Repressive Desublimators and Me
After heaving my Thorazine and Stelazine from the dock of the Bronx marina into the bay, Dorr offered me a joint. He was glad that I cast away bourgeois psychiatry, finally putting the Chicago suburb behind me. He lit up with Maria, his girlfriend, in the apartment above her father’s workshop. High, we listened to a WBAI radio report about Bobby Seale, Black Panther Party co-founder, jailed in New Haven on trumped up charges.
I refused chemical straight jacketing, preferring life in the nearby trailer beneath a cavernous boat hangar with Kate, a stewardess. Kate and Maria were good friends, meeting in Mexico. Now, away on a transatlantic flight, Kate once told me in Mexico I was wistful, sympathy I’d like to cultivate more with her. Regretful longing: I could do that. But consummating the feat, it might be too daring for a more-than-neurotic ex- mental hospital patient.
Maria’s father, Werner, an oncologist, employed a technician to develop a non-quack-cancer-curing device in the tool shop beneath us. Werner had been a doctor serving in the Luffwaffe during WWII, but renounced Germany’s past, becoming a fervent supporter of the Panthers ( weren’t we all ). He appeared intermittently, air-punching a power fist, saying, “Right On!” A recycled German immigrant. Like Werner, I distanced myself, breaking off ties with my suburban heritage.
Smoking pot on a large foam mattress before Radio Havana broadcast on Maria’s short wave radio, she gave me permission to phone my shrink in Chicagoland.
“I’m stoned on pot and don’t need your pharmaceuticals anymore.”
“No patient has successfully rebelled against me,” he said. “You’ll have a breakdown now.”
“I wanna break you down. I’m with people who want subjugation to end. History’s on my side.”
“You’re just a liberal Democrat wanting peaceful change, not a revolutionary or hippie.”
“I’m tired of the Thorazine shuffle.”
“Better than falling face first and destabilizing your life for good.”
When he said I’d end up in Bellevue Hospital, I replied, “To liberate the patients like revolutionaries opening up the Bastille" then I hung up.
Radio Havana reported in educated English stunning losses of American troops in Vietnam. The newscaster talked about “fragging,” how grunts flung grenades at gung-ho officers who got them shot up one too many times.
“Frag their motherfuckin’ asses,” Maria said, as we fomented revolution between the first and second J.
“By any means necessary,” said Dorr and rolled the doobie.
After the news, I devoured peanut butter, its niacin bringing me down, then chugged Tropicana orange juice. We debated whether the corporation which owned Tropicana and supplied vitamin C to U.S. soldiers in Southeast Asia committed a war crime. A unanimous verdict: guilty. I downed the OJ anyway.
Maria hugged me and Dorr asked whether I’d like to share their bed that night.
“Che didn’t die with a woman in his arms, did he?” I responded, begging the question.
I walked to the trailer and slept on the couch. I hadn’t seen Kate since I flew to the States from the Mexico City Airport in ’68.
A few days later, Kate breezed into the boatyard, riding in a car with three older men. They were in fine repartee, Kate laughing along with the three guys as she grabbed a suitcase, waving them goodbye. I was too formal at the trailer door, greeting her as a head of state might a foreign dignitary. She brushed past me since I was a tight-lipped diplomat. She changed into jeans and shirt in her bedroom.
She talked about Berlin, where she just got a legal abortion, how Europeans suffered two wars and knew more about life than Americans ever would. I loved how she sneered and ridiculed America. “Pissoir-Yankee-Go-Die, Americana,” she said, “land of bilk and money.”
Her blonde Nebraska face, eyes smart and fierce, bored through everything, myself included, and could penetrate the hardest Superman-green kryptonite. Coming from a suburb, with obligatory Sunday TV dinners and meds for my head, that damn factory I worked for, my inability to follow simple instructions, botching the easy task of placing bread pans in neat rows --- Kate obliterated that. Drawn to her wit and sarcasm, her scowl and sweet talk, I enjoyed her sharp denunciations of enemies of the Revolution.
Upstairs, Maria hugged her, welcoming her back. Kate talked about a married pilot who enjoyed having overseas’ trysts. “Ye hypocrites and vipers,” Kate said. “When will hubbies stop fooling around with the servant girls.” Her sarcasm delighted Maria, who laughed until her eyes watered. Maria’s parents both had affairs.
I picked up Herbert Marcuse’s “One-Dimensional Man,” a book Kate gave me. We drank coffee Maria made, listened to WBAI play traditional African music, and then focused on me, what should be done with my new life untethered from parental and psychiatric shackles. Dorr left a Trotskyist newspaper on the desk. I thumbed through some articles. Maria suggested I work for that paper, but Kate said I should help organize whites and form an alliance with the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican revolutionary group in East Harlem.
“I’ll see how detoxification works out first,” I said, organizing out of my league. “Not detox, I mean denazification. Everything’s political.” I sounded so knowledgeable.
She scoffed: “I’ve dated all races. What’s you’re excuse, honey?”
Dorr studied for a PhD in cultural anthropology, taking courses on Marxism, at a Manhattan school and Maria took pre-med classes. Kate’s layovers allowed limited activities, an occasional movie or maybe an off-off Broadway play in the Village. She loved reading about societies in revolt, from the Reformation to the French Revolution to Haitians throwing off slavery to Rosa Luxemburg’s abortive revolution in Berlin to the Cuban Revolution. “Death and revolution, how well they make splendid coffins,” she remarked.
Getting animated in mind and body was a terrible task, so I stuck around the shop, chatting with the machinist. Most people found their niche, but I always flubbed that basic question of my uncle’s. “Well, Ron, what will you do when you grow up and work?” That question had plagued me for life.
In Mexico one afternoon, after tripping on Dexmyl Spansules for two days, opening each capsule and pouring granules in my mouth, I crashed on the cement floor of Maria’s small house shared with Dorr on a hacienda. I wouldn’t take barbiturates and get addicted, so I plunged headfirst into tremors and loss of self.
Dorr asked Lenin’s question: “What is to be done?”
“Waiting for the right job offer,” I said. I smoked a joint and it helped my head.
Cold earthquakes shook my mind, and I sobbed. Melodrama couldn’t get much worse.
“You can always walk down the road to Guatemala and join the guerrillas,” Dorr said matter-of-factly.
“How would I survive?”
“The peasants would feed you and put you up.”
Gratefully, Kate appeared, reminding Dorr about death squads in Central America run by the CIA. She saved my butt; I was so vulnerable that I would have taken Dorr’s advice.
This Bronx life suited me. Removed from the neighborhood, though a black man was found dead near the marina, this being an Italian zone, I felt no threats. I was a Wasp and considered myself immune from mob hits or CIA ones.
We reached a consensus: I’d take the IRT from Pelham Bay to the Village and start doing volunteer work for Liberation magazine. Instead, I walked from Grand Central station to Times Square. The quest for pornographic movies occupied my time, and I felt like hunters Nimrod and Artemis, and entered an adult bookstore. I wandered through testosterone-haunted bookstores on 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, seeking hardcore photos unavailable in my life so far, magazines wrapped in clear plastic.
“In a dark time, the eye begins to see” --- Theodore Roethke.
I’d take flight from my Bronx friends if they prodded me to renounce my filthy habits. To me, scanning graphic, uncensored images was what freedom was all about. So many magazines, the choices overwhelmed me: Ah capitalism, ah humanity.
The clerk looked at us horny sexual rejects, every now and then reminding us this wasn’t a public library, but a business, so if a magazine got damaged from handling, you had to buy it. Sometimes another clerk with a small baseball bat stood next to the cash register. I never saw semen-friendly women until those photos on magazine covers. Wasn’t this what liberation was all about? Could that anarchist magazine offer anything grander than erections in women’s hands? And the peep shows: for a quarter a minute I saw everything needed to relieve myself behind the curtain. Such an easy operation, yanking off in private stalls, but I never did that. Businessmen, young, old and in between, all must have done that, but I refrained. Especially on a quiet morning, the start of a new shift, it would have been more clean-cut to yank off. There were paper tissues, wiper-uppers, as natural as Tampon dispensers. I even entered homosexual peep booths. Was that what the creator of Paramount, Adolph Zukor, had in mind when he started with nickelodeons in the early 1900s?
