Nate finally extricates himself from the grips of the Air Force, but in a parting shot is warned that he may not like the Real World; in fact, he’s told many troops re-up within a few months. Why is that? Nate wonders. He remembered seeing a wall plaque that read “If Man Has His Freedom, He Has Everything.” If that’s so, why would someone give up his freedom and having a life he can call his own, just to return to the confining aspects of military life? Nonetheless, Nate soon finds that his freedom is fleeting and conditional. Home Sweet Home? Right. What’s Uncle Ned, the philosophy professor, have to say about all this? Why are Chicagoans so cold? And who is that, standing quietly on the sidelines, three thousand miles away in the warm California sun, waiting for Nate’s homecoming drama to play out? Aw, you know who.
In which Nate discovers his…well, he discovers a great deal of what’s going on inside of him while attending the performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Stuttgart with the grande dames, and even more with them afterwards. You know, about the children of the future and all that. He bids his fellow troops good-bye and boards the silver skybird for London to say adios to Tony, then to the U.S. and…freedom? We shall see.
Nate undergoes some radical personal changes after learning his story about the General was published without his attribution. His anger is tempered by throwing an I Ching, the fact that he’s FIGMO, the arrival of Tony with the new Beatles’ White Album, and an update on the children of the future discussion with the grande dames. A short chapter, but filled with portent, as you shall hear.
You may remember that Nate’s recruiter promised he’d become a jet aircraft pilot. This, of course, turned out to be nothing more than a ploy to get him to enlist, and he was disabused of this aspiration by the two instructors during Basic Training. Little did Nate know he’d end up the co-pilot in General Beauregard’s personal jet, as you will hear in this chapter. Nate’s terrified, and only doing it because he’s been ordered to; in fact, it’s his most important assignment as the base correspondent for the Stars and Stripes, and what looks like his best shot at seeing his byline in print.
It’s really such a great German tradition, Oktoberfest, a party to end all parties. Too bad Dylan spoils it for the troops. But then again, if he hadn’t, would they have met the three philosophy students from Heidelberg University? Would they have learned they were not the only children of the future? A lot of Truth gets discussed over one-liter beer steins, as Alan, Tim, Henry Harold Henry and Nate exchange points of view with Thomas, Dieter and Herman. What do you suppose they agree on?
Their last days on Socrates Island and dissent fills the air. Alan tries to talk the other troops into going AWOL and, well, you gotta listen to believe it. Yep, they go back, but not the same guys who’d left a month earlier. Especially not Nate. They march right into one political foray after another. What’s this with Lieutenant Antonucci offering Nate redemption? Redemption? And what has Milo learned about Nate’s enlistment from his astute review of the regs? If you haven’t heard “Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, the song that gave this chapter its title, now is a good time to do so. It may help put the times into perspective so you can ponder what the comment Nate makes to Tony in a stoned, 3 o’clock in the morning conversation means: “the whole universe is watching us through the window, to see if we get it figured out.”
Sun-drenched beaches. Starry nights. Friendship, firelight, and philosophy. Idyllic Socrates Island continues to seduce the troops with its siren song.
After listening to this chapter, I know you’ll want to visit Socrates Island. Sorry, but it’s fictional, although there are many wonderful, obscure, charming, historically fascinating islands in the Adriatic Sea. You might even like Crete, which is a large but still exciting island. Maybe not as exciting as Socrates, which turns out to be a real hippie paradise for the guys and their various disenfranchised island-mates. These kinds of experiences are growing more rare as time passes; this may be your last chance to experience what it was like back in the 1960s.
This is just so unbelievable. Remember those two old ladies the guys met at the Ravi Shankar concert last chapter? Well, they’ve invited Nate and the gang to their house in downtown Stuttgart, for what they do not know. But ever game for new experiences, they knock on the door to find out what happens next. The Steve Miller Band might have been the first to sing the song of children of the future, but listen to this chapter to wrap your head around another perspective.
Liederhalle. In Deutsch, a place of song. A place to celebrate music of all kinds. This night the Mozart-Saal, one of the music halls within the beautiful Konzerthaus Liederhalle, is host to Ravi Shankar and his sitar. Yes, Nate has seen Ravi and Allah Rakha and Ali Akbar Khan before, at Monterey Pop, but his experiences tonight – both psychedelic and otherwise – will trump anything he, in his highest moments of imagination, might have dreamt could happen. It all began when a delicate hand with long painted nails, rings with large green and red and blue stones glistening on every finger, and a lace cuff at the wrist, touched Alan’s arm. But that was not the only event of note. Whatever happened to Nate’s entry in the USAFE Short Story Contest?
It’s spring, 1968, and the world as Americans know it is falling apart: the Vietnam War rages, President Johnson is stepping down, Martin Luther King is assassinated, and Nate’s commander is retiring. Nate throws a mysterious I Ching that says he ought to install helpers and see armies marching. What’s going on? What does it all mean? As he struggles for clarity and answers, Tim makes a startling revelation. It isn’t the first and won’t be the last.
“Write what you know” is a common piece of advice given to writers. Nate, given that it’s unlikely he’ll ever see one of his articles for the Stars and Stripes newspaper in print, decides to follow SSgt. Tom Tremblay’s advice and enter the USAFE Short Story Contest. Has Nate written his story from experience? Is fiction just one’s own life experiences in the guise of fiction? Well, the gasthaus seems familiar, but…well, maybe not, and he’s never mentioned seeing a female there, so…. Well, anyway, he writes a compelling story, set in his local surroundings, and it’s not bad.
