Sunday, November 20, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
"Spoken Word" artists, Dick Gregory and Mort Sahl
Although he is best known as a Punk Rock icon, Jello Biafra's "spoken word" career is best understood as part of a direct lineage from Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory. All three were stand up night club comedians in the 1950s who, as they moved into the tumult of the 1960s, stopped telling jokes and started, in Sahl's case, coming on stage with that day's newspaper and reading the news. If you want an introduction to Biafra's spoken word catalog I recommend the 2001 release, Become the Media, a 3-CD set offered at a single disc price.
While Biafra doesn't own a computer and doesn't use email (except through his record label, Alternative Tentacles), he has taken to the internet in the form of a video journal called "WWJD" which is posted to Youtube. His recent monologue on then Occupy Wall Street movement is alternately scatter shot and insightful.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
"The basic movement that says to each person: You are, I am a worthwhile person. I am one of the 99% that are the backbone of and reason America got this far. Why do I have to, beg for a job, beg that I can be seen for a medical condition, beg a politician for some little relief from the inexorable tightening of the screws that go on day after day, year after year, and never lets up? Why do the 1% have to keep grabbing more and more and stealing from the rest of us? Why must this theft continue? Why do I have to have my dignity, self worth violated over and over?" - BeeDeeS
Everyday I read more and more reports that point to the leaderless character of the #OWS movement and it's lack of a clear concise agenda as the primary strengths of the incipient movement. And the argument is not without merit - don't allow any organization to lay claim to leadership because, the second you do, you immediately limit the scope and appeal of the movement.
But there will come a moment when that will have to change, when this movement will have to move pass the simple expression of built up frustration and outrage over the past 3 decades of economic inequities and proceed toward some actual specific action.
It will not be a "revolution." Not in the same sense as those that spread across the Arab Spring. Barack Obama and John Boehner will not flee the Capitol and be discovered by an angry mob hiding in the break room of a Walmart.
I see posts on Facebook by people who, when I tell them they need to vote to stop a return of a Republican White House, tell me I'm wrong and that instead we have to "tear the whole thing down."
So.... This means what? That we shut down every public assistance office, every library, every public school? That we shut down all public utilities, all public transportation, all government services, all government agencies?
The fire hydrants in my neighborhood have been broken for a while; the sewage system in Indianapolis is about 100 years old and in need of some serious repair. Three times in the past week I've woken up, turned the faucet, and nothing has come out.
This is what we need to do, rather than re-elect Barack Obama?
No water, no electricity, no heat, no traffic lights, no police, no fire, no emergency services? Do these people really think a world in which a call to 911 is answered by a recording that says "The number you have dialed is no longer in service" is better?
No banks, no money, no prescription medicine, no salt trucks and road plows after a snow storm. Power to the people. Right on.
At the same time, the #OWS movement fills me with real hope.
I read recently someone who argued that the New Deal ended on May 8, 1970 in lower Manhattan, the day of the "Hard Hat Riots."
The riot started about noon when about 200 construction workers mobilized by the New York State AFL-CIO attacked about 1,000 high school and college students and others protesting the Kent State shootings, the American invasion of Cambodia and the Vietnam War near the intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street.
A left political movement that is on the other side of the working class is a non sequitur and has zero potential for growth or success.
But fast forward forty-one years to October 5, 2011 and the statement issued by Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President:
"Occupy Wall Street has captured the imagination and passion of millions of Americans who have lost hope that our nation's policymakers are speaking for them. We support the protesters in their determination to hold Wall Street accountable and create good jobs. We are proud that today on Wall Street, bus drivers, painters, nurses and utility workers are joining students and homeowners, the unemployed and the underemployed to call for fundamental change. Across America, working people are turning out with their friends and neighbors in parks, congregations and union halls to express their frustration – and anger -- about our country's staggering wealth gap, the lack of work for people who want to work and the corrupting of our politics by business and financial elites. The people who do the work to keep our great country running are being robbed not only of income, but of a voice. It is time for all of us—the 99 percent—to be heard.
We will open our union halls and community centers as well as our arms and our hearts to those with the courage to stand up and demand a better America."
Is that the spark that ignites the return of the New Deal? I'd sure like to think so, but, at the same time, I see a whole lot of Ron Paul supporters involved in these protests. Perhaps this represents a teaching opportunity. Perhaps a Ron Paul supporter marching on Wall Street presents a case study in a critical pedagogy of economics that challenge the assumptions of libertarian economics.
I will hope for as long as I can possibly hope.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Washed up on the beach
A sorry sight
of white hair
Flattened against his skull
Knocked off by a wave
Staggers to his feet
Laying there for a moment on the sand
He almost looks like a young man again
My father's mother's second husband
Was a kind man
They lived in West Philadelphia
I would spend a week or two living with them
in the summers
at the end of the 1950s
I don't know if we have any photos of Albert
I haven't seen any for many, many years
and in my mind's eye he looks like
I am remembering the mustache
and filling in the blanks.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Friday, September 2, 2011
Earlier today, playing around on Facebook, I posted a video of my favorite love song. The opening chord reminded me that there is a medieval pudding recipe made from yellow rose petals. Looking for an image of yellow roses I found that they are a symbol of joy, affection and friendship. And it wasn't even noon.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
"History teaches everything including the future." - Lamartine
Who we are now has a lot to do with who we were. This is the second part of a look... an inventory, of the center of what some scholars are calling the "Long Sixties" - the period of 1955 to 1975 in which the cultural revolution of "the sixties" played out.
January 3, 1966. The first Acid Test is conducted at the Fillmore, San Francisco, when tubs of regular and high test Kool Aid are set out for the masses. Also in January, Robert C. Weaver becomes the first African American Cabinet member, by being appointed United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. A B-52 bomber collides with a KC-135 Stratotanker over Spain and drops three 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs near the town of Palomares, and one more into the sea. Ooops. Young singer David Jones changes his last name to Bowie to avoid being confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees. Carl Brashear, the first African American United States Navy diver, is involved in an accident during the recovery of a lost H-bomb which results in the amputation of his leg; Brashear would later be portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the film Men Of Honor (2000). January 1966 also saw Indira Gandhi elected Prime Minister of India and Simon & Garfunkel release "Sounds of Silence," which hit #1 on Billboard charts. Albums released in January 1966 include Them Again by Them, Ballads of the Green Berets by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, Just Like Us by Paul Revere & the Raiders and Jealous Heart by Connie Francis.
In February 1966, West Germany welcomes some 2,600 political prisoners from East Germany. The unmanned Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft makes the first controlled rocket-assisted landing on the Moon. The National Hockey League expands to twelve teams. A military coup in Syria replaces the previous government with a Ba'athist regime. The Australian dollar is introduced at a rate of 2 dollars per pound, or 10 shillings per dollar. On 19 February, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin perform at the Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco (LSD-25 is still legal at this time). In February 1966 Wayne Shorter releases Adam's Apple; Boom by The Sonics; The Best of The Animals on MGM; Boots by Nancy Sinatra; She's Just My Style by Gary Lewis & the Playboys; The Sonny Side of Cher; Take a Ride by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.
In March 1966, the Soviet space probe Venera 3 crashes on Venus, becoming the first spacecraft to land on another planet's surface. The Ba'ath Party takes power in Syria. In an interview with London Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave, John Lennon of The Beatles states that they are "more popular than Jesus now." The U.S. announces it will substantially increase the number of its troops in Vietnam. An Irish Republican Army bomb destroys Nelson's Pillar in Dublin. The Texas Western Miners defeat the Kentucky Wildcats with 5 African-American starters, ushering in desegregation in athletic recruiting. The Labour Party under Harold Wilson wins the British General Election, gaining a 96-seat majority (a great improvement upon the five-seat majority gained at the election 17 months earlier). The Soviet Union launches Luna 10, which later becomes the first space probe to enter orbit around the Moon. On March 3rd, Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay form Buffalo Springfield in Los Angeles, California. The Young Rascals, Gordon Lightfoot, the Mamas and the Papas and The Fugs all release their debut LPs; the Rolling Stones release their pre-psychedelic "greatest hits" collection, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass); Barbra Streisand releases Color Me Barbra; Chet Atkins Picks on the Beatles and Phil Ochs in Concert are released.
In April 1966, Lyndon Johnson signs the 1966 Uniform Time Act, introducing daylight saving time. Bobbi Gibb becomes the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. On April 21st, an artificial heart is installed in the chest of Marcel DeRudder in a Houston, Texas hospital. On April 24, 1966, uniform daylight saving time is first observed in most parts of North America. U.S. troops in Vietnam total 250,000. In San Francisco, the Church of Satan is formed by Anton Szandor LaVey. Haile Selassie visits Jamaica for the first time, meeting with Rastafarian leaders. In April, 1966, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass set a world record by placing five albums simultaneously on Billboard's Pop Album Chart, with four of them the Top 10. Their music outsells The Beatles by a margin of two-to-one... over 13 million recordings. On April 12th, Jan Berry, of Jan and Dean, crashes his Corvette into a truck that is parked on Whittier Boulevard in LA. Berry suffers total physical paralysis for over a year as well as extensive brain damage. The bands Love and The Seeds release debut albums. The Rolling Stones release their strongest LP to date, Aftermath.
