Tag Archives: 1960s

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.
Advertisements

How I Became a Feminist and Learned to Empower Myself, by Laurie Baumgarten

1 Feb
Laurie Baumgarten first became politically active during the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. She later taught grades K-8 for 35 years in the Berkeley schools. In the past seven years she has been active in the climate movement, working with the Sunflower Alliance in Richmond, CA, a front-line fossil fuel community. She helped develop a basic climate education curriculum for adults based on the dialogic methods of Paulo Freire, which has been used in over 30 local workshops. Her current political concern is how to incorporate a democratic decision-making structure into organizations as they build a mass movement for change.

When I came out to California in 1964 from Connecticut to go to the University of California at Berkeley, there wasn’t yet a second-wave women’s movement on campus, but obviously there were foundational things happening that I was not aware of. Betty Friedan had by then written her book, The Feminine Mystique (1963). The whole environment of growing up in the suburbs—the isolation of women there and their infantilization as wives and mothers in these isolated communities—was already giving rise to a kind of despair that she picked up on and wrote about.

At Cal I got involved in an organization called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). At that time the Berkeley chapter of SDS was doing a lot of civil-rights organizing on campus, fighting against segregation in various industries in Oakland. Things were pretty segregated in terms of hiring practices at the auto shops and restaurants, so SDS would join with the Black community and picket these establishments on the weekends. While SDS was part of the New Left, and believed in participatory democracy, it was still male-dominated. My feminism grew out of this involvement.

The women in SDS played fairly traditional roles. We were typing the leaflets, getting the refreshments together, and doing a lot of the legwork of running the organization. We would go to meetings, but it seemed that we were essentially there to be playmates for the men. Many of these male leaders were married, and their wives were taking care of the children and putting their husbands through graduate school, but the undergraduate women on campus were being “horizontally organized,” as the joke went. I wouldn’t call it sexual harassment in the way that term is used today, but we were playing a particular role with which we became increasingly uncomfortable; we felt that our own identities were invisible.

I remember one specific meeting at the beginning of a semester, in which it was suggested that the women organize a little auxiliary to bring refreshments to all the meetings. There were a few women, of course, who were not in that mode. There was Bettina Apetheker and some of the women who had played more leadership roles in the Free Speech Movement. But they were kind of masculinized in the sense that they were seen as a little bit oddball up there as women with essentially male leadership.

But I was not coming from that place; I was one of the troops. In SDS, we began realizing that there was something wrong with this picture, that we were not feeling confident in our own abilities to think through political positions within the struggles taking place in SDS. There’d be meetings with votes on various positions and a lot of us didn’t know which way to vote—we would just vote the way our boyfriends did. The roles we played as women were not as full-fledged members of SDS. This unease grew as the struggles within SDS became more intense and the factionalism, which was rampant in the organization on campus, increased.

So a group of us women on the Berkeley campus got together, as was happening all over the country in different contexts, and decided to form a women’s caucus to think through the issues together before the meetings. This was probably in ’65 or ’66. I do remember the first leaflet that we wrote. We decided to go public with it to the students on the Berkeley campus. Its title was: “Do Your Politics Change When Your Boyfriend Changes?” It continued, “If so, join the women’s caucus and let’s talk about the issues.” And so we began meeting regularly in a women’s group; there would be between ten and fifteen of us, mainly women who were active in SDS. We met at my home on what was then Grove Street. We would look at the upcoming agenda and develop our own abilities to think through the issues. We would debate, talk, and try to figure out where we stood on each issue both individually and as a group. That was my first experience with what later became known as consciousness-raising groups. As SDS grew and developed different campaigns such as the SDS Anti-Draft Union, we women stepped up more easily to leadership roles.

These small, informal, local groups were the backbone of the second-wave feminist Women’s Liberation Movement. They spread like wildfires all round the country, and eventually a women’s movement developed. We would meet and get down to the nitty-gritty of supporting each other—first of all, by reading feminist literature that was coming to the fore, and then defining issues in our lives.

After graduating from college, I became a teacher. A group of us teachers in the Bay Area who opposed the Vietnam War formed a collective called Bay Area Radical Teachers Organizing Collective or BARTOC. The group was multi-gender, and we mainly developed anti-war curriculum for our students, but we also formed as a spin-off of a women’s group to address problems we were having as working women.

I remember one meeting where we decided as a group that we were going to go home and ask our boyfriends to do the dishes. We were doing the cooking and the cleaning, and we were working. We felt we shouldn’t have to cook and do dishes at the same time: we had two jobs and they only had one job. So we decided we were going to get up the nerve to go home, sit our men down, and tell them they should do the dishes. Then we were going to report back how it went. At that time I was living with a man named Dennis. I said to him, You’re going to do the dishes from now on, and he agreed! So we all went back to the next meeting two weeks later, and everyone reported in. Some men were more cooperative than others, but at that point that struggle for the division of labor was primary.

Then there were all the issues of how we were feeling about ourselves—the self-hate, the feelings about our bodies never being good enough, no matter how skinny or how big-breasted, or whatever we were; we realized that all of us hated our bodies—they didn’t meet up to the image of what we thought a perfect body should be. So there was a lot of discussion about that, and about birth control, abortion, and other issues of female anatomy.

It took a long time of meeting in small groups for us to understand that the personal is political. That was the deep message that we were trying to get out: that what was going on in our personal lives had this political dimension, that it was a reflection of our own status in society.

