October 3rd, 1974.  2:15 PM

 

Cincinnati, Ohio; it was sure great to be in a big city again.  Not that I had any particular problem with the back roads and small towns of America, but it was going to be rather enjoyable over the next couple of days to have a choice of eating establishments, places to sleep, and the opportunity to find something to do past seven o’clock in the evening was of particular interest to me.           

I was there for four days, and in that time I would have more appointments scheduled and sell more merchandise than I had in the last month.  On the afternoon of the last day I had a meeting with one of my most interesting clients.

The June in which Sage Parker celebrated her 21st birthday had coincided with the Summer of Love, and she hadn’t just embraced the newly formed culture, she practically squeezed the life out of it.  But there was something inside the young lady from Southern Ohio that separated her from the rest of her flower-siblings.  She soon learned that living communally and growing alfalfa sprouts before milking goats just wasn’t for her.  Sage was born with a capitalist spirit buried deep inside her bones, and so she merged her two outlooks on life and opened The Eye of the Rainbow Dragon; a boutique dedicated to all things groovy.

Indian dreamcatchers and macramé flower pot holders were hanging from the ceiling, scented candles sat on just about every inch if shelf space there was, and recorded sitar music shared the atmosphere with the smoke from burning incense sticks.

I walked through the maze of clothing racks -- which held apparel that seemed specifically designed to make the older generation angry -- and sat my small leather display case on top of Sage’s large glass one. 

Looking down, I saw the case contained several pieces of jewelry, most of which had been made by what Sage had purchased from me on my last visit to Cincinnati.  And each necklace, bracelet, or anklet sat next to a handwritten card whose job it was to explain how the psychic vibrations made by the combinations of stones, crystals, and charms in each piece were particularly suited to dispel a variety of spiritual, mental, and physical ailments.

Being that there was no sign of Sage, I picked up a brass bell – whose handle bore the pachyderm-inspired image of the Hindu god, Ganesh – and was actually a bit surprised at the melodic tone produced by the clunky piece of metal.

After only a few seconds, the beaded curtain that separated the store from the back office parted, and Sage ran to hug me.  Judging from the herbal scent that followed her out, sticks of incense weren’t the only things the young lady had lit in the last few minutes.

“Sammy L.,” she said, taking off my hat with one hand, while mussing my hair with the other. “Let me look at you, man.”

When she stepped back to give me the once-over, I did the same to her. Sage hadn’t changed a bit.  Her hair was straight, parted in the middle, and fell over her shoulders to the middle of her back like a waterfall of dark ale. The thin headband that went across her forehead, like most things in the shop, displayed a row of peace signs.  She wore her jeans belted low on her waist, and at the bottom of each leg they flared out wide enough that a family of rabbits could probably live peacefully around each foot…that is, if Sage would ever be able to stand still long enough.

“How’s my favorite square, huh?”

“Hey,” I countered, looking down at my suit.  “I’m not a square, just ‘dressed professionally.’”

“No, you’re a square.” She walked over to me, and began stroking my necktie with the back of her hand.  “Take this tie for instance.  Square.  These thin ties are out, even for someone screwy enough to want to wear one of these shackles in the first place.  People are going to think you’re a pig.”

            “What do you mean? I just picked this suit up from the drycleaner’s this morning.”

            “A cop,” she exhaled, as she rolled her eyes.  “Man, you are a square.”

            She was still stroking my tie, when her eyes suddenly grew wide.  Her fingers moved away from me as if I had given off some sort of electric charge, and she took a quick step back.

“Hey, Sammy, you alright?  I mean, seriously.”

            “I’m fine, why?” 

            “You have a dent, man, a severe one.”  She was pointing at the center of my chest, apparently not wanting her finger to get to close to me.

            Once again I looked down at my suit.  A few seconds before I had just been defending my preferred style of dress, but this time I was looking for a dent.  And since I had never seen a dented suit before, I really wasn’t sure what I was looking for.