On this one day, May 16, 1966, the Communist Party of China issues the 'May 16 Notice', marking the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, and the albums Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde are released (Dylan's "official" release date; the actual release was delayed until late June). And in New York City, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes his first public speech on the Vietnam War. Also release in May 1966, Up-Tight (Stevie Wonder); Midnight Ride (Paul Revere & the Raiders); Small Faces (Small Faces); Black Monk Time (The Monks); Strangers in the Night (Frank Sinatra). On May 17th, Bob Dylan and the Hawks (later The Band) perform at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England. Dylan is booed by the audience because of his decision to tour with an electric band, the boos culminating in the famous "Judas" shout.
In June, the final new episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show airs (the first episode aired on October 3, 1961). Civil rights activist James Meredith is shot while trying to march across Mississippi. Topeka, Kansas is devastated by a tornado that registers as an "F5" on the Fujita Scale, the first to exceed US $100 million in damages. On June 13th, the Supreme Court of the United States delivers its ruling in the case Miranda v. Arizona and establishes the rule that the police must inform suspects of their rights before questioning them. Also in June of 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded in Washington, DC. Released in June 1966, Paradise, Hawaiian Style (Elvis Presley); Gettin' Ready (The Temptations); Yesterday and Today (The Beatles, featuring the infamous "Butcher" cover art); Animalisms (The Animals UK); Animalization (The Animals US); The Impossible Dream (Jack Jones); The Incredible String Band's debut LP; and, on June 27th, the first two "double LPs" in rock music history: Blonde on Blonde (Bob Dylan) and Freak Out! (The Mothers of Invention).
1966 is only half over.
In July 1966, President Johnson signs the Freedom of Information Act, which goes into effect the following year. Richard Speck murders 8 student nurses in their Chicago dormitory. He is arrested on July 17. Also in July, groundbreaking takes place for the World Trade Center; Martin Luther King Jr. leads a civil rights march in Chicago, during which he is struck by a rock thrown from an angry white mob; Caesars Palace hotel and casino opens in Las Vegas; the Beatles release the legendary Revolver album in the UK; race riots occur in Lansing, Michigan. In the People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong begins the Cultural Revolution to purge and reorganize China's Communist Party. Syrian and Israeli troops clash over Lake Kinneret (also known as the Sea of Galilee) for 3 hours. In July of 1966, the Beatles become the first musical group to perform at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo and Bob Dylan has his motorcycle accident in Woodstock, NY. Albums by The Byrds (Fifth Dimension), John Mayall (Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton), The Association (And Then... Along Comes the Association) and Beau Brummels '66 are released.
On August 16th, the House Un-American Activities Committee starts investigating Americans who have aided the Viet Cong, with the intent to make these activities illegal. Anti-war demonstrators disrupt the meeting and 50 are arrested. On August 17th, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republic begin negotiations in Kuwait to end the war in Yemen. On August 24th, the Doors record their self-titled debut LP. On August 29th, the Beatles end their US tour and their concert career with a performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Sniper Charles Whitman kills 13 people and wounds 31 from atop the University of Texas at Austin Main Building tower, after earlier killing his wife and mother. In August, the Beatles Revolver (in the US), The Paul Butterfield Blues Band's East-West and James Brown's It's a Man's Man's Man's World all see their original release.
On the first day of September, 1966, while waiting at a bus stop, Ralph Baer an inventor with Sanders Associates, writes a four-page document which lays out the basic principles for creating a video game to be played on a television. On September 8th, Star Trek, the classic science fiction television series, debuts on NBC-TV. The first episode of The Monkees is broadcast on NBC on September 12th. On September 14th, George Harrison travels to India for 6 weeks to study sitar with Ravi Shankar. Debut LPs by The Monkees and Jefferson Airplane (Takes Off) are released days apart. Also in September, British folk guitarist, Bert Jansch, (Jack Orion) and Donovan (Sunshine Superman) release new LPs.
In October 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton found the Black Panther Party. Toyota Motors introduces the Toyota Corolla. An experimental reactor at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station suffered a partial meltdown when its cooling system failed. The Soviet Union declares that all Chinese students must leave the country before the end of October. The Baltimore Orioles defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series, 1–0, to sweep the series for their 1st World Championship. President Johnson signs a bill creating the United States Department of Transportation. The AFL-NFL merger is approved by the U.S. Congress. Grace Slick performs live for the first time with the Jefferson Airplane. Simon & Garfunkel release Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, The Kinks release Face to Face, and in New York City on October 8, 1966, WOR-FM becomes the first FM rock music station, under the leadership of DJ Murray The K.
In November, 1966, former Massachusetts Attorney General Edward Brooke becomes the first African American elected to the United States Senate since Reconstruction. The actor, Ronald Reagan, is elected Governor of California. On November 9th, John Lennon meets Yoko Ono at the Indica Gallery. On November 24th, the Beatles begin recording sessions for their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Charley Pride is signed by RCA, and the Centre d'Etudes de Mathématique et Automatique Musicales (Centre for Automatic and Mathematical Music) is founded in Paris by Iannis Xenakis. The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, one of three albums released that November to use the word "psychedelic" to refer to the sounds within, is released (the other LPs were The Blues Magoos' Psychedelic Lollipop, and The Deep's Psychedelic Moods).
In December of 1966, Walt Disney dies while producing The Jungle Book, the last animated feature under his personal supervision. The first Kwanzaa is celebrated by Maulana Karenga, founder of Organization US (a black nationalist group) and later chair of Black Studies, at California State University, Long Beach. Among the LPs released in December 1966 were debuts by Buffalo Springfield, Cream (Fresh Cream) and Tim Buckley.
The Top 40 songs of 1966 were: "The Ballad Of The Green Berets" Sgt. Barry Sadler. "Cherish" The Association; "(You're My) Soul And Inspiration" Righteous Brothers; "Reach Out I'll Be There" Four Tops; "96 Tears" ? & The Mysterians; "Last Train To Clarksville" Monkees; "Monday Monday" Mamas and Papas; "You Can't Hurry Love" Supremes; "Poor Side Of Town" Johnny Rivers; "California Dreamin'" Mamas and Papas; "Summer In The City" Lovin' Spoonful; "Born Free" Roger Williams; "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" Nancy Sinatra; "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted" Jimmy Ruffin; "Strangers In The Night" Frank Sinatra; "We Can Work It Out" Beatles; "Good Lovin'" Young Rascals; "Winchester Cathedral" New Vaudeville Band; "Hanky Panky" Tommy James & The Shondells; "When A Man Loves A Woman" Percy Sledge; "Paint It Black" Rolling Stones; "My Love" Petula Clark; "Lightin' Strikes" Lou Christie; "Wild Thing" Troggs; "Kicks" Paul Revere & The Raiders; "Sunshine Superman" Donovan; "Sunny" Bobby Hebb; "Paperback Writer" Beatles; "See You In September" Happenings; "You Keep Me Hangin' On" Supremes; "Lil' Red Riding Hood" Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs; "Devil With A Blue Dress On & Good Golly Miss Molly (Medley)" Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels; "Good Vibrations" Beach Boys; "A Groovy Kind Of Love" Mindbenders; "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" Dusty Springfield; "Born A Woman" Sandy Posey; "Cool Jerk" The Capitols; "Red Rubber Ball" Cyrkle; "B-A-B-Y" Carla Thomas; "Walk Away Renee" Left Banke.
Bands that first formed in 1966 include Buffalo Springfield, Cream, Eric Burdon & the Animals, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and The Monkees.
In film, a list of the six films that grossed over $10 million dollars gives an insight into how wonderfully varied the media was at the time.
1. Hawaii (Julie Andrews and Max von Sydow) $15,553,000
2. The Bible: In the Beginning (Michael Parks, Richard Harris, Ava Gardner) $15,000,000
3. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton) $14,500,000
4. The Sand Pebbles (Steve McQueen and Candice Bergen) $13,500,000
5. A Man For All Seasons (Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, and Robert Shaw) $12,750,000
6. The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming! (Alan Arkin and Carl Reiner) $10,164,000
1966 also saw the release of: Blowup, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni; Fahrenheit 451, directed by François Truffaut; Masculine-Feminine, directed by Jean-Luc Godard; Torn Curtain, directed by Alfred Hitchcock; The King of Hearts; Our Man Flint; The Wild Angels. 1966 saw the film debuts of Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford and Christopher Walken.
On TV... The Academy Awards air in color for the first time, on ABC.In a post-fight interview, Howard Cosell honors Muhammad Ali's wishes to no longer be referred to as Cassius Clay, contrasting with the approach of most other sports reporters of the time. Patrick McGoohan quits the popular spy series Danger Man (aired in the US as Secret Agent) after filming only two episodes of the fourth season, in order to produce and star in The Prisoner, which begins filming in September. The 1951–1953 CBS sitcom Amos & Andy is pulled from syndication broadcast due to complaints from civil rights organizations. New series of 1966 include Batman, The Green Hornet, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Star Trek, Dark Shadows, The Newlywed Game, The Monkees, Mission Impossible, The Hollywood Squares and The 700 Club.
In 1966 Cindy Crawford, Rachel Dratch, Edie Brickell, Greg Maddux, Stephen Baldwin, J. J. Abrams, John Cusack, Sinéad O'Connor, and Mike Tyson are born.
