Monday, July 10, 2017

Arts Festival '87 - "Crest"

This week up at Penn State is the annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, better known as Arts Fest.  To a Penn Stater, Arts Fest is a magical time.  In many ways, it is Summer Homecoming.  It's like a football weekend but without the football.  So many current students and recent alumni come up and crash with friends (as well as older alumni in hotels, etc) that it's a Penn State weekend in mid-summer, which many of the students were pining for.  After all, back home they had jobs and real life, but for a few days, they were back at school with their friends and No Homework!

I know that for myself and most of the Penn Staters of my generation, we couldn't WAIT to get back up to school!  No parents' rules, parties, friends, fun...  

Arts Fest 1988.  I have no pictures from Arts fest '87

As I've mentioned many times before, about ten years ago, I wrote a book about my college years (as yet unpublished.)  The longest chapter in the book is about Arts Fest 1987 (in fact, it was thirty years ago this very night, as of this writing.)  In many ways, it was the "peak" of my time at Penn State.  It was also the night of my first (of many) Grateful Dead show.  So, all of that said, here's that chapter.  I feel a little bad posting chapters here in my blog, as I feel "can't you come up with original content, you loser?"  But this IS original.  I wrote it, and I've never posted it anywhere.  And yes, there's a LOT I'll cut from this if I ever get around to giving this book the strong edit that it needs.

I'll post some thoughts after the piece as well.


