By Kalev Pehme
I was a young man in my first year in college when I was beaten by the Chicago police at a demonstration against the War in Vietnam. Fortunately, although one of the pale-blue helmeted officers managed to hit me, he didn’t bloody me and I managed to escape him hitting me on the head. I had enough that day. I was not a person who enjoyed a nightstick coming down on my head and body, not matter how much I was against the war. I wandered aimlessly until my body initially recuperated from the shock of the blows, and I found myself on State Street. I remembered something about State St. and I remembered a number, 611, and a direction, north. I remembered that one of my girl friends at Lake Forest had told me that the world’s oldest store dedicated to the mysteries and the needs of magic was located there, a great store founded by one D.G. Nelson in 1917. I decided to walk north until I would run into it.
I didn’t realize how long the walk would be. But being from New York City, I was always up for a long walk and, after all, I hadn’t finished my demonstration march. So, even after being rioted upon by the Daley’s goons, I still had energy and I needed to heal. Chicago was a different city then. It is hard to recognize the old city, as over the years Chicago slowly gentrified and today it is a more internationally esthetic city. At that time, however, Chicago was truly a working class city, a hog butcher, a stacker of wheat. It was a city that regarded my long hair and my peace buttons to be the alien intrusion of Dionysos into Thebes. As I walked in the center of the city, I frequently heard the welcoming, “Get out of here, you f***ing, long-haired creep” and many variations on this theme and something that could not be repeated in print at that time. Love it or leave it.
I felt a small pang of pain at the end of my ribs, and I lifted up shirt to look. There was a huge bruise there that was only beginning to take color. It was the first moment that I looked around and saw what a beautiful day it was. The spring sun was unusually warm, and the even the shadowy side of the street felt comfortable. The shadows had the cast of chiaroscuro, dramatic over some buildings which were now no more than three or four stories high. It was normally a drab neighborhood, but the light and dark of the street had dimmed its normal gray sensation. There was no street life as I made my way north, very few bars and restaurants, and, for that matter, not many cars. The blocks were very long and uninviting.
I was getting closer as I occasionally checked the addresses of the buildings. I was walking on the odd-side of the street, which was also very sunny. As if I were lucid dreaming, I heard a distant voice calling, “Yoo-hoo! Yoo-hoo!” It took a moment for me to get my bearings and I looked back to where I had just walked. I had missed it before, and I thought that odd as I am normally very observant. There was a one-story building that was set back from the building line. It was opened widely, and the first thing I saw the side of a horse, a swaybacked horse, tan in color, with dapples of white. In and about it was various mounds of hay whose straws seemed to very fresh. Obviously, I said to myself, the horse was not calling me. The horse and the hay had caught the sunlight, but it left the rest of the interior of this stall or stable or whatever it was dark, as if the horse were a part of a diorama whose interior were painted black. Out of the darkness, came a woman who floated forward and again I heard her call, “Yoo-hoo!”
A woman, no, she was what men called a girl at the time. It was not what I expected from Chicago. This girl was dressed in a long dress with a scooped neckline that revealed the tops of her breasts. She had long hair, and I thought immediately that she must have been a hippie. But I had thought all the hippies had left Chicago in the same way that they had left New York some years earlier. They had gone into the rural nomadic lands of the West to found communes or to start families and live by nature away from the authorities.
From the distance, I couldn’t tell what her age was. She could have been 50 or 15 and I still couldn’t tell. That my eye sight was not particularly good and that I hadn’t changed my glasses for a while didn’t help either. Moreover, her hands and arms were not free. She cradled a large bundle of wild free flowers I couldn’t recognize. She looked like the Roman goddess of plenty, Pomona, or something out of Botticelli. I started to walk towards the small stable or whatever it was (for all I knew Jesus would be lying there in a manger), the girl closed her eyes and shook her head forcefully. Clearly, she didn’t want me to go there. I shrugged, and as I walked away I heard her cry, “I love you!” I turned and replied, “I love you, too!” It was a love that functioned to keep people mysteriously apart.
It was the 1960s after all. I was quite close to the occult bookstore, and it didn’t take me long to get there. I wasn’t at all what I thought it would be like. It was small, and the vitrines were dusty, and it turned out that the entire store seemed dusty. In one of the store windows, there was a poster of a pentacle hanging in front of it. At the floor of the window, there were various copies of occult books of various kinds from astrology to Crowley to general magic books. As I opened the door and walked in, the bell on the door was tripped. Inside, there was only one employee or owner or whatever he was. He ignored me, as I really didn’t fit the mold of an occultist. Although it had a lot of books by Blavatsky and other Theosophists, it was not theosophist store. I explored the various sections of the store. I noticed that beside books, the store also had various talismans and other handy practical magic objects.
I don’t know what possessed me, but I went to the clerk and asked, “Do you have the Daubmannus?”
He was a slight man, gray like the back alleys of Chicago, bespectacled with moon-round glasses that were in style at the time. He looked at me skeptically. Finally, he said, “A Daubmannus?
