Over the years the Universe has now and then slapped me upside the head with a reminder that the world is a strange and wonderful place. Because, you know, it is. And it’s easy for us to forget that, isn’t it? So although I’ve never made a point of thanking the Universe for those little revelations, well, here I go: thanks, Universe!
In every decade since the 1970’s I’ve told myself that the 1970’s did not count. I was a teenager then. As far as I’m concerned that decade was pretty much a warm-up exercise. So if you’ll agree with me about that – that what happened in the 70’s stays in the 70’s – I’ll tell you a story.
A friend of mine and I were wandering down the street – Fourth Street, that was, in Long Beach, California, where I grew up. I’ve mentioned that this was the 1970’s so it practically goes without saying that we were stoned. Because that’s what my 1970’s were like.
So there we were, wandering down Fourth Street, feeling that all was pretty well with the world. More than well, really. We walked past a storefront that we’d never noticed before and there was something so odd about it that we stopped for a better look.
It was a small, narrow storefront: just two windows framing a doorway. There were heavy curtains behind the windows and behind the door. The only clue to what was inside was gold lettering painted on the glass:
WESTERN INSTITUTE OF MUCHNESS
(which I think you’ll agree was not much of a clue) and, pinned to the curtain of the door, a page from Alice in Wonderland. The Tea Party. With the text:
`They were learning to draw,’ the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; `and they drew all manner of things–everything that begins with an M–‘
`Why with an M?’ said Alice.
`Why not?’ said the March Hare.
Alice was silent.
The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: `–that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness– you know you say things are "much of a muchness"–did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?’
`Really, now you ask me,’ said Alice, very much confused, `I don’t think–‘
`Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.
Okay. Now even today, entirely unstoned, I might be pretty fascinated by the Western Institute of Muchness. In fact I’m sure I would be. But for Mike and me, in our particular frame of mind, this was just about the coolest and funniest thing we’d ever seen. So we knocked on the door.
And waited. I think we had to knock again before we heard soft footsteps approaching from behind the curtain. And out of the mail slot in the door, two business cards popped out and landed on the ground. They were plain white cards and the only thing printed on them was this:
SPINACH STAY AWAY FROM MY DOOR
And that was it. There was no further reply from the Institute. You just couldn’t get a rise out of it. And oh, how we tried.
I kept my card for years. I don’t know when I lost it, or noticed that it had fallen apart, or when maybe the Dormouse came in the night and took it away. I sure don’t know.
I just know this: the world was richer for having the Western Institute of Muchness in it. And I like to think that it’s still out there, someplace, appearing mysteriously in an abandoned storefront on some street in some city in the world… waiting for someone to notice it. And then winking out of existence just as oddly and as suddenly as it had appeared.
Because that’s the way it should be.