“I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle around it.” -- Gerald Holtom
Growing up in the sixties, the late nineteen-sixties in particular, was not a good time for a competitive athlete with aspirations of becoming a professional ballplayer; especially one who had been heavily influenced by a radical, left-wing older brother who lived and relished in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Bobby Van Roth excelled in “The Haight” and that area of San Francisco was now considered home. He was handicapped but fit in, even looked up to as were minorities, misfits, druggies, down-an-outs, and others who wanted to escape the ideals of the bourgeois and middle-class. These were the draft dodgers, poetry writers, black sheep, oddballs, rejects, wallflowers, loners, pariahs, vagabonds, vagrants, the lost and the forgotten. These were ... “The Beautiful People.” No chasm existed between red, white, black, brown, or yellow. Discrimination and competition were taboo in “The Haight.” Just about everything else was accepted. Here existed the One-Eye Love -- that abstract unitary Godhead that sees through everyoneʼs eyes, not unlike Friedrich von Schellingʼs unfolding World-Soul -- or as the great German philosopher Georg Hegel would say, that tangled mass of abstractions. We are all one and the same. Freudʼs individual is replaced by Jungʼs universal collective unconsciousness. E Pluribus Unum. Together, we shall be strong -- the individualistʼs nightmare ... an objectivistʼs nightmare. Ayn Rand would have shunned in disgust with her Fountainhead. Davie Van Roth turned a blind eye. Bobby loved it.
Bobby Van Roth was an intellectual misfit who lived in a state of limbo -- a feeling of being a part of the world yet at the same time detached with a fantasia that produced a lack of discipline. Bobby, with his Dionysian characteristics of irrationality, drunkenness, and carelessness, now had the ambition of a rock. His younger brother was no acolyte of traditional thinking for he saw firsthand how his older brother rebelled against the dogma of formal learning. The freethinking ballplayer opted to find out for himself before deciding which road to travel.
Davie Van Roth had all summer to decide on college, but first, made a return visit to San Francisco, this time for a weekʼs stay with older brother Bobby who was now living on Ashbury Street, just a few blocks down the road from 710a Ashbury where the Grateful Dead once lived, and 719 Ashbury, occupied by Hellʼs Angels. It had been two years since he last visited his brother in San Francisco; aka Frisco, Baghdad by the Bay, Fog City, Paris of the West, and City by the Bay.
The scene had changed. The Blue Unicorn was still there but most of the beatniks with their neatly trimmed goatees were not. In vogue now, were scraggly beards with long hair -- shoulder-length and longer, stringy, unwashed, and sometimes dreadlocked. The drab, black turtleneck sweaters of the inconspicuous “beats” were replaced with brightly colored, tie-dyed, surreal psychedelic tees and sweatshirts. The clothing worn now was loud, loose and free-flowing, sometimes Edwardian or Indian guru-like. There were still sandals, flip-flops, and Jesus boots, but often the filthy streets of San Francisco were wandered in a daze and staggered in bare feet. Women wore 100% cotton garb -- long, loose-fitting gowns and skirts with sheer see-through blouses made in India. No bras. Love, or sex was considered free. Here, naive and gullible young girls would lose their virginity to a stranger at some crash house while young men were getting lucky for the first time. Vd ran rampant.
Puka shells, liquid silver, and native Indian turquoise were the preferred jewelry including peace-symboled pendants and earrings. Leather headbands and flower garlands worn in the hair were common sights to see -- “Flower Power.” This new look differentiated the cool from the straight and the hip from the square. The aroma of Patchouli oil or pretentious hygienic procrastination polluted the air. The soft subtle sounds of bongos were replaced with the roar of an Airplane made by Jefferson in the land of a “White Rabbit” where some pills make you larger; others make you small; while the ones that mother gives you donʼt do anything at all.
