The first thing Yvonne noticed was the wallpaper. Under a black-light bulb in the ceiling fixture, the Day-Glo greens and purples seemed to undulate. The design reminded her of paramecia in distress, although she couldn't recall ever having seen any protozoan life forms in person, and certainly none that were particularly upset.
In the dim lobby, Yvonne's eyes struggled to focus. She could make out a small wooden sign with ornate lettering: "Wel-come to Lotus Landing," it read. "Good Vibes Guaranteed."
"And that's a fact," a voice assured her. Yvonne turned and saw a smiling man with a wild, frizzy mane of gray hair. "You must be the new chick."
Startled by this designation, she could only think to state the facts: "I'm Yvonne Douglas."
"They call me Pablo," he said. "I used to be Larry Bloomenthal, until the first time I dropped acid and a ginkgo tree told me I was actually a reincarnated peasant farmer from Paraguay."
"Paraguay?" Yvonne asked idly, wondering if was too late to get back her down payment. She vaguely remembered -- ah, memory! -- some dense wording in the contract about refunds. This is the last time I'll ever commit to something sight unseen, she silently vowed.
But Lotus Landing had sounded so promising in the brochure mailed to her: "A retirement home for the ever-youthful nonconformist; a place for artistic, socially conscious free spirits to dwell in ecological harmony. Lotus Landing, where we really give peace a chance."
Yvonne had always fancied herself a poet and therefore a misfit. A shy loner by nature, she had never joined any groups in Connecticut or followed any trends. Now, at the age of 76, her husband gone for almost a decade, she was still healthy and financially secure on a pension from 35 years of teaching English literature at a private school in Greenwich.
Her two children and three grandchildren were busy making money, and one great-grandchild was partying his way through high school. Anticipating a time when she might become more needy, Yvonne felt it was best to find a continuing-care facility.
Florida and Arizona homes for the aged that she researched were clean and efficient, populated by friendly, helpful people. Yet these places lacked something she could not quite define. Soul, perhaps. A sense of adventure. Mystery. Those elusive wonders of life that inspire poetry.
When the Lotus Landing brochure arrived with its New Mexico postmark, Yvonne acted with uncharacteristic impulsiveness. She signed on the dotted line.
After flying in from her native New England just after Thanksgiving, Yvonne was a bit astounded when the Way-Out Welcome Team picked her up at the airport in Santa Fe. The Lotus Landing courtesy van, its windows outlined with twinkling Christmas bulbs, was a 1967 Volkswagen in mint condition, despite half a century of service. It had been painted with vivid psychedelic aplomb. Yvonne could discern a phantasmagoric scene of earthy and celestial images, with moon, sun and stars, a cactus in bloom, magic mushrooms, a spider's web and two words: The Mellowmobile.
Now, standing in the lobby with Larry Bloomenthal, a.k.a. Pablo, she felt disoriented. "Does everything here look like this?" she asked, gesturing at the paramecium wallpaper.
"Pretty cool, huh?" He pointed at the black-light bulb on the ceiling. "You can ask for strobes in your room. But if you want grow lights, you gotta pay extra."
"Grow lights?" Yvonne was beginning to feel she was translating from a language she did not quite comprehend.
"To cultivate weed, man!" Pablo laughed conspiratorially, then confided: "I got some dynamite sensimilla seeds."
Before Yvonne could react, they were joined by a tall woman in an ankle-length black-velvet dress. She had several pendants dangling from silver chains around her neck, dozens of bracelets on each wrist, a ring on every finger and a cluster of striped feathers clipped to her long white hair. This flashy doyenne had somehow managed to paint tiny fuchsia floral patterns around each of the liver spots on her forehead.
"What's your sign?" she asked Yvonne.
"Let me guess," Pablo said, looking thoughtful. "Virgo, I bet. Or a Capricorn."
"I... I don't know," Yvonne stammered, feeling foolish. "My birthday is February 12th."
"Ah, an Aquarius!" the woman proclaimed. "We'll put you next door to a groovy couple, the Weathervanes. Aurora Borealis is a Libra and Snowflake's a Taurus on the cusp of Gemini. Just between us, they used to be Norman and Connie Washington before they turned on, tuned in and dropped out. By the way, I'm Lucia d'Amore, a Pisces and Lotus Landing's Cosmic Transitions Guide. Follow me."
"Her real name's Betsy Bostwick," Pablo whispered as Lucia swept away in a swirl of black velvet and clanking jewelry. "Her old man was a civil-rights lawyer. Heavy dude."
Trailing after Betsy/Lucia, Yvonne looked back at Pablo and observed that his walker was decorated with beads, bells, seashells and yellowed slogan buttons bearing messages like "Free the Chicago Seven!" and "U.S. Out of Southeast Asia Now!"