Chapter 2.73:  Crest

Friday, July 10, 1987 North: Probers Saw Shredding

            I never saw anything like it. 
            Color, sound, brightness and happiness despite the thick blue grey clouds drooping in the sky. 
            We parked over in the parking lot by Veterans Stadium because it was the closest spot we could find to the show (and it still cost $5!)  Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead at JFK stadium. 
The stadium itself was a huge stone relic- something from a 1920s gangster movie.  It was old and crumbling, despite the small face lift it received for Live Aid three years prior.  The whole thing was surrounded by this large Addams Family style wrought iron fence. 
Surrounding the stadium, in the park across the street, and in the Vet stadium parking lot as well, was a sea of color.  Vehicles of every description, even several school buses painted like Kesey’s “Further” served as home and party pads for thousands of people of all ages.  There were balloons, kites, and music playing everywhere: Old hippies playing guitars, flutes, mandolins, and harmonicas.  And, of course, boom boxes everywhere playing the Dead. 
            I picked Virginia and Mandy up at 10AM (Mandy stayed over at Virginia’s the night before.)  We all wore tie dyes and shorts.  We made it to the parking lot around noon.  As the show didn’t start until 6 (doors opened at 2), we had some time to kill.  Of course- that meant drinking.  Mandy managed to get a case of Bud cans, which Virginia iced down that morning.  We each cracked one open, toasted to the show, and chugged.  Then we had another.  Then we decided to walk around- and saw this whole new world.
            Everywhere was the smell of pot and grilled cheese sandwiches.  We walked around the parking lot, and people were selling everything from shirts to acid to…grilled cheese sandwiches.  In fact, a cute brunette girl hunched on the ground next to a hot plate said she had the “best fucking grilled cheese in the world.”  I wanted a new tie dye- it would just be cooler to have one from a Dead show. 
            We wandered for an hour, lost in the spectacle.  Part of me wanted to stay- follow the Dead, become part of the Tribe.  Be accepted for who I am.  But some of the older hippies sneered at us- called us “Touch Heads” (referring to the fact that the song “Touch of Grey” attracted so many new people to the concert I guess.)  So it wasn’t all love and acceptance.  Anyway- I still had to finish school.
            Eventually we made it back to the car, where we had more beer and some sandwiches (PBJ- not grilled cheese.)  Some really high guys staggered by and bought beer from us- they offered us $5 a can.  OK!  I guess if we were really in the spirit of things, we would’ve just given them the beers, but we needed the money.  It was going to be a loooong weekend. 
            We wandered back over to JFK around three.  All over the front half of the field was a forest of long thin poles with microphones on the top- the famous “tapers.”  I wondered how they could afford all that equipment! 
The sun broke through and the day became hot.  Really hot.  We found a spot on the grassy field in front of the stage, maybe fifty yards back, and plopped down.  The heat rose in waves from the field. 
            Fortunately, the concert planners were ready for this.  At several places around the grassy infield of the stadium they’d set up impromptu “showers.”  These were elevated pipes with holes on the bottom and a handle on the side to turn them on and off.  I went through it a few times, and it felt great!  When Virginia did it, her tie dye clung tightly to her body, especially when she raised her arms to rinse the water through her hair.  Guys shouted and whistled.  She pretended not to hear, but I think she enjoyed the attention.  They also had fire hoses spray the crowd down occasionally.  I’m sure that the water didn’t make the tapers very happy, what with that expensive equipment getting wet and all.
            The Grateful Dead came out around six.  By then the crowd was hot, tired and sedated.  The band kicked into a spirited version of the song “Iko Iko” which got everyone up and dancing.  People also surged forward toward the stage, which must’ve crushed the people up front a bit. 
After a few songs, guitar player Bob Weir announced "We're going to take a moment and play a game, it's called take a step back.”  Jerry Garcia played a Mexican Hat Dance riff as Bob sang “One-two- take a step back, one- two-take a step back.”  Jerry ended his little riff to cheers, and Bob said "You see what happens, their eyes don't bug out, and they look better.  And if they look better, we play better."  People still passed out from the heat and the crush, and I could see them being passed up to the stage barricades where the security guards lifted them up and over to get medical attention.
They played lots of songs I barely recognized, and a lot I’d never heard.  (Eventually many would become favorites, especially “Terrapin Station”).  They left the stage a little after eight.  The sun was setting, and the heat was dropping.  By this time, we were really hungry, so Mandy went searching for some source of food.  She came back ten minutes later with some wrapped hoagies. 
The band retook the stage around nine, tuned for a moment, and then Bob Dylan walked out on stage, wearing a red jacket and a black beret-like hat.  He looked grim.  What we didn’t know was his friend and “discoverer” John Hammond died that day, and Dylan was devastated.  He still came out though.
