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Archive for the ‘1970s’ Category

Slowly I ….

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on June 17, 2018

Listening to Isao Tomita’s electronic version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition as I write. Tomita p at an exhibition It is far stranger than Mussorgsky ever imagined, of that I am sure. I like some of Tomita’s works very much. This one not so much. Lately I have acquired many CDs of his work. I love his live concert, done in 1984: The Mind Of The UniverseMind of the Universe and have enjoyed his version of Maurice Ravel‘s Bolero, as well as Tomita’s 1974 studio release: Snowflakes are DancingSnowflakes Debussy’s tone paintings. However, I disliked his version of Gustav Holst‘s The Planets so much that I posted it on the CD trading website SwapaCD immediately after listening to it. Someone had already requested it automatically, so I packaged it and bought postage to ship it out tomorrow. I’m a fan of electronic music, but not all of it.

Lazy, lazy day. I was up last night on a movie set until 3am this morning, crawling into bed as soon as I got home. I woke this morning early, but just turned over and went back to sleep until 8:30am. The movie is a local production here in Albuquerque. Seems like movies are being made here every day. I was not a character in this movie, but a background actor, sometimes punching a bag, sometimes watching and cheering a fight, sometimes doing my version of sit ups (touching my toes from a flat position). The movie scenes are for Caged, taking place in a gym. Caged “It is the story of TJ, a young man from a privileged family, who drops out of law school against his mother’s wishes to pursue his dream of becoming an MMA fighter.” I was fascinated by it, and the gym, as this was the first time I’d ever been in one.

I made coffee this morning and fed the two cats. Drank my coffee while playing Microsoft’s daily solitare challenges. Made breakfast. Decided to go back to bed. Slept until 4:30pm. Now, that’s a lazy day! Got up and read for a short while. I’ve been reading Khaled Hosseini’s And The Mountains EchoedMountains I’ve really enjoyed the first half, but could not get back into it today; perhaps I will later this evening. Hosseini wrote The Kite Runner,  but, although I thoroughly enjoyed the movie: Kite Runner, I did not read the book. Hosseini is a good writer, and writes real stories of real people caught up in circumstances of violence and social change beyond their control, sometimes beyond all comprehension.

I’ve switched my music to Tomita’s compilation called Different Dimensions, a CD subtitled “The Ultimate Collection of Future Sounds.” Different Dimensions Hopefully it is not, but it is a good introduction to Tomita’s work. Some are very good, some are fascinating, and some are just odd, which is pretty much how I feel today.

I have also thought about my dad today, on Father’s Day, and changed my Facebook profile photo to his photo, from the 1940s. Dad on skates He and my mom roller skated a lot growing up, and were partnered by their coach for competitions, which they won a lot of, being Tri-State champions at it. I’m told they did not like each other at first, Mom&Dad09031949 but they appear to have gotten over that. My dad died of lung cancer many years ago. I wish he was around. I’d love to pick his brain. Oddly, when I posted that photo of him, all my mom could think of to comment on was the fact that his skates had wooden wheels, as they all did back then. When she commented, I noticed that she had changed her profile picture to a photo of her in 1978. I was living in Albuquerque at the time, and had no money for plane tickets, so I never knew she had changed her hairstyle so dramatically – Mom in 1978 – 1970s big hair. My brother said it’s her Liz Taylor look. I swear I’d never have recognized her on the street in that hairdo. She and my father were divorced by then, and I probably didn’t see her for many years after I left town permanently in 1975. She must have added the flag banner via Facebook, perhaps for Memorial Day. She’s 87 years old now.

No word from my step-daughter Maya today. She has always given me step-dad cards on Father’s Day, but perhaps we’re growing apart now that we no longer make and sell wine together after the winery closed. I had hoped for a call, or a text, or a Facebook message perhaps. She posted photos of her and her dad, and her brother with his young son Zen.

