The Sierra God Machine
By Lionel Rolfe
Ari began his journalism career in the early sixties by writing for the communist
People’s World. By the end of that decade, he had done a lot of knocking around small town weeklies and dailies. It was in the late in that decade when he was called into the office of the publisher of the Inglewood Daily News and fired because his connection with the People’s World had resulted in his name appearing in an Un-American Activities Committee report.
In a dreary suburban L.A. area town of dirty white and faded pink stucco apartments and
fifties tract homes and a downtown long before gone to seed, the Daily News did not have enough of an economic base to survive much longer. But it continued to exist in Ari’s
mind, because he never forgot when the publisher fired him because the California
Newspaper Publishers Association had found the reference listing him as a subversive.
By the time Ari was blacklisted in the newspaper business, the much more famous Hollywood blacklist had long been broken. It was being operated by the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
One of the articles in the People’s World concerned an infamous anti-Semitic preacher named Wesley Swift whose mentor had been Gerald L.K. Smith, the unabashed fascist who had been an associate of Huey Long, the infamous dictator and governor of Louisiana during the Great Depression.
The publisher of the Daily News looked like a typical small town businessman and Rotarian, for that is what he was. He was a gray, unhealthy-looking man with a crewcut.
But he did admit that Ari was the best reporter who had ever passed through the newspaper’s doors.
“But none of that matters,” he said. “I will deny the real reason we are firing you. You are not going to get us to admit that there is a blacklist. But there is, young man,
and I would suggest you get into another field. You’ll never work anywhere in California again.”
The problem began a year before with his first real newspaper job in a weekly on the coast of California halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he tried to
expose the background of a school superintendent supported by a school board that had been captured by a gang of John Birchers, a secretive group of right wing fanatics who said they were borrowing communist tactics in order to defeat communism.
One late afternoon the sheriff and a couple of top officials of the school district walked to the door of the Arroyo Beach Times and demanded Ari be fired.
“Jew Agitator,” they hissed.
“Communist prevert,” they snarled.
And then they ponderously and publicly announced subversion in the schools had been uncovered and a whole nest of subversive vipers needed to be wiped out.
Accompanying this delegation of learning and rectitude was Tommy Valentine, the reporter who had written the front page stories that had appeared that morning in the
Santa Maria Times. The lead head was “Reporter’s Red Links Exposed.”
All of them, including the Times’ reporter, were secret members of the Birch Society.
Ari’s boss and the boss’ son quickly came to the conclusion they had better fire Ari after considering the bill of particulars.
Ari, they recounted, had been trained in Moscow and Peking to take over the local school board.
The superintendent who had received his doctoral degree from the University of Madrid in 1952, under Franco’s fascist regime, had also discovered that two women teachers were fighting to form a union. They were the school’s librarians. They thought teachers needed a voice. And they also already had a union of their ownâ€”they were lesbians. The sidebar to the “Red Links” head was “Super Exposes Sexual Perversion.”
Within hours of that announcement, the teachers were found dead. Suicide, it was said.
And late that afternoon, all the instigators were at the door of the newspaper demanding that Ari be fired.
Ari had his supporters. Quite a few readers thought the gang that had taken over the schools were too extreme in their anti-communism. One of them was Ari’s landlady, a leader with the local Republican party. She was the city’s librarian and she offered to organize a real fight to get Ari’s job back, but he didn’t want to fight. He wanted out of the town.
He should have stayed and fought. A number of local businessmen, who were also big advertisers, supported Ari. And things would get really hard for Ari because he didn’t stay and clear his name.
After the Inglewood experience, he was officiallyâ€”if secretlyâ€” blacklisted; and he couldn’t get a job anywhere, not even in Pixley, El Centro, or Brawley, places that
most wandering newspapermen like him regarded as armpits of the world, but nonetheless places where anyone else could get a job.
It wasn’t until he walked into a newspaper office in Oldhall, which just then had evolved from an old western town into a suburb of Los Angeles, that he got hired. The
place was named after the family that owned the land from an old Spanish landgrant. The Oldhall Tribune’s owner and publisher was an eccentric who edited the state’s second largest newspaper in San Francisco, which had opposed McCarthyism and the war in Vietnam.
His name was Scott Oldhall, although he was better known as Oldhall. His son was Oldhall as well.
Oldhall liked the fact that Ari was a crusading journalist. He liked that his new reporter had sided with the teacher’s union as opposed to the Bircher school board.
Ari was hired after two hours of conversation with Oldhall, who was a San Francisco aristocrat and editor of the San Francisco Times. Oldhall purchased the paper in Oldhall long after it had fallen from his family’s control. As a kid at the turn of the last century, Oldhall had roamed this same land on horseback because it was a 40,000-acre ranch owned by his family.
He realized he had something unique in Ari, who loved sitting through interminable city council meetings, school board meetings, sewer district meetings, and the like. He even enjoyed police beat because he romantically saw police beat news as parables of the human condition.
The two-hour interview had begun in the newspaper office on the second floor of an old brick building and ended downstairs in the bar, which also served as the official entrance to the newsroom, through a narrow stairway near the restrooms. The bar’s decor was thick black enamel over tired plywood. The editor and his staff had unimpeded access to the bar, which really just an extension of the newsroom.
After a while, Ari and Oldhall went to Oldhall’s home, a great Victorian mansion built along the Oldhall River.
