TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT
Richard Nixon called him the most dangerous man in America, an honor usually reserved by Republicans for figures such as Charles Darwin and Barack Obama. Timothy Leary wasn’t always so “dangerous.” He had a distinguished military service and academic psychology career until he started thinking way outside the box, promoting the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. It was your basic slippery slope, as he quickly evolved during the wild and woolly 60’s to a self-described performing philosopher and hippie guru. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD with such heady concepts as space migration and intelligence increase. Eventually, it was all about turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.
As a result, Leary also came to spend more time in jail than out of it, becoming intimate with 36 prisons throughout the world. In January 1970, he received a 20-year prison sentence for a pair of earlier transgressions. Upon his reporting for prison duty, Leary was given a series of psychological tests meant to help determine what work duties he was suited to. Having himself designed such tests, he found it quite easy to manipulate the results so that they would show him to be a model citizen with an interest in forestry and gardening, pursuits that would conveniently keep him out of doors.
Leary was assigned to work as a gardener in a minimum security prison. On September 12, 1970, leaving a farewell note, he climbed over the prison wall along a telephone wire to a waiting pickup truck supplied by the Weather Underground. For $25,000 (paid by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love), the weathermen smuggled Leary and his wife out of the United States and into Algeria. From there, they traveled to Switzerland, Vienna and Beirut. In 1972, they headed for Afghanistan which had no extradition policy with the U.S. Unfortunately, they traveled aboard an American airline, and were arrested before they could deplane.
Leary was returned to prison where he remained until his release in 1976. He died in 1996.
“Come Together,” written by John Lennon, became a big hit for the Beatles and an anti-war anthem. It was originally written as a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s aborted run for governor against Ronald Reagan.
Said Lennon: “The thing was created in the studio. It’s gobbledygook; “Come Together” was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t come up with one. But I came up with this, “Come Together,” which would’ve been no good to him—you couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?
Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 2: My New Playmates
One Thursday afternoon Bessie, Cora and I were having tuna fish and mustard sandwiches, the only way they ever served it. Wilhelm came by with the scarf draped around his shoulders that indicated he was going out for a walk, kissed Bessie on the forehead, and said: “Cora, I’m going out for a short walk with Walter and Elliot.” Bessie’s face tightened right up so it was even harder than Ludwig the Rock; Cora just sighed and shook her head.
“That’s what I want to do,” I said.
“What do you want to do, dear?” asked Cora.
“Go outside and see some friends.”
“But you don’t have any friends around here,” said Bessie.
“That’s what I want,” I said, a little petulantly. “Some friends around here, someone to play with.”
“Poor dear,” said Cora. “A boy your age does need someone to play with, doesn’t he?”
“He sure does,” I said, poking my finger into my tuna to make little tunnels.
“Oh my,” said Cora. “I wonder if maybe we could just . . .”
“Cora,” Bessie said in a voice that was probably as firm as Edward G. Robinson’s.
“Oh Bessie,” said Cora. These twin fortunetellers were having a complete conversation just using each other’s names, and I didn’t have a clue to what they were saying.
“Cora,” Bessie reiterated.
Cora sighed. “All right, Bessie.” End of conversation. Certainly enlightening. Bessie smiled a grim smile and picked up the empty plates and the scarred remnants of my tuna sandwich. She gave Cora one last meaningful look and marched out of the room. I knew it was time for Mrs. Halloran who came every Thursday at two for news of her husband, Warrant Officer Warren Halloran, who was in the Philippines and probably having an affair with a nurse.
I studied Cora’s face for insight and she did her level best to remain expressionless and enigmatic. She failed miserably, and I was able to figure out that she had some plan for finding me playmates that Bessie didn’t approve of.
After ten minutes of an intensive, intimidating ten-year-old stare, Cora broke. “If you could play with anyone you wanted to,” she said with a lot of hesitation, “who do you suppose you’d choose.”
“You mean someone who doesn’t live in this neighborhood?”
“There aren’t many children your age in this neighborhood,” said Cora.
“Someone from my own neighborhood?”
“Someone from very far way?”
“Someone I didn’t even know, like someone in the movies?”
“Someone like Shirley Temple?”
I made a face. “Someone like the Little Rascals, maybe.”
“Little Rascals,” Cora mused. “I guess I could conjure up a rascal or two.” And so Cora had me concentrate very hard, with my eyes closed tight, on the ones I wanted to play with. And after a minute, she’d say: “I see them now. I see who you want to play with.” She’d sometimes tell me I was thinking of so-and-so, usually a name I’d never heard of, but it didn’t matter. If I thought hard enough, she’d conjure up the person I was thinking of, and we’d pass many Tuesdays and Thursdays playing together. And my playmates became more and more fanciful.
“Here’s looking at you, kid,” Rick would say to me before he sent me off into the cutthroat-filled streets of Morocco with a highly secret document. Or I might be called on to kick some wicked witch butt for Dorothy and her inept companions. Capturing big cats with Clyde Beatty, searching catacombs for Count Dracula’s casket, watching the crazy world from under Harpo’s overcoat — there wasn’t much I didn’t do those Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Sometimes when taking a break from my own frenzied activity, I’d listen in while Bessie and Cora told the young military wives their fortunes, and I sensed a change taking place. One day, Bessie spoke to a young woman about something called a fraulein and sent her away crying. But it was Cora’s fortunes that were changing the most. Her futures had always been so bright, so happy — something to look forward to. Now they were about making the best of bad times and being strong for the kids.
Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories