By: Clyde Always
In the evergreen peaks of Buena Vista Park, which jump high above the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, there have been many strange and wonderful occurrences—most of which defy explanation (save for, perhaps, a bad acid trip here or there). This emerald dome, fuzzy with the branches of thousands of different types of trees, is buzzing any given day or night of the year with the chittering of squirrels, cawing of ravens and the hoot-hooting of filthy spare-changing-road-kids fresh out of the freight yard. Legends have been born there from the times of the Ohlone until the present day. It was a magical place most often set in the fog of a million joints smoked against the cloudless Western skies—but none such tall tale is more beloved amongst the locals as the bizarre happenings of one Hip Dan Hinkle.
It was in the delicate autumn of 1998 that Hip Dan Hinkle, a man-boy of twenty-five years, had, much to his dismay, knocked his girlfriend up for the second time. Bridget (his ‘squeeze’ as he sometimes called her) was a harsh and hateful woman. She was, in spite of having to care for Hip Dan’s two-year-old daughter, the primary bread-winner of the household; she made her living sifting through boxes of old clothes and then selling them to the local outlets for whatever tiny profit she could get. On the day this story starts, Bridget was prodding Dan awake with the scummy end of a fly swatter at nearly two o’clock in the afternoon.
“Get up!” she squawked horribly. “Get your lazy ass out of bed and go get a job!” Hip Dan groaned miserably, pulling himself upright and sneering at her as soon as she had turned her back to him. He donned an oversized, ripped-up flannel, which framed the stains on his graying Sound-Garden t-shirt perfectly. He then attached a metal ball-chain around his neck before snagging his acoustic guitar (his only true pride and joy in life) and sneaking out of their sweaty attic apartment before Bridget had a chance to nag him for even a single second longer. “What a bitch,” he muttered to himself.
Setting his worn canvas sneakers onto the sunny sidewalk, he was immediately greeted by a whole hoard of friends and admirers: a gang of ten-year-old skater punks for whom he had often bought cigarettes and beer. They loved Hip Dan dearly and would gladly listen to him brag for hours about having been a roadie for some famous band which was almost certainly bullshit, but kids are gullible and easily entertained). Another Hip Dan fan who came bounding to his side on that morning was a stray, red-nosed pit-bull. Dan named him “Fatass” because the dog’s belly was swollen with various worms and parasites. They (Dan and the dog that is) began a slow hike onto the woody trail, which led to the summit of Buena Vista, where Dan knew he would be far from “his cum-bucket” and all her insufferable nagging.
The trees were cold and eerie, Dan noted, as he and Fatass trudged quietly along the path to the top of the hill, the sun barely permeating the canopy of assorted pine-cone-droppers above. As they walked, a strange sound rang out, startling Dan, as it sounded a bit like the yelping howl of a coyote (unnerving as this sound could be, it came with an additional shock, seeing as how the shrieking beasts usually only came out at sunset), but most astounding of all, Dan could have sworn that he heard his name called out in between these lasting banshee wails: “HIIIIP DAAAAN HIIIIIINKLLLLLE….” He gulped back a twinge of fear and continued on his way, when suddenly he caught sight of a weird little hippy struggling to schlep a case of unusual looking beer up the hill.
This character was slight of build but very hairy—almost resembling a cartoon bear with a tie-dye shirt on and no pants. The beer label looked almost exactly like Hip Dan’s preferred brand, but it was flawed in some way barely perceivable at a glance—as if the company responsible for producing this grog had, for whatever reason, released a retro throwback edition for the summer. The micro-hippy fixed his wet eyes on Dan and urged, with a beckoning finger, for help to carry this burden. So, Dan (feeling very thirsty) obliged him, and quieted Fatass’s growls directed at their new friend. The three of them then continued along the chilly path while the faint noises in the distance grew louder.
At long last, they arrived at a clearing that revealed a beautiful grassy knoll bathed in golden sunshine. Suddenly, Hip Dan Hinkle stopped to see several hefty giants completely covered in flower-power-rags and bushy clumps of matted hippy-dippy-hair. All of them strummed oddly shaped electric guitars attached to no amps, but Dan immediately recognized the sounds, the likes of which he had thought to be coyote howls, were in fact drawn out pulls-and-yanks upon their mysterious whammy bars. The furry midget danced around the clearing, clicking his heels and handing out freshly popped cans of barmy brew to these apparent overlords of his. Meanwhile, Hip Dan delved into the case and pulled up to his lips a lasting swig, chugging an entire can to be punctuated with a furious belch, much to the giants’ amusement. One of the gargantuan hippies—a fat man in aviator sunglasses—smiled slyly at Hip Dan Hinkle, inclining his aluminum chalice in a show of good spirit and welcome. Then, as sometimes happens when engaging in the act of getting schnockered in the middle of the day, Hip Dan Hinkle succumbed to a sudden feeling of general weariness, and he (along with his pit-bull pal) laid down under the shade of a nearby tree to drift off for a much-needed nap.
