STOP THE WORLD —THEY WANT TO GET OFF
They’re young, from almost anywhere, but it’s Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver they head for, to dig each other’s company, smoke pot, write protest verse, ponder Zen Buddhism, sex and sit-ins, and withdraw from a world they see as a barbecue pit on the brink of doom
THE MIDDLE OF A MAY afternoon in southern Saskatchewan, somewhere east of Regina, and that old prairie sun slants down on the Trans-Canada Highway so that patches of pavement all the way to the horizon seem to disappear under shiny little pools the color of the sky. Walking east in the grass along the clumpy shoulder of the road is a girl with brown hair hanging down over the sides of her face like a drapery, and wearing tall pointy boots, leotards and a scruffy sweater. And every hundred feet or so she kneels down in the new grass and plants a marijuana seed.
The way the girl, C'ecilie Kwiat. tells it to me in her crummy room on Jarvis Street in Toronto, she’d been given these seeds—goodquality Mexican marijuana seeds—by a friend in San Francisco.
“I thought Saskatchewan needed .something, so 1 walked along the road, stopping to dig little holes with my finger and drop the seeds in and cover them up. 1 must have planted seventy seeds. I was hitchhiking but I didn't want a ride right then. It was a beautiful day and there was hardly any traffic and 1 would sit down, you know, and dig the small sounds of the country.”
Well, they are accelerating the war in Vietnam, the separatists are busy in Ouebec, Negroes are still afraid to vote in Mississippi, and here is this girl, Cecilie Kwiat, walking along the Trans-Canada Highway planting marijuana seeds.
And — what is happening? This weird scene on the highway. Beatniks reading Ginsberg on the street corners in Vancouver. Oddballs and twiggy-headed intellectuals wandering around loose in Toronto. Nutty bohemians with hair down to here — the boys are the ones with the wispy beards — shuffling along St. Catherine Street in Montreal . . .
What is happening is that a lot of . . . rebellious . . . young Canadians who grew up after World War 11 are choosing to opt out — it’s their phrase — from home, school, church, marriage, steady employment, all the institutions, and are doing it in new and curious ways. Some of the things they are doing are being reflected in the life of the country. But no one has bothered to figure out what they are up to.
These young people — they call themselves hippies, a little selfconsciously — come from anywhere in the country, but the first thing most of them do is head for Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. It is hard to be a hippie in Halifax and impossible in Medicine Hat. There is this great need for them to live in colonies, like red ants, and dig each other's company. The thing is, almost everybody else thinks they are off their nut. Nobody knows how many of them are in the three cities, but the hippies say as many as ten thousand.
1 he kids who hitch rides to Toronto from places like Calgary, Three Rivers and Brantford have a lot in common. Most of them never made it at home or school or any place else. They are badly educated but well read in a few esoteric directions. They are young, poor, and miserably inept at ingratiating themselves with the police. The police are the only ones who know exactly what is going on. The police have positively identified the hippies as a bunch of beatniks, which means weirdo punks. 1 he thing to do with punks is sweep them off the streets, right? But everyone else is confused.
The hippies would rather work than starve, but only just. Employers are bugged to tears by their monumental undependability — you hire them in May and they show up in October. They spend a little money, but not enough to make them important to anybody. Gouty old landlords in the slum districts rent them mouse-heaven rooms for eight dollars a week. Book stores sell them Penguin paperbacks to stuff in the hip hip pockets of their jeans. All-night restaurants feed them hot-beef sandwiches floating in gelatinous puddles of brindlc gravy. The Toronto coffee houses started out by showing them off as freaks to attract tourists, then pushed them back into the streets and, hopefully, right out of the Yorkville Village environs by raising prices and levying cover charges.
The hippies are as tough as cockroaches. They try, more or less successfully, to avoid or ignore every hazard and irritant. An earlier generation of bohemians wanted to be with it; these people want to stay out of it. They are Phi Beta carpers who look upon the rest of society as a sort of barbecue pit on the brink of doom. They have withdrawn from comfort, security, property, politicians, the mass media, martinis, cars, social graces, hockey, the profit motive, charbroiled steaks, urban renewal, golf, houses, children, dogs, cats, budgerigars, Juliette, slum clearance, rush-hour traffic, laws, lawnmowers, Christmas and the clock. They are concerned with marijuana, other kicks, the Bomb, each other, chess, Zen Buddhism. We
Shall Overcome, pacifism. Bob Dylan psychiatry, LSD and psychedelic experience, sex, poetry, pickets, police, sit-ins. minorities, crafts, travel, art, brotherhood and guitars.
