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Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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In mid June, my life made an abrupt 180-degree turn and would never be the same again. Simma came back from the shop one day to say that a young woman, Carol, had come by to look at the batik show there. She had fallen for one of my landscapes and had asked if we could arrange a trade in payment for the piece which, she said, reminded her of her native Kansas. I was open to that and met her at the shop the next day. She was an attractive, slender, blond woman, probably ten years younger than I was, who was an artist. She had just applied to join the Peace Corps and was waiting for her assignment to come through. We made a deal in which she would paint the windows of the shop with a bead design in exchange for the batik painting. It was a way for me to repay Simma a little for all her support. Carol seemed rather mysterious, elusive even evasive and I was definitely intrigued by her. Besides, she was the first attractive artist I'd met in years. Two weeks later, she would be my wife.

I'd seen movies and read books about runaway romances or about people who had gotten drunk and had woken up married to a complete stranger. My own parents had actually gotten married very precipitously, just five days after they had met. But that had been during wartime when strange things happened and were actually sanctioned during times of emergency. To this day, I'm not quite clear why Carol and I got married so suddenly. We knew next to nothing about one another. She came from Wichita, had recently qualified as a schoolteacher and wanted to be a painter. Carol had a twin brother Bob and three other younger brothers and, she disclosed, had been married before but had never consummated that marriage. At the age of thirteen, she had had an illegitimate son who had been placed for adoption and whom she had never known. She seemed to shy away from many of my personal questions but that only added to her mystique. It made an affair with her even more of a challenge. And I was ripe to fall in love again after such a long period of celibacy and frustrations. We'd actually only had a few dates together and barely consummated our relationship before getting married. I remember that we went to a local Rainbow Gathering in the mountains nearby where a bunch of local hippies were meeting to commune with nature and to get high and sing songs around the fire together at night. Carol amazed me by casually slipping into the circle and singing a beautiful blues song accompanying herself on a borrowed guitar. That night, we slept (or more accurately in my case, lay uncomfortably) together on a hammock we strung up between two trees. Carol continued to dodge my queries into the details of her life, not to intrigue and lead me on, though her evasions did have that effect on me, but because she was terrified of intimacy, I later realized. But that was much later, unfortunately, when the damage was already done. So I pursued Carol for a week, terrified that she would vanish as fast as she had appeared, afraid that she would go off into the Peace Corps and that I would never see her again. She was actually living with some guy she had picked up hitchhiking near here when she had driven across country in her VW Bus en route to visit an old Wichita friend who lived in Nevada City. But she didn't seem to have an important relationship with this guy and it seemed like she was just having a little fling before going off to Africa or wherever as a teacher. So we saw each other a couple of times and went dancing together which was a tremendously bonding experience as we discovered that we were both music lovers and mad dancers. We were both vegetarians too, which really helped in a world of heavy meat-eaters. Then Carol vanished for a couple of days leaving me confused and miserable. But she reappeared to help work at Simma's outside bead stall at a Grass Valley street market which was great fun. That day, unnoticed by her, I watched her slipping through the crowds. I had a flash of great insight and empathy for her as I saw her take the role of unconnected observer and recognized that part of me too. I too was often the watcher at a party and could identify with that solitary position intensely. I think that it was at that moment that I felt really close to her and resolved not to lose her.

The following day, Carol announced that her assignment had come through and that she was to go to the Caribbean shortly. I was shocked. That night was Simma's fortieth birthday and Carol came over to the land. We slept together on a bed I'd constructed outside under the oak trees and finally consummated our affair. The next morning, in a rather euphoric daze, I went off to the "Kitchen" to bake as usual. That same afternoon, two weeks to the day after we met, we drove up to Reno, Nevada which was only an hour and a half away and were married at the Starlite Chapel there. I suppose that we were both very carried away by our passion and that we thought that getting married was a way to make sure that we never lost one another.

The marriage itself, which I have a tape of, was an hilarious affair and my laughter (was it hysteria?) is clearly audible on the tape. The whole ceremony only lasted about ten minutes. We picked up a marriage certificate across the road, paid our $20 and were ushered into a little room. There was a counter at one end, a lot of plastic flowers and a tape of "Here comes the Bride" was playing. Carol and I stood side by side holding hands, three feet away from and eye to eye with the minister who intoned the marriage ceremony without quite making contact with us. We suddenly found ourselves man and wife. Rather dazed, we staggered outside into the street where I gave my camera to a passerby who snapped a photo of us for posterity. Carol looked like a runaway hippie chick and I looked like a cocaine dealer hiding behind my dark shades. We bought a picnic and sat in the nearby park to eat it and tried to comprehend what we had just done. At the time, I felt that I was experiencing a peak experience but in retrospect, it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. In the end it was a tremendous lesson for me and ended my attraction to those wild free-spirited women that I have always run after. But the consequences of my actions came much later and for now I had a surprise marriage to deal with.

