Chapter 1 : Selling Pie in the Sky
I had to laugh at myself. Of course, I knew I wasn’t the only one who found my appearance comical. But I could handle the stares and snickers of my fellow pedestrians as I made my way to my “office.” Looking like a low-rent comic book Super Hero come to life, I was eager to get started. I was also excited knowing I’d be making money – perhaps lots of money. This pleasure, I realized, was fueled less from the money itself, and more from the satisfaction I felt sharing it with Paula, the woman I loved, and the woman who loved me.
Like most everyone who survives childhood, I felt different from the person I once was. Yet my reflection reminded me that I still liked playing dress up, I still liked wearing a cape, and I was still in search of an audience.
It was 1975. I’d been making my living for the past four years by selling “land” on the moon, and I was just getting started. Now back in Berkeley, California – the place I considered Moon Man Headquarters. In Berkeley, one street was custom made for my brand of lunacy. It was Telegraph Avenue. “The Ave,” as it was called, was the commercial and social Mecca for tourists, street people and the 30,000 undergraduate students attending the University of California at Berkeley.
At the corner of Telegraph and Bancroft, on the University side of the street, there was, and still is, a three-foot high by six-foot square brick planter. A two-foot ledge framed the structure on top. That would be my stage. If you were out on The Ave or on campus for any length of time, there was a good chance you would pass by this corner, and when you did, I was going to be impossible to miss.
Although the competition for my share of the street’s disposable income was considerable, my product, my dress and especially my presentation, would prove unique enough to insure my fair share of the consumer pie. Besides the normal retail stores, coffee bars and head shops, there were over a hundred street vendors. They gave The Ave its unique pulse and wonderfully energized sense of madness.
For eight blocks leading up to the campus, Telegraph Avenue was lined on both sides with vendors. They sold jewelry, pottery, tie-dyed clothing, macramé, incense, crystals, pot-smoking paraphernalia, photography, paintings, decoupage, musical instruments, kites, carved masks, soaps, wind chimes, ceramic hobbit characters, political bumper stickers, tattoo’s, glass beads, wooden toys, and on, and on.
Intermingled with the vendor stalls were card tables covered with shimmering material in scarlet, gold, and indigo blue. Incense burned and crystal balls or glass pyramids sat atop decks of tarot cards waiting for the next devotee to lay down $5.00 for a reading. Those more inclined to divine the future through palmistry or astrology were catered to equally.
The daily throng included pedestrians of every nationality, every social and economic stratum, and every religious, political, and sexually oriented persuasion. It was as if cities and towns all across America had sent their outcasts, misfits, and disenfranchised to Berkeley. However, along with the disproportionate number of dropouts, runaways, and burned-out druggies, these same communities would also contribute their most brilliant minds, musical prodigies, and gifted athletes.
Walking The Ave was a multi-dimensional kaleidoscope of sights, accompanied by a cacophony of sounds, political debate, and pungent aroma. The air was sweet with the smell of marijuana, and on most corners, bags of pot could be negotiated without a word spoken. Make eye contact, flash a ten-dollar bill, and the exchange would be made before the light turned green. I never understood the value in asking, “Is this good shit?” Sometimes it was, and sometimes it wasn’t – and on occasion, it turned out to be oregano.
Into this circus of entrepreneurial commerce, drugs, and street theatre, the Moon Man would hold court. The fact that someone selling the moon would be in Berkeley somehow seemed normal. People came to Berkeley expecting to find someone like me. They came to see for themselves what this counterculture really looked like. They wanted their picture taken with a flower child, or in front of a ‘Make Love Not War’ poster. If they got lucky they might get to tell their bowling buddies back in Iowa that they talked to some “real hippies.” If that didn’t work out, a Moon Man was not a bad second choice.
From where I stood, I could see down Telegraph Avenue, up Bancroft, and across most of Sproul Plaza. And best of all, everybody in my line of sight could see me. I felt confident as I stood above the bustling pedestrians wearing my new, internationally-designed costume. I cleared my throat and began.
“Ladies and gentlemen, mention the name Berkeley, California anywhere in the world and most people have a preconceived idea of what it’s like here. Today I offer you a chance to prove them right! Today I offer you a chance to take a little bit of Berkeley home with you. You would be crazier than people think I am if you came to Berkeley and didn’t at least consider buying what I’m selling. One dollar, one acre. How wrong can you go? Move in a little closer please. It looks like it’s going to be another standing room only crowd. People come from everywhere to see Berkeley’s very own Moon Man. But don’t believe everything you may have heard. I am not a living brain donor. I am, however, a living example of why not to take LSD. Remember this is not radio, this is not television, and this is not a movie. What you are witnessing at this very moment is live, and that has value, that is what makes it special. You alone, however, will decide if that value is worth the asking price of one dollar. Exactly what I’m selling for one dollar some of you already know, the rest of you are to be spared no longer. I must caution you now, and do so on the advice of legal counsel. If any of you are on medication – I’m talking about legal drugs only - or have a weak heart, it may be advisable for you to leave the area now while your exposure level is still low. Be advised there are no medical personnel standing by during this performance. Anyone who stays does so at his or her own risk.”
