Life on the Other Side of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll
Like every small town in America, social survival in the the New England town I grew up in required choosing a clique. There were the standard options — the Jocks and the Brains — but there were also the Villagers and the Townies. (The Villagers were Yankee girls with names like Bitser and Marty, sporty young Republicans-to-be, and the Townies were the Camaro-driving kids of wife beaters and cops.) There were the Blacks (who were actually the Whites, Winchester’s single African-American family), the Nerds and the Freaks. At 15, I chose to be a Freak, mainly by default: the Freaks were the stoners. The Freaks — many of us the offspring of academics and lefties — were Unitarians, and accordingly, we were members of LRY, the church’s now-defunct youth organization. (Not surprisingly, it was a casualty of the Just Say No era.)
In LRY, we sang a lot, protested from time to time, and talked about God (or the lack thereof) every now and then. While there were plenty of kids who took the whole thing seriously, kids who were earnest in their quest to rid the world of nukes and save the whales, they weren’t the people I hung around with. I hung around with the burnouts, and in 1979 — at an LRY Continental Conference in Sausalito, California — I became a member of the 51st Airborne Division. (I was even sleeping with Keri, the 51st’s Supreme Commander, although by “sleeping with” I actually mean sleeping with: to the best of my memory, our relationship was relatively hanky-panky free.)
We were called the 51st Airborne Division in honor of our sacred mission, which was to be ridiculously high at all times. Keri’s way of saying howdy involved an eyedropper and a bottle of pure LSD; our version of a secret handshake centered around a tank of nitrous and the requirement that All Ye Who Enter Here Take A Suck. Breakfast was Celestial Seasonings and acid with wheat germ on 12-grain toast, and that meant there was never a legitimate need for lunch or dinner. Food would have been entirely unnecessary if we weren’t smoking dope, which, of course, we were. (Mostly we did ourselves in with Corn Nuts and S’mores prepared over an ill-advised campfire.) I was tripping my head off from the morning I arrived at ConCon ’79 until five days after I got home.
I often wonder how many brain cells I destroyed during the week I spent in Sausalito, but whatever the damage was, it wasn’t enough to keep me from being elected to LRY’s Executive Committee shortly thereafter. I dropped out of high school and spent the next 12 months dressing like an escapee from a 1968 be-in at People’s Park, churning out copy for our newspaper, People Soup, and occasionally sharing bong hits and a bed with Keri. When my term was up, and it was once again time to choose a clique, I ditched the Freaks and became a Punk.
I came across the portrait of the 51st Airborne Division online this week, out of nowhere, and I’ve been thinking about Keri and LRY ever since. It inspired me to do some research, and in the process of trying to put together the past, I discovered that Keri’s dead. I’m sad, melancholy, and missing the 51st.