I always enjoy any time I get to spend with her. She’s the one person in my lifetime that I have really loved with all my heart, and I wish I saw her more often. Her smile warms my heart. Me & Maya 2017

Posted in 1970s, In front of the camera, Life, music, My Life, Writing | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the 70s – Chapter Fourteen

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 5, 2008

Sean could see the carnival lights miles away, as a bright glow.  It was like coming up on a small town in the dark.  Instead of crowds and barkers and food, however, it was a scene of furious activity.  It was the last night of this fair, and the carnival needed to move on.  They would be expected in the next town or city the next night.  It was bright.  The lights were shining in colors, red, yellow, green, white and blue, on every ride, and floodlights mounted on towers on top of trailers lit up the entire field.

The sign on the office trailer read: “Murphy Brothers Mile Long Pleasure Trail.”  Sean asked about work and they told him to help tear down the small wheel.  Sean found the ride foreman and started climbing up and taking the long multicolored fluorescent bulbs out of their sockets, so they wouldn’t break.  Then each seat had to be removed and lifted onto the truck. ferris-wheel After all the lights and seats were off, hydraulics lowered the ride slowly down into the trailer, while Sean and a few others lifted the braces out and away from the ride.  After the ride was safely lowered into its trailer, they lifted each heavy brace and tucked it into the other trailer, the one that would carry the individual seats as well.  When that was done, the foreman told Sean to ask the office what else he could do.  When Sean told the man in the office window the wheel was finished, he looked surprised.  “Look over there. See that big generator with the light tower on it? Ask for Duane.  He’s the electrician.  He needs help.”  Sean trotted off and found Duane.  Duane was a short, muscular young man, with short blond hair and a bushy mustache.

“Yeah, OK,” he said. Here. Take this speed wrench, and start pulling the wires out of these junction boxes.  Leave the ones on this side that go to the generator, but take the ones off the other side.  Don’t let the wrench touch two poles at the same time.  Pull the wires out slow. You don’t wanna touch the sides. Got it?”  Sean said, “Sure,” and went at it.

The wrench was wrapped heavily in black electrical tape.  Each wire had a large one-holed lug crimped onto the end. The hole let the lug be dropped over one of the threaded poles in the junction box, and a large hex nut held it in place.  Sean dutifully unscrewed the lug nuts, finding that the nut tended to stay in the wrench.  When it dropped out sometimes, it fell into the box and Sean had to carefully fish it out without touching the live junction poles. He pulled the wires out carefully, but even though there was still power to each wire, the hole was insulated with a small plastic sleeve, so there wasn’t too much danger.  Unfortunately, the plastic sleeves had a habit of falling off through repeated handing, and Sean had to move real slow when there was nothing but bare metal to pull the wires through.  He did real well for a while, moving from each battered orange junction box to the next as fast as he could.  He felt rushed by all the frantic activity around him.  Sean pulled a wire slowly through a bare hole, but he slipped and let it touch the side.  The wire never made it out. electrical-spark With a nearly blinding flash of giant sparks, the wire welded itself to the hole, and simultaneously the lights went out as Big Bertha, the giant generator, popped its main breaker.  Rides still being turned or lowered shut off.  There was a sudden dark silence. Sean heard curses.  Duane ran over. Sean said, “Touched the side. Sorry.”  Duane yanked the wire hard, away from the box and ran for the generator.  He threw the breaker and that section of midway lit up again, noise blaring from rides and cheers from the workers stuck in the near dark.  “Just be careful OK?”  “Sure,” Sean said, relieved.  He thought he’d screwed up badly already.  Just after the lights had come back on he’d heard someone yell, “Hey, we got a new electrician.”  He took each wire off slowly after that.  He was no longer in a hurry.  Later Duane had him pull the wires, bundles of three one inch copper wires, and a 3/8″ ground wire, into a trailer and coil each one, layering the coils in the truck.  Sean could barely lift the hundred-foot-long bundles at first. Usually he pulled the wires over to the truck and threw one end in.  From inside he could pull the wires into a neat coil.  He spent the night doing that: disconnecting, pulling, coiling, back and forth all over the midway.  At the end, the generators, for there were more than one, had to be turned off, and the trailers closed up in preparation for the long drive.  Duane paid Sean for the work.  Sean turned to go, happy to have picked up some money, but Duane stopped him.  “Say, you want to work for us?”  “But I shorted out the generator.”   “No biggie.  You’re alive, ain’t ya?”  “Well, yeah.”  “Well, you want a job or not?”  “Yeah, sure.”

Sean wasn’t sure he really wanted to travel with a carnival.  He still wanted to ride his bike to California.  This would change everything.  However, money was money, and Sean was looking forward to having money to buy food again.  “What’s it pay?” he asked.  Duane told him it was $75 a week.  Good enough. Of course, Duane didn’t tell him that the carnival kept $15 every week until the season ended.  Then he’d get all of that as a bonus. $60 still bought a lot of meals, even at carnival prices, so Sean was happy.  If he saved some money, he could resume his trip.   Next stop: Minot, North Dakota, home of the world’s largest open-pit mine, and proud of it.

“Cocaaaaine. Cocaaaaine. Here boy. Cocaaaaine.” After the carnival had reached Minot, and everything was set up again, Sean was relaxing, taking a much deserved rest after the hard electrical work, when he heard that young woman yelling.  She was the Snake Girl.  snakegirl The caller, or mike man, played it up to the hilt, saying she’d grown up with snakes, that they were all poisonous and deadly, but only she could handle them.  He was pretty funny to listen to.  She sat in a trailer full of snakes, handling them, and letting them slide all over her body.  Supposedly, they were all highly dangerous, venomous snakes, and people paid a couple dollars to line up and walk through the trailer gawking at her and the snakes, many hoping to see her get bitten.  A pretty young woman.  Sometimes, instead of being the Snake Girl in some towns, she was Devil Woman, telling her tale of drug abuse, needles and overdoses.  It was a living.  Right now it was too early for customers, the ‘marks’ who would flock in,  gawking, eating, gambling, throwing balls and darts, riding rides, and generally parting with the most money the carnies could get without giving much in return.  Snake Girl was just looking for her dog, a pure white samoyed-husky mix she named cocaine.  Sean wasn’t sure she was just looking for her dog, because she did know an awful lot about all kinds of drugs.  The dog looked wolf-like and fierce, so few people bothered her if the dog was with her.
Sean stepped out of the cable trailer and saw her looking around under everything, still calling for Cocaine.  “Interesting name for a dog,” he ventured.  She stopped.  “Yeah, and he’d better turn up soon, or I’m gonna be pissed. You haven’t see ‘im have you?”  “No. I haven’t seen ‘im at all. Do you need help looking?”  “No, no, that’s OK. I’ll find ‘im.  Well, I’ve got to get going.  He’s got to be around here somewhere.  I’ll talk to ya later.”  She never did.  She was always with one sharp-looking dude or another, usually tall and decked out in leather hats and vests, so he never got to get to know her like he hoped.

There were other women around, usually local girls would come around.  Sean met a Minot girl a few days later.  She was pretty cute, and also pretty young, but Sean was feeling lonely out there by himself, so he walked the carnival with her, and then they sat behind a trailer for awhile making out.  Man that girl can kiss! Sean thought.  After awhile they talked some more and Sean found out she lived nearby with her mom.  She came by every day after that, and kissed some more and Sean was really getting excited, but she held him off easily.  By the time the carnival was nearly ready to jump, she asked Sean to stay behind.

Sean might’ve done that, except that he hadn’t cut his ties to Baltimore, not just yet.  He still wrote to Judy.  Judy White was a young hospital technician at the same time Sean was working in the physics lab.  They’d stopped seeing each other after Sean told her he loved her.  Actually, he didn’t, and Judy was smart enough to know that.  She told Sean they shouldn’t see each other anymore.  That was after Sue had told him the same thing.  Sean, was, at that point simply interested in sex.  He’d been teased to the point of exploding with the Frederick woman, and he was ready.   He hadn’t really known Judy very long. She was the daughter of a co-worker of Sean’s father, who had given her number to him.  Sean had been really freaked out when his father had suggested he call some strange woman like that.  Maybe his father thought he hadn’t had any dates?  High school had been a barren time for Sean, but then there had been Kathy, and Sue, and Sharon.  What Sean didn’t know was that his old roommate had called his parents once, trying to embarrass Sean, and Sean’s dad suspected Randy of having the interest in Sean that Randy did.   Sean’s dad was no dummy either.  Sean, well, Sean was still trying to learn social skills, and there was a lot he didn’t know about human behavior.
However, Sean had called Judy.  He had no idea what a blind date would be like, but he thought it might make his father happy.   Judy had turned out to a very good-looking woman, and Sean hadn’t regretted it, but he had pushed his luck too soon.  It wasn’t long after that he lost he virginity with Geri, who wanted a nude model, but Geri was gone, living in a mental ward in Texas.  Leah had been great for sex. She and Sean had fucked night and day.  Sean sent her a few postcards on his way through Canada, but there had never been more than a sexual relationship, so there wasn’t much to say, and she couldn’t reply while he was traveling, so he had thought.

