t h r e e

The weekend after I arrived, Liz and Miekal were out of town, and I took the opportunity to practice on Liz's drum set in the Post Office. The building had once housed a functioning post office as well as an Oddfellows' hall; it was just down the street from the Hotel, and like the Hotel was an old, white, two-story clapboard building. The upstairs was a large open space lit with paper lanterns: at night, the lighting was musty and magical, like an opium den or a curiosity shop in Chinatown. It was crowded with books, tropical plants, and musical instruments. The drumset was at the center of an astounding collection: clarinets, ocarinas, a violin, one-of-a-kind gourd instruments--boxes and shelves and corners were filled with them.

When I began playing, another Dreamtime resident, Bay, showed up. He was already drunk and had brought along a couple of supplemental Hubers (the cheap local brand of beer that Dreamtimers preferred). His intention had been to record some noise-rock on the four-track--since I was already there, we decided to collaborate.

Before we began playing, Bay tried to figure out my taste in music. We sat on two old couches and talked about our experiences with improvisation.

"My best experiences with music," he told me, "have been at parties I've had where I've turned off all the lights, and people could play any instrument they wanted, without the embarrassment of being seen playing badly. It always sounded amazing." Like other musicians at Dreamtime, Bay was much more interested in process than product, not so much concerned with the theory-based music that I was used to playing.

Without the benefit of a segue, Bay changed the topic of the conversation to me and my project at Dreamtime. None of the questions he asked were ones I hadn't asked myself a hundred times before--but they were even more difficult to answer when another person was asking.

"What exactly are your intentions here?"

"How can you be a part of daily life but still stay objective?"

I gave him what amounted to a short, prerehearsed speech. "I have to be two separate people: one who lives at Dreamtime and the other who's studying Dreamtime. And I'm not going to claim to be objective. I'm not even sure if I think it's desirable, or possible."

Bay wasn't easily satisfied, and kept pushing me to say more, to go beyond my little speech. It was an ambiguous encounter. On one hand, I enjoyed finally talking with someone about these issues; I enjoyed his attention, his need to figure me out. The longer we talked, though, the more I felt I was wilting under his gaze, that there was no appropriate response to any of his questions. I wanted to use very clear, precise language, but Bay, increasingly drunk, formulated vague questions that could only hint at his real concerns.

He had a certain sympathy for me because he had been in a similar position when he had arrived in February. He was a college student on a semester off, a little self-conscious and (as he looked back) naive, imagining that he could avoid taking sides. Bay was telling me that I would inevitably become entangled, as he had. His friends Kym and Patrick were perhaps the most dissatisfied members of the community, the most at odds with Liz and Miekal. He had been pulled into the fray, unwillingly, and by now had a touch of sadness and cynicism in him when he talked about Dreamtime.

Though inarticulate and at times confrontational, the exchange was, like the teasing I had been subjected to a little earlier, essentially friendly. Bay spoke as if I would inevitably go through the same crises that he had, and that I would draw the same conclusions. He was giving counsel. "You should try not to be so self-conscious," he said.

"Trying not to be self-conscious is a little self-defeating, isn't it? Besides, it takes time for me to get comfortable in new surroundings. Don't worry about me, Bay." I was tired of taking advice, of being cast in the role of the new naif.

Sooner or later, we remembered that we were there to make music. We spent the next hour making godawful, cathartic, atonal jazz-rock on Liz and Miekal's four-track. When we were finished, I was sweaty and tired. I went to bed; Bay threw up.

The friction that had gotten to Bay was familiar to me, both from my own experiences living with different groups at college, and from the reading I had done about past intentional communities. Things tend to break along the line of the Originals versus the Newcomers.

Bay was not the only person to have given me some kind of warning.

Miekal had also hinted that some people--especially in the Hotel--didn't support his and Liz's Vision of Dreamtime. I was quite confident that I would be able avoid taking sides and getting caught up in controversy. I was to learn that, while taking sides is avoidable, getting caught up in controversy isn't.