Buster Keaton, Hedda Hopper, Sophie Tucker, Maxfield Parrish, William Frawley, Bobby Fuller, Montgomery Clift, Bud Powell, and Lenny Bruce died.
In or about this year, one person returning to Haiti from the Congo is thought to have first brought HIV to the Americas.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
"If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development." - Aristotle
The years 1965 and 1966 represent a sort of peak in popular music, bound up in a kind of homogeneity that would never happen again; shattered by a gradual crawl toward fragmentization and the compartmentalization that defines contemporary popular culture. It is also across these two years that pop begins to morph into rock and lose it's status as ephemeral teenage fascination. As the performers in the post-British Invasion second age of rock and roll travel through their twenties, they begin to take more and more control of the processes that had traditionally been the realm of the "suits" who packaged and marketed the music. In 1965, pop performers are all still well ensconced in "the show business", but the signs are there of something larger lying just ahead.
The fans, too, are growing up, leaving high schools and heading to universities, and in never-before seen numbers. The "baby boom" that was wearing Beatle wigs and screaming at the Ed Sullivan Show just a year ago is now becoming politicized by the perfect storm of the draft and Vietnam, and using the added gravitas of the civil rights and anti war movements to become conscious of itself as a generation in a manner that rarely happens. These things would all reach a boil in the period of 1967-1969, but the seeds of it all are present in the period of 1965-1966.
Sometimes my head gets stuffy with facts. Names, dates and places all jumble together and I occasionally need to stop and gain a better purchase on what things correspond to what things, and what other things are years apart.
As 1965 begins, LBJ, who will be sworn in for his own full term as President on January 20th, first uses the phrase "The Great Society" in his State of the Union address on the 4th. On January 24th, as if ringing a large bell to announce the start of a new era, Sir Winston Churchill dies as "Downtown" hits #1 and makes Petula Clark the first British female performer to top the charts since the arrival of The Beatles. In February, The Rolling Stones Now! and John Coltrane's A Love Supreme are released, and Malcolm X is assassinated in Manhattan.
In March, civil rights demonstrators clash with state troopers in Selma Alabama while some 3,500 US Marines become the first American combat troops in Vietnam. A Russian cosmonaut becomes the first person to ever walk in space while the bill that will become the Voting Rights act of 1965 is introduced to Congress. Also in March, the Temptations have their first hit, "My Girl" while the Supremes have their fourth number one single, "Stop! In The Name Of Love" and Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Bill Wyman are fined five pounds for urinating on the wall of a London gas station. Albums released in March 1965 include Kinda Kinks, The Beach Boys Today!, Buck Owens' I've Got a Tiger by the Tail, Elvis Presley's Girl Happy and Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home.
In April, the US launches the world's first space nuclear power reactor. The Houston Astrodome opens. The 100th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War is observed. My Fair Lady wins 8 Academy Awards, Mary Poppins wins 5. Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, convicted of murdering 4 members of the Herbert Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas, are executed by hanging at the Kansas State Penitentiary for Men. The West German parliament extends the statute of limitations on Nazi war crimes. The first SDS march against the Vietnam War draws 25,000 protesters to Washington, DC. Among the albums released are My Funny Valentine by Miles Davis and Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The New Musical Express poll winners' concert takes place featuring performances by The Beatles, The Animals, The Rolling Stones, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Kinks, the Searchers, Herman's Hermits, The Anita Kerr Singers, The Moody Blues, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Donovan, Them, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones.
In May 1965, forty men burn their draft cards at the University of California, Berkeley, and a coffin is marched to the Berkeley Draft Board. The largest teach-in to date begins at Berkeley, California, attended by 30,000. The first skateboard championship is held. Muhammad Ali knocks out Sonny Liston in the first round of their championship rematch. Alan Price leaves The Animals. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger begin work on "Satisfaction" in their Clearwater, Florida hotel room (Richards came up with the classic guitar riff while playing around with his brand new Gibson "Fuzz box"). Bob Dylan performs the first of two concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall, concluding his tour of Europe. Audience members include The Beatles, and Donovan. Albums released include What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid by Donovan, Maiden Voyage by Herbie Hancock and My Name Is Barbra by Barbra Streisand.
In June 1965 the first contingent of Australian combat troops arrives in South Vietnam. Gemini 4 astronaut Edward Higgins White makes the first U.S. space walk. In the Battle of Dong Xoai, about 1,500 Vietcong mount a mortar attack, overrunning the military headquarters and the adjoining militia compound. A planned anti-war protest at the Pentagon becomes a teach-in, with demonstrators distributing 50,000 leaflets in and around the building. In Algeria, Houari Boumédienne's Revolutionary Council ousts Ahmed Ben Bella, in a bloodless coup. Producer Tom Wilson records a heavy backing band onto the song "The Sounds of Silence", without the knowledge of Paul Simon. The Supremes have their fifth consecutive number one single,"Back In My Arms Again." The Beatles are made Members of the British Empire (MBE) by the Queen. The albums The Angry Young Them, Beatles VI and Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds are released.
And we're half way through 1965.
Turn on the radio and pop music is one loud contradictory swirl of sound rushing out of every AM car radio and hand-held transistor, all playing the same sounds day in day out. The Billboard Top 40 songs of 1965 include "Wooly Bully" Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs; "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" Four Tops; "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" The Rolling Stones; "You Were On My Mind" We Five; "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" Righteous Brothers; "Downtown" Petula Clark; "Help!" The Beatles; "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat" Herman's Hermits; "Crying in the Chapel" Elvis Presley; "My Girl" Temptations; "Help Me, Rhonda" Beach Boys; "King of the Road" Roger Miller; "The Birds And The Bees" Jewel Aikens; "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" Mel Carter; "Shotgun" Jr. Walker and The All Stars; "I Got You Babe" Sonny and Cher; "This Diamond Ring" Gary Lewis and The Playboys; "The "In" Crowd" Ramsey Lewis Trio; "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" Herman's Hermits; "Stop! In The Name Of Love" Supremes; "Unchained Melody" Righteous Brothers; "Silhouettes" Herman's Hermits' "I'll Never Find Another You" Seekers' "Cara Mia" Jay and The Americans; "Mr. Tambourine Man" Byrds; "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" Sounds Orchestral; "Yes I'm Ready" Barbara Mason; "What's New Pussycat?" Tom Jones; "Eve of Destruction" Barry McGuire; "Hang On Sloopy" McCoys; "Ticket To Ride" The Beatles; "Red Roses For A Blue Lady" Bert Kaempfert and His Orch.; "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" James Brown and The Famous Flames; "Game Of Love" Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders; "The Name Game" Shirley Ellis; "I Know a Place" Petula Clark; "Back In My Arms Again" Supremes; "Jolly Green Giant" Kingsmen; :Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" Patti Page; "Like a Rolling Stone" Bob Dylan.
In July 1965 the spacecraft Mariner 4 flies by Mars, becoming the first spacecraft to return images from the Red Planet. Edward Heath becomes Leader of the British Conservative Party. President Johnson announces his order to increase the number of troops in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000, and to more than double the number of men drafted per month - from 17,000 to 35,000. Later in July the President signed the Social Security Act of 1965 into law, establishing Medicare and Medicaid. On July 25, Bob Dylan plays Newport Folk Festival, is booed for playing electric set with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Joan Baez and Donovan also play sets. In July, the albums For Your Love by The Yardbirds, Summer Days (and Summer Nights) by The Beach Boys and Out of Our Heads by The Rolling Stones are released.
In August, cigarette advertising is banned on British television. President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The Watts Riots begin in Los Angeles California. The Jefferson Airplane debuts at the Matrix in San Francisco, California and begins to appear there regularly. The Beatles perform the first stadium concert in the history of rock, playing at Shea Stadium in New York. Casey Stengel announces his retirement after 55 years in baseball. At the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt, 66 ex-SS personnel receive life sentences, 15 others smaller ones. The Beatles visit Elvis Presley at his home in Bel-Air. It is the only time the band and the singer meet. The Small Faces release "Whatcha Gonna Do About It", their first single. The Beatles release the soundtrack to their second movie Help! The Paul Simon Song Book, a solo LP by Paul Simon, is released in the UK (but not in the US). Bob Dylan releases Highway 61 Revisited, the second LP in his 1965-66 "trilogy."
In September 1965 Pakistani troops enter the Indian sector of Kashmir, while Indian troops try to invade Lahore. Islamic Republic Of Pakistan observes its Defence day. Hurricane Betsy roars ashore near New Orleans, Louisiana with winds of 145 MPH, causing 76 deaths and $1.42 billion in damage. The Tom & Jerry cartoon series makes its world broadcast premiere on CBS. Sandy Koufax pitches a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. Donovan appears on Shindig! in the U.S. and plays Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Universal Soldier". The Animals release Animal Tracks and Otis Redding releases Otis Blue.
In October 1965 John Coltrane releases Om, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's first album is released, Donovan releases Fairytale, and Frank Sinatra releases September of My Years. Jimi Hendrix signs a three year recording contract with Ed Chaplin, receiving $1 and 1% royalty on records with Curtis Knight (an agreement that later causes continuous litigation problems with Hendrix and other record labels). The Animals make their fourth appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Fidel Castro announces that Che Guevara has resigned and left the country. Anti-war protests draw 100,000 in 80 U.S. cities and around the world. In Washington, DC, a pro-Vietnam War march draws 25,000. The University of California, Irvine opens its doors.