When Dan awoke, he found himself all alone, his mouth too dry to whistle for Fatass. Grumbling slightly, he struggled to pull his weight over his haunches and, reaching for his beloved guitar, he gasped to find it cracking, moss-covered, swollen and waterlogged—plus, the tuning pegs were rusted shut, and when he attempted to strum the strings, they snapped.
“Fuck a duck!” Hip Dan exclaimed in near hysterics. “Those Hippies musta stole my axe and left me this piece of shit in its place.”
He wrapped the strap of the guitar around his shoulder as he stood and found his back rigid, stinging with pain. He began to wander down the trail the way he had come, calling out for Fatass in intervals, scratching his backside as he went. Also, much to his confusion, his beard had grown from a few sparse patches of scruff to a full-blown chin bush in just the few hours he’d been asleep, and that made him wonder if he might have been dosed with some kind of mind-altering super drug as a practical joke, but he pressed on nonetheless, descending ever nearer to the neighborhood. He wanted, desperately, to flop down on the couch and mellow out for the rest of the evening, watching reruns of the Simpsons while smoking a few bowls, but he feared that Bridget would be out for blood as soon as he walked in the door. He shivered at the thought of her caterwauling.
Back in the neighborhood, Hip Dan Hinkle had to blink several times at the sight of it all to convince himself that he was not hallucinating. There were the street signs, indicating that he was, in fact, standing at the very same corner that he had so lovingly called home, but the grunginess was gone. The pawn shops were replaced with gourmet vegetarian eateries. The check-cashing counters were now boutique waxing salons. Everywhere he looked there was some eye-sore of a pointy, modern-style condo-building, which, in his opinion, scratched the foggy sky like nails on a chalkboard. Most upsetting of all was that there were preppy looking strangers wandering to and fro, heads inclined downwards at these tiny little glowing screens in their hands—something like a computer or a TV right there that they could slip in and out of their pockets on a whim. Hip Dan scanned the block, hoping that his entourage of skate-board kids would come running up and offer him a sip of fruit-punch, but, sadly, they were nowhere to be found. He sighed deeply and walked on, ignoring the fleeting glances of disgust coming his way from these gadget-gripping zombies who were moping around in all directions.
Arriving at his doorstep, he found yet another gruesome surprise, in that, the run-down Victorian building that he had known so well now looked all spiffy and fixed up, complete with a new paint job that featured shimmering golden trim. His key still worked, and he thanked God for that as he ascended the creaking stairs on his way to the attic, ready to dodge the proverbial rolling pin. Then he jumped in shock to see that all his stuff was gone, replaced with all kinds of expensive furniture—a leather loveseat, a shining glass coffee table and a big screen TV that was sleek and only about as thick as a pizza box.
“Hello? Babe? Anybody home?” he called out, but no answer came. All of this was so bewildering to poor Dan that he decided he would turn around and head down to the bar to see if any of his buddies might be able to explain to him just what in the hell was going on.
He found his favorite haunt—the local dive—to be pretty much exactly how he remembered it, but the pinball machines had been changed out and the crusty old bartender who had used to run a tab for Hip Dan had been replaced with a very good-looking young lady who, for some reason, had had half of her head shaved clean to the skin. She glowered at this apparent bum as he entered, and Dan gave her a friendly smile and ordered himself a “Special.” He then glanced around the room but saw no familiar faces. He found himself surrounded by more people whose eyes were all glued to the same sickly glow emanating in otherworldly blue up from the palms of their hands. The bartender poured the shot with a suspicious look of mild annoyance before sliding it, and a freshly cracked can of beer, across the counter to Hip Dan. She then droned out the price in a monotonous way. “Eight-fifty,” she said.
“What?” Dan choked. “Hate to be a know-it-all—not sure how long you been workin’ here—Special’s three bucks flat and it always has been—long as I been comin’ here, anyway.”
At that point, one of the regulars chimed in, pulling his eyes upward from his gizmo to scold Dan for giving the girl a hard time: “Three bucks? What’re you, drunk? You can’t get shit in this city for three fuckin’ bucks, man. What year do ya think this is?”
