It was easier to see than understand: the visual was so discordant that tourists drove with their cars locked and an alarmed citizenrry beseeched the police to clean it out.
It was easy to see that the young men who were hippies on Haight Street wore beards and long hair and sometimes earrings and weird-o granny eye-glasses, that they were barefoot or in sandals, and that they were generally dirty. A great many of the young men, by design or by accident, resembled Jesus Christ, whose name came up on campaign pins or lavatory walls or posters or bumper stickers. Are you Bombing With Me, Baby Jesus. Jesus Is God’s Atom Bomb.
The script was “psychedelic.” That is to say, it was characterized by flourishes, spirals, and curlicues in camouflaged tones—blues against purples, pinks against reds—as if the hippie behind the message weren’t really sure he wanted to say what he was saying. It was an item of hippie thought that speech was irrelevant. You Don’t Say Love You Do It. Those Who Speak Don’t Know Those Who Know Don’t Speak. But it was also my suspicion that hippies would speak when they could; meanwhile, their muteness suggested doubt. In one shop—the wall was dominated by an old movie advertisement—Ronald Reagan and June Travis in Love Is in the Air (Warner Brothers), their faces paper-white, blank, drained. I asked the hippie at the counter why it was there, but she didn’t trust herself to try. “It’s what you make of it,” she said.
It was easy to see that the young women who were hippies were draped, not dressed; that they, too, were dirty from toe to head; that they looked unwell, pale, sallow, hair hung down in strings unwashed. Or they wore jeans, men’s T-shirts over brassieres. When shoes were shoes the laces were missing or trailing, gowns were sacks, and sacks were gowns. If You Can’t Eat It Wear It.
A fashion model was quoted in a newspaper as saying, “They don’t really exist,” who meant to say, of course, “I wish they didn’t.” The young ladies were experimenting in drugs, in sexual license, living in communal quarters furnished with mattresses. Praise The Pill. Bless Our Pad. Girls who might have been in fashion were panhandling. “Sorry, I’ve got to go panhandle,” I heard a hippie lady say, which was not only against the law but against the American creed, which holds that work is virtue, no matter what work you do. Hippie girls gave flowers to strangers, and they encouraged their dirty young men to avoid the war in Vietnam. Thou Shalt Not Kill This Means You. Caution: Military Service May Be Hazardous To Your Health.
The shops of the “hip” merchants were colorful and cordial. The “straight” merchants of Haight Street sold necessities, but the hip shops smelled of incense, the walls were hung with posters and paintings, and the counters were laden with thousands of items of nonutilitarian nonsense—metal jewelry, glass beads, dirty pictures, “underground” magazines, photographs of old-time movie stars, colored chalk, dirty combs, kazoos, Halloween masks, fancy match boxes, odd bits of stained glass, and single shoes. Every vacant wall was a bulletin board for communication among people not yet quite settled (“Jack and Frank from Iowa leave a message here.”)