November 1965: Republican John Lindsay is elected mayor of New York City. Pillsbury's world-famous mascot, the Pillsbury Doughboy, is created. Man of La Mancha opens in a Greenwich Village theatre in New York and eventually becomes one of the greatest musical hits of all time. Bob Dylan weds Sara Lowndes. The Pentagon tells U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson that if planned major sweep operations to neutralize Viet Cong forces during the next year are to succeed, the number of American troops in Vietnam will have to be increased from 120,000 to 400,000. The Supremes have their sixth number one record, "I Hear A Symphony", for Motown Records. Arlo Guthrie is arrested in Great Barrington, Massachusetts for the crime of littering, perpetrated the day before Thanksgiving in the nearby town of Stockbridge. The resultant events and adventure would be immortalized in the song "Alice's Restaurant". Among the albums released in November are Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds, The Kink Kontroversy, Do You Believe in Magic (The Lovin' Spoonful), E.S.P. (Miles Davis), Farewell Angelina (Joan Baez) and Going To a Go-Go (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles).
December 1965: The Who release My Generation, The Beatles release Rubber Soul, The Byrds release Turn! Turn! Turn! and The Rolling Stones release December's Children (And Everybody's). The Beatles also release their double A-sided single "Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out." Meanwhile, Charles de Gaulle is re-elected as French president and Ferdinand Marcos becomes President of the Philippines. A Charlie Brown Christmas, the first Peanuts television special, debuts on CBS. The Soviet Union announces that it has shipped rockets to North Vietnam. David Lean's film, Doctor Zhivago, is released.
Some of the bands that formed for the first time in 1965 include: The Doors, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Los Jairas, Velvet Underground, and Pink Floyd.
Among the other records released in 1965 were: At The Golden Circle Vol. 1 & 2 by Ornette Coleman. Bleeker & MacDougal by Fred Neil. Catch Us if You Can by The Dave Clark Five. Celebrations For a Grey Day by Richard Farina and Mimi Farina. Country Willie: His Own Songs by Willie Nelson. Creation by John Coltrane. The Fugs First Album. The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume 1 & 2. Hoodoo Man Blues by Junior Wells. I Ain't Marching Anymore by Phil Ochs. Jackson C. Frank. Live at the Regal by B. B. King. Odetta Sings Dylan. Skip James Today! The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death by John Fahey.
In television, Today on NBC goes color. The Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC goes color. CBS airs the first color broadcast of an NFL football game, a Thanksgiving Day matchup between the Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions. My Mother, the Car premieres on NBC. CBS debuts Lost in Space and Green Acres. Meanwhile, on ABC, The Big Valley premieres, and NBC launches I Spy. The Wild Wild West and Hogan's Heroes premiere on CBS. I Dream of Jeannie premieres on NBC, and so does Get Smart.
At the Academy Awards, The Sound of Music takes Best Picture, and Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou) and Julie Christie (Darling) win Best Actor/Actress. The Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival goes to The Knack …and How to Get It, directed by Richard Lester. Other films from 1965 include: Alphaville, (Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution'), directed by Jean-Luc Godard; Bunny Lake Is Missing, directed by Otto Preminger; Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, directed by Russ Meyer; For a Few Dollars More, directed by Sergio Leone; The Ipcress File, directed by Sidney J. Furie; What's New Pussycat?, directed by Clive Donner.
In addition to Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Alan Freed, Nat King Cole, Spike Jones, Stan Laurel, Margaret Dumont, T.S. Eliot, Edward R. Murrow, Edgard Varèse, Sonny Boy Williamson and Jeanette MacDonald died in 1965. Rob Zombie, Dr. Dre, Trent Reznor, Courtney Love, Shania Twain, Slash, Björk, Moby, Andy Dick, Robert Downey, Jr. and Rodney King were born.
Friday, July 1, 2011
This book was written eighteen years ago, published in 1994. I just went back and started to read it for the first time in at least 15 years and was struck by the very first page and how much what we were describing then seems like, with very few changes of names and places, a perfectly lucid description of today.
I'm not at all sure of my point here, I don't think it's anything as simple as "nothing changes" since there is clearly an abundance of evidence to the contrary. Perhaps it is more in keeping with what has become one of my favorite Mark Twain quotations: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes."
"There is an unmistakable irony in watching the United States offer itself as role model to the various projects of democratization unfolding throughout eastern Europe even as the very activities inherent to notions of participatory democracy (e.g., voter turnout, literacy, etc.) continue their steady decline inside our borders. For those striving for social change, there is an experience of tangible depression in witnessing the growing power of neoconservative ideology. The borders and boundaries of this ideological cultural formation are marked by numerous signposts: the renewed attacks upon the hard-won rights of women (in the holy name of morality), racial and ethnic minorities (in the name of a mythological meritocracy), and gays and lesbians (in the timeless name of nature); the steady increase of corporate and state power; the continued melding together of the state, the market and the media, and the corresponding erosion of an ever-diminishing democratic public sphere; the conflation of the corporate and the public into one vague and amorphous collective philosophy of money and nostalgia; and the declamation that recent gains in multicultural education represent little more than the thinly veiled virus of political correctness (which in a twisted Orwellian logic has as its goals the restriction of free discussion and the subversion of a stable and coherent canon of Western culture). Finally in the face of all of this, the political left has been weakened by a spiraling fragmentation and factionalization into a complex yet redundant theoretical melange of suffocating identity politics and reactionary and nihilistic postmodernisms" (p. 1).
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Grace Kelly and my father, Philadelphia in the 1960s
Just called my dad who is doing well, living with one of my sisters in New Jersey. Born in the second decade of the 20th Century to parents who came to the US in that wave of East-European immigration; a while back my sister managed to track down the actual logs from Ellis Island documenting their arrival from Poland (the original family name of "Dzieniszewski" was shortened to "Denski" a short time later). He grew up in the tough part of Philadelphia, the "Fish Town" neighborhood and made his way during the Great Depression as a pool hustler, gambler, fighter and occasional footballer. Along with another million plus men his age, he joined the Army and fought from the beaches in Normandy through France and Belgium as part of what Kurt Vonnegut would later describe as the "children's crusade" (now that I'm in my fifties, everybody looks impossibly young in the photos from that period).
Coming home after the war, he wanted "a job with a pension" and joined the Philadelphia Police force, eventually retiring as a Lieutenant. Growing up and coming of age in the 1960s with a police officer father made ours a tumultuous relationship. These days, we speak about once a week and that past is well behind us now.
I love this photograph. Grace Kelly and her mother are unveiling a bust of her father, John B. Kelly, a famous Philadelphia native, somewhere in Fairmont Park. The bust is gone now, nobody seems to know where it went; I believe it was removed when a larger sculpture of Kelly as an Olympic rower was installed sometime, I think, in the 1990s. But I digress.
My father is there on the left, one of two Fairmont Park police officers serving as an honor guard. The other guy is Bill Hamilton, who once went to FBI school and brought me a present of a big book on the FBI that he had autographed "To Stanley, J. Edgar Hoover." I don't know what happened to the book, I wish I still had it.
I used this photo a while back to start a rumor in the family that my father and Grace Kelly had an affair and that our brother, Joe, is actually my father's son by Princess Grace. Nobody in my family actually looks like Joe, and Joe looks a WHOLE lot like this bust of John B. Kelly.
Anyway, happy father's day you rascal you.
Friday, June 10, 2011
"It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic nation that it have free and independent labor unions." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
"The important role of union organizations must be admitted: their object is the representation of the various categories of workers, their lawful collaboration in the economic advance of society, and the development of the sense of their responsibility for the realization of the common good." - Pope Paul VI
"Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The only thing workers have to bargain with is their skill or their labor. Denied the right to withhold it as a last resort, they become powerless. The strike is therefore not a breakdown of collective bargaining-it is the indispensable cornerstone of that process." - Paul Clark
"History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them." - Martin Luther King Jr.
"Every advance in this half-century: Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education... one after another- came with the support and leadership of American Labor." - Jimmy Carter
"The history of America has been largely created by the deeds of its working people and their organizations--there is scarcely an issue that is not influenced by labor’s organized efforts or lack of them." - William Cahn, Labor historian
"Never forget, people DIED for the eight hour workday." - Rebecca Gordon
"Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts." - Molly Ivins
"I want you to pledge to yourselves in this convention to stand as one solid army against the foes of human labor. Think of the thousands who are killed every year and there is no redress for it. We will fight until the mines are made secure and human life valued more than props. Look things in the face. Don't' fear a governor; don't fear anybody. You pay the governor; he has the right to protect you. You are the biggest part of the population in the state. You create its wealth, so I say, "let the fight go on; if nobody else will keep on, I will." - Mother Jones, 1913
"Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor." - John F. Kennedy
"If you object to unfair treatment, you're an ingrate. If you seek equity and fair consideration, you're uppity. If you demand union security, you're un-American. If you rebel against repressive management tactics, they will lynch and scalp you. But if you are passive and patient, they will take advantage of both." - Congressman William Clay, Sr.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Not to take anything at all away from the millions who served in World War II or the 400,000 Americans who gave their lives, but at least those people had guns to shoot back at the people who were trying to kill them. For sheer bravery fueled by moral certainty, I do not see an equal to the men and women who went into the deep American south in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.