The low-lying, keep a low profile, donʼt draw attention to yourself “beats” went further into hiding while some came out of their shells to join an evolving younger generation. The colorful, carefree, non-conforming, and often rebellious HIPPIE became the new avant-garde. It was a different scene now. The private revolution wasnʼt private anymore. The hippies were diverse. Some were outspoken radical activists while others were passive and fun-loving souls that flooded the Haight-Ashbury district just to get in on the action. Many of the young men were there to get lost in the crowd and avoid mandatory military service. Favorite hip sayings became: “Far out man,” “Whatʼs happening?” and “Donʼt let the man keep you down.” Their main mottos were: “Tune in, turn on, and drop out” and “Make love, not war.” Colorful protest posters lined the streets of the Haight-Ashbury district portraying: “The Raised Clenched Fist,” “Send Them Tractors Not Tanks,” “Stop Kissing Pig Ass,” “Girls Say Yes To Boys Who Say No,” and “Fuck the Draft.” They protested the oppressive forces of consumerism, imperialism, and militarism, especially the war in Vietnam. They got around in groups by way of the VW bus. Holtomʼs peace symbol, a circled upside-down broken cross, became their official logo.
Like the beats, the hippies had a distrust of traditional, middle-class values and authority. They rejected political and social orthodoxies; instead, turning to Eastern religions, especially Buddhism. They also turned to astrology. The 1960s became the new “Age of Aquarius” -- Hey man, whatʼs your sign? They had no mores for they lived life by no rules. They believed in womenʼs rights, racial equality, and became known as “The Counterculture,” however, unlike the beats, these hippies had a couple of leaders -- Allen Ginsberg, the ex-Beat, and the psychedelic Timothy Leary. Leary was a psychologist who conducted experiments at Harvard involving the use of LSD and psilocybin. Heʼd take you up, bring you down but not necessarily bring you back with your feet on the ground. He got fired. It was Leary who popularized such catchphrases as “turn on, tune in, drop out” and “think for yourself and question authority.” He would see the insides of several prisons. Nixon once described him as the most dangerous man in America.
Leary was educated. He attended College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, went to West Point where he resigned before being court-martialed, then transferred to the University of Alabama. In 1943, Leary graduated with a B.A. in psychology, then received an M.S. degree in Psychology from Washington State in 1946 before receiving his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1950 where he stayed on and became an assistant professor. Leary described his life there as: an anonymous institutional employee who drove to work each morning in a long line of commuter cars and drove home each night and drank martinis ... like several million middle-class, liberal, intellectual robots. He became director of psychiatric research at the Kaiser Family Foundation and then lectured at Harvard only to be fired a second time. In 1955, before leaving Berkeley, his wife committed suicide.
Bobby Van Roth and his childhood buddies were living it up in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and since his younger brother thought his baseball career was over, decided to join the party. “It looked like my brother and his friends were having a lot of fun. Apparently, my baseball career was over, so when Bobbyʼs best friend Johnny Osborne asked if I wanted to join in, I replied, ʻSure, why not?ʼ Since it was my first time, he said heʼd cut the pill in half. I dropped half a tab of “Purple Haze” and waited about forty minutes, expecting to see demons and other hallucinations. I didnʼt see any monsters but began to hallucinate and became super conscious of things around me. The grain in the wood paneling which lined one wall of the kitchen appeared to waver; swaying back and forth like ripples on a pond caused by shifting winds. Sgt. Pepperʼs Lonely Hearts Club Band sounded like music coming out of an echo chamber. Colors were bright and vivid--reds redder and blues bluer. Then, Jimi came to mind.” (Van Roth, Davie. Recollections and Journals of a Ballplayer. June, 1968. pp. 50)
Roy Hobbs, the disappointed ballplayer in The Natural stated, “My goddamn life didnʼt turn out the way I wanted it to.” (Malamud, Bernard. The Natural. Avon Books. NY: Farrar, Straus, and Geroux, 1954. pp 141). Things had not gone Van Rothʼs way and now “Purple Haze” was running through his brain and blowing his mind. He became curious, skeptical, and couldnʼt tell if it was day or night, tomorrow, or the end of time. A spell had been cast. The laughter and dialogue coming from the kitchen seemed vicious and sinister. Something was happening, but he didnʼt like it. It was as if the drug was trying to take control of his mind. Relax and just let it go; go with the flow man, said Johnny Osborne. Instead, he fought it. It was the beginning of a bad experience; the beginning of a bad trip. How long does this stuff last? asked the worried ex-ballplayer. Youʼll be up all night, someone said. He wanted to come down but at the same time, didnʼt want to be a bummer and embarrass his brother, so he said he was going for a walk and get some fresh air. Right on, said Johnny. Check out the scene, man.
