So I married a cheese plant…well given the alternatives, I think we have both been happy enough, although I am well aware that I was not the poor cheese plant’s first choice of possible life partners.
In fact given the circumstances in which we came together, the way my life overlapped my green friend’s existence, I am fairly sure that the cheese plant would have been far happier to have been left on the supermarket shelf in between the frozen party sausages, one hour in the oven at gas mark six, and the tins of own brand beer, buy two six-packs, get third free. However that day I finally got off my back-side, the day I tore myself away from mother’s sofa and went for a walk down to the shops to buy a packet of cigarettes, matches and a pint of sterilised milk and I saw what reminded me of you, your last request that you asked me as we parted company in San Francisco…well I had to purchase her and take care of something.
We parted as friends, one deep kiss, a brief reminder of what had been as we curled up on the grass and listened to the music wafting across the thousands of people who had come to see, to immerse themselves into a culture that we shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near. Yet for a while we hadn’t been friends, we had been so engrossed in the argument of what we were to make of the brand new world we wanted to forge that even though we loved each other, we couldn’t bear to be in each other’s company…and yet we rode the road together, the road our home, the eeking out of cigarettes until you managed to bum some more in exchange for an autograph signed, I think by Joe Cocker after he had finished his set.
As I sit here now, the cheese plant eyeing me with a certain amount of suspicion as if I am having an affair with my father’s prize roses but keeping quiet because it doesn’t want a row, my words to you seem to take on extra meaning. I wish I could tell you now that I was right, well sort of right…partially. Not the type of right in which you said The Who were the best thing that weekend, even better than when you had seen The Beatles perform at Candlestick Park in ’66 and shouted me down when I suggested that Joan Baez, heavily pregnant at the time, was just the coolest thing to walk the Earth. Not that type of right, more like the type of right of when you climbed up the drainpipe that led past my bedroom window, knocked with a tremendous amount of excited vigour and explained of how Woodstock was going to be brilliant and out of this world and if we didn’t go then we may as well stay squares all our lives. I told you then that if I went to Woodstock, if I went along with you that I would never make it back.
It seems so long ago now, perhaps it was, perhaps my memory of that time is shaped by so much dope, so much love, not just with you; the boy I had known since we lived next door to each other in Hamilton, the boy who once grumbled about holding my hand on a day trip to Toronto with my mother and who then eight years later tried to sweet-talk me into bed and unsuccessfully tried to get me to remove my skirt after a night drinking his father’s supply of rye, so much love and conversation with the man who swore blind he was on the bill, exotic looking and also with that young woman who had made her way to the festival from Pittsburgh. As you looked at me as I lay under the bedclothes your excited and eager conversation nearly woke my Dad. His disdain of you would have reached new heights if he could have heard what you were planning. I would have killed you if I could have seen into your head at the rest of what you were planning.
A trip to a festival, easily get over the border, your mum, a new age woman who believed in the power of humanity and who told you to do what made you happy would have given us a lift across the border and we would have made our own way down from Canada into New York State, we would have the time of our lives. For months you pestered me and slowly I gave in. The talk of The Doors performing entranced me, never to materialise and for that I could have gone home the minute we arrived, but with names such as Ravi Shanker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane and Joan Baez, I was captured, I was caught like a doped up girl barely 18 and who was caught in the infection of your untold joy. Of course I was never going to make it back from Woodstock. I was never going to make it back in one piece. I was always going to end up being responsible for the life of one cheese plant I named Henry.
We made our way down to Bethel, walking a bit, hitchhiking in some really dodgy cars some of the way and all the while we smoked, we laughed, we talked of changing the world. Changing the world, I couldn’t even change the time on my watch these days without an instruction manual or getting my father to do it for me. We were late for the opening ceremony; not that it mattered, by that time we were tired, dirty, horny and drunk. I would have made love to a patch of grass if it looked to have a comfortable bed to share. For the last 10 miles you had talked of nothing else but The Beatles’ performance at Candlestick Park, I always cursed you for being on holiday just at that point and your mum taking you to the concert, I did always wonder why your dad decided to spend the day in the hotel room rather than taking in what turned out to be a pivotal moment of music. That Liverpool band, that music that had come out of the streets of that Northern city and your dad decided to spend the day in the hotel.