It was fifty years ago today that the first "Freedom Riders" risked their lives to fight Jim Crow. These are among the bravest and best Americans who ever called this country home. Below is a piece from the Daily Kos that's so good I'm just going to reproduce it in its entirety:
There were only 13 brave hearts when they climbed onto southbound Greyhound and Trailways buses in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago today. But within a couple of months there were hundreds of them, black and white, riding public buses into the jaws of Southern intransigence. They were jeered, threatened, harassed, beaten, jailed and firebombed. Their courage eventually helped crush that unique brand of American apartheid known as Jim Crow. But on that balmy spring day when they embarked for New Orleans, segregation ruled the land through which they were traveling, a forced and illegal separation backed up with billy clubs, tear gas, fire hoses and the fangs of police dogs and policemen.
The Kennedy brothers urged them not to go, even made it a matter of patriotism, just as they would later discourage the March on Washington in August '63. But that admonition from the nation's highest authorities didn't stop them from challenging some of the lowest authorities, the Klan-backed sheriffs and deputies who would stand smirking as mobs of their drinking buddies attacked them. When the beatings had gone on long enough, they arrested the Freedom Riders and charged them with "breach of peace" and violating various other laws, all of which amounted to what they so charmingly called "race-mixing."
Freedom Riders. To this day, those two words give me the shivers. The good kind. Three years after they put their lives on the line, I had the great good fortune in Mississippi to become momentarily acquainted with one of them and spend two months being mentored by another in Freedom Summer. The first was John Lewis, then chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and now Congressman from my birth state of Georgia's 5th district. The second was Charly Biggers, eight years older than I and just then finishing a degree at the University of Colorado, where I, too, would graduate in five years.
By 1961 segregated interstate buses had been unconstitutional for 15 years. That was a consequence of the Supreme Court's 7-1 ruling in the case of Irene Morgan v. the Commonwealth of Virginia. Challenged in 1944 to give up her seat on an interstate bus to a white passenger, Irene Morgan refused. A deputy arrived with a warrant. She tore it up and tossed it out the window, saying she had done nothing wrong and had paid the same money as the white passenger. When the deputy grabbed her, she fought back. Another deputy arrived. She scratched and kicked but was eventually subdued, dragged off the bus and charged with resisting arrest and violating Virginia's segregation laws. She was thrown into jail. Her other bailed her out for $500, equal to $6100 today.
She was fined $10. But a 38-year-old attorney named Thurgood Marshall took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. He didn't argue it on due process grounds. Instead, he argued before the justices that Jim Crow laws in this instance violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and the Interstate Commerce Act by interfering with transportation crossing state boundaries.
But while the ruling was a landmark in civil rights law, there was no enforcement. A year after Morgan was decided, in 1947, Bayard Rustin and 17 other activists from the Congress of Racial Equality took the first Freedom Ride. They called it a Journey of Reconciliation. It turned out to be anything but, however, it would inspire new Freedom Riders a decade and a half later. Led by Rustin, mixed pairs of black and white passengers rode in the white sections of Greyhound and Trailways buses. Through Virginia, everything went all right, but in North Carolina the authorities stepped in. There were 12 arrests and Rustin spent 30 days on a chain gang.
In 1955, in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, the Interstate Commerce Commission ruled for desegregation and explicitly said passengers could disregard local Jim Crow laws. But the commission refused to enforce its own ruling and the racist scofflaws continued as they always had. In 1960, the Supreme Court added another desegregation brick to the foundation when it reversed a lower court's ruling in Boynton v. Virginia and required the desegregation of restaurant facilities that were a integral part of interstate bus terminals. Thurgood Marshall again argued the case. That decision and the ICC's unwillingness to act set the Freedom Riders into motion.
Bayard Rustin would be on board just as he had been 14 years earlier. All the protesters had been trained in non-violent methods of resistance and all were either members of CORE or SNCC. The plan was to travel through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, ending up in New Orleans where there would be a rally. But the bus ride ended well short of its destination. No major incidents occurred in Virginia and there were some arrests and quick releases in North Carolina. But in Rock Hill, S.C., John Lewis was attacked and in Winnsboro, S.C., there were several arrests.
It was in Alabama, however, where segregation's enforcers chose to make their stand. What happened there has been told in great detail over the years by many Freedom Riders and other chroniclers, including James Peck, James Farmer, Taylor Branch and Lewis in his 1998 book Walking with the Wind, A Memoir of the Movement. David Fankhauser has posted his recollections on line. The following brief summary draws on some of those and other sources, including this excellent timeline:
Organized in advance behind the scenes by a police sergeant and the Birmingham Police Commissioner, Eugene "Bull" Connor—who would become even more infamous two years later—a Klan mob of more than 100 ambushed the Greyhound bus well outside the town of Anniston. They smashed its windows and slashed its tires and chased it to about five miles out of town where its flat tires made it impossible to drive farther.
Some threw a firebomb through a window, setting the bus afire. And the mob held the doors shut as they sought to burn the passengers alive. With the fuel tank in danger of exploding, the Freedom Riders escaped with their lives only because an undercover Alabama Highway Patrol officer who was secretly on the bus drew his pistol and forced the mob to open the doors. The passengers escaped, but outside the bus several were attacked, including Hank Thomas, who was beaten with a baseball bat.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Klansmen had boarded the Trailways bus, and when the black Freedom Riders refused to move to the back seats, they were beaten. White Freedom Riders, like 61-year-old Walter Bergman, were beaten even worse as "race traitors." When the bus pulled into Anniston, the mob boarded and beat the Freedom Riders with clubs. The driver managed to get the bus under way and drove on to Birmingham, but there was no respite there. Bull Connor egged on another mob, and several Freedom Riders were severely injured:
The FBI knows in advance that the two busses are going to be attacked in Anniston and Birmingham, but they do nothing to prevent the violence, do nothing to protect the Riders from assault, do nothing to enforce the Supreme Court ruling. Though they well know who the mob leaders are, they make no arrests. ...
Photos and news reports of the burning bus in Anniston and the mob violence in Birmingham flash around the nation—and around world—to the great embarrassment of President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who calls for a “cooling off period” (meaning that CORE should halt the Freedom Ride). He blames “extremists on both sides” for the violence. Freedom Movement activists are both dumbfounded and outraged.
With one bus burned out and an end to the attacks not in the works, Greyhound and Trailways refused to carry any more Freedom Riders anywhere. Eventually, after delays and bomb threats and another menacing Klan mob seemed certain to keep the Freedom Riders trapped in hostile territory, Atty. Gen. Kennedy manages to get them all on a flight to New Orleans.
That might have been the end of it. CORE decided that the risk was too great. But SNCC chose to continue. Hundreds of people, black and white, many of them students, but not a few of middle-age, join the Freedom Rides. By summer's end, as many as 450 have taken 60 bus rides across the South. They have encountered violence from mobs and brutality from police every step of the way.
Among them are John Lewis and Hank Thomas. On May 17, just two days after the attacks in Anniston and Birmingham, they and eight others took the bus from Nashville to Birmingham, where they were again met by Bull Connor. He took them to Tennessee and dumped them by the side of the road. They made their way back to Birmingham. Soon their numbers swelled. In a few days, they embarked on another bus, escorted at high speed from Birmingham by the Alabama Highway Patrol, which disappeared at the city limits. Police stationed at the bus terminal also disappeared, and when the Freedom Riders arrived, it was met by yet another mob, this one comprising perhaps 1000 howling racists. More beatings. John Siegenthaler, a Justice Department official sent to observe the Freedom Ride, by Kennedy was beaten unconscious and left in the street. (You can read more here about the attacks and the aftermath.)
In Birmingham, over the next few weeks, there were 328 arrests. With jails overflowing, prisoners were moved to the segregated Parchman State Penitentiary, a Mississippi prison farm, an experience you can read about here. It was a grim situation, with stinging insects, bad food, worse sleeping conditions and hunger strikes. Some Freedom Riders spent more than 30 days there. My friend Charly Biggers was one of them. You can read about my intersection with him during Freedom Summer here.
The prisoners were eventually all released. And under pressure from Atty. Gen. Kennedy and the emboldened civil rights movement that he and his brother had tried to tone down, the ICC agreed to enforce its own rules. In November 1961, those went into effect, forcing the removal of separate restrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants and other facilities at interstate bus terminals. It was one more step, but not the last, along the way to dismantling Jim Crow.
Today, it's easy enough for anyone to call the Freedom Riders heroes. But they were not viewed that way in their own time, and not only in the land of Jim Crow. The White House was unhappy with them, among other reasons, because of the image of the underside of America they exposed. Local media were predictably terrible in their depiction of these fighters for justice, but the national press presented them as rabble-rousers who were, a mere 100 years after the Civil War began, pushing things too far too fast. That's always the way oppressed people are viewed, of course, no matter how just their cause, no matter how long they have waited.
Today Hank Thomas, who almost lost his life on that Greyhound bus half a century ago, is a businessman in Stone Mountain, Ga. He spoke with the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday:
A few weeks ago, he had planned to travel to Anniston to meet with Cecil Lewallyn, one of the men charged with firebombing his Greyhound bus. (None of the attackers were ever convicted.) Lewallyn reneged at the last minute when he heard “The Oprah Winfrey Show” wanted to record the meeting.