On Eighth Avenue, I never looked into the available prostitutes’ faces, real women who used rooms of hotels surrounding me: too real, those proletarian hookers. To have something to talk about on my return, I often saw legitimate movies: “The Magic Christian,” “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, “Midnight Cowboy.” But what use was I to the Revolution, squandering my time in Times Square? I loved the environs filthy streets, haggard folks, bums, hotdogs and sauerkraut, people talking to themselves. I even had a donut and coffee in Bickford’s, the hangout of William Burroughs.
Both Maria and Kate would have given the green light. Sex was alive and throbbing in 1970. But, instead, I spent money on sexy movies showing more than Hollywood allowed. My personality was attuned to the solitude and sinister city-scapes of Edward Hopper’s paintings.
When Kate’s sister arrived from California, revising my life would be Julia’s task. She wore a lamb’s wool coat, knee boots, a colorful Russian peasant blouse, and a turquoise bandana around her head of shoulder-length blond hair. I thought her arguments stronger that Kate’s. For Kate, power came in epigrammatic bursts, but Julia’s strength was sustained by gentle flattery and steady persuasion.
Wouldn’t it be a shame if I threw whatever creative talent I had down the shitter? The fact that Kate cared enough to tell Julia about me boosted my self-esteem, soaring higher than the Grateful Dead playing at the Fillmore. Julia gave me the address of Liberation magazine, said Dave Dellinger, a prominent anti-war speaker at rallies, hung around there, and made my non-believing soul feel guilty as sin if I didn’t work for the magazine. The following day I walked into the magazine’s office.
I barely spoke to anyone as I worked with a razor blade cutting out lettering for headlines. I hated it, lacking confidence to speak with others in the small office. Paranoia and suspicion rippled through the rooms, draining what little coherence I had. Females, who ran a radical women’s liberation magazine next door, started singing The Internationale. “Arise ye workers from your slumber…” and then three others near me leaped up and joined others in the hall. “Servile masses arise, arise…” I was the only one who didn’t get off their butt and start singing because I was ignorant and failed to commit to memory the immortal lyrics. Even Jim Morrison’s long cut, “The End,” which I played repetitiously in a mental ward during the summer of ’68, hadn’t lasted as long as the damn Internationale. It seemed they dragged out all the song’s three verses only to highlight my outsider status. “The International unites the human race.” I nearly panicked and fled, bolting down the stairs and head back to Times Square and porno. But the anthem finished and they understood my non-participation as betrayal: I was an obvious informant. What kind of revolutionary wouldn’t know the words to the ur-song of Revolution.
At lunch I didn’t say a word but nervously laughed at a very funny joke told by the Jewish editor who used Borscht Belt dialect. Afterwards, back in the office, he gave me $80 and a Pitney Bowles stamp machine. I went to the nearest post office. They obviously discussed why such an odd mute would volunteer. Was I working for New York City’s Red Squad? I bought postage and went back with the machine. At least they knew I wasn’t a petty thief. I left for the Bronx at three, breathing comfortably, at last.
The next day, mid-morning, Dave Dellinger arrived. I knew him from photos taken during the Moratorium demonstration last November. He was strident leader in the anti-Vietnam war movement. A friendly face, he looked at me without distrust and nodded, then swept into the inner office with the editor. Three staff members followed, shut the door, leaving me alone. I wasn’t angry or hurt that they excluded me because I read in the radical leftist Guardian how the FBI infiltrated organizations and groups in the Movement. Their precautionary move was justified since I’d demonstrated nothing that bonded me with them.
When the door opened and Dellinger walked out talking with a staffer, both leaving the building, that was my cue. Ten minutes later, I exited quietly. The stint lasted two days. My friends never scolded me for being such a loser.
That Friday, Dorr declared he passed the required foreign language exam. He never set foot in a French class during his entire academic career. Student life entailed more than sex, drugs, hardball Marxism and demonstrations. He paid someone to take the test. Dorr hadn’t time to learn another language other than fluent Spanish he could speak. After all, the second American Revolution would be heard and written in English, wouldn’t it?
The ends justified the means. Dorr, Maria, Kate and I drank two bottles of Dom Perignon, complements of Maria’s father, to celebrate the nimble rite of passage. I went to the trailer when they began fondling each other, thinking how natural that was, in theory, yet I couldn’t do that. That was why I pulled off alone in the trailer while Kate was off to Tokyo or Rio de Janeiro. I imagined her in faraway places, doing it gang-bang style, the raunchier the better. She’d told me she and six Japanese men went to a ski lodge together.