He had written a letter to Judy.  Now, he could get mail back. Far enough away, she could write back without fear of encouraging the horny bastard.    Sean would write often, since he was able to send Judy their schedule and mail could be delivered to the local post office at each town they stopped in.  He would tell her about the sideshow fat man, who, behind the trailers, didn’t look so fat – in fact, he simply had a ton of loose skin. He would tell her about Snake Girl, and the sleazy mike men who gave money away to entice people to buy junk at inflated prices. “I’m giving away five dollars here.  Who wants five dollars?” And they’d give a few people five dollars.  And people would stick around and the crowd would grow as more things were given away.  And sometimes you could buy something they had with the money they’d given you, plus a few bucks more.  It was fun to watch.  He would write to her all the time, relishing the replies.  It was a connection with home, and he enjoyed that.

Minot Girl wanted him to move in with her and her mom.  She was pretty, and pretty young, but it was tempting to Sean.  No one had ever seemed to want him before; it had always been the other way around.  Working the mines in Minot was not what Sean had in mind, however.  He had a lot to see yet, a lot to do.  He told her he’d think about it and maybe he’d come back later.  She didn’t want that.  She said he had to come with her now.  Sean told her no. He looked for her on jump day, thinking she might try to come along, but he never saw her again.
At least I didn’t get her pregnant, he thought as he rode in the cable truck with Duane.  Duane didn’t ask any questions.  Nobody did.  Carnies aren’t like that.  If you want to hide out, a carnival is your best bet.  No one rats you out, no one has ever seen you or heard of you.  Sean would meet some interesting characters, and the stories they told…. murphy-brothers-003

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, My Life, relationships, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Thirteen

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 27, 2008

Now I’m the criminal the border agents expected me to become, Sean thought.  “Public drunkenness, failure to pay a fine, theft.Time to get the hell out of Dodge. Sean headed back to the US, to the border between the Sault Sainte Maries.  So much for Canada, he thought.  At least I’m still headed west. He had to deal with the border again.  US customs this time.  Well, at least I don’t have anything they can arrest me for.  I wonder if they’ll ask me for my draft card? I’m screwed if they do that.  I mailed the ashes back to the draft board long ago. What if they don’t let me back in? A man without a country, that could be me.

The customs agents weren’t used to seeing a man on a bicycle crossing the bridge.  They saw the bulging yellow bags on Sean’s bike, and they knew he had dope.  “It’s all these kids go to Canada for,” agent Stimson said aloud, to no one in particular.  Everyone had heard it all before.  Everyone had pulled dope out of car trunks, glove compartments, door frames, and spare tires.  They’d seen it all.  Almost.  No one, including agent Stimson, had ever seen anyone brazen enough to load a bicycle full of dope and just ride right up to them.

“We’ll have to inspect those bags,” he told Sean, hoping this hippy would run, hoping he’d have a little fun.

