Freaks Living in Our Streets: Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom

ROGER lived in Cambridge. In Leverett House, in fact, until the late spring. But he got to be too much, so Bob, who goes to Harvard, had to ask Roger to leave. For a while after that, he could be reached in care of Hayes Bickford's, but now he's really gone. He's not on the streets at least. Maybe he's split for California? Maybe he's in a hospital?

The first time I met Roger he was looking for some speed. He said he needed it because he was so depressed. He tries to organize depression and clation into a sort of cycle. Both make him uncomfortable, and he likes speed because it sort of rounds off the corners. Or that's what he said. But right then, at that moment, what he really wanted was some grass, because he had an abcess in his mouth that was moving down his neck. It stood out like a blue neon log, almost three inches long. Roger went to the free Clipic on Mt. Auburn St., but they don't do dental work. Nobody in fact does dental work. So all Roger could do was take pain killers like smack or cocaine, but that would cost him money he doesn't have, so just now what he needed was to get really stoned and dull it down.

There are lots of Rogers in Cambridge now, and more on the way. This Roger ended up here on the San Francisco rebound. He was one of the people we all read about in Life magazine. He was there for the acid summer: the summer of love when (even Life said so) Haight-Asbury was an urban pastorale. Roger said he took acid 200 times in San Francisco, and even if he's lying, what's the difference? Suppose it was only 100 times?

Roger was still there for the Coda; when the darkness of city life re-emerged as meth-amphetamine. It was a ritual victory for plastic and concrete, and Roger, after getting ripped-off and beat up, came back East. But since it all happens about a year late in Cambridge, he was just in time for the capitulation of Cambridge Hippic. He was all set, in a sense. Roger probably would not think of it in these terms. This is overview, and what Roger knows about his life now is what he new then: that he has to stay alive and doesn't have any money and can't really get a job. Roger has escaped to marginality.

At first, like the first time he ran away from his home in suburban

Rhode Island where his Father works in a shipyard, it was a conscious choice; maybe an adventure in the old romantic sense. But the choice part is gone now, and Roger's marginality is more or less permanent. Even if he wanted to work-to return to the mental place where people get up at 7:30 and go off and do things all day and eat well and have "homes" and other attachments-he probably could not do it. Too much water over the dam. Too many ways of being that he has lost, and cannot understand.

Roger may be a little special. He was an "unhappy child" who began to break apart the summer that his parents sent him off to a camp for "special" children. Everybody at the camp was crazy, and Roger began to realize that his experiences-like not being chosen for games-were not peculiar to him. Here was a whole campful of swimming, baseball-playing losers. That's what's supposed to be rehabilitative, but it blew Roger's mind.

His parents sent him off to a military school a couple of years later, to "make a man out of him" one assumes, but he was long past that sort of ridiculous patch-up job, putting madness in uniform and calling it something else, and soon he was there standing on the corner of Haight Street blowing some weed.

JUST LIKE the night I met him. He had found a place, a whole little world in fact, that ran on an insanity that he could understand. He was telling me about his troubles. About what it's like to live in Hayes Bickford's. He said that late one night a fight broke out between some stoned long-hairs and some drunk short-hairs. He didn't fight. He doesn't believe in fighting. He was also very worried about breaking his glasses, because he can hardly see at all without them.

Anyway, the fight got broken up somehow, but the next night some of the longhairs got on Roger for not joining. They said he was yellow and beat him up. Roger screamed about his glasses and the ringleader realized that Roger was completely helpless; that there was a chance here to make a good hustle. So he called off the boys and hauled trembling Roger aside and told him that he was going to let him off this time, on the condition that anytime he saw Roger from now on, Roger had to give him all his money and anything else he had like cigarettes, for as long as he lived. Roger was relieved that he wasn't going to die right there and said OK. And so another thing that Roger wanted that night was money to give this boy, because he always got beaten up when he didn't have any. I went and got him a copy of Demian. That was all I could think to do, because the exact same story happens in Demian. Roger promised he'd read it, but he never did, because a couple of days later the boy who was bullying him broke his glasses.

That really did it for Roger. He lost his remaining sensory connection-the blur extending as if from his mind out along the nerves to his eyes themselves. It was Spring then, and flowers were beginning to bloom, but if Roger was aware of them, it was only as a new blur, a distraction peculiar to the Spring. When he speaks, it is of his loneliness. He talks about girls, out there in the blur, hopelessly beyond approach. I see him shaking and picking at his skin, rapping out ten-minute long sentences. They are built like castles, but always tumbling. His foot is pounding on the floor in a frenzy, racing with his mouth.

The last time I saw Roger, after Bob had kicked him out, he was sitting on the sidewalk. He had gotten a new pair of glasses, but they were resting in his pocket. He rolled his eyes and said "hey" but he could not recognize me and I left quickly.

The incredible thing is that Roger's story is nothing like unique. There are lots and lots of Rogers, and his despair is somewhat of a common-place on the streets. There are more coming. A story in Publick Occurrences said 30,000 this summer. Many have guns, according to the author.

LOOK OUT your window and you will see some of them. You probably won't be able to tell which have guns, or which have speed or smack habits. It doesn't matter really, they all look the same. Whites used to say that about black people. They also used to say that black people smelled bad. So if you choose to look at it in a certain way, what's happened to Cambridge is that it has become a white-longhaired ghetto. Look out the window. It's all happening, right now.

Who are they and why did they come here? Sit down in Holyoke Center and you begin to get a feeling. If you wait, someone with a pack on his back will come and sit down beside you. And if you offer him a cigarette, he'll probably ask you if he can crash at your place and you'll probably say no. You'll say sorry and he'll say that's OK, and you'll both be sitting there, taking it all in, no difference.