“Yeah?” the Bartender concurred, sneering angrily and pulling the drinks away from this bearded stranger, whose face had gone pitifully sad in his confusion at everything.
“Nineteen ninety-eight!” he answered truthfully.
“You dopey fuckin’ nutcase,” the regular answered.
“Oh my God….” Poor Hip Dan Hinkle sighed. “Am I goin’ crazy or somethin’?”
“You want me to teach this guy a lesson?” the condescending regular asked the barmaid, but she gave no response and remained motionless, glaring at Dan.
“Look, either pay up or get out or else I’m callin’ the cops,” she told him firmly.
The whole situation was causing a scene, and more of the patrons were beginning to adjust their field of vision from their screens over to Dan, gathering around him, he turned to them, pleading for an answer to his conundrum.
“Please,” he begged, and then he thought of his old friends. “Don’t any of you know Charlie Worthington? He used to drink in here—Big Chuck we called him.”
There was unconfirming mumbling for a moment, but no one spoke up.
“What about Little Tyler Duckett? Him and his friends used to skateboard around here.”
“Tyler got killed in Afghanistan, you prick!” the Bartender snapped.
“Afghanistan? Since when is there a war in Afghanistan?”
“Since 9/11!” one of the patrons called out.
“Nine-eleven?” Hip Dan yelped. “What’s that?”
They all began to make a rabble, as if angered at his ignorance, but at once Dan began to think that perhaps he had been transplanted into some other body, and that his own self might be tucked away somewhere in the crowd.
“Do any of you know … Hip Dan Hinkle?” he asked them, lips trembling, desperation biting.
At that, the crowd parted and indicated a person seated at a table in the far corner of the bar room, his face looked like Dan’s own. Hip Dan Hinkle nearly fell off his stool, believing truly that his personage had been usurped and that his universe might just explode on itself.
“That’s my kid brother!” the Bartender snarled. “What are you? Some kind of a stalker or something?”
“Y-Your brother…?” Dan stammered, and then it occurred to him that this girl’s angry face seemed irksomely familiar. “What about your Old Man? Where is he?”
She seemed taken aback and screwed her face up (more so than it was already) to spit out the brief answer: “He was a fuckin’ deadbeat who ran out on my Mom when I was two years old….”
“Where is your Mom?” Dan asked, cowering.
“She’s gone…” the girl answered grimly.
“How did she die?” Dan asked, perking up.
“She’s not dead, you idiot! She moved to Portland three years ago.”
Hip Dan Hinkle was calming down at that moment, the explanation to his unusual predicament seemed obvious all of a sudden and he blurted out with tears in his eyes, “I’m your deadbeat Dad, kiddo! That’s me.” There was a buzzing in the crowd, as one of the regulars—a balding, sixty-something, hippy burnout—approached Dan and looked deep into his eyes, examining them for a full minute or so while the rest of the patrons looked on in anxious silence, as if this man’s assessment would prove or disprove the bearded bum’s cockamamie story.
“Yep,” grunted the hippy. “That’s Hip Dan Hinkle awright—I never forget a face—plus, you owe me for an ounce I fronted you twenty years ago, ya grimy sack o’ shit!”
“Skinny Dave?” Dan cried out. “Aww Davey! Davey Boy!” Then he proceeded to tell the whole story to the folks in that bar, all about the strange little hairy hippy, and the throwback beer case and the wacky giants jamming out on the top of the hill. Skinny Dave’s eyes grew wide and he explained, as coherently as possible, that Dan had been in the presence of the ghost of none other than Jerry Garcia accompanied by the ghosts of his heavenly DeadHeads and dancing bears.
From that day forward, Hip Dan Hinkle lived a comfortable life on the sidewalks of Haight Street, busking for quarters with a new guitar bought for him by his daughter. His son proved to be just as slimy and sneaky as he was, and that warmed Hip Dan’s heart on those cold foggy mornings when Junior had been kicked out of the house by whatever woman-or-other he was mooching off at the moment. Dan made new friends every day—mostly stray dogs and skater punks—regaling them with his weird tale of how he had jammed with all the great rock stars of the twentieth century (living or dead). It’s safe to say that Hip Dan Hinkle was the happiest homeless-slouch who had ever lived. His legacy lives on eternally. To this day, the credo of lazy boyfriends the whole city over has been “Gimme a sip off Hip Dan’s can.”—And whensoever the faint wails of coyote howls are heard leaping from the dark enclaves of the park, any dirtbag in the vicinity will, inevitably, turn to his associate dirtbags and exclaim, “Jerry Garcia’s noodlin’ again!”