“What’s this?” he asked Sean.  “Oh, those are soybeans,” Sean told him, and Sean was enjoying this. “And this is brown rice, and this is granola, and these are alfalfa seeds.”  Sean smiled.  He saw the agent frown, “We’ll have to open these.”  Sean didn’t like the idea of having his food pawed through, but he knew there was no choice.  Nevertheless, he complained, doing his best to make the clown think he was hiding something.  “Well, I’d rather you didn’t, you know, it’ll be messy.”  The agent took the bait, dumping each bag out one at a time, sifting through each one, but there was nothing there but soybeans, brown rice, granola and seeds.  “What did you say these were again?” he asked.  “Alfalfa seeds.”  Stimson could tell this hippie was jerking him around.  He’d could always have the jerk held, say he’d detected an odor of cannabis.  Instead he said, “We’re gong to have to keep these.  Can’t tell where you got ’em, or even if that’s what they are.  Too risky.  Agricultural rules.  Well, Sean thought, that takes care of that. God knows when I’d ever have been ever to stop somewhere and sprout them.  I can’t eat them this way. The less weight the better. He smiled.  Agent Stimson saw the smile, and he wasn’t about to let a hippie get away with anything.  “We’ll have to inspect your bike,” he said.  What’s in these tubes.” “Tubes? You mean the frame?” Sean bleated. “Yeah,” agent Stimson said, “you could have all kinds of things inside the frame.”  Sean just stared.  It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to him.  “How could I, where, how could I get anything in?” he stammered.  “Well,” agent Stimson said, calmly, “what about right here under the seat.”  He bent down and looked underneath.  Hmm, well, nothing here, damn it.

“Have a seat,” he told Sean.  “We’re going to take a look at this. I’ll bet this seat comes off.  Who knows what we’ll find.”  He imagined the hippie was squirming now, sure he had him.  Sean, however, was not looking forward to reloading all his gear.  Stimson took the bike into the interrogation room. Sean pulled out a paperback from his back pocket and read.  Stimson took the seat off, and looked inside, tapped the frame all around, and decided that was enough.  He kept his eye on the hippie, but he was too young to be so calm if he was hiding something.  “Alright,” he told Sean.  “Here’s your bike, and all your stuff is on that table.  You can go.”

Sean grabbed a leaflet he found and used it as a scoop to get all the grains back in their respective bags.  At least they didn’t mix everything up, he thought.  He reattached the saddlebags, gathered up all his tools and loaded them back into the small basket under the handlebars.  He refolded all his clothes, and had to roll the blanket up again, laying it out on the floor and pulling it tight, banding it with bungee cords.  He strapped it down under the spring on his luggage rack, in between the saddle bags.  Giddy up, he thought.  And, Hi-yo Gypsy, away.  He rode back into the US, back into Michigan.

There wasn’t much to see in Michigan’s upper peninsula that wasn’t beautiful: lots of birds, water, and trees, but on the road and along it there were also lots of trucks with camper shells, and lots of Winnebagos, the RVs, not the Indians.   It was cold at night.  Sean began the afternoon in shorts and a t-shirt, but ended up with a long-sleeved shirt and long pants by nightfall.  He rode for days, weeks, crossing into Wisconsin,   then quickly into Minnesota. Every state looked the same close to Lake Superior.  Beautiful, Sean thought.  Gorgeous country up here.  I had no idea.  Looks more undeveloped that I thought anyplace in the US was. And colder.  The nights seemed to be getting colder as he went.  He rode, days and nights, stopping to buy a piece of fruit and a small carton of milk for his granola every morning.  In the afternoons he continued cooking brown rice and soybeans, then cooking some more for dinner.  He slept out of sight.  There weren’t many towns, gas stations, or restaurants as he got farther from the lake.  He stopped in a bar one chilly night, on the road to Hibbing, Minnesota, asked if they had any coffee.  They didn’t.  Didn’t seem very friendly to Sean either.  That night he wore socks, two heavy shirts, and long pants over his shorts.  It was getting harder to pedal with all that on.  The lights of towns and homes were farther and farther apart as he continued west.

It became routine.  Get up, ride for awhile.  Stop and eat. Ride for awhile. Stop and eat. Ride as far as he could, eat, sleep, get up and start it all over every day.  The miles flew by, and Sean was happy.  Sometimes he stopped to wander through old ruins of houses.  Sometimes there was a pond he could jump in.  He sang songs, thought about things he’d forgotten, nursery rhymes, Captain Kangaroo’s riddles, and Tom Terrific. Rocky Jones and the Space Patrol with the booming voice over.  He sang songs out loud: I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, Bingo, Eency Weency Spider, The Farmer in the Dell, Hickory Dickory Dock, Hokey Pokey, If You’re Happy and You Know It  (clap your hands),  Ring around the Mulberry Bush, Old MacDonald Had a Farm, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain (when she comes), Take Me Out to the Ballgame, This Old Man, Three Blind Mice, and even Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  It didn’t matter what.  I didn’t even know I knew those songs, he thought.  There was something about the rhythm of the pedaling, the steady push and pull.  Sean decided it was like meditation.  He had never tired that, but decided it must be something like this.  Get your mind off of everything stessful; let it go; spinning, caroming through the dusty corridors. He felt better than he ever had his whole life.