Nate is figuring out how to use the I Ching which Jane had given him for his birthday. Henry Harold Henry introduces the troops to John Coltrane’s music. Southern California Ricky, none too stable any time, is having a tough time dealing with the cold and snow of Germany. Jane writes a poem for Nate. Nate sends Jane a valentine. Nate and Sgt. Tom Tremblay, his editor, have lunch. Tom begins answering some of Nate’s unspoken questions concerning Why Are We Here. More specifically, why Nate is here. Some of the questions are rhetorical, but others not. Why was none of this making sense? Nate sees there are pieces, pieces everywhere. Do the pieces fit or not?
What’s a zeitgeist? The troops ponder, debate, question it. But Nate sees beyond Alan’s intellectual posing. He knows – really knows – what Alan thinks of zeitgeist, regardless what he says. And Nate also knows it’s exactly what he thinks it is, too.
Nate catches a hop on the courier plane to spend a weekend visiting London. He stays with his old friend from Stateside, Tony Rizzo, in Tony’s bachelor pad in the barracks. London is in full Mod mode; Nate is enthralled with Carnaby Street, the velveteen lads and mini-skirted birds. But all too soon it’s back to Kleinelachen, where Tim Rosencrantz is attempting to seduce the troops into sedition by reading Quotations from Chairman Mao to them. With Christmas almost upon him, Nate scrambles to buy gifts for his family, and is surprised when a package filled with more Chinese wisdom arrives from Jane.
Nate, Alan, Henry and Tim have found a secret place to meet up, get high and talk. And it’s right behind their barracks. Tony unexpectedly flies in from England and joins the troops for an evening in Der Alten Scheune. He tells them about a Canadian PX in the town of Baden-Baden, where the latest and greatest stereo hi-fi gear can be purchased, and shortly they are on their way. The conversation turns to the subject they’ve all be puzzling over – indeed, the question most of us spend our lives puzzling over: Why are we here? For the troops, the answer is far from comforting.
Nate embarks upon his new duty assignment as base correspondent at Kleinelachen Air Base, and meets Sergeant Tom Tremblay, his NCOIC editor at the Stars and Stripes newspaper. Nate’s excited, but soon enough learns that things are not quite what they seem – either in his new job, or at the newspaper, or even at Kleinelachen. Or in Rome. Rome? His doors of perception are opening wider, whether he wants them to or not.
Nathaniel “How could I know” Flowers arrives at his new duty assignment, Kleinelachen Air Base, Germany, and immediately gets himself in a heap of trouble with his new first shirt. He follows that by going on a three-day bender with his new barracks mate Dylan. He awakens, profoundly hung over, to his folie a trois: standing in front of the squadron commanding officer, AWOL. How can this be? Clearly, Nate has violated his recently learned lesson, taught by Bob Dylan, not to make the same mistake more than once. But Nate, while creative enough to reconfigure his mistakes to some extent, remains a major screw-up. The difference here, on this tiny American air base near Stuttgart, appears to be that–at least so far–everyone he’s met is a wacko. Why does Dylan call the squadron office “The Dungeon?” Why was Nate sleeping with an empty Heineken bottle in his pocket? And how did that fancy chronograph end up on his wrist?
Nate, back from his first acid trip, begins examining the meaning of the Real World more closely. Sitting in the swing on Jane’s front porch, they have a spirited discussion and Nate learns a few new and amazing things about her. He also learns a few things about the Real World of the military and human nature, which lead to a startling change in plans, which in turn leads to an even more startling revelation from Jane.
Nate continues to nudge open the doors of perception, compliments of Tony and Owsley's Monterey Purple.
Remember Tony Rizzo, whom Jane and Nate met after the Grateful Dead concert? Well, Tony has decided it’s time for Nate to meet Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and that his rather unique digs in a Napa County vineyard are just the place to partake of Owsley’s Finest.
Ever wonder what it was like to hang out in the Haight for a kid back in the 1960s? Nate and his roommate Lee find out big-time in this chapter as they unknowingly wander into the Summer of Love. Jane takes Nate on a hike up Mt. Tamalpais, then he takes her for a ride, then she takes him for a trip. And where are those whales anyway? Meanwhile, Nate gets a big dose of Military Madness.
A wacko who runs a pizza joint and greets customers with “Goddammit!” A roommate who drives an arrest-me-red Austin Healy 3000 sports car. A lovely young Irish alcoholic poetess. Haight Ashbury. And Jane. Ah, yes, Jane. What else awaits Nate in California?
In which our unlikely hero braves Hurricane Betsy and lives to write about it. Not only that, but survives military punishment for doing so. And what happens when Dinky, Hubba-Hubba, JD and his barracks mates celebrate aboard the riverboat? Celebrate what? And what about that 1958 Plymouth Golden Fury he left behind?
To Fall In or Fall Out? That is the question, the philosophical question Nate Flowers must grapple with in Chapter 2. Whether it is better to just fall in and follow orders, try to be just one of the troops, or to relive bittersweet memories of civilian life. As he grows accustomed to barracks life, Nate finds an unexpected kind of camaraderie founded on the protest music of Bob Dylan and Barry McGuire.