"Later, babe," said Pablo, raising his gnarled right hand in a fist, a power-to-the-people salute.
"Is he... was he an activist?" Yvonne asked.
"Wasn't everybody?" Striding along the wide hallway, Lucia made a face that seemed to indicate disapproval. "Actually, Pablo's kind of a Taoist-anarchist. Our serious radicals around here, the ones endlessly vowing to 'smash the state,' are Milton Shabazz and Ruby Rainforest. They were planning to take over the administration office, but I think her arthritis is acting up."
As Yvonne hurried to keep up with Lucia, she glimpsed a bulletin board with announcements of various events: a screening of Easy Rider, a tie-dye workshop, the meeting of a feminist consciousness-raising group, and a book discussion that would be tackling the Carlos Casteneda trilogy.
Unseen speakers piped in a vaguely familiar song: "Hello, cowgirl in the sand...," a man crooned.
"Is that Crosby, Stills and Nash?" Yvonne asked.
"Neil Young. Rock 'n' roll will never die," Lucia said with a dreamy giggle. "I used to hang out with The Buffalo Springfield. I was something of a groupie in my day, you know."
"I was always more of a folk music fan, I guess," Yvonne acknowledged, experiencing waves of recollection -- intimate coffee houses, festivals on lush green hillsides, quiet Sunday mornings with The New York Times, bagels, Tom Rush on the stereo and cedar waxwings clustering around a feeder just outside the kitchen window.
"We get a little of everything here. It depends on the DJ. We have Deadheads galore, of course. They also play Phil Ochs, the Stones, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, maybe Van Morrison, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Jefferson Airplane. 'Go ask Alice; I think she'll know...'" Lucia suddenly sang, slightly off-key. "Our house band is The Lotus Counterculture Connection, but they don't have an album yet. Here's your pad."
Tacked onto the door Lucia had opened was a poster that featured a very pregnant black woman holding her stomach. Scrawled underneath the image was "Nixon's the One!"
Inside, Yvonne saw a large living room with faded barn-board walls, a picture window overlooking a spectacular desert vista, a patchwork arrangement of mismatched Oriental rugs on the floor, and a golden-hued batik Indian bedspread on the couch. The furniture was an eclectic mix of funky antiques, Southwest modern and junkyard finds. There were macrame plant holders hanging everywhere, and numerous half-burned candles on the wooden spool coffee table. Yvonne thought she detected a faint aroma of patchouli oil.
"Feel free to change anything," Lucia told her. "We've got a storage room downstairs full of things that people want to swap. My place is all lace and brocade now. They probably put your suitcases in the bedroom already. If not, call Lily Bliss. She's a Sagittarius and our Excess Baggage Guru. She's really Nadine Gorski. Promise you won't tell her I told you."
Yvonne promised, surveying the space. "What about my books? There are about a dozen boxes."
"We can get you some extra shelves," Lucia offered.
"I wanted to take them all, but my daughter persuaded me to sell some at a garage sale," Yvonne said wistfully. "'My library was dukedom large enough.'"
"Shakespeare," Yvonne explained. "The Tempest."
"Ah, the Bard. You might want to join our Out Damned Spot Theater Troupe, which was formed last year by a militant faction of the Lotus Landing Environmental Laundry Committee. They advocate washing only with stones, no polluting soaps."
Yvonne felt dizzy.
"Well, supper's at six in the communal dining hall," Lucia went on. "I think it's tofu loaf and wheatgrass casserole tonight. I hate to dash off, but I'm late for my meditation session. Maybe you want to come along? You don't look very centered right now."
"I've got a little bit of a headache," Yvonne said, trying not to show that it was already a whopper.
"Oh, then give Kerouac Karma a ring. He's an Aries herbalist." Lucia started out the door.
"What's his real name?" Yvonne thought she was catching the drift now.
Lucia rolled her eyes. "That's what his parents called him. They were Beatniks."
When Lucia left, Yvonne wandered into the cozy kitchen and was surprised to discover that she felt almost at home. Maybe it won't be so bad here, she mused, sitting down at the careworn, round oak table. There were certainly plenty of lyrical curiosities worth writing about at Lotus Landing. Yvonne suspected she could even come up with a new name for herself, perhaps Sandpiper Dickens or Chickadee May Alcott.
For the moment still Yvonne Douglas, she looked up at a Beatles calendar on the wall. At the top, the Fab Four frolicked in what looked like strawberry fields, reminding her of the poetic phrasing that made Lennon and McCartney so great: "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now I need a place to hide away. Oh, I believe in yesterday..."
Nobody writes lyrics like that anymore, she decided, suddenly realizing that below the happy-go-lucky Liverpool Lads the days of December were counting down to the end of 2022.
It's almost 2023, Yvonne thought with a sigh. Where does the time go?