“Yes, a Daubmannus.”
“If I had one, what would make you think I would see a multi-million dollar book like that to you?”
I laughed and continued, “Of course, you don’t have one. No one has one. There were only three printed in the 1600s. One has disappeared, assumed to have been destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II. Another is supposed to be in a protective vault in Israel, and the other is rumored to be floating around from one book dealer to another or from one collector to another.”
“So, you know something about the Daubmannus. I’m impressed,” he said sarcastically.
“My father was an expert in the secret name of god, and he spoke about it often,” I answered.
“What is his name?” he asked firmly, but still skeptical.
“My father’s name was Jorge Ricardo, and I am Juan Ricardo,” I answered.
“Both names quite well known in certain circles,” the clerk replied, stifling any effort to show that he was really now impressed. “Some say your father was the only man in the world to truly know the name of god and how to pronounce the Tetragammaton.”
I nodded, and silently went on my way once more through the shelves. It was even then something remarkable to me. Here was a boutique rationally and neatly, needing a vacuum cleaning, that housed and sold the irrational and unreason as if it were it were Marshall Fields selling an old line of woman’s clothing. I was getting tired of it all. Too many people were subscribing to a system of belief that could not be rational or even in the most common way to be reasonable and my body’s bruises were now throbbing. Yet, rather than going back to Lake Forest, I decided instead to go the University of Chicago to visit my friend Vanessa from San Francisco, well, not a friend, not a lover, but I wanted her to be lover before friend.
I retraced my steps down State St., but the woman and the horse were gone. The hay was still there, but the woman and the horse were gone. Was I so long in the bookstore that they had time to leave? I didn’t know. I instead concentrating on getting way south to the U of C as it would be a long trip.
I was walking down the main drag of the campus when I saw a crowd of more demonstrators and strikers, the intellectual elite of the US arguing over the war and social justice. Justice was actually something important in those days, and it is word today that is connected solely with the punishment or execution of criminals. It was an odd sight as I came closer. On the podium was a professor from the economics department, someone named Milton Friedman. He was jabbering away about how he agreed with the strikers, but he had a better way, capitalism. Of course men like him never see that capitalism is, an occult and esoteric side of the communism that he feared would infect the souls of the university activists.
Vanessa was one of those lovely girls of the time. I always imagine her dressed in Errol Flynn dueling shirts and jeans. If not that, she wore the bright prints of long granny dresses, only hers were always just a bit better than everyone else’s. She was living in an apartment with two other girls in Hyde Park, an oasis from the black ghetto around it, which even the most socially conscious U of C student feared. There were the dark forces of poverty and ignorance hid waiting to spring like an African predator on the unsuspecting civilized man. Integration was no longer a goal by then.
Vanessa greeted me warmly, thank god. “What a surprise, Juan. I am so happy to see you,” Vanessa said. She was an English major, very much into Northrup Frye, seeking grand mythological forms everywhere. She kissed me in a way that made me forget how truly worn down I was.
“I went to the demonstration today, Vanessa. I got beaten up,” I said wearily, promising myself that I would never lead the vanguard any more.
“My hero,” Vanessa replied. I lifted my shirt and showed her the now exceptional colors of my bruises that reminded her of the dark hues of a Caravaggio painting. “Daley is disgusting,” Vanessa replied, reminding of the mayor that was to Chicago as Ho Chi Minh was to the revolution in Vietnam. Vanessa stripped me down and had me lie on her bed. Although it was too late, Vanessa brought an ice bag, and nursed my day’s wounds, front and back. After a while, I said, “You know, there is something that I would rather do.”
“And what could that be?” she teased. “I know, it’s time to get something to eat.”
I hungered for something else, and, fortunately, Vanessa was hungry, too.
Afterwards, we had some dinner, a typical deep-dish Chicago pizza. I almost fell asleep while eating, and it took Vanessa’s strength to bring me back to her apartment. Her roommates laughed at me, I remember, and then I fell asleep, a sleep I truly needed.
I do remember that I dreamed of the woman, girl, I had seen that day at the stable with the swayback horse. The light was on her now very young and innocent face and she was smiling at me, still holding the flowers as if they were a newly born child. Who are you? I asked in my dream. She simply continued to laugh at me, Who are you?
This time I could make out her face. She was the one out of Botticelli. Are you a witch? I asked her. She laughed even more, amused by ignorance. It doesn’t matter, I said, it really doesn’t matter. I’ll never forget you, goddess, never, never, never. As with all dreams, the scenes shift. I found the girl on top of a grassy knoll standing besides the swayback horse. The breeze was brushing a few strands of her hair across her face. She couldn’t move them as her arms were filled with flowers. So, I decided to go to her, and gently I pushed the locks from her face and secured them from the wind.
When I awoke, I found Vanessa all naked sleeping beside me and, when I looked at my chest, I saw that the bruises were all gone.