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My 1965 Watts Riot, by Cuauhtémoc Marín (nom de plume)

30 May

Cuauhtémoc Marín majored in British and American Literature, receiving his bachelor’s degree in English from California State University, Northridge, and was accepted into the Northridge English Master’s Program, where he continued his literary studies with an emphasis in linguistics, creative writing, and poetry. Marín continues to write and publish and has lived in North Los Angeles continually since his move from South Central L.A.

On August 11, 1965, I drove my regular route home, coming from my garment district, sweatshop job at 11th and San Pedro on the edge of downtown L.A.

As I steered my way south down San Pedro Street toward 54th, I could see bus after bus of LAPD officers when I looked west at the end of each block. Our routes were paralleling each other, but I could only see their southward-moving vehicles at the end of each block. It was an ominous peek-a-boo vision of the disaster to come. The LAPD were coming from police headquarters at Parker Center and traveling down Los Angeles Street. I got to the next corner and the dark blue buses had changed to black and whites. Car after black and white police car all caravaned from north to south like me. At the next corner, I looked west again and a parade of LAPD motorcycle officers was also streaming south. My car radio was broken so I had no idea what was going on, but I knew it was something big and ugly.

103rd Street. 1965. Watts Riot.

I got to 54th street, hung a right and headed west for home. The stream of various police vehicles continued in a north to south direction, and sometimes I had to stop and wait for them to pass. When I got to 54th and Hoover, I hit a red light. I was in what we called the Ghetto, a large area of Los Angeles that filled out the L.A. Basin and was populated by mostly working-class Blacks, poor Blacks, and a small population of middle-class Blacks with a spattering of various other ethnic groups. I lived there with my wife and three-month-old baby.

I noticed a white driver alone in the car ahead of me. Whites working in downtown L.A. couldn’t get home without traveling through a minority neighborhood. If they traveled west it was a Black neighborhood–east, Mexican.

The white driver couldn’t go anywhere because he was pinned between the car in front of him and my car in the rear. We were waiting for the red light to turn green at a location that was 99% black. I knew the area quite well, had friends in that area, and as far as I knew, no whites lived there.

Suddenly a group of young black men came running from out of nowhere like a pack on a hunt. They ran straight for the white guy’s car and pulled him out, dragging him to the ground, kicking and beating him. I didn’t know what was going on, but I thought whatever it was, it was big and violent and it was spreading. I swung my car out and crossed into oncoming traffic, hit the gas as I passed the young men beating this poor guy, then swerved back to my side of the street as I pushed the door-lock button.

I continued up 54th till I got to Crenshaw Boulevard, made a left, then headed south again until I got to my apartment near 11th Avenue and Hyde Park Boulevard. Once inside, I turned on the TV and there was no need searching for the news; every channel was covering the riots in Watts about five miles southeast of me.

The riots seemed a safe distance away; police were headed there en masse. I didn’t feel threatened; it was too far away to worry. The police would snuff this out—-so many were arriving at the small, declared riot zone of Watts. You could see it on TV, see the cops arriving, swarms of people in the streets, buildings burning.

My wife and I decided to hang out with some friends that evening, and we got in our car with our three-month-old daughter and headed over to Venice Boulevard near Western. That put us about eight to ten miles away from Watts. We felt safer there.

We met up with our friends in an apartment above a storefront on Venice Boulevard. There were five couples. We all had babies less than six months old. I was 19, my wife 17. No one was older than that. Everyone was Black except two of us. We were all children of the Ghetto. That was our commonality, our bond, that and being poor with low paying shit-jobs and being teen parents. We had all spent our lives in the ghetto, held in by an invisible wall of racism that kept us in our place. The Ghetto enculturated us, and although one of the young men that night was Japanese and I Mexican, we were all black culturally, forged by the Ghetto that bound us and united by that unbreakable chain of childhood friendship that exists beyond color and language.

The Ghetto was not a quaint concept or expression. Minorities could only live in certain parts of the L.A. Basin. My wife and I tried to rent outside of the Ghetto many times and were always told, “We don’t rent to colored people,” or sometimes they might say Negro. Sometimes they said worse. I had discovered the curious white phenomenon: that I was Mexican when alone and Black when I was with my wife.

Our ghetto was surrounded by white sundowner cities, Inglewood, Glendale, Burbank, Huntington Park and all the others. We understood what sundowner city meant: make sure your black ass is not in our city after nightfall. That included my ass, too. The ghetto itself was like a huge police state where white police harassed us at will, beat us, kicked down our doors. Fuck warrants, although they used them when they had them-—the police in the Ghetto acted pretty much above the law. As a young man, I was stopped and searched about three times a week for driving while not white. The Ghetto was a police state, brutal, but it was all we knew and somehow we had learned to navigate that jungle as best we could and also love it for its richness of community, family, and friendships.

That night the sun had gone down, and we sat around the apartment on the floor, the young women holding their babies, some breastfeeding, some bottle-feeding. My wife was holding our daughter. We were watching the riots live on TV. Normally at this hour we would watch the Vietnam War. The networks televised it live nightly. It was the first live-televised U.S. war. We watched U.S. soldiers shoot and be shot on TV every night—live. We’d watch the dead and wounded being carried away. What we saw and what the government told us were in conflict. We saw the truth of this war through television, and that prompted the great anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s. The television didn’t lie; the government, it was clear, did.

Armed National Guardsmen march toward smoke on the horizon during the street fires of the Watts riots, Los Angeles, California, August 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Tonight, however, the riots were being broadcast live, not the Vietnam War. We were all glued to the TV. It was hard to believe the riots had spread so far and so fast. It was no longer just in Watts; the whole L.A. Basin was in riot. People were burning buildings. Police were shooting bullets and tear gas at the crowds. In some places, as the TV news cameras captured the riot from above by helicopter, we had aerial views of police and rioters in hand-to-hand combat. By now it wasn’t just LAPD; the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the surrounding incorporated cities had all sent their police battalions to join the LAPD in fighting the rioters. It was complete chaos. Rioters were throwing Molotov cocktails; some carried rifles and handguns. Entire streets were burning.

Then it started. The looting. The helicopter cameras showed people breaking store windows, carrying furniture and TV sets down the street, as rioters fought police on adjacent streets. We could see this as the helicopters panned from above and smoke plumed over the city. We watched as the helicopter cameras caught two men carrying a new couch out of a furniture store around the corner and into what must have been their house, then run around the corner back to the store for more. They were looting stores we all knew, but the largest store that went down to looters and arsonists was ironically named White Front. It may be hard to imagine this today, but whites owned almost all of the major businesses in the Ghetto, and White Front was no exception. For the Ghetto, it was the Home Depot of its time and everyone—-everyone in the ghetto shopped there at some time in their lives. I had and so had everyone in that apartment on Venice Boulevard that night.

We were watching the looters go through the windows of White Front and come out with guns, tools, clothes; then the fire started and White Front was burning.

Eddie, the Japanese boy sitting next to me, said, “Man, I gotta get me some of that shit.”

Despite all of us being American citizens, in those days, minorities were not referred to as Americans, and we understood the purpose of that exclusion. So this young American was considered Japanese and I Mexican, and the others colored, Negro, or black—never American. It didn’t matter how many centuries we had been in this nation.

One of the other young men hollered at Eddie. Man, they shoot people. It’s dangerous. What are you thinking, my brother?”

The riot had spread so fast. By now we were getting TV feed of the street below the apartment we were in. We were watching the people on the sidewalk in front of the apartment on TV. They broke the storefront glass. Looking out the window from our elevated second-floor apartment, we could see people running across the sidewalks and streets, and we could see the orange glow of fires burning against the night sky in every direction.

The young Japanese father, Eddie, stood up and said, “I’m gonna get me some of this free stuff before it’s too late, man.”

His wife—-all of us—-we said don’t go, but he was up on his feet, headed toward the door despite his wife, holding their baby girl, pleading for him to stay. The door closed behind him and then he was gone.

The rest of us stayed and watched the riots, waiting for them to stop, but they never did. About 4:00 a.m. the riots seemed to take a lull, and my wife and I went to our car and drove cautiously home through the mostly deserted smoke-scented streets. Eddie hadn’t returned yet, but the police were making massive arrests of just about everyone on the streets, so we knew he must have gotten arrested.

The next morning my wife got the call. Eddie never came home. They found his body not too far from his apartment. A security officer shot him dead as he tried to loot a local store. They shoot looters—-and sometimes they kill them.

The riot had continued nonstop for three days when the National Guard arrived on a late Friday evening. The National Guard had responded by order of the governor and martial law was declared. They set up checkpoints and barricades and kept anyone from leaving the Ghetto for the next ten days or so. No one could be on the streets before 5:00 a.m. or after 8:00 p.m. or they would be arrested or shot. However, even during those allotted hours, you had to have a reason to be out.

The National Guard came in tanks, armored vehicles, military trucks carrying combat troops, and jeeps with machine guns. They set up armed barricades in the streets at the Ghetto boundaries. Young National Guardsmen with automatic weapons patrolled the Ghetto in military vehicles. Machine guns on tripods ornamented the checkpoints at the established boundaries to keep us in what the media and police referred to as the “riot zone.” The whole Ghetto came to a standstill; the whole Ghetto was the riot zone. The National Guard eventually had 22,000 ground troops in and around the 50-square-mile Ghetto. With the addition of the various police departments, the total of troops amounted to about 30,000. People said soldiers standing ten feet apart surrounded the Ghetto along the perimeter.

I had passed through a National Guard checkpoint after they arrived and knew that a post had been set up near the Thrifty’s Store on Crenshaw and 54th Street, not too far away from my apartment. Because of that post, Thrifty’s was now open for business. The food supply at my house had dwindled to almost nothing. Grocery stores had been some of the first stores to be looted, and Thrifty’s was my only chance to get my infant daughter her prescribed Mull Soy baby formula. I decided I would try to drive there. I walked outside to my car, trying to ignore or pretend not to notice the few Black residents walking around with guns in their hands. Once in my car, I drove through the mostly deserted neighborhood and parked across the street from Thrifty’s. As I got to the corner, I stood and stared across that very wide street called 54th. Directly in front of the store, I saw a blond, blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked boy sitting on his butt in a green National Guard uniform behind a machine gun mounted on a tripod. From across that great divide of space, I looked into his eyes and he looked into mine. His finger was on the trigger. Time stopped for a moment while I made my mental calculations. Although different circumstances governed my reason for being outside during the riot, I remembered Eddie, who only four days ago had been alive. With thoughts of Eddie in my head and my opened hands at my side, I turned calmly and deliberately till my back faced this young National Guardsman, then slowly walked away praying silently to myself.

When the Watts Riots were over, Eddie and 33 other people were dead, and one baby girl, half-Japanese and half-black, didn’t have a father.

          Cuauhtémoc Marín continued to live in the Ghetto for seven more years after the riot. The rise of Black gangs in the early 1970s and the increasing violence and crime forced Marín and his wife out of the ghetto after their lives were threatened.They moved to East Hollywood. Marín came to view education as a way of improving his life and subsequently enrolled in college. During his college years, he continued to work full time to support his family.
          The major literary influences of his writing have been William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Kurt Vonnegut,Jack Kerouac, Patricia Highsmith, Walker Percy, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and Thomas Pynchon.
Marín remains indebted to his poetry professor Dr. Benjamin Saltman for his three years of patience and guidance in teaching Marín the craft of poetry while in graduate school.
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Honeymoon Story, by Mira Mataric

1 Aug

Dr. Mira N. Mataric has 42 books (poetry, short stories, novels, memoirs and translations), published in two languages, with numerous citations in publications of Europe, America, Asia and Australia. Her works have been translated into several languages, and she is the recipient of over 20 international awards, including five presidential medals for volunteer work in education.  

She has taught world literature, creative writing, and foreign languages to youth and seniors for many years, edited a literary magazine, and founded and chaired Women in the Arts, Inc., a non-profit organization (for 20 years). She is active as a public speaker, a facilitator of workshops and at public poetry readings.

You can read more about Mira at:  https://coloradoboulevard.net/mapping-artist-mira-n-mataric/

 

It is the autumn of 1961, bright and mild, with the sun and the rest of the world caringly smiling upon the two of us, a newly married couple. We packed full our little Fiat 600 and took our honeymoon drive through the most beautiful sceneries our country of Yugoslavia could offer. Right now we are in Slovenia enjoying the serene beauty of the glacial Lake Bled. Somebody told me not to miss visiting the tiny isle in the middle of the Lake, with a church that has a rare power: it will fulfill one wish. I will ask for a good marriage, of course.

The lake is peaceful and sunlit, like a mirror reflecting the blueness of the skies and endless greenery of the surrounding mountains and grassy turf. We already visited the church, and now I am walking around the Lake, picking wild flowers that are more beautiful here than ever before. I have always loved wild flowers, but these are special. Everything is special. I have never been on a honeymoon. My husband is behind me, taking pictures. All of nature is observing us with a benevolent smile. Everything is perfect, in harmony with my state of mind.

I bend over to pick a unique blue flower and hear a man’s voice call and laugh. Not my husband’s. I turn quickly and quite unexpectedly see a big black convertible passing by—a car that was nowhere to be seen a second ago. In it is a man in a light-colored hat and another man, bigger, hatless and almost hairless, but with a huge smile, waving and shouting at me.

I am stunned and breathless because we were completely alone with nature a second ago; now, suddenly, the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is smiling friendly and waving at me, and next to him the president of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito. Tito has a villa here, I remember later—much later—when I recover and start thinking reasonably. And yes, Khrushchev was scheduled to visit, but we had forgotten it due to our own important events.

Suddenly realizing who is who, my husband takes a quick photo, by that time catching the car and people only from behind. I stand speechless, regretting not throwing the bouquet toward the guest. He showed hot appreciation of Serbian women through just one specimen and with limited data: just legs, partially. My new husband saw it as a compliment to Serbian men for their good taste. Once we had time to discuss the unexpected experience, we had zillions of additional versions and possibilities that Khrushchev might have enjoyed, since he seemed happy with so little.

For years we laughed and wondered about the other part of the story, the one we could not know: Tito’s and Khrushchev’s.

Could it be that the little church, having so many demands, somehow made a mistake, fulfilling my wishes a bit flippantly? Destiny is as blind and prone to mistakes as humans.

Another Bozo on the Bus, by R.F. Part 3 of 4

15 Jan

R.F. lives in L.A. with a deaf, but talkative, elderly female cat. He is retired, meditates daily, practices tai chi and yoga, and loves his friends (including Kitty Kroger).

Part 3 of 4

Conscientious Objector?

In spite of all that had happened, with the police coming to the door and all, I didn’t worry that much, but I knew I couldn’t go on with my life this way and had to deal with being AWOL. I had heard that you could apply for conscientious objector status and possibly obtain a discharge, so I wrote an appeal*  [editor’s note: see the addendum for excerpts from the original draft].  A couple of older people read it and said they were impressed with how articulate and well thought-out it was. However, someone else told me to take it to the National Lawyers Guild before submitting it. I did, and a lawyer told me that my appeal wouldn’t go anywhere because it was based on philosophy, not religion. He said that the government investigators would look at my life and know whether I’d been religious or not. Well, I wasn’t going to pretend I was religious, because I certainly was not. I’d been an atheist since age eight. So that was that.

I wasn’t sure what to do. There were thousands of us who were AWOL. By now it was 1970, and the Viet Nam war was still raging. I had heard about Canada: Big country, no work, illegal, knowing no one. I wasn’t very accomplished at managing my life in Los Angeles, so the thought of what I’d have to do to make it in another country was just too scary. Finally, I realized that I needed to deal with the Army, so I turned myself in and expected to be court-martialed.

On a whim, before presenting myself to the Army brig at San Pedro, I decided to smuggle some LSD in with me. I had a vague notion it might come in handy somehow. In the cell the second night I took one whole dose and got very high, a feeling that I enjoyed. As it happened, it was the night of an inspection, and before long an officer in full regalia came walking through the cell block with his entourage. You might think that because I was high on acid, I imagined all of this, but it’s clear to me that it really happened. I was an experienced LSD user, so I knew what was real and what was fantasy. I was feeling somewhat exposed on the top bunk at about his eye level. It was all I could do to watch him through the corner of one slightly opened eye without revealing that I was awake, especially since I was blazing on acid. (Keeping one’s cool like this was known among street drug users as “maintaining”). If discovered, I probably would have gotten into big trouble. They don’t take too kindly to people smuggling drugs in body cavities.

And so it was on that same night, while still high, that I hatched my plan for getting out of the Army: I would tell the authorities at the appropriate time that I was very afraid and wanted their protection against the CIA, which was after me because I had discovered the Secret of Life! While coming up with that, I had idly twisted a common paperclip into a spiral shape and later realized that I could tell the interrogators that it was the working model of the Secret of Life. Of course, I knew this was silly, but it seemed crazy enough that it just might work, and besides, after having my conscientious objector appeal deemed inappropriate, I didn’t have a lot of other options. Soon I would be out-shipped to Fort Ord, along with all the other lucky bastards (we weren’t killing and dying in Vietnam), to be processed for a court-martial.

Also While At The Brig

One day I observed a guy bragging he was a kung fu expert. He seemed quite disturbed, saying to no one in particular, “They can come at me. They can try to make me go back into the Army, but they’ll never do it. I’m a black belt!” Right there in the cell he was demonstrating all kinds of moves and acting like he could fight off a whole army. Delusional. I heard later that the MPs restrained him, took him away, and put him in isolation.  It seemed to me the only difference between him and the gung-ho guys in ‘Nam I’d heard about was who each was willing to use violence against.

There was another soldier there who, like me, was trying to get out of the Army (I heard about him second-hand). Story goes that when the psychologist interviewed him in his office, the young man started whistling for his dog which, of course, wasn’t there. He’d say, “Here, Rover. Here, boy.” and whistle some more. The psychologist responded, “Oh, I see that you have a dog.” What could the fellow do now? Crazy people don’t act that way anyway. That’s how naive he was. The shrink then said, “I understand that you’ve engaged in some behaviors with a female that could get you charged with statutory rape.” This was the old ploy used to determine if the young soldier was gay, which at the time was a justifiable reason for a discharge. I don’t remember hearing what his response to that was. Of course, if he’d had his wits about him (not likely with this particular individual) he’d have done his best Johnny Ray impersonation and in a lilting, impassioned voice declared, “Oh no, I don’t think of girls in that way.” He’d have been out on the street in no time.

Back To Ft. Ord

A couple of days after processing into the Ft. Ord holding company for drug-addicted soldiers from Vietnam and other “undesirables,” I started chewing my fingernails and cuticles until they bled. I was shaking and acting out as if I were having a nervous breakdown. Some actors chew the scenery, I chewed my fingers. Anyway, a section leader in the billet noticed and said, “We’ve got to get this man some help. Send him to the Commanding Officer (CO) to see what can be done.” The MPs were called. At the CO’s office, I refused a chair and sat in the corner on the floor. I was shaking and chewing on the bleeding fingers of my right hand. In the other hand I had my little spiral paperclip. He asked me, “What’s going on with you?” With a deliberately flat affect I told him, “The CIA is after me. I was in the mess hall. They were coming to get me. They called my name. I looked, but they weren’t there. I know they’re closing in.” I did this whole schtick. Intently he asked, “But why do they want you?” With no emotion I said, “Because I have the Secret of Life.” He said, “What’s that in your hand? Let me see it.” I handed it over. He said, “OK, now I have the Secret of Life.” Again flatly I said, “No, that’s the working model. You don’t know how it works.” He blanched and after a long pause said, “OK, we’re going to send you to a safe place where you can have a good long rest.” And that’s when they took me to the psych ward in the military hospital at Ft. Ord.

From Day 1, I had to line up with the other patients to receive medication. I thought I was being clever by putting the pills under my tongue and spitting them out in the toilet, as I then observed that others were doing too. But the docs found out, and we were all made to take the drugs (mostly anti-psychotics like Thorazine and Stelazine) in liquid form and swallow them in front of the med station.

