Ray set up his vending table right next to ours, every weekend for 15 years. And we couldn’t have asked for a nicer, more kind-hearted neighbor.
Ray sold hand-made “Star Stix” juggling sticks, and hand-sown hackysacks, and later computer-generated paintings at his vending stand. And everything he sold was always of the highest quality.
Ray was a big, strapping Nordic guy, about 6-foot-3. He was one of those guys who adopted the peace-and-love hippie “mellow vibes” persona in the late ’60s, and never deviated from it over the decades. So as big as he was he made a point to never be aggressive or macho, and, if anything he was a little on the fem side, and he had this girlish giggle that he’d often do.
Periodically Ray would disappear into his pick-up truck to take a couple of big hits of pot (“always the highest quality”). Then he would return to his vending table, turn on his boom box to KFOG, the hippie radio station, and dance around to the music while he played with his Star Stix and hackysacks (Ray was an excellent athlete).
A lot of Ray’s trip was in reaction to his father, who was this incredibly rich CEO of some big corporation. When Ray would describe his father he sounded like one of the worst persons on earth, this mean-spirited miser, and this wrathful God of thunder who had to dominate, bully or destroy everyone in his orbit. And a lot of Ray’s hippie-dippie trip was an attempt to be as opposite of his father as he could.
One of Ray’s favorite things to do was talk. And he loved nothing more than to deliver non-stop lectures on religion and spirituality. He loved to take the role of the wise spiritual master bestowing his great wisdom to his eager and breathless students. Which could get annoying. Because, as neighbors, we were a captive audience. And Ray had a tendency to appoint himself to this lofty position of the spiritual master, and you as the student that he would strive to elevate up to his high level. And I have a bit of an ego myself. And I don’t remember ever agreeing to adopt the lower position that Ray had appointed me to. So every now and then I couldn’t resist popping Ray’s balloon. Which wasn’t too difficult to do.
Ray would often say things like: “In true spirituality there is no such thing as higher or lower. Everything is equal and one. . . And I learned that from studying the HIGHEST form of Zen.”
“The truly enlightened person NEVER judges or makes judgments about other people. . . Unlike those lousy Republicans and lawyers who are constantly judging other people!!”
(I respected Ray’s spirituality as coming from a very pure and authentic heart. But lets just say his wisdom didn’t always come directly from his brain.)
Ray’s favorite line — endlessly delivered with a deep sense of gravitas as if it explained all — was: “Just let it all go!!”
“To attain real wisdom and spiritual enlightenment you have let go of all mental and intellectual concepts. Just LET IT ALL GO!!” And Ray would lecture for hours on this subject.
To which I couldn’t resist sometimes adding: “Ray. Maybe you need to let go of the concept of letting it all go.”
But in spite of Ray’s tendency to be a bit over-bearing and long-winded (he usually prefaced his sermons with the phrase “I’ll be brief” — which he rarely was) there was a real innocence and purity to Ray’s spirituality that I genuinely respected.
One of Ray’s most cherished dreams was to set up this world-wide commune of hippie artists and musicians where we all worked together and played together and danced together. “And we would never need money because we would all share everything equally!!” He had this whole utopian dream of creating this world-wide community of peace and love that would transform the world into heaven on earth. He fervently believed in this vision. And was constantly trying to enlist others into joining his crusade.
Of course sometimes I couldn’t resist adding: “Ray. Maybe you should see if you can get along with living with one roommate first. And then you can build it from there to your world-wide commune.”
During the weekdays when he wasn’t at his vending table, Ray would work at his apartment making his vending products. And in the evenings as he worked he liked to smoke pot and drink vodka. “I get some of my deepest and profound spiritual revelations from drinking vodka,” he once told me. “And by the time I finish the fifth of vodka I can hear God talking directly to me.” And I believed him.
Around 2005 the house in Alemeda where Ray lived for many years got sold. And Ray bounced around for awhile, barely keeping a roof over his head. Finally Ray saw the writing on the wall and decided to bail for the paradise that he envisioned Hawaii to be. The glory days of Telegraph hippie street vendors had passed — most of us were just scraping to get by at this point. So Ray packed up all his stuff, sold his truck, and headed off to Hawaii with all the child-like enthusiasm in which he embarked on all of his life’s adventures.
I remember Ray’s last evening on Telegraph when he packed up his vending table for the last time and headed off into the sunset. I was the only person there to see him off. In spite of being so gregarious and sociable, Ray was actually a loner at heart with very few close friends. So I was the only person there to see him off. We shook hands and I wished him all the best and then he was gone.
True to his nature, Ray had let it all go, had let go of all of his vending stuff, his signs and display material and various bric-a-brac, which was in a big free-box on the sidewalk. I couldn’t resist grabbing a bunch of it for mementos, which I still have to this day stashed in my storage locker.
What can I say. I have a hard time letting things go.