Unification News for April 2003

Where We Came From - Bohemian Halloween

Claire Bowles
April, 2003

Growing up in my Bohemian home during the post-beatnik 1950ís, there were some things that were expected of a person. One requirement was that you read books that had merit. Another thing was that you knew good art from bad art. Another requirement, and a far more important one than the other two, was that you had to be eccentric. The collective consciousness of the community would perceive, decide and then dole out appropriate reprimands. A lack of eccentricity was punishable by ridicule, humiliation or (in the worst case) banishment Ödepending upon how hopelessly un-eccentric you were.

I had a wonderful, childlike longing to please my mother. Therefore I must needs be eccentric. Of course, my perception of what was required of a person in order to qualify as eccentric was sorely skewed. I was a child and therefore could only think as a child. The adults around me seemed to think that I should know everything without being told so asking questions was impossible. Under the terrifying gaze of my beautiful motherís discriminating and penetrating eyes, I absorbed information from the world I saw and behaved in accordance with that information. To be found suitable to exist in the community, I had better not be perceived as un-eccentric; to know what was considered eccentric I observed the people in the community; to be eccentric, then, was to be like the people in the community of eccentrics of which we were a part.

I absorbed like a sponge because I had seen banishment, had heard the ridicule, had felt the scorn when I repeated a thought that I had heard somewhere which wasnít eccentrically correct. My self-preservation antenna were on full alert at all times. Though I couldnít seem to ever avoid the sting of the invisible whip which flashed from my motherís mind when I wasnít being unique enough, I gave it my all. I studied originality, uniqueness and eccentricity till I was exhausted.

There were times when it was easy to observe and discern true eccentricity in action. Such a time was my motherís "surrealistic" Halloween party.

My mom and step-dad were preparing for this event. My mother was painting a huge eye on a green scarf. She copied it expertly from a book of Salvador Daliís paintings. Wearing a long pale green nightgown, and with the scarf tied over her face, she looked like the tall tree-woman that appeared in the book. My step-father was sticking fake hair, pulled from long, cheap wigs, all over his body. His naturally hairy chest bare and small horns bobby-pinned to his head, he announced that he was Pan. With his beard and curly hair, he looked exactly the part. Bare feet had to doÖthere just werenít any hooves to be had.

It was warm enough and the party was being held on the patio which my mother had made of sandstone slabs scrounged, found, salvaged and dug up from the hills near our house. My bedroom was looking right onto this area, and from my bed I could see the guests arriving. A person covered in aluminum foil; a woman all in black netting; a throng of bizarre people in costumes were dancing to jazz and buzzing with talk, but then my heart leapt. My real father walked across the yard to the patio with his date. I knew it was him even though I couldnít see his face. The object of every little girlís desire, the cause of so much longing, increased ten-fold due to his absence in my daily life, was before me. He was wearing his fencing helmet, with ostrich feathers affixed to it rakishly. From neck down was all white sheets. His date was identically dressed. I must have snuck into the whirl of people to see my father, to be a part of the whole mesmerizing blur of imagination expressed outrageously, to be a part of the freedom of mind. How deliriously contented they all must be! So confident in their eccentricity that they didnít have to worry about IF they were original or HOW to be unique!

In a kind of conversion experience of religious proportions I decided then that the most wonderful thing in the world would be to be a beat-nik.

Thereafter I dressed every Halloween as a beat-nik. Sometimes that would be a baggy, horizontally striped shirt and black tights. Sometimes it would be an oversized sweatshirt and black tights. Sometimes a manís white shirt and black tights. Black tights seemed to be required as the official uniform of a proper beat-nik in my mind.

I didnít realize that beat-niks were basically long gone by this time (1956- 59) and in 5 or 6 years would be replaced by the beginnings of what we would call hippies. But the romantic ideal of the beat-nik became my goal.

I know that my parents didnít use the word beat-nik. I believe it came from a childrenís book my mother had called "Suzuki Bean, the Baby Beat-nik". In the book, Suzuki Bean has neglectful beat-nik parents who scold her for having a Ďsquareí friend. The friend is from a rich New York snob family who neglect him as much as Suzukiís parents ignore her. The friend is snubbed by Suzukiís parents when he comes for a visit to her Greenwich Village loft and Suzuki is snubbed by the friendís parents when she visits his Central Park apartment. They decide to run away and find a place where beat-niks can be beat-niks and squares can be squares and everyone can live together and love each other.

Idealistic thought. And one that I still cherish.

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