Tag Archives: 60s

A Day in the Park with Mary Jane, by Sandra Maxwell

30 Apr

 

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.”

 

I moved from a small town in Illinois to Los Angeles in 1968.  I was twenty, naïve to a fault and eager for adventure. I found part-time work while pursuing my real passion, writing for television.  The man I worked for was a professional writer. He encouraged me to stand up for my rights and the rights of those around me. He had marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, receiving a broken arm for his dedication to Equal Rights. He had protested against other unjust practices over the years as well.

Armed with a business card he gave me with the name of an attorney who specialized in helping unfortunate protestors who found themselves behind bars, I marched for women’s rights, against the Viet Nam war, against police brutality, and for the legalization of marijuana. Which is what this story is about. Now the saying, “If you remember the 60’s and 70’s, you weren’t really there,” is quite true. But I will nevertheless do my best to relate this little tale.

The sun was bright, the temperature pleasant — in short, another beautiful day in LA.  My husband, our friend Don, and I had spent the night passing joints and talking about the rally today for legalization of marijuana. We were tired but determined to lend our support as we arrived at the rally that was being held in a lovely park in L.A. There were to be speakers and musicians there. I don’t remember who any of them were now. I only know that many were well-known, either in the entertainment industry or as mover and shakers in the current atmosphere of protesting.  I do remember being vigilant about where to sit in case of police intervention. I again checked the leather pouch hung around my waist for that attorney’s business card.

My husband, a musician, wanted to sit close to the stage. I reminded him of the recent demonstration at Venice Beach where someone threw a bottle at a policeman. The “police intervention” from that one act led to bloody beatings and several arrests. We began to search for a tree nearer to the edge of the crowd — just in case.

Our friend, Don, had been quiet until we began our search. A veteran of Viet Nam, he had gotten addicted to amphetamines while on duty over there. All he could think of was his need. All we heard as we tried to find the best spot was how he wished he could find someone selling speed. He’d give anything for some speed. Right now!

I was getting nervous. I took my demonstrating seriously and had an inbred sense of responsibility from growing up in Illinois. All we needed was for a cop to see Don buying drugs and we’d all land in jail for sure. I looked up and took in a sharp breath. The grounds were slightly bowl-shaped and around the rim, shoulder to shoulder, stood L.A.’s finest in riot gear.

“Here! We have to sit here,” Don whispered urgently .

My husband and I turned to Don with puzzled looks.

“Just put the blanket here. I’ll explain after we sit down.”

It was a reasonable spot and under a tree, so we laid the blanket down and settled in for the rally.

Don had a goofy grin on his face as he reached under the blanket. He pulled out a small packet of “whites,” then raised his eyes to the heavens. “Thanks.” Someone had accidentally dropped his stash of speed.

I had to laugh. I couldn’t judge. I wanted to make the world a better place, not persecute people for whatever was currently thought a sin. If history taught me anything it was that perceptions of how to live, and what was wrong or right, changed over time.

Nothing happened to provoke the police that lovely day in the park. It was just a tiny moment in time that hopefully brought a smile to some faces.

It took almost three decades to see marijuana legalized. When the bill passed this last election, all I could think of was the goofy grin on Don’s face that day long ago, in the park, sitting on a blanket, waiting to sign yet another petition.

 

 

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Long-time Activist by Anonymous

10 Nov

I was born and grew up in Los Angeles, more precisely, in the South Bay, a post-WWII suburb of mainly aerospace workers—the “white collar” of the “blue collar” workers who strongly identified with the patriotically conservative, non-political, hysterically anti-communist 1950’s “Leave It to Beaver” image of a white picket fence, two-car garage America.  My parents were the absolute antithesis: children of Communists who grew up in the depression and the radical ‘30s.  Although my schools were racially mixed, my little neighborhood was Caucasian, except for the family of a Mexican-American doctor who, at any rate, lived in the adjacent area of the cheaper, “flat-roof” slab houses.

Because my parents were very involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements, I had a number of African-American (at that time, the politically-correct terminology was “Negro”) friends.  I had to walk over to their neighborhood to play with them—they did not feel comfortable coming to my house as it meant being stared at as they walked through the streets of my White neighborhood.

I felt more at ease with my non-Caucasian friends because I felt I could be more myself with them – I didn’t have to hide my parent’s political views like I had to with my (White) neighbors who lived closer to me – although I still didn’t feel that I could acknowledge my parents Marxist beliefs with my non-Caucasian friends—that I had to hold in check until the weekends, when we either went to visit my relatives (and their friends) in the bohemian (and by my era, hippie) neighborhood of Venice, or to visit the children of friends of my parents who lived in the city of Los Angeles and who were also “fellow travelers”.

The racial disparity became even more apparent starting in middle school—what was then termed Junior High School.  The classes were divided according to IQ test, and in my grade, there was only one Black/African-American in the “smart” class. Due to this, and  because her mother, who ran the local Head Start program. was an acquaintance of my mother’s, she became one of my closest friends.

In June 1967, there was a large protest in Century City against the war in Vietnam.  My mother, who was involved in Women Strike for Peace, took me and my siblings.  At some point, the police started to break up the demonstration.  They yelled through megaphones to disperse—but nobody could understand what they were saying because the sound was so distorted.  They had their billy clubs out and were indiscriminately swinging them at anyone in their path.  They almost hit my gentle, diminutive, grey-haired mother, and they did get one of my brothers, although he wasn’t seriously hurt.  I was so incensed by this—even more so than not allowing a legitimate, legal demonstration to take place—because the police were so stupid that they were shouting dispersal instructions which no one could understand through these ridiculous bullhorns.

By the time I got to high school, I was totally alienated from all but one or two of my neighbors and longed to go to an LAUSD high school where there were identifiable groups of student anti-Vietnam war activists.  So I got out of there as soon as I could, skipping my last year of high school and going to Cuba on the Venceremos Brigade in the fall of 1970.  We traveled in a cross-county bus, headed to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, where we would sail to Cuba. This was at the time that Angela Davis had gone underground, when she was on the FBI’s most-wanted list.  Angela’s sister Fania was with us, which gave the police an excuse to continually harass us and stop the bus to haul her out—each time insisting that she was actually Angela in disguise.  The FBI disseminated all sorts of rumors and negative publicity to the local population in the towns we went/traveled through, stoking McCarthy-like panic.  By the time we got to Bangor, Maine, the hysteria was so frenzied that our bus was attacked—shades of Peekskill!

We boarded an old Cuban cargo ship that had been specially retro-fitted for us by slinging hammocks down in the bottom deck for us to sleep—separated into women’s and men’s sections.  It was hurricane season and we sailed through some rough seas—everyone, i.e., the Brigadistas (not the Cuban  sailors), got seasick and for a few days, the only food we could hold down was a few bites of hardtack.  The only relief was from a Brigidista, a gay guy from New York, who led us in mindful meditation.  Lying stretched out on the battered deck, his hypnotic voice led us–or at least me–into a euphoric state in which I actually felt that I was floating above it all.  It was such a soothing feeling which I continue to replay in my mind even now.

We were supposed to help in the Cuban campaign for the “Zafra de Los Diez Milliones”, but by the time we arrived, sugar cane season was over, so we were sent to the Isla de Juventud to pick citrus.  When we were done, Fidel Castro came to personally shake each of our hands in thanks for our solidarity against the blockade. In addition, we were toured all over the country, and as it was also the anniversary of “El Camino del Che”, we hiked through the mountains in the footsteps of that long march.

On the cross-country bus trip back from Canada, I decided to not return to Southern California, so had the bus drop me off in San Francisco.  I had the address of an acquaintance of my parents, a nurse who had gone to Spain to drive an ambulance in the fight in their civil war against fascism.  She lived at the very top of Portreo Hill.  I didn’t have any money so I trudged all the way up those steep streets, dragging my heavy duffle bag, only to find out when I finally got up there that she wasn’t home, but out on Alcatraz, as a nurse volunteer in the Native American occupation of the Island.  I hitchhiked back over the Bay Bridge and found a place to stay in a communal-living house on Channing Avenue in Berkeley, a few blocks from the water.  It was not a particularly safe neighborhood in general for a naïve teenage girl, but I quickly found out that I didn’t have to worry because it was around the corner from the West Berkeley Black Panther headquarters, which had the neighborhood kids marching around military-style, patrolling the streets.  I liked to watch them, dressed in army fatigues with their red-capped berets covering their Afro-styled hair, shouting out their revolutionary slogans as they paraded by in formation.

I needed to find work, but there was a recession on, so after days of systematically walking down the commercial streets, one after the other, knocking on the door of each and every establishment asking for a job, I finally managed to get hired at the MacDonald’s in East Oakland, on Hegenberger Road.  Also not a safe neighborhood, but I had become very friendly with a Venceremos Brigade member from New York, a Borrinqueno leader of the Young Lords—it turned out that his cousin, quite co-incidentally, was one of my customers, and as he was in the local gang, he looked out for my welfare.  The supervisor at McDonalds was intrigued because I had gone to Cuba illegally, and he tried to recruit me into training for their management program—go figure!  I barely made enough money to get by but the manager let me take home the food that was left over at closing.  As my roommates were vegetarians, we usually fed the hamburger meat to the dog.

One day, I was with a roommate at the Berkeley Co-Op (Consumers’ Cooperative of Berkeley) supermarket, and she took a piece of fruit while we were in the store and offered me a bite.  The store had two-way mirrors all around, up at the top of the walls, to catch shop-lifters.  They saw this happen, accused us of stealing, and called the police.  They let my friend go but because I was underage, they arrested me and I was sent to juvenile detention.  I was in jail two days. There were some pretty rough girls in there and at the beginning I had some trepidation. But after hearing how I had had the bad luck to be so stupidly arrested and was being shipped back to my parents against my wishes, they became sympathetic and friendly and we passed the time chatting. My parents had to pay the $10 it cost to fly me back–that was a day’s wage for me—but as a consequence of my sudden departure, all my things were left behind, including my most prized possession: a bust of Marx carved by a comrade from a bar of Ivory soap.

Now being back in L.A at my parent’s house, I was visited regularly by the FBI as a result of going on the Brigade.  My bedroom was adjacent to the front porch, so whenever there was an early Saturday morning knock—which was always when they came–I peered through the curtains of my window to see who it was before answering the door.  If I saw two young men dressed in suits, I knew it was agents and not Jehovah Witnesses –who always came with at least one woman–so I’d yell at them to go away.  For years after I moved out, they continued to hassle my parents about me, although more sporadically.

Although I consorted with various political groups, my favorite was the Young Workers Liberation League (YWLL, or “the League”).  I thought they had the best “revolutionary line” because not only were they affiliated with the CPUSA and therefore multi-national and determinedly anti-racist, but a number of the members were also in the Black Panthers, which gave them considerable cachet to my way of thinking.  Most importantly, besides the serious stuff like classes on Marxism, the League knew how to go out and have fun—plus, they held the best Soul Train-style dance parties!  I still remember how to do the Funky Chicken!!

The local YWLL organizer had a contact in a factory near my parent’s house that made “Hot Pants” for New York’s haute couture fashion industry.  Me and three other YWLLers got a job there.  Most of the workers were undocumented women from Thailand.  They didn’t speak much English, so I ended up learning some basic Thai.  They were very concerned that I wasn’t married, and were constantly trying to get me to come to their cultural events so that I could meet an “eligible” man. They even taught me some of the traditional arm and hand movements of traditional Thai dance.  Occasionally there wasn’t a lot of work coming in, so the company owner, wanting to save on labor costs, would announce that the INS was going to make a raid, which scared those workers who were undocumented, so they would not come in for a few days.  It would always be a lie!  The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU or “the ILG”) was trying to organize the shop, so we were supposedly helping with that.  However, I didn’t like some of the ways the ILG was conducting its campaign.  The female workers had the lowest-paying, menial jobs, while the male workers had the higher-paying jobs as “pressers” and “cutters”.  The Union officials were all men and this disparity didn’t concern them.  It was what they were used to in the industry and they didn’t want to hear my complaints about it.  As the union struggle intensified, the four of us were eventually “outed” and subsequently fired.  I remained in touch with a few of the women for many years, so I was able to practice the Thai phrases that I had learned.

I worked in various other factory jobs after that–assembling disc brake pad kits (until the manger’s sexual harassment got too much to bear, so I quit), at the Papermate factory in Santa Monica doing quality control of Bic pens on the midnight shift, and then, finally, a better-paying union job as an International “O” Operator for Ma Bell (AT&T).  I worked a split shift, which I really liked because I could do political work in between.  But the union, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) was not a very progressive organization—at least not in Los Angeles at that time.  The supervisors were all men, and we had to raise our hands and wait to be acknowledged if we needed to take a bathroom break.  It was not the most exciting work, so I would take “Black Beauties” to help me focus.  I’d arrange my switchboard so that the telephone cords were all nicely positioned, precise and straight, which the supervisor would praise me for–clueless that it was only due to the effect of the speed pills!  I took pride in being able to get a call through in an emergency, such as a hurricane—even routing the calls through other countries if necessary.  Because I worked near the city of Gardena, at that time a predominantly Japanese community, I learned rudimentary Japanese in order to place my calls more effectively.  I remember one intriguing co-worker who lived in South Central but was originally from New Orleans.  She had a side business raising rabbits in her backyard, peddling the meat out of her house but would occasionally bring some to work to sell out of an ice chest.  She would cook the rabbit southern-style and share with me at lunch.

At this time I was living near Banning Park–in Wilmas13 territory, so the rent was lower than in other areas—but it was still 50% of my salary.  I would hear occasional gunshots, and to get home I’d have to walk by a bunch of young men hanging out along my back fence, but they pretty much left me alone.  I had an open dirt space in the backyard, where I tried to plant vegetables, although the only thing that grew was corn, but it was delicious and sweet–it could be eaten raw, right off the cob. It also attracted mice; I’d see them sticking their noses up out of the gas rings in my stove top.  The landlord just told me to buy traps, but I wouldn’t.

I was volunteering at what is now the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research but strongly disliked the way that the proprietor treated his spouse, so I decided I wanted a change. Having been awarded $100 because an elderly man rear-ended my car, it was enough to buy a ticket to fly overseas. I didn’t return to Los Angeles for some years.

Seminal Events of the 60s Revisited–New York Style, by Steve Fine.

15 Mar

Steve-Fine_Me_and_Junior

Originally from New York, Steve Fine has been living in Los Angeles since the mid-seventies with his wife, Jocelyne.  They have a son, Matthew, and now two backyard cats. He became active here in L.A. in the vigil movement, which sprang up in opposition to the Iraq War. For years he “vigiled” weekly in Silverlake and then in Studio City. Currently he has a book in progress.  Photography is his other passion.

 

Photographs from the Spring of ’67, and
A Walk Through the Wall Street Demolition Zone, circa ’69.

The five series of vintage photos you will find displayed at my site are resurrected from the deep archives, the years 1967 and 1969. Somehow the original negatives survived all these years. One sample is here for each of the five series you can view at:

steveposts.wordpress.com

pudkwwhApril ’67 Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam

The four galleries in the “Spring ‘67” series reflect the spirit of the times and the activism in the streets just as the antiwar movement was shifting into high gear and the counter-culture aborning.  I was eighteen and living with my mom at her West Side apartment right off Central Park in the high 90s, so it was literally a walk in the park to cover the antiwar march, draft card burning, and ‘be-ins’.  The ‘sweep-in’ was a subway ride down to the Village; I brought my camera along with a broom and bucket.

Steve-Fine_Sweep-In67_firehydrantSpring ’67 Sweep-In on the Lower East Side

My approach is to tell the story of the event rather than just select a few of the very best photos to highlight, so overall there is an unedited street-photography feel, a mix of my favorites with markers to guide you along the way.

By the expressions of some of the people in the photos you can see that for them this journey is entirely new and surprising, not the historical clichés of today.  Enter and you will be moving through a time of possibility, defiance and hope with enormous creative potential. It was all suddenly and unexpectedly happening that spring. For example, the look on the face of the sandy-haired, sport-jacketed draft resister as he burns his card. The year before, or even a few months before, he would not have been emboldened to take this step.

Steve-Fine_Draft67_resister1April ’67 Draft Resistance

 On a lighter note, there are the faces of the gawkers at the first “Be-In,” the opening shots in the series where the trees are bare in the background and the people are wearing jackets.  They are trying to fathom what exactly this is that is happening here.

Steve-Fine_Be-In67_peaceflag Spring ’67, Central Park Be-In 

The joke is, most of the people grooving in front of them on the cold cold ground were not certain either.  “Hippie”, “flower power”, “psychedelic” and even the phrase “counter-culture” have yet to enter common usage. That would come a few months when Time and Newsweek put out their big “summer of love” issues to explain it all and sell merchandise.  As a matter of fact, although I went to the park with my friends and we acted as if we knew, obviously, since we were eighteen and very cool, the truth is I had absolutely no idea what was happening. But like Ringo, I knew it was mine.  

Steve-Fine_WallStreet69_WTC-1

 

Moving on. Circa ’69, the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan was in the midst of a major period of demolition to make way for the World Trade Center and other new buildings. One Sunday morning I went down with my camera because I’d heard that on the weekends the place was deserted, like a ghost town. I was not expecting to find entire blocks razed and more slated for the same fate.

 

Organizing, by Patty Margaret

22 Feb

Patty is a retired nurse and mother of three grown children and three grandchildren. She grew up in San Diego, and lives in Pasadena. She likes to hike, bird-watch, travel and read. She is presently completing a healthy house project on her home to eliminate toxic chemicals and mold.

 

What particularly started my opposition to the status quo was my reaction to my father, who was a ferocious racist from Texas and had been in the navy all his life. When I was growing up, he abused my mom, my brother and me. I empathized with the victims of my dad’s wrath. I remember my dad going “Huh!” with disdain in his voice whenever a person of color was mentioned. My grandmother did the same thing. Phrases like “Those damn wetbacks!” were common around our house.

When I was in third grade, we sailed to Hawaii on my dad’s navy cargo ship. It took seven days to get there and seven to return. We stayed in Hawaii three months and went to school there. This was in the late ‘50s. It gave me the experience of being around Asians.

In junior high school my good friend had straight black hair and brown skin. When I brought her home one day, my dad asked, “Who’s that girl?” She was standing right there listening to this. “You can’t bring her into this house ever again,” he said. “She can stay now but that’s it.” Dumbfounded, I asked my mom why he didn’t like her. “Because she’s Mexican,” my mom explained. Eventually the girl moved away but years later while watching the San Francisco Mime Troup in Los Angeles, I met her again. She was working with the Troup and remembered me.

My high school was newly built to ensure that white kids didn’t have to go to a black school. One black kid lived on the “wrong” side of the line and ended up at my school but was told she would have to leave. We students gave her a lot of support, even electing her as student body president. As a result she didn’t get thrown out after all.

In 1965 I finished high school and started college at California Western University, a Methodist college at Point Loma near San Diego. (The college no longer exists.) The Methodist Church had a history of not allowing dancing. I joined a college church dance group. We were rebellious and wanted cultural change, in line with the rest of the movements of the ‘60s. We preformed modern interpretive dance to sacred music that included comments about the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the United Farm Workers strikes, and the inhumanity of poverty. We toured the state and surprised the Methodists because we preformed right by the altar in the church.

Another influence was my mom, who was supportive of women’s equality. She was sympathetic to feminists (which enraged my dad). My mother had been accepted as a student at Berkeley, but because of the Depression hadn’t been able to attend. She praised my great aunt, who was a math professor there—highly unusual for a woman at the time.Vietnam.Napalm.KimPhuc

At college I became particularly aware of the contradictions in our society when I found myself staying up until 4 a.m. writing and mimeographing leaflets about the Napalm being used by the US Army to burn children in Vietnam. After gazing the night before at the well-known picture of the girl running away from the napalm, I would stagger into my 7 a.m. philosophy class the next morning, where the teacher would knock on the blackboard and ask “Is this real?”

Follow the Drinking GourdWith a group of Methodist students at college I continued my activism. Then I quit school and hung out with Methodist students at San Diego State College. We began working with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Having come from a working class family, I was becoming aware of the power of the workers when they united and withheld their labor. I saw the influence workers could wield on government policies on war, poverty, and racism. I loved music and sang protest songs. I remember “Follow the Drinking Gourd” about the Underground Railroad.

Some of us SDS folks formed a nationwide sub-group called Workers for a Democratic Society. There had been some animosity between activist students and workers who didn’t understand that the war was not in their interest. Our outlook broadened from organizing just students to organizing the rest of the working class as well. I got a factory job at Ratner’s in San Diego making men’s suits. Our goal was to meet workers and talk to them about their issues and about the war.

garment workersMy job at Ratner’s was to match a bag of suits and a bag of sleeves so they could be sewn together. It was piece work. Each suit got a ticket which showed how many suits you’d sewn and assembled that day. If the number wasn’t high enough, you’d be reprimanded and made to take long breaks off the clock and then work overtime when supplies came in. For 35 hours they had to pay us minimum wage. There were fibers in the air. One woman got her finger caught in a sewing machine. Once someone opened one of the sewing machines and found a thumb inside.

There were three women in my work area. One spoke only Spanish and the other mainly French. We were all the same age. The Mexican woman lived in Tijuana. I was learning some Spanish from her. We had just turned 21 so we went out to bars, shared our lives, and talked about the war.UAW

When I came to Los Angeles to get more politically involved, my first job was at Harvey Aluminum. It was a large shop, organized by the UAW. They processed aluminum heads for bombs directed for deployment by the U.S. Army in Vietnam. I remember that once our multiracial group of women workers refused to process these war products. I was so impressed with them, it confirmed to me that workers felt as we did.

In 1969 I joined the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), a group that had broken off from the Communist Party USA.

Progressive Labor PartyThe PLP read Chinese Communist as well as Soviet literature. It organized factory workers within SDS for Workers for a Democratic Society, and I became dedicated to that work. When I was laid off by Harvey Aluminum, I found a non-union job in electronics and learned to solder computer boards for airplane radios in South Los Angeles. I took some classes at the local high school in reading diodes, and I met a man there, whom I later married. Some of the other students moved on to a nursing attendant class, so I went too, again getting to know more working people. This is where I discovered that I loved working in the intensive care unit.

We tried to concentrate our organizing in an IBM electronics factory in El Segundo. My job was to wind and solder copper wires onto computer chips. We made friends, helped each other learn about racism, unions, and the anti-war movement. However, the rules made it difficult to do this because no talking was allowed, we worked long hours, and our breaks were strictly supervised. The three of us in the PLP weren’t careful enough and were fired before we finished our six months’ probation, at which time we would have been protected from frivolous discharges. All the charges were different: mine was for “talking too much.”

We were assigned by PLP to work in Long Beach, California. There we sold our newspaper Challenge to navy sailors.

PLP Challenge newspaper

We met and made friends with them, talking about the war, their draft experiences, racism on board the ships, and the need for a communist society. Recently I heard that our work was mentioned in a book by a sailor who wrote about his decision to become active against the war.

About that time my husband and I had a baby, and when she was three weeks old and I was out of town at my brother’s wedding, he unexpectedly packed up and left. He hadn’t agreed with some of my politics so maybe he was overwhelmed by my activities. Or perhaps I was too insistent on his helping with the housework. At any rate, he disappeared completely, and to this day I’ve heard no word from him.

I collected Aid to Families with Dependent Children (welfare) to support my child and me. Along with other mothers I organized sit-ins at the welfare office when recipients weren’t getting their checks on time or were denied welfare, food stamps or Medi-Cal. We were fighting for our checks and our rights as well as the needs of other welfare recipients. When one person didn’t get her check, then we’d have a sit-in at the welfare office with our babies and diapers until she got her check. We took women with us to demonstrations and meetings, we made friends, and we canvassed the poor housing complexes in order to grow the group. We discussed PLP’s place in the struggle, and communism as an answer to unemployment. We became well known, with many new faces later becoming active in welfare struggles, although they didn’t join the PLP.

A group of us fought to get admitted into the Work Incentive Program (WIN), which would pay for our education. Many of the women were on welfare. When I told them about WIN, they started to cry; they had never thought they would actually be able to go to school. During a day-long sit-in on the floor of the unemployment bureau with our babies, a man told us we had to do “whatever possible” to get enough money to support ourselves. When we asked him if he meant walking the streets, he said, Yes, if necessary. The problem was that only men were considered for education classes to support their families; women weren’t admitted. but we were a multi-racial group and succeeded through our militancy in getting into nursing school and other WIN programs.

I loved nursing and became an LVN. I remember one incident when I was assigned to the communicable disease admitting area. By 11 p.m. we usually closed up the place. A doctor from an upscale hospital was working at White Memorial Hospital to learn about communicable disease. About 3 p.m. a man in jeans and an English sports jacket came in. He’d been bitten by an animal and wanted to know if he had rabies. I was only an LVN so couldn’t give IVs. I asked him what bit him. I didn’t speak Spanish but it sounded like he said a possum. The doctor went to the library to find out if possums ate meat. She came back fuming—it wasn’t in the books. After talking to her, I found out that she was looking up “possum” instead of opossum. By now it was 6 p.m. They do eat meat but we didn’t know what had happened to the animal. The man’s brother had banged it against a tree and thrown it over a fence. His mother wouldn’t put in in the refrigerator.

possom

The doctor called the public health department. A man at a holiday dinner was beeped. He told us to call the pound. It was now 10 p.m. “Well, Ma’am, who is this?…No, our fridge is not for possums, just for cats and dogs.”

The doctor finally convinced him to take our possum. We asked if he could pick it up. NO, we needed to pick it up and bring it in. The doctor called another pound and got the same answer. By this time I was trying hard to suppress my laughter.

At L.A. County General Hospital I joined with other PLP workers. My special problem, though, was that I would try to read the PLP newspaper cover to cover and feel unable to finish articles or read other literature. I would quickly forget what I had read. It turned out that I was allergic to the chemicals in newsprint. The allergy caused a sort of amnesia in me. Because I couldn’t study a lot of the theory of the party, I couldn’t discuss deeper theoretical problems in order to develop party proposals. But I did have influence on issues like welfare, medicine’s role in a profit system, and workers’ problems. We sold the communist newspaper weekly on our outings, and I was often the top seller.

I married a leader of the group. We raised three beautiful children. I later became an RN and organized workers until retirement. I sometimes think back to a talk with my mom when I planned to distribute leaflets about voting in the African-American streets of San Diego; she was so worried. I reminded her that I would soon be 18, and that I would be doing this the rest of my life. I was right.

 

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

Another Bozo on the Bus, by R.F. Part 2 of 4

4 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 2 of 4

LSD

One day a friend invited me to his house near the beach. He wasn’t home and his door was unlocked (common at the time) so I let myself in. While looking for something to eat, I found a small capsule in the freezer. I didn’t know what it was but, being game for anything, swallowed it. After about 30 minutes I began to feel a high I had never experienced before. I felt one with the Universe. The drug I’d taken was LSD.

Soon I walked to the ocean and waded in. Bobbing weightless there in the water, it felt like the ocean was making love to every cell of my body, enveloping me in a state of oneness and bliss. I had no idea you could experience things like that; it was a complete surprise–very positive, very cosmic–and I’m grateful for having experienced LSD that way the first time. Not everyone does.

A happy coincidence was that I first heard Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? that same day. It changed my life. I had never heard of Hendrix but knew then that I’d never forget him. Here was the most amazing guitar playing I’d ever heard. People still talk about him as being the greatest electric guitarist in history. What a privilege it was to first hear him in that altered state of consciousness. Yes, Jimi, now I am experienced! Like they say, “The Universe provides.”

In the next couple of years I would take a lot of acid. It gently reminded me that all of the hard, judgmental things I’d been told since childhood weren’t necessarily true and that life can be much more expansive, inclusive, vibrant, joyful. Getting high was a kind of homecoming, in much the same way that meditation is for me now. With LSD I could see that there was a whole universe out there, and within me, to embrace–the unity of all existence. The Beatles’ Within You Without You, written by George Harrison, is about this. I had the revelation that there was so much more to think about and to explore beyond what I’d been told, more than the narrow, detached establishment way with everything seemingly so black and white, separate, cold and calculating–my father’s world, the one I was never quite comfortable in.

Getting Ready To Hang Up The Phone

In 1968 a movie came out starring Cliff Robertson called Charly. It cinematically told the story of a developmentally challenged man, who is administered an experimental drug which renders him a genius. The climax of this fine movie comes when we learn that the effects of the drug are temporary, and that Charly reverts back to the way he was before. This movie impressed me as a morality tale for users of drugs like LSD. I’ve written above how acid changed my brain and my outlook. That was well and good; however, the effects were always temporary. When the drug wore off, I would find myself back in the flat, restrictive, black and white world, where my fellow humans showed no interest in the insights I’d gained while high. Worse, the mellowness of my acid-infused brain didn’t transfer over either. I was always back to being my self-conscious, disillusioned, cynical, angry self again. I could see that the self-medicating wasn’t working in the long run.

When drug-taking becomes a chronic behavior, everything can become distorted; a person can get lost to herself and become dysfunctional. The harder the drugs, the deeper the trap. The Beatles’ Everybody’s Got Something To Hide, ‘Cept For Me And My Monkey, written by John Lennon (who used heroin), is about this.  A couple of years later, while high on acid, I realized that I needed to remember what I’d learned from the drugs and stop taking them. LSD taught me something that stayed with me. After using, on and off, for about five years, I stopped taking drugs. Timothy Leary said taking drugs is like being on the phone, and when you finally get the message, you have to hang up. I got the message and–click. That was around 1972, but way before that I experienced the following:

Bobby

Robert Kennedy made a campaign speech at Cal State Northridge in March 1968 that I attended. It was estimated that over 12,000 people were there. Following his speech he was enthusiastically mobbed by maybe ten thousand of them. The quad was full of people, shoulder to shoulder. His handlers completely lost control of the situation, and he was carried along by this sea of human beings over shrubs, curbs and anything else in the swarm’s path. I knew immediately that there was a security problem with that man. I waded through the crowd to shake his hand and then waded out again. I’ll never forget it. I was a big fan of him and his agenda. Three months later, during another breakdown in security, he was shot dead.

U.S. Army, 1969

I was 20 when I entered the U.S Army early in 1969. By this time I had knocked around in several different colleges, dabbled in drugs and wasn’t focused. I had no sense that college graduation would mean anything to my life. I would just re-enroll because I thought I was supposed to. Due to poor academic performance, I wound up losing my student deferment. The day before I was to be drafted I enlisted so that I could choose my MOS. [Editor’s note: a Military Occupational Specialty code (MOS code), is a nine character code used in the United States Army and United States Marines to identify a specific job.] I chose 91alpha10 (aka combat medic) to do something positive rather than contribute to the violence of the war. I thought I could patch people up and get them off the battlefield, save lives–I had all that idealism going on. Besides, I didn’t even know these people we were fighting on the other side of the world. Why should I kill them? I thought. Maybe the old white guys who run this country have something against them because they’re Asian, much like some older guys who still talk about the “dirty Japs” of WWII. I hoped I’d be assigned to duty in the States.

I completed basic at Fort Ord, California and was one of five nominees for Outstanding Trainee of the Cycle. By this time the idea of being the best I could be appealed to me, and the disciplined environment of army training seemed to make that goal much easier to accomplish. I had taken the training very seriously, much like in H.S. football: Keep your head down, don’t complain, do the work. For example, on daily jogs with the platoon, I was focused and I never rested. At the end of basic we all had to take a Physical Training (PT) test. I was one of three to receive 500, the top score, in a company of about 250 soldiers. (And one of the other two guys was a Major League Baseball player who’d been drafted.) One of the tests consisted of running a quarter mile in fatigues and combat boots. I won that race. In another we had to carry a guy on our backs for 50 yards within a certain time. Yet another was to run an obstacle course, again in combat boots and fatigues, and also timed. I got the maximum scores on all of them.

I excelled at firing the weapons they gave us to train with: the M14 carbine and the M16 assault rifle. I easily qualified “Expert” on both. I had never even touched a firearm prior to going into the Army. Someone suggested that maybe I just didn’t have any old bad habits to have to unlearn.

On the other hand, in Advanced Individual Training (AIT), where soldiers were trained to do the jobs they’d be assigned, I learned that when your patrol is going through the jungle, the Viet Cong shoot the point man (the one at the head of the line). Then they shoot the medic (easily identified by his specialized field gear) because that eliminates the potential for an immediate medical response for the rest of the squad. I would have been a main target if I were in the field. Another thing I learned was that when patching people up, the idea was to get them back to the battlefield as quickly as possible so they could kill more Viet Cong. My idea was to get them out of harm’s way and maybe back to the States with their loved ones. Instead, all my idealism about doing the humanitarian thing could be undone by the armies’ agendas, both theirs and ours.

AWOL and The Family

Having learned the truth about being a combat medic, I felt betrayed but still duty-bound. A lot of people were confused at the time about the war. I certainly didn’t have enough knowledge and experience to have a cogent perspective. When I was ordered to Vietnam after AIT, my father said, “Son, you’re not going to Vietnam. That’s a stupid, disgusting war, not like the just war I fought in (WWII). This time our government is lying to us.” Still wanting approval for being the “good son” I said, “Dad, Uncle Sam is saying I need to go. It’s my duty to my country, and I love my country.” He said, “No, you’re not going.” I had to choose between Uncle Sam and my dad, so I chose to go AWOL, a status I was to have for 11 months.

I’m glad that my father was willing to speak his mind. In retrospect, I think it was one of the most important things he did for me. And, of course, he was right about the war.

At first, while AWOL, I lived with my mom—my parents were divorced—but I couldn’t stand staying with her. She had more emotional problems than I did, so I moved out. I had been hanging out with some guys, smoking pot, and dropping acid, as I had before joining the Army. Needing a place to live, I finally talked them into letting me move into the rental house they shared on Cerro Gordo in Echo Park, and it turned out that the only available space was the crawlspace under the house. All the rooms inside, including the closets, were filled at various times with ten to fifteen people. Mattresses were strewn wherever there was space. It was the classic crash-pad. The regulars that lived there called themselves The Family. One day the police knocked on the front door and reported that they were looking for the Manson Family. There I was, AWOL, and the main dudes that ran the place were using it to deal lots of drugs. When the person at the door said that we weren’t the Manson Family, the cops just left. When I learned of this, I thought, Wow, this is amazing. In another country they’d probably make some excuse to barge in, search the place, and question each of us. We’d all be in big trouble. I was so relieved.

Strange Days

At this time, I was working for an acquaintance helping him clean carpets for the Red Lobster Restaurants in the L.A. area. A little pickup job, not steady work, but I didn’t need much. The drugs being re-sold at the house on Cerro Gordo paid the rent. The landlord didn’t seem to know, or didn’t care, what was going on, which was typical of those times. Also typical was the fact that most of the cleaning up was done by the women who lived there full-time, so the place stayed pretty clean. I recall there were four women attached to three of the four main guys (The fourth one’s girlfriend lived elsewhere). One of these guys had long, straight blond hair and had a face like Errol Flynn. An (outside) woman we knew, who would show up with her boyfriend to buy drugs, would occasionally come over alone and present herself to “Errol” for sex (His own live-in girlfriend was not home, and how the visitor knew this I’ll never know). He told us that she wouldn’t say a word, just show up, get it on, and leave. Another of the main dudes had a woman (whom he called his wife and who was clearly psychotic), their child of about two years and mute like her mother (not a good sign), and his pregnant mistress (pregnant by another man) all living with him in one of the bedrooms. Signs of the times.

It was the summer of ’69, a time of free concerts known as love-Ins. In Elysian Park I saw Janice Joplin on stage fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company. At another concert I saw The Jefferson Airplane. Their most recent album was called “Volunteers.” I told a friend that I didn’t get the title. “Well, maybe they’re going to join the Peace Corps.” I was out of it enough to think he actually meant it. Wow, they must be really dedicated to peace and justice! So when I saw them later that month I approached the stage and asked Grace Slick, “Are you guys going to join the Peace Corps?” She said, “What? You mean the band?” Clearly, she didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.

I stayed at the Cerro Gordo house two or three months, sleeping in that crawl space. We were smoking pot, hashish, and dropping acid. Visiting dealers would treat us to some cocaine, MDMA and other recreational drugs, but none of the regular residents had a hard-drug habit. I was really into the psychedelics, and like many people, was actually self-medicating. I had suffered from depression since childhood due to family issues, bio-chemistry, genetics, whatever. Interestingly, researchers are now telling us that some of these substances actually do have therapeutic value.

It was at about this time that I had a near-death experience from an unintended drug overdose. I was at an after-concert party in Hollywood when my “friend” offered me a heaping spoonful of some drug. At first I refused it. He persisted until I took the spoonful and swallowed it. It turned out to be 100% pure pharmaceutical Nembutal, a powerful barbiturate, and the amount I took was an overdose. I went out like a palooka who’s just been hit with a haymaker. Someone there must have noticed that we were both slumped over. Reportedly when they first found me I had no detectable pulse or respiration. Later, my first realizations were that I was in big trouble–completely out of it–and that I was being “walked” around–almost carried really–by a couple of guys. This was standard practice at such parties where ODs were common. The idea was to keep the body moving so that respiratory collapse or cardiac failure was less likely. After walking us around until they were satisfied that we might survive, they left us crashed-out on the sidewalk and went back inside. They did save my life, however, and my friend’s too. I never got the chance to thank them. Sign of the times.

Today pharmaceutical Nembutal is approved for assisted suicide in the state of Oregon.

End of Part 2 of 4

Another Bozo on the Bus, by R.F. Part 1 of 4

31 Dec

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 1 of 4

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, in August of 1948. I would have had a different life if my parents had raised me there rather than in Los Angeles, California, where we moved when I was five. I’m grateful that I was raised in “the Land of Golden Opportunity,” as my father liked to call it, because when I was growing up in L.A. there was a palpable sense that virtually anything was possible. This, in turn, produced an openness to the idea that you could re-invent yourself, which I’ve been wont to do a few times in my life. In addition, an open cultural climate fostered general support for social justice and tolerance for the differences between people.

Despite those advantages, the detailed and true tale I tell here is of a person who struggled to overcome bio-chemical and family-of-origin issues for decades. All of the following events actually happened, and I describe them, to the best of my ability, as I remember them. I am now living a content, fully functional life, but as you will see I almost didn’t make it.

Some Background

From kindergarten on, I had demonstrated artistic ability, which my dad discouraged unless I drew “technical” things like airplanes. “If you try to be an artist, you’ll starve and wind up being a soda jerk.” (Decades later I painted some watercolors and acrylics which were well received. I do plan to start painting again, by the way, for my own pleasure). I was also good at taking things apart and putting them back together, sometimes better than they were to begin with. Starting in Grade 7, I got straight As in all the shop classes the school had. Nevertheless, my dad repeatedly told me that I should plan to go to UCLA to study engineering. “Engineers are getting all the good jobs.” The space race, nuclear power plants, and nuclear bomb delivery systems, along with other cold-war military hardware, were all being heavily budgeted. Clearly he had a point. Besides, he worked for companies such as Litton Industries, and his income had enabled our small family to become solidly middle class. I came to believe that becoming an engineer was my destiny, although I had only a vague idea of what that meant. Dad never told me what exactly he did at work. I suspect that had less to do with national security (Soviet spies were supposed to be everywhere you know) than with vanity, the concern that his son would think less of him if he revealed that he was merely a cog in the military-industrial machine.

By the age of nine, I was aware of civil rights because my father talked about social causes and the liberal agenda of the time. I remember intervening when I saw two white boys calling a black boy (they were all about nine, too) the n-word and threatening to beat him up. I told them that he was a human being just like them and to leave him alone. They looked surprised and left. Thanks to my dad.

My father often spoke about the great historical figures, with whom he was obviously impressed. I acquired my love of history from him, and I’m grateful for that too.

Beginning in Grade 5, I chased high grades. That’s what all perfect sons are supposed to do, right? (I was reminded almost daily that I was expected to be perfect). Perhaps that explains why in the latter part of junior high I elected to take all the “right” college-prep courses and made “Scholarship” in Grade 9.

In the early sixties, mainframe IBM computers began to get media attention (Model 7040, for example). Dad tried repeatedly to instill in me an interest in the emerging digital technology. He seemed to be in awe of what could be done with zeros and ones. The implication was that this “new” digital numbering system was superior to the one I was using at school every day. I totally didn’t get it. To this day, I’m somewhat intimidated by the electronic magic (with all of its 1s and 0s) that goes on inside my laptop.

When comparing me with my dad, people would say that I was “a chip off the old block.” It puzzled me. In actuality, we were so different and never really understood each other. The scary reality, which my father only spoke obliquely about, was that I was more like my Uncle Jack, the troubled sibling of my dad’s generation–the only one of the three brothers who would spend time in prison.

All the talk about getting good grades, going to a big-name college like UCLA, and someday getting a great job meant nothing to me. Whatever I achieved was an attempt to win my parents’ approval by fulfilling their expectations–until I played H.S. football, as explained below.  As the only child of upwardly mobile, materialistic parents, I was showered with toys, most of which I didn’t want and had no use for. I usually felt shame, not joy, when I received these things. I believed I didn’t deserve them because I wasn’t perfect.

By the age of twelve I was aware of the emptiness of the middle-class lifestyle and the sham of the pursuit of the American Dream. I was unhappy with being me, and no amount of potential status in society could change that. I became cynical about what I perceived to be the hypocrisy, especially the seemingly pasted-on religious values, of the adults around me. These people were clearly not living by Jesus’ teachings that I’d been taught as a child in Sunday School. Looking back, I think that the mindless pursuit of materialism in the fifties and its inherent competitiveness by my parents’ generation produced these same sorts of reactions in a significant portion of my peer group, and that this disillusionment necessarily led to much of the radicalism that emerged in the sixties and that still resonates today.

High School: Football Plus Missed Opportunities

My feeling about high school, which I entered in 1963, was that it wasn’t worth a damn. It just seemed to be a social game I could not relate to, a lot of posturing and other “phony baloney.” In contrast, playing high school football was real. Get to the other guy. Push him out of the way so your guy could get over the scrimmage line and make yardage, maybe even score a touchdown. That was tangible, no bullshit involved there. Even the “stunts” we pulled off successfully in games were the result of hard work at practice, not whimsy.

I played both offense and defense, lettering in all three grades. Both of my parents had opposed my playing football. Mother made it clear she didn’t want her “little boy” to get hurt. Dad feared the worst too, but was more concerned that football was another interest, like art, that wouldn’t lead to a good job.

Anyway, about a month after our last game (we had won the Northern League Championship), the assistant coach told me there would be an awards banquet and that I would be awarded the All-League Lineman of the Year trophy. That blindsided me. I said, “Coach, you’re lying.” During the games, I had done just what we’d practiced all week to do. I never had the sense that what I did was special in any way. I didn’t do it for praise (especially from my parents). I did it because it was my job. Being task-oriented in this way would later carry over into my military training and working life, and it seems to this day to be just about the only thing of significance that I got from high school.

At the awards banquet, when called up to the dais to receive the award, I was the only one introduced as “the strong, silent type” and with no humorous anecdotes. Apparently I had spent too much time doing my job and not enough relating to the other players. Nobody knew me, and later in life I would be characterized as being “personality free.” Ouch!

What I failed to understand about social life in the high school microcosm, which I dismissed as superficial and meaningless, was that social intercourse, even the most trivial, is what helps people to pull together to accomplish things that an individual acting alone can’t. Moreover, when people get along and form social bonds, it can be satisfying and add to their quality of life. I was a loner because socializing for long was too stressful and wore me out. It took a change in brain chemistry many decades later for me to understand what I’d been missing. But that’s another chapter in my story, better suited for a different blog.

Women’s Issues

I was quite young when I first became aware of a division of labor. People would say, ironically usually women, “Oh, that’s women’s work.” And I would think, What? That’s a bunch of traditional nonsense. I can do that too. My hands work just as well as women’s hands, and vice versa. Anybody can do these jobs. What’s wrong with equal opportunities for all? We are human beings first. Early on I was adamant about questioning many of the traditions people seemed to follow blindly.

In my early teens I began to formulate definite ideas about women’s rights. It seemed a great waste of human potential that girls often didn’t have an equal opportunity to grow up to be whole people, to have thoughts of their own, to have lives of their own, and to come to occupy positions of power and influence. I saw in my own mother what could go horribly wrong. To me she was an intellectually and emotionally stunted person because she bought into the myth that a woman’s role was to be a fashion plate, to constantly buy clothes, shoes and jewelry, to wear excessive makeup and buy the latest hairdos. Her hero was Marilyn Monroe!

Even as a child, by observing my mother and other women I knew, I sensed that Hollywood glamour was being set up as the desirable model for women everywhere. I was appalled by what I regarded as freakish images of women in various media. I was disgusted by the grotesque, unnatural visages I saw in tabloids, magazines, movies. It was a great relief to me when women, especially the young, began to rebel (to “burn the bra” and reject the polyester) and adopt a more natural appearance. I always wished my mom would “get it,” but she never did.

Politics

Beginning in adolescence, much of my political consciousness came from the Playboy magazines I had access to. There was the part of Playboy that was about sex and skin, obviously. You know by now that I didn’t dig the glamour part but did appreciate the nudity. (Who doesn’t see the intrinsic beauty and sexiness of a naked body?) There was also the “Playboy Advisor,” which was my go-to source for factual information about sexual function, an area of growing interest. Most important, though, was the “Playboy Interview,” where people like Malcolm X could actually tell millions of readers what was on their minds. That’s how my political consciousness was raised! I also read Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report and other publications–anything I could get my hands on.

Suicide Attempt

By Grade 11, I was now in my first serious relationship and receiving flak about that from my parents. The girlfriend apparently didn’t meet their standards–not perfect enough I guess. Truth was, I had the sense that I wasn’t right for her. She had a sunny personality and lots of friends. I was judgmental, morose, and had no friends except for her. Depressed that I would never measure up or amount to anything, I began telling myself (about a year into our relationship) that if I continued to see her I would ruin her life. I allowed my stress to become acute and unbearable. I was used to my parents being unsupportive, so I had no thought of asking for their help. I decided the only way out was to kill myself. That way my girlfriend could go on with her life, free of all my negative energy, and I wouldn’t have to face the consequences of breaking up with her!

I went to the local pharmacy and bought a month’s supply of Sleepeze, which I thought would do the deed. That night before climbing into bed, I took the whole bottle. I left no suicide note, feeling that my parents didn’t deserve one! In the morning I was found in a kind of stupor with vomit all over me, the bed, and the floor. I was alive because I didn’t know that even a whole bottle of Sleepeze wouldn’t kill a healthy person. It would be years before I was to learn about which drugs can actually kill someone, but by then I was self-medicating with street drugs and was no longer suicidal.

Graduation

I pulled myself together emotionally somewhat, stayed in the relationship with my girlfriend (she was so tolerant of my personality deficits and other eccentricities that I later married her), and went on to graduate from high school in June 1966. After she graduated a year later, we broke up for the first time. From then on, seeking something or someone to connect with, I began to drift more and more into the hippie subculture, lured by the sense that it was the breeding ground for new ideas that would save the world, and, perhaps, me as well.

End of Part 1 of 4