But. marijuana — grass, pot. tea. stuff, kief — is what they really get worked up about. In Canada, right now, marijuana is a way of life in this nutty subculture. Marijuana is a crusade. I started out on this story with the feeling that 1 probably wouldn't get near a real live pothead, but 1 wasn't on it two hours before 1 was sitting on a lumpy old couch in a Toronto rooming house with a circle of them passing the pipe around and talking about how right now the stuff is so plentiful that from a standing start at the corner of Bloor and Yonge Streets a pothead from out of town can get “turned on” in twenty minutes flat.
The way these people tell it, hippies are bringing it in from the U. S., from Mexico, from the Middle East, and a lot more of it is being grown right here in southern Ontario. Farm boys with pothead connections are planting it at home and city kids are planting it around summer cottages in Muskoka. The stuff is coming up in vacant lots and backyards in Toronto. It is sprouting in window boxes and flower pots. They say that in Vancouver half the grass on the market is grown in the Okanagan Valley where hippies recently harvested a third annual crop.
There is a kind of defiance about all this. The hippies are afraid of the stiff jail terms the Criminal Code still calls for — up to seven years for possession — but they sense changes in public attitudes and are pushing tentatively for enlightened legislation. In Toronto, Cecilie Kwiat has started the first Canadian branch of something called LEMAR — Legalize Marijuana — and expects to sell a thousand one-dollar membership cards with proceeds going toward lawyers’ fees to help potheads caught with a pipeful.
Feelings about marijuana are hard to pin down. Nathan Cohen, the Toronto Star columnist, interviewed Cecilie recently about her interest in legalizing it and wrote, “The / continued overleaf
continued / Criminal Code being what it is Miss Kwiat does not smoke marijuana herself.” But Cecilie said nothing of the sort to Cohen. Cecilie is a pothead. ”1 am a prime example of what marijuana smoking will do to an individual,” she says. She wants to be known as a pothead. Still, Cohen felt impelled to protect her by saying she doesn’t smoke.
The hippies say grass is not a narcotic but a harmless euphoric with many sterling qualities. For instance, it is absolutely nonaddictive. When prices go up. potheads stop turning on. They say the body has an inverse tolerance to it so that the more often you turn on the less of it you need to consume. They say it is capable of acutely stimulating imaginative perception.
But, ah, how are you supposed to . . . explain that to anybody, here, in the late-Victorian rooming house where everything is painted this sickly créant color, in this musty pad that must have been somebody’s drawing room a long time ago? That it doesn't matter. That here, in a crazy place, among the ghosts, a fine new thing is happening. You lock the door and there is a not being bored anymore. You know? And the ceremony — you take the ten-dollar chunk of kief, from the Middle East, made of chopped-up flowers and stems and compressed into this grey and aio-
matic — beautiful! — pebble. You cut off a bit and put it on the glowing end of a cigarette and — don’t waste it! — suck that sweet smoke through the plastic barrel from a ballpoint pen that has “Manpower. Girl in the White Gloves” on it. Or you punch pin holes in a piece of foil, put the kief in the foil and the foil over the bowl of the pipe you paid forty-nine cents for at Honest Ed’s. Or you load the pipe with a quarter-bowl of loose grass like shag tobacco, homegrown, and tamp it gently, gently, and light up and pass it clockwise around to the five potheads sitting there in a big circle like Apaches around a campfire. The ritual is important, see? Deep drag, pass it on, suck in air, hold it in — It old it in! — then exhale. Man and it just . . . wipes you out. So they say.
After a long time Cecilie Kwiat reads some poetry in her slow firm voice — Leonard Cohen first, then some of her own about Canada:
There is something I cannot name or sing
except the rails
for occasional trains
paths and clearings without reason
in all this rock
There is a life
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Let the hippies gather and suddenly wiggy anecdotes start popping all around
STOP THE WORLD
continued from page 22
and there a name a sanctuary
a force worth bending man And how many shades make green?
How many suns leaping along mountain tops clouds to stream from lady trees raindrops to love the rocks snow for mourning dress in this longest day and hidden teeth to prey
but with gentler ways than me?
The sad thing is, though, the potheads don’t listen to the poetry any more than the blue-rinse and nitroglvcerine-pill set at Stratford listen to Henry IV. It's just the same old bright-eyed torpor.
The conversation, when it comes, is mostly the sort of thing you hear on Labor Day at Stoney Lake among the bigger - and - better - hangovers crowd: "You should have seen Jack and me last night. We went up to Pete’s? 1 don’t remember a thing."
But suddenly these wiggy anecdotes are coming from everybody: "David Park and Jim Macdonald stowed away on this ship to England? So they get caught on the fourth day out and the captain says, ‘In another time I would have had the power to throw you overboard.’ I mean, they think he is probably going to anyway. So they spend four days in jail in Liverpool and then they walk off with prison sweat shirts.”