Dylan strummed his white acoustic guitar for a moment, looked at Jerry, and the Dead kicked in with a muscular shuffling beat.  Then Dylan started to sing “Early one morning the sun was shining.  He was layin’ in bed” and a roar exploded from the crowd.
“Tangled up in Blue.”  My favorite Dylan song, and apparently everyone else’s.  We clapped the time over our heads.  And danced. 
We writhed together: sweaty, primal, tribal.  All of our cares, our lives, abandoned to the music.
“We always did feel the same we just saw it from it different point of viewwwww…  Tangled up in Blue!”
It was near eleven when Dylan and the Dead left the stage.  Mandy, Virginia and I left- hoping to get a jump on traffic.  We had a long night ahead, especially me.  I was driving.
I felt great.  I don’t know if it was a contact high, the music, the moment, or all three, but I’d never been so happy.  Yet the weekend was still just beginning, and we were headed up to school. 
The annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts- commonly referred to as “Arts Fest,” was essentially a summer homecoming.  Everyone who could make it went up.  The event was designed for local and national artists to show off and sell their wares, for bands to play, food to be eaten, and people to have a grand old time.  And all those things happened.  And the students partied as well. 
I didn’t realize how much Penn State REALLY meant to me until summer really settled in.  God, I missed it!  We all did!  I couldn’t wait to get back up there. 
As we walked across the parking lot toward the Vet, we heard music again- the familiar riff of “Touch of Grey” the Grateful Dead’s current single.  We couldn’t hear them singing- they were drowned out by the crowd singing for them. “I will get by.  I will get by.  I wi-illl get bah-eye-eye, I wiiiiill sur-vive!”
As we headed up the turnpike, I drank a Coke and had a Vivran.  I had to stay awake obviously, yet I was still drifting asleep.  More Coke.  Stopped at Hardees in Dauphin (along with tons of other people- the pilgrimage was in full swing.)  More Coke and another Vivran.
Mandy and Virginia slept the last hour or so, so I listened to the Who’s “Quadrophenia” to keep me going. 
“I pick up phones and hear my history.  I dream of all the calls I miss.  I try to number those who love me, And find exactly what the trouble iiiiiiiiis”.
By the time I parked at Sutton Court, I had five Cokes and three Vivrans, and that wasn’t counting any stimulants from earlier in the day.  We quickly stashed our gear in the apartment and rushed over to Crow House.  Mandy brought her stuff with her as she was staying at her apartment.
The party was still going, despite the late hour (it was like 3 AM.)  All the lights were ablaze.  State College was buzzing- the Lion purred, awakened from its summer hibernation.
We bumped into Judy and Rich in the living room- both drunk.  Judy looked fantastic in a white collared shirt.  Judy, Rich, Mandy and Virginia were all smiles hugging and greeting their brothers and sisters.  Everyone was so happy to see each other.  I was bored, so I headed down the crowded stairs to the basement. 
It was packed- wall to wall. 
“Wanted!  Waaant-eddd!  Dead or uh-lahhhve!”  Bon Jovi screamed.
I tried to worm my way through the crowd (being skinny had a few advantages!).  A few Crow Lil sisters smiled and waved at me, which made me feel happy.  Accepted.  When I finally managed to reach the bar, it was packed front and back.  All the lights were on, bathing the scene in a strange red glow, and there were even people sitting on other people’s shoulders to fit as many people as possible back there.  Virginia was already there, behind the bar with a full pitcher of beer ready.  Three man and flip a cup were in full swing.  People were shouting the lyrics to the music on the speakers.
“Tainted Love!  Wuh-oh-oh BOMP BOMP Tainted Luh-ove!”  Soft Cell sang somewhere beneath the noise.
I played for a beer or two, then started the long tight trip upstairs.  I made it to the dance floor which was packed- everyone dancing and jumping up and down.  Happy.  People were singing along to Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony” with the “additional” lyrics that were common to shout in time.
“Well you could shake it Mony Mony”
“Hey!  Hey what?  Get laid!  Get fucked!”
“Shot gun dead and I'll come on home yeah”
“Hey!  You’re drunk!  She’s fat!  Go home!”
“Don't stop cookin' 'cause I feel all right now”
“Hey!  Hey what?  Get laid!  Get fucked!”
“Don't stop now come on Mony”
“Hey!  You’re drunk!  She’s fat!  Go home!”
“Come on yeah, I said yeah”
“'Cause you make me feel”
“FUCKIN’ HORNY!”  (This over a chorus of either “like a pony” or “Mony Mony”)
“So good, so good”
“Well I feel all right”
“You're so fine”
“You’re so fine”
“You're, and I feel all right!
“I said yeah”
No one ever got tired of this song.  Especially with its group participation chant.
Suddenly I didn’t feel so good.  My stomach ached, my head throbbed, and my hands started to shake uncontrollably.  I stumbled outside for some fresh air.  Leaned against one of the trees separating Crow from Phi Psi.  My hands shook worse, like they were trying to fly off my arms.  The world began to spin in ways it shouldn’t. 
That’s when Virginia found me.  I told her that I felt sick and sat on the ground, hoping that no one had pissed on this particular tree.  My whole body was shaking.
Next thing I knew, Rich and Virginia had my arms around their necks and they helped me back to Sutton Court.  I forced myself to throw up, drank as much water as I could and fell asleep on the usual couch sometime before dawn.

