Love the One You're With by Bill Tope

Monday, August 8, 2022
Bill Tope invites us to a drug-fuelled party in 1970s USA.

Blind Faith's eponymous new album was spinning on the turntable; Steve Winwood's haunting vocals on "Can't Find My Way Back Home" was set off to great advantage by Clapton's 12-string. The music floated evocatively throughout the party room, where a thick, inert blanket of marijuana smoke hung near the ceiling. All the cool people were there, as was sexy Beth - the life of every party - and every purveyor of every controlled substance then known to the local subculture. Everyone seemed mellow, clutching either a beer or a joint. Professor Bob sat in a quilt-covered rocking chair, warming himself before the fire as he sifted through a huge woven bamboo tray of marijuana leaves and stems and buds. He smiled. He was happily in his element.

Beth walked slowly across the floor, her nose stuck in yet another book on numerology, her latest obsession. She was frustrated: other folks couldn't seem to come to grips with her decision to be known as "Bethany," which she had of course made for all the right, obvious reasons. She halted before a threesome of stoners to get high.

"Is John here yet - Bethany?" asked one of the trio, still unused to her new appellation.

"Haven't seen him," she replied with indifference. "It's alright if he shows up," she went on, "so long as he doesn't bring that asshole roommate of his; but you just know he'll tag along." The girl to whom she'd spoken nodded in dismal concurrence - she'd met the roommate.

George, the very outspoken former heroin addict, was basking in the perverse adulation often accorded by the ignorant to a one-time hard drug user. "I don't think," he proclaimed gravely, "therefore, I ain't!" The eager faces of college freshmen, who were gathered before him like a studio audience, bobbed up and down. They giggled, but they weren't sure why. Probably, it was the amphetamines. They were glad to give street cred to an unutterably dissolute man based on his prior addiction to a drug that they were too scared to dabble in. Amazingly, they envied him.

Rick, the 20-year-old future Philosophy Professor, stood alone in one corner, briskly rubbing his bare arms. "Dropped some acid... a couple of hours a... ago," he stammered to no one in particular. When asked what kind of acid he'd ingested, he shook his head, grinned eerily, said, "Th... that would be telling..." He turned his back to the room, muttering dark epithets about Spinoza.

The angular accounting student, Mark, for no apparent reason, stood watch over the kegs, which were packed in ice and under blankets in large aluminum tubs. When someone would approach seeking beer, Mark would take tap in hand and decant precisely six ounces of suds into their white foam cup. Apropos of nothing, he kept a careful tally of the beer he dispensed. At first, others regarded him strangely but as the evening wore on, he became just another part of the entertainment. More hilarity at Professor Bob's.

Literally everyone was high or getting that way. The blue cloud of smoke hovering persistently near the ceiling moved Beth to seek solace in tobacco. "I need some fire," she barked belligerently, waving her unlighted Pall Mall in the air. "Has anybody got any fire?" Some faceless freshman, coveting Beth's curvaceous body, rushed forward to offer a light. "Thanks, Man," she said in acknowledgement, then stared reprovingly at the youngster, sending him scurrying to shelter. She knew, at the end of the night, when everyone paired off, that she would be expected to choose a lover for the evening. She regarded the young man critically but dismissed him a a potential lover; he was at least two years her junior and so it wouldn't be cool. It would be like robbing the cradle, but, she thought, that was surely better than robbing the grave, which she had done last time, with Professor Bob. She was mindful of the reputation she was accruing, but she shrugged it away.

The front door whooshed open and in the wake of a blast of frigid December air walked two new, relatively unintoxicated guests, John and Brett, who were housemates on the other side of town. This immediately and noticeably changed the complexion of the gathering, for all concerned. John was the only openly-gay man known to most of those present. He was to unattached men what Brett was to uncommitted women: always on the prowl, forever seeking his next bedmate, and unashamedly so. John - six feet nine inches tall and weighing perhaps 170 pounds - instantly got high and began gabbling incoherently like a turkey. He then crept round the room, gaping at his shadow on the wall, crying out, "I have such a small head." He looked stricken. "It's a little peanut head!" he chirped like a bird, and embraced it with his large hands. This surprised no one; they had seen this act before.

