Midwestern University, Wichita Falls Texas, 1965: Actually, not Ram Das. Rather, it was Richard Alpert.
I’d ransacked the North Texas State library stacks, reading up about this LSD that was making news. Harvard researchers Leary and Alpert were urging “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out!,” and what in the world did that mean?
The psych abstracts were puzzling, describing synaesthesia, n., which means (1) “A condition where one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color.” Or (2) “A song by Cannonball Adderly.”
Hearing a color? The smell of a picture? The feeling of a sound? Huh?
So when Richard Alpert was speaking, over at Midwestern University, I was ready to go hear it. And so was Kit Thorne.
Little did I know that the somewhat similar Anhalonium Lewinii (peyote) had been known back to the turn of the Century (that earlier one, in 1899) to worthies such as Aleister Crowley. If only I’d studied my Magick, I could have known so much more! But then, we didn’t know that Magick was abounding about us, no, not at that time.
At that time, I didn’t know that Richard Alpert would become Ram Das, that he would live up the street from me in San Anselmo 30 years later, and that even being neighbors I’d never see him again. We didn’t know that Leary would be jailed, and would then escape by levitation. Actually, there was a whole world of what we didn’t know, back in the time of my corduroy coat.
Kit was a pretty brunette, of vivacious enthusiasm, girlfriend of my sour pal, John Mahoney, the photographer who contributed the picture for my story Ralph the Cat in the Avesta magazine. But John couldn’t go, don’t recall why, though sitting in the booth at the Hob Nob, Kit begged to go, and so go she did.
When my stepfather, Dr. Strickland, heard of the venture, to my vast surprise, he decided to go as well. Either he was secretly hipper than I knew, or just palling along with me, or … well, I just don’t know what, but he and my mother and Kit and I showed up at Midwestern Auditorium on the appointed day.
The speaker was late.
On the drive up, Kit had told me of haunted adventures, overruled with sudden tears from nowhere, voices heard, ghosts seen. It fit. And it was beyond me. It seemed very dark. And years later, as the ghosts decreed, she became lost into a darkness, gone. But back then, we knew nothing, and I was half in love with Kit, just because of who she seemed and how she looked. I watched her secretly, while we waited for Alpert.
Finally, he was announced, and walked up to the podium.
Standing there, he paused for a moment.
Actually, kind of a long moment. Well, truly for more than just a moment. He stood, looking into space above the head of the audience, for a long time. A very long time. A really, really long time. It was a long time. A very really long time. Long time. Then he smiled.
“Hello,” he said. And went on to speak about LSD and the fact is I remember not one thing from that talk, but only what came after. When the talk was done, and others filing out, Kit said, “Let’s go meet him!”
Up we trooped onto the stage, Dr. Strickland bringing up the rear, and Richard Alpert turned his open, Indian eyes upon us. Kit smiled up at him.
“I just wanted to show you this,” she said, holding out her hand. On the middle finger of her beautiful soft hand was a delicate ring with a tiny silver globe of fine filagree, in which tiny silver moving parts made a fine, crystaline tinkling sound.
Alpert watched the ring for a long moment, his grin growing wider as he watched. Then he reached into his pocket, drew out his closed fist.
“And I’d like to show you … this,” he said, opening his hand. And there, sitting upright upon his palm, a tiny jade buddha gazed into the vast beyond in rapt contemplation.
As I recall, my stepfather asked some questions, but I don’t know how much communication there was. As it turned out, I discovered later that my friend Lefevre, then studying art at Midwestern, had become involved in Richard Alpert’s arrival, and had whisked Alpert away to Jerry’s house, where they spent the afternoon wandering the background, watching the bark on trees for a very long time, and considering this new LSD that was in the news. Lefevre had not attended the talk; he’d stayed home to examine the tree bark in greater detail, as he explained later.
I suppose Kit and I made our way back to our homes in Denton. This must be the case. Otherwise we’d still be standing there, on the stage, in the Midwestern Auditorium.
That’s just logic, right?