Tag Archives: seventies

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.

“Volunteers of America*: Organizing for McGovern,” by Karl Kasca

29 Sep

karl-todayKarl Kasca is a former web entrepreneur who also taught Social Media and New Media Marketing at UCLA Extension. He was a popular speaker in the U.S. and internationally on ‘The Power of Social Media’ and ‘How to Know Anything at Anytime’.

Previously he had an information research business focusing on market research, competitive intelligence, due diligence, and information for businesses and attorneys to make decisions and act on. Prior to this he was an internal auditor and fraud examiner for a Fortune 500 company. Also he taught algebra, pre-algebra, and basic math. Karl is currently retired and living happily—and peacefully—in Pasadena, California.

 

I was in Napa High School in 1971-72 when I volunteered for George McGovern’s campaign for presidency against Nixon. Even back in junior high school, we students were aware of student protests, the Civil Rights Movement, the Free Speech Movement, and other unrest. I and many other students were peace-loving, against the Vietnam War, and also of draft age. Therefore, McGovern appealed to us.

If you look at it from today’s perspective, you might call us “self-serving,” campaigning for McGovern only because we wanted to avoid the draft. However, there was so much more to it than that. We supported the troops but passionately hated the war. We were also influenced by “make love, not war,” the San Francisco State College (now University) student strike, and college president S.I. Hiyakawa1, who tried so hard to squash it.

We had just gotten the 18-year-old vote, so this was to be our first election. We went door to door campaigning for McGovernkarl-kasca-asb-officers_napa-high-school_napanee-yearbook_1972. I had a junior high school teacher who had campaigned for JFK. He told a story of going door to door and talking to a lady who asked for a photo of the presidential candidate to put in a picture frame on her mantel. “Yes,” she said, studying the photo, “that looks like a president. I’ll vote for him.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have any memorable canvassing experiences like that, but I wish I had.

Napa was fairly rural and simple, like a sleepy little Italian town, with fragrance of night air and sky full of stars. There was little pollution except in winter when used tires were burned in the smudge pots, causing an ugly brown layer of smog above the lovely green hills, making us aware of the environment. The wine-tasting craze hadn’t hit yet, but after it did around the mid-1970’s, the valley became much more shi-shi and upscale.

In fact, before the wine craze, Napa was probably more well known for Napa State Hospital, which was thought of as a mental institution. I volunteered there by playing my accordion in the drug rehabilitation unit. After finishing playing for a long time, one young woman came up to me and said, “Wow, Man, what a far-out guitar!”

We went to McGovern rallies and to a wine-tasting event in a Yountville winery (north of Napa), where we met his daughter, who was a featured speaker. We were joyful and ebullient about McGovern. His main plank was anti-war.

The first Earth Day happened around then, too. The environment concerned us. We were into ecology and the Green movement; we volunteered at the recycling center. We believed in the slogan: “Think globally, act locally.”

We read the book The Soft Revolution: A Student Handbook for Turning Schools Around (1971) by Neil Postman,2 and the teacher version called, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969). We felt empowered by the influential ideas in these books. We even asked some of our “coolest” teachers to read and implement the suggestions in the teacher’s book.

The senior class before us wanted to make things better for the students at our high school. They came up with a platform—sort of the ‘70s version of what Bernie Sanders stands for (ecological and specific to U.S. life). For example, we called for a free zone on our high school campus for smokers where they could smoke cigarettes without being suspended. This seems counter-intuitive now, given what we know the dangers of smoking, but at that time it was something that a certain percentage of the student body wanted.

When these seniors graduated, they passed the torch to us to implement their platform. Like The Torch Is Passed about JFK’s death, and passing a legacy of goals, but leaving the heavy lifting to us. Using this platform, one of my female classmates and I launched “The Party” and began the process of working for change.

Students were divided into a number of groups, such as: The Cliques, The Hards (think of Fonzie in Happy Days), the Welders, etc. Our group, The Party, was probably more nerd-like than anything else. I ran for president of the student body on The Party ticket and lost.

There was a walkway across campus that we called Route 66, which passed by a giant billboard-sized wall in the middle of our school of 3,300 students. The billboard was meant for student graffiti. Anyone could post anything. The administration hated it. The re-painting of the wall incurred more expense for them. They asked the custodians to paint over the graffiti every day. Then the students would spray/paint graffiti again. On and on. The administration blamed us since we were instrumental in having it built in the first place. But we thought that student expression was paramount and that the re-painting was a small price to pay for exercising one’s first amendment rights to free speech.

We started a movement for a counter-graduation. We thought of a way to cancel the traditional graduation ceremony: wekarl-kasca_capfull-gown_napa_1972 would tip off the fire department about how flammable the light plastic graduation gowns were. The fire department came and burned a graduation gown and determined that it was indeed flammable but no more so than the inner lining of a man’s suit coat, and therefore, not dangerous. So while our prank worked to some extent, it wasn’t enough to thwart the traditional graduation ceremony. If the alternative graduation had come off, it would have shunned tradition yet honored the students in non-traditional ways. In any case, it fizzled and we graduated—traditionally. We were admitted karl-kasca_capgown_napa_1972to college, so everything ended up OK in our eyes.

 

 

 

We read Mao’s The Little Red Book and Marx/Engels’ The Communist Manifesto. I remember my dad seeing those books and saying, “You can read that stuff but don’t leave it lying around where people can see it.”

We read and read and read…anything we could get our hands on. The more diverse or different the better. Like Confessions of an English Opium-Eater just because it sounded so weird. And Candide by Voltaire because it was French and philosophical-ish. From Dr. Pangloss in Candide we learned that “this is the best of all possible worlds,” and that was really saying something considering that he’d lost an eye and an ear to syphilis. Given that, we knew we lived in an amazing world too…but one which could be improved.

Our high school was mostly white. Nothing much ever happened there outside the typical high school activities, certainly nothing even remotely bordering on radical. It seemed very Happy Days-esque at that time. We complained about our town’s (Napa’s) complacency, being stuck in the status quo, and called the apathetic condition ‘Napathy.’

Many of the secondary students in our town were part of Napa’s “Model United Nations” (MUN) on campus. I’m not sure who founded the MUN in Napa, but every secondary school had an advisor and many students whkarl-kasca-mun-officers_napa-high-school_napanee-yearbook_1972o actively participated in it. I was President of the General Assembly in my Senior year. We had 300 delegates from high school and junior high school, representing various countries. Students wore “their” country’s national dress and tried to pass resolutions. We were hopeful that through a legislative process and through people working together that meaningful change could be effected. This was pre-“globalism.” We thought conflict could be solved through peaceful means. Of course, the John Birch Society was still in existence then. They called the United Nations a Communist organization. But nevertheless, we saw the possibility of a peaceful future for “mankind.”

After volunteering on McGovern’s campaign, I was deeply saddened when I got to U.C. Berkeley and discoveredkarl-kasca_uc-berkeley-sather-gate_san-francisco-chronicle_10-11-1973 Nixon posters everywhere in my dorm complex. This was the first year after the last year of tear gas at Berkeley at the end of the free speech movement (FSM). Apparently there were a lot of Berkeley students from Southern California, where Nixon was favored. Also I was living in the engineering/science dorm, and these students must have been more conservative than those in the liberal arts dorms. But this experience taught me something—things aren’t always what they seem initially (or on the surface), and nothing can be taken for granted—even in an allegedly “liberal” campus like Berkeley!

I voted in my first election with great pride and am still proud of that vote. We all believed that this love of brothers and sisters would spread around the world.

I couldn’t believe it when Nixon won by a huge number of votes. I had tried to convince my dad, whom my high school friends all secretly nicknamed “Arch” after Archie Bunker of All in the Family, to vote for McGovern, and we argued daily about it. I had no success with him. However, after the election was over he admitted to me that he’d voted for McGovern. I was shocked. Apparently he’d been leaning for McGovern the entire time; he’d just wanted me to learn how to justify and argue for my positions. Ironically, I had to wait until after the election to find out that I had been able to convince at least one person to vote for my candidate. Luckily this wasn’t as difficult when volunteering for Bernie, as several people I talked to told me that they’d vote for him. So I guess my Dad’s apparent stubbornness (orneriness?) had worked and I learned something after all.

The draft lottery was now in place. Vietnam seemed like certain death to me. There were body counts in the nightly news and much commentary about the war. We prayed for high lottery numbers. I heard that if drafted I’d go to the front since I was colorblind, and it was thought that colorblind people could see through camouflage. And actually there might be something to this: Do coulor-blind people see through certain kinds of camouflage? Also I was an Eagle Scout and rumor had it that they were more likely to be tapped as officers. This would have been bad news since more U.S. officers than enlisted men were killed in Vietnam.

Since I didn’t want to be in front of a platoon on land, I decided to apply for the Navy since they were probably ‘safer’ at sea. I thought I could beat the test, but I failed because of my colorblindness. I got a letter to that effect, and it said, “But don’t worry, you can join the Marines.” But that was even more certain death to me, since they go first into situations, and I thought I’d be in front. Years later my dad told me he would have sent me to Canada if I’d been drafted. As it ended up, my Dad was always for me and my interests, I just never knew it at the time while everything was going on. When I was an older adult, I was asked to teach at UCLA Extension. My dad asked me, “Can you do that?” And my answer was, “Yes, I can do that!” But again, I think he was challenging me to give it my best and do a good job, which I did. And I’m sure that he supported my teaching and professional speaking, but unfortunately he died before he could let me know that one last time.

In later years I turned my search towards inner peace through meditation. This seemed like a way to help others as well as myself—and perhaps generate more “outer” peace in our country and in the world too. After all, if the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas (a la “The Butterfly Effect”), then perhaps inner peace can influence outer peace the same way. Yeah, it could happen!

And so it went until Bernie Sanders ran for President, and then I felt that political action was also imperative to assure that we’d have a candidate with a success plan for America.

 

* Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane. This iconic group and their song Volunteers gives the flavor of the era and is definitely worth a listen and a look at the powerful images from that time.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SboRijhWFDU

  1. “S. I. Hayakawa became president of San Francisco State College (now called San Francisco State University) during the turbulent period of 1968 to 1973, while Ronald Reagan was governor of California and Joseph Alioto was mayor of San Francisco. In 1968–69, there was a bitter student and Black Panthers strike at San Francisco State University in order to establish an ethnic studies program. It was a major news event at the time and chapter in the radical history of the United States and the Bay Area. The strike was led by the Third World Liberation Front supported by Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers and the countercultural community.

“It proposed fifteen “non-negotiable demands”, including a Black Studies department chaired by sociologist Nathan Hare independent of the university administration and open admission to all black students to “put an end to racism”, and the unconditional, immediate end to the War in Vietnam and the university’s involvement. It was threatened that if these demands were not immediately and completely satisfied the entire campus was to be forcibly shut down.[3] Hayakawa became popular with conservative voters in this period after he pulled the wires out from the loud speakers on a protesters’ van at an outdoor rally.[4][5][6] Hayakawa relented on December 6, 1968, and created the first-in-the-nation College of Ethnic Studies.”  (Wikipedia, “S. I. Hayakawa,”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._I._Hayakawa#Student_strike_at_San_Francisco_State_University)

 

  1. “This is a postgraduate primer for their 1969 Teaching as a Subversive Activity — a book of alternatives to help promote a revolution without violence since “”violence changes the subject”” and is counterproductive. The alternatives consist of “”advice, maxims, homilies, metaphors, models, case studies, rules, commentaries, jokes, sayings and a variety of other things”” such as a certain amount of flak. All of it is designed to help students (school or college) achieve a non-coercive, non-regulated kind of education and the college is at one point equated with the public library where you can go to find out what you want to know. The authors are iconoclasts, albeit peaceful ones, and there are many kinds of recommendations (often taken from what has been done all over the country) on how to achieve a more fluid system.” (Kirkus Reviews, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/neil-charles-weingartner-postman-2/the-soft-revolution/)

Mas Un Mitote, Part 2 of 2, by Miguel Roura

8 May

MIGUEL ROURA is a writer/Actor/Producer/Activist and a retired LAUSD English Miguel's JC HeadshotLanguage instructor from Boyle Heights.  Since his earliest days during the Chicano movement as a community organizer and educator to his current involvement with CASA 0101 Theatre, Miguel’s life-work has been to contribute to the betterment of his community.  He’s performed shows such as:  Naked Stage Nights, Awkward, Remember La Causa?, Frida Kahlo Ten Minute Festival (No Me Queda Otra), La Bestia Band Theatre Project, Shakespeare Sonnets Night, and the Fall 2014 production of Julius Caesar. The following is the last part of his blog post. He tells me that Mitote means “indigenous dance of Mexico” but also that he is playing with the similarity to Mito (myth).

PART 2

In Culiacan we had two hours to stretch our legs. The bus driver told us not to wander too far from the station; anyone not on the bus by midnight would be left behind to find other means of transportation.

My clothes clung to my body, wrinkled and wet with perspiration. The heat from the asphalt and cement singed my sandals. Four of us, including Mangas, wandered down the boulevard and found a place that served ice-cold beers and had outdoor tables. My compadre Humberto told me before I left LA: They grow some of the best marijuana on the outskirt farms of Culiacan. Eyeing a row of taxi cabs across the street from the bar, I spotted a young guy about my age, looking bored, leaning against his vehicle, smoking. I sauntered over and introduced myself, told him I was a tourist looking to score some “mota.”  The cabbie, with the cigarette dangling from his lips, right eye squinting, inspected me head to toe: long hair, beaded necklace, paisley shirt, bell-bottom jeans, and three-ply huaraches.

“Quizas (Maybe),” he responded nonchalantly.

Cuanto (How much)?” I asked. The fare would be twenty dollars, he said, but the price of the weed, la yerba, I would need to negotiate with the farmer. I ran back and told the guys, asked if anyone wanted to chip in, but they all passed, warned me it wasn’t a good idea to go into a strange city.

“lf I score, are you going to want to smoke some?”

“Hell, yes!”

I handed the driver the twenty and he smiled. His name was Nico and he was saving to go to the United States; Hollywood was the place he wanted to visit—he was a movie fan. I sat in the back seat as Nico maneuvered around traffic. We rode silently beyond the city lights and out into the dark. Flickering like altar candles, distant fires illuminated the obscure surroundings. Somewhere down the highway Nico turned the cab onto a rutted road and it bounced and waded through tall grass and cornfields. After a long rough ride through back roads that only he could distinguish, Nico stopped the car, got out, and left without a word.

As I sat alone waiting, the cow and pig shit mixed with the stench of my apprehension. It wasn’t the fear of being busted. This was the land of Don Juan, the same desert where the Yaqui shaman instructed Carlos Castaneda in his spiritual way of life. I began to imagine the wraiths and specters that have haunted this land and its people for thousands of years. I’d met Carlos when he came to speak at a MECHA meeting shortly after publishing his first book. Afterwards, a few of us invited him to smoke a joint with us in the parking lot, but he deferred. He explained that Don Juan introduced him to peyote and other psychotropic plants to help him achieve awareness to an alternate state which his very strict Western training prevented him from experiencing. Marijuana was a devil’s weed, he said, that clouds and confuses the thinking. In order to achieve awareness, he needed a clear vision that would help him cross over the spiritual dimension where he encountered his nagual, his spiritual guide. Afterwards we laughed and thought him a square suit-and-tie man.

Suddenly a fog rolled in and enveloped the car. My thoughts dissipated in the mist and made me feel lost. I waited for Nico to return. The night noises grew, augmenting with my breath and heartbeat. Tittering to myself, I suppressed the prayer I knew could save me, but I didn’t want to sell out my recently acquired agnosticism.

I’ve read that between heartbeats, a person can dream his entire life. I thought about mine. I came to Mexico to penetrate her mysteries, to uncover her secrets, to saturate myself in her splendor. Growing up in Tijuana, I barely fondled them. I wanted to be deep inside, experiencing unsounded sensations. Here I sat, along the back roads of my mind, alone. My thoughts wandered. Now a panic ran through me. Raw fear pounded through my imagination.

In the midst of this reverie, two heads popped through the back windows of the cab. Nico smiled, smoke dangling around his face. He nodded to the other side, The stern face of a farmer stared at me.

“This is Eusebio and this is his farm,” Nico said in the spitfire Spanish of Sinaloa.

The man’s thick swarthy fingers clutched a big brown shopping bag which he handed to me. Opening it, I saw half of it filled with thick green buds that wafted the distinctive smell of freshly harvested marijuana.

“That will be another twenty dollars, Güero.”

The big ranchero fixed his eyes, waiting for my response. I dug in my pocket for my wallet, pulled out the bill, and extended it out to Eusebio. He smiled with pride as he withdrew and disappeared into the dew.

“Nice doing business with you, gringo.“

By the time I got back to the depot, it was well past midnight. Mangas stood on the first step of the bus entrance staring down at the two drivers, who were angrily shouting Mexican insults at him. Each bus had two conductors who took turns driving. Mangas knew only one phrase of this language, and the men’s demeanors didn’t faze him. He’d faced Army sergeants and the Viet Cong.

“Where you been, ese? These vatos are getting ready to leave your ass. I think he said he’s gonna call the jura on me. That better be some good shit you got there.”

It was. Right after I took my seat, I handed Mangas my July issue of Playboy; he opened it to the centerfold, and I dropped a wad of weed on it. Mangas expertly removed the rich round buds from the stems which he collected on his into a neat pile. Soon, perfectly round marijuana cigarettes emerged. I fired up the first and we started passing out the product of years of experience.

“Pinches gavachos grjfos!” scowled the older bus driver as he glanced back at the scene developing behind them. “Estan armando un mitote.”

The mood livened throughout the bus. We did start creating a ruckus. Someone pulled out his boom-box and the steely sounds of Santana started; then the percussion section chimed in, and soon it became the backbeat in our travels. The conversation grew loud. We no longer spoke in pairs or groups, but like we did at our MECHA meetings, with passion and conviction. The Vietnam War preoccupied us all. Even though we got deferments for being in school, the draft lottery loomed ominously in our lives. The only one not worried about it was Mangas. He had survived a year in “the bush.” But now he faced jail time for the Walkouts.

“Me vale madre (I don’t give a damn)!” was his favorite phrase. He didn’t give a shit.

At that moment none of us gave a damn either. We were high on the infinite possibilities for ourselves and for La Causa, committed to changing the world, eradicating injustice and inequality. It was our time.

The bus driver had refilled the ice-chest with beer. They must have felt the contact-high effects of the smoke, because they started talking and laughing with gusto and passing out the cold cans of Tecate.

We bragged how we would become the Generation of Chingones (bad asses) that would turn it all around, revolutionize the system. We’d become the architects and engineers of a new society, the teacher and administrators who would implement the theories of Paulo Freire. The lawyers and judges who would
argue before the Supreme Court defending the constitutional rights of Reies Lopez Tijerina, Cesar Chavez, and Corky Gonzales. We boasted and openly claimed what those before us dared not proclaim: a big piece of the American pie. The world was our oyster, and we were starved.

Daylight broke and we passed through one of the many small towns along our way, and I asked the drivers to find us a Mercado where we could stop and eat. We had the munchies.

(END)

Mas Un Mitote, Part 1, by Miguel Roura

29 Apr

MIGUEL ROURA is a writer/Actor/Producer/Activist and a retired LAUSD English Miguel's JC HeadshotLanguage instructor from Boyle Heights.  Since his earliest days during the Chicano movement as a community organizer and educator to his current involvement with CASA 0101 Theatre, Miguel’s life-work has been to contribute to the betterment of his community.  He’s performed shows such as:  Naked Stage Nights, Awkward, Remember La Causa?, Frida Kahlo Ten Minute Festival (No Me Queda Otra), La Bestia Band Theatre Project, Shakespeare Sonnets Night, and the Fall 2014 production of Julius Caesar.

One Saturday in the summer of 1970, I boarded a Tres Estrellas bus and headed south, down the international highway, taking me on my first in-depth exploration of Mexico.

I was part of a group of 150 Chicano students who rented apartments at La Plaza Tlatelolco while attending classes at UNAM –- La Universidad Autónima de Mexico. I came searching for an identity, encouraged by my Chicano graduate student teachers at UCLA, who nurtured me through the first two years, and by my mother’s prodding that I learn the truth about the land of my ancestors. I remember my high school teacher and mentor, Sal Castro, telling us: “Your people founded highly sophisticated civilizations on this continent centuries before the European stepped on this land.” So this afternoon with this group of young enthusiastic men and women, I loaded my baggage on a  coach that took us from Tijuana to Tenochtitlan.

That first day of travel started off full of excitement as we jockeyed for a seat next to someone with whom to share the experience. Once we sat down and the bus started to roll, the conversation focused on the women on the trip with us. Our bus was all male, another was all female, and the third carried the married and matched couples. After the subject was thoroughly reviewed, we took turns sharing why we came on this trip, what part of Mexico our parents were from, and how much Spanish we actually knew. Most of us, whose parents spoke mainly their native language, had that idioma deleted in school by teachers and deans who strictly enforced English-only policies through corporal punishment. Those kids whose parents were second and third generation at the urging of their counselors took French or Italian as their foreign language requirement in high school. After we drank all the beers that the bus drivers provided and we tired of the talking, we each settled into our seat. Images of people and places floated in and out as I sat by the window contemplating the passing panorama.

The words of Ruben Salazar crossed my mind: “A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself….” Looking around the bus, I realized I was part of a new generation seeking to re-define itself. What did I know about myself? Mother from Colima, father from Tabasco, and just like their geography, they were extreme opposites. My parents met, married, and divorced in Tijuana; but they “dropped me” (I was born at Paradise Hospital) in National City, California, ten miles north of the border. They raised me in Tijuana until their divorce when I was five. I went to school, church, and to the bullfights on Sunday; my mother was a big fan of La Fiesta Taurina. When I turned ten, my mother used my dual citizenship to exchange her passport for a residence card. As I grew up, what I knew about Mexico came mainly from her recollections and from the conversations I overheard from her friends over the years. Usually the talk revolved around heartache, tears, and suffering. Through my adolescence I never wanted to accompany my mother when she went to visit her family.

But now I was sojourning with other Chicano activists on this  pilgrimage to the land of the chinampas (floating gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City). Six hours into our trip, I realized I’d transferred from a luxury Greyhound bus to a transport with no air-conditioning, with one very small and smelly bathroom, and a radio with garbled sounds which gave me a headache. I shared the window with my new camarada, Mangas, a moniker he’d tagged himself: his real name was Richard, a 6’2″ chain-smoking Vietnam vet, who was a little older than most of us. We stared at the scorching, sun-drenched Sonora Desert until it was too dark to see anything. The rocking of the rickety bus lulled me in and out of sleep. Far in the distance a summer storm illuminated the distant mountains with veins of muted thunderbolts.

My mother gave me the thousand dollars I needed for this excursion; money she worked for and saved over the years. In Tijuana she’d been a registered nurse at Salubridad (public health clinics specifically for treating prostitues), caring for fichera (woman who drinks with clients at bars and earns a chip for every drink the man buys, which she later cashes in),  prostitutes, and their clients, mostly American servicemen. When she came to the US in her middle-age years, she did back-aching work: sewing, cleaning, and mopping kitchens and toilets in Brentwood and Bel Air homes.

After ten hours on the road, the driver pulled into the bus station in Culiacan, Sinaloa to refuel and to rest.

 

In high school I had never smoked marijuana. Most of the parties and dances I went to only served beer and sometimes cheap liquor. Moctezuma, our high-school class valedictorian, was the first one I saw take out a joint and fire up. He hung out with college kids and professors, and showed off his high vocabulary, which most of us football players didn’t understand.

But on the first days in the fall of ’68, just before classes started, and the first day I moved into the Brown House, I smoked my first toke. Brown House was a student housing complex right behind fraternity row. The university rented it for ten of the fifty male Chicano special-entry students whom they couldn’t place in the dorms. Toby and I were the first to arrive early that morning. He and I had been members of rival gangs back at Hollenbeck Junior High: him from Primera Flats and me from Tercera. But that was ancient history now.

After choosing my room, making my bed, and reading the first chapters of The Autobiography of Malcolm X in the early afternoon, I took a walk to the patio to stretch out. Toby was lying down in a couch with a headset and a peaceful look. He asked me if I had heard of Hendrix. I said no. He handed me the headset. He lit a joint, took a deep drag, and then handed it to me. I imitated him but instantly choked on the contents, coughing out the smoke which had made my lungs explode. My eyes watered as the spasm subsided. Thereafter, I lay back to hear and feel the electrical impulses that oscillated in my brain and tingled down my body. With that I became a toker.

Being an only child, I was always hungry for friends. Smoking a joint became a gratifying communal experience. Those were the times of sit-ins. teach-ins and love-ins, rallying at Royce Hall and occupying the Administration Building on Mexican Independence Day 1969. Smoking a joint broke down racial, economic and gender barriers. It was cool to do! People got happy when they knew I had joint to share. Scoring an ounce of weed for the ASB president got me many benefits.

End of Part 1/2. To be continued.

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 4 of 4

30 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 4 of 4

Back Home Briefly

A day or so after a beautifully sensuous reunion with my girlfriend, I got into my car and drove back to Fort Ord because I knew I still had to process out. When asked where I’d been I said, “At the beach I got so tired and disoriented, I just wandered off, and–I don’t know–pretty soon I wound up in the back of a pickup truck.” Then I embellished the story, “These guys found me there, took me to a house. A woman gave me some soup. They were so nice and friendly, I stayed there a couple of days. Eventually I told them where I was from. They said, ‘You really need to go back to Fort Ord because they can help you.’ So they brought me back here.” As it turned out the Army never found out that I went to L.A. or that I had my car parked on the base.

Smooth Moves, Not!

Sometime after I’d returned, we had another outing, this time to a bowling alley. We were eating burgers and fries. Across the table from me was a nurse from the psych ward whom I found attractive. (Had I forgotten about my girlfriend at home?) I thought I’d impress this woman by disclosing the truth about my phony CIA story. I was so naïve. She went right to the senior staff! In hindsight I realize that by that time I had grown weary of my charade and what I desperately wanted was to make a normal human connection. Risking all that I was attempting to accomplish, however, with a lame attempt to score some points with a female who had shown me nothing but indifference seems totally irresponsible and bit crazy to this day!

My Fate

I later found out that when my fate was being determined, the staff were of two minds. One faction wanted to throw me back into the court-martial process. The other apparently saw something in my personality that would legitimately make me eligible for a medical discharge. The latter faction won out and I was discharged.  It seems that I came within a gnat’s eyelash of landing in the brig and receiving an undesirable discharge which would have followed me throughout my life and wouldn’t have been convertible to the general discharge which I did receive.

Years later I found out that a general discharge could be converted to an honorable discharge by filing for the process. (Later still, I applied for and received my entire military file from the Army, through the Freedom of Information Act, though much of it had been redacted. I felt I needed to get that file in order to reclaim a bit of my life and see what, if anything, the government had on me). That I did end up getting an honorable discharge is ironic because what I went through is so contrary to what some Americans think “honorable” service people should do. Nevertheless, I’m grateful that I was able to take advantage of that form of amnesty. It probably made it easier to get some of the jobs I applied for, and, with my history of emotional instability, I needed every break I could get.

Finally Free!

Three of us who were to be released the same day were headed in the same general direction. A mumbling, apparently psychotic guy, whom a staff member told me heard voices, indicated that he wanted to return to the Santa Barbara area. The other needed to go south too, and since I had my car on base, I offered to take them with me. On the way back, I asked the guy with the voices, “Where do the voices come from?” In a monotone he said, “They come from an illusion-making machine in outer space.” We were on our way home–free from the Army–he didn’t have to make up a story for me. He really was psychotic. I don’t know where I let him off—at his sister’s or something–I was just focused on getting home. I dropped the other guy off near L.A.

Back in town, I ended up at my mom’s house again. Soon after, my long-term girlfriend and I moved in together. She had found a house in Woodland Hills where the owner was willing to sublet the two downstairs bedrooms and a bath. The woman needed help to pay her mortgage after a recent divorce. She (along with the occasional boyfriend) and her two young children slept in the upstairs bedrooms.

My girlfriend’s mother was livid because we were unmarried and living together. The woman was from the old country (Which one…? No, not that one), and she threatened  never to speak to her daughter again unless we got married. Within a couple of months we began to plan our wedding. After a mutual friend started to take over all of the planning without being asked to–even choosing what dress my bride-to-be would wear–we decided to elope to Monterey, CA, and be married by the Justice of the Peace. We agreed that a honeymoon in nearby Carmel would be divine. The wedding ring hadn’t been picked out yet, but we didn’t tell the staff that. We just had no ring. And the coat my bride was wearing (because she was cold) made her look about five months pregnant. (A shotgun wedding?) I  saw that those officiating noticed this too. It’s another irony (in a story rife with them) because she wasn’t pregnant. In fact, we never had children during our ten year marriage because she wanted to stay focused on her teaching job.

United Parcel Service and the Teamsters

Although I didn’t follow the path my father had prescribed for me I never did have to become “a soda jerk.” In 1967, the same friend who would later almost kill me with that Nembutal overdose, insisted that I do whatever I could to get a job where he worked: at United Parcel Service loading semi-trucks with packages. At that time it was a part-time student job, and since I was a student, I qualified. I managed to get hired as Christmas help and worked at the maximum of my physical ability so that they might ask me back. They did! Later I studied hard for and passed the sorter’s test. Sorters were paid more than loaders. I wound up working for UPS (they including my time with the Army in my total time with them) for over nine years. I was given a plaque for nine years of accident free service to the company when I left at the end of 1977.

This part-time job came with a full wage and benefits package, including a health plan and a retirement fund, under the Teamsters Union contract. I owe a great debt to the union movement which had been organized mostly by Jewish-Americans whose parents and grandparents had been decimated in the ghettos and shtetels of Eastern Europe by pogroms. These labor organizers were determined to create a new world here in the States where working people could make decent wages and provide themselves and their families with a better life. It worked. Their efforts helped to build the American middle class. In the 70s, my wife and I, both working part-time jobs, were able to facilitate a comfortable middle class life together, which included buying new cars and a home in La Crescenta. Nevertheless, I was still unhappy.

We moved to Seattle, WA, in 1978, and I divorced her two years later. Once again I had concluded that she would be better off if we split up. This time I believed that I would be too.

Conclusion

Near the end of his life my father told me that I was “accomplished.” That may have meant something to him, but I think that the stuff I’ve been through, much of it described above, tells a different story. Now I look back on what I’ve done as something that amounts to, to borrow the title of a Joni Mitchell album, a chalk mark in a rainstorm–nothing more. As a dedicated Zen Buddhist meditator I have no thought that it should have been otherwise. I’m just grateful for being here.

Om tara tutare ture soha

End of Part 4 of 4

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

A Political Turnaround by David Drum, Part 2 of 2

17 Dec

Part 2 of 2

David Drum 007

 

David Drum is the author of eight nonfiction books in the health area, as well as one book of poetry and many magazine and newspaper articles. He is also the author of the satirical novel, Introducing the Richest Family in America.

 

 

Somewhere along the line I lost my belief in Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy. Acting selfishly helped me get what I wanted, but it didn’t take other people’s feelings into account. I didn’t like what came with selfish actions — the guilt feelings, disappointments, and broken hearts.

I was accepted into the Iowa City Writers Workshop. When I arrived in Iowa City, I got some financial help from the school, and earned additional money through the university’s work study program. My second wife and I moved into a metal Quonset hut in married student housing. One of my fiction instructors, the novelist Robert Coover, was particularly encouraging my first semester of grad school. When he asked me to help him work on a film he was shooting, I leaped at the chance.

By the winter of 1967, campus sentiment was shifting heavily against the war. The University of Iowa campus was in turmoil. Every male student could be sent to Vietnam after he graduated, and TV news was revealing the Vietnam War to be a horrible quagmire. Students for the Democratic Society and other groups organized opposition to the war. The idea of revolution lingered in the air. Revolution could be heard in our music and our long-haired, restless, cooperative, love-making, pot-smoking campus culture.

Robert Coover wanted to make a documentary about a particular campus demonstration against the Dow Chemical Company. Dow made napalm, an insidious substance that our military was dropping onto Vietnamese civilians. Napalm burned all the way through the flesh and bones everywhere it touched the skin. And Dow was recruiting on campus. Students objected to Dow’s recruiters since their presence implied university support for the war and products like napalm. My role in the documentary was to carry a tape recorder and get some authentic crowd noise during the demonstration.

I remember that the winter air was cold on the morning of December 7, 1967. The sky was overcast. I was given a reel-to-reel tape recorder and shown how to use it. As students gathered, demonstrators set rubber dolls on fire to graphically dramatize the destructive effects of napalm. Angry speeches began on the steps of what I think was an old campus administration building. In the winter cold, I lugged my tape recorder up the steps to be closer to the speakers and the restless crowd. Suddenly one of the speakers shouted, “Let’s go get Dow Chemical!”

The front door to the building was locked, but students surged like a wave of water to the left side of the building. Someone opened an unlocked door. Protesters streamed into the building. I followed them, trying to stay in the middle of the crowd with the tape recorder.

I remember hurrying down a hallway. I remember seeing double doors burst open at the far end of the hall. I remember a wall of law enforcement officers running toward us, carrying batons.

One of them arrested me, and confiscated my tape recorder. I remember saying, “You’re making a mistake.” Reporters were supposed to have some immunity from arrest, but I didn’t know how to make that point, and anyway the officer who arrested me wasn’t listening.

I was handcuffed, led outside, and forced down on the sidewalk with some other arrested students. We were put into a police car and taken to jail. I wound up a group of about twenty other student protesters in a cell at the Iowa City Jail.

We were held for several hours. I remember all of us being walked into a small crowded courtroom, to enter pleas. Photographers were there, with flash cameras. Most of us were charged with disorderly conduct. I pled not guilty, as a lawyer I had never seen before advised me to do. I remember the rather distraught face of Robert Coover, who gingerly approached me when he had a chance and asked me how I was holding up.

Somebody posted fifty dollars bail for me. We were all released. The police kept the tape recorder, even though over the next several months I heard that the university made great efforts to have it returned.

My student life went on. I found another part-time job as a fry cook, working Friday and Saturday nights at an all-night diner and truck stop just off Interstate 80. I also stayed busy at school, where I had a full load of classes. A couple of my poems were published in little magazines. I worked on a novel. I reviewed visiting poets for the Daily Iowan, the university newspaper. It was a kick to see my articles in the newspaper, and wondered if I could do that for a living.

Although I had registered Republican, in the 1968 presidential election I voted for Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat, because I felt he was most likely to end the war. By 1969, the Vietnam War was raging. Lots of young men were getting draft notices, or joining up. A few weeks before I graduated, I was called to a pre-induction physical in Iowa City. My classification was now 1-A, which meant that I could be drafted as soon as I got out of school.

I had decided I didn’t want to serve in the military. However, I didn’t want to move to Canada. I didn’t want to amputate my trigger finger, or pretend that I was crazy. I didn’t want to find a psychiatrist who would write me a letter stating I was unfit for military service, as some of my friends did. My grandfather had hinted that he might pull some strings with the draft board, but I didn’t think that was right. My mother was urging me to volunteer. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

My second wife and I drove cross country to San Francisco, where we rented an apartment on Haight Street. While in San Francisco, a draft counselor with the American Friends told me that if I changed my address every three months that the draft board would never catch up with me, since it took at least three months for them to update their records. Other options for avoiding the draft included applying for conscientious objector or CO status, which would keep me out, too.

Changing addresses worked for a while. After San Francisco, I lived briefly in Lake Tahoe, California, in two different apartments in Reno, Nevada, and in Los Angeles, always waiting until the last possible minute to send in change of address notices. Finally I got on at a newspaper in a small town in the San Joaquin Valley. I was hired as sports editor for the Madera Daily Tribune, the first job I’d had in which I was actually paid to write.

In Madera, I learned journalism the old way, by practicing it on the job. But the draft board caught up with me. When I received an induction notice, I filed for conscientious objector status. I submitted a written statement to the board, and I was granted a hearing with the local Madera County draft board. Basically, I argued it wasn’t Christian or right to kill other people.

Before the draft board could decide my case, President Richard Nixon cleverly split the antiwar movement. The first lottery in December of 1969 assigned potential draftees numbers according to birthdates drawn from a hat. Number one was the first to go. My birthday was drawn number 318, meaning that it was unlikely that I would ever be drafted for anything short of an all-out nuclear war. I never heard from the draft board again.

At the same time, politics beckoned. An organizer for the George McGovern presidential campaign blew through our dusty little town, desperate for someone to chair the long-shot campaign. All the old politicos in Madera County were committed to Ed Muskie, a senator from Maine who was heavily favored to win the nomination. On a lark, another reporter and I volunteered to co-chair the McGovern campaign. I had more enthusiasm than he did for the job, and I more or less ran our long-shot campaign in Madera County.

McGovern’s campaign was a continuation of Bobby Kennedy’s very progressive 1968 presidential campaign, which ended with his assassination. A former Methodist minister turned senator from South Dakota, and a personal friend of Bobby Kennedy, McGovern was campaigning on immediately ending the Vietnam War, drastically slashing the Defense Department budget, and more. In order to vote for him in the primary, I changed my voter registration to Democratic.

By late 1971 and early 1972, great numbers of Americans were staunchly against the war. Local people of all ages and races volunteered to help our campaign. Volunteers streamed into California from other parts of the country, and we put several of them to work canvassing precincts for the Democratic primary in June. McGovern won the California primary, and the Democratic party nomination, but unfortunately he lost the 1972 election to Nixon, who continued the war.

Sometime in there, I was surprised to receive a check for $50 from the Iowa City courts. Without explanation, they returned the money that had been posted for my bail. I wondered for years if Robert Coover ever got that tape recorder back, and if he was able to complete his film. Just last year, I corresponded with him and learned that the answer was yes. His 29 minute documentary film, “On a Confrontation in Iowa City,” was completed in 1969 and posted online in 2011 by the University of Iowa’s Digital Library. The film includes a brief shot of me and two other protesters being led to a police car just before the closing credits. I was also credited for helping with the sound.

After my political turnaround, I’ve remained more or less an antiwar liberal, or a progressive as it’s now called. I’m conservative in spending money, but I have marched in many demonstrations and given money to many good causes. As a registered independent, I now vote for the most sensible progressive Democrats or third party candidates I can find.

Like any good citizen, I read and think about the issues. I write and email my elected representatives. As I have done in the past, I sometimes jump up and demonstrate for a good cause when I hear the call.

END Part 2 of 2

Blasting Caps, Musical Challenges, Women’s Rules, and Vietnam. By Kathy Green

22 Nov

davis mesa 2006.with Chuck

Kathy Green was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. After majoring in geology, she became a National Park Ranger for five years. During that time, she met Chuck Kroger [the editor’s brother], whom she married in 1978. They settled in Telluride, Colorado in 1979, where they co-founded Bone (Back of Nowhere Engineering) Construction company. When Chuck died of pancreatic cancer in 2007, Kathy and co-workers continued the company’s projects. Kathy enjoys hiking, running rivers, making art (including silk dying), and working for environmental and social justice in her region.

 

I went to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. There were only about 2000 students. The students and the faculty were liberal. When I arrived, I found out that Joseph McCarthy is from Appleton and is buried in a cemetery there above the Fox River and near our college campus. It had already been popular for students to go out there and have picnics and dance on his grave. I went to some of those parties and had my own personal vendetta to achieve; Joseph McCarthy had called my grandfather a communist on the U.S Senate floor! Our family considered that an honor. It was ironic to end up at a place where I could dance on his grave.

The administration at Lawrence was afraid of us, that we’d have a riot or something. But we weren’t very active. We did a few protests. Jesse Jackson came to speak to us in 1968 about the election when I was still 17. (I couldn’t vote then; the voting age was still 21. By the time I turned 21, the voting age was 18, and by that time my younger brother and cousin were 18. We all voted together for the first time even though I was older. I thought that was unfair.) We had a lot of black activist speakers come to our college; maybe it was an appeasement by the administration for the fact that Appleton had produced Joseph McCarthy. My education about civil rights continued to develop there, due to the civil rights movement and the war injustices. With Vietnam, the black and Hispanic and poor white kids went in first to the military and war. If you were white and rich, you had options. So in a way Vietnam and the draft were also civil rights issues.

We took over the president’s office once—I forget what our demands were, but we won them. Mostly I think the college administration was trying to protect us from overreacting and doing something horrible, resulting in students getting hurt. We students never got real active because the administration caved in on everything.

We were very concerned about the war. It was coming to a climax, the draft was changing—more rich white kids were needed for the war. The poor kids and kids of color were not enough anymore. I was a senior in college when the lottery occurred. Wisconsin was an “18 state.” (18 to 20-year-old kids were allowed to legally drink 3.2 beer) so our college had a bar in the student union that served 3.2 beer. When the lottery happened, we all jammed into Union Bar to see who got what numbers in the lottery. The lottery numbers were by date of birth. My brother and my cousin got horribly low numbers, but the war ended before they were old enough to be drafted. If you stayed in school you were OK but the minute you got out, depending on your birthday, you were going to war. Either you were number 364 and had nothing to worry about or you were number 19 and in trouble. Therefore many of those demonstrations that were occurring at other campuses were more about the war than about social justice.

Vietnam was the war for the my generation and totally affected everybody. People were planning: friends were trying to gain a lot of weight so they’d be disqualified; others were not eating at all so they’d be too thin; some were plotting to go to Canada; lots of lives were on hold and at risk. A little earlier when I was a sophomore, a guy came back to campus who had been a former student at Lawrence, and he had dropped out, been drafted, and was sent to Vietnam. He was older than most of us by five years. He was in a couple of my art classes. Another woman, Jane, who was also in my art classes, would attack him for going to the war. Why did you go? You shouldn’t have gone. She wasn’t at risk. She was from an extremely wealthy family, and had she been a guy and at risk, her family would have figured out a way for her not to go. This guy wasn’t from that kind of family, and when he dropped out of school and was going to get drafted, his family didn’t find him an alternative. He was left in the lurch and had to go. He didn’t start the war. I thought it was strange that some of my privileged classmates couldn’t sort that out. You needed to be attacking the presidents and the senators and some of your dad’s friends, the CEOs of some major companies. They were the ones making the war happen, not the 18 and 20 and 22 year olds that were forced to go and fight and have their lives messed up forever or lose their lives.

We didn’t understand about PTSD although I knew a little because World War II had affected my dad pretty badly. The opposition to the Vietnam War was more than the draft and the impact of having friends and family go to fight in the war. We, most of the students, felt that Vietnam was a war that the U.S. shouldn’t be in. We, the U.S., were doing the wrong thing.

A lot of changes occurred for women students over the time we were at college. The hours of the girls’ dorm were changed; the 10 o’clock curfew was done away with. Girls no longer had to wear dresses all the time—dresses or skirts had been required even in the winter. (If it was below -20 degrees we had been allowed to wear pants under our dresses.) Now we could wear pants any time without dresses over them. Boys were positively affected as well. They had to wear coats and ties to Sunday meals, and girls had to wear heels. Boys and girls both had to dress up for classes. No jeans. The next year all that went away (fall of 1969). No more dress codes. By the time I graduated in 1972, there were even co-ed dorms. There had been a silly rule that when a boy came to visit, you had to keep your door propped open the size of a trashcan. They had these round metal trash cans that were 16 inches in diameter in every dorm room but everybody was running out and buying trashcans that were six inches wide instead. We were bending all those silly rules.

It was ironic that when I was a senior, the incoming freshmen women didn’t understand that just three years earlier they would have had to put on fancy clothes to go to a meal on Sunday. It was amazing that as young, often silly adults, we already had this sense of history and societal change. The social changes paralleled the political changes that were going on. The women’s movement played a large part in the changes that were made.

So it was my senior year, the last trimester. My girlfriends all told me to take this Early 20th Century Music History class, and that it would be simple and fun with not too much homework. I started the class, and my musical challenge was that I couldn’t tell by listening who we were studying: when played by an orchestra, Beethoven or the Rolling Stones, it was all the same to me. I was like, Oh my God, this will lower my grade average, and what if I want to attend graduate school in a few years? On a long weekend we went on a geology field trip. We were isolated from the rest of the world. When we were in the car, the radio was on and you could hear the news, but much of the time we were cut off. So we were driving home and we heard about Kent State. People had been killed. A huge deal. We were shocked. I arrived back at campus and the next day the administration announced that you could take any class you wanted on a pass-fail basis. The rule had previously been that you had to switch to a pass-fail grade within the first two weeks of a trimester. But I hadn’t realized in time that Bartok, Beethoven, and the Rolling Stones all sounded alike to me and that I shouldn’t be taking this music history class. So despite the horror of Kent State, half-way through the trimester I got to switch to pass-fail. (I was really mad, however, that I hadn’t taken something simple like another math class. But it worked out.)

Flashback to the spring of 1970. I was a sophomore geology major. We took many geology field trips on weekends, especially on long holiday weekends. We’d go someplace and look at rock layers and drive around Lake Ontario, etc. On one field trip we went to an area where they had been blasting, and there were all these blasting caps lying on the ground. The first thing I asked was Are they safe? The tour leader said yes. I think we threw rocks at them just to see, and they didn’t explode.

I thought they were pretty and kind of cool. They were copper things, maybe a half inch or 3/8 inch in diameter, and about three inches long, and they had this piece of colorful braided rope coming out. I recall yellow and red. When there was dynamiting, you’d light the fuse, which is the rope, and it would make the dynamite blow up. Dynamite is dangerous, and we didn’t see any on this trip. but we did see those blasting caps. So I picked up a handful and put them in my pocket. They were intriguing to me on many levels. I thought I might make an art piece out of them.

We returned to school and I kept the blasting caps in my room. I was heading to Germany for a fall school program so I packed my foot locker with things to leave in the basement of the dormitory. I put the blasting caps in there, along with some books and winter clothes, and stored them. I went off to Germany for six months and came home. While I was home in January of 1971, there was a big anarchist explosion in Madison. Since the Lawrence administration was afraid of the students, any time anything would go wrong in Madison and people would get hurt or killed, Lawrence would panic and change things. Just after the Madison explosion, somebody made a threat to our little ROTC program. I heard that the FBI was there looking around Appleton.

I suddenly started to think about those blasting caps in the basement of Ormsby Hall. I went up there in February for an event, telling my parents I needed to go back for a visit because I missed everybody. They bought me a plane ticket. I stayed at Ormsby Hall with my girlfriends who were in school that trimester. I said, Oh, I gotta go down to the luggage room and look in my trunk and retrieve things. So the next morning I went down there early by myself and found the blasting caps, and I put the caps into a paper bag, packed everything back up into the trunk, and went upstairs. I said, I’m going for a walk.

You have to understand that going for a walk in Appleton, Wisconsin in February, it is likely to be cold, although that day I don’t think it was as extreme cold, like -40 degrees, which happened every year. It was probably only -10 or -20: practically mild. I put on my parka and stuffed the bag with the blasting caps into my pocket. I always wore my hiking boots then; it was kind of trendy. I got all bundled up. I went outside and dug around in the snow, found a little rock, and added it to my pocket with the paper bag. My campus is right along the Fox River, which was heavily polluted, so we didn’t hang out by the river much, but the campus is several blocks long, and at each block there’s a bridge across the river. I walked out into the middle of one of the bridges; it was cold and windy and snowing. I got the paper bag out, put the rock in, and crumpled it all up. I decided to use a paper bag instead of plastic because I wanted the caps to erode and go away. I threw it into the river and watched it sink into the water, which for some reason wasn’t frozen. I went back and had some tea with my friends. I told no one.

Years went by and a song came out about Billy Joe throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge. I had a different interpretation of that song than anyone else had. Every time I heard that song I got a little nervous and looked around to see if anybody was watching me. More recently I’ve heard of blasting caps blowing up spontaneously and causing damage to people or things. I think, Oh my God, what was I doing with them? I really liked them and during college I was enamored with being a revolutionary. I think we all were. There was some magic in that dream. I had really wanted to make a piece of art with them or to use them. I’ll never know if they were truly dangerous.

I got my first real job as a National Park Service ranger. The feds do an investigation into your background, and I never would have gotten the job if I’d been busted with the blasting caps. It wasn’t illegal to have them; they weren’t a controlled thing. Anybody could buy dynamite at that time; there were no regulations. They are definitely bomb-making materials and that step was not for me. I realized that I wanted to read about revolutionaries but not be one.

***

From 1973 to 1977 women’s issues became much more apparent to me. I was a federal employee in the National Park Service (NPS), where you’re not allowed to be an activist about anything and barely allowed to vote (the latter of which I say partly in jest but not really). It was obvious in my short career as a very young adult, that there was a long ways to go to achieving parity for women. Some of the first black female rangers were my roommates during our various training programs. Even today, the NPS is very much a “Good Old Boys” club and male-dominated. Many of the few female rangers of that era were treated badly by some of the men they worked with or for. Many of the women in administrative jobs were really making the parks run well but getting no credit and being paid at a lower wage level than men with the same jobs. One of my male fellow rangers told me that he was giving an incompetent male a good annual review because he had a family to support. Conversely, he was giving a very competent female ranger he supervised a bad review because she was too assertive and really didn’t need a job. She just needed to get married.

The NPS is much more militaristic than I had realized from the outside. The military aspects partially come from the U.S. Cavalry running the parks until the National Park Service was set up 50 years after the first national park. I learned a lot about the military by working for the NPS. One odd thing was that there were all-black Cavalry groups that were major caretakers of some of the parks before the NPS existed. The role and importance of those early black soldier caretakers are only now being recognized and celebrated in the 2000s. Today the NPS has new programs to attract both more diverse visitors and employees. Women of any color are being treated somewhat better today.

When I think back on it, I would say that in my high school and certainly my college years, I was the most conscious of the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam. After I went to work, I became more conscious of women’s rights and inequities. Flash forward: for 35 years, I have lived in a small remote Colorado mountain resort town and worked in construction. Our town was very lily white when we moved here. Our Hispanic population has increased a lot and we have to face and deal with discrimination and racial issues now. In the resort era of this town, women have played a major role in leadership, especially in government/elected positions. Today, I often wear a dress over my jeans (but by choice). I am used to being a female working in a “male” job—after 40 years.

I really wish I had those blasting caps – I would put them in one of my mixed media groutless mosaic art pieces.  The blasting caps were both very visually interesting and would convey an implied message – like blow up the dams on rivers – which the government is actually doing more and more – it is how you remove dams and restore habitat and bring back fish like salmon.

 

Carneys, Cons, and Gangsters: Coney Island 1970-1971, by Marty Bernstein

27 Oct

Coney Island.PostcardOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Marty Bernstein worked in the New York state court system as a civil servant. He was like a round peg in a square hole—a left-wing court officer and clerk. Two years after retiring in 2007, he worked part time at a non-profit for the developmentally disabled. In 2013 he completely retired and now spends vacations in a cooperative community in upstate New York called Spring Glen Meadows, the home of burned-out sixties radicals. He has two adult children and has been married to the same woman for 38 wonderful years. Her name is Patricia Ruggiero Bernstein. He says it has been a great Jewish-Italian combination.

 

I worked at Coney Coney Island.Dragons CaveIsland for two years. It was a seedy place at that time. There were seasonal workers…..I think the Mob was heavily involved. The first year, 1970, I helped runConey Island.Blacula two amusement rides. I would take fares and push buttons to get the ride started. Dragon’s Cave was mainly run by “Sporty.” He was a cheap guy. He would change the outside display but keep the inside ride exactly the same. For example, he had a mannequin of Blacula and would call people to the ride, under the pretext that Blacula was inside. The ride consisted of some cheesy monsters, some of them sinister-looking clowns, who would jump out at you. It wasn’t up to code; there were exposed wires running across the ceiling.

Magic Carpet Coney Island

 

The Magic Carpet was the second ride. It consisted of little cars that ran on tracks past fun mirrors and ended with the car breaking down and the participants shooting down a slide. In front of the ride was a fat female mannequin, who laughed hysterically to draw people in.

 

The second year, in the summer of 1971, two friends and I started our own business there. It was a refreshment stand; we called it the “watermelon stand.” We paid for private sanitation for our stand. We would supply the stand from vendors, many of Coney Island.Watermelon-popsicleswhom were reputed to be part of the Mob. We’d buy watermelon from one company. The ice guy would bring cut pieces of ice with tongs. We got our candy apples from a man who had a store under the boardwalk that was described as a “little rat hole.” One day my mom was visiting our stand when the candy-apple man came by to sell me some apples. I had decided not to buy from him anymore because he was price-gouging us. When I told him this, he yelled, “If you don’t buy my fucking candy apples, I will burn down your stand!” It scared me so I kept on buying from him.

There were many other concession stands. Our stand didn’t make much money during the week, but we looked forward to weekends and especially holiday weekends, when masses of people would descend on the park. We would buy an entire watermelon for$1.50 . It would then be cut into about 20 semi-circle slices that would sell for30 cents each. Cotton candy cost us ½ cent to make but it cost the buyer $1.00; this was our biggest profit-maker. Popcorn was also profitable.

Once I had to go to the bathroom so I asked someone to take over the stand for me. When I returned I saw him giving someone the incorrect chanConey Island.wonderwheel-spookaramage. It turns out he had consistently been doing this. I gave him hell. Another time a health inspector came by and cited me for uncleanliness. I got a ticket for $35. I had heard that these inspectors accepted bribes so I held out some money. He waved it away. “You’re a nice Jewish boy,” he said. “Put your money away.”

We were excited when buses brought people in because it meant a lot of extra money. But the buses brought in mainly African-Americans, who spent tons of money on rides and games. They slept overnight on the buses, which was sad since there were beach resorts along the Eastern Seaboard that would cost them as much as they were spending at the concessions. (Coney Island, by the 1960’s no longer had overnight accommodations.)

The carneys coaxed people to come in and win a prize. They were often offensive to the unaware public. They would bark, “Imby, come on over here.” (“Imby” stood for imbecile.) The games mainly cheated the people who were playing. For example, one game
involved throwing a basketbalConey Island.Shooting galleryl into a hoop for a prize. The hoop was very small and the backboard tilted towards the crowd. The only way to get the ball into the basket was to throw a net shot. All this for a stuffed animal that probably cost 25 cents.

Another game involved throwing a ball at an Inuit doll wearing a parka made out of animal hair and a hood surrounded by hair. It looked easy but what people didn’t realize was that the dolls were surrounded mainly by air behind their puffed-out hair so it was very hard to knock them over. It took a direct hit. Still another game required throwing a dime onto a “Lucky Strike” square, but what the players didn’t know was that the surface was slippery.

The Balloon Water Race Game provided little gorillas with balloons attached to holes in them. You had to pop the balloon with a squirt gun. The vendor was able to choose who would win by attaching a thinner balloon that would pop first.

In one game the carney had to guess the age or weight of the participant. If he guessed wrong, the player would receive a prize. However, it cost $1 to play and the prize was only a ten-cent plaster statue. In effect, the carney was selling a ten-cent prize for a dollar.

We were paid mainly in singles—about $5 an hour. I’d go home and count the singles, and then we’d divide the “profit” up. I’d be so tired after standing all day that I’d fall asleep in the middle of counting. The next morning I’d wake up and my bed would be covered with singles. One day one of my two partners accused me of hiding money in my underwear. When I went home that day I found singles behind my bed.

One holiday weekend a group of kids sneaked in the back, grabbed a watermelon, and ran away with it. I couldn’t go after them because I was alone in the stand. But I wanted to scare them so I grabbed the long knife that I used to slice the watermelon and waved it in the air.

Coney Island.fortune teller
Next to the refreshment stand was a shack with a tarot card reader who would tell your fortune. (It was illegal to use the words “fortune-teller.”) She was a Roma, called a gypsy at that time. I liked her, but I found out that her method of making money was by seating her patrons on a slanted couch. If she was lucky, a man’s wallet would fall out of his back pocket and she would keep it.

I kept in touch with one of my partners. This summer his son married Maura Roosevelt, the great granddaughter of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt. Pat and I attended their wedding in New Hampshire.

I’ll always remember this summer job. Despite the craziness, I loved the atmosphere and the carney subculture.