Tag Archives: Jim Diggle

Hippy Soldier, by Jim Diggle

8 Jan

Jim Diggle

Jim Diggle has a carpet and upholstery cleaning business in Los Angeles, which he’s been operating since 1983. Today he’s a Buddhist, “taking refuge in the triple gem Buddha-Dhamma Sangha.” He practices yoga and meditates daily. Jim helped raise the two teenage children of his Peruvian wife.

 

 

 

 

In the early 1960s, I was 13 and lived in Santa Monica. I was from “Leave It to Beaver”—you do as you are expected. My dad was an aircraft mechanic but had trouble keeping a job. My mom was Peruvian and no longer worked after she came to the U.S. I found my parents conservative, uncommunicative, repressed, and cold. My friends, however, were lucky to have hands-on, friendly parents. I’d visit them, and then I’d go home and feel withdrawn. I believe it was this experience that affected my ability to be intimate in relationships. My family was Catholic—I was a “good little boy.” Because of the Church’s influence, I was afraid to act myself. I look back at those years as if I was going through the Inquisition. When I did anything free of restraint, I regretted it. I believed in Mortal Sins—if I was “bad,” I’d go to hell. My peers may have rebelled but I never did.

In 1964 I graduated from high school and attended Santa Monica City College. Through the media’s reporting on critical war news and the counter-culture movement, I became anti-religious, anti-church, anti-establishment, and anti-war. College was not for me; I hated it and did poorly. I had few friends. The only reason I attended college was to get out of my house. I studied subjects like liberal arts, art, history, and geography but avoided science and math, although they were required subjects.

Jim Portrait as Young Man
When I realized I wasn’t going to make it at college, I decided that the only way to get away from my family was to join the army. So I enrolled in only a few units at college, became classified 1A, and got drafted. (That was ironic because I considered myself anti-war.)

In the army most of the other draftees were also against the war. In Basic Training in October of 1966 at Fort Ord in Monterrey, California, everyone was from the L.A. area. There were 17 to 20 of us. I was thrown together with people from various socio-economic levels, a new experience for me. Mainly white, some blacks and Mexicans. Many were hippies, with long hair—street guys, rebellious, with disciplinary problems, gang-like—especially the whites and Mexicans. (The black draftees were calmer and more well-behaved.)

In the army the coolest guy was a super hippy. He was a well-balanced, mild person. He shared his record albums of the Mothers of Invention and Frank Zappa. He adapted to the army and became a battalion leader, but most of the other white guys goofed off. As for me, I was still scared of everything.

During medic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I was sure I’d be sent to Vietnam. Instead I was sent to Germany. Other guys had to learn to use M-16s. Wow! I get to go to Europe.

army truck.2          army truck.1

I was 13 months in Germany, stationed in Augsburg. There I was again thrown in with everyone—blacks, hillbillies (the most aggressive). Most sergeants were southerners or blacks. They were lifers—just doing their jobs no matter what. But I met some anti-war guys who turned me on to Bob Dylan, to folk music, to books on the counter culture,  to literature by Samuel Beckett and James Joyce. Drugs were cool. That’s where I became a hippy. Draftees had to stay out of trouble; even though I was anti-war, I had to survive. But at least the army couldn’t tell us how to think.

army locker

The inside of my locker at Augsburg

platoonInAugsburg

My platoon

red cross tank winter Augsburg

I emerged from the army even more anti-everything. I lived for a while with my family in Santa Monica and got a job at St. John’s hospital as an orderly. But I didn’t take the job seriously. After my father died in 1969, Mom sold the house and left for Peru with my 16-year-old sister, who was quite a handful—smoking dope, dropping acid, and running away from time to time with her friends.

Jim's mother, sister (R) and friend

My mother and sister (R) and friend

I quit my job and decided to live as a hippy; it was similar to being homeless. With my family, I had only sporadic communication, which was easy because I felt no strong bonds to them.

I met Cecelia Holland, a hippy and successful author of historical fiction in her early 20s, and my friend Jack and I went to live in her house in Pasadena. I paid her $30 a month. I was cashing in my U.S. bonds by then. (The army had taken $18 a month out of our pay.)