The first evening/morning went by in a flash, I remember Joan Baez being the most wonderful thing I had ever seen at that point and don’t forget I was born in Niagara Falls and that my best friend had the hair of a God, I was smitten by this incredible woman. The radiance I saw was unlike anything I had ever seen, it even managed to make the experience of making love to you seem incredible. That sounds harsh but at the back of my mind I kept thinking that this trip was going to kill me, not in a dramatic way, I wasn’t going to stop breathing, turn grey and fade out of existence but I would certainly come back a changed woman. I wouldn’t be the girl from Niagara Falls anymore. I wouldn’t come back from Woodstock.
We partied and we laughed, we danced and we argued the way lovers do and whilst I was losing myself I found that you were getting lost too, you were becoming a haze, a spectral vision that was getting thinner all the time. I had known about the pot smoking, heck I even took part and I loved the mellow feeling it gave me and the combination of rye and smoke as they mixed together in some sort of heady fantasy in my mouth as I learned to swallow one and blow the other out was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon with nothing for company than records and the picture of Jim Morrison which looked down on me from the wall next to my bed. The times I leaned out of the window to put my head out in the rain and let the water run through my red hair and trickle down my cheeks before falling onto the sash I have lost count on but I know Jim Morrison congratulated me each time and told me he loved me.
On the Saturday evening you had gone walk about. The second worse row we had had at the time. In my mind it still doesn’t beat the awful argument we had in your bedroom the weekend before you went to California with your mum and dad and you told me that you were going away for a couple of weeks. The rage and jealousy I felt as you casually dropped it into the conversation over the top of the music that was coming out of your record player’s speakers. We had been talking about spending the Monday down in Niagara and introducing you to my Grandmother when all of a sudden you perked up and said that was fine but that you had to be back by six so that you could get ready to pack to go away. I asked you what you meant, going away, hadn’t we got the whole summer planned? We had arranged to go up into the forests with my Dad and go hunting, well you had wanted to go hunting, I had just wanted to sit by a roaring fire in the dusk and listen to nature as it closed in around me with only the flickering of the flames warding of the spirits and the Moon highlighting their silhouettes from above. Had all we planned been for nothing, did I mean that little to you? Of course I had over reacted but for good reason, you were my friend and I adored you, but you went your own way…it wouldn’t be the first time and it certainly wasn’t the last.
I had taken a couple of your records and hurled them against the wall, the smashing and cracking sound nothing compared to my shouting tirades of abuse at my shocked friend and for letting me down, doing what you wanted to do and not hearing you say that your Mum and Dad had only told you the night before, an early birthday present. I stormed out of your house and vowed never to talk to you again, not at school, not in the Diary Palace, not in the Baptist Church on King Street West and find a new friend to listen to music with. Of course you left a couple of notes under the welcome mat at our front door but I tore them up and threw them in the fire. The day you went to California I saw you look up at my window, a mixture of sadness and regret but also the shadow of a plan forming that would lead us three years later to this field in upstate New York.
This argument started because I bought up that afternoon in your bedroom. We had just swayed in time to the music and felt at one with the world, nothing was going to be the same after this weekend, the revolution was starting. Yet for all the fraternity I felt with the world, the love that coursed through my veins I felt a the simmering resentment of what you had said that weekend, the overwhelming desire to see you hurt washed over me like a million tonnes of water cascading and crashing down over the top of Niagara Falls and into the river below. It was a fleeting moment, one I have regretted ever since but still that regret didn’t stop me from opening my mouth.