Once stuck in my respective intellectual attic, it was impossible to step down the ladder back into the carnal house below. I tripped on the step entering the trailer, surprised to find both Julia and Kate.
“We want your body, Ron,” Julia said. Kate groaned, laughed furiously, and asked: “Why don’t you change into your paisley shirt, you look cute in it,” she said to me. Both tittered, and Julia sat close to me on the couch.
I thought that strange but enjoyed their manipulating me, so I looked for the shirt. I searched all over. Not only the shirt was missing but also the rest of my clothes. I even went into Kate’s bedroom in the rear, a no-go zone at that point. Gotta find my clothes. Nakedness wouldn’t prevail, not if I could help it. I, freak of nature, panicked, my voice tensed, fear swam in my belly, my skin went clammy, and my entire body blushed.
“Where, goddammit, are my clothes?”
The sisters howled. I’d have to spend a big wad of my traveler’s checks on new clothes if they wouldn’t turn up. I looked in the fridge, finding only Velveeta cheese and hotdogs. Then I opened the oven and all my clothes were jammed inside. I pulled them out and stuffed them into my suitcase.
“They stunk. You never wash them,” Kate said. “Didn’t your parents teach you personal hygiene?”
“Fear they taught, not the social arts.”
I sat next to Julia, Kate standing close. I never looked at Julia, and tried to remain sexless, immune from desire. Kate stared at Julia. The root chakra controlled both sexuality and flight-or-fight response: Confusion staged a putsch.
“Julia, what are you doing?” Kate asked, and she smiled.
I’d never seen her smile like that. Julia said nothing, and Kate rubbed her hips, her knee touching mine. I knew Julia showed her breasts, but I never turned to see them.
“Ron shouldn’t see you like that, come on,” Kate said.
This reminded me of skits I saw at a Chicago burlesque show. Finally, Julia rose, and buttoned her blouse. Julia slept with Kate in her single bed.
Poor hygiene was an early symptom of schizophrenia my ex-shrink said. Schizophrenia landed you into hospitals where doctors shocked rebellion out of you. I was Antaeus, held aloft forever, weak unlike his supreme power when touching earth, living in fantasy. Taking showers in Kate’s tiny bathroom proved difficult. Even alone, thought of her barging in, though, if she did that and raped me, damn, that would be great. The laundromat was blocks away. Neighborhood folks were there and I might have talk to them. They’d find me an outsider with a major Spannungriss ( “stress crack” ): I learned that word from German-born Maria
The next few days I moped around, engaging Ted, the machinist, with politics, how the U.S. ( the, not our U.S. --- distance, always, as if I had nothing to do with it ) was bound to lose “that murderous, imperialist war.” I felt great rolling off those words, proud of my newly gained linguistic habits. I must’ve made the too lenient, hard-working guy feel like a schnook just because he wanted our country “to win the Vietnam war.”
Dorr was taking course in Manhattan, Maria going to pre-med classes, Kate overseas, Julia living on the Upper West Side. Alone with Ted, gabbing, I felt superior because he hadn’t been accustomed to seeing and hearing faux-hippie bombast. I shook an underground paper, Rat, one I grabbed upstairs, at him. “Don’t you know they’re people who could be your next door neighbors ready to blow your dream-world to smithereens,” I said, voice raised, referring to an article by a woman castigating her sisters in the bomber-Weatherman offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society.
Such a liberating feeling, screaming at a stranger, Werner’s employee. Werner supported his daughter Maria, sustained her education and a lifestyle of an au courant bohemian radical. I failed to recognize my low standing at the marina, how Ted might tell Werner about my unpleasantness, evicting me for being a bother. I was non compos mentis.
I told Ted he was too weak, like the Frank Bigelow character portrayed by Edmond O’Brien in the film, “DOA,” a thug would gut-punch him in his soft belly, Bigelow collapsing to the floor.
“I work, who do you think you are, all you do is bitch,” Ted could’ve said to me, but didn’t. Or kick me in the groin.
