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The Flame Gutters


I’m ready to drop out. Had enough. When I was a mere babe mewling and barfing in my nurse’s arms, the Vietnam war was just getting good. My old man got a deferment on account of my arrival on the scene. This was the last favor I ever did him. When I was small, hippies were a going concern in my native Granite State: there were long-haired freaks and Jesoids and stoners building octagonal cabins out of barn timber and communing in old Victorian farmhouses, growing thin on unsalted lentil-rich slops and bathtub yogurt and inferior marijuana. Dad was a square, Mom wore India print dashikis. Their friends were poets and artists and ne’er-do-well types generally, with armpits that smelled like the holds of slave ships.

It may have been for this reason we packed up our worldly goods (both of them) and went to England, where I attended the first grade, or as they call it in England, ‘the first grade’. My sister, being wee, just stared at the Devonshire sheep. Thereafter we rambled around Europe in a Volkswagen bus. It could have been Wisconsin, for all I knew, but it sure beat real life. We lived in a wall in Assisi, Italy, for a while, eventually ending up back in the USA. Then I got serious. For the last thirty years I have been an all-American citizen in the first degree. The first year I was eligible to vote, I did. I am not sure who I voted for that first year on account of the LSD, but let’s just say I was hooked (on participating in democracy). Being American was fun!

Since then, I have written innumerable letters to my various so-called representatives at the state and national levels; with the locals I just show up on their doorsteps. I have gathered signatures, written enough checks to wallpaper the entire Sears Tower, marched with signs, and even written the occasional essay stating my position on a variety of matters ranging from foreign policy to the urgent necessity to make all public beaches in America clothing-optional. This is not to say that I’m somehow a beacon of good citizenship or that I have led a life of virtuous participation in a flourishing democracy. The entire endeavor was a complete waste of time from day one. But there is something like solace in doing one’s bit. I see the myriad disasters closing in on all sides, and I know that at the very least, I did what I could, short of running amok with a Kalashnikov. I could quit, having tried.

I won’t quit, you know. No such luck. Wish I could. Back when Vietnam had come to define what this country was all about, lots of good folks decided the entire system was broken. To be fighting a war to force people to enjoy democracy instead of communism, when the whole point of democracy is the freedom to form your own government (even a communist one) is so dissonant it makes radishes grow out of your ears. Not everybody looks good like that. So people experimented. They started collectives based on barter instead of currency. They explored alternative modes of being in the world, from energy to interaction, including sexual positions untried on this continent since Ben Franklin gave up yoga. Interesting things happened. By the late 1970’s, most of these experiments ended in chaos, as experiments generally do. This was taken as a signal from the Powers That Be that alternative modes of living didn’t work, which became conventional wisdom, and off we went into the ’80s and ’90s. By the year 2000, the fun was gone. Only the fight remained.

What to do instead?

One could run off to the Dordogne and distil Nocino, outcarve a forest homestead in Saskatchewan, join the rebels in Nepal, or move to New Zealand and stare, sister-like, at the sheep. But America is where the action is. As refreshing as it would be to flee to Paris as so many artists, intellectuals, and other undesirables did in the 1920s, it would be a terrible cop-out. The richest soil, after all, is not the clean sand of the Riviera but an American field ripe with bull guano. And that, by gum, is what I’m standing in, right up to the zenith of my galoshes. Soldier on, brave progressive! O liberal, thy name blackened but thine heart like new snow, persist! All you pure, eccentric souls, keep the faith. It doesn’t matter whether our experiments succeed or fail: we are the hippies now.

BEN TRIPP is an independent filmmaker and all-around swine. His book, Square In The Nuts, may be purchased here, with other outlets to follow: Swag is available as always from http://www.cafeshops/tarantulabros. And Mr. Tripp may be reached at

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