Oldhall flung himself over a great cement bench, draping himself like Ahab, because like Ahab he had an artificial leg. He obtained his artificial leg as a young man during
his honeymoon. He fell from a horse; gangrene set in; and his wife had to amputate his leg.
The backyard of the mansion was a primeval forest. As they were talking, there was a rustling in the tallest tree branches a hundred feet up. Ari looked concerned, but Oldhall looked almost bored by the ominous sight of numerous buzzards, the size of large turkeys, gathering on the tree branches.
“I hope they are not symbolic of anything,” Oldhall said in an odd way that Ari would later get used to.
The world-weariness and black humor were only temporary. Soon Oldhall’s voice was alive with talk about the priesthood that journalists belonged to. His voice sparkled with the conviction of a great truth, even if that truth was tempered by a certain sense of playful surrealism.
As editor of the San Francisco Times, Oldhall had campaigned against the war in Vietnam by declaring the need for San Francisco to become a city-state and secede from the union.
Ari did not deny that he felt as if he were part of an elite, especially when Oldhall’s son, Ari’s immediate boss and editor of the Tribune, held parties at the Oldhall Mansion
that became regular soirees. At dinner tables, the size of which could only be compared to what might’ve been found in a dank European castle, they ate lavish meals, talked, played chess, swam in the vast tile pool, or relaxed in the beautifully tiled hot tub as they watched the dusk creep in across the narrow Oldhall River Valley, spreading her gloomy purple brilliance first on the orchards and then on the mansion. In summer, the rounded tall narrow doors of the parlor were thrown wide open, and restless spirits flowed in and out along with the hot air.
In truth, Oldhall had decreed a stately Pleasure Dome, but called the place a “Poor Man’s Hearst Castle.” He also wanted to build a city along the Oldhall River and create a
dynasty he hoped to confer upon heathen Southern California. He also created the Oldhall Arts University in the hope that it would carry on the mad synergy of the time and place.
The self-perceived business and religious leaders of Oldhall were on a few special occasions invited to join him at parties at the Oldhall Mansion. Then they would go back
and talk about the latest party for weeks on end, sometimes making the it sound even more exciting than it really was. They also had a voracious appetite about events they were not invited to at the mansion house.
Almost every weekend Ari and the younger Oldhall had more private parties, with members of the willing female variety. This led to complications. For example, there was the beautiful daughter of an “important” minister who frequently railed against the Tribune. Sometimes, the minister’s wife got invited up for the soirees Ari and Oldhall held, mostly in the jacuzzi and then upstairs in one of the mansion house’s eight bedrooms.
Like daughter, mother was quite a looker. Away from her husband, she was also playful and flirtatious, and one time Ari’s boss had his way with her. Ari didn’t have a chance because he was a Jew, and she didn’t like Jews. Oldhall said she was incredible in bed; Ari responded that the daughter wasn’t half bad either.
Ari and Oldhall both seemed fascinated by the mother daughter combination. Mother and daughter shared that hysterical fear and loathing of sex that so many Christian
fundamentalists exhibited. But they also enjoyed a wanton fuck with a wholesome exuberance neither Ari or Oldhall could muster. Perhaps it was the dark side of sin, the forbidden fruit aspect that drove them to such heights of passion.
If the minister’s wife rejected Ari, he didn’t mind because he was deeply involved with the wife of a local cop, who was frequently heard to talk about the commies running the newspaper. She began hanging around the newspaper, trying to make herself as helpful as she could. Everyone assumed that she told her husband she was spying for him.
But Ari suspected the truth was something more than just that.
Ari grew fond of her, and often teased her, saying they ought to have an affair. She would give him serious replies about being a good Christian and all. But one early evening when Ari was trying to get a story done for the next day’s edition, she stayed behind. He went out of the city room and then returned. She was lying down on the ground, her hips gyrating, her blouse gaped open. He had often fantasized about her breasts, and now she was proudly showing them off.
“OK, big boy,” she said. “Let’s see what you can do.”
Ari was genuinely taken aback. He found her attractive, but he was scared of her slim figure. She was not very well endowed. She used to flirt with him by asking if he could be turned on by a girl with such small breasts. As she said this, she would brush up against him.
“Try me,” he used to say.
And now she was, in earnest.
Suddenly he told himself he couldn’t imagine making love to a woman who was as thin as a rail, as if the lack of flesh to bury himself in somehow meant she wasn’t really enough woman.
And he was scared. The truth was Ari was still too much at that infantile place where breast size was the measure of a woman’s attractiveness.
His reaction surprised even himself. He might as well have run away, so hastily did he excuse himself, leaving her writhing on the floor without him.
She never offered herself to Ari again, although she did later have a quickie with Oldhall the younger in the orange orchards outside the mansion one night.
There was no doubt that Ari and Oldhall loved having these women from the town’s “establishment” at their beck and call. That made them the conquering elite who would mock the community’s establishment in person as well as in the pages of the newspaper. And what better way to mock than to seduce their women by introducing them to “the age of Aquarius.”
You didn’t have to be a hippie to experience the sexual libido of the times. There were lots of secret moments between spouses trying out new mates for a night. Everyone knew that a lawyer who was the biggest Republican blowhard in town was screwing his secretary who had a pious husband. Sometimes even the deacons of the churches fumbled with the front of women’s blouses, not necessarily their own spouses. There was even an exchange of sex juices between the principal of the town’s high school and his vice principal’s wife, it was said.