There were struggles within these small “consciousness -raising” groups, of course. There were personal things that came down. Women were divided sometimes. I remember I was at one feminist meeting in which the speakers were dressed very sexily and wore high heels, and my friend said to me, Slaves. They’re dressed like slaves. So there was a lot of judgmental stuff going on, like How come you’re not wearing your overalls? There was one very painful split that happened in our BARTOC group. One woman kept suspecting that another woman in the group was having an affair with her live-in boyfriend. Everyone kept denying it: Oh, that couldn’t be, you’re just paranoid, we’re sisters and sisterhood is powerful, and it turned out that the affair was true. That was painful because sisterhood wasn’t so powerful in that group after all!

There were also political differences and struggles amongst us. There were women who wanted to liberate women only from the confines of gender restrictions. These were more liberal, more reformist women, women who identified more within the Democratic Party. And then there were feminists who were more radical and identified themselves as Marxists. They wanted to do away with the capitalist system. We were all women, but first and foremost we were young people trying to sort out our world-views.

Women like myself who were active in the New Left were fighting for equality for others, but we ourselves were not being respected. Men did not want to give us equal speaking time at rallies and would laugh when women stood up and started articulating a feminist position. It was quite a struggle to change men’s consciousness and for them to get it. And as we know from today’s revelations about sexual abuse, there is deep down in the male psyche a tremendous objectification of us as women. I don’t think all men were equally insensitive. There were clearly some who got it, as Frederick Douglas had in the early suffragette movement when he attended the first women’s convention at Seneca Falls. But most men didn’t—then or now. Even ones who were considered “heavies” in the movement—I mean, some of the most respected of the leftist men, building the student movement, building the anti-war movement at the time, building the Black Power Movement—still didn’t grasp the nature of sexism.

In the early ’70s, I was living in San Francisco with a man who was an activist and with whom I had previously worked on The Movement newspaper, a national SNCC/ SDS paper [SNCC was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee]. I’d been living with him for nine years and had helped raise his child from a previous marriage since the age of two. I began to realize that this relationship was feeling more and more oppressive to me. I was tolerating a lack of closeness and respect that I did not want to live with anymore. I wanted to break free from patriarchal dynamics. My two closest friends in San Francisco, who also lived with well-known movement men (one had actually written a book on the family and became well-known for it), were also breaking up. The men weren’t getting it, they weren’t changing. Maybe they were changing at an intellectual level, but not in their personal lives.

There was progress around some of the division of labor issues, but at a deeper emotional level, the men could not grasp something about our interior landscapes and who we were as full human beings—that was, and still is, very difficult for many males. Even if they agreed to do the dishes or share some of the childcare, we were still objects for their pleasure or their needs. We were still supposed to look and act certain ways, be subservient in certain ways. That was certainly true in my relationship, and I wanted to break free from all that. A huge part of my coming into my own was in leaving this guy, whom I had greatly looked up to as an influential leftist. I had gotten some vicarious kudos from being with him. We’d been in study groups together, and he had a certain gravitas because of the role he’d played in the movement. But it was oppressive. I felt stupid, depressed, and self-hating most of the time.

I think I stayed in the relationship so long because in some basic way it imitated the family I grew up in. My mother had internalized a lot of self-hate, too. She wasn’t allowed to fully express who she was. She was supposed to just take care of those kids and get the food on the table. There was a whole artistic side to her which she never got a chance to develop.

It is always painful to break up, and even though I had made up my mind to do it, I felt like I was losing my family, my home and my security. The day I moved out from the our house into a tiny apartment, I said goodbye in the morning. The Black Muslims had a moving service; they were supposed to come and move me. I wanted to be out before 4 o’clock. (He was working in the steel mills and his shift ended about then.) It was getting later and later and the moving truck had still not arrived so I called my friend and said, What am I going to do? And she said, Call them up and tell them they have to get the truck there because your boyfriend threatened to beat you up if you were still there when he got home. So I called them.

Oh, lady, they said, we’ll be right there. Our truck broke down in Oakland; we’re going to get you another one and have you out of there by 3:30. I guess they didn’t want to be responsible for my getting beat up.

So I moved out. That night I had this dream of moving from a dark room into a room full of light and sun. It was sort of a “power dream” about being liberated from the confines of this traditional relationship. That dream kept me from going back. It was so clear when I woke up in the morning.

That dream set me on the path to emotional independence just as my teaching credential had given me my own paycheck. I had freed myself from this oppressive relationship, and I began putting myself at the center of my own life. I would be alone and without a partner for many years, but I became a committed activist. I started writing poetry and reading more feminist literature. I studied tai chi daily, and I built a social network of friends I hold dear to this day. I felt as if the cellophane I’d been wrapped up in all my life was being peeled off. I could finally breathe.

I started linking up with other feminists in San Francisco. I became a good friend of Judy Brady (Syfers) who had written her famous “Why I Want a Wife,” the iconic piece that was first published by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and then later included in the anthology Sisterhood is Powerful. She realized that even though she was married to a leftist, she was cooking and cleaning and sexing and raising the children and chauffeuring and doing all the things that she wished she had a wife to do for her. I also met and became good friends with a woman named Chude Pam Allen, who had written a book called Free Space in which she advocated the strategy of consciousness- raising in small groups. She was the editor of the newspaper for an organization called Union W.A.G.E. which when I joined the group organized working class women into unions and focused on women in construction trades and on downtown clerical workers.

The group had been around for awhile, and many of the younger women in that group like Chude and me wanted to broaden the issues to bring a feminist consciousness into the organization. We wanted to raise issues about the structure of the family, about parenting and marriage, about the role of teachers and nurses. The organization became very divided over how broad or how narrow its focus should be. For example, the gay and lesbian movement was emerging, and some of the women in the construction trades were lesbians and wanted Union W.A.G.E. to essentially be a single-issue organization which would support them in becoming unionized and gaining equality with the men in the trades.