The Psychotic Reaction

After a while, I befriended a fellow patient, about my age and seemingly very intelligent. One day when he and I went to the mess hall for a meal, there was a guard at the door. As we approached him, I could tell by his demeanor that he was another of those barely mentally sufficient guys commonly found in the military because they can’t do anything else. He grabbed my buddy by the shoulder and in a belligerent tone said, “You’ve got a button undone. Button that up!” The blood drained from my friend’s face. He became unresponsive to questions and apparently unable to move. The guys in the white coats had to come to take him back to the ward on a gurney. I found out the next day that he’d had a psychotic reaction and that the docs had loaded him up with meds to try to bring him back to normal. A week later I learned that he’d suffered a another breakdown. When I finally saw him, I asked, “What happened to you in the mess hall doorway that day?” He said, “I was captured by the North Vietnamese.” He thought the asshole at the door was speaking Vietnamese to him and that the white-coat guys were also his captors! Can you imagine? So I said, “Have you taken a lot of psychedelic drugs in the past?” He said, “I’ve never taken drugs. I’ve always been afraid of them because I thought this could happen to me if I did.” Here’s a guy who was always clean and sober, and yet he had two psychotic reactions. When I first got to know him, he’d spoken glowingly about his wife. Everything about his gentle, relaxed manner and engaging conversation had suggested that here was a man firmly in control of his life, and yet…. I came away from the experience of witnessing that sudden mental collapse with the feeling that we are all so vulnerable, no one really has it all together, and any semblance of sanity we each possess is precious

Psst!

One time a patient whispered, “Wanna get high? Come with us.” The hospital was like a rabbit’s warren. It was a one-story building spread out with many long corridors set at right angles to each other. So I went with this group and smoked some pot. I didn’t think of it at the time, but since it was likely there was at least one staff member among those smokers, the incident probably added to my cred with the medical authorities that I was a paranoid doper.

AWOL Again!

One day we were put on an Army bus and taken to nearby Monterey to a ball field near the beach. Looking back on this incident, I think the docs figured that since we were so loaded on meds, we wouldn’t try anything and would be under their control. After we stumbled around for a while trying to play softball, we took a lunch break on the beach. I got my food on a paper plate and started walking, eating as I went, out to the edge of the strand. I soon realized the hospital staff didn’t know where I was, so I just kept walking. I was free—AWOL from the psych ward!

I wandered into town and saw a small pickup truck with an unlocked canopy parked by the curb. By then I was getting pretty drowsy from the meds and food, so I crawled  into the back of the truck, which seemed like a safe place to hide, and quickly dropped off to sleep. All of a sudden a couple of guys hopped into the cab and the pickup started moving through town. When the driver stopped at a light, I jumped out, ran around to his window and yelled, “I was in the back of your truck, and I need your help.” I was in my blue psych ward pajamas, by the way. I said, “I need to borrow some street clothes and get out of here.” The driver said, “I know someone with clothes you can have. We’ll take you there.” I got the change of clothes (just my size too), thanked my benefactors, and started hitchhiking back to L.A., “pumped” at the prospect that I would soon see my girlfriend, whom I’d started seeing again before I turned myself in to the Army. About half the way home I spent the night sleeping under a HWY 1 overpass, along with about twelve other itinerants. No one asked what I was doing there.

*Addendum: Appeal for C.O. Discharge, by R. F.  September 1969

As a person believing in non-violence and the dignity of Man, I sincerely believe that I cannot, in good conscience, remain in the military because its main function is, and always has been, to destroy lives and property. I believe that the destruction of lives (or property) cannot be justified for any reason. I cannot, without being treasonous to my own conscience, contribute in any way to the military because of its intimate relationship with destruction and the willful commission of violence. One can see that my intention is honorable. It is my duty to my country and my conscience to stand up as an objector to war and be recognized. I do not want America to become like Hitler Germany, where the people neglected to challenge the build-up of militarism, or like the Soviet Union, where the people do not have that right at all. If there is to be peace in the world, I believe that it is up to the people who believe in non-violence to affirm their belief in it by saying no to death; by refusing to participate in the military.

Any man who is forced against his convictions to participate in an armed conflict or war or to contribute in any way to the military, is being compelled to commit treason against his own conscience. I am no better than any other man regardless of the color of his skin or the part of the world he lives in. I believe that any man may cherish his life just as much as I cherish my own. Life is the most important possession we have. Without life we are nothing. I do not believe in a hereafter. What is important is what we can do with our lives. Salvation is having led a constructive life. There is no reward for fighting and dying violently in the defense of some arbitrary ideal. Religious groups, such as the Christians and Shintos, have killed and been killed because of their belief in a hereafter. This is the basis of heroism in our society. The Christians, who fought in the Crusades and other “holy” wars, missed the point of Christ’s teachings. He practiced and taught non-violence; the turning of the other cheek. He taught that love is the only satisfactory answer to the question of human existence; that men must learn to live as brothers.

I do not claim to know of the existence of a god, as some do. However, to me all that we are conscious of is but a part of the unique omnipresence of being, which encompasses everything. This universal wholeness is the dynamic and omnipotent force to which we owe our existence. In the face of the beautiful unity of the universe, it seems strange indeed that men kill one another and commit other acts of violence. Actions which destroy life and property and bring trauma to human beings are counter to the will of the cosmos, which is to maintain order and harmony. Albert Einstein held a similar view. This is why he repeatedly appealed to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman not to develop and deploy nuclear bombs, which his theories accidentally made possible.

Dr. Rollo May states in his book Love and Will that hope is born out of love for one’s destiny. This is why most people living in ghettos, for example, have no hope. By the same token, because most of the conditioning of the Army was counter to my beliefs, my hope for the future was destroyed. In desperation, I did the only thing I felt that was left for me to do, I went AWOL. In an attempt to overcome these feelings of desperation, I went to a psychiatrist. Dr. Fabian impressed upon me the fact that the way to counter hopelessness is for one to become receptive to one’s inner feelings and then to take positive action by doing that which he feels he must do. The encouragement and help I received from Dr. Fabian have led me to make this appeal for a C.O. Discharge. I believe that I can contribute to the welfare of my country and my fellow man by spending the next several years in college; studying to become a doctor. It is my hope that as a doctor I can disseminate a positive attitude toward living and help others just as Dr. Fabian helped me.

One day before I was to enter the Army as a draftee, I enlisted. At the time, I was confused about what the Army represented and uncertain about what my role could be as a contributing citizen of this country. Had I felt then as I feel now, I would have started my pre-med in college and been exempted from the draft. I signed up for medic because my convictions about war and killing had been somewhat formulated, but I became more disenchanted with the Medical Corps the longer I was exposed to it. First, I learned that corpsmen are expected to function as infantrymen, as they are assigned to infantry units. Then, I learned that the corpsman’s function is to patch up and evacuate casualties so that they can be “returned to battle as soon as possible.” To me this meant that as a corpsman I would be required to contribute to the perpetuation of violence. I became further disenchanted when some of the medical personnel at Fort Sam Houston expressed their disgust at the fact that captured Vietcong, human beings like myself, were being used as guinea pigs for practice operations and other “medical” procedures, which often resulted in their deaths. As a matter of conscience, I cannot function as a corpsman in the Army because it perpetrates such inhuman practices. (The Vietcong are notorious for their atrocities, of course, but because they are wrong does not make us right.) All war breeds such atrocities, and I am, for that reason, against all war. The military’s primary function is to engage in war; therefore, I cannot, in good conscience, engage in the activities of the military.

End of part 3 of 4

Letters from West Berlin, Part 3, by Kitty Kroger. October and November 1966: Hitchhiking, Trip to Paris, and Talking with a Student from Hanoi

13 Jul

Berlin.Kitty.East.1967In the summer of 1966 upon graduating from Colorado College, a friend had arranged a summer  job for me in a youth hostel on Sylt, a German island  in the North Sea off the coast of Hamburg. After two months, I left by train to see a bit more of Europe before returning to the U.S. My first stop was West Berlin. Maybe I thought the divided city would be especially interesting, or was it just the first place on my route?

Whatever the reason, I ended up living there for four years. Following is the third of a series of selections from detailed letters to my parents during that time. As you will see, over time I was altered by my experiences in 1960s West Berlin and ended up a different person from the politically naive girl who first arrived there.

THIRD IN A SERIES
October 1966

Berlin 1966 Oktober

Dear Mom and Dad,

I wanted to tell you about my trip through Austria. I hitched about half of the trip alone and never had any problems but I got sort of tired of rejecting invitations to go out dancing with truck drivers, to drive through the Alps with 45-year-old travelling salesmen. But I did get some interesting rides with a foreign correspondent for French newspapers, with one of the inspectors of the German Starfighters, with an ex-SS soldier, and with a Viennese war refugee. When I hitched with other people, the rides were sometimes even better. A Dutch couple bought me and my two hitching mates from English and Australia each $1.25 bus tickets to Hitler’s tea house high in the mountains above Berchtesgaden.

Berlin.BerchtesGaden.commons.wikimedia.orgimages

An Italian businessman picked up Dave and me in S. Austria. We communicated in grunts and gestures the whole way. He had a flat tire. Once Dave and I stopped to buy bread and cheese for lunch, and the grocer insisted on giving us a partial tour of the town and on driving us right to the door of the youth hostel. His son and family lived in America and he was so proud of it.

Another time a Persian guy and I just happened to be hitching on the same stretch when a truck stopped and picked us up. The Persian spoke almost no German and although he spoke English, he understood almost nothing. Besides that the truck made so much noise you couldn’t hear anyway. But our truck driver insisted on speaking to us, which required a tremendous use of gestures because of the noise and all. Several times the truck almost ran off the road, and then from time to time the driver would take a swig of some brown liquid from a brown bottle. He kept calling it Kaffee, but the Persian and I arrived unanimously at the conclusion that the Kaffee smelled strongly of beer. In addition to all that, the man kept saying things like “I’m a Russian really,” and “Goldwater gut, Hitler gut—both strong, not wishy-washy.” In the face of all this, the Persian kept trying to convince me to spend the night with him instead of hitching on to Berlin right away. And I don’t think he got the message that I had no intention of “taking advantage” of his hospitality. At any rate he kept repeating the invitation every five minutes, and by the end of the trip I was a nervous wreck.

I think I had the best experience in Salzburg.

Berlin.Salzberg, Austria

The city is small (100,000 approximately) and reeks with atmosphere. One night my English and Australian friends and I went to a large café for dinner. There was an Austrian six-piece orchestra that played Straus waltzes and Austrian folk music. At our table sat a very distinguished looking elderly Austrian gentleman, with his glass of Schnaps (German for schnapps—hard liquor), and his Wiener Schnitzel. From time to time he would sing to the music in a beautiful baritone. When dinner came the English and Australian guys started to show me how to eat European style, and although the Austrian had been oblivious to us up to then, he couldn’t resist showing me the only really correct way to eat, the Austrian way, which consists of holding the fork in the left hand, stabbing a piece of Wurst (sausage) with it, and shoveling sauerkraut and potatoes onto your fork with your knife, then stuffing the whole mixture into your mouth. Another night in Salzberg, we all went to a pub for dinner—about ten of us from the youth hostel. A group of young Austrian workers were sitting at another table. They started to sing, we started to sing, and we took turns singing English folksongs and Austrian ones. Finally, they all came over and sat with us and someone started playing an accordion, and we danced the polka and kept drinking more beer. Of course we had to all head back to the hostel for 10 pm curfew.

Classes at the Technical University (T.U.) have started. I’ve attended two so far.

Two nights ago I went out dancing with Howard. First we walked about three hours around Kreuzberg looking at the architecture. We wandered down to Stuttgarter Platz, a cheap striptease section of town, with streetwalkers standing in front of every door. Every bar looks the same. The outsides are plastered with pictures of strippers and the façade is always black tile with a thick curtain hanging before the door. You walk in and there’s a jukebox and a screen for the filmstrips (literally film strips). We chose one with good beat music, talked the manager down to half-price for our drinks, and danced and talked for about three hours. It was 6 am when I finally got home. I slept until 3:30 pm the next day. What a depraved life!

My room is cold—perhaps I’m not using enough coal. But I think the coal oven is not very efficient. Anyway, the coal is costing a lot more than the DM 9 a month which my landlady assured me.

 

November 7, 1966

Last night after spending my morning at a lecture on T.S. Eliot and my afternoon in the American-German library reading plays, I went to the jazz concert to get a ticket at the last minute and I met friends there; afterwards we went to an all-night jazz party, where all the entertainers jammed. Dave Brubeck, Astrud Gilberto, bossa nova, the Kuhn brothers quartet. It’s rather ironic coming to Berlin to hear fantastic American jazz. We all bought a hot Wurst (fried hotdog) for breakfast and went to the end of another party, then headed home after driving around Berlin in the dawn to look at architecture again. Got in at about 9 am and slept till 1 pm.

The courses I’m auditing are French, literature, art, German. Last week I saw No Exit by Sartre. I heard a lecture at Amerikahaus in German on “Why Foreign Aid?” I talked about Vietnam with a Persian student. I met an Austrian man whom I had coffee with; we had this wild conversation about beauty and character in people. I didn’t really understand what he was trying to express, but it was interesting anyway.

[The Amerika Haus Berlin is an institution that was developed following the end of the Second World War to provide an opportunity for German citizens to learn more about American culture and politics. (Source: Wikipedia)]

Postcard of Brandenburg Tor, Friday, November 10, 1966

Dear Family,

I’m off to Paris for ten days. Leave at noon on a bus with eight other students from the T.U. Back the 20th. Whole trip including food and room only DM80 ($20). It’s part of an exchange trip with students from Paris. We’ll stay in a dorm at the university of Paris.