Like a lot of Dreamtime residents, David Chilson had been living in Madison, a college town with a strong cooperative housing scene. Like a lot of Dreamtime residents, he was won over by a copy of "Dreamtime Talkingmail," the village's newsletter. He drove up for a musical instrument making workshop. "I was at a transition point in my life--I had just broken up with my girlfriend and hurt my back. The things that really drew me to the place were Zon and all the stuff in the library. I'd already graduated from college. I wasn't interested in 'the Vision' or an overall picture; I liked Dreamtime because I found it to be a freeing place." David went to Seattle for a year and a half and founded a squat. He came back to visit Dreamtime for a week and then it was three weeks and then he was living there.

David, it has to be said, was one of the few Dreamtimers perennially accused of being a "slacker." It's true that I seldom saw him working in the gardens or on the buildings. "My role was to fill in the cracks," he told me, after he had moved out later that summer. "In a typical day, I'd wash dishes, play Liz's drumkit for a while, help Ken make a chair, maybe do yoga."

When I first visited Dreamtime in late march, it was Dave who'd picked me up from the nearest Greyhound stop and given me my tour of the properties. When he showed me the gym, a huge, drafty school gymnasium with a firetruck parked in it, swallows in the ceiling, all kinds of junk everywhere and a huge hole knocked through the east wall (made by Stephen Freer to give admittance to the firetruck) he told me that he had plans to host a rave there early in the summer. "Good luck," I thought.

By the time I arrived to live at Dreamtime in early June, the rave was a hot topic. At meetings and in private, the pros and cons were being weighed out, sometimes with optimism, sometimes with a sense of impending doom. Some of the greatest fears were about controlling the human traffic. The school and some of the surrounding grounds were beyond dangerous, full of asbestos, lead paint, and menacing debris. And what if the gardens got trampled? Or if drug-crazed ravers were to roam through the unpaved streets of conservative West Lima, exhibiting all kinds of unseemly behavior?

There were also misgivings about money. Dave was already in the doghouse, months behind with the rent, perceived by some as a non-contributing member of the community, both in terms of dollars and work hours. He had been touting the rave as a way to pay Dreamtime the back money he owed. Originally , Dreamtime was going to get a sizable cut of whatever profits there were going to be,to pay for the use of the gym and equipment. Dave later changed his mind, making the cut smaller. It was no longer a Dreamtime fundraiser, but a personal venture of Dave's, with most of the resulting debt or jackpot being his as well.

Dave started to prepare for the rave only a few days beforehand. To clean and organize the gym was a monumental task, and I helped out as much as I could; this was something I didn't want to see fail. Old pieces of farm equipment were piled against the walls. We hosed off the floor and mopped away years of dirt and birdshit. I tried to imagine two hundred kids dancing ecstatically to booming psychedelic music right where I was standing and all around me. It still seemed impossible.

The day of the rave, Dreamtime was tense and expectant. Mark Ludwig threatened--with typical dry wit--to wait in the garden with his Chinese assault rifle to pick off straying ravers. Adding to the madness, it was Bay's last day at Dreamtime. He was broke; his mother and sister were showing up the next day to take him back to Tennessee, a fate he seemed resigned to as the least of all possible evils. In the early afternoon, Bay and I worked together on prettifying the gym. With fluorescent paints and stencils, we covered one of the basketball backboards with glowing nonsense-poetry.

Friends-of-friends of Dreamtimers began to arrive early from Madison, and soon the Hotel and garden were full of twenty-somethings in baggy clothes. It was as if they were on an elementary school field trip to a farm. I was out weeding and I found myself getting offers of help. They wanted to know what certain plants were, and more often than not, I knew. Although in many ways I still felt like an outsider, this night made me feel like I belonged.

After having gotten used to seeing the same faces every day, it was strange to have so many people around. I think I must have even stared at some of the visitors, feeling a kind of thrilling relief to look at new people (which would be even more pronounced when I'd go into Madison--it was somehow infinitely comforting to see large numbers of strangers).