During this period Ari met Luna, the woman who would eventually become his mate for thirty years.
He thought she was easily the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Her face was dark complexioned, her hair blackâ€”she looked like an American Indian. She seemed exotic beyond words. And she seemed very strong. This first time he noticed her she was at the school board, leader of the fledgling teachers union.
The school board chief’s name was Hunter. He had a first name, but nobody ever used it.Â He was simply Hunter, the town’s biggest landlord after Oldhall, the mayor, the school board chief, and the owner of the Hunter Powder Company, where they made bombs for the Vietnam war. The bomb factory was not far away from his landÂ development of homes built on top of some hills; and every time it rained hard, many of those homes were wrenched apart as they slid into the mud.
Ari had a lot of fun writing about Hunter’s bomb factory, his “Happy Hills” development, and his campaign against sex education in the schools.
Luna gave a speech that didn’t leave a dry or soft prick in the house, with the exception of Hunter, a bachelor, good Baptist churchgoer, and rabid Republican.
“You are so afraid of the erotic, the exciting, the uplifting, the conscious-changing aspects of the sex act,” Luna taunted him in public. “You can’t be against sex education.
Our children need it, need it desperately,” she said, as Hunter went apoplectic and legions of his supporters in the audience sang “Give Me That Old Time Religion.”
Ari wrote in the Tribune that Hunter got his jollies from death. Not only did he personally profit immensely from making the ammunition for the Vietnam War, but he was
appalled by the notion of touching a woman in those special secret places they all have.
“Hunter’s thrills come from the metallic death screams of war rather than from cries of ecstasy that he hates,” Ari wrote in one of his screeds.
The party scene also spilled over into another special place where Ari and Oldhall were the center of a scene on most weekday nights.
Oldhall became editor of The Tribune right after graduating from Stanford. He began his career as a clean-cut Goldwaterite, but in a few months his hair had grown long, and he was smoking a lot of dope and even ingesting mushrooms and other psychedelics. Worse, his politics were shifting to the left. Oldhall the elder blamed Ari for some of this metamorphosis.
But he couldn’t deny that what his son was doing was mostly on his own accord. Oldhall rented a pleasant ramshackle house with a good-sized plot of land at the edge of a bluff about a quarter of a mile from his father’s great Victorian mansion if you walked through orange orchards. Or you could take a hard-to-find dirt road at the end of a secluded residential street to get to Oldhall’s pad.
Three decades later, the bluff was torn down as offices, shopping malls, and overgrown tract homes sprang up everywhere.
But back in the late sixties, you could sit on the hillside in Oldhall and feel you lived in a raw and primitive place. You could sit at the bluff and watch the great fires sweep out of the hills and canyons and contemplate the buzzards and condors that circled the almost lunar desert landscape where you half expected pterodactyls to be roaring and wobbling through the air.
Right there at the edge of the Los Angeles basin, you got to feel the rhythm of the fires in summer and the torrential rains, floods, and even occasional snows in winter and
dread the inevitable punctuating earthquake. All of this contributed to the feeling that Los Angeles was a sound stage, even though here we’re not talking about studio back lots.
Oldhall began growing dope at the bluff. His refrigerator was always full of vats of brownies that tasted good despite the fact they were full of the rough-tasting weed. Ari
and Junior were becoming more and more the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers while putting out what was still officially an overground newspaper.
It was great for their sex lives. More and more women migrated to the bluff on weekdays and the mansion on weekendsâ€”bored housewives, younger girls looking for excitement.
Women looking for action were always welcome.
Luna soon became a regular. Within a few moments of her arrival, she was naked. She was incredibly voluptuous. She would slip into the hot tub at the edge of the bluff.
One particular hot, sweaty fuck stayed forever in his mind. It was a late afternoon, turning into night, and those great heavy breasts of hers were driving him wild with their glistening moistness. He loved to madly suck her nipples and fuck her in a wanton, intense manner bordering on madness.
Summer nights were the best. As soon as the sun was down, they’d slip into the hot tub and talk philosophy and sedition and fondle each other and talk about the Okies and the real estate developers and other newspaper folks.
Junior’s home on the bluff became a special platform from which they observed not just the town and country, but the universe as well.
The bluff was about a hundred feet above the alluvial plain dissected by an intricate spider web of deep gullies, small creeks, and thick oak stands that comprised the
Willowbrook section of Oldhall. Most of the neighborhood dated back to the teens and twenties, and it was built not by today’s methods where developers just brought in their bulldozers and created lots by cutting and filling in the earth after destroying the native vegetation. In those days, they didn’t automatically cut down the graceful oaks and willows to make way for homes and streets. They built around them. It took more work, but the results were so much better.
Above it all was that inky black sky and a surprising amount of stars, considering Oldhall wasn’t so many miles from the great megalopolis of Los Angeles. The lights from
Willowbrook were dim, and the large backyards were full of baying dogs, their love calls mournfully wafting through the night.
As Ari and Oldhall sat at the edge of the bluff, his boss brought up a common litany:Â Why did women seem to go for Ari and not for him?
“I’m better looking. I certainly have more money, yet the woman seem to be more attracted to you than me. Perhaps your craziness is part of your charm,” he said, “You’re so plagued by fits of paranoia, restlessness, and insecurities. Yet women like you. You come across as a character. Perhaps it’s better to be crazy than not to be. Maybe the sanest way to be in all this insanity is crazy.”
Ari replied that all he could do was hang his head in shame.
Oldhall kept the pad on the bluff for a couple of years, and they grew accustomed to the seasons in this half-mountain, half-desert region north of Los Angeles.
In summer the great fires sometimes rose a hundred feet, and afterward they filled the air with ashes, but in spring the area had an almost tropical feeling, so full did it
suddenly become with luxurious flora and fauna as a result of the heavy rains of winter.
The luscious spring wouldn’t come unless the winter had caused the Oldhall River to overflow and look for a few weeks like the Mississippi, without homes and trailer parks
along its banks. Sometimes it destroyed freeway bridges, trapping the inhabitants inside their suburban homes. This happened to Ari one time, and he had to spend three or four days in his house without power or heat. His house was part of the last row at the top of a hill just before the real country began.
From there, he would listen to the coyotes talking to each other for hours, baying in the cold night air that fell upon the high desert that began just beyond his backyard
His own home had some similarities to the pad on the bluff, where he spent many more hours than he did in his own home. The pad on the bluff was a large place with only two small bedrooms. The living room occupied most of the building and much of the space was taken up with couches and sleeping bags for the visitors, the women who chose not to end up in Ari’s or Oldhall’s beds in the back rooms.
The harshness of the ground was ameliorated only somewhat by the rattan squares haphazardly and unevenly covering the naked peeling red, cold cement. Neither Ari or
Oldhall ever slept on the floor. They always had their own beds, even if they were in the same room as their guests.
The two men rarely had a chance to get depressed, because Luna was usually around to cheer them up if they were veering in that direction. Sometimes the three of them slipped into the hot tub waters, smoked some joints, ingested whatever, and it wasn’t long before the darkening sky above them became a cuddling cup of the universe, so different and far away from the rugged hills further out where the cries of coyotes conveyed a terrible loneliness and savagery quite out of step with the harmonious appearance of the cosmos.
Alone in his own home, Ari strained to understand the conversations the coyotes had at night. But at the pad on the bluff, he was distracted by the stars, the hot tub, the
cosmos, the smoke and the women. Perhaps it was inevitable what with all the fucking underneath the cosmos, and the copious amounts of semen making their way up Luna’s birth canal, and the cuddly womb-like sky above, that Luna’s suggestion for a God Machine got serious attention.
“A what?” Ari said.
“A God Machine.”
In this rather insidious way, Luna put the idea into his headâ€”admittedly toward the rear of his head, and not in a prominent way. But it was a good way to incubate the
idea. After a while Ari couldn’t remember exactly whose idea the God Machine had been, and then he thought maybe he had been the first to come up with it. But actually Luna was the first one to use the term.
What was clear was that the idea of a God Machine began making more and more sense to him. Ari realized that the bluff was becoming a place of worship and communion with the universe. There was also a hefty mix of drugs, left-wing politics, and mysticism. The best lubricant was the orgies they held on the bluff under the night sky.
“You know what is needed,” Ari said as the three of them sat with their legs dangling over the bluff’s edge. “We need some way to capture the feeling of the cosmos we get here so all mankind will get it. We need some way to transmit the universal experience to all the people of the bluff.”
Oldhall laughed. “More crazy talk from Ari.”
“The dawning of Aquarius,” Luna said.
“Last days of Romeâ€”Amerika,” Ari said.
“Wrong Ari, you’re wrong,” said Oldhall.
And Luna piped in. “Ari, you have to not always be so negative. Sometimes you have to be optimistic.” She stopped for a moment and then said, “Perhaps you should meet my husband.”
“You know him. Allan Pootmeister. President of the Oldhall Arts University. The idea of a God Machine is his.”
“Should I tell him how much I like fucking you?” Ari said in a seemingly neutral tone.
“Sure,” she said. “Allan is proud of what a great fuck I am. He loves to share me.”
This time Ari said nothing at all, the silence pregnant with unspoken comments.
“Tomorrow,” she said. “Come to the campus.”
Ari could not bring himself to say anything the next day to the arts university president about his wife.
Of course, he knew of Allan Pootmeisterâ€”that was really his nameâ€”from his book about AstroGods, or some such thing. In his book, Pootmeister wrote about how all of
man’s history had been the acting out of a course established by visiting astronauts from other planets 20,000 years ago. He suggested the space visitors came and zapped the minds of primitive men with God images or archetypes. Pootmeister said the effect was to speed up man’s history with a dose of “universal intelligence.”
He wrote that all this could be substantiated with cave paintings that could logically be explained in no other way. He said some of the cave paintings showed men receiving gods wearing space suits.
The theory concluded that some time in the future all men, including the earthlings, would return to the stars from which they came.
“It’s a sweet theory,” Ari snorted. “And silly.”
He had actually prepared for his meeting by fucking Luna. She lay naked beside him as he read her husband’s book. He ran his hands between her legs and wiped his fingers across his beard, then searched the ashtrays for some dope, which he was running low on. He took a drink instead and returned to perusing Pootmeister’s A Manual for Clarity.