Back on the land, Simma and Jeffrey were distinctly cool towards us and in moments of sanity, I could see that we had behaved rather precipitously. But the moon was deliriously full that night and, I realize now, had been growing steadily the whole two weeks of our runaway romance. Was this all only a case of Full Moon Madness? Carol had planned to fly to Wichita the following day to sort out her Peace Corps situation and I suppose I had vague ideas of coming on her assignment with her or at least not losing her when she went off. I drove her to Sacramento Airport but she missed her plane. On the spur of the moment, I decided, willingly I must confess, to drive across country with her. So we crossed Nevada, Utah and Colorado on a seventeen hundred mile, non-stop, thirty hour drive on what was to be the first of three such crossings in the following weeks.

It was a wonderfully exciting ride and whatever problems Carol and I would go on to have, we were never happier together than when we were on the road. It was then that two true itinerants could relax into the security of a big powerful car, could enjoy the speed of the road rushing in front and behind us with all that was important and necessary for the continuance of the moment on board. Carol and I always traveled well together. We got into Wichita late the following night. I met her parents briefly and enjoyed their shocked expressions when Carol introduced me as their brand new son-in-law before we crashed out mindlessly on the pullout bed down in the basement.

The next day we hung out at the house a little and I met Carol's brothers, a strange mixture of apathetic and dysfunctional mid-Western youth, I figured. We decided to go onto Missouri where the annual Rainbow Gathering, the Gathering of the Tribes was taking place in Salem. We had another long day's drive to get there. Rainbow Gatherings, whether national or local, are uniquely American. Literally thousands of so-called hippies, Native Americans, itinerants, students and community dwellers, not to mention drug dealers, musicians, entertainers and healers of all kinds descend on a remote piece of rural land in a different state each year to commune, camp out and party for a week. Great care is always taken to ensure that the land is left in better shape than it was before the Gathering took place.

This Rainbow Gathering was probably pretty typical as they went. It took place in a remote spot, we had to park the faithful station wagon miles away from the actual site and then walk in with all our food and bedding. There was a seemingly endless stream of young and not so young folk coming up and down the path that lead on down to the gathering site which was in some fields down by a river. As we walked on down we passed little encampments, booths selling everything under the sun, little theaters and musicians jamming in the sun. Someone had even somehow carried a big piano down there and was playing Erik Satie pieces for no-one in particular. It was pretty interesting but Carol and I were not having such a great time. She was an increasingly evasive young woman, warm and fun in one instant, tense and blatantly secretive in the next. She resented my attempts to get to know her better and was obviously acutely uncomfortable with some of my questions. It was frustrating to run up against these barriers so quickly for, typically, I was eager and impatient to get to understand what made her who she was. We had had several intense arguments already when she accused me of being too nosy which left me baffled and confused. Perhaps I was going too fast but I was in love with this woman, was even married to her and was committed to making the relationship work. I knew that without better communication, we would be doomed. We looked for some friends of Carol's from Wichita, located them eventually and set up camp with them. Like almost everyone there, we got into the spirit of the occasion, took our clothes of and went exploring. As long as we kept busy, it seemed to me that we could avoid friction between us and stay away from these confrontations that always seemed to lead to anger and dead ends. I ran into Fantuzzi whom I'd last seen at Studio 45 in New York. He was still playing bad guitar, flashing his million-dollar smile and chasing beautiful women but he didn't remember my name. There was a big council meeting going on which we sat in on for awhile. Everyone sat around an enormous piece of rock crystal and was discussing the plight of the Hopi Indians and the uranium found on their sacred Big Mountain. It was a heated discussion but extremely structured and mostly polite. We wandered on down to the river and took part in a sweat in an Indian style lodge made of branches bent around to provide a frame which was then covered with blankets. Porous rocks were heated up for hours in a wood fire and then carried into the sweat lodge on shovels and placed in a little pit in the center of the space. We crawled on our hands and knees into the space and sat there naked around the hot rocks, tightly squashed against one another in the darkness. Some people got very noisy in there and sang and chanted and even shouted. The heat was intense and sweat poured out of every pore in my body. Soon it was hard to tell where my skin ended and my neighbour's began. The sweat finally ended with a mad group massage by the river and then we all jumped in to cool off.

The sweat was probably the best part of the Missouri Rainbow Gathering for me, for by the following day, the whole experience was wearing a bit thin. Carol was scattered and uncommunicative and vanished for much of the day and I got weary of being asked, repeatedly it seemed, if I had any acid, man? What was it about my appearance that made me look like I might be a drug dealer?


