A Letter From Leslie OnThe Road – 1962

Leslie H. was a sister in our little San Francisco band of dirty Peaceniks. I lost touch with her years ago so I can’t ask her for permission to print this letter to me. But it’s a document well worth sharing – it seems to me a brilliant picture of The Life, as we baby beatniks conceived it in that long ago year of 1962.

I don’t have much left from that era, but God is gracious, and left me this letter. How can I not share it with you? That it still exists is a minor miracle.

Leslie is eighteen and on the road with Peter, her lover (they married later, a true-love match.) She’s living the life we loved. The long hitch-hiking journeys, the drugs, a bit of the world-weary feeling I associate with those unpsychedelicized times, the uncapitalized sentences, the eternal ongoing planning of adventures to come. And of course – the literate self-awareness and ability to express herself well on paper.

Together they make up the essence of my times, kiddos – welcome to the winter of 1962. The day I received it the snows were beginning to fall over Long Island and the first winter rains were pouring into the sewers of Lily Alley, San Francisco.

I’ve added a few links to references that may be obscure today.

christopher christopher christopherhow happy i am to get your lawn letter–i’m childishly delighted and even overjoyed. here for the last couple of days i had been, not homesick, but kind of surprised and sad at being 3000 miles away from anyone who really knew how i function. (this is the result of being bored silly and therefore starting to take it out on peter, but trying not to, because he really doesn’t react well to threats of leaving or not sleeping with him at all.)

all this culminated last night with peter pouring chocolate milk shake on my head and i throwing my newly acquired enovid out the car window. i cried myself to sleep thinking of the past with the help of three seconal. but all is slightly better this morning–peter and i woke up early and talked and made love. so i have made him his breakfast, listened to e power biggs playing bach’s royal instrument (the organ), finished sanding, oiling, stringing, and tuning our new guitar–we took off all the mexican finish and wanted to leave it like that and oil it, but we ended up some how putting mahogany varnish on it–, and teaching myself bach’s minuet in g major on the piano and guitar.

a new thing for me–a snow storm the other night. if i had been younger or marguerita i would have run outside in it naked. now the snow has been here for two days and it is melting and looking a bit soiled.

we have been here for three weeks and i haven’t yet seen new york city, which is why i think we hitched out here. i can’t really remember why we came anymore except it has something to do with rolexin and the president and me and peter and new york/and cuba and kruschev and bombs

once i had a job for two weeks where i had to type all day.

i could tell you what happened to us hitch hiking and the people we met and what they said but it is not really very interesting or xxxxxx

(typing fades and gets scratchy-looking)

What is wrong with the fucking typewriter?

(she switches to pencil)

i will use a drafting pencil for want of a pen.

(she switches to blue ink)

i found a pen – i don’t like it

(this time she switches to black ink with bold point)

here is a fountainpen. i’ll use this.

anyway my point was that before i started i thought that hitch hiking to new york would be a great adventure and it wasn’t at all just mostly cold and boring. i have lost all my faith in jack kerouac.

we did meet some wonderful people in madison, wisconsin. They were students and mostly hippies but some cool – not cool really, but sweet. peter and i set out to close the university of wisconsin by turning everyone on to rolaxin (romilar there) i was introduced to everyone as the high priestess of romilar. we were staying with two great friends of peter’s – sam and john. one night we were all high and someone knocked on the door. john answered it and a man asked – do you have any cockroaches. sam told him – yes, but they’re on our side.

the night before we left i got into a drinking contest with peter. i lost miserably. it’s the first time i’ve ever been drunk. i vaguely remember crying for two hours about my abortion – peter was very sweet and says i really wasn’t too bad. i also somehow cut off a large section of big toe. i am now firmly convinced that pot is so much better for teen-agers than booze.

i don’t want to write on and on and bore you. so i will shortly close.

how are you and linda and expected baby? and working, being responsible, etc.

everyone there except peter’s mother thinks we’re married. address any future mail accordingly. i even have a woolworth’s golden wedding band ($1.00, without tax) i am also maybe pregnant, which is fine with both of us. peter is a very fine person to have babies from.

we have plans. we will be back in san francisco by april (by way of virginia, etc.) and then peter and i will get jobs (if i am not pregnant, i will) save money until june. take a bus to mexico city – some odd $60 dollars (both) and go to mexico city college. my parents will support me – i will support peter. will have baby in mid-August and let a maid take care of him ($15 a month). i want so much to learn things! i mean, at college – therefore a maid for the baby. i am going to see all the art galleries and museums in new york (while peter works – he may be able to get a job as an artist’s model for 7.50 an hour). i am going to learn to really cook – no instant anything. and find a place to practice piano, and look at new york and maybe sew pregnant clothes. – why do i always plan things?

anyway write to me – maybe often. i need it. are you kidding about the naval? tell me about it.

have you seen or heard of riley, teresa, and george. do you have addresses of the first two?

very much love to you – and i will think about you.