Two charts accompanied the book, each full of overlapping circles with names and faces of appropriate landmark figures in history. The book was the narrative that went along with the charts, but the charts were the key. At first glance, they were completely mystifying, a confusing gaggle of names, dates and ideology. But as he puffed on a bit of a joint he had found next to the wine bottle, the charts began to make senseâ€”a pattern began emerging.
He took another puff.
Pootmeister’s opus presumed a certain familiarity with the ideas of Marx, Darwin, Freud, Thoreau, and Marcuse, because these were the important pioneers in interpreting history.
One chart was more western and materialistic, the other more eastern. But the more you read the narrative and stared at the charts, something similar behind each began emerging, and the differences didn’t seem so strong as they had been before.
By midnight, he thought his consciousness had reached another level. The next day, when he met the author, he couldn’t stop thinking about Luna’s enormously comfortable, accommodating vagina and gigantic breasts as well as the drumbeat of history he had perceived through the charts.
Oddly enough, it seemed as if Pootmeister understood.
“He understands! He understands!” Pootmeister said to no one in particular but nodding at Ari, before grabbing him by the arm and pushing down the hallway. Normally, Ari hated people who put their hands on you to drag you along.
Pootmeister pulled him down a long green corridor. If he would just have taken his hands off Ari long enough so he could regain his composure, Ari would’ve been much
happier. But Pootmeister was large, powerful and willful. At the end of the corridor was a door painted a garish red and marked, “Do Not Enter Under Pain of Death.” But oddly there was nothing particularly alarming on the other side.
Ari entered what appeared to be a large dance studio, painted all white with a mirror lining the wall to the right. From the ceiling, sunlight streamed through clear panels.
Most unusual, the studio was not rectangular. At first glance, it was unclear how many walls there were, but they were several, and it did not appear they proceeded in any
logical sequence. Some walls were white; some were even luminous. It seemed as if the walls emanated from one side of the room, creating time warps in a spacial continuum too large to grasp immediately. Ivory, or more likely plastic panels, hung from the ceiling.
Pootmeister’s timeline charts hung in three dimensions from the ceiling as well and lazily turned around in the gentle breeze coming through the skylight. More stage setting and theatric backlighting produced light and shadows of different hues. And from the shadows emerged a group of female dancers, led by Luna, who swept into Ari’s view like a flock of birds like miniature ballerinas with wings coming in for a landing.
There was something ominous about the troupe, perhaps because of their hypnotic chanting. Ari listened to the words they were chanting and suddenly realized what they were saying: “We are Pootmeister’s disciples. We are the disciples of Pootmeister. We cannot be stopped, for we are the disciples of the Great Pootmeister.”
As they chanted, Luna danced toward Ari, and the other disciples danced with her, in rhythmic and almost menacing steps. Luna undulated her near-naked body toward Ari, her large breasts proceeding her by several paces, or so it seemed. Despite the fact that Pootmeister was standing right by him, her great volcanic brown nipples were clearly meant as a siren call directed at Ari.
“Ah,” Pootmeister whispered in his ear. “I see you admire a fine piece of woman flesh.”
“But it’s your wife you’re talking about,” said Ari.
“Yes, I know. I hope you enjoy her. You see,” he said, “we both have a philosophy that views sex as the great well spring of humanity, whose quality improves with use and
variety.” He pointed at her vagina, oozing no doubt intentionally through her leotard. “It doesn’t wear out, you know. It improves with use. The more you use it, the better it gets. The greater varieties of penises inside of her, the better she gets with each one.”
Now, Luna stood face to face with Ari, generously touching his body in several places.“We are the dancers,” she said.
“Yes, I know,” Ari said. “Yes, I see that … but. . .”
“We are the dancers who dance in and out of people’s consciousness. But I can see you don’t understand what kind of dancers we are. We are the dancers who dance into other selves,” she said, pointing at the legions of dancers behind her.
“We are all one and the same movement,” she said. “We belong to the same cause. We all love each other.”
“Don’t be so bold,” Pootmeister said. “Newcomers can’t expect to understand everything immediately.”
“Newcomers to what?” Ari asked.
“Oh come on,” Pootmeister responded. “Don’t play so dumb, nobody thinks you are dumb.”
The more Ari got to know Pootmeister, the less he was sure that the whole thing wasn’t a hoax. But Pootmeister insisted he had one way of explaining it to him.
“Have you ever been to the mountains?” he asked. “To God’s country?”
“Well, I’ve been in mountains, yes.”
“Have you done the Muir Trail, from the top of Mt. Whitney to Kearsarge Pass. Have you ever been to the top of Kearsarge Pass on the John Muir Trail at the top of the
“It’s one of the most untouched places left in the mountains. The road builders have been kept out of the pristine mountain top because so far we have been able to communicate the fragility of the environment, and how a road would destroy that. So far, the road builders have been kept away from paradise.”
Ari still wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about. But he nodded gravely.
And that is how one early morning Oldhall, Luna, Pootmeister, and Ari headed for Kearsarge Pass in the land of high peaks, icy blue lakes, quiet green meadows, and the
remnants of a glacier that sat atop Kearsarge. There was no way to get there except by hiking in and up to altitudes of 12,000 to 13,000 feet.
They left Oldhall at five in the morning and after a couple of hundred miles traversed the Tehachapi Mountains and into the great San Joaquin Valley. They then drove as far as they could go up the western wall of the Sierra.
