You can read the previous entries of Sunsh Stein’s memoir in the following issues of Ducts:
It was the early 1970s and magic permeated the air on the 165 lush acres of upstate New York called Chillum Farm. The world belonged to us — a scruffy, skinny bunch of passionate hippies — and unconditional love and marijuana made anything possible. We planned to change the world by example, living simply with no electricity, plumbing or telephone, working the land and growing much of our own food, and sharing everything. Our lives ran happily on circuits-overload as we worked and partied till we dropped. Celebrating the demise of the nuclear family we created a dysfunctional one of our own. And like the typical American family we lived with hopes, dreams, tractors, sex, chain saws, gardens, animals, births, food, nudity, singing, and ultimately, relationships that went awry.
In this installment, Bobby Dubie pays a visit to the farm.
When I woke the morning after the summer solstice party and could focus, I glanced at Spindle’s bed and saw a mass of tangled blond hair. Looking more closely I saw that it was Patrick, sleeping, one arm thrown over Spindle. When I’d dragged my ass to bed after the rain dance, they were outside with the others. I smiled, slid out of bed, got dressed, and went down to the kitchen.
When they came down the stairs a while later, we greeted them with a sing-songy group chorus: “Good morning Spindle. Good morning Patrick.” Spindle’s face flushed, and Patrick grinned. He hung around that day, working in the garden with us, and stayed over again.
The following morning we woke to an unfamiliar sound on the roof. Rain. We ran outside in varying stages of undress to greet it. “Hallelujah!” The cry went from one to another of us as we danced around. This wasn’t some little shower; it was fucking pouring. “Oh thank you great spirit!” Bones cried happily as the beating rain soaked us. When we were thoroughly drenched and the need for caffeine overwhelmed the joy of standing in the rain, we ran back in to get our morning shot.
It rained all day and into the next. Patrick, still with us, picked a comfy corner of the new room and sat down to draw. I went looking for paper to write a letter. While digging through the corner cabinet in the living room I found a wedding photo. I had no idea who the couple was but it could have been me and the dc king, what with the tuxedo, white gown, and the hair, hers all pouffy, his close cropped. I carried the picture into the kitchen. “Who’s this?” I asked, waving it in front of Midge, who stood at the stove stirring a pot of soup.
She laughed. “It’s Bobby and Trudy. Isn’t that a riot? Look at them!”
“They look so straight,” I said, surprised.
“Yeah, well, the picture was taken a long time ago. They sure don’t look like that now.”
Spindle had told me about Bobby and Trudy Dubie. They were the trendsetters – the forerunners. The Chillums had met them in Syracuse where Bobby taught at the university. Before that, they’d been rabble-rousing grad students at the University of Texas in Austin, and after Syracuse, had lived in a canyon in New Mexico. Now they lived at the Chillum’s sister farm in Arkansas with other people named Dubie who all lived in little structures with strange names like yurt. Spindle and Shadow had visited them the previous winter. This guy Bobby Dubie was some hotshot in the Chillums’ eyes. They talked about him like he was some high priest or something. The straight arrow in the picture sure didn’t fit the reputation. I put it back and wrote my letter.
It rained for days. The garden soaked up the water hungrily, the plants grew, the creek swelled and rose, almost reaching the level of the little concrete bridge. The beige tinge disappeared and a green glow appeared through the rain. Then the sun came out, and so did we. Freed from our confinement, we ran to the garden and saw a new crop with our vegetables — weeds. I followed the others, picked a row, sat down on the damp earth and began weeding, hesitantly at first. I worried that I might pull up a veggie plant by mistake. Once I made the distinction I enjoyed the process – it was immediate gratification. I finished a row and surveyed my handiwork, beautiful dark earth punctuated by a straight row of leafy plants with nothing out of order.
It appeared we did a bang-up job with the rain dance. Rain, that precious commodity, was no longer precious. It now rained every day – some days we woke to sun and by afternoon it rained. We woke to rain and it cleared by afternoon. It rained all day. It rained all night. Water gathered in small lakes. Parched earth became mud. The creek overflowed. Patrick never left.
Shortly after the rain established permanent residency, we got word that none other than Bobby Dubie was coming to visit, soon. The family buzzed with excitement. I got nervous. I knew he was no longer that straight guy in the photo. But would he see me as some straight chick from Milwaukee?
The guy who showed up a few days later bore no trace of the tuxedoed man in the photo. The short military type hair he had then now exploded from his head. Dense, kinky, and black, it crowded his face with a big beard and mustache and a barely contained ponytail with corkscrew ends sticking out all over. That black mass sat on a small thin frame dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. His raspy voice came through lips almost hidden by all that hair. A man named Michael carrying a violin came with him. With lank brown hair, pasty skin, and glasses, he paled next to Bobby – who took up a lot of space for someone so small. The family gave Michael a warm welcome but greeted Bobby as they would a visiting guru.