There were also issues with the African-American women with whom we were becoming connected through an African-American social worker and psychotherapist on the East Coast named Patricia Robinson. She had been a founding member in 1960 of the seminal Mount Vernon/New Rochelle women’s group composed of poor and working class Black women—often single mothers—who had published their important work called Lessons From the Damned about class struggle in the Black Community. Through Pat we began to anonymously share across ethnic and class differences the letters and essays and poems that we were all writing to our fathers and brothers and husbands and sons as we struggled to understand how the patriarchy was coming down in our lives. Chude, as editor, turned over one issue of the newspaper to the Black sisters of New York to have as a voice for themselves. Many of us supported that move. But some of the trade-unionist and narrowly- focused women were furious that Chude would give over the editorial control of our newspaper to a group of outsiders. Eventually Union W.A.G.E. fell apart over these conflicts after decades of a long and reliable history. Lots of things were coming to an end. Organizations come and go.

The group of us in W.A.G.E., who were trying to build a broader base in San Francisco formed a readers’ theatre called Women’s Words. Women’s Words put together readings in coffee houses based on the poems and letters we were all sharing. We would speak the words of women confronting their families about how they felt. We often included excerpts from earlier struggles, from women fighting in the Labor and Suffragist Movements. These readings flowed back and forth from highly personal stories to deeply impassioned, political narratives.

Pat Robinson was an early Marxist feminist and had been connected with Chude through Chude’s first husband, Robert Allen, the editor of The Black Scholar. Pat was helping women, including myself, deal with how we negotiate, how we function in this patriarchal world that we find ourselves in, in terms of being married or not, having children, working for a living, etc. We would talk to her on the phone, visit with her when we were back East and write her letters, and she would respond as a clear-thinking mentor and therapist.

Finally I confronted my father personally. Robinson felt that if your father were still alive, you had the opportunity to confront him directly. To stand up and own yourself to your father was one way to move beyond that internalization of the patriarchy that we had acquired growing up. So I felt the need to confront my father after an incident at work in which I had been intimidated by my boss.

I was a fifth-grade teacher in the Berkeley public schools, and I was being called on the carpet for not using the mandated spelling program. It’s absurd when I think back on that stupid program that they were using for spelling. It just wasn’t right linguistically; it made no sense. It was some kind of fad that had gotten sold to the district. I refused to use this program so I was considered insubordinate. I knew there was another teacher at the school who was highly respectedyears earlier she’d been my master teacher—and I said that she wasn’t using it, either, thinking I could gain a little bit of “cred” using her name. Immediately I realized that I had done a terrible thing by mentioning her. I felt horrible and ashamed. I went home and wrote to Pat, saying, Oh my god, what was this about, and how could I do something like that?

And I realized it was my fear of authority, my fear of getting in trouble, and that in some way my intimidation dated back to my fear of my father, who had been an authoritarian, and that I had grown up and still was frightened of him. He was passive-aggressive, but still he was a well-meaning man. He was born in the U.S. to a poor, German-Jewish immigrant family. His father had been a roofer. He grew up in the Bronx, worked his way up by going to night school, and became a lawyer. After marrying my mother, he moved his family to the suburbs because he wanted his children to grow up in fresh air. He worked very hard, was never a wealthy man, but his home in Connecticut was his castle, and he was proud of his upward mobility. I had always been intimidated by him.

Through my work with Pat, I came to believe that my intimidation of the principal had to do with this internalization of the patriarchy through my father. Pat was working with women in the movement who were struggling to stand up to the system, to stand up to the “Man”—the internalized Man and the real Man. How do we find the strength and the power within ourselves? For women that often meant taking on the father figure.

So I wrote a letter to my father. I said I thought he had been fascistic towards me growing up. And he had been in the sense that I was scared, and he used to yell at me and make me feel I didn’t have freedom to be myself or express how I was feeling. He was controlling. He was that way with my older sister, too, but I think I was more of a rebel at home than she was, and so I somehow triggered more of an authoritarian response. I had been the easier scapegoat for his anger, as I did not look like or sound like the successfully and fully assimilated Jew. He disapproved of my friends and the type of bohemian crowd I was drawn to. He tried to keep me from seeing these friends, and there was no way to talk through or negotiate our conflicts. So I wrote him this letter where I told him I’d been frightened of him, he’d been oppressive, that he hadn’t considered my feelings.

My mom was kind of his lieutenant. She went along with his ultimatums and did not defend me. She was a typical housewife. I’ve come to understand her strengths and skills, but she was basically a suburban housewife, and of course her livelihood was through his paycheck. He would dole out an allowance, from which she had to manage the household. She didn’t have her own paycheck, which immediately puts a women at a terrible disadvantage. By the time I confronted my father, I was earning my own living. I didn’t want to “be like my mother” and be dependent on a man, so I was happy when I became a teacher and got my own job. It was such a relief to know I could support myself in the world and would never have to be dependent on my father or on a husband.

My father was furious with my critical letter. For two years he didn’t speak to me. He was hurt that I called him a fascist, which was the worst name you could call someone who was Jewish. I regret it now and realize I could have toned it down a little. Finally he did speak to me again. I went home to visit at one point but the confrontation continued because something I said triggered a furious reaction, and he started screaming at me, and I said, don’t you ever scream at me like that again. Fuck off. He picked up a chair!

He had never hit me—my mother did some of that—but he picked up a chair and came at me. He was so enraged that I’d stand up to him in that way, and I just looked at him. He stopped, and—this was a most embarrassing moment—he got down on the floor and started kicking and screaming like an infant! I couldn’t believe it! My mother came running into the living room and said, What have you done to your father? What have you done to your father?

