It was Berkeley California in 1969 and a bunch of hippies and dopers had taken over a parcel of university-owned land on Telegraph avenue and proclaimed it a People’s Park. The Viet Nam war was at its height, and when the police showed up to oust the squatters and put up a chain-link fence, the anger and futility of the anti-war protesters, the hippies, and all the people in between ran up against the agents of the Establishment and full-scale riots broke out in the streets, with cops and National Guard on one side and hippies and students on the other. Confused mobs of people gathered on telegraph and the south end of the campus and threw rocks and bottles at the charging police, or charged through clouds of teargas to lob the canisters back at the cops. To many, it looked like the revolution had finally begun.
On a fine May afternoon, Lee Ann Hudspeth walked out of the Berkeley Greyhound Bus Station just six blocks from where there was open war in the streets, and the first thing she heard was the wail of police sirens and the confused, distant sounds of people shouting and things breaking. The first people she saw as she looked around in confusion were a bunch of college kids and hippies running towards her on the street in a blind panic, followed by a knot of cops, sweating and red-faced in their helmets and riot gear, swinging their night sticks.
“Run, baby! Run!” one of the hippies yelled at her.
Lee was wearing a pair of super-short cutoffs and a peasant blouse. She had her suitcase in her hand and clogs on her feet and had just taken off her sunglasses. She stood with her eyes wide and mouth open dumbly, watching them approach.
“Run? I can’t even walk!”
The guy didn’t stop. He just grabbed her wrist as he ran by and dragged her along, clomping down the street, her suitcase flying in her hand. She could hear the cops’ heavy breathing and muttered curses right behind her, hear the scuffle of their footsteps on the street, the jingle of their cuffs and keys on their belts.
“Motherfuckers!” one of them said
“Split up! Split up!” the guy yelled, and some of the kids peeled off, running down a side street while the others jumped through the line of parked cars and cut across the street in the middle of the block: cars honking, brakes squealing. The guy pulled her into the path of a big Cadillac which hit the brakes and the horn at the same time, did a big dip and stood there rocking like a boat in a choppy sea. Lee caught a quick glimpse of the driver’s pale face behind the tinted windshield, mouth open, wide-eyed, astonished, horrified that he’d almost hit them, and then her rescuer yanked her around the car, across the street and down a gangway between two houses.
Lee’s heart was pounding in her throat. She was too shocked to be scared. She looked at the guy who had swept her off the street: maybe nineteen or twenty, with long hair in a ponytail and a wet red bandana around his neck. He wore jeans and a poncho vest with no shirt, and there wasn’t much hair on his broad chest. Beneath the scraggly beard and long hair she could see the remnants of a former surfer, athletic and good-looking. He leaned against the side of the house panting for breath, then opened his gray eyes gave her the most delightful look of little-boy excitement. He was enjoying himself. He positively glowed. He laughed.
“Man, we’ve got some angry porkers on the warpath today,” he said. “You owe me one. I just saved your ass.”
“Owe you one? You almost got me killed! What is all this? What’s that smell?”
He laughed. “Burns, doesn’t it? That’s tear gas. I pitched a can back at them, got some on my ponch.” He peeled off the vest and threw it towards the back of the yard, leaving himself shirtless. He had a good body and he knew it. He wiped his eyes with the wet bandana.
“You’re kidding, right?” he asked her. “You just get into town? We’re taking over the streets and the pigs are pitching a bitch. This is day three of the people’s insurrection. Where you been?”
“I just got off the bus not two minutes ago,” she said. “All the way from Salinas, Kansas. My butt’s still sore. I didn’t know there’d be riots going on.”
“I figured you weren’t from around here,” he said. “You picked a hell of a day to pull into town. I’m Coyote.”
“My name’s Lee.”
He flashed her that smile again. He was obviously enjoying himself. He let out one final breath of air and signaled her to stay where she was, then crept to the front of the building, stuck his head out and looked up and down the street.
“Okay,” he said. “All clear for now. We’d better haul ass out of here before those cops come back. Where you live?”
Lee could hear the wail of sirens in the distance. The cloying, peppery smell of tear gas was in the air now, burning her nose. She looked at Coyote critically and asked, “Are you a hippy?”
“Hippy?” he mocked, then made a sour face. “I’m a revolutionary, baby. A white liberation fighter. Everyone around here knows Coyote. Why do you think those cops were chasing me?”