This preliminary mumbo-jumbo was used to gather the beginnings of a crowd. As I had discovered, once even a small crowd forms, it becomes the attraction and like a magnet, draws more and more curiosity seekers. And in Berkeley, almost everyone is curious.
“For those of you joining us late, you missed the appearance of the Invisible Man. To the parents of students here at Berkeley, I just want to assure you your money is well spent. I mean, look at me – I’m a living example of what a college degree can do for your kids.”
This line would usually get a good laugh – proving that the truth is at least as funny as fiction.
“I did try to get work after graduating, but I discovered all the drop-outs already had the jobs.”
Next, I would bring out my “Moon Book.” In this binder, covered with silver fabric, I had my copyright certificate and all my newspaper clippings, which now numbered about 10. In time, I would amass over 100. My reasons for showing these clippings were threefold: They gave me some credibility. They provided ‘comfort in numbers’ for prospective buyers, and they promoted an aura of celebrity. I opened the book now.
“The Berkeley Daily Gazette on December 19, 1973 ran this front-page story. Please notice the big front-page picture that accompanied the article.” (Quoting from the article):
“ONLY IN BERKELEY - ‘Moonman’ Barry McArdle, just back from Dublin, Ireland where he was fined three pounds for selling without a license…”
“Yes, it’s true I am just back from the Old Sod where moon land sold for a pound an acre. Those of you who buy one today will be paying less than half that price. The real story is not that I didn’t have a license – which I didn’t – but my contention is that no city, state, or country has the power to grant me that license. The simple fact is I am the first person in history ever to lay claim to the moon. My claim was made in 1971. I draw your attention to this copyright granting me the sole right to print these documents. However, you should be forewarned that the United States Government is considering taking me to court for fraud. Anyone considering buying an acre should know that my legal case does not look good at this time. In fact, it looks a little… shaky. However, I will be counter suing the government on two charges. Number one – trespassing. They didn’t even have the courtesy to ask my permission. They just went. And number two - littering. We have a bad enough litter problem here on earth, and now the government is trashing my property on the moon – and I have pictures to prove it! One dollar one acre – this is the only place in the world where you can buy land on the moon!”
By this time, there would usually be a crowd of people facing me in a loosely formed semicircle. I could not expect to hold the crowd too long. It was time for the close.
“You may be in Berkeley today partly because you wanted to see if what you’ve been hearing and reading about is true. Is Berkeley really different? Is Berkeley really weird? My answer to that would be where else can you find someone selling the moon? Thank God for Berkeley, California. As long as someone like me can stand in a public forum dressed like this, and have the liberty to express a rather radical interpretation of real estate law, I have to believe freedom of expression is alive and well in America. You would never have seen someone like me in Nazi Germany, or today in Russia, China, Czechoslovakia… Chicago.”
I really was proud to be an American knowing that a place existed where freedom of speech seemed to be valued above the bureaucratic imperative of demanding that my “papers” be in order.
“If you believe in the majority of one, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the birthright of all citizens of earth to have unfettered access to planetary habitation throughout our solar system… or if you’re just looking for a wacky cheapo gift for Uncle Larry, consider a Moon Acre. One dollar, one acre! I challenge you to find anything as original or creative, with the potential of becoming one of history’s greatest collector’s items, as is this document I’m selling today. When you get home, do you want to admit that you saw someone selling land on the moon and you didn’t buy one? And why not? Because it cost a whole dollar? My friends, there is a lot to see and do here in the Bay Area. By all means visit San Francisco, have a shrimp cocktail on Fisherman’s Wharf, eat some sourdough bread, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, but most of all take home land on the moon! This is not swampland in Florida. You’ll need to talk to my cousin for that. And don’t forget every parcel I sell comes with a picturesque view of earth and I still have a number of lots available right on… Moon River. I’m not here to trick you, to con you, or to make promises I know I can’t keep. If I were, I would most likely be wearing a business suit with an American flag-pin in my lapel. This insanity happens in the open, not behind locked committee doors in Washington, D.C. Help keep lunacy public where it belongs. Support originality and creativity. Remember, buying moon acres keeps me off welfare. Is there a better gift anywhere in the world? You may know someone in real estate. You may know someone who has just had a frontal lobotomy. Have some fun. Do something really different today. One dollar, one acre – land boom on the moon!”
But I’m getting ahead of myself… How I came to be the Moon Man was still hard for me to figure out. After all, college had not prepared me for my current occupation. There were no classes in how to sell the moon. There were no degrees offered in Lunar Real Estate. In fact, I almost didn’t graduate at all.