October 12th, 1974. 10:30 AM
When I was a kid things were a lot different than they are today. For one, there was no such thing as ‘fashion.’ Oh, maybe for wealthy women, but definitely not for lower middle class boys. We just wore clothes that fell into the categories of school, play, and church. The variety of colors was minimal and of styles it was even less. This wasn’t because we weren’t able to express our individuality through our attire; it just was because it was supposed to be. Everyone knew it, and no one questioned it.
Except, much to my chagrin, for my mom.
The week before school started was her favorite time of year, more so than the start of classes, and me not giving her grief five days a week for nine whole months. She took me to every store that she could find sold boys clothing, even if it meant a two-hour drive. I would try on dozens of articles at each place we visited, and my mother would find the most outlandish shirts ever made and match them with the most eccentric pants available. She reveled in dressing me like ‘a little man,’ as she always put it, though I had never seen a single adult male dressed anything like Dear Old Mom dressed me.
I guess it’s possible the outfits she chose for me weren’t that bad -- in reliving the experience I’m remembering them to be worse than they actually were. But, strangely enough, that isn’t even important. The truth is, I felt as if I looked stupid, and therefore held myself in a way that let the other kids sense I felt stupid, and the only natural course their behavior could take them was in treating me as if I were stupid. It wasn’t the clothing at all; it was my attitude when wearing it. It seems so obvious looking at the peculiar things young people wear nowadays, and how comfortable they appear, that it isn’t the outfit that makes someone look bizarre, it’s how they feel in it.
Heeding Sage Parker’s warning to leave my usual fashion sense behind for the Mary’s Painted Wagon concert, I had put on the tie-dyed t-shirt I’d purchased from her shop nine days ago, and a pair of dungarees I’d bought the day before. Since the swirling bright colors of the shirt felt a bit too bright, and the jeans were a very deep blue (and still stiff,) I felt just like I had as a boy on the first day of school.
Just relax, I kept telling myself, that’s the secret to not feeling like you look idiotic.
Since the concert was almost a three-hour drive from Cincinnati, and work had me in the general vicinity of the venue, I was glad when Sage called saying she was getting a hotel room near the concert and to pick her up there. Walking up to her room, I was having difficulty listening to my pleas to myself to not feel so uptight about my attire.
She must have heard me walking up, because she swung open the door before I could knock.
“Sammy!” She squealed, holding me in one of those hugs she’s so well remembered for. She took a step back, and gave me the once-over while I did the same to her.
She wore large, silver hoop earrings, and a buckskin vest in lieu of a shirt that was laced up tightly. The fringe on the vest was long and swayed to just above her knees; each strand ended in a series of dichroic glass beads that put out a chorus of light clacking sounds as she moved. Her jeans were faded with random bleach stains that looked like fluffy white clouds against an azure sky.
“You look so cool!” She said, sounding as if she really meant it. And suddenly, I felt I was. That quickly she dispelled any doubts I’d had about how I was looked. Abruptly and unexpectedly, I was looking forward to the day with much more enthusiasm than before. Then she frowned.
“What happened to your eye? Did you get in a fight?”
“I honestly don’t know,” I said. And apparently it was a good enough answer, for the matter was dropped.
“If you wouldn’t mind grabbing the card table and lawn chairs, I’ll get the cooler,” she said, going back into the room. When she turned I noticed a smiley-face patch sewn onto the back of her jeans, strategically placed on the left pocket to draw one’s eye to it.
After noticing it, I wouldn’t doubt that my grin was as big as the one worn by the yellow face.
October 12th, 1974. 11:00 AM
The fairgrounds were in Hosendack, a rural town about 5 minutes outside of Ashland, Kentucky. The show didn’t start for another eight hours, but Sage was just as excited about participating in the impromptu market that had sprung up in the parking lot as she was about the music.
Dozens of cars, vans and ex-school buses with custom paint jobs slowly sputtered and grinded their way into the fairgrounds parking lot, like a herd of tired cows being funneled through a small opening of a rancher’s fence. As each found its resting spot its doors were opened, and out cascaded a flood of Mary’s Painted Wagon fans. It had rained a couple of days before, which was keeping the dust down, and the weather was just above 70 degrees, pleasantly warm for this time of year.
With the music not starting for some time, the concertgoers were mingling around near the cars. Some flipped Frisbees while many others blew soap bubbles. But the majority, including Sage and myself, set up folding tables behind our vehicles to display various wares. Though Sage and I were concentrating on her jewelry and a smattering of my beads, one could also purchase or barter for everything from funny-looking pipes to t-shirts proclaiming anti-establishment phrases.