They piled out of the car and camped. The next morning, Ari had difficulty keeping up with Pootmeister, who led the ascent of the western slope to the top. Pootmeister was, if nothing else, in better physical shape than anyone else. That was because, he explained over and over again, he was a “mountain man.”
They walked the gentle oak-covered slopes and took a ferry across Florence Lake. When you climb the western wall of the Sierra as opposed to its eastern side, which rises
nearly vertically thousands of feet into the air, it’s a gradual climb to the top.
But once giant rocks started thrusting themselves out of the meadow’s surface, and then when you’re above the delicate meadows, the climb was very steep and tough.
When they reached the point where the Stanislaus stops being a slow, meandering river and tumbles out of the high mountaintops with ferocious speed, they entered the dark dank forests. It seemed as if the entrance to the forest was guarded by a large deep-red flower growing in the middle of the trail, but they walked around it successfully. They proceeded along along the river’s densely green northern bank.
Toward the top, the river flowed very fast, very deep, with a roar that filled the late afternoon air for miles around.
After a full day and night of hiking and climbing, they came to a place by the river and camped amidst the aspen groves. The sound of the river became stronger, and the moon pierced the forest’s canopy in stabbing columns of ghostly light.
The next morning, they followed the raging river over higher, narrowing canyons to the spine of the mountain. They left behind the forest, passed the last scraggly remnant above the timberline of pine, and entered a world of treeless rock basins, perpetual snow fields, and high tundra lakes and talus fans.
All of the travelers were tired, but Pootmeister kept propelling them onward. Also pulling them forward was the great glacier above them, nestled in the gigantic canyons
jetting out between the spiny mountain top. From a distance, it looked huge, but became even larger as they got closer. Finally they stood at the base of the mammoth granite walls, scraped flat and polished by the ancient glacier, now immensely shrunken from its original state, which still towered hundreds of feet above them. It was too cold to stand close to for very long. They had indeed arrived. But Pootmeister said they must wait till night to really comprehend what the Sierra God Machine could be.
That night they retreated a bit from the glacier to sleep, there at the top of the mountain.
It was very cold, and Pootmeister insisted that Ari sleep with Luna in her sleeping bag. “Look,” he said almost humorously, “it’s a fine down bag and with the aid of Luna,
we’ll keep you as warm as if you were in your own home with a fire going.”
It was not quite true. Pootmeister told Ari that when sleeping under the stars, near the top of the mountain, he liked to be alone beneath the comet-filled skies amid nature. He excitedly told Ari how as night fell, he’d see a new comet every five seconds or so.
“It’s virtually a window onto the world from up here,” Pootmeister said.
And Ari found that was so. From the top of a great mountain, the view was like a window onto the universe. The stars were countless and so multileveled that they dazzled. The number of comets and shooting stars was incredible.
Ari slept with Luna, and she did her best to keep him warm and not so lonely in the face of the deep, starry universe. When Ari found that filling her with his sperm helped
keep them both warm, he found it odd that Pootmeister was sleeping not so far away. He must’ve assumed his wife’s loins were being pumped fully by another man, but he didn’t seem to care or maybe he really liked the notion.
The next morning Pootmeister lectured them. “This is much more a glimpse onto the universe than the bluff, isn’t it? Of course, it is. As an anthropologist by training, I
am quite convinced that man is heading toward extinction. I’m not even a humanist anymore. If man can save the planet from himself, that is the best we can hope for him. As a species ours is bent on self destruction. As star children, we should attempt to do something about it.”
“Like what?” Ari asked.
“Part of the problem is capitalism, which is a venal, stupid, mindless system aligned against the universe’s symmetry. Yet, if you peer into those heavens, answers can be
found. The knowledge for survival exists even as we speak. We could literally design whole new systems. But capitalism doesn’t want to follow rational modes. Look at Los Angeles.
How will future archeologists be able to reconstruct or understand it? Unfortunately, I have no political solutions. But I know which side I’ll be on when the civil war comes. I also know that we who want to save the planet are doomed. The forces of death triumph. The lemmings always win. But rebirth also always wins,” he pontificated.
When Ari had climbed Kearsarge with Pootmeister and company, it was still the end of the sixties, so digital technology wasn’t around to create the feeling of a high-speed
train running from bluff to the top of Kearsarge Pass.
On the way down the mountain, Pootmeister explained that he wanted to create a device to reconstruct the journey from the bluff to the top of the Sierra and call it the Sierra God Machine.
“It might even be an amusement park ride, or someday they will strap people into a machine where they will experience the same thing through digital means. Maybe they won’t even strap them into a device. People will just put on goggles around their eyes and ears.”
Pootmeister said he’d throw a party to explain it all.
The Sierra God Machine Party occurred the following Saturday night at the Mansion House, standing there patiently on the last hill still left in Downtown Oldhall, awaiting
whatever silliness would soon occur inside. A great orange orchard surrounded the place. The mansion’s four brilliantly backlit narrow front windows looked out like ominous slits of a monster’s eyes.
The Unveiling, unfortunately, did not much impress. There were photos and drawings on a thirty-foot wall showing stars in the sky, the forests, meadows just below them, and the glacier at the top of Kearsargeâ€”alongside some key phrases from Pootmeister.
