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This story of an initiation begins with the white middle-class, teen-age narrator meeting charismatic, black, ageless Alex, who speaks in enigmas and conundrums and lives as a vagrant in San Francisco's Beat Generation bohemia. Convinced that Alex possesses the key to superior awareness, the boy seeks his guidance. "Come with me, kid. I'll take care of you," Alex replies. Accepting this fatherly invitation, intent on learning from Alex, the boy drops out. The hardships of hunger, tobacco, and cheap wine soon make themselves felt. Having become a stranger to his former self, he experiences ecstatic revelation: "So this is what Alex is all about! Ecstasy!" Perfect awareness cannot be retained. The boy seeks in vain to reconnect. Despairing, he repeatedly leaves Alex; but discontent with a life become meaningless irresistibly draws him back, until increasing signs of Alex's mental alienation overwhelm him, and he finally abandons Alex, haunted by a sense of loss.