Said Thomas: “They were cowards then and they are cowards now.”
Indeed. A salute to Hank Thomas, Congressman Lewis, and all the other hundreds of Freedom Riders, and especially to you, Charly Biggers, wherever you are.
= = =
If you have further interest, I highly recommend Eric Etheridge's book Breach of Peace, which includes the stories of 40 Freedom Riders, along with their 1961 mugshots and photographs of them as they are today.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
NARRATOR SITS ON A DIRECTOR'S CHAIR ON AN OTHERWISE EMPTY STAGE
NARRATOR: I do not understand why, but one essential ingredient of “recovery” appears to be guilt.
Maybe it’s part and parcel of the Calvinist underpinnings of American society; an insistence that you need to know that you’ve sinned before you can go and sin no more. Whatever…
When you commit a crime involving alcohol your punishment at certain points along the way will involve being lectured by various organizations. The most well known of these organizations is the monolithic M.A.J.A.F.E. [SPOKEN, “ma-JEFF-ah”], or Mothers Against Just About Fucking Everything.
With one foot planted in Catholic school and the other in the Women’s Temperance movement of the early 20th Century, M.A.F.A.F.E. [ma-JAFF-ah] now has chapters in every State except Hawaii, where it remains too relentlessly pleasant for people to get all that upset at anything.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or M.A.D.D., was one of the last great populist political movements. M.A.D.D. is a text book example of the potential of grass roots political action. Started by a small group of women that no politician took very seriously, by the time they became known nationally they accomplished the most difficult task of all, they changed the culture.
Before M.A.D.D., a DUI arrest over the weekend meant a $500 fine and some embarrassed laughter around the water cooler on Monday morning. After M.A.D.D., it was five thousand dollars and you prayed no one would find out. The culture of alcohol was forever different.
It happened in the early days of the new century that some members of that group, who were also active in anti-pornography, anti-music, anti-poetry, anti-tobacco, anti-anime, anti-comics, anti-theatre, anti-fast food, anti-evolution, anti-union, anti-show tunes, anti-dancing, anti-gay, anti-lesbian, anti-video games, anti-abortion, anti-Santa Claus, anti-Halloween, anti-New York Times cross word puzzle, anti-Harper’s Index, anti-literacy, anti-New World Order, anti-gambling, anti-Catholic, and anti-Islamic groups, [CATCHES BREATH] spun off to form the mother of all aunties.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, most were also members in good standing of M.W.S. (Mothers Who Spank) and S.O.W.T. (Support Our White Troops). It is these women who are tirelessly engaged in monthly letter writing marathons, sending cards, small Bibles and candy bars to our boys on the front lines in the struggle to bring freedom to Iran and Syria as it had been finally brought to the handful of surviving Iraqis still hanging on in the decontamination camps on the border of the [SPOKEN SLOWLY WITH EACH WORD PUNCHED FOR EMPHASIS] great glass desert.
END OF PART ONE
INTERMISSION MUSIC PLAYS
Saturday, April 16, 2011
My career as a college professor ended in 1997 after about 16 years in classrooms at four universities. I was rooting around on the web earlier today and something someone posted on some forum for some reason (it's amazing how these things work) suddenly triggered a memory of the classroom I was in the moment I knew I wasn't going to make it in that profession.
It was in February of 1992. I can't remember the class other than it was an upper level undergraduate class full of Communication Studies majors. At some point a discussion started about the conviction of boxer, Mike Tyson, on rape charges. The crime had taken place at a downtown Indianapolis hotel; the trial had just concluded a day or two before at the downtown Indianapolis courthouse, and both of those places were about a mile or less from the classroom.
The discussion among white and black students and male and female students plunged into questions of race and justice and sex and celebrity and was moving along quite nicely until one student offered this explanation:
They had to find Mike Tyson guilty because William Kennedy Smith had just been acquitted (about a month earlier) in another highly publicized rape trial.
There was a pause, and then - and this was the moment for me - every single student agreed with him.
And I remember suddenly feeling a wave of hopelessness wash over me. It seemed to me that to believe in the sense of that brought with it epistemological and ontological requirements that could take decades to fully suss out.
It still does.
It suggests a worldview in which everything is controlled somehow by a cabal of celebrity rapist Illuminati charged with maintaining a delicate balance of celebrity sexual assault.
For the next five years I tried to work through it, or work around it, ignore it, and I just never could. My friends who still teach are all better at it than I ever was or was ever going to be and I don't mean any of this as any kind of indictment of the profession. It's just the story of what happened to me.
The Possum Pillow
NARRATOR: A direct result of my early release and indirect result of my smart mouth was that I began attending both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. There are three things you ought to understand before we proceed.
One, I am not an alcoholic.
Two, I am not a drug addict.
Three, I am not “in denial,” thank you very much.
I like to drink and, on occasion, have drunk too much. But after attending a series of AA meetings I can say I am not in the same league with the people I’ve met there. In baseball terminology, I’ve dabbled a bit in double-A ball, while these boys have had whole careers in The Show.
I remember a cold November morning; the usual suspects were joined by an old man, maybe in his 60s, and who had the grizzled quality of a long-ball hitter. Loving our last remaining addictions, everyone stood around for a while before the meeting started, chain smoking cigarettes and drinking cup after cup of a half and half mix of strong black coffee and sugar. After the meeting started, the old man walked to the front and explained that he’d thought about coming to meetings on many occasions in the past but had never done so. But then something happened that changed his mind.
A short time ago he’d come into a little money and was celebrating with some friends. They started at a couple bars and things got a little blurry after two or three in the morning.
Two days later about six-thirty in the morning he woke up. He was covered with snow that had fallen the night before and slept across the railroad tracks at a downtown crossing.
And, he was using the frozen body of a dead possum as a pillow.
Still drunk, half frozen himself, he was taken aback when the possum suddenly opened its eyes and spoke to him with what he recognized as the voice of Robert Young on the old TV series “Father Knows Best.”
NARRATOR USES CALM REASSURING VOICE FOR POSSUM AND GRIZZLED OLD GUY VOICE FOR “CARL”
“How are you, Carl?” The possum asked.
“Uhhhh… not too good. Kinda cold.”
“Head hurt a little, does it?”
“Yeah, a little.”
“I’ll bet. Listen, Carl….”
“I don’t mean to lecture or put any pressure on you but… well… look around.” The possum said.
Carl looked around.
“Do you think it might be time to go to one of those meetings, Carl?”
Hard as he tried, Carl couldn’t think of an argument to offer the possum.
The story circulated among my friends for the next month or so and became our code for someone getting a bit too familiar with recreational intoxicants. “Now there goes a candidate for a possum pilla.” One of us would say. “I heard that.” Someone would add.
Kathy with a K
A WOMAN IS SITTING IN THE FRONT DESK 2ND ROW
NARRATOR: Kathy with a K sits at the front, sort of in the middle of our angry little group. Kathy with a K teaches English Literature at an area high school and is in her fifth year of finishing her doctoral dissertation. She has had four short stories published and is working on a novel, a secret she keeps from her dissertation advisor.
She has a younger brother and an older sister. Kathy’s father died about seven years ago. Her mother still lives in the house they all grew up in. Her brother lives in Ohio and owns a failing record store. Her sister lives in Los Angeles and is married to a man who is a successful casting director.
If name-dropping were an Olympic event her sister would be the captain of the US team.
Kathy’s sister spoke as if everything she said was a part of an impossibly long sentence that would only end when she died.
KATHY’S SISTER: [OFF STAGE, SPOKEN AS FAST AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE] SowewenttoSpagotohaveanearlylunchwithMartyScorseseandSeanPenncamebythetableanditwasmaybeaquartertoonebuthewaseitherdrunkorstonedorwhateverandashelefthebumpedintothetableacrossfromusandspilledwateralloverthatnicegirlfromwhat’sthatshowwithDavidSpade?.Anyway,sothenthatguyfromAmericanIdolwhowasatthebarwithwhat’shernamefromthatshowohyouknowtheone….
KATHY WITH A K: [VOICE RISING TO COVER THE LAST BIT OF HER SISTER’S RUN-ON SENTENCE] Arrrrrrggggghhhhhh!!!!! [PAUSE]
What I want to tell my sister is that I’m happy that blind luck tossed her into the path of the same idiot that blind luck tossed into the path of a good job, and happy that the lack of condoms in extra-extra-small has her ankle-deep in enough yuppie larvae to make California’s community property laws seal the deal.
Let’s hear it for the wonders of a thoroughly random and impersonal universe.
But, like so many people who find themselves beaten with the good end of the luck stick, she talks about her good fortune as if it was the result of thought and effort, complex planning, years of hard work!
I understand that I am not the first person in class to say this, but [ALMOST PLEADING] I am not a violent person!
The holidays are hard enough, aren’t they? I’d had a few drinks before we all sat down, a couple glasses of wine during the turkey and yams and the traditional bean casserole. I was so close to escaping into a nice tryptophan coma when she gets into this manic lecture mode – I swear she was doing coke in the goddamn bathroom all through dinner – and suddenly, this… this… moron who represents everything I detest about Twenty-First Century America is explaining to a room full of our relatives everything I’m doing wrong with my life…. [PAUSE… THEN PICKING UP SPEED AGAIN] And in this screeching fingernails-toenails-finishing nails-roofing nails-on-a-chalk-board-voice…. [PAUSE]
I just wanted her to shut up.
