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"Our first conversation was about transcendental pantheism and quantum physics," Spaceman says. "We got into string theory a little."
Spaceman has attended nine Rainbow Gatherings and teaches electrical apprentices at a community college in El Paso, Texas. He was glad to have met Hassan, whom he considers an intelligent young man, but this gathering was not Spaceman's grooviest. He was disappointed to see boomboxes, amplified instruments, and alcohol brought in, and he became violently ill with altitude sickness early in the week.
When he was able, Spaceman shared with Hassan the history and principles of the gathering. Because no one is in charge, people are often fined and taken to jail after no one steps up to get camping permits. There's not usually a whole lot of food to go around, but everyone shares what's available.
"Everything was based on people's voluntary will to assist, and it worked out really well," Hassan says. "Usually, you hear that if you rely on the good will of people, the world will collapse and there will be chaos. At least in this small example, that didn't happen."
McKenzie soon bonded with Hassan as they observed naked campers running through the compound, shared meals together in the various kitchens (their favorites were Love Oven, Krishna, and Middle Eastern), and discussed many subjects, including drugs and the hippie lifestyle.
McKenzie a flower child who cites Mother Teresa and Janis Joplin as her biggest influences says she hopes someday Hassan will come visit her in Albuquerque, where she works as a hospice minister. She sees great potential in Hassan.
"He's definitely an indigo child," says McKenzie, claiming to have three indigo grandchildren of her own. "Indigo children" supposedly possess special psychological and spiritual powers corresponding to an indigo-colored aura, according to the New Age movement, as first detailed in Lee Carroll and Jan Tober's book The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived.
After the gathering split up, Hassan and his purplish halo made their way to the tough streets of Colorado's biggest city.
The people he met at the Denver Rescue Mission found him a likable, intelligent, and curious guy. Although Hassan said he was homeless when he first checked in, he came back a few days later and revealed his true situation.
Thomas Allvin, 54, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who had been homeless but now works at the mission, gave Hassan a tape-recorded interview. "I think he was a little bit naive at first," Allvin tells New Times. "I'm going to assume that he didn't have a lot of knowledge of people in the ditches."
Hassan began his interview with questions about "mechanics," Allvin says. Questions like how many men versus women wind up on the streets and addicted to drugs? What are their races? What are their age groups? Allvin told him, "Addiction has no boundaries like that. So many people are affected in so many different areas."
Hassan spent three nights at the rescue mission, and he helped serve food in the kitchen. He also wheeled his hefty, broken suitcase around the streets of Denver but soon caught a cold and flew home to recover and do a better packing job for his next trip.
For his immersion into the Muslim Community in Dearborn, Hassan told people that he was Jewish.
"I told them my name was Jacob Malachi. M-A-L-A-C-H-I," he says. "I couldn't tell them my name was Farris Hassan. Hassan is like the 'Johnson' of the Middle East."
Hassan wanted to see if his Jewish disguise would elicit anti-Semitic comments from the Muslims but wound up finding them pretty accommodating. He hitched a ride in a van with eight Muslims from Detroit to an Iraq War protest in Washington, D.C., where he flashed peace signs for the cameras. It was an interesting immersion, he says, but Hassan hasn't reached any conclusions yet. Nor does he have immediate answers for Detroit's black neighborhoods, which he wandered for two days and nights. For that, he'll need to look back over his notes, he says, and do some thinking.
"When I'm starting out at my laptop to write about the Muslims and the homeless, I don't know the truth at all," he says. "Sitting in this chair at my laptop and fleshing things out, I think to myself, what needs to be done? What policies can be taken to ameliorate the conditions in the black ghetto? Who is responsible? Is it their fault? Is it partly society's fault? These are challenging questions about morality. You have to really think about it and ponder. So if I'm going to spend six hours writing, 75 or 80 percent of the time, I'm sitting there thinking, what am I going to say?"
Such heavy thoughts for a young man still not old enough to vote are the product of a background that was both privileged and profoundly difficult.
Farris' parents, Redha Hassan and Shatha Atiya, both grew up in Baghdad, but Redha's ancestors were Persian, and Atiya's were Persian, Turkish, and Russian. They saw each other for the first time at a wedding when Atiya was 16 and Hassan, nearly a decade her senior, was a medical student. He was instantly attracted, but it wasn't mutual.
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