Let them eat cookie dough
by Scott Parkinson
Today I went to the De Young Museum, in Golden Gate Park, to see the Beat Culture Exhibit. It was a cool show: people looking differently at the structure of their culture, asking questions of established routines, challenging fundamental precepts of American society--it was all rather inspiring in a black and white, bare-light-bulb-over-the-toilet kind of way. So inspiring that I got the idea to ramble over to the Haight and have a gander at Ground Zero of the West Coast counter-culture movement: Haight and Ashbury--Where it all began.
Dripping with the fresh scent that only tourists have--piss smells gritty and urban, bums are characters, and crime is adventurous--I was in a good state to go and take in Americana. Unfortunately Americana does not age well outside of pricey curio-shops and contrived exhibits. As I hit the Haight I noticed it was rather trendy. Very upscale. A lot of Pesto-Pizza parlors and brick-walled coffee houses, but I could handle that. Still, even through the mob of coifed riff-raff, I got a little feel for what it must have been like in the Glory Days. The streets are still narrow, the lane was crowded, and the were a lot of head shops. I got pointed towards Ashbury and went on my way.
The endless clothing shops and hair salons, pointing out what a slob I am, were held at bay (if just barely) by the generous amount of Leftist bookstores. One store actually had Noam Chomsky and the NAMBLA newsletter side by side. I know what a free-speech advocate Noam is, not to mention his much heralded hate of conventional topics, but even I was pretty sure he would have been a little uneasy sitting next to the pedophiles' Bible. But in a free society you have to take the sick with the twisted. Weird, for sure, but still encouraging.
But the longer I walked, the more I felt a lack of energy from the Haight. Sure, there were a lot of people, and probably (most certainly) there was a lot of money, but there also seemed to be a lack of vigor. I looked and looked as I was bearing down on the Mecca of Change, but search eyes as I might I never saw any angry fire. I saw frazzled eyes of well-paid software engineers doing their hip shopping in the city. I saw serious eyes of waiter/poets working on the next stale phrase to loosen the next pair of stale thighs. I saw smug and omnipotent eyes of young doctors in their benign world of self-importance. I saw taunting eyes from a street performer who didn't take to my indifference. I saw them all, all except angry. Eyes angry about a lack of health care. Eyes angry from Corporate Feudalism. Eyes angry from an exhausting Geek-Stampede that will yield the next Bozo to head the free world.
To see all those eyes, especially where I was, and being who I am (that is a person who is almost always angry), and not seeing anything that resembled a reactionary thought was rather discomforting. It made me wonder where the spirit went. What could strip a locale of its urban rebels; the fire-brands who made a generation stop excepting and start rejecting. How could something strip such a vital spark away from such an important place and it not be on the news for weeks to record its passing. Or more frightening, not what, but how. How do you take the ache out of a young man's belly over injustices--real or perceived. What balm do you rub on the girl's scorching burn at being rated second-class in a society she has helped build and defend. How do you remove the fear of the established order and replace the stampeding herd with happy dairy cows that enjoy their production pasture and the nice farmer that takes care of them.
It all seemed like such deep and heady questions of a spiritual nature; ponderables for a good joint and a long rainy afternoon. You don't get answers to observations like this, just a sense of change and perhaps regret. You note it, but God isn't calling you to the mountain for a couple of tablets and a little explaining--or is he? Maybe Haight, that old scoundrel, has a little magic let in him. Not the potent lightning to ignite a generation, but enough of the 'ol voodoo left to spell out his own demise.
The corner of Haight and Ashbury has heralded the change of its neighborhood by embodying that shift and garishly advertising to all who come. Where once stood tuned-in, turned-on, dropped-out hippies and their restless presence now stands two of the greatest icons of acceptance and sell-out to grace American Culture: Ben and Jerry's and the GAP. Yep, a couple of sell-out hippie capitalists and Fraternity Outfitters are now the flagships that sail the once proud Haight.
Forget that dull ache of social unrest, a double scoop of We're Fat, Rich, and Happy--with a cherry (yours, you silly, naive social virgin)--will curb that hurt and put a smile on your face. Feeling out of place? Like you don't fit it? Well, don't try to change the world (too hard), just change your clothes. The GAP will make that easy, all the clothes look alike (it's even hard to tell which are for the girls and which are for the boys--like it matters), and blandly match everything under the sun--even you couldn't clash in these.
As I stared at this gloried intersection, I pictured how a generation can lose its fire and become what it battled against so fiercely. An idea, a little compromise, a gain, a little compromise, an investment, a little compromise, a stake in the pie, a little conformity, a bigger slice, a little conformity, a moment holding the reigns and, Fat-Daddy, you're your father. It was that simple and that clear.
I didn't have the will to linger long after I saw the devastation. I quickly finished my look, ordered a double scoop of Harsh Reality and Bitter Irony, bought a muted pair of khakis, and rumble out of town wondering if ice cream, stylish pants and Range Rovers will replace the torch and pitchfork of my youth.
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