Saturday, July 11, 1987 North Says Covert Fund Plotted

Virginia shook me awake.
“Wake up sleepy head!  We’re going to the Waffle Shop!”
I yawned and stretched.  “Do I have time for a shower?”  I felt sticky and gross, and smelled worse.
“No time.  Judy and Rich are waiting for us outside.  Come on!  Let’s go!”
“Judy and Rich are outside waiting?”
“Yes!  Let’s go!”  She was starting to get angry.
I pulled her down on top of me and kissed her deeply, groping her ass. 
She grunted in momentary surprise and then kissed back.
“Ick!”  She said.  “Brush your teeth first!”

The line at the Waffle Shop was huge as expected, but eventually we got in.  The four of us chatted politely, but it was Rich and Virginia doing most of the talking.  Judy didn’t say much.  Neither did I- I was very tired.
After breakfast, Judy and Rich went back to Crow house while Virginia and I, after a quick stop at McClanahans for some necessities (aspirin, soda, and the new Rolling Stone magazine) went back to the apartment.  I was still woozy from my caffeine hangover, and the bright sun hurt my eyes.
After we made it to the apartment, I went into the bathroom and stripped, desperately wanting a shower.  Virginia walked in.  Naked.
“Wanna get dirty before we get clean?” she asked innocently. 
She pinned me to the wall with a deep kiss before I could answer, her hands exploring.
Eventually we showered and I took a short nap.  Virginia read the Rolling Stone magazine we picked up.  The summer double issue: it had a Grateful Dead double cover and a huge article on the band.
She woke me around three with a kiss on my forehead.  I opened my eyes and saw her face over mine, smiling- eyes so clear.
“Come on, lazy!  I want to go downtown!”
The sky was a perfect blue, not a single cloud.  We walked through the sizzling State College streets past the colorful exhibits, flags, and yellow canvas roofed booths of artists selling their work.  Everywhere people were playing guitars, flutes, and harmonicas.  It was as alive as the Grateful Dead parking lot scene.  Virginia and I held hands, smiled, and talked as we slowly moved through the crowds.
How could it ever be better than this?  I was home at Penn State on a beautiful summer day, walking with a girl I loved.  I was Young, Healthy, and in College.  As we walked up on campus past Old Main passing more insanely colorful booths, I pulled Virginia to me and hugged her.
It would Never be better than This.  This finally was happiness, wasn’t it?  All of my troubles were left behind: Parents, work, money, Judy- all of my cares meant nothing.  Nothing meant anything but now.
Now was an incredible moment, and I was sharing it with thousands of others, bound by a mutual Love of where we were, and all that we cared for there.  “We are- PENN STATE!”
Virginia kissed my neck and held me tighter.  Someone shouted “Get a room!”
We smiled at each other then kept walking around the flower covered campus, holding hands and talking about nothing at all.

We stopped to get some spaghetti and other things for dinner.  Judy and Virginia figured it’d be cheaper if we made dinner instead of eating out- and besides, everyplace was going to be packed.  When we arrived back at the apartment, Judy and Rich were there, slightly disheveled.  We showed them what we’d bought, and Rich went out to get some wine.  Judy put the Queen album on the stereo.
“Keep yourself alive!  Keep yourself alive!”
Virginia went to the bathroom while I picked up the Rolling Stone.  Judy sat on the other side of the couch, her legs folded beneath her. 
“So” she said.
“So.  How’s summer really been?”  I asked.
“I’m bored” she replied.  I can’t wait for school to start again.”
“Same here.”
“How are things with you and Virginia?” she asked flatly.
I paused and looked up from the magazine at her.
“Good!  We don’t see much of each other due to work, but things are good. How about you and Rich?”
“Great!  Why wouldn’t it be?” she answered, still flat.
We looked at each other for a moment. 
Then Virginia came out of the bathroom.
“So what’s the plan for tonight?”  I asked.
“The house is having a party” Judy said.  “Rich and I are going there.  What about you?  Is your house doing anything?”
“I’m sure they are.  Maybe I’ll stop in.  I’m just so popular there.  They probably can’t wait to see me.”
“We’ll probably end up at the house later.  Mandy told me she’s hosting Little Sister happies at her place” said Virginia.  “I’m going there first.  Wanna come?”
“Sure!  That sounds like fun!”  Judy answered.
While those two went to happies, Rich went to Crow house, leaving me alone in the apartment.  I went into the bedroom, plopped down on Virginia’s bed, and slept.

