Steve Katz

“You’re stowing away, right?” The words fell from my mouth. It was three A.M. I was working for an outfit that hauled college students aboard Italian ships, this one the Vulcania, from New York to Southampton. No one said it, but I think it was a USIS operation. I had just got the advance from Holt for Peter Prince and I was on my way to Istanbul, to Israel, to Italy. It was a long crossing on a slow ship, eleven days from New York to Southampton. On the way the kids got to take seminars in the various cultures they were about to visit. My official title was assistant shipboard director. My duties were mostly as night security officer. I was assigned to patrol the corridors at night with the sergeant-at-arms, do bed checks in the dorm rooms, and deal with any conflicts. I spoke Italian, so I could be liaison with captain and crew, and Aldo, sergeant-at-arms. Aldo was an undersea demolition expert, once with the Italian navy. He was handsome, well put together. Every night he’d get stranded in the room of a Midwestern Catholic men’s college, the boys on their way to some Vatican-sponsored retreat. I was on my own after that—open every door, say hello, don’t spoil the fun.

This was the first night out of New York. Three A.M. I spotted her in the lounge, curled up in an easy chair. “Stowing away?” I repeated.

“O wow,” she said, uncurling and sitting up. “I felt you walking there.” She stretched and yawned like a cat. “I probably needed you to know. I sent it out to you.”

“I’m the cop on this ship,” I said.

“This is so far out. Wow.”

She told me her name was Teri. She was one of those acid waifs of the sixties. She was traveling light, wearing very little—some baby-blue leather Capezios over black mesh stockings, dark blue micro-mini, black mesh panties, see-through red net blouse. The backs of her wrists were soiled from rubbing the heavy make-up around her eyes, smeared now to make her look like a tired clown.

This was my first big decision in my official capacity. “You can go down and sleep in my cabin for tonight,” I said. There were two beds. Unlike my usual self, I had no interest in jumping on her. I felt no lust, nor was there anything paternal. With my modest success, and an understanding wife, I was indulging in a respite from family. If I had a desire to protect anything, it was my curiosity about the girl’s situation.

By the next evening she had organized her scene, found new accommodations in the cabin of a Dutch couple, managed to get some other clothes. She made a lot of friends very quickly. Most people thought she was part of the staff, the activities organizer. When she checked back with me again, she told me her whole story. She had been communicating by ESP for a couple of years with a guy in London. She wouldn’t say who it was. To connect with him she always dropped acid. In their last exchange he told her to get on this ship and sail to Southampton. Compliance was her part of the game. I doubt she could have told him to do anything. He instructed her to bring no money, and to leave her passport. It was a tough story for me to digest, but here she was, a stowaway. What was my official position? What kind of cop was I? Every hour she gained in shipboard notoriety.

One of the situations I had to police was a surfeit of pot. Many of the students packed plenty of it, thinking to sell it on the way. This was the first and only time I had ever worked in “law enforcement.” I was determined to use a soft touch. My job here was to keep the information from the crew. They didn’t want to know, anyway. No one wanted an international incident. The kids had to do something with this glut. A shame to waste it, but nobody needed to get busted trying to carry it through customs. They were frisky, but they weren’t stupid. On the third day out we hit a storm. Seasickness kept them in their bunks. Visions of the Andrea Doria going down danced through their heads. I didn’t get seasick, and did my rounds just the same. A scent of vomit drifted through the corridors.

I decided it wasn’t my job to check the private cabins that couples had rented, but I stopped outside one of them. Something felt peculiar here, an outlaw vibe. I opened the door. Here was Teri. She didn’t get seasick either, as long as she had something to do, she said. Her “to do” found her happily rolling joints, surrounded by pot and rolling papers, like a kid in a mud puddle. She had cleaned up, was dressed in jeans and a pink sweater, and had the shining face of a high school cheerleader. She had solved the problem, as much as it could be solved. Once people got their sea legs she showed up at the end of each meal with a tray full of tightly rolled joints, serving them to anyone who wanted to smoke. She was very gracious, no stranger to manners. My job as cop, I figured, was to hush this up, because if they busted anyone in Southampton, they’d have to bust almost everyone. I didn’t even tell the shipboard director, with whom I hardly spoke. He seemed very straight. If you dressed him in a dark raincoat, black oxfords, Foster Grants, you’d know where he worked.

Maybe it was Teri who had snuck into my cabin to fill my vitamin C jar with white crosses, a superdose of amphetamine. I swallowed one every morning with my other vitamins and felt fantastic, robust, smart, equal to the swelling Atlantic. It took a few days for me to get what was happening. Meanwhile I bounced around on deck, singing to the dolphins that played in the wake. All the women were incredibly exciting and beautiful, and I flirted with great panache. At the seminars I read from my new book, Creamy and Delicious. I talked Italy. I talked Europe and the benefits of travel. Who needed to sleep? I was oceanic. I was gabby and boring. After I made my rounds I went aft to howl at the algae that lit up in the foam. I listened all night as Paul Blackburn, great American Black Mountain poet, courted Joan, his future wife, in the next cabin. He told me the problem was cracking the corset. He said he liked men who stayed up and talked all night. He liked women who knew when to shut up.

I ignored Teri, lost track of her until we were about three days out of Southampton. One afternoon she sought me out. “I don’t have any money, and I don’t have a passport,” she said, blithely. “I think I have to drop some acid and see what he tells me to do.” I felt as if she were asking my approval, although my disapproval wouldn’t have made any difference.

“Sounds okay,” I said.

She kissed me on the cheek, and we never spoke again. I held off till the end because I didn’t want to disembark until I saw how she managed. She looked presentable, like someone had gifted her with a modest skirt and sweater, and a small case for her other stuff. I watched her persuade the officer at the top of the gangplank, and then talk her way past the customs officials below. They totally let her through. She was safely in Southampton, talking with Peter and Sylvia, a couple that had befriended her. Then she was gone. I disembarked, exchanged information with the lovely Ellen D’Alelio, whom I hoped to meet in Italy, after I’d been to Turkey and Israel. I left my alleged shipboard charges to their various mischiefs.

I thought about Teri frequently, as one of the heroines, victims, of the acid culture. I wouldn’t have heard of her ever again, except that I ran into Peter and Sylvia in Istanbul, and they had kept track of her for a while. They told me what they knew over sweet coffee at the Pudding Shop. The story is like some hippy apocrypha. She got off the ship and through customs by claiming she had already been through once. She had returned to her cabin to get something she had forgotten, and her husband, to whom she pointed in the waiting crowd, had her passport and her bags. I could imagine how persuasively helpless she seemed. She went to London and became one of the acid princesses of Carnaby Street, working in a store that sold hippy gear. She reached the critical point in her acid transmitted ESP when she was urged by her communicant to join him. Peter and Sylvia got the rest of the story second hand. The voice on the other end of the ESP was Paul McCartney. None other. She dropped some acid, went to his house, somehow got into his garage, and sat in a car and smoked all her pot until the time was right for her to enter the house, which she did in the wee hours. She found her way to an empty bedroom and went to sleep. In the morning someone woke her, and taking her for a girl friend of Paul’s brother, told her breakfast was ready. Teri joined Paul and Linda at breakfast. She passed on the ESP story, and was quickly expelled from paradise. It sounds like it could be true. It sounds like it could be false. This is the whole story, I swear to g-d.