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The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

The late George Carlin was fond of teasing folks about their obsession with “stuff.” I need stuff. I want to hold on to the stuff I have. I want the latest stuff. Where will I keep my stuff? That sort of thing. Hippies have an odd relationship with stuff. Most don’t have much stuff. It keeps them mobile and doesn’t tie them down. Besides, there’s a stigma that goes with stuff in Hippydom – if you care too much about stuff, you’re “materialistic” or “possessive.” Of course, those labels were typically bandied about by hippies who didn’t have much stuff.

Before we became Hippies, I had a lot of stuff. I had a pinball machine and a trampoline and an electric train set. When we moved to the country, I was informed that we would be giving all of my stuff away – “to the Good Will, so people who can’t afford stuff can have it.” That was just great. I had to give up my stuff and thus no longer had any, and a bunch of other kids who didn’t have stuff would then have it. Can’t they just get their own stuff?

I soon learned we didn’t need much stuff in the country. None of the electric stuff would work, and everything else got moldy when it rained. About the only thing I held onto when we moved was my coveted collection of 100 Hot Wheels, and I clung to those bad boys like the frail thread-bare connection to humanity they were.

But everyone likes stuff, and after we’d adapted to our minimalistic existence, we realized that it wasn’t that we were immune to the allure of stuff, we just needed different stuff. The adults needed Rototillers and solar water heaters. The kids needed water pipes, comic books and music.

About twice each year, we’d head into The City for a much needed dose of urbanization and a quest for stuff. My parents would pick up the latest Whole Earth Catalog, we’d visit a few long lost friends and my dad and I would sneak off to the latest Clint Eastwood movie. And we would hit Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, where they sold the Stuff that Hippy Dreams were made of.

Telegraph was peppered with head shops, comic stores, importers stocked with exotic candles incenses and delicatessens hoarding coveted Toblerone chocolate bars. We would invade like a pack of survivalists at a Wal-Mart after a terrorist threat, but instead of water, matches and Spam, our bounty was rolling papers, nitrous oxide-infused “whippits” and the latest edition of “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.”

Our shopping binge complete, we would head over to our city friend’s place, where he would supply us with his latest batch of bootleg videos that we could watch on an archaic BetaMax VCR by the power of a gasoline generator. An evening of movie watching was sure to follow, enhanced by our friend’s lethal hash brownies – one made Blazing Saddles even funnier. Two turned it into Citizen Kane. Three turned out the lights.

Finally, we would hit the suburban bachelor wonderland home of our doctor friends, Frank and Mike – they of the 3,000 album record collection. A twenty-four hour non-stop taping session would yield all of the new music we would need to endure another six months in isolation.

Of course, the greatest bounty of stuff would be acquired when we’d visit my grandparents in Los Angeles. For two weeks every summer and every Christmas, we were lavished with gourmet meals, a bathtub-temperature swimming pool and endless hours of mindless television. My grandma would shower us with gifts, from the practical (pocket knife) to the unfathomable (electric shoe polisher). And it was all coated with a shiny veneer of pity for the months and months of abstinence that she knew preceded our visit and would follow.

I’d attend Dodger games, where my grandfather would introduce me to the players and get me autographed balls (unfortunately, they would only turn moldy later that winter). We’d gorge ourselves on home-cooked delicacies from my grandmother’s personal chef… and that’s when we weren’t dining at Spago or Trader Vic’s, where we could order anything we liked. And on Christmas Day, my allegedly-Jewish grandparents would unleash a mountain of holiday gifts, most of which would disappear or be rendered useless within days of arriving back home.

While most stuff that you needed in The City wasn’t much good where we lived, some stuff was worth its weight in gold. A flashlight with good batteries. Chainsaw oil. A good hash pipe.  A cassette deck that didn’t eat tape. A deck of cards. A good book without any missing pages. A chocolate bar. In retrospect, it sounds like life in the military. Or maybe prison.

One thing I learned from all of this is that most stuff we think we need, we don’t need so much after all. Besides, with a good batch of Maui Wowie shows up, an Etch-a-Sketch with a broken wheel was good for hours upon hours of fun.