I’ve always lived by others’ rules, he thought.  He had always done what he was told. The nuns and priests had told him to love God is to obey God, so he had.  They told him that heaven was the goal of his life and hell waited for him if he failed to follow the rules, the commandments, the laws.  So he had.  He had aspired to heaven, to see God, to experience the bliss and rapture of this God being’s presence in his life.

His parents told him to go to school, to do his homework, to babysit, to do as they said, so he had.  The priests and nuns had made it very clear that, after God, one must obey one’s parents, and the law.   Rules and laws told everyone what to do with their lives, he had understood that.  His parents told him that, as the oldest, he must set an example for the younger kids, so he had.  He did what he was told to do.  Through countless sinks full of dishes scrubbed spotless, linoleum floors that shone cleanly through the Johnson’s Floor Wax, the near-spotless bathrooms, the hand-waxed hardwood hallway, the lawn manicured with a push mower, and the weed-free beds of flowers and tomatoes, he had done as he was told.  He was as perfect as he could be, although his parents would dispute that.  He had thought of himself trying to be the perfect son, the pious altar boy, the virtuous boy scout.  Good grades, but bad dreams.

Often, in his dreams, he had been chased.  At first there had just been the wolves waiting in the shadows, waiting for the hand to fall alongside the bed, or for eye contact.  Sometimes Sean had lain awake hours at a time, trying not to look, holding his body stiff, arms tight against his sides, afraid the wolves would strike if he moved.  In his peripheral vision he could sometimes see their eyes shining in the night.  He knew they were there, snarling, waiting to bite and tear bloody pain into him.  He kept his breathing even, and stared straight up at the ceiling until he passed out into fitful sleep.  As he dreamt, he was still terrified.  He was pursued by dark, threatening things that towered over him, chasing him until he fell into holes, terrified of pain at the end of the sudden stop at the bottom, but the darkness went on and on, and it terrified him, this endless falling.  He never stopped, but he would suddenly know he was awake, and see the grayness of dawn.  Sometimes he woke up sooner, with the urgent need to pee, but when he went to the bathroom it wouldn’t start, and he knew it was his fault, and he tried to relax, to let it happen, and eventually it would.  The relief was wonderful, and he was happy, relishing the relief, the warmth, but he was still in bed, still half-asleep, and he knew he had to get up then, and tell his mother.  She didn’t want wet sheets on the bed all night.  And it got cold anyway.  After awhile all that stopped.  He sometimes had dreams about a girl in his class, and she lay there in bed with him, and they kissed and snuggled their bodies together. He didn’t learn what sex was for some time after those dreams started, but when he did, he finally understood the dreams.  Sex, however, was forbidden, especially to teenagers, and girls didn’t like him anyway.  Sex was just for marriage and making babies.  Sean had decided he’d like to be married and make babies.

Maybe.  Sean wasn’t so sure of that anymore.  The world was facing enormous problems due to overpopulation.  He didn’t want to add to that.  He learned how to have sex without making babies, and that was just fine by him.  Right now, however, he was all by himself, and, he was running low on money.  Pretty soon he’d have to find work.  He stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere one evening.  The guy there told him to check out the carnival down the road.  “There’s always work to do tearing it all down.  Tonight’s their last night; they’ll be looking for people.”  Sean thanked him, and practically burned rubber.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, crime, Dreams, faith, family, Life, My Life, rambling, sex, Travel, Writing | 1 Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Twelve