I woke up a few hours later, and turned on the light.  Virginia walked into the room with a goofy smile. 
“So, how were happies?”  I asked.
“They worked!  I’m happy!”  She said, throwing up her hands.  “I came to get your lame ass out to the party!”
She jumped onto me, knocking me back onto the bed.  Straddling me, she pulled off her Crow Bowl T-shirt. 
“Unless there’s something else you’d rather do” she added. 
“What if I wanted to head over to my house?”  I asked, innocently.
She unclasped her bra- a beige front loader.
“Why would you want to go there?”
“Y’know, say hi to the brothers, drink beer.  The usual.”
“Yeah, whatever” she sneered as she took my hands and put them on her naked breasts, which I started caressing.
“I’m horny.  Get undressed.  Now!”
“I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“You’re sitting on me.”
She hit me in the chest and stood up.

An hour later, we arrived at Crow.  They replaced the usual porch lights with red bulbs.  People sat on the porch roof, drinking, talking, shouting, posing.  The front yard was already strewn with red plastic cups.  Across the street, Beta Sig was all lit up and partying, as was “Pink Elephant.”  Next door, Phi Psi had a reggae band, the Earthtones I think.
As I signed in on the guest list, Virginia walked over to a guy passed out on the porch and propped him up against the wall.  Someone already wrote “LOSER” across his forehead, as well as other doodles on his cheeks, arms, and legs. 
The house was crowded as usual but it smelled worse and was hellishly hot.  My feet stuck to the floor (normally that wouldn’t happen until after two AM.)  It looked like the party never stopped from the night before.  I had to watch where I was walking to avoid puddles of vomit- some dry- and it was only ten o’clock.
It didn’t take long for me to be covered in beer, muck, and sweat.  This party was different from the other Crow parties I’d been to- everyone was drinking, dancing, kissing, shouting with abandon.  As if this were the last party ever and tomorrow they’d have to grow up to be responsible, mature citizens of a colorless bland society.  And maybe this was true.
For the moment, I was just glad to play Three Man with people who knew the rules.
“Bin a long time since ah Rahk an rolled!” screamed Robert Plant from the speaker next to my ear.
Virginia was behind the bar, as drunk as I’d ever seen her.  She smiled at me and did the “I love you” sign.

Sunday, July 12, 1987 In four short days, North turned the tables

Sunday morning dawned as hot and bright as the day before.  Virginia and I went to the Waffle Shop again- me with a filmy hangover.  Judy and Rich remained locked and sleeping in the bedroom.  Virginia slept on the couch next to me. 
When we returned to the apartment, Judy and Rich were gone.  Mandy had slipped a note under the door saying she’d be waiting at Crow.
We loaded up the Mustang, picked up Mandy, and joined the long line of traffic headed reluctantly southeast on Rte 322.  Back to Spring City.  Away from home.
Mandy was asleep in minutes.  Virginia put Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits in the tape player.  Weird- I thought she hated that tape.
But all my words come back to me, In shades of mediocrity.  Like emptiness in harmony, I need someone to comfort me.  Homeward bound.  I wish I wa-uh-uz- Homeward bound

            Behind us, the Lion stretched and fell back asleep, purring.


For a few years, I considered this the Greatest days of my life.  It was eventually surpassed by a weekend in Washington DC, when I attended a friend's graduation party with the woman who eventually became my Wife.  Then there was an incredible day in August 2013...

While putting this entry together, I re-read it for the first time in years, and the memories came flooding back.  And I thought about the Times and People we somehow take for granted.  As a twenty year old, I knew that college would end, yes, but I didn't think about it.  Wife and I are still married, but separated, because of... well, you know.  And Lisa?  Died six weeks later.

But the memories live inside of me.  That's something right?

Be well.

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