At dinner Bobby reported on the Arkansas family, his raspy voice filling the corners of the new room: Eloise’s daughter Desha was the darling of several men because none of them knew if they were the father. Ken Dubie and Lorene had broken up for good. Scott was on the road. Yawn. I’d heard some of the names before but they meant nothing to me. While the family hung on every word, I feigned interest while poking my chopsticks around in my bowl trying to pick up one grain of brown rice at a time. Then I tuned out. After dinner and some dubie Michael picked up his violin, and man did he know how to make his fiddle sing. The rest of us danced around the room, sang, or banged out accompanying rhythms. Bones brought out her flute and she and Michael tuned right in to each other. Bobby caught my eye and smiled. I returned the smile; he was just my type, dark, wiry, and smart. But he was the great Bobby Dubie and I a mere acolyte. How could I come on to him?
Next morning, Shadow and Lem took Bobby out to walk the land. When they came back, he worked with us in the garden. We nodded to each other. I was shirtless and had been comfortable in half-naked mode for a while, but I immediately felt self-conscious. The guy had a real presence — he radiated confidence and righteousness. At lunch we talked about astrology and Midge told Bobby that she and I had the same birthday. “Oh, another Scorpio,” he said, looking at me appraisingly. I just nodded. I never knew how to respond to that. Identifying yourself as a Scorpio was sometimes akin to saying you ate men and little children – it raised the level of expectation peculiarly.
We had a spectacular Om that night – Bobby’s vibe definitely contributed, and everyone else’s energy reached a higher peak than I’d felt before. The power of the chanting knocked me out. Afterward, the intense staring at each other seemed not only okay, but a gift that let me see the others in a new light. I never realized how beautiful Spindle was until that moment when I saw her sitting across the low round table from me. Her long, brown hair hung around her face, shiny and straight. With her blue eyes charged like an electromagnetic field she glowed. No. She radiated. There was no trace of the pain she’d carried when I first arrived. Now, with one hand excitedly clutching Patrick’s and the other lovingly nestled in Joy’s, she owned the world. We held each other’s eyes, affirming our love and friendship anew, as sisters in this wonderful family.
I brought my eyes to Joy’s. As serene as ever, sitting between Shadow and Spindle, she looked deep into my soul. After a few moments of serious staring, she smiled calmly. She too looked beautiful. Her shoulder-length frizzy hair, loosened from it’s braided confinement, softened her sharp features. Behind that olive-skinned, muscular exterior lay so much more than she daily revealed. With time, I thought, we’ll be close too.
I turned my gaze to Midge, sitting by my side. We didn’t spend a lot of time in deep eyeball-to-eyeball; grinning was more our style with each other. My Scorpio sister’s green eyes sparkled and the small dimples under them crinkled with that wide smile she now flashed my way. Without her usual kerchief, her black hair hung in loose curls below her shoulders, outlining her narrow face. A bright aura of energy bounced around her. She turned her sparkle to Lem and I turned to Bobby.
I was so stoned from the magic of the moment that I engaged his look, briefly but confidently, before I turned away. I could feel Bones’s energy drawing me to her. Her light green eyes sucked me in. She often demanded emotional energy and had a frenetic air. Now she sat serenely, looking luminous, with her silky black hair grazing the back of the white embroidered shirt she wore.
These amazing women — I felt unbelievably fortunate to be part of this sisterhood, even if only for the summer. Was it the dubie? Was it the high from the Om? Was it the glow from the evening light? Did it matter?
At dinner I got a deeper sense of Bobby, listening to him talk about an acid trip and discussing Georgei Gurdjieff, the Russian mystic, whose books I had seen lying around the house. Bobby knew so much and expressed it with such emotion mixed with intelligence. After dinner Michael’s playing again inspired the rest of us to music making. I was banging on a pot when Bones came into the kitchen and announced, “You should see the sky, there are so many stars, it’s so far out.” Several people, including Bobby, got up and went outside. I followed. The night was breathtakingly clear. The northern sky pulsed with masses of sparkling dots. The only time I’d seen anything to equal it was the previous summer when Spindle and I had camped on a Mykonos beach.
“Isn’t that the Milky Way?” I asked, thinking I’d stick with something I was pretty sure of. Aside from the dippers, I didn’t know my constellations. “God, there’s so many of them, what are they all?” I directed my queries in Bobby’s direction.
He moved in behind me. “You see the little dipper?” I nodded. “Well, now go to the tip of the handle and look to the right; there’s five stars sort of shaped like an M. See it?” I nodded again. “That’s Cassiopeia. She was the wife of King Cepheus — he’s the boxy looking shape right in front of her. And she was the mother of Andromeda, which sits behind her.”
“Oh wow,” came my stoned reply. These star clusters taking on an identity was so far out. I felt intimate with the night.
“Now look way over here,” Bobby said, putting one hand on my shoulder to turn me around, and pointing with the other. “That big bright star over there . . .”
“I’m not sure where you mean.” He gently moved my head to the angle of his pointing arm. “See it?”
“Oh yeah, what’s that?”
“That’s Antares. It’s the brightest star in Scorpio. It’s red.”
