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Dirty Hippies

The hippy life can be demanding and time consuming, what with all the chanting, meditating and overnight vision quests to be undertaken. I suppose the early Hippies saw that something would have to give to allow them time to deal with that kind of important stuff, so they took one requisite aspect of “normal” society and declared it optional: hygiene.

During a recent family slide show, my younger sister vented, “Are there any pictures of me as a child without dirt on my face?” Sad to say, we couldn’t find any.

Look, we lived in the country and got dirty very quickly. If you’re gardening and digging outhouse holes all day, what’s the point of cleaning up? You’re just going to get dirty again anyway. It’d be like a construction worker taking a shower after lunch; why bother? And while one might assume we would clean up between the daytime labor and the evening’s random acts of sexual deviance and drug experimentation… well one would be wrong.

Numerous Hippy theories were espoused, claiming that excessive bathing was unhealthy and undesirable. In fact, there was a very superior attitude toward mainstream folk who chose to obey the norms of society – shampoo led to “thinning hair”; washing the natural oils from one’s skin would “dry it out.” Hair would go unwashed for weeks, armpits unclean for days to test these theories. But looking back what it came down to was that we were all just too lazy to bathe and since no one was ever that clean, it didn’t seem to matter.

Ultimately, everyone made their own decisions as to how far off the skank-o-meter they were willing to drift. We kids had to go to school, and we quickly learned that regular bathing was essential to avoid the wrath of our teachers and fellow students. But laundry was another matter entirely. Unless we were willing to beat our clothes against river rocks, we had to get into town and hit the Laundromat. This required transportation, a roll of quarters and the better part of an entire day.

We tried to avoid it. We tried to live with dirty trousers. But country living and pre-teen shenanigans are hard on clothes, and when the school principle sent us home one day with notes to our parents threatening a visit from the County Health Inspector, a meeting had to be called.

My naïve hope was that this humiliation would at least result in some kind of regular laundry routine. We had a cooking schedule, a gardening schedule, even a hot tub fire-stoking schedule. Why couldn’t there be a laundry schedule?

Never underestimate the power of Enlightenment as Self Interest. Our parents saw this as an opportunity; since we had to have clean clothes to go to school, they would provide us a lift to town and the quarters… enough quarters so we could wash not only our own clothes but theirs as well. Everybody wins!

Some of us questioned this logic. All of our schoolmates had their laundry done by their mothers. What was wrong with that? Our own mothers were aghast. “We aren’t your slaves,” they replied, “and we live differently here. Would you rather live in the suburbs and TV dinners every day?” Of course we did, but we knew enough not to respond honestly to that one. Do you have any idea what a rare treat a TV dinner is to a granola-eating Hippy kid? Oh, beautiful, succulent TV, with your tasty meatloaf and suculent peach cobbler that I don’t have to wait until the end to eat… but I digress.

Our hygiene high jinks became more complicated when the county Building Inspector showed up one day, probably tipped off by the school that there was some funny business going on in our neck of the woods. He instantly “red-tagged” every one of our homemade domiciles, proclaiming them to be “unfit for human habitation.” He pointed out that the construction was not to county code and the lack of running water did not allow for proper grooming.

A meeting was called. It was determined that our particular corner of the universe, which was zoned “agriculture,” could also be zoned as a “summer camp.” This meant that if we brought just one building up to current code and it had sanitary cooking and bathing facilities, the remaining structures could be designated as “sleeping cabins” and would not be held to the same standard.

A common “community house” was constructed with all of the proper plans and permits, and before long the newly installed communal showers and tubs became a wet soapy wonderland for frolicking sex play. Suddenly it was cool to be clean. Some, of course, eschewed the new plumbing and continued to use the communal hot tub for their “weekly washdown.” And those of us who had discovered that group showers and “buddy bathing” were good clean fun made sure we did our tubbing before the Great Unwashed swamped up the works.