He thought that people would look at the images and words and imagine what a journey from the bluff in Oldhall to one of the highest peaks in California – there under the
intense cold black sky filled with the shimmering universe of starsâ€”would be like. They would also have to envision intense orgasms there as well. But this was all well
beyond the crowd that filed past the exhibit lining the Great Central Corridor of the Oldhall Mansion. Unfortunately, the overall effect was more puzzling than
Most people walked past it as poseurs do in a modern art gallery near the Borscht Belt; and, nodding wisely, proceeded to the other rooms and the buffet and gardens and swimming pool and jacuzzi.
It had been particularly wet that year; rain fell ’til the river overflowed its banksâ€”a storm unequaled in at least fifty years and perhaps a full century.
The night of the party there were still a couple of bulldozers outside that had been clearing flood debris. The roads were muddy, as were the gardens. The Sierra God Machine got a soggy debut. And it was still raining.
Pootmeister proclaimed, “If we can’t win the hearts and minds of this town with our politics, perhaps we can do it with our cocks.”
Like the reaction of many people to the Sierra God Machine, that too went over with all the impact of a drunken fart.
“Please make a real attempt to look and contemplate the art,” he said. “Talk about, think about it. And even though we achieve our vision of God by dissipation, not religious impulse, do it this weekend. Eat, get in the jacuzzi, frolic in the swimming pool, eat lobster, the best of meats, and drink booze. We have them all here. Enjoy every lascivious minute. Now, let’s get going finding God.”
By nine p.m., anyone who was anybody had come to sit in the rich man’s mansion and enjoy a good time on his dime.
Of course, Luna and her troupe danced in and around the party. They announced they were “The Sierra God Machine Girls.” They kept singing little ditties and jingles and draping themselves over the men of the city (who often as not were there with their wives), the mayor, the owner of one of the two private water companies, city fathers of various kinds, chamber of commerce people of all kinds, and of course ministers. Hunter was the only one who hadn’t shown up.
Cleavage abounded. Ari even saw the chairman of the local Republican party remove a pair of panties from a willing giggling female.
As they left the Mansion House to walk the quarter mile through the orange orchards to the home on the bluff, Ari saw several of the better-looking Republican women jumping into the jacuzzi, laughing vociferously, and if not removing all their clothing, then removing some or most of them.
Ari, Oldhall, and Luna began trudging west through the orange groves to the bluff. It was now early in the morning. By the time they reached the bluff, the garish bright lights of the main drag into town lit up in green and chartreuse, advertising such delicacies as POP in a Box (pig bladder hamburgers made from bread crumbs and pork cauterized in smelly oil). They later learned that what was really inside BOX POP were centrifuged pigs testicles and chicken feathers, mixed with lard in the appropriate legal amounts for fat content.
As they sat watching the dawning of a new day from the bluff, their feet dangling over the side, it happened, making them think an atomic weapon had detonated in Oldhall. A fireball of all the colors of the rainbow rose from the ground and set the whole sky ablaze. A great fireball spread, almost like an atom bomb. The ground shook so you might have thought a monstrous earthquake was going on. The fireball threw great gobs all over the valley.
“The Hunter Powder Works has exploded,” Ari said.
He experienced a quick succession of feelings. At first, he felt gleeful, as if revenge had descended on the Powder Company. The nihilist in him first emerged, but then he
remembered he was still a journalist, not just a counterculture revolutionary. Maimed corpses were found in the remains, which were only ashes. A few corpses had kept the shape of their bodiesâ€”or at least their profiles. Ari touched an arm and it disintegrated. No flesh or blood were left.
The coda came a few days later. Pootmeister, along with some colleagues and protÃ©gÃ©s, mostly female and voluptuous, had gone down to the Oldhall Harbor,
where the Arts University had a Chinese junk, known as the “fucking junk.”
Another storm hit unexpectedly, slamming the junk into the wharf, where the vessel sank without leaving its moorings. Pootmeister and guests died in watery graves.
Ari was left with Luna, because she had stayed behind that time.
Pootmeister died about the same time that Robert Kennedy was assassinated. In fact, the night before Robert Kennedy would be gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Ari sat talking with a man involved in the conspiracy.
The man’s name was Col. William P. Gale, and he had been the top aide to General Douglas MacArthur, the famed Pacific Commander who tried to hijack the republic from
President Harry Truman. Gale was one of three leaders whom MacArthur put in charge of fighting the communist insurgency in the Philippines. Gale was a dedicated fascist. In retirement, he formed a far-right wing militia called the Posse Comitatus. After the 1968 Robert Kennedy assassination, Gale became the Reverend Gale and founded the prominent anti-Semitic Identity religion.
Ari interviewed Gale in the latter’s house, because “Bill” was running as the far right candidate against the official Republican congressman, who was merely a conservative
Republican. “Bill” portrayed himself as a stockbroker in Glendale who was also an investor in high desert real estate.
Before Posse Comitatus, Gale had formed a predecessor group called the California Rangers, which he denied was a paramilitary group. He said it was a “volunteer civil
defense group” comprised of his former Army officer friends.
Ari told Gale that he had discussed his name with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Garrison told him while searching the underbelly of nativist American fascists for the assassins of Robert Kennedy’s brother John Kennedy that he kept coming across Gale’s name.
“Was there any truth to what Garrison had told him?”
Gale scrutinized the reporter’s face, and said that Garrison was always supported in newspaper articles written by reporters with Jewish names.
