Sir Dinadan was so proud of his exploit that he could not keep from telling over and over again, to weariness, how the immortal idea happened to occur to him; and as is the way with humorists of his breed, he was still laughing at it after everybody else had got through.
When, in the spring of 1964, I had a long weekend free, I took off for the IFIF office in Cambridge. I had told Lisa Bieberman, who was the day-to-day manager of IFIF at the time, about my plans for a Psychedelian retreat on an Adirondack lake. I was thinking in terms of a lodge for the summer and Millbrook, or gainful employment elsewhere if necessary, in the winter. She had been enthusiastically in favor of this general concept.
I found Lisa at the office with two postdoctoral residents of the house in Newton which Dick and Tim had occupied while doing research in a local prison on the effects of acid on the recidivism rate. All three were working at routine office tasks, without pay, getting out the Psychedelic Review and a variety of bulletins. Alan Watts was expected momentarily, to contribute something for the forthcoming issue of the PR, which was to be a festschrift for Aldous Huxley, who had recently departed this vale of tears in a most noble and exemplary fashion.
I established myself in the tiny kitchen of the small house on Boylston Street with a quart of Wilson's, a blend I favored at the time. Watts arrived and greeted everyone like long lost buddies. While waiting for the acid head who was to take his dictation to return from an errand, he enthusiastically joined me in attacking the bottle.
Both Watts and I were fascinated by a trashy men's magazine we found on the table, the kind which might depict Japanese nurses raping American marines on its cover and contain ads for mementos of the Third Reich in its back pages. When, somewhat abruptly, but apropos the contents of the magazine we were chortling, cackling and sputtering over, I asked him how he explained the existence of suffering in the world, Watts seemed genuinely shocked.
``You're asking me that question?'' he asked.
I guess he thought the answer was in his books. If so, it's hidden in a corner I haven't penetrated.
When the IFIFian typist arrived, Alan put down his drink and started reeling off his panegyric to Huxley as if it were tape-recorded in his head. He paused only once, in search of another example of the kind of thing academic intellectuals and literary sophisticates scorned but which Huxley was willing to discuss, tolerate or even support, and I supplied it: ``The myth of the desert island paradise.''
It was an amazing performance.
Unfortunately, although my appreciation for Watts as a critic of conventional religion is undimmed, my admiration for his philosophic efforts did not survive my Enlightenment, and even at the time of which I speak, I could not work up much enthusiasm for his point of view. He was, I think, essentially a pacifier, a sort of intellectual male nurse, a calmer of the troubled waters.
Nothing wrong with that, of course.
Watts, although he rarely mentioned his American intellectual ancestors, belongs to the class of Transcendentalist philosophers who, with an Emersonian disdain for logic and consistency, never question the plurality of minds but ignore or evade the contradictions posed thereby to their central belief in a (benign) ``oversoul,'' or, as I prefer to call it, the Giant Brain. They are not a very high class of philosopher, but not as low on my personal moral totem pole as those philosophers and psychologists so gutless as to refuse to try the Higher Sacrament.
(The latter are in the same class as the mental midgets of Galileo's day who refused to look through his telescope. It is indeed embarrassing to find oneself in the same species with creatures such as this.)
But Watts was a great conversationalist, a great gossip, a great drinking companion, and a gentleman of the old school. As soon he established that I was literate he warned me he would ``steal'' anything I said worth ``stealing.''
I told him to help himself, and we had a good, bleary, gossipy evening which ended in my meeting the Newton contingent: good heads to the man, but pale, I thought, in comparison to the Mighty of Millbrook, whom I was beginning to think of as virtual demi-gods occupying a world apart, not so much in the place-on-a-map sense, but around some trick corner in a magic mirror of my mind.
Watts didn't approve of my act. Later, after I asked him to grace the glorious rosters of the Neo-American Church with his illustrious name, he sent a short and waspish reply: ``I don't like your boo hoo title. It sounds like a crybaby to me.''
The stiff upper lip complex at work? I don't know. However frivolous in private, Watts, in the ancient C of E tradition, favored fraudulence in public. It was what the market demanded, after all. He laughed when I suggested that his books were so popular that he could live on the income from them. His royalties didn't pay for his gin. What did pay off were his cruise ship deals and, of course, the standard forms of lecturing. I would find out for myself in due time. (I have, but I don't think it is absolutely necessary for a person with criminal tendencies to sink so low.)
I appreciate the literary and scholarly virtues of Watts and Aldous Huxley and Joseph Campbell, but I do not belong to the doctrinal congregation for which they were outstanding 20th Century proselytizers.
Although heterodox in minor ways, they were essentially Vedantists, Cosmic-Minders, Giant-Brainers or Transcendentalists and thus dualists, however much they would reject and resent the label if they were still hanging around and could read this. Huxley, who dismissed the Zen masters as ``unsatisfying,'' and Campbell were virtually humorless, and, when sober, so was Watts.
When I read the philosophico-religious ruminations of these guys, I feel the somber, shuddery shades (they flap by night) of such as Swedenborg, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Kafka, Sartre, and Camus hovering in the background. Back up a few steps and you are in the jolly company of such as Dante and St. Augustine and the early so-called ``fathers of the Church'' all the way back to St. Paul, every single one of whom was mad.
Only an idiot can have any fun, so the only way anyone who is not an idiot can have any fun is to behave like an idiot. The more one thinks, the less fun one has. ``Life Sucks'' is the technically correct bumper sticker.
I prefer, and recommend to one and all, the Playboy Philosophy of Mr. Hugh Hefner over this kind of shit any day.
At the beginning of the decade, all kinds of major events seemed to combine to cause a major shift in the general mood of western civilization. In what might be called ``meta-historical'' terms, LSD and MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) seemed to balance or complement one another, and the assassination of JFK contributed also, as a demonstration on the American stage (other stages had other demonstrations) of the ephemeral nature of most political progress, and the need to change human nature directly rather than fiddle with the organization of the given.
It seemed to me it was the style and content of everyday life that needed radical revision in the direction of more variety, freedom, truth, spontaneity and wit.
That was what I found so stunning about Millbrook: the names, rules and counters of the ordinary games being played there every day had somehow been changed and life as it was lived was better, livelier, more meaningful, funnier, happier. It was an adventure just to hang out, and so it remained, with ups and downs, until the end.
I resolved that anything I produced would be along the same lines. Watts was a smooth talker, but Timothy Leary, I thought, was a magician who seemed to know how to change life as it was lived, and he didn't do it exclusively by flapping his gums. He did it by employing a magic elixir I knew from experience could do things that could not be done by all the King's horses and all the King's men flapping their gums in unison.
Whether or not the magic elixir could put Humpty Dumpty together again remained to be seen.
The Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church may be contacted through His Eminence Sahib Kevin Sanford, Original Mahout, Order of the Toad with Morning Glory Clusters, Member of the Board of Toads of the Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church, Boo Hoo General of Texas, at NeoACT, Inc., Box 3473, Austin TX 78764, telephone (512) 443-8464. You can also contact His Eminence via email at KTSanford@aol.com and His Highness The Chief Boo Hoo at ArtKleps@aol.com.
Bound copies of Millbrook, ISBN 0-9600388-6-9, are available from NeoACT for $19.95; the 1971 Boo Hoo Bible, ISBN 0-9600388-1-7, is also available at the same price.