I stood there gazing up, a little glow warming my insides because he remembered that I was a Scorpio. I also felt a heat on the outside as his hand slowly slid from my shoulder, down the front of my yellow tank top. His other hand came down from the sky and joined the first. “Let’s go in,” he murmured in my ear, turning me toward the house.
A couple afternoons later I was on my bed rereading the macrobiotic guru George Osawa, trying again to take him seriously, when Bobby appeared in the doorway of the big room.
“Want to share a skinny dubie with a skinny Dubie?” he asked, holding out a thinly rolled joint as an offering.
We hadn’t spent any time alone together since that night of the stars. I had wanted to, but he was so in demand with the family, and he continued to intimidate me with his experience and legendary status. Now here we were, back at my bed. The sun coming through the window pointed to the spot next to me. He stretched out in it, lit the joint, took a drag, and passed it.
“Are you going back to Arkansas soon?” I asked, then inhaled deeply before returning the joint.
“Tomorrow,” he answered.
“Tomorrow!?” I gasped, and choked on some smoke.
“It’s time. There’s lots of work to be done at home.”
“But you just got here,” a little whine in my voice.
“I’ve been on the road too long. I need to get back. And you, what are you doing?” he asked.
“Sooner or later I’ll have to start thinking about going home. And school. And what I’ll take this fall.” I inched my leg a little closer to his.
“You’re going back?”
“What do you mean?” Our fingers touched as we exchanged the joint.
“What’s the point?”
“You mean of going back to Milwaukee or to school?”
“Both. Why do you want to go back there? And school is such bullshit.”
“I want to get my degree.”
“It’s a worthless piece of paper.” He had a Ph.D. in psychology. I had two-and-a-half years of jumbled undergraduate credits painstakingly acquired over the past nine years.
“But I need it so I can get a decent job.”
“Doing what–supporting the system?”
“No. I want to go into broadcast journalism.”
“Why, so you can tell lies to the American public? It’s such garbage.” He turned to look at me. “This is what’s real.”
“Well . . . reporting the news . . .” I trailed off lamely.
“Why leave here?”
“I have to go back to Milwaukee.”
“I live there.”
“You’re living here now. This is where life is happening, not in some television station in Milwaukee. Why not stay?”
Why not stay? Why not stay? It had never occurred to me. Did I need to be asked? Could I just stay? What about the rest of my life? What kind of life did I have left in Milwaukee anyway? Suddenly my stoned brain sort of short-circuited and I felt a peculiar thudding in my chest.
“Think about it,” Bobby said, and got up to find Shadow.
I watched his slender frame disappear down the hall, then I lay there for a while staring into the pink insulation, letting this new idea sink into my out-of-focus mind. Bobby’s announcement of his imminent departure, and the prospect of not getting laid again faded under the weight of this new possibility. I needed to talk about it. I went looking for Spindle. I found her in the garden thinning beets, the mid-afternoon sun beating down on her bare back. Plopping myself in the dirt between the rows of seedlings, I repeated the conversation to her.
“Why would you go back?” she wanted to know. “Of course you should stay. That would be so far out!” She threw her arms around me.
She spread the word that I was thinking of staying. Everyone agreed that it was a great idea. In their minds it became an immediate foregone conclusion. Maybe this was the place for me, but I needed to let the idea percolate. What was there for me in Milwaukee? Not my parents; they had moved to Florida a few weeks before I’d come east. Not my oldest brother and sister-in-law; they had been judgmental about my divorce and changing lifestyle, and there was nothing happening between us. I had two little nieces, but I didn’t see them much because of my relationship with their parents. Then there was my brother Arnie — I’d given up trying to be close with him. The way I saw it, none of them would miss me and I wouldn’t miss them. Not much happening with friends either. Divorcing the dc king had alienated the young Jewish marrieds of our circle, and the black activist had driven away most everyone else. I had a few new school friends, but mostly I just seemed to meet unavailable guys. I’d been living a life in transition there. I liked being in school but I was an A/C student – A’s for the political science and mass comm courses that I liked and Cs for the other stuff. And I still had a lot of the other stuff to get through. Bobby was probably right — it was all bullshit anyway.
Here there was no A/C distinction; I was learning something every day and loving it. I’d landed in a whole new world, filled with exciting discoveries and peopled by a loving family who accepted me unconditionally. I liked the freedom, and the hard work agreed with me. Maybe this was the place to be.
I let the idea seep in without committing, then a week or so later I was given a sign. A letter arrived from my brother Arnie: “Dear Sis, I have to move right away. Can I stay in your apartment till you get back? Please let me know as soon as you get this.” The urgency of his request compelled me to trot right down the road to the neighbors and call him collect.
“The place is yours,” I told him, knowing he’d be relieved.
“Thanks. When do you think you’re coming back?” he asked
“I don’t know.”
“Do you have any idea?”
“Not before the end of the summer. I’ll keep you posted.”
I hung up. The rent for my funky flat was a fraction of what he paid in his fancy high rise with a view of downtown Milwaukee. Once he moved in he’d probably be happy to stay. I headed back up the road, lit a joint, and smiled.