As in her store, each piece of jewelry Sage put out had a printed card on which the spiritual aspects of the piece was touted: a necklace with amethyst crystals would help one in meditating and clear quartz would help focus the energy of their thoughts. And who knew that denim lapis beads could help nourish one’s sympathy and tenderness?
As Sage arranged her artwork to enhance the display, I took the opportunity to investigate what was going on around me. One thing that pleasantly surprised me was my age didn’t make me stand out. I was sure the crowd would be made up entirely of teenagers, and that even Sage would be among the oldest, but that wasn’t the case at all. As a matter of fact, some of Mary’s Painted Wagon’s followers were getting along in years. Next to our table was a man who appeared older than my memories of my grandfather – but was this man genuinely ancient, or just a victim of hard living? Though his long, gray beard and the crevices in his face gave the appearance of antiquity, his smile and the gleam in his eye showed all the enthusiasm reserved for the young. His exuberant disposition may have been due to the fact he was currently painting flowers and peace signs on the thighs of a woman about 20, clad in a bikini top and incredibly short cut-off jeans.
October 12th, 1974. 12:15 PM
As the morning progressed to early afternoon, Sage’s makeshift store seemed to be the second most popular on the grounds, outdone only by the brisk business of the elderly body painter.
“How have you done so far?” I asked, opening a can of cola I had just taken from the cooler.
“About a hundred in cash, three buckskin flasks, some groovy platform shoes, a few incense burners, and, oh, check this out.” She held up her wrist to display a bracelet made from about five or six pennies welded together and bent into a circle. “Is that cool, or what? I’m going to have to start making these for the store. They cost less than a dime, and I can sell ‘em for five or six bucks.”
I noticed she had only one turquoise and citrine necklace left on the table. Though I thought this piece was not one of her most attractive, according to her copy it could make anyone fall in love with you when worn at dusk during an equinox.
“You should have brought more. You’d have made a killing,” I offered.
“Nah, I don’t want to sit here all day before the show. I want to walk around,” she said. “And remember, we have to track down Moondagger.”
Ah, yes. Moondagger, the spiritual guru who was, hopefully, going to be of some help to my damaged aura.
A couple then came up to our stand and Sage got into a bartering conversation with them over the last piece of jewelry. My attention was drawn to a bus a few parking spaces down, where our neighbor’s customers were dancing on the roof, showing off their recently applied day-glow designs.
After the couple made their trade and left the table, carrying Sage’s last piece of merchandise, she turned to me. “Okay, pick a hand,” she said, wearing an impish grin.
“Mm, that one,” I said, pointing to her left.
“Sorry.” She opened an empty fist. “Try again.”
“I’ll go for the other,” I said, now pointing to her right.
“Ta-dah!” She opened her hand to reveal a ring. Not anything special, really, just a plain silver band with a glass stone about the size of an almond. “It’s for you!” Before I could bother telling her that I’m not much of a ring-wearer, she was holding me by the wrist with one hand, trying to squeeze it onto my ring finger with the other. When she realized her attempt was in vain, she slid it over my pinky finger, where it seemed to fit fine.
“That’s nice,” I said.
“Do you know what it is?” she asked.
“I believe it’s a ring,” was my response, which was so obvious felt kind of silly for saying it.
“It’s a mood ring!” she said. “Ever heard of one?”
“No, I never have. What’s a mood ring?”
She then held up her right hand, showing an identical ring, only the stone was a vivid green.
“It changes color to let everyone know what kind of mood you’re in. See, mine’s green. That means I’m not under any pressure, I’m happy.”
“Well, what does mine say?” I looked down at nothing but dull gray glass.
“You have to give it a minute to adjust to your body. It’s not saying anything, yet.” She then started folding up the lawn chairs and putting them into the trunk of my car.
“Come on, take care of that table and then let’s go find Moondagger.”
Before we started our quest, Sage put a selection of my beads into her purse and attached the strap to one of the buckskin flasks over my shoulder.
“Even though he’s a friend of mine, he’s probably not going to help you out for free,” she explained. “So the more we can bring along to trade with him, the better. It’s amazing how someone who so in touch with the universe, and has the power to bend it to his will, is willing to share that gift for just a few baubles. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah, that is rather generous of him,” I said, wondering just what kind of snake oil salesman I was about to meet.
October 12th, 1974. 12:45 PM
As we had made our way up and down several rows of the labyrinth of parked cars, my feeling of being on a wild goose chase was increasing.
“What does Moondagger’s car look like?” I asked.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” was her vague answer.