I just wanted her to stop talking.
I just wanted her to finish this inventory of my bad life choices.
[SHE STARTS SLOWLY BUT QUICKLY BUILDS TO A SHEER EXPRESSION OF RAGE] I just wanted her to tell everyone that she has her life because she regularly sacrifices Girl Scouts to Satan and that the simple reason that most major motion pictures suck beyond the realm of suckitudeness is because everyone involved in the industry is the exact same in-bred El Lay dip-shit mouth-breathing mentally defective dick-head that her idiot husband is!!!
EMBARASSED BY HER OUTBURST AND ASHAMED BY HER CONFESSION
But I… um… I didn’t say anything. There was this serving fork for the turkey on the table in front of me and I… uh… picked it up and jammed it right into her Botox-filled forehead. [NERVOUS LAUGH AS IF STILL THRILLED BY THE MEMORY]
LIGHTS DOWN ON KATHY
NARRATOR: It was a superficial cut, but head wounds bleed profusely and as the blood poured onto the dishes and tablecloth and her sister screamed, Kathy with a K threw the fork on the floor and started shouting at her mother that there was Botox on the fork now and she could never use it again.
Her brother-in-law called the police who arrested Kathy and took her away in handcuffs as the paramedics loaded her sister into the ambulance with her husband.
Her mother and her brother sat on the couch drinking Grey Goose vodka straight from jelly glasses.
As her mother lifted the glass to her lips the blue and red flashing lights from the police car fell on the painting of Wilma Flintstone on the side of her glass.
She was wearing a spotted dress and she was smiling.
She seemed happy.
Friday, April 15, 2011
LIGHTS DOWN AND UP
Confusion Reigns Supreme
Confusion Reigns Supreme
NARRATOR: On our first Saturday morning Ms. Peaksbury asked me…
LIGHTS UP ON DESK WHERE MS. PEAKSBURY SITS
MS. PEAKSBURY: How did you feel when you were smashing those computers?
NARRATOR: [TO AUDIENCE, GAINING SPEED] In my mind I scanned a word list: audacious, blissful, bodacious, courageous, exhilarated, ecstatic, fearless, glowing, heroic, indomitable, inviolable, justified, noble, resolute, righteous, stalwart, strong, sublime, unafraid, unassailable, undaunted, valiant, vindicated, warm, wonderful, and… human.
[TO MS. PEAKSBURY] Confused.
[TO AUDIENCE] And so it was that “confused” became the angry person’s mantra. It wasn’t plucked from the defiant word list that threatened one’s graduation – which is to say, it was not the truth.
It was not “angry” or “mad” which, for some reason, were considered unacceptable answers. Nor was it an obvious uncloaked word of submission that had dominated since it became clear that the truth would, under no condition, set us free. It was not “wrong” or “immoral” or “bad.”
MS. PEAKSBURY: But Robert, if you felt it was wrong and immoral, why did you continue to drive into the other cars until the police shot your car?
WHEN THE LIGHTS RETURN THE NARRATOR IS AT DESK STAGE RIGHT
ANGRY BOB IS IN DESK A ROW IN AND TOWARD CENTER
AS THE NARRATOR SPEAKS TO THE AUDIENCE ANGRY BOB IS LOOKING TOWARD MS. PEAKSBURY’S DESK
NARRATOR: Angry Bob is thirty-nine years old, married with three angry kids and a house on the city’s west side. For the past seven years every day Angry Bob drove through the rush hour traffic that slowly made its way toward his downtown office.
Every city believes it has the worst drivers in the world and this city is no different. But Angry Bob actually found the perfect way to express the attitude at the very heart of the city’s motorists.
ANGRY BOB: People here drive as if their families were being held hostage and, if they allow any of the cars behind them to get ahead of them… their families will die.
NARRATOR: Angry Bob’s car was some maroon late-model Ford with 130,000 miles on it and a bit of a knock in the engine. While the interior bore the tell-tale signs of parenthood, the body was in excellent shape with no rust and almost no dings or dents.
Everyday the traffic backs up to a crawl, and everyday people weave their way in and out of the lanes as if they really believed chaos theory was bunk and it was actually possible to anticipate the random flow of traffic.
In the process Angry Bob’s bumper would be bumped and an occasional fender scraped, horns would blare, fists would wave. Taken as whole, it was like some post-modern opera by John Adams or Phillip Glass; Angry Bob On the Beach.
ANGRY BOB SPEAKS….
ANGRY BOB: What annoyed me the most was the attitude of entitlement on the part of the drivers who cut in and out of my lane. They all cross over with a certain confidence, as if they know I’ll hit the brakes rather than hit them.
[ALMOST IN MONOTONE, RAPID] Every morning. Every evening. Coming and going. Squinting into the rising sun in the morning. Squinting into the setting sun in the evening. Breathing in the exhaust. Sweating in the summer heat.
All the time moving so slowly that what was left of my air conditioner threatened to overheat the engine that knocked and sputtered [MIMICS THE KNOCKS AND SPUTTERS HITTING DESK AND STUTTERING]
Day in day out. Week after week. Month after month. Coming and going to a job I don’t like…
PAUSES AND LOOKS AWAY
…to a family that didn’t seem to like me anymore.
Thirsty. Hungry. Tired. Hot. Cold.
And then there’s that one afternoon when a young kid in a shiny sports car cut in front of me, and I hit the brake hard enough to smack my forehead on the wheel as the car behind me tapped my bumper and leaned on its horn.
I looked at the sports car in front of me and, reflected in the tiny rear view mirror, the kid’s eyes meet mine and I watched as the kid mouthed the word…
BECOMING MORE AGITATED, ANIMATED
I didn’t smash the sports car, not at first, not like the newspaper and TV said. No, I eased on the gas and gently made contact with the bumper. I saw the kid react and saw the brake lights come on. I slowly pressed on the accelerator and began pushing the sports car.
Now, the sports car could beat my car in zero-to-sixty, no contest. But the sports car was no contest for a full-sized Ford slowly crunching it into the delivery truck ahead of it.
I saw that smug entitlement on the kid’s face downshift into panic.
OBVIOUSLY RELISHING THE MEMORY AS HE RELIVES IT
THROUGHOUT, HE USES HIS DESK AS IF IT WERE HIS CAR PUSHING IT SLOWLY INTO THE DESK IN FRONT OF HIM
The back bumper of the truck was just high enough, and the front of the sports car just low enough, so that the car was slowly being shoved under the truck.
The hood of the sports car started to crumple; the back lights come on as the kid thought to throw it into reverse.
The car behind me was a mid sized Japanese number, silver gray, probably thirty grand. The driver was a woman who reminded me of a friend of my wife’s named Janet.
I’d never done anything to Janet. I’ve never spoken coarsely, never been rude; yet she always looks at me with the look you get when you taste something unpleasant.
The modern world seems stuffed full of women like Janet.
Forty-something, anorexic-thin, carrying water bottles with them everywhere, always in front of me at coffeeshops where all I want is a simple cup of coffee… but they order complex drinks that take a half-hour to make and require machines that looked like they’d been salvaged from old steam locomotives and fifties sci-fi films…
…and every one of them looks at me as if I remind her of the ex-husband who took her youth and then left her for the young girl in the tight uniform making the damn coffee.
PAUSES… RETURNS TO STORY
SHAKES HIS HEAD
So… faux-Janet hits her horn, though why she did is still unclear. It’s as if she needed to express her disappointment. She did this at the exact moment that I decided I wanted some more room in back of me as well.
As the sports car grrrrrinds in reverse in front of me, I throw the car into reverse and slam into the silver car behind me…
PUSHES HIS DESK BACKWARDS SLAMMING INTO DESK BEHIND HIM
…and it’s hood crumples and it rear-ends the mini-van behind it!
Now… the mini-van was driven by another soldier in the Army of Janets.
Faux-Janet had a look of confusion and despair as she looked into the eyes of Janet Three in the mini-van behind her and saw the disappointment looking back at her.
[EXCITEDLY] Disappointment and condescension smashed into each other at the speed of light and released particles of moral superiority and smugness impacting everyone within a mile of the event.
ANGRY BOB SLUMPS DOWN ONTO HIS DESK
THE LIGHT ON HIM IS KILLED AS THE LIGHT ON THE NARRATOR COMES UP
NARRATOR: But by then, Angry Bob was smashing into the sports car again, and again into Faux-Janet, back and forth, three more times. The other drivers around the commotion were now tooting their horns nervously as well. After clearing a space in front and back of him Angry Bob now decided to leave the pack; in his mind was a cartoon of a silver sardine busting through the tin walls of the can… and he smiled.
For the next fifteen minutes, just as Warhol had predicted, Angry Bob drove down the shoulder of the road, intermittently crashing into the cars on his left as he went. Some choices were obvious, cars that edged onto the shoulder to block his path. Some were less obvious. He hadn’t realized, for example, how much he hated SUVs until he found himself crashing into every one he passed.