A few moments later John had recovered his aplomb somewhat, and made a production out of clearing his throat: "Ahem, ahem, ahem," and so on.

"Don't give Brett any acid," insisted John, speaking in a stage whisper to one of the other guests. Why not? he was asked. "Because," said John, grasping his peanut cranium in both hands again, "he really goes ape-shit. He can't handle it." Brett, perhaps six feet tall and weighing upwards of 260 pounds, and unused to taking no for an answer, systematically propositioned every putative female present. He also made good use of the free beer. He was a notorious dipsomaniac; with each successive libation, his boldness - and his libido - seemed to go up a notch. At one point, Brett was sitting alone at the far end of one of the three sofas; at the distant end of a second sofa reposed Uni, a pretty exchange student who spoke little English. Brett eyed her hungrily, obviously debating with himself. One could almost observe the wheels going round inside his head. She was the only female he had yet to hit on tonight.

"Well, hell," muttered Brett philosophically, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." He rose and, taking the end of his sofa up and dragging it to where Uni sat, plumped himself back down, grinning stupidly. Uni's eyes grew wide as saucers. She sat back, cringing.

"Hey, man, that ain't cool," said Ellis, Uni's boyfriend, who moved swiftly forward. Brett took an instant dislike to Ellis's skinny frame and decided he would just as soon squash him like a bug. He was saved that chore, however, when Professor Bob, whose home this was, stepped up and offered Brett yet another beer. Brett gladly received it and drained the cup in a single gulp, then burped. John and Beth, observing from opposite sides of the room, shook their heads in disapproval; then they each took another toke off a joint. Beth likewise gobbled a handful of No-Doz, a caffeine-base quasi-speed.

She remarked scornfully, "I can't stand a man who needs a crutch!"

By 1am the party was in full swing, which meant that most of those gathered were practically drooling, they were so stoned. Two dozen men and women sat on the carpeted floor between the sofas and drank beer, smoked reefer, snorted lines of blow that had been stepped on relentlessly. Some were fully clothed, others not so much. Still others were feeling the effects of the peyote buttons that they had diced and then slurped down with honey. They had found the mescaline tea they prepared too weak to get them off sufficiently. It was almost unanimously agreed that Professor Bob, who alone amongst the people present had any money, should sponsor the construction of a greenhouse for the purpose of growing peyote cacti. The one dissenting voice was in fact that of the Professor himself. Ever mindful of a penny, he passed round a hat to take up a collection for the pot and the beer that had been consumed.

Beth, who also lived in Professor Bob's home, turned up a tiny, fluffy kitten, which everyone oohed and ahhed over, gently stroking its fur and feeling its raspy tongue scratch their arms. Into the room staggered Crazy Glen, frequent denizen of a mental health facility. In his arms he cradled a bottle of Crown Royal; in the pocket of his jacket a dozen joints, heavily loaded with Paraquat; and in his system who knew what else. Out of the stereo drifted a tune by the Zombies: "The Time of the Seasons." A low, mellifluous pulse arose from those assembled, as they endeavored to sing along. It was a bit surreal and mind-numbing. And not a little scary. The kitten mewed questioningly.

"See the kitten, Glen?" said Elaine, one of Beth's best friends, smiling joyfully. Glen frowned darkly at the tiny creature. Acting purposely, Glen took three giant steps and kicked the kitten the length of the room. Pandemonium ensued and Glen was hastened to the door and cast out into the driving snow. He was soon forgotten.

Rick finally came out of his corner, ensnaring passersby to discuss Nietzsche. Others nodded uneasily at his bizarre statements but begged off. Brett was by this time roaring drunk, as was usual. At one point, having shooed Mark from the kegs, Brett took up the beer hose, grasped the tap between his teeth and turned it on. He giggled hysterically as beer cascaded out of his mouth and down his front.