Rat printed a rant titled, “Goodbye to All That,” by Robin Morgan, telling Weather-women and female supporters of the bombing Weatherman faction to regard their male revolutionaries as oppressors. “Goodbye to the illusion of strength when you run hand in hand with your oppressors,” she wrote. Rat had once devoted a whole issue to the ‘68 Columbia University student rebellion, yet I held this particular invective in front of Ted’s face.
“You can kiss your comfy job goodbye after this county goes up in flames,” I hectored, waving Rat back and forth, not unlike a conventional, old-time, Hollywood film version of a therapist would a fob chain, hypnotizing poor Ted into submission.
Had I become a man hater in the style of Morgan? Had my lack of sexual initiative cast a dim spell over machismo itself?
Ted didn’t even flinch, and stated, “I guess I could earn a living making customized rifles whenever the shit hits the fan. We’ll all need protection then.”
WBAI announced a demonstration protesting Dow Chemical and Monsanto profiteering off napalm and Agent Orange used on Vietnamese civilians. The awful pain of searing flesh, the deaths from Orange’s herbicide and defoliants. The demo would be Saturday afternoon. This marked my first New York demo. In college I’d protested Bloody Sunday, the police riot in Selma, with the handwritten sign, “Ballots Not Bullets,” but these days it was more apt to be “Bullets Not Ballots.”
Kate and Julia finally ended discussion about their wardrobe, what to wear for the protest rally. Neither sister superficial, they acted out of habit, two sisters growing up with plenty of Midwestern beauty, bound by social conventions the Movement hadn’t yet changed. Kate settled on a colorful, fringed Mexican shirt and Levi 501 jeans while luxuriant Julia opted for Raindrop suede boots, a sweater jacket over a velour blouse, a green feather boa, and butterfly floral pants.
Their chatter thrilled me. An interloper, hearing sisters revisit their small-town past, I imagined maple-lined streets, paperboys on bicycles, tail-fins galore, cylindrical-blade hand mowers pushed by men in Hawaiian shirts, and, if I turned the sound system up loud, I’d hear the sound of a razor slashing across a person’s carotid artery as a body sank downward into a nude bathtub.
We five took the subway, getting off at 23rd Street. The rally was at Madison Square Park, bordered by 5th and Madison Avenue and 23rd and 26th Street. This, the park where Herman Melville strolled ( “How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?” ). That sentence wasn’t a cliché.
Speakers denounced the Vietnam War, its atrocities and blood-money profiteering, as well as police killing militant Black Panthers in urban war zones. The few hundred cheered, and Julia climbed a railing, balancing herself on a tree, as if a fashion photographer were about to snap a camera on a model shoot.
“What are you doing up there?” Kate asked.
Julia tossed the boa over her shoulders, and told her, “I don’t want to miss anything.” She jumped down when cops appeared at the edge of the park. Julia looked at me as I watched the cops, and said: “Don’t be afraid, let’s meet them.”
I would’ve never confronted them but Julia pushed me as she ran, point woman from our Bronx delegation, waving her boa above her head. Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” came to mind. I witnessed Liberty herself, Julia’s blondness, that bright green boa flailing its color in the foreground, rather than the tricolor in hand. Mentally, I’d already seen Julia’s breasts, transfigured into high art.
The cops looked at us as we faint-heartedly taunted them, but the rally had dispersed, leaving only a small contingent. What we needed was a first class heckler, a Groucho Marx or Lenny Bruce, but it was cold and the cops didn’t look like they’d laugh at anything.
Ben, Julia’s and Kate’s brother, paid a visit to the marina. He came from California just after a student rebellion torched a Bank of America branch in Isla Vista and burned it to the ground.
“It was really fun watching it disappear,” Ben said.
“The Movement needs more mob actions,” Dorr said, giving Ben a bear hug.
Ben and other resourceful arsonists ripped apart boards covering the Bank of America’s windows. They found gasoline, and incinerated the building. Governor Reagan called the students “cowardly little bums.” The anarchical blaze had the beauty of “Beneath the rhapsodies of fire and fire” as Wallace Stevens wrote.
Anything extreme was revolutionary according to the Gospel of Saint Dorr, so his enthusiasm for Ben was high. Kate and Julia hugged him. He was strongly built and good looking, and quickly Dorr and Maria joined them, walking on the dock. I saw a Moll Flanders lust go wild over Maria’s face, and Dorr walked with Kate and Julia, rubbing their butts.