By the next day, the Gathering was winding down and Carol and I were getting on very badly. She seemed to be getting more and more secretive and defensive and I knew that if we didn't get some help soon that we wouldn't survive as a couple. After we had packed up our camp and climbed back out to the car, I persuaded her that we should go to visit my old friend, Kristin, for some counseling. She was living in very rural Pocahontas County, West Virginia on the land that Patch and his Gesundheit Institute had recently bought as the site for his planned model health community. Land was incredibly cheap in rural West Virginia and Gesundheit had managed to raise money to buy some three hundred and fifty acres of land with a wooden shack on it. It was situated just outside Hillsboro, which itself was thirty miles north of Lewisburg, West Virginia. Kristin was part of the advance party, so to speak, and had been living there for the past year. She was trying to get the community started while Patch worked at raising money for the project. Carol didn't much like the idea for I'm sure that counseling from an old girlfriend of mine must have sounded terribly threatening, but agreed to come with me in the end. We made another long dash across country and arrived in deepest West Virginia at four the next morning. Kristin met us and we crashed in a tiny little room above the living room in the funky little house that served as Gesundheit South's Headquarters.

Our first day there went well. Kristin gave us an assortment of little jobs to do in the morning for this project was very much a work camp during the summer. Then Carol and I went off to explore the land, followed the river up to its source in the hill above and discovered the incredible waterfall up there. I remember vividly that we climbed behind the sheet of falling water, took our clothes off and covered ourselves from head to toe with the fine white mud we found back there. It was like a primal marriage ritual of some kind, putting civilization behind us for a time and rediscovering some previous, much older connection between ourselves and this new world. Or maybe we were still operating out of the spirit of the Rainbow Gathering we had just come from. At any rate it seemed to work for us for we felt much closer to one another. Then we climbed up into the big apple tree where there was a wooden platform and slept all afternoon. That night, the counseling session with Kristin went well and I began to think that I hadn't made such a serious error of judgment. We stayed around for a few more days and did more sessions with Kristin and got to know the local countryside a little. It was exceptionally beautiful land around Hillsboro, very untamed and unspoiled for there was almost no local work to be found, no real industry and a steadily dwindling population. In the past decade, young people had come from all over the States to buy cheap land and to drop out and live the simple self-sufficient life there. I could easily see myself doing the same or at least spending summers there and winters in California.

So we drove back to Wichita where we stayed with friends of Carol's and got on fairly well. Carol periodically showed her spiky side and could be quite cruel when she wanted to. I realized that she came from a classically dysfunctional family where communication was at best polite and where no one really shared any real intimacies or affection. Her father even pretended to be deaf in order to stay out of contact and trouble with his wife. One brother, Alan, lived down in the basement of his parents' house and was protected by them all from the rest of the world. Carol, for all her problems and shortcomings, was the best one of the bunch.

We stayed in Wichita for another week and met a lot of Carol's old friends whom I mostly liked a lot. I learned a few more things about my new wife. Her terrible driving record caused us a lot of trouble for we couldn't find any company to give her car insurance. But for the most part she remained an enigma to me, an incredibly private person who caused me a lot of frustration and often made me very angry. But that didn't stop me from loving her.


We had another incredibly enjoyable drive back West with a stopover in Denver at Gary's, Carol's brother's, house. Going through Utah, we ran into a spectacular storm and drove through a Martian landscape of mesa mountains, desert in all directions and a navy blue supercharged sky. We got back to Grass Valley three weeks after we left having spent a very nontraditional honeymoon mostly on the road. Simma and Jeffrey were distinctly unfriendly and didnít seem very happy to see us again. But I tried to tune that all out and focus on my new relationship which unfortunately seemed to be deteriorating daily as soon as we settled back into life in Grass Valley. I had work to get back into and jobs to be done while Carol was obviously ill at ease and would go off in her old VW bus a lot of the time. She didn't seem to be very happy about living in Grass Valley though it was hard to get a straight answer out of her. It looked as if her Peace Corps assignment might not work out. We moved out to our bed under the oak trees which I loved and went through our usual dawn struggle with the old rooster who would climb into the tree above our heads and start to crow around five in the morning. Actually I even started to keep a box of rocks by the bed to hurl at him when he started and got pretty good at doing that without getting out of the bed. And so July 1985 ended on a Full Moon just as it had started with a Full Moon, which made it what they called a Blue Moon. It was a month that I wasn't likely to forget in a hurry.

