No. 13: Running Toward the Sun

July 21, 1969. The day astronaut Neil Armstrong was scheduled to plant the Stars the Stripes on that little pock-marked white thing up there. You know: the Moon, baby.

“Moon Day,” people were calling it. “A day of national participation,” quoth President Richard Nixon, happy to divert the country’s attention away from the war to something that was going right. Across the country, millions of Americans — young and old, freak and straight, Yippie and Love-It-or-Leave-It — prepared to put aside their differences, cross the generation gap and come together in front of the great video fireplace to watch America’s Lunar berserker pogostock around the Sea of Tranquility, or wherever it was Apollo 13 was supposed to land…

Hey Leonora, do you remember where those boys were supposed to touch down, and will you please pass those Pop Tarts? Praise the Lord, sock it to me, our boys are gonna land of the moon! Cosmic, man, cosmic!

Out at the National Park Service reservation at Boulder Beach, U.S.N.P.S. photojournalist trainee and summering Plymouth University student Harold Rothman had decided he would participate in a more creative way (if one which Commander-in-Chief Tricky Dick would not have approved), i.e., by ingesting the capsule of 100 percent natural mescaline flakes those two hitchhikers had laid on him in return for the groovy hospitality. Mindful of his prior, less-than-happy — indeed, near-fatal — brush with hallucinogens, Harold had put the capsule aside for a freaky day, i.e., a day when he decided to fucking go for it. Besides, his two longhaired guests had assured him, It’s mescaline, man. Mescaline, not acid. Just like the Indians take. And you wouldn’t fucking believe the colors…

Harold had decided that Moon Day was the day. The day to Do It To It. And what better place to do it, to take that step beyond, to go where the Hopis had bravely gone before (Aldous Huxley, too), to truly be in sympathetic vibration with Our Boys Up There, than here in the pockmarked southern Nevada desert, they very same place they’d trained for this mission! Talk about cosmic symmetry, man! Right on!

And so, after mixing half of said capsule with some water in the miniature Hoover Dam beer mug he’d bought one day while doing laundry, there Harold was, at 4 a.m. that historic day, just as the twinkly black velvet desert night began to yield the first hint of cobalt blue over Lake Mead, scampering up a 300-foot-high hill next to his trailer. And then he waited, looking through his telephoto lens now and then at the spot where the sky was lightest.

And sure enough, the blue over that mountain behind the lake yielded a swath of navy blue, then light blue, then vermillion, and then — talk about freakin’ colors! — yes, then, Hallelujah! came the sun. And then, grinning almost in spite of himself, Harold was scampering back down the hill and running, running toward the sun, and then he somehow got into a conversation with the night watchman at the Lake Mead Marina, who turned out to be a part-time church organizer and pretty cool named Keith Ebeltoff, so Harold laid the other half of the capsule on him, and then it just so happened that Ebeltof was in possession of a VW van, and so, the morning bright and shiny by now, the two tripsters were off, Dead booming on the tape deck, to visit the Hoover Dam.

That was probably the highlight of Harold Rothman’s ultimate summer.

Or maybe it had been the night before his friend and bandmate, Iron Cross guitarist Jimmy Brockett, was due marry his childhood sweetheart (people were always marrying their childhood sweethearts in B.C.), and the band decided to celebrate by holding an impromptu (and illegal) jam at Lake Mead marina, right there on the dock. Harold had started wailing away on his Marine band, stoned out of his gourd like everyone else (no one knew what they were playing, but still, they sounded good), and had gotten so carried away with the moment that he fell into the water, harp, mike and all. There he was, flailing away, near drowning — and the other guys were so into their music, man, that they didn’t even notice! When Jimmy finally saw him there, he’d started laughing so hard that he fell into the water, too. And then everyone else jumped in. What the hell.

That was pretty crazy.

Then, well, things were beginning to get a little crazy, especially the night in early August when Harold found his reputation for being a cool guy to crash with had resulting in his playing host to a major Southwestern drug dealer, as he discovered when his 10-gallon-wearing guest opened his aluminum suitcase and took out one of 20 bags so they could roll a stogie and get super-zonked. And then had been a knock at the door, and Harold could glean through the translucent glass that someone was a uniform was standing outside — most likely a ranger, perhaps a cop.

And then, suddenly, it was over, and Rothman was on a plane bound for New York wondering if everything had really happened. And then, deep from within his broken jukebox of a mind, came the immortal, stupid words of the ad he used to hum about this time…

Schoolbells ring and children sing,
It’s back to Robert Hall again.
Mother knows for family clothes,
It’s back to Robert Hall again…