It was freezing cold as Van Roth headed down Haight Street. A bone-chilling fog had set in. Mark Twain once said that the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco. Lost-looking hippies were panhandling while clutching little kittens and puppies. Can you spare a smile? Can you spare a dime? The people were strange. Van Roth was strange. The street-people might have been strangers, but most were excessively friendly, as if they were all somehow related or lifelong friends -- “Brotherly Love.” What did they want? He came to an alley where a dark figure just around the corner mumbled, acid, grass, speed? He came to another corner and someone else softly spoke, acid, grass, mesc? The Straight Theater was in sight when someone handed him a flyer: Tonight, June 15 ... $2.00 ... The New Charlatans ... Cleveland Wrecking Company ... Uncut Balloon ... Straight Lighting. The doors were wide open so he stepped inside. A large group of people had gathered, sitting on the floor with legs crossed, Yoga-style, while waiting for a concert to begin. Reefers were passed around as were large pickle jars filled with pills while a light show of ultraviolet light produced an atmosphere of surrealism. Strange, multicolored lights were flashing and swirling all around like a giant lava lamp filled with Day-Glo paint being magnified through a rotating overhead light projector -- a scene right out of Hesseʼs Steppenwolf, a novel that sat on the fourth shelf of Van Rothʼs library. Although surrounded by hundreds of people, he felt alone, for the “outsider” sees the world with all its absurdity and stands outside while looking in.
Not for me, thought Van Roth and left, walking quickly until reaching Golden Gate Park. There, he came upon a large hill, Hippie Hill, where fifty to sixty hippies sat around listening to the twang of box guitars. Mary Jane was there. He turned and paced back down Haight Street passing the I and Thou Coffee Shop, House of Richard, the Mnasidka, The Blushing Peony boutique, Wild Colors craft shop, The Phoenix head shop, and The Oracle of San Francisco Publishing Company. So, whatcha think? asked Johnny Osborne upon his return. Far out, said Van Roth before heading off to the living room so he would be left alone. He was trippinʼ but certainly not having a good time. He couldnʼt eat. His stomach was upset and paranoia was setting in. Donʼt freak out, he thought. He would have to power his way through the rest of the night, never succumbing; never giving in to the mind-altering drug. He no longer desired nor cared for any higher consciousness. Purple haze was misery.
The same spool coffee table, now full of burn marks from forgotten cigarettes, was still there, but the books were different. The works of beat-writers were stashed away and replaced by Kierkegaardʼs Either/Or, Nietzscheʼs Thus Spake Zarathustra, Sartreʼs Being and Nothingness, and Camusʼ The Stranger, among other works of existentialism. He read from Camusʼ The Myth of Sisyphus: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest - whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories - comes afterwards. These are games..... At this point of his effort, man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world...” (Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. NY: Vintage Books, 1961. pp. 3)
Also, on that makeshift table was a copy of Learyʼs The Psychedelic Experience, a guide for LSD trips and loosely based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It was Aldous Huxley, author of The Doors of Perception from which the rock band The Doors adopted their name, who first turned Leary on to this tome of ancient Eastern mysticism which supposedly, provides a key to the innermost regions of the mind for those seeking a path of liberation. Leary attempts to link his LSD or “acid trips” to the death of oneʼs past and old ego before becoming spiritually reborn. Bobby Van Roth most certainly wanted to liberate himself from his nightmarish handicap.
Mrs. Van Roth had talked about the two brothers being close and often staying up all hours of the night reading and discussing books, and that baseball wasnʼt the only game that Bobby had taught his younger brother. Davie Van Roth was having second thoughts. In the past, he had looked up to, admired, and respected his older brother, even defended and fought for him; but now was having doubts -- doubts about his expulsion from the baseball team; doubts about his brother; doubts about God. For the last eight years, baseball and life had gone hand-in-hand but his asceticism towards the game had turned sour, and his austerity regarding life itself was beginning to waver. He had lost his religion and began to question his own ontology.
Davie Van Roth spent the rest of his stay “coming down,” mostly taking long melancholic walks on the beach near the Cliff House restaurant, the Panhandle, and nearby Golden Gate Park. From Stanyan Street, he walked the length of the three-and- a-half-mile park, zigzagging his way to the Pacific Ocean. He first strolled past Shakespeareʼs Garden on his way to the Academy of Sciences exhibit where he came across a huge bronze replica of Rietshelʼs “Goethe and Schiller.” The twelve-foot statue survived the 1906 quake and by a city mayor who wanted the magnificent structure melted and recast in the name of Joan of Arc. Tear down and destroy a work of art that represents an historic time in history?