[this letter started out fine but it bogs at the end and is incoherent – i’m sorry]

leslie

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10 thoughts on “A Letter From Leslie OnThe Road – 1962

  1. Wow, that is some letter. Hard to believe she’s only 18- though I was 18 not that long ago and I guess I could very well have lived that same life if I had been someone different (and didn’t have parents like you that would have sent the brigade after me). Do you know if she was pregnant and if she got to do any of those things- go to Mexico, hire a maid…

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  2. This is not Leslie’s last appearance. I have one more letter, just as good, coming soon. Isn’t she a natural writer? So honest – naked on the paper, you might say. I want to know what happened to her too. To my knowledge Leslie is still alive and well somewhere in the West. Maybe she’ll stop by the Pig and tell us herself.

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  3. You’re right, my friend. Her writing is natural and, as they say, transparent. That’s something that can’t be taught, but comes with honesty and self-confidence. I read it a few time, twice out loud just to hear the rhythm, and it sounds fresh and new every time.

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  4. Sociological note: I just noticed this letter is evidence that ‘hippie’ was already in common use by 1962. The people she met in Madison were ‘mostly hippies’ but not necessarily cool.

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  5. I’m not sure how she found out about it, but Leslie send me an email with a link to this letter.

    Yes, kirstie, on Dec 13, 1962 Leslie was indeed pregnant, because I was born August 20, 1963. Peter and Leslie got married for real after I was born, but it didn’t work out. They gave me up for adoption in December 1963 and split up.

    Peter left SF but came back in 1966 to be the bass player in The Great Society. When Grace left the band, he and Darby Slick (who had been going out with Leslie after Peter left) went to India to study music under Ali Akbar Khan. Darby came back when he found out that the Jefferson Airplane recording of “Somebody to Love” was big on the charts and he was making money.

    (This is according to Darby’s autobiography, where he also says that he wrote “Somebody to Love” as a reaction to Leslie breaking up with him.)

    Peter stayed and studied in India for a few years, then spent 20 years or so studying and teaching at Ali Akbar Khan’s school in Marin county. He still plays (and very well): http://www.petervangelder.com

    Meanwhile, I grew up in a quiet, loving, middle-class, suburban family in South San Francisco knowing that I was adopted but having no idea who my birth parents were and, in all honestly, not trying to find out.

    Peter (or rather his girlfriend at the time) tracked me down in 2001 and I met him for the first time in June of that year. Leslie heard about this through the grapevine and I met her in September. Getting to know them and the rest of my birth-family has been wonderful beyond words.

    Christopher: I’m not sure “hippie” was in common use when Leslie wrote this letter. I only say that because Peter told me in all seriousness that he thinks Leslie coined the term.

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  6. I am a later addition to Leslie’s life, born in 1975 I am the youngest of her three children (mother to her three grandchildren).

    It is hard to describe what it’s like to read my mom’s thoughts from then. She is a very different person now and (as I related to her) has lived several fascinated lives since then.

    One thing certainly is true Peter turned out to be “a fine person to have babies from’ as my brother Steve is proof.

    I have been working on but mostly off on a fictional piece of work based on her adventures in Mexico with her second born son. I write mostly because she has yet to answer my pleas to write her own memoir.

    Thanks to you Christopher for a window into her past.

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  7. Leslie, we need you to write down your story. You’ve always had the talent, and now you have the audience. I’ll make a fire and we’ll have tea and we’ll stay up all night because we don’t want to miss a word. Start with Lowell High School and just go on from there, okay? You can be as shocking or as G-rated as you want.

    You’ve been part of my personal myth for most of my life – my personal legend of the house at 311 Judah Street. And now you are here for real, and a good writer to boot. We can hardly wait.

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  8. I know it looks weird to see my face on each of these comments; it’s because I couldn’t import them from Blogger to this new home at WordPress. So I had to cut and paste each one – I felt they were worth the effort.

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