We rowed in an open field in the middle of a group of like-minded people, all stoned, all happy and each one of them eyeing us up and down as if we were the most insane people of the planet. To them even Nixon seemed plausible. This time it was you who stormed off, you told me that nothing on Earth was going to make you miss The Who, not even the insanity I had bought along with in my rucksack wedged between my three skirts and couple of pairs of knickers. You walked off, you just stormed off and went to watch The Who, you actually left me there standing in that ring of people to watch Pete Townsend play guitar.
Both of us did things we regretted that night, you didn’t come back till quite late into the morning on Sunday and you told me that in your anger you had tried something for the first time which altered your perception and in my anger I made love to the girl from Pittsburgh. Mine was the first time and only time, yours became a habit which has taken you somewhere far from home and I don’t know where.
I had gone with you to look for myself in America, to look for America, the country of the free and somewhere different to Hamilton. You in the end went looking for the unobtainable dream, you went to become bigger than you could ever be and I hope it succeeded because in the end I don’t want to have cared for two cheese plants
After it had all finished and we had our usual making up vows and tears of an unspoken grief filled us both, you told me we weren’t going home, we had a lift to California with some new friends that you had made during the night. You somehow even managed to convince the girl from Pittsburgh to come along also, saying that she had already had a piece of ass why not come for the whole ride. She lasted three months in the house with us all. One day she just looked out of the window, saw the ocean and said, “I’m going home now”, and left. We had a letter from her mother a couple of weeks later damning us all to Hell and that her daughter was not the same anymore. We were all ever the same after that weekend listening to music?
I managed a few more months, I had begun to start feeling sick, exhausted as I watched you become something else, something I didn’t like and whilst we had still made love, it wasn’t as tender as the first time we had done it. You also had started to look at the Mexican woman who lived with us in that big house just a little too keenly. I didn’t blame you, to be honest I had long since gone past caring as I found the way you pursued your new habit just a little bit too much. I have looked back at those days whilst I have been sat in the Gown and Gavel with my Mother, Father and the cheese plant and raised a glass to your health wherever you are, much to my Father’s disapproval but Mum’s understanding.
The last straw for me, the day I decided to head back to Canada and regain control of my life, to breathe in the clean air that hugged the route from Niagara Falls to Hamilton, was when I found you head down and bobbing between the Mexican Lady and a pile of white powder that lined her inner thigh. I had been so sick that you had only popped your head round the door to our room every so often and that every so often became infrequent, which in turn became never. If not for one of the guys who had given us a lift to California making sure I was alright, I’m not sure I would have made it back home at all. Bless him, he drove me all the way back to the American side of Niagara Falls and watched as I crossed the bridge and was safely in my Grandmother’s arms. He saluted and then drove all the way back again. A ride that I didn’t remember but never forgot the next few months stuck at my Grandmother’s home with just her and my Mother for company and then going home with a new baby sister laid on my knee on the bus home to Hamilton.
I knew I wouldn’t make it back from Woodstock, I always thought you would though. You were so strong in those days, nothing fazed you, you wanted to do something then you did it. I always remember the day I told you I was going to go home, you didn’t notice me but we parted as friends and the kiss was beautiful but you still didn’t notice me. Woodstock, for all it’s fun and the dream of being able to change the world, may as well have happened to someone else but if it had, then the cheese plant would not be sat by my side, I would not be taking care of it like you promised me to. You asked me to look after something as the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashed around us like a perfect amp picking up the sound of Pete Townsend’s guitar; you told me that nothing would love me like you did and to find something or somebody like you to look after and love. In the end, although you don’t know and probably never will, as the last I heard you were making your way to Mexico and South America, well in end I found two things that remind me of you. So I came back from Woodstock a changed woman and for that my love I will always thank you and whilst the world has become more dark, sometimes more scary and disturbing, know that if you do come back, the cheese plant and I and your parting gift will look after you.
Ian D. Hall 2014
Dedicated to my beautiful friend Laura Court.