we spent half an hour trying to get the smell out of the living room. A bottle of Visine was passed around and off we went to school.
It was a magical time in Robin Glen, but it didn’t take long for the cops to figure us out. With only a half dozen or so people getting high on campus, there wasn’t a lot of detective work involved.
The first time they shook us down, we were coming out of a pizza parlor on a Friday night. In those days, pizza parlors always had a guy playing old barrel house piano tunes. He’d wear garters on his arms and a straw hat on his head.
The squad car came careening into the parking lot and two cops piled out. They searched high and low but could find nothing on us or in the car. A big lecture followed. We acted repentant until they drove away, then laughed our asses off. The dope was hidden inside the air filter under the hood.
Over time the cops harassing us got to be a joke. I think they had two detectives solely dedicated to putting us behind bars, without any success.
At sundry moments, they would pull up alongside our car and smile.
“We know you’re doing it. We’ll get you one of these days.”
They had it out for me personally in the worst way. It was a personal grudge that went back to the previous year, when I first ran away from home. The minute I turned 15 ½, I bought a motorcycle. The next time I had a fight with the old man, I hit the road.
Through one of my older brothers, I knew a lady down at the beach who let me sleep in her converted garage. It was a free standing building that faced onto a back alley. I had it made until I rode back to see my friends in Robin Glen one day. First stop sign and a truant officer pulls up alongside me. After a wild chase, they threw me into juvenile hall.
My mom came to pick me up after work and took me home. My father cuffed me around that same night so I took off again. The next time they caught me, my father left me to rot in juvenile hall for two days. I paced that cell, back and forth, back and forth, like a caged tiger. When I wasn’t pacing, I was beating on the door.
Given my checkered past, the cops just naturally assumed that I was the one leading all the other kids astray. I was the Pied Piper, taking all the blame.
It was sometime the next spring when Guinevere moved into our town. Everyone stopped in their tracks at the sight of her. She had long, willowy hair and grace of a princess. She seemed to float on air.
Somewhere along the way, Guinevere became friends with Paula and Paula was part of our gang, so we began to see Guinevere after school on a regular basis. One day the boys and I stopped by Paula’s place to smoke some hash. Guinevere was there, curled up on the sofa. Incense burned in the darkened room. Blonde on Blonde was playing on the turntable.
Guinevere took the pipe from me, delicately took a hit and passed it on. In conversation, her wind chime voice joined in brief, esoteric statements.
The boys and I were planning to go up to Stonehenge that night, Stonehenge being the massive remnants of an abandoned foundation, jutting out from a hillside and looking out over the city. We often went up there to get high and talk about the world.
When the subject came up that afternoon in Paula’s living room, to my surprise, Guinevere jumped in just like she was one of the boys.
As we hiked up towards Stonehenge that night, Guinevere reached out her delicate hand for my support. I felt like a prince to her princess the minute she touched me.
We sat smoking hash and drinking wine and talking for a couple of hours, then headed back to my car. Guinevere sat in front with me. David and two other friends sat in the back. I started the engine and turned on my lights. All of a sudden, a cop turned on his flashing lights down at the other end of the narrow dead-end road. A moment later, he was barreling down on us as fast.
With little time to react, Guinevere told everyone to give her their paraphernalia and she placed it in her purse. I handed the piece of hash to David. The last I saw of it, he was chewing away. I had my doubts about that enterprise working out. The piece of hash was the size of a hockey puck.
Having parked across my bow, the cops got out and sauntered up to my car. One of them shined his flashlight in my face, the other one in the back seat. They both smiled at seeing me. They figured they had me good at last.
While the one cop asked for my license and registration, the other cop kept an eye on things in back.
“What are you chewing on?” I heard him say.
“Gum,” David said.
It came out a bit garbled. I almost laughed. What presence of mind. Gum. David had the countenance of a Buddha.
We were asked to get out of the car. One cop watched while the other one patted us down. They searched me first, found nothing and led me over to the squad car. I glanced once at David. He was still chewing on the hash. One by one, David and our other two friends were patted down and led over to stand by me. I noticed David had stopped chewing and figured he had swallowed the hash. He looked all right for the moment. I assumed he would need a stomach pump before the night was through.
They searched Guinevere last. Or, more precisely, they viewed her royal face, her willowy body, her tight pants, her lace blouse and asked her to empty the purse on the hood of the squad car. Altogether, they soon had two pipes, some rolling papers, a rolling machine and what looked like some marijuana fragments lined up in a nice row. As evidence went, it wasn’t much, but for a police force that had been trying to bust me for two years, it was enough.
They were handcuffing me when Guinevere asked if she could talk privately with the lead cop. Off they went, about thirty paces away, just far enough so none of us could overhear the conversation. Guinevere spoke quietly. Several times she touched the cop’s forearm. A couple of times he spoke back to her. Five minutes later they came back.
The cop who had been talking to Guinevere took his partner out of earshot and spoke with him for a minute. Then they both came back. The head cop tugged on his belt buckle, gave everyone the once over and turned his attention to me.
“You’re real lucky, buddy. If it wasn’t for your friend Guinevere here, I’d be slamming the cell door shut on your ass right now.”
He came over and took the handcuffs off me.
“I’m going to keep all this evidence and if I catch any of you again with so much as one marijuana seed, this stuff will get thrown in with the bust. Now get out of here. And don’t let me catch you parking up here again.”
It was the sort of statement that did not need a response, not even a thank you. Back in my car, I drove off as fast as the law would allow. The minute we were around the first bend, I looked back at David.
“How are you feeling?” I asked him.
“I feel fine,” he said.
“I mean, the hash. Do you think you’re going to OD?”
“I didn’t eat it.”
“What do you mean?”
At that moment, Guinevere reached into her pants and pulled out the piece of hashish. We passed under a street light and I noticed that it had teeth marks on it everywhere and a few curly hairs.
“Wow, what happened?” I asked David.
“When the one cop was patting you down, I handed the hash to Guinevere and she stuck it down her pants.”
I glanced again at this mangled thing with the pubic hairs sticking out of it.
“Well, who’s got another pipe?” I asked and everyone laughed.
“I do at home,” Guinevere said so we drove straight to her parent’s house. It was a large, stucco place, surrounded by orange groves. Guinevere had a room with a private entrance in back. We sat smoking hash and listening quietly to Blonde on Blonde again. I was still in shock over our brush with the law. David asked Guinevere what she had told the cop but she refused to discuss it.
“I promised I would never tell anyone.”
We all had our theories but that was all she ever said.
Time went on and one day I heard that Guinevere had fallen in love with a college professor. The two of them got married and moved to another town. I heard she stopped by once to say hello to some old friends but I never saw her again.
By the time summer rolled around that year, all my friends had cars and had mostly gone their separate ways. I drove out to the old reservoir one afternoon and sat there thinking about all the old times. Everyone was moving on with their lives but I was without direction. It occurred to me that innocence was something you knew and understood only after you had lost it.
I was thinking of the first time Lila and I had made love, out there by the reservoir, with the sounds of birds and nature around us, when she came riding across the glen on her white pony, naked as Lady Godiva. She had let her straight blonde hair grow down to her waist and it was almost white in the sun. She smiled at me from across the meadow once, as if she knew why I had come there, then disappeared back among the trees.
Enchanted by her appearance, I realized anew how much the two of us were kindred spirits—two loners, never to be entirely a part of society. We would always be naked on a horse, riding through this world.
I sat there until dark that day with the image of Lila lingering in my mind. In a way, it was all I had left of my childhood. Nothing remained of the things I had touched. All I had were the memories in my heart.
I had learned it was the one thing the world could never take away from me.