Ari said nothing. “Bill’s” drift wasn’t hard to get. And if they could get away with killing presidents, a small-town journalist should be relatively easy. Gale kept polishing
his weapon, a huge-looking device that sat out of its holster on his muscular legs, and kept talking about Robert Kennedy, who had just come to town as a candidate in the
presidential primary. Gale said that Robert Kennedy would get the same punishment as his brother. And he kept fingering that gun as if he were masturbating.
But Ari lived to return to the newspaper office and write an article that, at least in retrospect, was scary. It was really scary when the next day Robert Kennedy was fatally
shot at the Ambassador Hotel. Everyone quickly said that Sirhan Sirhan, a displaced Palestinian who came waving a gun at Kennedy, shot him. In actual fact, Kennedy was killed by someone putting a gun up to his neck. Sirhan Sirhan was imprisoned as the lone assassin. Lone assassins had become the currency of political assassinations in those days.
The Los Angeles County coroner, a man named Thomas Noguchi, said no, Kennedy was not shot by someone from the front. Someone from his rear also shot the aspiring candidate.
But everyone derided Noguchi’s views, even though the coroner was known as one of the sharpest in the country.
Ari had seen Kennedy make an appearance at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park just hours before he was killed.
In retrospect, Ari realized that Gale, for some reason, was trying to convey something about the death of Robert Kennedy that came within hours of their interview. Ari went back to check. Gale had disappeared from that house without a trace.
Some said Gale turned up in the Sierra Mountains in a tiny town named Birney, just a few miles below Mount Shasta, which lies near the California-Oregon border and is an
active volcano. An old lumbering town named Weed sits on its slopes.
In this area Gale’s paramilitary group practiced with their weapons, awaiting a chance to fight the imminent race war.
Ari also realized that Gale was saying, “Hey Jew boy, I’m going to tell you the truth, but you can’t prove it.”
In this manner the sixties ended, and Ari began transitioning into a tired old cynical newspaper guy.
Ari, like others who followed the details of the assassinations closely, assumed that the John Kennedy assassination signaled the end of American democracy and the take over by the Shadow Government.
He didn’t particularly believe in a conspiracy theory of history, but it just seemed too apparent this is what happened in America.
He doubted that either assassination was what it appeared to be. On the day President Kennedy was killed, Ari was on his way over to some friends. None of them agreed with Kennedy’s politicsâ€”he represented too much the politics of Empire. But they also were taken up into the Camelot swirl that the young president seemed to engulf the country in.
He did bring a certain hope and tone. He brought good music to the White House and real culture. He wasn’t, as were some of the presidents who followed him during the decades of Shadow Government governance, one of the many unmitigated Yahoos.
As Kennedy entered Dealy Plaza, Ari was listening to the radio. Like many others, Ari sensed something might happen to the young president as he entered into the heart of darkness that is Dallas, Texas. And it did. Ari had been listening to ABC radio and forever remembered the newsman saying, “The shots are coming from the grassy knoll,” not the Texas Book Depository that Oswald was allegedly shooting from.
After that he became obsessed with the ballistics of the thing and in his mind there was no doubt that Kennedy was killed by professional gunmen on the grass knoll.
Something was wrong with the whole scenario laid out afterward by the Warren Report and the rest of the Establishment. And over the years, the American people have sensed that.
Nearly forty years after the assassination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles, a new book authoritatively told the story of how Robert wanted to become president in part to out the people who killed his brother.
Ari knew the coroner’s brilliance at the time through other cases they had worked on together. Noguchi said the Kennedy autopsy proved what he said had happened. No one ever directly disputed that, but fierce attacks were launched on Noguchi.
Forty years later, Noguchi, now retired, a withered up old man, continued roaming the halls of the coroner’s office, helping to solve murder mysteries that stumped the
After the Robert Kennedy assassination, Ari got in the habit of retreating into the hills of Griffith Park. He loved to go up to the observatory at night, sometimes walking
the bird sanctuary trail in the moonlight, or when there wasn’t moonlight, driving.
He was drawn, as have many millions, to the sight of the vast megalopolis stretching to the Pacific, about to be extinguished in a great atomic apocalypse, no doubt. In the
meanwhile, all those lights boggled the mind.
Ari wondered what really was the story of his generationâ€”all said and done. What prevailing impact had the sixties generation had? Its coffeehouses and underground
newspapers had come to naught, except maybe hastening the arrival of the counterculture opposition to the Vietnam war.
The sixties was the last great decade when things were not only still possible but also probable, when heroism was a common virtue. Even those who were rebels had their
Ari never married Lunaâ€”she had not been designed to be with one personâ€”but they did “stay together” many years. Sometimes they walked the trail to the observatory
overlooking the city because it was a good place from which to ponder where the sixties had gone wrong.
Luna would also accompany him when he settled for brief duration in different small towns during his days as a tramp California journalist. They then lived abroad, in London, for a year.
They returned to California, and he couldn’t find a job. One day she disappeared. She had left him before for days on end, but had always returned. This time she was gone
The crisis had come because he accepted a job as an overnight wire service reporter on cop beat at Parker Center, headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department.
She said he was plainly giving up on life.
“The work is steady,” he replied.
He worked at Parker Center for the best years of his life, by which time he had lost all hopes and dreams. He liked to describe himself as “just a broken down, defeated
This is an excerpt from Lionel Rolfe’s unpublished novel, “The Misadventures of Ari Mendelsohn,” a novel of the `60s.