In the gym, the lights were insane and the music thudding. A small trickle of people had begun to show up--but Dave was nowhere to be found. Others had to cover for him, taking money and making decisions, giving out the dayglo bracelets that were each attendee's pass in and out of the gym. There were several crises: the security people Dave had hired simply never showed up. Dave's voicemail, which gave ravers directions to Dreamtime, wasn't working.

Dave returned and took over the door just as the crowds began to appear, but other problems developed throughout the night. The biggest problem was that Stephen Freer--who I was discovering was in many ways Dreamtime's greatest handicap--had opened up another entrance to the gym, and was letting people in, keeping the money for himself.

I danced for maybe half an hour, but was too tired for much more. There were little pockets of dancers throughout the gym, but most--especially the locals, it seemed--were content to sit on the straw bales at the periphery of the huge room, or stand around outside, drinking beers and smoking cigarettes.

The next morning, activity was languorous and dazed. Coffee and orange juice and cinnamon buns, all bought in large quantities for the occasion, were consumed with quiet relish. I got to work fairly early on a little project I had started: beautifying the front of the gym, clearing debris from around Freer's hole in the wall and planting violets there. Some stragglers, who had slept in their cars, approached me at different times and asked me questions about Dreamtime. One pair, a couple of men about my age, hip college-student types, seemed very wary and aloof, asked me much and then acted as if the answers didn't interest them. I contemplated prodding them by asking if they wanted to join the cult. Another pair, a couple from Madison, were thrilled to be there, and seemed to have found paradise. I allowed them to watch me go about my business of planting, coolly feeding off of their attention.

Bay left around mid-afternoon. His mother and sister were already in their car, and most of the Hotel's residents had gathered spontaneously in the living room to see him off. There was a round of hugs; mine was the last, and I felt as if something was communicated in that moment, a relaxation of the formalities and tensions that Bay and I had quietly set up between each other. When Bay turned to walk out the door, I saw that he was crying, his face red with emotion. For all of the bitterness and disappointment that he had expressed, now it seemed that he was leaving behind the most meaningful thing he had found.

Jen and Dana had just moved in to the Hotel. They were a couple from Madison (they had been living in the International Co-op, formerly home to Mark Ludwig, another Dreamtimer) who were ideologically motivated to come work at Dreamtime, which was the first stop on a planned tour of intentional communities and other establishments that were promoting things they believed in. As soon as they moved in, they took over the kitchen, cleaning frantically, cooking every meal and washing all the dishes afterwards. I somehow resented this. To them, the Hotel's kitchen was disgracefully dirty. It was below my standards, too, but I felt that they didn't appreciate the difficulty of maintaining cleanliness and order in such a chaotic house. More deeply, I later realized, I felt that they had taken over my home. This was one of the first intimations that I had become attached to Dreamtime and the Hotel.

Over breakfast one morning after they had moved in, Jen and Dana were asking around about where they could get food stamps. Jim Stacho--who, like Stephen and Ken, had both been involved with the land before it was Dreamtime Village--asked them why they would get food stamps in light of their anti-government positions. Jen said that they were owed support because they were "working for peace." It was obvious that this wasn't an issue that Jen and Dana had really done much deep thinking about; it was making them uncomfortable, but Jim kept trying to provoke some kind of ethical debate, pausing to let them know that he was playing devil's advocate. Jen was trying not to let on how angry and frustrated she was, without much success. Jim backed off and went to feed the goats.

"God, I can't believe him," Jen said when he was gone. "It's typical male behavior." (Jen often spoke both for herself and Dana; she was fiery, opinionated and stubborn. Whenever I got into a conversation with Dana, I found her to be incredibly intelligent, reasonable, and open-minded.)

"He certainly didn't have much tact," I said from the couch, where I had watched the proceedings, "but I might have asked you the same questions, and I'd like to believe it's not because I'm a man."

"John, you're different. You're gentle. All he wanted to do was show how much smarter he was than us little girls."

I wasn't sure how Jen had come to that conclusion about me, having known me for only a few days. Later, I heard that she referred to me as her "little altar boy" when I wasn't around.

On to Chapter 4.
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