Now my father was a dignified man, a well-respected lawyer; he was on the school board, he was brilliant, had worked his way up by getting all the awards from the public schools in New York, and now he was down on the floor. A shift occurred in me when I saw that. He was internally dethroned. I began seeing him as a kind of vulnerable human being who’d suffered a lot of anti-Semitism, a lot of pain in his family; he was a traumatized individual, who had worked his butt off for his kids. His masculine power was a bubble that had burst. It was a paper tiger. The next day he was driving me to the airport to return to California, and it was strange but I do remember this kind of opening in my heart toward him, and I think I felt love for him for the first time. I felt a softness toward him that I’d never felt before because I’d been so frightened of him. You can’t love somebody in a deep way if you are scared of them. This confrontation of our parents and confronting the male authority that we had so internalized was part of the process that many of us were going through to become stronger, more liberated, for ourselves and for our children. We had been inculcated with patriarchal and hierarchical power relationships in our childhoods that had left us feeling helpless, and we were determined to overcome them.

I eventually moved back to Berkeley and got involved in the anti-nuclear struggle with the Abalone Alliance. This state-wide network organized a massive civil disobedience of Livermore Lab with 1600 arrestees. It relied on small affinity groups and feminist process. And when I went to jail with my comrades, I never thought for a minute about whether my father would approve or not!

 

Laurie and her husband Michael today

Circa ’69, by Seven Dhar

6 Aug

 
Seven Dhar seeks to push the limits of language, East and West, performing in Sanskrit and Gaelic, Spanish and the awed tongue of mystics; Buddhist, yogi with SoCal Native American roots; graduate of UC Berkeley and UCLA, who also studied at Oxford and Yale. Among many other accomplishments, he was a Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2015 winner of the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival chapbook contest. Seven is a poet from a bygone era enmeshed in our own, who combines the excesses of the Western canon with Buddhist, yogic, and Sanskrit sensibilities, Spanish revelry, urban shamanism, and playful mysticism.

*Read much more of Seven’s philosophy and accomplishments at the end of this blog post.

 

We left Twentynine Palms in the life of summer, headed toward the distant smoke signal L.A. under low flickering skies that turned black and exploded and cleared just long enough for us to realize we had yet to turn the ignition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We sat stationed on the shoulder as the road moved — the wind whipping our faces, crackling across the desert, kicking up grit and scented straw in the wake of the semi speeding by, its bowels a holocaust of cows.

The wind turned a mill in the valley, a pinwheel, iridescent and wobbling — Play-Doh comic peel, mirror images funhouse distorted, ourselves in ink, lifted and warped.

The driver turned, his eyes drooping, to ask: “What do you want them to say about you at your funeral?”

“Start the car.”

“‘Start the car‘?” he echoed.

“Yes, start it. Crank it. I’ll tell you about my funeral when we’re on our way.”

He shifted, lurching forward, unaccustomed to working the gears in an altered state.

 

 

 

 

 

The cat in the catapult, Freedom the Hitchhiker, piped up from the back seat. Our passenger, a nimble wildflower picked at the edge of Joshua Tree National Monument, had provided the day’s sustenance. (We should’ve asked what it was before chasing it with the last of the Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill). “At my funeral,” she enthused, “I want them to say, ‘She was kind. And beautiful! She lived fast, died young, and left behind a most gorgeous corpse'” then purred with satisfaction until she giggled.

 


 

 

The driver coached the stick into fifth as he announced, “As for me, I want them to say, ‘He was wise. Look how long he lived! The last survivor, gentleman-scholar, who left an exhausted cadaver, well worn with the good use of years.'”

We dodged a gauntlet of trucks, then fell behind a battalion of reinforced American models. Eyes leered from windshields quizzically poring over us in our convertible, the contents of which were now being jettisoned and scattering across the highway in our wake.  

“What about you?” the driver nudged.

“What? Those papers? Who needs them?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

            
                 Drawing by Ralph Steadman

“No, no, what do you want them to say about you at your funeral?”

I paused — as if thinking a great deal, but there was no thinking, only a swirl of throbbing tail lights as brilliant as the velvet lining of my future coffin.

What Freedom had against those typed pages, we only discover when we reach the angelic City of the Lost under haze, empty manuscript folder in hand. Until then I have to content myself to guess, never imagining it has anything to do with the leather-bound star in her purse: “The title,” I intuit, “that must be it! Its angular, irregular lines contorting, growing awful in the Etch A Sketch of a mind lost.”

“That manuscript, after all,” she would later explain, “was a typed confession, a litany of aberrant exploits that could land someone in a lot of trouble.”

It’s hard to imagine the Merry Prankster more than glanced at anything beyond the title-page before reacting, artful dodger, careless litterer, who saved us on our trek across the desert.

“Well?!” they asked.

“Well what?”

“What do you want them to say,” Freedom inquired.

                                                  “About you — at your funeral?” the driver added.

Freedom leaned forward as if to stand, ready to step over the sofa-seat and join us as we swerved across lanes. A sudden burst of acceleration held her back. She instead settled her head on the back rest askew, leered at me with pupils as large as mirage pools of oozing asphalt slick with the sheen of searing heat across them.

They stared, no attention giving to the road, they stared, no time for time its arm beating on, they stared, mouths agape, eaglets in an eagle’s nest about to be raided.

“Well?!!” they insisted.

“I want them to say…” I swallowed to clear my throat, dry with wit so wry to utter, “I want them to say, ‘Look, he’s moving!'”

Then came the sirens like wailing desert birds. We sat up, pushed bottles and other incriminating evidence beneath the seat with our heels. Freedom vaulted as we came to the shoulder — the flicker of a purse strap like a lash behind her — showed the trooper something, and in no time we were on our way again.