Rounding another corner of vehicles I saw a man I recognized. It was impossible to tell his age because his thick mess of hair and beard were one large clump whose sole purpose was to hide everything but his eyes and nose. A pair of dark blue, round-framed glasses covered his eyes. He had bought a long soladite and mother-of-pearl necklace earlier from Sage that he had twisted and tied so it could be worn as a headband – in which he had stuck several unhygienic-looking bird feathers.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you know a guy named Moondagger by any chance?”
He shook his head, his pink nose moving back and forth in a sea of stringy black. “No, man, no. Don’t know a guy named Moondagger.”
“Thanks,” I said turning to leave.
“But I do know an energy that has named itself Moondagger.”
“Excuse me?” I turned back.
“An energy that understands love, because it is made of love. An energy that understands hate, but has no hate in it. A consciousness formed by the light of Mother Universe who understands so much he is able to transform himself into the likeness of a physical being, so that we mere mortals can learn from, can hope to grasp an inkling of, the Big Oneness.”
“That sounds like him,” I said, though I wasn’t going to bestow those attributes on him so blindly. “Do you know where we can find him?”
“Sure,” he pointed. “Just make a left at the yellow Impala with the sign of Isis spray-painted on the back.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said. Though I wasn’t quite sure what the sign of Isis looked like, I figured there couldn’t be too many yellow Impalas with spray-painted signs of any kind on them.
“Sage, over here.” She was standing on her tiptoes, trying to peer over one row of cars into the next. “I think I found him.”
Sage ran over, and we went down the row until, just as my furry friend had said, I found the yellow sedan with a drippy, nonsensical symbol painted on the trunk. We took a left, and there it was.
Sage was right. Moondagger’s van couldn’t be mistaken.
It was as if the cars around the Ford van knew the importance of its owner, for they weren’t parked nearly as close as all the other vehicles in the parking lot. Moondagger had room for a little lawn of his own, and he was making good use of it.
First off, the van had the word Moondagger airbrushed quite professionally on either side, though the condition of the original paint job underneath had seen better days. There was a noticeable Eastern motif to the whole arrangement: Chinese lanterns were strung from ropes from the antenna of the automobile down to tent poles hammered into the ground. A plaster Japanese dragon, covered in chipped gold paint that had faded from weeks in the sun, sat next to a gong. Next to this was a folding chair decorated with yellow fringe and shiny bits of metal hanging from strands of silk. An end table that looked as if it had been stolen from a cheap motel sat next to it.
But there was no sign of Moondagger.
“So what now?” I asked Sage.
She gave a little chuckle of excitement and ran to the back of the van. I waited, several feet behind her.
When she reached the van, she knocked on the back door, and when it opened a man of about 20 poked his head out. His squinting, red eyes seemed to perk up when he saw Sage.
“Hey,” he slurred. “It’s…you.” Though he seemed to recognize her, the pause before delivering the last word made it clear he couldn’t remember her name.
“Is this Moondagger, Sage?” I asked. Though I doubted he was, I wanted to use her name in a sentence to jog his memory.
“It’s so good to see you, Sage!” he said, picking up on my hint.
Sage then came back to me, grabbed my hand, and ushered me to meet the young man. “Lenny K., this is my friend, Sam. Sam, Lenny K.”
“Oh, man, cool,” he said while shaking my hand. “Well take a seat, I’ll summon Him.”
Lenny K. led us to two plastic milk crates, apparently on permanent loan from the Udderly-Delicious! Dairy Company, that were turned upside down into makeshift seats – though quite uncomfortable ones.
Once we were seated, Sage grabbed my hand in both of hers. Her smile showed excitement and wonder, so much so that even if this meeting turned out as worthless as I expected, her attitude made it all worth it.
Lenny K. then walked to the back doors of the van, opened them slightly, stuck his head inside and said something. After about 20 seconds we heard a muffled voice reply, “Okay, I’m ready.”
Lenny K. closed the doors, and situated himself between the gong and the decorated chair. He then took a mallet from its resting place on the gong stand.
“Lady and gentleman,” he began. “I present to you the High and Exalted One.” He chuckled a bit after the word ‘high.’ “The Keeper of the Ultimate Secrets who is willing to share them.”
If he shares them, how can he be their Ultimate Keeper? I thought.
“The Spiritual Embodiment of the Universe, though based in Southern Ohio and surrounding areas…”
Sage squeezed my hand harder.
“Moondagger!” Lenny K. struck the gong, and after a dramatic pause Moondagger stepped out of the van.
......to be continued.
© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd