— The Daily Beast, on Friday.
Question answered — a quarter of a century ago:
In 1968, in San Francisco, I came across a curious footnote to the hippie movement. At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, there were doctors treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot. And how was it that they now returned? It had to do with the fact that thousands of young men and women had migrated to San Francisco to live communally in what I think history will record as one of the most extraordinary religious fevers of all time.
The hippies sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start from zero.
Among the codes and restraints that people in the communes swept aside–quite purposely–were those that said you shouldn’t use other people’s toothbrushes or sleep on other people’s mattresses without changing the sheets, or as was more likely, without using any sheets at all, or that you and five other people shouldn’t drink from the same bottle of Shasta or take tokes from the same cigarette. And now, in 1968, they were relearning…the laws of hygiene…by getting the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot.
This process, namely the relearning — following a Promethean and unprecedented start from zero — seems to me to be the leitmotif of the twenty-first century in America.
Can the great relearning begin? It seems to be that civilization’s growing sense of collective amnesia is making that an increasingly unlikely proposition, though headlines such as this give me a modicum of hope.
Related: “Snake Eyes.”