 

Drawing by Ralph Steadman

*More about Seven Dhar:

Seven believes that “If your mother informs you you’re part Irish, you had better live up to some form of Gaelic lyricism and merge it with the playful wonderment of Lewis Carroll while remaining true to your indigenous Southern California (Tongva/Kizh) roots, capital of this neck of the universe.” It’s not enough to emulate Shakespeare, Coleridge, or Poe, but we laud our forebears best when we laud them loudly or at least a bit ironically. Crisscrossing Europe and Asia in search of a voice is no way to live — sage, minstrel, piper Seven discovered. Thus have I heard: words alone are likely to survive. Whether studying at Berkeley or UCLA, Oxford or Yale, it comes down to this: There may be many heres, but there’s only one now. So what does it really mean to explore the possibilities of language?From the Himalayas down to the plains, from the planes up into space, from space back down to Earth by way of Mt. Sumeru, arriving where no one knew words could reach — the transcendent in the decadent, enlightenment in the Age of Kali.

Seven Dhar was also winner of the 2015 Emerging Urban PoetsSan Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly Chapbook Contest; 2015 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival Broadside Contest; both Los Angeles Poet Societys 2015 National Womens Month Poetry Contests (lapoetsociety.org). Published in various anthologies: The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles (tiachucha.org); Altadena Poetry Review (Editor Thelma Reyna, Altadena Library); San Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly, Spectrum (Editor Don Kingfisher Campbell); The Border Crossed Us (Vagabond Books); Yay! LA Literary Magazine (yaylamag.com); The Stone Bird (Eagle Rock Branch Library, LAPL); LAWS Review (Los Angeles Word Salon); Poetry & Cookies; Heartbreak Anthology I and II (Editor Karineh Mahdessian, La Palabra, Avenue 50 Studio); Hometown Pasadena (hometown-pasadena.com). He is a featured reader at many venues across the county and beyond including Pasadena LitFest, L.A. Lit Crawl (NoHo), and the L.A. Shakespeare Fest (Celebrity Centre, Hollywood). He is the recipient of various and sundry academic distinctions.

A Trip to Remember, by Sandra Maxwell

4 Aug

Author, historian and teacher, Sandra Maxwell has spent her life attempting to understand the human condition. Urged by many of her teachers to either teach or write, Sandra chose writing because it puts into one place all of the elements she is interested in. She can study history, explore human behavior, and teach — all at the same time.  She lives happily with her husband Robert in a Victorian cottage and gardens in Southern California called “The Havens.”

 

Late in 1969, my writing partner and best friend Lucy and I were heading back to Los Angeles from Illinois. We had stolen a few days to go back home to visit family, but a meeting with the story editor of a TV show made us hurry back.

Lucy’s parents had given her a brand new Dodge van. It replaced the rather unreliable Chevy Malibu we’d been driving. The van had a snub nose with the engine mounted between the front seats. It took a while to get used to not having a front end, and I always put my foot on the fantasy brake on the passenger side whenever Lucy pulled up behind another vehicle.

Everything was perfect except for one fact. Illinois had failed to get us our license plates in time for our trip. Some mix-up in Springfield. Lucy called them to find out what to do since we couldn’t afford to miss our appointment. Illinois said not to worry, just keep all the papers proving she owned the van. If we were stopped, they would check with Illinois to verify we actually did have plates coming. It would all be fine.

As we drove back to LA, we discussed ways to make the van more comfortable, what to do with all the space in the back, should we go science fiction, maybe cushions on the cold steel floor, or keep it practical? Lucy decided we should call the van “Critter.” Seemed reasonable to me.

On a Sunday afternoon we pulled into Tulsa, Oklahoma. Suddenly the engine began to make horrible noises. Lucy pulled over at the nearest exit. That’s when I noticed the state patrol car following and exiting with us.

I opened the glove compartment. “We have the State Patrol behind us. I’ll take care of this while you see about the van.” I pulled out all the paperwork, confident that at least one problem would be easily solved as we pulled into a gas station. It was the van’s engine that worried me.

Now, you need to know that Lucy and I did not look like hippies. We kept our hair styled, used makeup when we went to meetings and wore business clothes to the studios. For the drive we were wearing jeans and blouses. Our hair was a bit windblown and there was no reason to wear makeup, but no long hair, no leather fringe, no beads, no large sunglasses. Those items were back in LA.

I barely glanced at the patrolman as he walked up to the van window, but the moment I handed him the paperwork, I noticed his demeanor. His small, wiry stature bristled with anger. He had short red hair, and his blue eyes glared at me as I explained what Illinois had told us to do under the circumstances. He snatched the papers from me and went back to his car. I still felt confident that things would work out and waited for Lucy to return. She was gone for an uncomfortable amount of time and the state policeman was still in his patrol car. I began to worry that we could be stuck here while the van was being fixed.

Last June I had seen “Easy Rider,” and visions of shotguns and murderous mayhem flew through my mind. Memories of the Freedom Riders who were jailed or murdered in the early 60s haunted me. Young people were still mysteriously disappearing in the South. I jumped when Lucy opened the van door and vaulted into the driver’s seat.

It’s Sunday. No mechanic but the guy in the gas station said it sounded like we’ve blown some seals in the engine.”

What can we do? We can’t stay here. We’ll miss our meeting.”

He said we could buy oil, water and transmission fluid and just keep everything filled until we can get it fixed. It’s still under warranty.” Lucy reached for the key.

Wait. The state trooper still has our paperwork. He’s been back there all the time you were gone.”

Lucy gave me a puzzled look. I shrugged. We waited. My imagination brought even more horrifying pictures of people disappearing on the highways. We were two young girls, easy targets. I tried to rationalize: This was Oklahoma, not the Deep South.

I looked around when I heard a car door slam. I almost laughed in spite of the horrors my mind had unearthed. The patrolman hiked his pants and marched toward our van on slightly bowed legs. He struck me as the stereotype you’d see in bad TV shows that made fun of Southern lawmen. I bit my lip and kept a straight face.

He came up to the window on Lucy’s side and glared at us. “I tried to get you on Oklahoma law, but I couldn’t,” he drawled. “So I tried to get you on Illinois law, but I couldn’t.” He took a deep breath. “But if you’re not out of the state of Oklahoma by midnight, I’ll get ya for something.” He threw our papers at Lucy and stomped back to his patrol car.

Lucy handed me the papers to put back in the glove box. “Were we just in a bad movie or was that for real?” she chuckled.

Thing is, we can’t risk not taking him seriously. He has all our information and could track us the entire way. Maybe send any of his buddies out to get us.”

Lucy groaned, “I’ll get some oil and transmission fluid here. Let’s fill up on water, too. We can stop for more as we go.”

We took off for the Oklahoma border and kept below the speed limit. Every time something rattled in the engine, I raised the lid beside me and poured in the appropriate liquid. We were out of the state just before midnight and made it all the way to LA like that. At a Dodge Dealer we got things fixed on the warranty. Critter lived to be over ten years old before we had to put him down.

I’m actually proud I was thrown out of the State of Oklahoma. Seems a fitting tribute to the life and times of young people trying to make their way through the sixties and seventies. I do realize how lucky we were now that I look back, and my youthful view that nothing bad could really happen is gone. But I still smile at the image of the little red-headed, cock-sure, bowlegged patrolman strutting up to our van to threaten two young “hippies” from the North who had to be there with trouble on their minds, no doubt about it. All he accomplished was to make me fight harder against mindless prejudice in days to come. I’m still fighting even now.

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.

Meeting Tupolev at Pugwash, by Mira N. Mataric

16 Jul

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.

 

September 1963, Belgrade, in the now non-existent Yugoslavia. Clear, sunny autumn day. I am on the bus, filled to capacity, standing, not having to worry that I may fall—there is nowhere to fall. We are like sardines in a can transported to our daily work. Finally, the bus stops at the most beautiful and famous spot, Kalemegdan Park with a Fortress on the high hill and a view of the two rivers’ magnificent confluence. The Sava flows all the way from Slovenia and joins the Danube, the second longest European river after “Mother Volga” (as it’s called by Russians). The Danube comes from the Black Forest in Germany. By the time it pours its waters into the Black Sea, it passes through nine countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine, and through four capital cities: Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Czekia), Budapest(Hungary) and Belgrade (Serbia). The Danube is 2,860 km long (1,780 miles) when it finally, at the widespread delta, mixes its water with the salty water of the Black Sea.

Every inch of soil and water here is pure history and old culture, from the Neolithic era of Vinča (near Belgrade), to Roman, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, all worth studying through the plentiful archeological findings. To this day, valuable remains are found unexpectedly during the building of new sites.

I am one of young librarians, proud to work here during the re-birth of a new National Library of Serbia, whose staff in the past involved famous writers and intellectuals. The old building of the Library is at the end of Knez Mihailova (Prince Michael’s) Street (lovingly known as the Bond Street of Belgrade). The street is filled with ornate 19th century edifices, museums, galleries, the Serbian Academy of Science, elegant stores and famous restaurants, some with a long history, like this one, once a fine restaurant and night club, facing Kalemegdan Park. Its popularity included the fact that the King of Serbia used to play chess and billiards there. Now it is the National Library of Serbia but we hope that is only temporary. The original Library was burned and leveled in the merciless bombings announcing the beginning of the German “Blitz Krieg” invasion of Yugoslavia on Easter morning of April 1942.

At work an unusual surprise waits for me. The director of the Library, Čedomir Minderović 1, calls me to his office. He is a renowned writer and poet, ex-diplomat, in his youth a partisan fighter during the Second World War.

I sometimes write his business letters in English (though he speaks good English). He usually gallantly adds, “You will do it better than I,” then spends time talking about literature, which we both prefer doing. I actually enjoy writing letters to the Library of Congress, British Museum Library, Bibliotheque National in Paris, and others. Now he is sending me, as a translator of English and Russian, to Dubrovnik for the International Pugwash Conference on the Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy.

Dubrovnik?! One of the most beautiful historical Mediterranean cities and year- round, prime international resort. Wow! The President of Yugoslavia, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, has a villa there. Like other people, there I enjoy summer vacations with my family. Pleasant memories of the Adriatic Sea with its clear waters ranging from azure to turquoise to deep navy blue, transparent for over 45 meters in depth immediately surface.  The romantic Mediterranean nights filled with cicada-symphonies and lavender fragrance splash over me in waves.

But atoms? What do I know about atoms except small size and big power? I am not an expert in that field. I can translate literature on the spot, any time, but for speeches and papers of internationally renowned scientists and engineers, my brother would have been a much better choice.

I try to explain it to the director, but he knows it already. His wife is also a translator and interpreter of English. With a friendly smile, he tells me: “I know you will do your best. That will be enough.” That calms me temporarily. I love challenges. He wishes me a good trip and I go back to my room planning what I need to pack.

Now in Dubrovnik, greeted with mild September sunshine, I confirm that the Sea is cold and no one swimming. Hotels are filled with participants of the Pugwash Conference. That’s why they are here. You too, I remind myself.

In a tiny cubicle, a cell useless for anything but focusing on atoms in two languages, none of which is my mother tongue, I am hot, my head hotter and after a while aching. Who ever thought this was an easy job? My colleagues in the Library now envy me. I am in Dubrovnik, they at work. We forget, things are not what they seem to be.

At the end of the day, tired and numb, we gather at a common table for dinner and a friendly chat. I am sitting next to a short, chunky man, far from young yet looking strong like a hippopotamus. He smiles and introduces himself, but I am barely listening. I do that often, then during the conversation regret but dare not ask again for the name. Tonight, all I want is to go to bed. Suddenly, I turn to him ”Tupolev2 ? Did you say Tupolev? “I cannot believe it. My brother and his colleagues, aeronautical engineers, pronounce his name with respect like Nikola Tesla’s.3.  This is the most famous Soviet aircraft designer and a high officer in the Air Force!

Now I regret not knowing at least something about him. All I can do is smile my noncommittal smile and listen more carefully from now on. I feel like a ditzy blond smiling because it’s all she knows how to do.

Luckily, he is not even mentioning airplanes or atomic energy; he’s chatting about things that interest me too. What a man—a gentleman, in fact. He is more than double and plus my age but has energy and good manners to entertain a woman whom he knows he will never see again.

Now I notice more. There is another, tall, slender, good looking man, thirtyish or so, standing close to him. They came together, but this man does not sit with us, or talk to anyone. He just stands like a post, a statue. Very strange.

First, I talk to Tupolev in English but change to Russian as soon as I realize who he is. He answers brilliantly in both languages. When I drop in a Serbian word here and there, he understands. I am impressed. He is making this evening comfortable and relaxing, instead of my doing it for him, as a guest. This other man is just here, not really looking as if he hears or understands. Like a portrait. His face stays the same. Expressionless. I wonder, would he change expression if I pulled his nose? Would he smile, laugh, be surprised, participate, be with us?

He has to be a Russian. An outstandingly good-looking man. I do not want to say that he is a waste of good material, yet Russians usually like to talk, sing, even dance Kozachok4 if you ask them—especially if they drink first. I would prefer to sing, maybe Podmoskovskie vechera, Ryabinushka or Ochi Chornie. I believe all of the people around us, tired and just eating, would sing at least E-ey uhnyem, which is almost an international expression of hard toil and working together. Music is an international language, like numbers—we could all be happy together before we go back to our rooms and never see each other again.

I am not happy with myself. Tupolev was so nice with me. I could not reciprocate on his level. I wish my brother were here. They would have enjoyed talking about airplanes, propulsions, and such. The dinner is finished and I will never see this fine man again. Famous people are usually so full of themselves they do not notice anything else. Not pleasant to others at all. This man designs airplanes. For him the skies are not too big, too high or unknown. What a perspective!

But we get up, smile and leave with a few nice words. The two Russians leave together.

But, oh, it is not the end yet! More surprises tonight! Their room is next to mine! What a coincidence, I think. Then, finally in bed, I sink into a deep sleep.

Early, too early, in the morning, something strange wakes me up. Muted and hushed but active. In the room next to mine. Scraping little sounds and dull thumps like a body pulled on the floor. It is not stopping, but becoming stronger and stronger. I am listening and all the dark movies I have ever seen come to mind. What are those strange sounds—and why so hushed? I do not like it. It is not stopping. I cannot take it anymore. Should I call the desk or the Police? Better to apologize for a silly mistake than regret not calling before it is too late. Hamlet’s tragic flaw was thinking too much, not acting enough. I will call now.

Just a second  for a quick look from the balcony outside. The Sea is quiet. Nobody around. It is still dark and everybody asleep. But, oh, down there, two dim silhouettes come out from the hotel and quickly run to the Sea: one short and stocky, the other tall and slim. They jump into the water and swim together as fast as possible. Where? They swim and swim, fast, becoming smaller and smaller in the cold early morning, until they reach the open sea where big ships pass. I remember, sharks always follow them, their tails sharp like an always ready guillotine because the ships throw a lot of food overboard, a real feast for all of them.

The two swimmers now are two tiny needle heads far, far away. They don’t seem to be afraid. Are they unaware of the sharks? Have they seen them, as I have, always following ships with a good reason? They better start swimming back soon. Such a huge distance will take some time. It is not safe. However, I cannot believe how strong and fit they are. One of them is not young at all. How do they do it? What gives them such energy?

Then,  it dawns on me. Yoga. The hushed noise in the room, exercise with chairs, deep breathing, movements on the floor. That is why they can run and swim fast and the water is not cold for them. That is why Tupolev’s age does not stop him from enjoying a full life. What a lesson!

I never saw them again. Andrei Tupolev died in Moscow, December 23, 1972. His bodyguard is now old if still alive. I am a not-that-young, ridiculously naïve girl myself, but old as Tupolev then, but without his greatness and fame.

The world has changed, too. Soviet Union is Russia and there is no Yugoslavia. I live in the Serbian diaspora in the U.S.A. My memories are my capital and I am rich with them.

 

NOTES AND PHOTOGRAPHS

  1. Čedomir Minderović (Belgrade 1912) , a revolutionary poet and fighter against fascism, imprisoned and tortured as a high school student at age 18,  as a “danger to the State” in 1930. Wrote diaries about his life with the partisans during WWII and revolutionary poems that became popular hymns (after  1945). After the war he became a popular poet and writer, Yugoslav diplomat in India, and Director of the National Library of Serbia until his death in India in 1966. Here Minderovic is with Indian writer Amrita Pritam (1919-2005

 

  1.  “Andrei Nikolayevich Tupolev (Russian: Андрей Николаевич Туполев; November 10, 1888 – December 23, 1972) was a pioneering Soviet aircraft designer.

“During his career, he designed and oversaw the design of more than 100 types of aircraft, some of which set 78 world records.

“In 1911, Tupolev was accused of taking part in revolutionary activities, including demonstrations and distribution of subversive literature, and was arrested. He was later released on condition that he return to his family home in Pustomazovo and was only allowed to return to IMTU in 1914. He completed his studies in 1918 and was awarded the degree of Engineer-Mechanic when he presented his thesis on the development of seaplanes.

“On October 21, 1937, Tupolev was arrested together with Vladimir Petlyakov and the entire directorate of the TsAGI and EDO on trumped up charges of sabotage, espionage and of aiding the Russian Fascist Party. Many of his colleagues were executed. In 1939, Tupolev was moved from a prison to an NKVD sharashka for aircraft designers in Bolshevo near Moscow, where many ex-TsAGI people had already been sent to work. The sharashka soon moved to Moscow and was dubbed “Tupolevka” after its most eminent inmate. Tupolev was tried and convicted in 1940 with a ten-year sentence. During this time he developed the Tupolev Tu-2,[6] He was released in July 1941 “to conduct important defence work.” (He was not rehabilitated fully until two years after Joseph Stalin‘s death in 1953.)

“Tupolev headed the major project of reverse engineering the American Boeing B-29 strategic bomber, which was the world’s first nuclear delivery platform.

“By the time of his rehabilitation in 1955, Tupolev had designed and was about to start testing his unique turboprop strategic bomber, the Tu-95.

“At about the same time, Tupolev introduced into service the world’s second jet airliner, the Tu-104. The aeroplane was the first jet transport to stay in uninterrupted service.

“After Khruschev’s removal from office in late 1964, the ageing Tupolev gradually lost positions at the centres of power to rivals.” [Source: Wikipedia]

 

  1. Nikola Tesla (Serbian Cyrillic: Никола Тесла; 10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian-American[2][3][4] inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.” [Source: Wikipedia]

 

 

 

 

  1. Kozachok is a Ukrainian and Russian folk dance.

5. Erih Koš (pronounced Kosh) is the fifth from left (in a swimsuit). Vida Marković sits next to him (fourth from left). She was (Mira’s) University professor of literature. An outstanding scholar and writer, Kos was a member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts, poet, writer. They both were in the Pugwash Committee in charge of the organization. The list of all  participants is available online.

 

 

 

The text and some  notes by Mira N. Mataric aka Mirjana N. Radovanov Mataric

August 1969, a poem by G.T. Foster

1 Jun

G.T. Foster spent his childhood in the Central San Joaquin Valley. He attended U.C.R. and taught 25 years for the Los Angeles Unified School District. A Vietnam era veteran, G.T. began his exploration into poetry in the ‘60s. He is currently writing his first novel, The Butt Naked and the Been Dead, and his poetry has been published in The Pasadena Weekly, the San Gabriel Valley Quarterly, Spectrum, and the Altadena Poetry Review.

Hip to the Gyve is his chapbook, in which this poem appears.

 

                                              August 1969

 

Her Afro was so big and mini-skirt so short it was like watching Sandro

Botticelli’s Venus walk up and down Telegraph Avenue dripping wet draped

in a single sea shell while selling Little Red Books   So you watched

 

Power to the peep hole sister   Power to the people, brother

Where the broom does not reach the dust will not vanish of its own accord

Buy a Red Book and come to the meeting

Will you be there?   Right On.   Then right on then!

And before you knew you were an agent of change

Right on…right on…right now

 

But she was a demi-goddess

bound to a petite demagogue

who espoused Power to the People

but whose soul believed the masses

were irredeemably benighted asses

He argued power should rest in hands of intellectually best a small

politically correct central committee of three then promptly pronounced

himself its Leading Cadre

He loved her knot

She’d long been fully involved in the fray

Seen Bunchy Carter gunned-down at UCLA

Anti-Nixon anti-War Black Panthers Pink Panthers Brown Beret

For her and me it was philosophy and championing the common cause

Hippies Blippies Street People’s Rights and for all anti-capitalist laws

 

For him it was sheer power He’d sung,

Dialectically and materialistically I stand

following the Marxist anti-capitalist plan

of V Lenin Joe Stalin and Mao Tse Tung

His vision for a second American Revolution was dashed

by lapse of time and lame lipped excuses

for freshly disclosed Red Guard abuses

Dogmatic and adventurous strategies that clashed

with my own but more importantly too many others

who were also forward thinking sisters and brothers

 

Black Student Unions SDS  Radical Union Core

Freedom Riders SNIC and Veterans Against the War

No way!  It was an iron-on-patch too foreign to hatch

even in Babylonian Berkeley

 

But back to her or was it me at whom she flaunted sexuality

Answering the door in a sheer negligee

without bra nor pantie down under

Repeatedly toying taunting enticing

neophytic me to make political blunder

Her poised to vanquish the wandering eye

with a barrage of anti-male chauvinist thunder

 

It was sexual gratification revolution delayed

although revolutionary musical bed later played

 

Shortly after the glass-jawed movement

hit the brick wall in seventy-two

she’d had enough to tell him after two dogs

and two babies   We’re through

Truth be told he’d forced her hand

having taken a steel pipe to kill a man

 

For all legal fees and her loved one’s life

she vowed to become the barrister’s wife

Divorced her husband married his attorney

and thus did end her revolutionary journey

Occasionally seen haunting the East Bay

poor chap remains delusional to this day

He recognized and confronted me to say

I alone revolutionary remain!

Was it the truth or is he insane?

 

Was so long ago a distant Shangri La it seems

those hopes now most dust lost Utopian dreams

Chance at true social revolution never so real

as the cold hard pipe used my angry hands to kill