"1 was so bugged by the Rockies last year that I wrote a little oneupmanship poem: ‘It's too bad mountains cannot move; perhaps they have no faith.’ ”
"This newspaperman comes up to me in Vancouver and he wants to turn on “for the paper.’ Then he has to go and get really stoned before he’ll try it, and he misses the whole thing.”
"... So this guy comes over to our table and he says, ‘Oh, yeah, like I’m a square and you're all hip, like you’re from the moon.' ‘No, man, just relax, you know? If you take it easy you might even join us.’ So he comes on all wrong again and we say, ‘Hey, listen, man. like just relax. No one said anything to you. Why don’t you just have a beer and we’ll forget about it?’ So he jumps up and he says, ‘How would you like a bust in the — mouth?’ ‘Listen, relax, man, take it easy.’ This goes on and the guy gets so upset he has a double and splits.”
The party moves onward and downward. Toward the end of it one pothead is flaked out on a hed. catatonic. Two or three more are down on the floor playing tiddledywinks. There is a lot of fairly vague giggling about tiddledywinks strategy and the potheads are saying things like. "This is what marijuana does to a person." They keep the game around to reassure themselves or something . . .
By this time you must have gathered that these characters do a lot
of traveling around. Cecilie Kwiat, who is twenty-five and considers herself an elder hippie, oomes from Calgary and has hitchhiked across the country seven or eight times, she can’t remember, and she has spent a lot of time in the States. She has all these wild stories about how she lived in San Francisco for two years, selling
copies of her poems in the street, and how she rode a bicycle from Manhattan, Kansas, to the California border and passed a Volkswagen going down a mountain in Colorado.
Cecilie and the others — she is known as Sam to hundreds of them in two countries — keep losing and, incredibly enough, finding each other
in the hippie warrens of the big cities and on the spider w'eb of rides and contacts linking Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and New York, Mexico and the California scene. Cecilie is working in Toronto in the office of a trucking firm (they know' about her views on marijuana) and is saving up
continued on page 50
John Newlove, both of whom moved among the hippies for a while. (Newlove hasn’t opted out to the extent of avoiding The Canada Council. A list of recent recipients includes "John Herbert Newlove II. twenty-six, ot Vancouver, a poet with three volumes of poetry to his credit, who wishes to take time off to concentrate on his writing.”)
In Vancouver, on this drizzling December night, Cecilie Kwiat and a friend go into the Skillet Café on Granville Street. They are wearing paint - splattered jeans and scruffy shirts and when they ask to see a menu, the waitress says, "You can just get out of here." Well, the clothes. Still — they refuse. There is this very nasty scene. The next day Cecilie goes back with her friend and they talk to the proprietor. “You may be a very nice person," the proprietor says to her friend, "but unless you shaved ofl that beard I would never know what you were and I wouldn’t want to. And you" — he points a long trembly finger at Cecilie — "you have this bcardlike o/titude.”
This beardlike attitude — but exactly. The beard, the actual, physical beard, and the underlying . . . thing. Cecilie goes back to the Skillet Calé the next day and the waitress calls the cops and the cops come and carry Cecilie away and she stays in jail four days, refusing bail while a lot of beardlike characters picket the café. The proprietor apologizes, Cecilie leaves jail and the case drags on and is finally dropped. But the beardlike «/titude is not dropped: it drags on and on. unpleasant, like a lot of these weird characters carrying pickets in the rain.
In Toronto, in the Pilot Tavern on Yonge Street, an unpublished novelist named Brad Robinson, who is twentythree, is talking about this — wild! — experience of his, and 1 ask him to write it down for me. Here it is. in part :
“In Calgary, on the north side of the Bow River, in late spring we
stood — myself and two friends. We had decided before in my newfound room we would commit triple suicide. Barry McKinnon and Brian Coulter and I stood looking at the river flowing by and ivc felt determined. I took off my jacket and shoes. I remember Brian went in first, then Barry and myself. The water burnt us with its coldness. I cut my toe. Brian went in up to his chest and Barry and I went in waist high and chattered about how the death of all of us
would provide a rebirth of understanding for the IVar young. But then we realized the water was bitterly, glacially cold and we turned simultaneously and climbed out. A policeman saw us and said. 'Where y a goin’?’ 'My place.’ 'Where ya cornin’ from?’ 'Front the river.' 'What were ya doin’ there?’ 'Committing triple suicide.’ Go honte.’
What was it that Cecilie Kwiat said? “We create art out of contempt
because we are not capable of selfdestruction." Brad Robinson is writing a novel, which may or may not be art. It is about all these . . . nutty . . . young Canadians he has know n. ★
The hippies react to today’s world by withdrawing from it. For a report on a very different brand of rebellious youth — the young activists — see the next issue of Maclean’s.