By 3am the party seemed to be finally winding down. The beer was all gone, the pot was mostly incinerated and those present had in most cases paired off and disappeared upstairs to any of the numerous bedrooms. Some of the men were functional; many were not. And most of the women probably didn't know the difference. After what passed for sex, everyone gradually drifted back downstairs to see what was happening. This included John, who, having effected a tryst of his own that evening, had scratched his itch and returned with the others. His partner discreetly quitted the house, as he had not officially come out yet; risky behavior indeed for a member of Congress. Rod, another of Professor Bob and Beth's student housemates, entered the room from the kitchen, two rectangular cake pans clutched in his hands.

"Hash brownies!" he bellowed. This got everyone's quick attention. The tired, grey pall over the party quickly dissipated.

"There ain't no hash in them brownies," grunted George, an acknowledged expert on all things drug-related, as well as as a notorious buzz-kill. He brandished for effect a huge, menacing glass and metal syringe, a relic from his days of shooting smack.

"Right you are, George," admitted Rod huskily, eyeing the hypo dubiously. "No hash. But, we did put a lid of Columbian in these two pans. That's forty-eight brownies, two apiece, so eat up!" He set the pans on the floor amidst his companions. Like a cloud of starving locusts the party-goers swarmed over the confections. It took surprisingly little time for the two pans of treats to be entirely consumed. The effect was almost immediate.

Someone turned up the television, where the late, late movie was the Marx Brothers classic, "Duck Soup." As Groucho went through his comedy routines, the partyers howled with laughter, clutched their sides and spilled out over the floor. This was hilarious. Nothing ever funnier. "Duck Soup" was among the top-rated drug movies of the twentieth century, second only to "Reefer Madness." Though some had viewed the film perhaps twenty times before - every time they were entertained with hash brownies, it seemed - they behaved as if they had never seen it. It was silly time. This went on for nearly an hour. At the film's conclusion, everyone lay about discussing what they'd just seen.

"The Marx Brothers," smirked Brett, lying like a beached whale upon the carpet, "are funny - to some people, I guess." This drew inebriated looks of disdain and resentment from the others. "You don't like watching Groucho?" asked John, surprised. Brett grinned wolfishly, sensing an opening for a putdown.

"Well, you know," he said condescendingly, "watching movies is sorta like mental masturbation."

"I know," agreed his roomie, "and that's why you're so good at it." Brett scowled. A few of the others tittered. The TV blinked to a test pattern and white noise.

Finally, exhausted, everyone rolled over and fell asleep on the floor, still giddy and muttering the movie's punchlines. On the stereo speakers - huge, refrigerator-sized JBLs - Steven Stills was singing his latest hit. And still fully drunk, Brett placed his hand way too comfortably on Beth's hip. Lifting herself to one elbow, Beth looked blearily at him, smiled slightly and asked, in a light, sing-song voice, in time with the music, "...And if you can't be - with the one you love, honey..." to which Brett instantly replied:

"Love the one you're with?" He smiled gluttonously. Beth closed her eyes, shook her head with distaste, said, "No... oh, hell no!"


  1. A great read! Highly evocative and rich description of a particular time and particular counter culture. I really enjoyed the pace of this piece and the superb descriptions. Love the use of alliteration: ‘angular accounting student’, ‘barked belligerently’, ‘faceless freshman’.


  2. Similar, but much more fun than the parties I remember from the 1960s.

    1. Somehow doing a profile didn't work. This is Doug Hawley.

  3. Entertaining story of that era, everyone's going for decadence and hedonism, looking for something, or someone, for the night.... and there's kind of a status hierarchy of those who "tune in, turn on and drop out," that tells some truths of that time. For example, I remember how people used to romanticize the heroin addict in the crowd, back in those wild days. Quite misguided, in light of today. I also like the vivid descriptions of the party and its characters, how it's done in kind of a manic freeform style. "Can't Find My Way Home," great song for this story theme.

    1. Harris, you must have been at the party, for you capture the essence of the “happening.” Glad you enjoyed the story, bill

  4. Pretty accurate; especially the reverence for the former heroin addict. Well done.

  5. Circling back in time from "Big Yellow" at Bill's recommendation for more Brett ... heh heh, good for you Beth! Bill, if you ever do a piece on craft, I think the "kick the kitten" moment needs to be a chapter heading--sobered me right up from the party and put me on high alert for all that followed! Enjoyed this one as well, thanks for steering me over.