            From my perspective everything seemed pretty much dent-free, but Sage still seemed rather concerned about it.

            “In your aura, Sammy.”  She said, as if explaining something so obvious that she was slightly annoyed at having to explain it at all. 

“Is that bad?” I queried.

“I’ll say it’s bad.  It could become serious.  It’s already sharp enough that it might scratch your soul.  Who knows, if it spreads, your soul might just fly right out.”

            “I didn’t know dents could spread,” I said.  And though I probably sounded quite flippant about the whole thing, I did take a few seconds to wonder whether this might be something I should worry about. Then, a draft from the back room carried a stronger whiff of that particular burning herb, and everything seemed to fall into place.

            “I’ll look into it.  Thanks Sage.”

            “You’d better, I’m serious.”  And she seemed to be.

            “So,” I slapped my leather display case and tried to smile big enough for her to forget my dented aura.  “What do you say we look at some beads?”

            “Groovy, Sammy L., groovy.”

 

October 3rd, 1974 3:30 PM

 

Wrapping up the final sale took longer than I had expected, since classes were being dismissed at the local art college about the time I had entered the shop, and the place had become quite busy.  Sage spent a hefty portion of her time reassuring the young customers that I was “cool,” though they still eyed me suspiciously as they went about their shopping.

            “So, dinner?” Sage asked, as soon as we had taken care of all the particulars.  I checked my watch.

            “Sorry, Sage,” I answered with true remorse, for I really would have loved to had taken her out that evening.  Sage was a lot of things, and an interesting conversationalist was at the top of that list – though I’ll have to admit that a lot of the time I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that she was conversing about. 

“I’ve got to get back the hotel and call the home office, then I have a few appointments in the evening.”

            She frowned a large, over-exaggerated frown, her eyebrows moving up in the middle, wrinkling up her forehead like that of a sad puppy.

            “You’re no fun.”

            “I don’t know, Sage. For a square, I think I’m a riot.”

            “Hey, I know!”  She suddenly perked up, and as she ran into the back office:  “Hang on a minute, don’t go anywhere.”

            While I waited, two young men entered the shop.  One would have measured taller than me, even without his bushy hair that added at least four inches to the top of his head.  The other was of average height, and was doing a terrible job at trying to grow sideburns.

            Bad Sideburns noticed me first, and suddenly he wasn’t listening to the story that Bushy-Hair was telling him, though he had seemed quite interested only a moment before.  Bad Sideburns tapped Bushy-Hair on the back, then pointed at me.  The taller boy casually set down a lava lamp he was looking at, gave me a nod and an uncomfortable smile, and the two of the boys backed out of the store.

            A few seconds later, Sage returned to the counter with a stack of mimeographed flyers.

            “I think I just scared away a sale or two,” I admitted.

            “See,” she slapped me lightly on the shoulder.  “You do look like a pig.  Anyway,” she said, changing the subject and handing me a flyer.  “You ever heard of Mary’s Painted Wagon?”

            I answered in the affirmative, because I had.  Mary’s Painted Wagon was sort of a local, poor man’s version of The Grateful Dead.  Or rather, their fans were an off-the-rack version of the Dead Heads.  Yes, Mary’s Painted Wagon had quite a following, but never ventured out of the Tri-State Area – instead of leaving life behind and going on tour with the band, their fanatical followers were at least responsible enough to be at school or work on Monday.  So Mary’s Painted Wagon preferred to stay close to the legions of admirers, and never took the risk to see what life would be like in a place where you couldn’t make a quick drive to the Ohio River.

            “Well,” she said, grabbing a pen and circling portions of the flyer.  “These are the shows I’m going to, the circled ones.”

            She handed me a flyer with upcoming tour dates printed out in blue-purple ink whose scent immediately brought me back to high school – I believe when tests were printed out this way, we called them ditto’s.  About half of the dozen or so dates had been indicated. 