He didn’t look much like a leader, but she realized that she was supposed to be impressed. She didn’t mention that it seemed to her that the cops were just chasing anyone they thought they could catch.
Coyote drew himself up a little taller, and as he did he checked her out. Great legs: long, smooth, and sinuous like a young phillie’s, bare and tan from her clogs all the way up to where the cheeks of her ass just peeked out the bottom of her short denim cut-offs. Nice rack, too. No bra: he could see her eager nipples tenting the fabric of the blouse. He liked her body, lithe and tight: good tits, but not yet womanly. She had high, round cheeks, tanned and splashed with freckles that went with her billows of curly red hair. Clear and curious brown eyes, soft pink lips with no lipstick. She was a little fox. A ripe little piece of Midwestern prairie goodness: corn-fed, frisky, and fresh off the farm.
“Where’d you say you were from again?” he asked.
“Salinas Kansas.” She was entirely aware of his appraisal.
“And where you going?”
“I’ve got this address here of this girl. She’s a friend of my sister’s. She’s a grad student here; lives somewhere up by the U.”
He looked at her with new interest. “You a runaway?” he asked.
“Course not,” she said. “I’m legal. I’m old enough to do what I want. I just had to get out of Salinas is all. I couldn’t stand it there. My folks were coming down on me and it was all such a total bummer. I’m going to stay with Jessica till I get myself settled away. Get a job and all. I wanted to come out to San Francisco really, but I don’t know anyone there so I figured this was the next best thing. I didn’t know Berkeley would be so crazy though. You’re not supposed to call it Frisco, right? People don’t like that out here. That’s what Jessica said.”
He laughed. “You must have some great fucking karma, Lee. This is your lucky day. I could tell as soon as I saw you. I live in San Francisco, down by the Haight. Me and a bunch of my people. I know everyone in the Haight.”
“Your people? Like a commune?”
“Yeah. I guess so. More like a revolutionary cell, you know?”
“Cool!” Her eyes lit up. “That’s what I was hoping for: to live in a commune with some people. Jessica—that’s my sister’s friend—she says there’s lots of communes around here.”
More sirens sounded in the distance, along with the loud, rude blat of fire-engine horns and the sound of their diesel engines, surprisingly close. The smell of tear gas seemed to be getting stronger. Lee was afraid it would ruin her eye make-up.
“Sounds like they’re headed back our way,” Coyote said confidently. “We’d better get out of here. They take me alive and some very nasty shit’ll come down. My people will see to that. Anyway, my work here is done for the day. I was about to head back. It’ll quiet down till tomorrow. You want to come back with?”
Lee thought about the address written down in her little sketchbook in her suitcase. Jessica didn’t know exactly when she was coming, so she wouldn’t be worried, and Lee did want to see San Francisco. From what she knew, it was as far from Salinas. Kansas as she could imagine, and right now, Berkeley had no charm for her. Besides, she liked Coyote’s smile and his air of danger. Maybe he was right and there was some reason that she’d met him today. Lee believed in karma. It was one of the guiding principles of her life.
“To San Francisco?” she asked. “Sure, I guess. Why not?”
Coyote’s friend’s VW bug was stashed well away from the demonstrations, and by now the cops were back down on Telegraph, so they had no trouble getting to the car. As soon as they got on the Bay Bridge, Coyote pulled a joint out of his pack of Kool Milds, fired it up and cranked the radio.
“You smoke?” he asked through his teeth, holding the smoke in.
“Sure I do. That’s the main reason I had to leave Kansas. Too much hassling with my folks and the cops. Too much hassle and not enough dope.”
She took the joint and inhaled deeply. No one could fault her on her smoking technique, and Coyote seemed suitably reassured that she knew what she was doing. Soon they were both enveloped in a muzzy fog of sunshine and marijuana smoke, headed across the Bay Bridge for San Francisco. The shadows from the bridge’s girders slid along her face as Lee let the dope seep through her and mellow her out. She looked out at the sun on the bay way below her and rolled down the window to let the wind take her hair.
“What’s your sign?” Coyote asked her, taking the joint from her. His eyes were now red, his lids at half-mast.
“Libra,” she said happily. “Double Libra. Sun and rising sign.” She knew her chart. A girlfriend in Kansas had done it for her. “I just go with the flow. I’m like the mediator, seek the balance in everything, you know?”
