Never let it be said that Raymond Mungo didn't clean his plate in the 1960s. Antiwar activist, co-founder of the Liberation News Service (LNS), pilgrim to the East, communard, he moved with the feast through the menu of the counterculture, writing bright funny books about it all.
He kept pace in the '70s -- marriage (to a professional astrologer), two kids, credit cards, dedication to a small but eventually thriving business and recovery from what he describes as a melodramatic divorce.
And now here's Raymond Mungo zooming into the '80s in his three-piece corduroy suit, and his blue brocade tie and his very short hair, looking like an Aubrey Beardsley drawing of himself and looking forward to writing a book about baseball.
Hasn't changed a bit, he says, although things do look a bit different once the telescope's been extended beyond 30.
"Actually, I'm a little embarrassed about my youth," says Mungo in a soft, slow-motion voice that belies the essential outrageousness of a character forged in his role as walking compendium of the counterculture. He goes off into a tale of life in Washington in the late '60s when he was serving up items for his leftist news service and living in a house whose near-total destruction was explained away as a sacrifice to the struggle. "It never occurred to me then to feel guilty about that," he says.
Of course, now, he says "a lot of my friends who were on the barricades with me are into Gucci and Perrier." And Tom Hayden, who Mungo remembers as the "homeliest" of their lot, is married to a star and throwing gay Western rodeos in support of his causes.
But the counterculture is alive and well, apparently, as he writes in his latest effort, "Cosmic Profit." The book starts out being about the nature of making money without turning into a twit, but like most of Mungo's works, it turns into a cheerful perceptive chronicle of how to fashion a life out of fabrics usually reserved for adolescence and retirement. The book is approximately the seventh in series of semi-autobiographical narratives that began with "Famous Long Ago," an account of his adventures with LNS.
"It's definitely still out there," he says. "There are still people just as idealistic as they once were, still living in the margins, still living on the fringe. Personally, I've gotten a little more bourgeois, having developed a fondness for straight drink and clean sheets."
The predilection developed, as Mungo remembers, after a year and a half in Asia, where he had gone to recover from the demise of the decade in which he had enthusiastically misspent his youth. "Everything I believed in had become an ad for television," he said. "The meaning of the movement had died and I went crazy."
And so, like any self-respecting disillusioned young seeker of truth and karma, he set out for India where he promptly got himself into a fist fight with a train conductor.
He went to Nepal, sampled all of the country's then-legal drugs, exchanged most of his clothes for room and board, trekked to the border of Tibet, gazed upon the mountains and hoped to meet a seer. He didn't, but he did lose all his American Express Travelers checks -- the beginning, he says, of a long and bitter relationship with that corporation.
"When I came back," he says, "I wanted nothing more than cars, and food and money and sheets and for the first time I dind't feel guilty at all about that." And so he set about discovering how, as he quotes Wallace Stevens in the beginning of his book, "Money is a kind of poetry."
Mungo now lives in Carmel, Calif., in a community he says is comprised of "affluent artists, geriatric radicals, hitchhikers, traveling students and writers." He lives in the house Henry Miller used to live in, and ventures forth to write about such topics as the pope ("a pompous fool, really socially irresponsible") and the American Dream (being dashed apparently on the rocky shoals of inflation and high interest rates.)
Ray Mungo mourns the fact that everyone's become so serious these days. He doesn't give much of a damn about the presidency, is running for governor of Washington and wants to "write great sweeping novels, great romantic novels."
Mostly, however, he maintains himself on the same combination of drugs and cross-country driving and metaphysical dances on cultural pinheads that sustained him during the '60s' brief spangled moment. "I just like having a good time," says Mungo. "I just want to have adventures, to stay stoned all the time and fall into bed with strangers."