During his rampage, Angry Bob smashed and crashed into a grand total of seventy-four vehicles. The television news footage shot from a circling helicopter showed the rows of state and local police and sheriff cars that converged on the bashed and battered maroon Ford. As I watched it all unfold live on the local news I saw the cops, guns raised, arms extended stiffly, slowly approach the car as it sat, wheels spinning. When I saw the police open fire I thought I was watching the driver die in a hail of bullets; it wasn’t till later, when I watched the footage endlessly repeat, that I realized that the police had shot the tires and the engine of Angry Bob’s weapon of mass destruction. At the end of his twenty-three minutes of fame Angry Bob’s Angry Ford had been shot over one hundred and nineteen times and had broken both axles. In one newspaper photo the Ford looked just like the car at the end of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde.
I watched the legend of Angry Bob unfold on the communal TV in jail. It was a long room filled with orange-clothed fans of Angry Bob, cheering him on.
One of the inmates was a fifty-something black man named Lateef who reacted to every news story involving a Caucasian criminal with a recasting of the story that began “If he’d been black they’d a shot his ass.” Whenever he said that, his constant companion Byron would always add, “Yeah.”
Lateef told us, “I knew a brother in Pittsburgh back in seventy five named Louis Watson; we called him L.G. for ‘Long Gone’ after his habit of disappearin’ any time we sent him to the liquor store. L.G. was semi-famous when Jimmy Johnson up in Chicago wrote a song for him, the “Saint Louis Blues”…
SINGING 12-BAR BLUES MEDIUM TEMPO
TAPPING DESK TOP IN TIME
THE WORDS “SAINT” AND “SENT” SHOULD BE SUNG SO AS TO SLUR INTO EACH OTHER
“I got the St. Louis blues, as blue as I can get.
I got the St. Louis blues, as blue as I can get.
We sent Louis to the liquor store, and [STOPS TAPPING, IN HIGHER VOICE DELIVERED AS PUNCH LINE] Louis ain’t been back yet.”
[CONTINUES IN LATEEF VOICE] Anyway, he’s drunk, stoned, whatever, one night about four in the morning and he rear ends this cop car at a red light.
They shot the brother nineteen times!”
[IN NARRATOR’S VOICE] Lateef paused for effect and let his gaze crisscross the room.
Then he concluded, [IN LATEEF’S VOICE] “I’ll tell you what, he’s long gone now.”
“I hear that.” Byron added.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
The Prison Notebooks
The Prison Notebooks
SOUND EFFECT – METAL DOOR CLANGING SHUT – VERY LOUD
SOUND EFFECT LOUD VOICES DOWN AND OUT
For those of you who’ve never been to prison – [ASIDE] which, today, is to say, haven’t been yet – here are the three things you should know: [HOLDS UP ONE FINGER] One… the noise. It’s never quiet, not even for a moment. Not ever. [HOLDS UP 2 FINGERS] Two… the smell. There’s a sort of very thick industrial cleanser smell that never quite manages to cover up layers of far worse smells underneath. [HOLDS UP 3 FINGERS] And three… [SHUDDERS] the food.
If you gave a room full of monkeys some eggs, flour and a whisk they would produce something edible at least occasionally. No; the only way you can make food this bad is on purpose.
CONTINUES MORE SERIOUS IN TONE
This relentless assault on your senses – the constant din, the pervasive stench, the numbingly horrible tastes, and the all-encompassing boredom of the place – these things combine in their effect like some enormous low-voltage Taser with no “off” switch. Most of the time you’re not asleep, you spend stunned.
CONTINUES WITH RETURN TO MORE UPBEAT TONE
My own time was served in the county lockup, which, in some ways is worse than the big state prisons up north. The lockup is always fifty or sixty percent over capacity which makes it more prone to sudden outbursts of violence.
But it was that overcrowding and my lack of prior criminal record that got me an early release. And it’s the memory of the sound, smell and menu choices that keeps me coming early to the meetings… sitting quietly… and mustering all the sincerity I can as I confess and repent my crimes again and again.
George Orwell in Anger Management
NARRATOR: We will read now, from the Anger Management Handbook:
“Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships.”
[PAUSE] Hmmm….. [BEMUSED] Now that someone is actually working on my biography I’d kinda like to meet him, clear up a few things, double check some dates, the usual stuff.
WALKS BACK TOWARD BIG DESK
SITS ON THE EDGE
See…. My problem is this: What if cynicism is the only sensible response for the true romantic in the postmodern world? Which is sort of what Oscar Wilde was asking in his famous quotation: “Only someone with a heart of stone can look upon the death of Little Nell without laughing.”
DISMISSING THE THOUGHT, HE CONTINUES
The whole culture of counseling has a certain… Smurfs vibe to it.
You remember the Smurfs, right? The tribe of tiny animated blue people who preached the joys of cooperation to the very generation of people who, now in their thirties and forties, seek to make me more cooperative?
The only Smurfs who had individual personalities were those portrayed as incompetent curmudgeons who would inevitably see the error of their ways and return to the safe conformity of the greater blue pack.
Just as AA refuses to allow for the possibility of a glass of good Bordeaux with a nice beef carbonade, so too does anger management fail to recognize that a punch in the nose or swift kick in the balls might be the proper response in some situations.
I’m not a violent person; I don’t believe in corporal punishment in schools
– except for college, but that goes without saying –
I’m against the death penalty, dog fighting, cock fighting… I’m not that sold on prize fighting or the NFL or NHL for that matter. But I do believe in the possibility of righteous anger.
NARRATOR TAKES A BOOK FROM HIS DESK AND OPENS IT, FLIPS THROUGH SOME PAGES TO A MARKED SECTION
A few weeks after George Orwell had gone off to fight in the Spanish Civil War he wrote in his diary, “I’ve been here for two weeks and I haven’t killed my first fascist yet. [PAUSE EYEBROWS RAISE] If we could each kill one fascist they would quickly become extinct.”
Maybe his math needs updating, but he has a point, and his anger was a righteous anger.
CLOSES BOOK, PLACES IT BACK ON HIS DESK, CONTINUES
Woody Guthrie’s banjo had, written around the edge of the top, “This machine kills fascists.” I just don’t mention that to Ms. Peaksbury.
NARRATOR WALKS STAGE RIGHT
ALL LIGHTS OUT BUT THE LIGHT ON THE DESK ILLUMINATING THE “Ms. Peaksbury” NAME PLATE
Big Black Dookie Eater
In prison, a guy who’s pretending to be crazy by eating his own feces is called a “dookie eater.” This always reminds me of the moral of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Mother Night,
“You are who you pretend to be, so you must be very careful who you pretend to be.”
For no apparent reason, a couple years back my dog, Butchie, a black Lab mix, suddenly became a dookie eater. One day in the middle of winter out in the snow he found a frozen dog turd… and the poopsicle was born.
Now I have to search the yard before I let him out and shout at him everytime he stops to examine the ground. The problem has not affected my pit-bull, Sundance, who has become the main supplier of the yard snacks. I don’t know how long this will go on. I suspect that at some point either he will stop eating it or I’ll stop caring that he does. This is how most of my problems get solved.
I’m telling you this because in jail there was this 20 year-old four hundred pound black kid with a row of big gold teeth in front who smiled all the time in this odd way that was as if he was hearing the voices of dead stand-up comedians…
NARRATOR ROLLS HIS HEAD A BIT AS HE SAYS
…Nipsy Russell, Godfrey Cambridge, Red Foxx, Richard Pryor….
He would smile, mutter to himself and roll his head, but never actually look at anyone. He was being held in the county jail temporarily before heading up north for good to a maximum security lock-up.
His name was Maurice Maurice Morris, his street name was “Two Times,” and he’d killed six people; four in his family and two more later that same day. After I got out I looked up the story in the newspaper.
The paper said he had the mind of a very large and very strong six year-old child and had developed a problem with crack cocaine. The first four people who died were people who told him that he should stop using crack when that was the last thing he wanted to hear. The last two people who died were people who wouldn’t share their crack with him.
I don’t know what it could feel like to have your life be completely over, but still find yourself alive and stuck inside it.
I wonder if there are ghosts, and if that’s what they feel like.
Or, maybe when your life turns to shit, eating shit just seems somehow logical, I don’t know.
As I was being processed before my release I was put in this small room that had two wooden benches and one door. I’d been there for about twenty minutes when the door opened and, for some reason, they brought this kid in, sat him on the bench across from me, and left us there. When they brought me in they handcuffed my left hand to a metal bar by the side of the bench. The guard who brought the kid in just told him to sit and be quiet and left.
Now, the words [AS IF SPEAKING TO PRISON GUARD] “Uh, excuse me, but shouldn’t you handcuff this huge dookie-eatin’ mass murderer, or give me back my bat?!?” never got past my chest, regardless of the volume they played at in my head because, in the movie that was playing in my head, when I said them the guard stopped, looked at me, looked at the kid, said “Now you behave,” smiled, and left.
So I didn’t say anything.
Maurice Maurice looked at me and smiled. He laughed softly to himself. Rolled his head, he looked at my handcuffed arm. For some reason his gold teeth seemed...
out of proportion to the rest of his face.
Maybe there’s some primal connection between shit-eating and cannibalism because I sat there with the “pa-WOOSH pa-WOOSH” sound of my own heart pumping blood roaring in my ears, trying not to seem concerned and trying to imagine how I might fend him off when he jumped on me, and what it would feel like when those big gold teeth chomped down on my throat.
We were together all of three minutes when they returned and took him away.
I never saw him again.