I still had a severe fear of intimacy—no girls, no sex. I thought I’d be that way forever. I used drugs and had no thoughts about tomorrow. Finally I hit rock bottom. I had no money left, only $18 checks coming in from my savings bonds. I cashed in the bonds.

My older half-sister and her husband found out about my situation. Although they were conservative, they took pity on me. They would pay my way to Peru, they said. I contacted my mother who said yes, come down. I cut my hair and headed to Peru. That was in 1970.

I wondered what I’d do to get high there. People were copying American culture, the good, bad and ugly. I ran into an old friend, started doing marijuana and cocaine, and fell into the same situation as in the States. After I’d been in Peru ten months,  I told Mom I was going back to the U.S.

But the old crowd in the U.S. had changed. The hippy thing had mainly disappeared. Everything was changing. Kids weren’t living on the streets any more north hitchhiking. They were getting jobs, living in apartments, getting to be more responsible—things cost money. I hooked up with the brother of one of the Peruvian guys who had come to the U.S. We shared an apartment and I got a job right away. I had to. No more free life—nothing is free.

My friend was full of energy and didn’t do many drugs. Then I took up with a Latino crowd. I spoke Spanish. Also, I started relating to girls for the first time. I tried college again but was no more mature than before.

Since I had no ambition, any job was OK. I took on menial jobs at markets and factories. It was easier to survive on very little back then. An older friend of a Peruvian buddy of mine was a carpet and upholstery cleaner, who needed part-time weekend help. I worked a while for him.

By that time I had a regular job in shipping at Telecolor (a company that went house to house taking pictures). I met a Bolivian, Eduardo Villanueva, a geologist who traveled around the world looking for oil on the ocean bottom. So I went to Utah to work with him in the Great Salt Lake. Barges patrolled the lake, exploring the sub-surface. They used air cannons, aimed at the bottom, creating a wave that traveled 10,000 feet below the surface, and then they recorded it on a Richter scale as it created an earthquake under the water. If it was flat, that meant no oil. If there were cracks and fissures, there was oil and a drill would be sunk.

Barge Salt Lake.1           Barge Salt Lake.2           Barge Salt Lake.3

We covered the whole Salt Lake. In 1974 the workers on the barge led a nomadic life, travelling the world. They were alcoholics, southerners; many came from broken families. Digicon, Inc. from Texas was the parent company; we had a joke: “Who didja con to get to work for you?” The working conditions were tough. We spent many hours on and then many hours off. We almost sank but the water was only four feet deep. On the plus side, the job paid well and provided room and board, so you could save money.

After Salt Lake I went up to Alaska with this same job, to Prudhoe Bay on the north slope. This was from 1974 to 1975. A pipeline was being laid from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez on the southern Pacific coast. We were in the Arctic, on the Beaufort Sea. There were three months of total darkness and three of total light. Polar bears, 60 degrees below zero, crazy workers. One Christmas night there was a gun fight between two drunken brothers. (Guns were legal there, for “self-protection.”) In the Arctic, we almost sank, but we were rescued and towed into the port at Prudhoe Bay.

Barge.Alaska.3      Barge.Alaska.1      Barge.Alaska.2

I didn’t like my boss, an alcoholic. He’d fly off the handle when he wasn’t drinking. One day we were in dry-dock and he fired me. I left for Anchorage and then for Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles I hooked up with the same carpet cleaner I’d worked for earlier. He let me work part-time for him again. I also took a second job full-time job as an interior designer’s helper in 1976.

my boss

The interior designer I worked for

(By 1983 I’d formed Diggle Enterprises, a carpet and upholstery cleaning business. When my boss retired in 1992, I took over his carpet cleaning business as well.)

In the early 1970s I finally started to overcome some of my intimacy issues and was having relationships but with only superficial commitments.

Girls

I told myself I needed to do something about my life. I wasn’t in a good place; I wanted to settle down, have a family. On a trip to Peru in the 1980s I met my future wife Pilar. After beginning a superficial relationship with her, I gradually began to change because of her intelligence and wisdom. She taught me how to be a genuine human being.

Peru with skull

Me in Peru

Looking back, I have no regrets because if that’s what I had to go through to get where I am right now, then so be it. Now I am a different person, a happy person. My experiences counted for something and I wound up in a much better place.

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