Went to East Berlin yesterday to get a visa for the zone transit. Saw a great ancient Near East museum there called the Pergammon. Sculpture, ceramics, sarcophagi from 2000 B.C. Berlin has so much to offer.

 

Berlin, November 20, 1966

Dear Family,

Now to tell you some about my Paris trip. We visited a Renault factory, where two models were completely assembled before our eyes in our two-hour visit there. Much of the work was done by people rather than machines, and I was told that in America machines do much more of the work.

I met Vietnamese students, one from Hanoi, who I talked with a long time. His jacket came directly from Hanoi and had the label in. He said there is no North and South Vietnam, there is only Vietnam. But the Americans are the invaders for economic interests of their own. That the South Vietnam government is only a puppet of America, to whom America can dictate, and that much of the fighting goes on in South Vietnam itself by South Vietnam people against the puppet government and the foreign imperialists, which is, I’m afraid, just exactly what we are. And I’m ashamed. The more I hear about America’s foreign policy, the more depressed I get. But it’s difficult to know, after a while, just what Truth is, Right is. American is protecting her economic interests in Vietnam and elsewhere in this world—is this wrong? And yet can this be right when thousands of innocent people are massacred and when our own soldiers go to Vietnam thinking they are fighting and dying for peace and freedom? this is another of those complex issues which frustrate me so completely.

Kitty

Letters from West Berlin, Part 2, by Kitty Kroger. September 1966: Settling In

23 Nov

  Berlin.Kitty.East.1967

In the summer of 1966 upon graduating from Colorado College, a friend had arranged a summer  job for me in a youth hostel on Sylt, a German island  in the North Sea off the coast of Hamburg. After two months, I left by train to see a bit more of Europe before returning to the U.S. My first stop was West Berlin. Maybe I thought the divided city would be especially interesting, or was it just the first place on my route?

Whatever the reason, I ended up living there for four years. Following is the second of a series of selections from detailed letters to my parents during that time. As you will see, over time I was altered by my experiences in 1960s West Berlin and ended up a different person from the politically naive girl who first arrived there.

SECOND IN A SERIES
September 1966

Sept. 14, 1966

Dear Family,

Berlin as one of the largest cities in the world is a bit small-townish. I live right in the center of town now, near all the  bars, the main Bahnhof (railroad station), named Zoological, aka the Zoo, and not far from a very famous, two-mile-long avenue, Kurfurstendamm, which is packed with nightclubs, bright lights, and tourists. It’s called the Kudamm. Other than this street, there aren’t many night spots at all. Berlin rolls up its sidewalks about midnight. Berlin is now so built up after the war. Many modern buildings, which look just like those in America. Modern supermarkets, Woolworth’s, subways. Americans are of course all over because of the base here. I find the atmosphere a bit disappointing. Berlin is called the “world city,” but it just isn’t—culturally, politically, or educationally.

Berlin.TrainAtBahnhofZoo

Train at Bahnhof Zoo
West Berlin

The people are a bit reserved too. I rather like that because this buddy-buddy bit is alien to my character, but it makes it a bit difficult to practice my German or even to feel very close to anyone here. I have made a wonderful friend out of the American doctoral candidate Pat Moylan. We get together all the time in the Studentendorf and hash over our experience here in Berlin. She must be about 30 or 35—she won’t tell anyone her age. She seems as young as I; however, in spite of the fact that’s she’s taught high school, and college, and is majoring in Old English at Duke University. We think a lot alike. I went to her “place” for dinner last night, and she’s coming to my “room” for supper tonight.

My new room is just great. The sun streams in through the balcony until 3 pm every day. The landlady brought me a huge plate of fresh peaches and apples the other day, and yesterday a bowl of noodle tomato soup. I’m never there but she leaves them on the table for me. I have a good hard bed, a small table, a huge desk, a closet, and three or four chairs in my room. There’s always hot water. The landlady has loaned me some dishes and a blanket—I find the whole setup very comfortable. And I’m strengthening my legs walking (or running) up the four flights of stairs.

I went to a ballet, movies, and a Gunther Grass play, The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising, last week. Movies are very cheap—about 65 cents for a seat. The play was $2 and the ballet only $1.50 and excellent. There are millions of American movies being shown, which I avoid, but I saw a Swedish movie, “Sibling Bed,” about incest, which was made by a former student of Ingmar Bergman. The movie was beautifully photographed and I understood it very well, but the plot was disappointing.

I have to ride the bus Berlin.Double-deckerBusabout an hour to work and an hour home every day. I use the time to read or to people watch. I buy a weekly bus pass, which costs only $1.25, and lets me ride three lines, (either bus or subway) as often as I like. The three lines take me within walking distance of just about wherever I want to go.

Berlin.Kitty Kroger.Marta Mierendorff, Walter Wicclair.1967

Kitty, Marta Mierendorff, Walter Wicclair.
West Berlin.

The woman I’m tutoring in English has her doctorate in sociology and is trying to get immigration papers into the U.S. She’s about 60. Her name is Frau Doktor Mierendorff. [Note: this may be repeated above or below.]  She lives with Walter Wicclair, a rather well-known director, producer in Los Angeles. Naturalized citizen and has a heavy German accent. They are going to try to return to the U.S. in Jan. She’s writing a book on culture in German. He’s directed and acting in Strindberg’s Danco of Death with rave review (in Los Angeles), also worked with the drama department. Dr. M told me Monday that her husband and his mother, both Jews, had been taken away during the war to Auschwitz and gassed. Neither of them like Germany at all. They feel it’s deteriorated in culture and general decency as a result of the terrible events of WW2. He gave a lecture at the Free University, in which he condemned the state of the German theater and the suppression of Jewish contributions to it. I read the lecture. I wish I knew better what was going on in politics—and what went on in history. Berlin is exciting because of what lurks in the shadows as a result of the war and the wall, the past and the present. Rolf Lobeck from Hamburg said that he felt that Europeans are different from Americans, precisely because the Europeans have gone through a war on their own land, seen their houses shattered, their relatives and friends killed, and are presently living amidst the ruins of the war—a constant reminder to them.

The older people fascinate me because of what they’ve seen and lived. With the students, however, it’s a different matter. The students are in many ways like Americans; they haven’t seen war on their territory or experience the loss of many relatives and friends. But they have grown along with the regrowth of their country and they’ve been under the influence of the adults who have experience terrible things. Thus they too think different from us.

Last Sunday I walked along the wall on this side for about an hour. It was really horrible. At one place there were two big dogs chained to a long bar, along which they could run. Every few fBerlin.Potsdamer Platzeet there are guard platforms and houses on the “east” side, where East Berlin soldiers are posted with their guns. They always whistle and flirt with me as I pass by. A West Berlin new apartment building was built almost upon the wall at one spot, with signs on every outside entrance saying that it is strongly recommended that the renters not take pictures from the stairwell of East Berlin. Then at another place, there was an empty dirt lot with beer cans and other garbage. Three women were sitting around right next to the fence separating the city. They were lower class, dirty-looking, and seemingly oblivious to the “wall,” laughing and gossiping. This was near Checkpoint Charlie, where the American and other foreigners cross the boundary. The whole thing was so dirty and so depressing. A West Berlin man was shot the other day for swimming in a canal too close to the East German boundary. He was drunk. They killed him. The West German keep protesting, “It’s so ridiculous; they’re Germans too; we’re all Germans; I don’t understand!” (I don’t either.)

Kitty

Berlin.WallGrafitti.www.prlog.org

Sept. 20, 1966

Dear Family,

Berlin is about 60% people over the age of 45 and a large number of those are over 65. The old people are “trapped” in Berlin, in a sense, because of the distance to move if they want to leave. But the students seem very alive. The government-subsidized theaters, museums and galleries are beautiful even if there seems to be a lack of excitement and pride on the part of Berliners themselves.

Last night Frau Mierendorff and her partner Walter Wicclair took me to a play . We sat in the fourth row. It was called “The Escape, “ written and acted by a Viennese Jewish comedian. It’s his true story of how during the Jewish purge he appealed to one of the Nazi district leaders (Gauleiter) to save his life on the basis of his value as an entertainer. The Nazi did save him because he had enjoyed the stage acts so much. The Jew was given permission to flee to his home in Vienna where after the war he was approached and appealed to by the same Nazi, whose own life was now in danger, to help him in return. Which he did. The theme of the play is the moral question of the Jew. What should he have done? Should he have allowed his own life to be saved, sat tight while his fellow were led to the concentration camps? In short, he was a coward, which he admits. He was afraid to die. “I want to be, to be, to be,” he said.

Or should he have refused to cooperate verbally with the Nazis? Should he have protested, spit in their faces, denounced them, and marched bravely off to the gas chambers, a martyr? Now, says the author actor, the faces of the condemned Jews come back to haunt him and he can’t sleep. Should he then have condemned the district commander to death, who had been responsible for so many deaths himself? But how could he? The Nazi had saved him when he had been afraid to die. Now the Jew, who recognized the pure terror of impending death and the overwhelming, overpowering will to “be,” to exist, couldn’t turn over the Nazi to the authorities.

He turns then to the audience and says, “What should I have done?” It was a powerful play, enhanced for me by the comments of Wicclair, who fled Germany in 1933 and Mierendorff, whose lover was executed at Auschwitz.

Saturday I returned to Kreuzberg, which is full of old, partly war-damaged apartment buildings with stone figures and heads of gods and angels built into the walls. Berlin has very few old buildings left at all. Almost entirely rebuilt with skyscrapers and modern buildings, which I find sad and disappointing. I want to see more tradition, more of antiquity, but war-demolished Berlin is not the place. Too much has been rebuilt to get the flavor of old Europe.

I read Time magazine more regular now than ever before in my life. One thing that being in Europe has done for me is to make me more aware than ever of current events. There are three English-language libraries here, one in  Amerikahaus, one in the British Center, and one in the American Memorial Library. They are fantastic. I’ve already checked out a German-language book and a history book. I’m also reading German literature: Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, and newspapers. I can’t believe that this is me. I was always such an uninformed blind man before.

All Sunday I spent alone just reading. It was great. I’m getting so I can put sentences together in German better than in English. That’s because I’ve been hearing, reading, and speaking so much German. My English is really getting bad.

I keep my balcony doors open and the sun streams into my room. My landlady brought me tomato noodle soup and a delicious apple compote for lunch. I can’t decide whether I wish she’d go away and leave me alone or not. She’s so terribly over-mothering. She woke me up this morning by knocking on my door about some little detail and then she noticed that my feet were sticking out from under the down blanket she’s loaned me, so she shuffled back to her part of the apartment, brought another blanket, and wrapped it around my feet. When I’m home she continually comes down the hall to bring me something or make a suggestion about how I’m keeping up the room. It bugs me in a way but she means so well that I just can’t get really irritated. She’s about 75 and can’t stand straight, due to an auto accident years ago.

After seeing the movie “Blue Angel” last night, the two boys I went with, Howard and Johnny, and I walked around downtown Berlin window-shopping. and looking at the modern sculpture exhibit on top of Europa Center, which is a huge two-block square shopping center with international shops, banks, restaurants, night spots. We ended up in a beer joint talking and drinking the 14-cent beers. We all feel the same way about our jaunt in Europe; namely, we will never have this marvelous freedom again in our entire lives. Now we have the time to find out who we are , what we want , where we’re going. And to see the world. Americans are in many ways the greatest people in the world.

I worry sometimes that I’m limiting myself too much by staying in Berlin. My point in being here is to learn German well, experience the political situation, and get a feel for the German temperament.

Berlin.Map-of-East-and-West-Germany-with-a-seprate-map-for-Berlin.theworldorbust.comjpg

Blind Power, by Lynne Koral, Part 2 of 2

17 Jun

Lynne Koral

Lynne Koral is the owner of Koraling Genius Consultants, www.koralinggenius.blogspot.com, and has lived in Anchorage, Alaska for almost 22 years. She has a Masters in Social Work and in Public Administration and Policy Analysis. Disability issues have occupied her all her life. She is blind. You can read part 1 in the prior post.

Part 2

One of the early activities I was involved in was a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy, where we read poetry and sang songs by Rob and Gretchen, folksingers who seem to have disappeared from the face of the earth. I met a lot of blind kids on school buses, at school, and in recreation programs. As blind people we began to have issues. I joined the disability-rights movement with my friends Pat and Caryn. In 1969 we formed the Blind Power Movement. We were in a recreation program through the Lighthouse (New York Association for the Blind). Later we became more aware of some of our grievances against this organization. We wrote signs such as “Bread Not Breadcrumbs” and picketed in front of the building. We were asking for education of the parents of disabled kids and better treatment as blind kids. They had rules such as we couldn’t be friends with the counselors. We felt that the rules were condescending, judgmental, and arbitrary. Also, teachers had told us we couldn’t get jobs, that we were psychologically damaged; they were  constantly assessing us with all kinds of written and psychological tests.

At a park we met a journalist who wrote a fantastic article in the Village Voice about our group and our goals; it was reprinted in the Braille Monitor, the paper of the National Federation of the Blind. They only reprinted the article because they wanted us to be subsumed under their group and not go off on our own. [Note: I unearthed this Village Voice article from 1970 called “Rallying of the Blinks in a (Short-) Sighted City” by F. Joseph Spieler. Look for it in the next blog post. Ed.]