“Want to meet me at one of the shows?  You could be my date.”

            “I don’t know, I’d have to see if anything coincided with my --” she didn’t let me finish.

            “I’m sure you have a date book in your jacket pocket.  What square salesman wouldn’t?”

            “Okay,” I said, and took out my notebook, comparing it to the list of days that Mary’s Painted Wagon would be playing, and the performances that Sage was planning to attend. 

“Possibly here, maybe the show in Ashland.  I’ll be in Kentucky that week.”

            Sage couldn’t have appeared more surprised if a mouse had suddenly run out of my nose, and danced a jig on my shoulder.

            “You mean it? You’ll go?”

            “I said, maybe.”

            Like a child that hears a parent say maybe they’ll go get ice cream, Sage had taken it as a foregone conclusion that I’d be meeting her in Ashland in a couple of weeks to see a rock and roll show.  (A rock and roll show? Maybe I am somewhat square.)  She quickly ran over to a rack of T-shirts, pulled one off the hangar, and held it up against my shoulders to see what I’d look like wearing it.

            “Oh,” she said, her eyes glazing over more than they had been before.  “This will be perfect on you.”

            The shirt was a tie-dyed job, with waves of swirling bright colors that shouldn’t be in the same room together, much less on the same garment.  Just looking at it, I felt as if I’d taken a dose of some major hallucinogenic, and I could only start to imagine what it might look like to someone who had.  I shook my head, and pushed the shirt away from my body.

            “Hey, hey, now,” I said.  “Watch the aura, we wouldn’t want to dent it any further.”

            At the mention of my “condition,” Sage got an idea.

            “Oh, you have to go, you just have to, I really mean it, man.”  She was suddenly serious.  “I know a guy, his name is Moondagger…well, his name is Saul, but he writes poetry under the name Moondagger.  Anyway, he’s at all the shows, so I know he’ll be in Ashland.  He can heal your aura!  So now you don’t have an excuse, you really do have to go!”

            “Well listen,” I started to explain, as I handed the shirt back to her.  “If I go, and I’m still saying if, then maybe I’ll see this Moondoggy person.”

            “Moondagger,” she corrected.

            “Right, Moondagger.  Anyway, that’s still a big if. I could get orders from the home office any day that’ll change my schedule.”  I took out my date book and started checking through it again.  “Are you sure we just shouldn’t find another night to have dinner?”

            She took the book from me, and placed it back inside my breast pocket.

            “We’re going to see Mary’s Painted Wagon, we’re going to see Moondagger, and we’re going to have a blast.  Any questions?”

            “Uh, no,” was about the only thing I could for out.

            “Okay,” she said, draping the T-shirt over my arm.  “Now, you’re going to wear this shirt to the concert, no ifs ands or buts.  If you show up looking like a narc, I’m going to pretend I don’t know you.  And you wouldn’t want to be in the parking lot, looking like a narc who’s by himself, and no one claiming to know you.  Got it?”

            “I got it.”

            “Good.  Now, you’d better get along and call your mommy like a good little boy.”

            “My office,” I said, and though I hate to admit it, rather meekly.

            “Yeah, whatever.” She gave me a wink to let me know she was just pulling my leg, and I was grateful for it. But as I turned to leave, she stopped me.

            “Hey.”

            “Hey, what?”  I really wasn’t sure where this was going.

            “Six bucks,” she quipped, holding out her hand, palm-up.

            “For what?”

            “Free love is a wonderful thing,” she whispered a bit coquettishly.  “But there’s no such thing as a free T-shirt.”

            I weighed my options.  Though I seriously doubted I was going to the concert, maybe I learned something today; that I should loosen up a bit.  And if that lesson stayed with me, and I actually did meet her at the show, I certainly didn’t want to look like a lonely narc.

            Six dollar short of the amount I came in with, I left The Eye of the Smoking Dragon, and went back to my hotel to call the main office.