“Libra,” he said thoughtfully. “I got a friend who says Libra’s are always swinging from one extreme to the other. One catastrophe to another.” He reached up to the sun visor and found a pair of shades, slipped them on. “That’s if you’re badly aspected though, I guess,” he added.
Lee looked out the window. She could see all along the shores of the bay, see the highway stretching up north to the oil tanks of Richmond behind her and across down to Redwood and Daly Cities lost in the sunny haze where the light glinted off cars coming and going. It was like sitting in the middle of a bowl of people and their civilization. All that life spread out before her in the pure sunshine, and she felt the grime of the bus trip scoured from her body by the cool, sweet air. She had done it. She was free of her parents, of the suffocating heat and sterile flatness of her home town, the dumb boyfriends, the chatty, vacuous girls. She’d escaped. She never thought she would.
The sounds of Credence Clearwater’s Suzy-Q came over the radio, the excitingly sensual menace of John Fogarty’s guitar, and she felt the excitement echo in the pit of her stomach. Her nipples tightened from the caress of her wind-blown fabric of her thin blouse and the feel of her hair against her face. She had never felt so gloriously free..
“Badly aspected,” she repeated. “That’s what I want to be: badly aspected.”
Coyote looked at her and laughed, and Lee decided on the spot that she was going to fuck him.
Coyote’s place was an apartment in the Haight. There were people on the sidewalk and sitting on the stoops, barefoot, in sandals, openly sharing joints on the street, like a big block party. The hallway up to his revolutionary cell smelled like incense and marijuana, laced with a good whiff of cat pee, and Lee thought she’d never smelled such an intoxicating aroma, earthy and real.
There were three guys in the living room sitting around on old overstuffed Goodwill couches, listening to records, eating chips and drinking wine from a half-gallon, but Lee didn’t pay them much attention because Coyote didn’t either. From their goofy smiles they were all obviously wasted. She looked around at the stacks of books and pamphlets stacked haphazardly about the room, some Fillmore West posters on the wall, cats sleeping in the window sills amidst the scraggly plants.
Coyote took her into the kitchen to meet Shay, and Lee immediately perked up. It was obvious from Coyote’s attitude that Shay was a woman of consequence around there, and her appearance backed that up. She must have just gotten off work, because she was still wearing her straight, working-girl clothes—office clothes—and wire-rimmed John Lennon glasses. Her blond hair was held back in a rubber-banded pony tail, as if she’d just put it up, and she was making some tea when Coyote introduced them. There were a bunch of papers spread out on the kitchen table, one of the few clean and organized spots in the whole apartment: announcements of rallies and demonstrations, fliers for a legal defense fund. Lee didn’t pay much attention. She had already got a pretty good impression of Coyote’s level of politics from the three stoned guys in the living room. It was obvious that Shay was the heavyweight in this set-up. She was a few years older than Coyote, and a lot more mature.
“Shay’s our legal counsel. She works at the People’s Legal Defense Center.” Coyote said, peering into the fridge. “She’s almost a lawyer herself, right Shay?”
“Six more months, if I decide to go back.” she said. She poured tea for the three of them, pushed a cat off the table and sat down. “So what happened over there today?”
Coyote shrugged. “Same old same-old. I think Digger got cracked. Someone said they saw the pigs leading him away in cuffs, so don’t be surprised if he calls you.”
“I hope not. I’m up to my eyeballs in work already. So what’s your story, Lee?”
Lee shrugged, but before she could reply, Coyote said, “She got caught in the middle of it. Just got off the dog from Kansas and steps right into the shit storm on Shattuck. She was into it though, picked up a can of CS and threw it back at the cops. Got gassed pretty good. She needs a place to crash. I said we could put her up.”
Lee opened her mouth to protest, but Shay looked at her with new respect then gave her a big smile. “That so? Well, right on, sister! We need more women on the front lines. That’s the only thing the brothers respect. You’re welcome here. We can put you up in Janey’s old room. Janey’s in Mexico about now.”
“Oh, well, thank you,” Lee said. “That’s really far out.”
“Anyone is your room, Shay?” Coyote asked. “Lee and me want to get off. I might even want to crash out for a while. Okay if we use your bed?”
Lee was still high from the joint in the car, but the word ‘bed’ sent a little thrill through her stomach.
Shay looked at him casually. Something passed between her and Coyote, something Lee couldn’t read. She had no doubt that Coyote and Shay were lovers.