Caryn and I played violin, and I played piano too. Pat, Caryn, and I formed a musical group called “The Peace Sign.” We sang original songs.

In 1972 there was a class of kung fu for six blind students, taught by Ron Rosen, who wanted to prove that blind kids could do this. He taught us how to use our other senses. I enjoyed the discipline.

I also took a childcare class for infants. One of the Braille teachers taught a class in her home for five or six of us including Pat, Caryn, and David, my boyfriend. We wanted to be as normal as anyone else so we jumped at the chance to take this class.

In 1973 I went to Europe with David, who would later become the father of my baby. He was also blind. We were gone for 3 ½ weeks. Upon arriving in Amsterdam, we stayed at a youth hostel. We got lost and met a journalist named Ronald Sweering. He introduced us to other people, and we stayed at his house for a day or two.

We also visited the guide-dog school there. We met other blind people at an agency for the blind and visited their library. It was at that time that I realized that the Nederländers were more advanced in their equipment for the blind than the U.S. was, and they had accessible (to the blind) guilder notes; i.e., the notes had embossed dots on them. It was awesome! Traveling is so much fun because you get an enlarged view of the world. For example, you see that the U.S. is not the best country in the world in every way. I got to experience food I’d never eaten before like couscous. We tried all their food such as brotje (a little sandwich). It surprised us that they ate dinner at 10 pm in the summer.

The Watergate Hearings were going on at the time. We were able to get impressions about John Dean and Jeb McGruder9 from people from around the world who were staying at the youth hostel.  I remember sitting in the youth hostel and listening to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

Watergate figures

The Anne Frank house was impressive. The steps were so narrow, you had to put your feet sideways. In Holland we got a sense of how empty some places were because of the effects of World War II and the German occupation. The aura was so different from the U.S. Just walking on the cobblestone streets, there was a sense of the difference of it all.

Anne Frank house

Anne Frank house

On the tram we held onto the leather hand stirrups. We had large framed backpacks which turned out to be a mistake because we couldn’t hear what was behind us. We hung out with other visually impaired. When we were at Ronald’s house we met other Nederländers who were smoking pot—legally.

Then we went to Paris and England. We met and stayed with people in both places. It was the first time I had gone through customs, and we flew first class on KLM for $223 round trip. We brought tulips and chocolate back with us. I loved this trip. I regret that I haven’t done more traveling abroad although I’ve certainly done my share of domestic travel..

in 1973, a while after we arrived home,  I moved in with David, and we were together for two and a half years. We were young and idealistic. Neither of us wanted to get married; it was bourgeois, we thought. We listened to a lot of Latin American and Puerto Rican music. I got pregnant sometime in March of the same year. I was determined to read everything I could about pregnancy and childbirth. With my Optacon (optical to tactile converter) I read “Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth” by Elisabeth Bing, and of course  I read Dr. Spock.

Optacon

I never liked milk but was drinking two to three classes a day. I learned about Lamaze and the Bradley Method11, rooming in (where the baby stays with the mother). My parents wanted me to have an abortion; they were afraid they would have to raise my child. Not so!

I loved being pregnant, partly because I was warm all winter. The baby’s first kick from inside the womb was a thrilling experience. I was in two improvisational theater classes while pregnant and shortly thereafter with someone who was in a feminist improvisational group called “It’s All Right to be a Woman Theater” and part of the Pennywhistlers10. I remember their music from the album “A Cool Day and Crooked Corn.”

Pennywhistlers

Pennywhistlers

PennywhistlersCoolDay

A Cool Day and Crooked Corn

It's All Right to be Woman Theater
While pregnant, I also took a jujitsu class in New York at the women’s center. There I got to know several lesbian women for the first time. That’s where I became introduced to the Radical Lesbians and Lesbian Feminist Liberation in New York in the 1970s.

During my second trimester I went to California to get my first guide dog. I also took Lamaze classes and sought out the services of a nurse midwife. I was in labor for about 36 hours, and never did get the urge to push. I was given Pitocin [to induce labor], and finally they had to break the bag of waters. I was so glad to just have a healthy baby, a son I named Dimas. They were, as usual, not sure what to do about a blind new mother. I did have rooming in. I breast fed, but Dimas was a little jaundiced at first. He grew very fast though. We had a visiting nurse service. I learned how to hold him and support his head. He breast-fed very well.

In 1977 when my son was almost three years old, David and I split up. He moved to Los Angeles and I followed so that my son would be close to his dad. But David left Los Angeles six weeks later. I didn’t want to return to New York; David and I were no longer close and he had been fooling around. So I stayed and attended LA City College. But I was depressed and lonely.  Until third grade my son was in cooperative daycare centers in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles called Playgroup and De Colores.

In the late ‘70s I took a class at Cal State Northridge on black literature. We read the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines and Roots. I was the only white person in the class.

I met my friend Caryl in 1980. “You looked like an interesting person,” she told me later. There are three types of lesbians: the born again, the life-long, and the lesbian come-latelies.  I belonged to the latter type. But I had always been attracted to women to some extent. (As well as to guys.) Throughout the 1970s, I had been somewhat confused about my sexuality.

From my experiences in the 1960s and 1970s, I learned a lot about human interaction, and about respect and dignity for all people. I never understood why certain people who themselves were disenfranchised would disenfranchise others who were different or “the other.” I am now married, but I have always been a free-spirit. I hope to keep learning and growing as the years pass on.

[Note: You can read more about these blind issues at Lynne’s blog: www.koralinggenius.blogspot.com.]

Notes

1.   John Dean served as White House Counsel to United States President Richard Nixon from 1970 until 1973. He became deeply involved in events leading up to the Watergate burglaries and the subsequent Watergate scandal cover-up. Jeb McGruder was Deputy Director of Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President who pled guilty to conspiracy and served time in a federal prison as a result of his participation in the Watergate affair. The Watergate scandal was a political scandal that occurred in the United States as a result of the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration’s attempted cover-up of its involvement. The scandal eventually led to the resignation of President Nixon. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

2.  The Pennywhistlers were an American singing group founded by folklorist and singer Ethel Raim and popular during the 1960s folk music revival. They specialized in Eastern European choral music. They toured throughout the 1960s, appearing at the Sing Out! hootenanny at Carnegie Hall, the Fox Hollow Festival, and the Mariposa Folk Festival, among others. They shared the bill with performers such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Reverend Gary Davis, Leonard Cohen, and many others. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

3.  The Bradley Method of natural childbirth, also known as “husband-coached childbirth,” is a method of natural childbirth developed in 1947 by Robert A. Bradley, M.D. (1917–98) and popularized by his book Husband-Coached Childbirth, first published in 1965. The Bradley Method emphasizes that birth is a natural process: mothers are encouraged to trust their body and focus on diet and exercise throughout pregnancy; and it teaches couples to manage labor through deep breathing and the support of a partner or labor coach. (Source: Wikipedia.org)