FLOWERS FOR TIM
by Ken Kesey


 

"Give 'em
while they can smell'em."

sign in florist shop

During the seventies Ken Babbs and I put out a little homegrown periodical called Spit In The Ocean. The idea was to have a different editor for eachissue and let them call the deal, like in the poker game. Dr. Timothy Leary had agreed to deal our third issue of SPIT from his San Diego prison cell where he was being re-restrained after being recaptured after his escape the year before.

We expected some kind of bleak jailhouse blues, I guess-"Ex-Harvard Prof Gets Down and Dirty Behind Bars!" But no: Dr. Leary writes to inform us that the theme for his issue will be Communication With Higher Intellegence-an ambitious aim even from atop the loftiest ivory tower. But from behind bars?

So Babbs and I fly south to ask our incarcerated editor a few probing questions. I confess I had some reservations. The famous Dr. Leary had always been more a distant phenomena than a close friend. Previous attenpts at close encounters had always seemed jinxed. The summer of 1961, for example. My family and my bay area buddies were booked for a high level seminar with Leary and Alpert and the International Federation for Internal Freedom down at IFIF's winter paradise in Ziuwataneo.

We were bustling our way to through the SF airport to our Mexicana flight when we saw the SF Chronicle headlines: DOPE DOCTORS ARRESTED AT MEXICO MANSION. Leary, Alpert, and LSD Cronies Given Choice: Go Home or Go to Jail. So much for paradise.

A couple seasons later we bussed our way out to IFIF's digs in upper New York. This Northern rendezvous wasn't much more successful than the one that did happen down south. Our spirited arrival at the Millbrook mansion was met with a less-than-enthusiastic welcome. Who's to say? It could have been the time wasn't right, or the stars were wrong. Or it could have been the way we came barging up on a sleepy Sunday morn in a gawdy vehicle belching green and orange smoke from beneath the hood and blaring Neal Cassady out the rooftop speakers. Dr. Leary was upstairs, we were informed, sleeping one off. We left before he woke.

So here we were for one more try, in the visitor's tank at the San Diego Federal Pen, waiting for the stonefaced warden to decide whether it's in society's best interest to allow our visit with Prisoner Leary or not. He's taking his own sweet time, too, this warden. He wants to let everybody sit and stew a while. I tip back my chair pull down my shades, and stew.

I was no stanger to pulling time. But my six month's stretch was at a work camp up in the redwoods. Imagine serving a sentence in this skyless scene, slammed away with Warden Rockface for God knows how long on God knows how many charges! Be a drag. No wonder Dr. Leary let that shadowy gang of revelutionaries called The Weathermen talk him into that swashbuckling escape from the San Luis Obispo slammer last year.

The Weatherman plan? At a quarter to ten Leary excuses himself from the Sunday eve movie in the penitentary messhall-nature calls, boss... slips into the kitchen instead of the can... ten minutes to ten, up the greasy ventilation shaft above the kitchen range to the roof. Five to ten shinny up the prison's main power pole. If everything went according to plan the Weathermen would blow the transformer out on the street at the stroke of ten. Leary would then have to hand over hand along the wire over the wall and down the streetcorner pole before auxiliary power cut in. Three minutes. His accomplices would be waiting in the gettaway rod.

So imagine: you're a middleaged psychologist, an alumn from West Point and a discredited prof from Harvard, serving five-to-ten for a fall you took for your daughter at the Texas border when you relieved her of the two stupid joints she had stashed in her panties. Now you're up a power pole on top of a state prison, one eye on your wristwatch while the other contemplates the naked cable that will carry you to freedom, one way or another.

"It was the longest three minutes of my life." Now imagine being spirited out of the country and whisked to Algiers where you are taken in by fellow fugitives Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver and the Black Panthers who intend to indoctrinate yo pampered ass! Heavy trip or what? Hemmed in by Black Panthers on one side and whitebread weather prognosticates on the other while unscrupulous Algerian cops prowl the street outside the compound eyes like hungry jackals. Might as well stayed in San Luis Obispo.

Now, picture this: into this uptight arrangement a sleak and mysterious siren comes swinging to your rescue, sweeps you off your feet then saves you from Black Panthers white Weathermen and jackal-eyed cops alike by marrying you! Seemed like things were looking up at last.

For a honeymoon your new bride wants to take you to her family estate just across the border-meet the folks. But it aint exactly the folks there to meet you and your bride when the airplane lands. Its four CIA agents, waiting for you with extradition papers and handcuffs. And for your glamorous wife? Handshakes and praise for a job well done.

It finally dawns on you: your mysterious bride is actually bait-hired CIA bait! - and you went for it, hook, line, and glamor.

That's what I really wanted to ask about in that visiting room in San Diego: You're supposed to be this psychedelic wiseman-what wisdoms if any have you gleaned from these ill-fated involvments with beautiful women and borders? What feelings? Did you yearn to kick your daughter's dumb butt? Did you ache to wring your wife's treacherous neck? That's the question I wanted to ask.

Our visiting hour was three quarters gone when the prisoner was at last escorted in. The guards were polite and the warden was conjenial. He even returned Babbs' tape recorder before leaving us alone. The first 15 minutes on the tape is devoted to Spit In The Ocean business. I don't get around to asking my question until the squawk box squawks that visiting is over.

"By the way, Tim, I was wondering... what's happening with your new-you know-since you last saw?" His recorded response was classic Tim Leary. "With my new spouse the Spy? I see her four, five times a week. She's rented a beach house thirty minutes away by bike. She doesn't have her US drivers license yet. Sometimes she catches a ride with one of our lawyers."

Babbs and I were dumbstruck. Leary laughed. "I certainly don't hold it against her, her being a spy. She likes this espionage action. It gets her off. It turns her on."

He walked us to the door and waved at the warden behind his bulletproof glass wall. "Besides," he added, "who am I, of all people, to put down somebody else's turn on?"

And that's my little flower for Tim, sent through TIME.

Give 'em while they can smell 'em.



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