THE PHOTO OF THE CLOWN at the top of this page is me hitchhiking from Wilkes-Barre to Pittston on Route 11 along the Susquehanna River in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This was a special day: I was on my way to tell my girlfriend something that I had never said to a woman: I was gonna tell her that I loved her and ask her to move in with me!
This took a lot of balls/gumption for me as I had recently failed in a brief relationship with a sweet hippiechick in Boston and was feeling less that “manly.” (If you catch my meaning if you get my drift . . .)
But first, for younger readers, in the ’70s adults still “went steady” (even those over 30!), and moving in together was a VERY BIG DEAL. In those days, the only people who did it lived in a big, evil city like New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco.
Goodbye cruel world, I’m off to join the circus, gonna be a broken-hearted clown.
I certainly didn’t know any unmarried couples that lived together—not even hippie couples. At least not in Wyoming Valley! I mean, there must have been some, but they didn’t broadcast it, you know?
Hell, in those days, it was like knowing someone who was divorced! They existed but no one knew anyone who had done it.
And people still used terms like “out of wedlock” and “living in sin” and “shamed woman.” (As usual, the chicks got the heavy schidt from society.)
But it was time.
Now, I cherished my independence and knew that I would be “tying myself down” at a time when I was still a rambunctious sorta fellow. I knew that I should sow a few more wild oats.
But I was deliriously in love so it was an easy decision.
I did not have a car then—no self-respecting hippie did. So I did a lot of hitching, and today getting to my girl was no exception.
And hitching was weird because well, the early ’70s were our ’60s back East. Lotsa dope and acid and, well, we did dress a little different from what normal people were used to, so sticking your thumb out and expecting a ride was almost always an ‘experience.’ I met some people who didn’t need clothing or even drugs to be more out there than all the acid I ever took took me!
But usually the experiences were good, like this one.
The folks that picked me up here were older.
In their sixties, like I am now.
They pulled over, I hopped in the back seat, and the husband said, “You kids sure are colorful these days. A lot more than we ever were, I can tell you! Where you headin’, sonny?”
The wife asked me who the balloons were for, and I told her. “She’ll love them,” she smiled at me and nodded. “Yes, she will love them.”
Now when I am out and about, I usually sing to myself. My go-to song was then and remains Elvis’s I Gotta Know from 1960. I sorta sing as sexy as I can, even to myself, thinking it will help me give off sexy vibes to the women that I pass on my way.
Get up in the morning, feeling mighty weak,
a tossing and a turning—well, I ain’t had no sleep!
Oh, baby, what road’s our love taking,
to romance or heartbreaking?
Won’t you say which way you’re gonna go?
I gotta know, gotta know, gotta know.
As appropriate as those lyrics were, that is NOT the song that was stuck in my head. Instead it was James Darren’s Goodbye Cruel World from 1961. This was NOT a song that I wanted to be singing, but the damn thing wouldn’t go away!
Goodbye cruel world, I’m off to join the circus,
gonna be a broken-hearted clown.
Paint my face with a good-for-nothing’ smile,
’cause a mean fickle woman turned my whole world upside down!
Okay, it was a sorta road song and I was on the road, if only for half an hour. By the time that I got there, I was as scared as I had ever been. My girl took one look at me and said, “Babe, what’s wrong? You don’t have any color in your face!”
When I said nothing, she smiled and said, “Here, let me put those balloons someplace nice and get you a drink. You want Boone’s Farm or Annie Green Springs?”
After we drank our wine—strawberry something or other—I looked her in the eye and said, “Now, if there’s a smile on my face, it’s only there trying to fool the public. But when it comes down to fooling you now, honey, that’s quite a different subject.”
She said, “Huh!??!”
So I finally blurted out “I LOVE YOU!” and proposed that we live together. Whew! She smiled, took my round red nose between her fingers and gently squeezed, causing it to honk lightly.
Then she whispered, “Neal, honey, you’re not clowning around this time, are you?”
“No, I’m not,” I responded. “Look at me—can’t you tell how serious I am?”
“Okay. I’m glad.” And she twisted the cap off a second bottle of wine, she smiled, nodded, and said, “And I love the balloons . . .”
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of Wavy Gravy: poet, stand-up comic, improvisational theater artist, psychedelic bus caravan luminary, rock concert MC, and has been called the “clown prince of the counter-culture.” Along with his wife Jahanara, he has brought joy and helped to relieve suffering for countless people around the globe, largely through his favorite projects, the Seva Foundation and Camp Winnarainbow. Now in his 80s, the refers to himself as a “temple of accumulated error.” Ram Dass said, “Everything Wavy says is true, although it’s all unbelievable.” (Wavy Gravy)