“Come and join us. You’re invited,” said Maria, but I declined.
The five jabbered lustfully all at once. They disappeared into a yacht. I drank a Rheingold, lay down, and stared at the ceiling.
Kate and Julia never came back to the trailer. Julia got her things in the morning and left for an“apartment-sitting” ( her words ) gig on the Upper West Side. Anyway, she had keys. I learned from Maria in the afternoon they all gathered in a yacht owned by one of Werner’s friends.
“You missed it, Ron. We had lots of fun,” Maria said.
She spoke as if they’d ordered four pizzas with all the toppings and listened to a Beatles FM radio marathon, but her blasé attitude belied the truth: all kinds of sexual permutations went on. Had I missed my deepest fantasy, a voyeur peeping at a grainy reel of incest?
Once Dorr asked me whether I wanted to watch, but I said nyet. Admission of perversity could emancipate me, much like a schizophrenic breakdown, joining them would’ve cracked me free of all inhibitions, but who was I, Janis Joplin.
I used to have a paperback of Marital epigrams. My favorite: “The wretched may well despise and laugh at death; but he is braver far who can live wretched.” Maria fired me up about an upcoming demonstration in New Haven. Bobby Seale and Erica Huggins were in jail on bogus charges. She made a passionate speech about their innocence, addressing details in alternative newspapers. I left her the with Dorr. In the trailer, the “braver far” man, braver than all revolutionary figures in history, sat alone. I earned my narcissism, a nicer word than lonely.
I finally read the book, “One-Dimensional Man.” Herbert Marcuse’s chapter on repressive desublimination was impressive. The gathering liberations of private behavior in the face of a governing political and economical class so confident of its power that no matter what civilians did to free themselves from traditional bondages, the ruling class would only increase their domination.
Kate, Maria, and Julia took birth control pills or used diaphragms, former sexual restraints became instant gratification. Werner bought clothes for Maria from the exclusive Bergdorf Goodman, yet we still listened to Radio Havana. Repressive hierarchy grew more entrenched as individuals thought themselves freer than before. Elite rulers tolerated defiance as long as we consumed their products, gaining more control over the population, all insatiable consumers. The new opiate of the masses was no longer religion but pursuing individual joy and mutual assured satisfaction, vis-à-vis material well being. Dorr bought the best NYC marijuana and sometimes hashish from an university connection but had that easy freedom done anything to undermine the influence the Pentagon?
While Dorr made contacts with the Weather Underground, and Kate and Maria connected with the women’s liberation struggle, I acted as a sentinel, an observer. I never felt of service to the Movement and that futility drove my isolation deeper. All that evinced Revolution magnified my unworthiness. Revolution expanded everywhere, yet I felt like imploding. Watchfulness would be my contribution to the Movement.
Two weeks later, Julia phoned Maria, inviting us to her “apartment-sitting” job. The apartment was nearly empty except for an extra-large bed. The hardwood floors gleamed, and Kate took off her shoes, skidding over the luster. Maria walked from room to room, and commented how the large windows shone light everywhere.
“So much political content,” I said ironically.
They looked stupefied at that remark.
Dorr lit another one for Maria, and two for Kate and Julia. I puffed a bit and grew paranoid. As the THC weakened, I felt better.
“We need positivity,’ Dorr said, “not suicide.” He looked at my glum face.
“Living hopeless is the only way, but still considering all revolutionary options,” I
He sucked the J deeply and said: “What Marx called ‘use value’ was satisfying people’s wants but ‘exchange value’ was the specter of speculation, how ownership exploited disposable workers and all the time engendering money and riches, an illusion of permanence dominated. The gap between ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value’ would spark the demise of capitalism. That pretty much boils it down.”
“Are you telling me my life’s an illusion?”
On the record player Leonard Cohen sang, “The Old Revolution,” the corpses were getting lugged away. He sang for a new kind of Revolution. I dwelled upon “old”: no 1970 activist revolutionaries need apply. I appropriated despair, the tone of Cohen’s songs.
“You’re not paranoid right now, are you?”
“It’s not in demise yet.”
