Am I the only member of my generation who never did drugs? It’s not as if I never had the opportunity, and yet for some reason I remained clean and sober. At every social gathering back in the turbulent Sixties, I was always the squarest person in the room. I was so square, in fact, that my friends thought I was weird.
One of them—in fact, my best friend at the time—was Robert Macri. Our paths first crossed at Brigham Young University, where he worked as copy editor for the yearbook. All I knew about him then was that he was from California and, prior to enrolling at BYU, had studied at Berkeley. In other words, he had gone from LSD to LDS.
Two years later, by sheer happenstance, we two ended up in the same rooming house on University Street in Salt Lake City. Robert was in law school; I was not in anything. The university had refused to admit me to graduate school and in any event I didn’t have the funds to pursue my higher education. So I was just hanging out on the fringes of academe, working odd jobs and living from hand to mouth. Luckily, Robert took pity on me. Whenever we went out to eat, he’d pick up the tab, and after he became resident manager of The Gavel, he provided me a room, free of charge, on the condition I keep a low profile. Which wasn’t hard—not in a building filled with boisterous frat rat law students, all of them confident of prosperous futures in the legal profession
Even as my star continued to sink, Bob’s rose. He made law review, applied for and landed a summer internship at a prestigious San Francisco legal firm. Meantime, I had found work as a custodian at a summer resort. It was the summer of 1967. The so-called “Summer of Love.”
Something happened to Bob that summer in San Francisco. He didn’t grow his hair longer; in fact, it continued to thin. But I could tell something had changed. For instance, the following year when LSD guru Timothy Leary came to Salt Lake on his lecture tour, Bob Macri was the first person to greet him as he stepped off the airplane.
Whatever Leary was selling, Bob Macri was definitely buying. Soon Bob was sporting a bushy beard, sandals and a colorful caftan. He’d taken up residence on Alameda Avenue—Salt Lake’s version of Haight-Ashbury. Each and every incense-scented apartment in each and every Victorian-style house was occupied by an unmarried couple named Susan and John. Susan favored paisley-print granny gowns; John wore wire-rimmed spectacles, smoked dope and listened to records. Susan brought him tea and oranges that came all the way from China.
Meantime, out on the rooftop sat Bob Macri, paper punch in hand, methodically transforming sheets of blank paper into confetti. He showed me a cardboard box filled with confetti. “It’s my new novel,” he explained.
Because I didn’t understand where he was coming from, our relationship began to fray, which isn’t to say we didn’t remain on friendly terms. But I could tell from the way he looked at me that my persistent squareness had become a major stumbling block.
Somehow, Bob managed to graduate from law school and pass the Utah bar. He set up a private practice, but never made much money from it—mainly because he did a lot of pro bono work for improvident counter culture clients whose cases were all hopeless to begin with. Clients like Charlie Brown Artman, who insisted on his right to run wild through the streets wearing nothing but a cape and an ankh. Or Corky Ra, founder of the Pyramid Church, who petitioned the city of Pleasant Grove to augment their Ten Commandments monument with an obelisk listing the Seven Aphorisms.
One day in 1984 Bob and his law partner Michael Burdell were conducting research at the courthouse library when Ronnie Lee Gardner burst into the room. Gardener, a convicted killer, had just wounded a deputy and now was pointing a pistol directly at Bob’s head. Then, for reasons unknown, he turned the gun on Burdell and fired.
Gardener was soon captured and would spend the next 25 years on Death Row, awaiting execution for the murder of Michael Burdell. Incredibly, Bob Macri became Gardener’s advocate. Gardener’s life should be spared, he argued, because Burdell was a pacifist who would have wanted it that way. The state saw it differently, and on June 18, 2010, Ronnie Lee Gardener was put to death by firing squad.
Robert Macri didn’t live to see it happen, which is probably just as well. It would have made him sad, and if there’s one thing Robert Macri never wanted to be, it was sad. As a boy, his favorite television show had been “Father Knows Best”—and just like the fictional James Anderson as played by Robert Young, Bob became a contented family man. In the springtime of 1991 he was the featured speaker at a memorial service for Charlie Brown Artman, who near the end of his life had turned in his cape for a suit and tie and become a temple-going Mormon. At the time of his own passing, Rober Macri had embraced Hinduism.
Me? I’m still alive—thanks largely to the fact I never indulged in transcendental medication. It’s really nice to be above ground, although I have to admit things nowadays are dull compared to the Nineteen Sixties. In spite of Vietnam, assassinations, riots, and general turmoil, it was an exciting time to be young and alive. I imagine it was a lot like the days of Thomas Paine, when “ideas were in the air.” Sophomoric and half-baked ideas for the most part, but ideas nonetheless.