Upon entering the Japanese Tea Gardens, he walked up to a giant wooden Buddha and thought: So, Siddhartha. Iʼve read about your adventures. You've influenced Jung, Watts, and Hesse; and you've been praised by Schopenhauer, Einstein, and Bertrand Russell. You turned the Great Alexanderʼs Pyrrho into a skeptic who detached himself from the world and found Nirvana. Iʼm also skeptical, troubled, have failed to reach my goal, and would like to find peace. You say not to be led astray; not by tradition, hearsay, authority, religion, logic, neither appearances nor idea. What then?
After reaching the parkʼs west side, he sat atop a sandy dune, facing the Pacific in a surreal bank of fog, absorbing the misty sea-breeze while contemplating in a heavy, ponderous blue funk. His emotions were now confused layers of somber numb as he fell into solitary reflection. Whatʼs happening? What has happened? Van Rothʼs vision for the past ten years had been dimmed and blinded by the dogma of baseball. Life as a slave to this baptism and living in Platoʼs cave, or life lived in the dancing shadows of reality, had been safe but the blinders of narrow-mindedness had been removed. He walked out of the dark and awakened, realizing a concrete world, an imperfect world, the unprotected world of existentialism, and this real world was confusing. His thoughts were now misgiving. Behind him stood a great Dutch windmill, standing seven stories high and marking the parkʼs west entrance. It was flanked by a grove of giant windswept Monterey Cypress as if protecting the huge structure from Don Quixote and sidekick Sancho. Had Van Roth been chasing shadows? Was baseball quixotic?
The tunes of humankind heard two years ago when he first visited “The Haight” sang a different song from that heard now. No longer were the cheerful sounds coming from transistor radios, picnickers, joggers and hikers, frisbee throwers, softball tossers, flag footballers, and dog walkers. The return walk was crestfallen. Once touristy merrymaking turned gloomy at the eastern end of the park. Hair and cheap jewelry got longer, beards and goatees unkept, clothing wrinkled and shabby. Sleeping bags and bedrolls were evident. Garbage was piling up. Guilty-looking speeders and cranksters were sleaze-balling about. The Salvation Army, Hare Krishnas, and other religious promoters were prevalent. These were the locals -- the homeless, the downtrodden, the down-on-their-luck druggies, the dope dealers, panhandlers, and other leftovers from “The Haightʼs” glory days. The Human Be-in of 1967 and the "Summer of Love" that followed had been buried. We wanted to signal that this was the end of it, to stay where you are, bring the revolution to where you live and don't come here because it's over and done with, said Mary Kasper.
Busloads of gawking old fogies began touring “The Haight.” Police were cracking down, busting heads. Drug dealers ran off the free trade, now charging a dime-spot for a three-finger lid and a c-note for a pound of weed, often a compressed brick of alfalfa. The carefree lifestyle of the acidhead and pothead had competition with cranksters, speeders, and heroin addicts. There were no more free concerts as greedy promoters were now in charge. “The Cause” had ceased and the hippies began to move north in hoards, across the Golden Gate into Sausalito and beyond. They invaded Ukiah, Willits, Humboldt County, the Oregon coast, Washington, and Canada where they joined thousands that had already fled there. Another utopia bites the dust. Although the party had crashed and the big gala was over, the Haight-Ashbury district was still considered home for Bobby Van Roth.
Aimlessly, a disillusioned Davie Van Roth wandered throughout the park before finding himself staring at a great monument. The life-sized sculpture of a base ball pitcher had toured art exhibitions in New York and San Francisco before William E. Brown of the Southern Pacific Railroad bought the statue and donated it to the city of San Francisco provided it be showcased at Golden Gate Park where it still stands today across from the Garfield Monument near the Conservatory of Flowers. Douglas Tilden, hailed as the Michelangelo of the West, was born in Chico, California in 1860. Scarlet fever left him a deaf-mute at age five. Two years later, he entered the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley, California and later attended UC Berkeley before leaving for Paris, France to study art. In 1889, while in France, Tilden created "The National Game,” also known as "The Base Ball Player,” recognized as the most famous, classic baseball art-piece of all-time. To Davie Van Roth, the great statue meant ... nothing.