“ ‘I can’t pretend I still feel very much like singing’. We’re next in line,” said Dorr loud and clear, “We’re the inheritors.”
“I thought it was about the end of an love affair,” Julia said.
“What?” asked Dorr.
“The song. Or maybe if you have a lover, he won’t betray you even though it’s been hell,” Julia said.
I hid in the past, reveling its immortality. Change frightened me. I only clung to these people because I knew Dorr.
“You’ll rather hang around people you don’t like simply because you already know them. No surprises”: Louis-Ferdinand Celine.
The next day, Kate flew out of JFK Airport to Mexico City, joining a male friend of Dorr’s. She quit her airline job, striking out in new directions. I tossed the blankets aside and Kate’s expression changed from a normal alert state to genuine surprise. After months I had never exposed her to my briefs getting up in the morning. The timing for this loosening couldn’t have been worse. Now I wanted to sock it to her. I quickly dressed, stood near her, wanting to reach out and touch her, but knew there wasn’t enough time. Her flight left in two hours. She stared at me and lunged forward, embraced me, then swiftly let go. She said it would be up to Werner whether I stayed in the trailer in her absence. Julia had flown to Rome where the left was a veritable powerhouse compared with the U.S.
Maria drove Dorr and me in her Volkswagen to New Haven. She parked many blocks from the Green, and we linked up with others. The town’s windows boarded up, 10,000 protesters stood on New Haven’s Green as speaker after speaker denounced the racist American system. Dave Dellinger connected the racist, repressive system here with the war in Vietnam. Many times before the coupling had been made, but Dellinger’s eloquence moved the crowd.
My favorite speaker was Jean Genet, a French author whose books inspired me to pick up the cudgel and smash to bits my bourgeois upbringing: they pushed me into a feisty stance against all things bourgeois, a push-button-strike-their-jugulars word, bourgeois. Genet’s speech, translated into English, was powerful. I clicked with Dorr in college in the early ‘60s when I told him about Genet’s life which stood in antipathy to respectability and hypocrisy of middle-class life. Thanks to his encouragement, I kept a steady drumbeat against my family and its grotesque values.
We left as speakers debunked the melting pot, telling the world American apple pie was spiked with racist poison. From New Haven, Maria and Dorr headed for Mexico City in her Volkswagen, hooking up with Kate.
For two days, I took the IRT to Manhattan early, coming back when the Bronx tool shop closed. I wanted to avoid Werner. The third day I took the IRT, and ate breakfast at a cheap Greek restaurant on seedy, dirty 8th Avenue. I later walked around and people soon jammed Times Square, my traipsing pointless. I went to the Fifth Avenue Public Library, settled in a cozy chair in the cavernous reading room. I had to have a book and chose “Don Quixote,” reading a chapter until I rested my head on the novel and dozed off. Awakened, I realized I had only $40 in traveler’s check. Outside, I looked up at the running electric news flashing around the Times Tower and
read four Kent State students were shot dead. They protested the escalation of the war into Cambodia.
I walked aimlessly on Broadway and 7th Avenue, with no sense of direction. I walked into Howard Johnson’s and blurted to the waitress behind the counter: “Four students have been shot and killed in Ohio.”
The young woman had a plate in one hand, setting it before a customer. I thought she’d ignore me, caught up in the work routine. But she said: “They’re too many things happening, I just can’t keep up.”
I forgot about food, and wandered a bit, then took the train from Grand Central Station to the Bronx.
The next day, Werner caught me before I again departed the marina. He held a $50 bill at eye level and politely requested I leave. We shook hands. I took the bill, packed my things, and paid a week’s rent for a room in the 34th Street YMCA. I almost phoned my parents, asking for more money. I had to look for a job. From the seventh floor, I gazed down at the people below, most of them on the streets returning from work, going to work, or wanting to buy something. I wanted to buy things too. Fear of living on the street ignited me, and the very first place I asked was a paperback bookstore on Broadway near the Times Tower.
The manager took me to the back room and said: “You can go far working here.”
He saw that I’d graduated from college.
After four months, the assistant manager said to me: “You’re too smart to believe in revolution. It’ll never happen.”
I never thought myself smart. As for the Revolution, it hung on a spider’s web in an attic.
Posted July, 2012