“Okay with me,” Shay said. “In fact, maybe I’ll join you. I’ve got all the fucking work to do but I’m sick of looking at this stuff. I could use some smoke.”
Shay led them into the front room, which was apparently Shay’s bedroom. Lee hasn’t noticed it before because it was shut off from the rest of the apartment by big sliding pocket doors. Sometime way in the past it must have been a front parlor. As they passed the guys in the dining room, Shay said. “You guys’ve got to split now, okay? I need some rest.”
There was some grumbling and shuffling, but the three guys peeled themselves out of the furniture and collected themselves while Coyote leaned against the wall watching them. He didn’t really stare, just observed to make sure they didn’t hook anything on their way out. Shay locked the front door after them.
The general mess of the apartment stopped dead at the door to Shay’s room. Inside everything was clean and freshly painted: pink and yellow and blue, and organized, with Pueblo throw rugs and a paisley bedspread and even its own stereo and clock radio. There were bedroom lamps and curtains on the windows. It was obvious that Shay was the power in this apartment and liked things just so.
Shay came up with a bag of marijuana from somewhere, and gave it to Coyote, who started rolling a joint using a shoe box lid as a catch tray. Shay lay down on her bed and gestured to Lee.
“Come on, Lee. Sit over here.” she said. “This is some excellent shit. It’s from Thailand. You don’t get this kind of stuff in Kansas.”
Lee hesitated for just a moment. She knew she was on the edge of something. She still held her big suitcase in her hand—she’d been dragging it around with her since Coyote had picked her up--but when Coyote fired up the big spliff and held it out to her, she put down the case and came over and sat on the bed. The J was a monster, a double, as thick as her little finger, and the smoke was so thick with resin that it tasted camphorous in her mouth, like hash. On the first hit she felt a rush and the hairs rose up on the backs of her arms and her scalp. She had to remember to exhale.
Shay took the joint and hit on it with short, whispered sucks to keep it from getting too hot, and by the time she passed it back to Coyote, Lee was absolutely flying.
Shay leaned over her and put her hand on Lee’s shoulder so she could reach over to the stereo. There was already a record on the turntable. She hit the reject button and the music started: Hendrix, The Wind Cries Mary: lush, swirling, and essentially insane.
Shay was talking to Coyote but Lee knew she was talking about her too, she could tell that much. Then Coyote was talking to her, asking her something, and so was Shay. They were asking her if she did women. Did women. That meant have sex with them. Lee didn’t know but the thought made her smile for some reason. She didn’t know what that meant right away. She knew that women were beautiful. Shay was beautiful: beautiful and tender and unusually kind. She could tell that right away. The joint came her way and she took another hit.
She heard their voices, heard the music; felt the music like a big warm snake crawling over her skin. Jimi was talking to her. He was telling her that her body was an instrument too, and she could feel every spot on her body where he put his fingers to draw forth each note. Lee smiled, a smile of pure contentment. She could feel his pick playing between her legs and over her nipples, and each word from his mouth dripped with sensuality and meaning.
It was so delicious to be here. To be a woman here now with these two remarkable people who fought with police and got so amazingly, astonishingly high. The dry, late-afternoon light filtered in through the curtains and fell on the floor and a corner of the bed, and Lee could almost taste it, like honey. She looked at Coyote and was struck dumb by his easy masculine beauty. The thought that he was a male, that he had a cock between his legs made her smile at how perfect everything was. She felt herself as Libra. She felt herself as the mediator between two worlds, two extremes: between yin and yang, male and female, earth and sky. She knew that was her function, to act as go-between. It all made such clean and intuitive sense.
Then she saw Coyote’s beautiful face approaching hers and she knew he was going to kiss her. She closed her eyes and waited.
Maybe it was the kiss, maybe it was the drug, but she’d never felt a kiss like that, a kiss so eloquent and meaningful. It told her that she was loved and desired, and that he would be kind and gentle, and it told her something else, about the irresistible attraction between a man and a woman and the force of sex that drew them together: she to give and he to take. She could almost feel the hormones and chemicals gush into her body as it prepared itself for the inevitability of sex: thrilling, wonderful sex. She thought of the birth control pills in her suitcase and how she was ready for this, and that reminded her in turn that she was in the Haight in San Francisco, free of her parents and free of dusty Salinas and free of everything that had dragged on her all her young life, and that just made her gush all the more. She felt exhilaratingly, exquisitely feminine and so ready for this.