Sweet Joy and Floyd threw a surprise wedding party for us one night which I found very moving. Every guest stood up and had a little recitation or story or affirmation for us, which I found quite charming. I realized that they were the only people who had actually celebrated our marriage. I enjoyed the evening but on the way home in the car, Carol told me that she had hated the evening and had found the celebration embarrassing. I realized with a shock that I had absolutely no idea what was going on in her head or knew what made her tick. And yet underneath the conflict and the poor communication and behind the barrier that stood between us, I intuitively knew that she loved me as much as she was able to. She had as much riding on the marriage as I did. She really needed me deep down for I might be her last chance for a satisfying heterosexual relationship and perhaps a family and the stability that that could bring. July passed into August and our love affair ran like a hot and cold water tap without ever making any real progress. I continued to feel committed but wasn't sure any more what or who my commitment was to. Then, on a Monday morning when I was off doing my usual bake at the Kitchen, a month to the day that we had returned to Grass Valley, Carol loaded all her possessions into the VW bus, took all the money out of our joint bank account in Combie village and vanished.

I was in total shock and couldn't remember being so totally miserable or wretched. I felt numb and weepy as my life fell apart all around me. I saw her face in all I did and would sit on the doorstep of the chicken shack and stare down the road in case she would suddenly return. It was an awful period in my life. The shock and the numbness wore off after a couple of days leaving me with the pain of my loss and a terrible emptiness which nothing could fill. I was right in the middle of a large acrylic portrait of Carol lying full length on the floor of the Dome. What had started off as a portrait of our love, somehow became the portrait of a bitch goddess. On the fourth day, I received a money order for $200, which Carol had sent from Salt Lake City and I guessed that she was heading East via Denver back to Wichita. And in fact, after a week, she called from Wichita to say that she was going to fly back to California, then called again to say that she couldn't, leaving me freshly devastated. I couldn't help but notice that although the first week had been agony, I was merely very unhappy by now and that my feelings had began to heal themselves quite quickly. Had I never heard from Carol again, I would probably have recovered in a couple of months. As it was, I got stirred up again and our affair was to last for another two more painful years. Grief was beginning to turn to anger and I had little patience with Carol and the strange long distance calls that she had started to make. Her father John sent me a very nice apologetic letter which I replied to at once.

At the start of September after a barrage of conflicting telephone calls, I packed up the Chevy again and left Grass Valley for Kansas. I got there in two days of crazed driving with only a speeding ticket as I entered Kansas to slow me down. The cop who gave me the ticket was super-friendly and wanted to talk to me all about England and the Queen. He didn't seem to find this at all at odds with the $50 fine he had given me. I got into Wichita late at night in a euphoria of sleep deprivation and excitement but couldn't locate Carol and crashed out in the car instead. We had a totally joyous and romantic reunion the following morning and moved into her VW bus with its camper top to live for the time being. Every night we would drive out into the countryside outside the city to camp out in some idyllic leafy lane. One morning we woke up to see a large pack of wild dogs hunting together out in the woods which quite amazed me. I seemed like we had turned a corner at last and things were gradually getting better in our marriage. Her parents were very friendly towards me finally and we often used to go over to their house to eat and watch TV and hang out there with the family at night. And we often used to go out late to a gay disco in Wichita that was invariably dead during the week so that we would have the dance floor completely to ourselves and could jump around there for hours. We either camped out or slept at Carol's friend Cindy's house which was by a lovely pond so that we could swim through the heavy heat of the late summer. During the day we would set up our outside studio and were both painting with acrylics or painting jewelry for Cindy who had a stand at the well-known Winfield Bluegrass Festival that was held nearby every year.

Cindy employed us to work at her stall for the three days of the Festival which was the top Bluegrass Festival in all America. It turned out to be a uniquely wonderful American experience. It rained hard every day and soon the Festival site had become a field of mud. But we stayed in the VW, heard some wonderful music and had a really good time. I remember that the New Grass Revival Band was really exciting and I learnt how to square dance with a bunch of real old timers.

By this time I was practically broke and was horrified and filled with new dread when both Carol and her mother turned on me. Her mother even went so far as ask me angrily what I had to offer her daughter at this point, with no money. The unfairness of the situation really struck home. I had left my home that I had worked so hard to put together to run off after my new bride and had just heard from Simma that she didn't want me to come back with Carol whom she fundamentally distrusted. Then to be put down for being unable to support Carol in the state to which she was accustomed, was mortifying. It was definitely time to move on again. Meanwhile Carol had discovered that marrying me had disqualified her from doing her Peace Corps assignment which only took single volunteers. Although she tried using this as a club to hit me with, deep down we both knew that she was secretly relieved that she wasn't going off to the Caribbean. As things turned out, I was actually doing her a big favour.



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