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 4, 2008

Riding along trans-Canadian highway 69, Sean had no specific place to go anymore, no one to visit.  He set up goals, having not totally accepted a directionless life as yet.  He picked Sudbury as a good place to stop. There was a youth hostel there.  Sudbury, Ontario.  Sudbury is Canada’s largest mining and metal smelting and refining center.  There are 17 mines that provide about 16 per cent of the world’s nickel. The smokestacks were visible miles away.  He arrived late in the afternoon the next day, and after getting directions for the hostel, headed down a steep hill. That was some hill. He coasted for miles. Then the pavement ended. Shit! I’m lost! Where the hell am I now? Fortune smiled on him, however, because there was a women picking berries by her house.
“Excuse me. I’m lost. Can you tell me the way to the youth hostel?”
“Oh sure! You just go up this hill about five miles, turn left, and you’ll see a sign for it about half a mile down the road.”
“Up the hill? O.K. Thank you ma’am.” Jeez. I’m not up for climbing that hill. He slumped down next to a tree until he could talk himself into heading up the hill.
“Are you alright?”
“Huh? What’s that?”
“I said, ‘Are you alright.’ You don’t look very good.”
“Oh, I’m O.K. I’m just real tired.”
“Would you like to come in for some iced tea?”
“Sure!”
“How about a sandwich? You look hungry.”
“I do? Yes. Thank you. I am hungry.” He chowed down a sandwich. Then she startled him by asking: “Would you like some pie?”
“Ma’am?”
“I’m making a blueberry pie. If you’d want to wait until it’s done you’re welcome to a piece.” Lord! This is wonderful! I’ve never even tasted blueberry pie, and here it is, fresh and hot!
He sat talking with this woman, drinking iced tea and telling her about the trip as far as he’d been. She wore a simple white dress over her firm tanned body. He guessed her age at about forty-five or so, and decided that she was more attractive than he would have expected someone that old to look. She bustled about the kitchen, cleaning and chatting. He had begun to wonder why Anne had invited him in. She was so friendly. His limited experience with people told him that she must want something. Could she be that lonely? No, she had told me her kids still lived with her. Is it possible that I’m attractive to her? Would we get it on? He’d had two sandwiches and a fourth of the pie, and he was washing the dishes, when she surprised him: “My husband will be home soon.”
Her husband! I’d better get out of here quick. “I’m sure he’d like to meet you,” she said, “Won’t you stay for dinner?” He wondered if all those years of dish washing at home might be paying off. Lord, I’ve done a hell of a lot of dishes – there were nine of us – by the time I’d left home. I miss my brothers and sisters. Potlucks at the Free Clinic had replaced family meals. I suppose that’s why that place had become my new home, and the staff had been so like a family to me.
Anne’s husband came home, with two teenaged boys in tow. After introductions they all sat down to dinner. Sean wasn’t real hungry, but he enjoyed the company. These people are really nice. They actually enjoy conversation at dinner, and I’m in the mood to provide some. I hadn’t eaten with too many people outside my own family before. It surprised him that he felt relaxed. There was no shouting and everyone talked. Dinners at home had been times to remain silent, “unless spoken to,” and they had to remain sitting until plates were clean. Anne’s husband Stan was a retired farmer. After dinner he took Sean out back to the sauna he’d built. Sean had cut up some wood earlier. They sat out there pouring water on the rocks and soaking up some steam. They took a breather every once in a while, and stood outside watching the stars. This is perfect, Sean was thinking.
“We have a friend from the States,” Stan said, “He useta come up here every summer. Haven’t seen ‘im for a couple years. You know, you’d be welcome to visit anytime.”
“But you don’t even know me.”
“Don’t matter, I figure we know you well enough. Anytime you get up this way, you stop by. You’re always welcome here.”
In the morning, after – of course – one hell of a breakfast, Anne and Stan’s kids put his bike in their pickup, and drove to the top of the hill. He decided to pass on the local hostel, and check out one in the next place he came to. He wasn’t really sure where to go next, and he didn’t know how much longer he should stay in Canada. He spent that night by the side of the road, and woke to find a tent next to him. There were three young women in it from Virginia. They were packing up already, ready to hit the road again, but in the direction he’d just come from. They talked about traveling. Sean talked about bicycling.  He gave them directions to the hostel he’d passed up in Sudbury and they invited him to come visit them in the Appalachian mountains.  They were beautiful. There was the quiet, serious, dark-haired one, the light-haired one with the directions to their place who insisted he visit, and the blonde bubbly laughing one. They were all living on a farm, growing organic vegetables. “We can all kinds of food,” they said, “and we’ve got chickens and a cow, and horses.” That sounded pretty ideal to Sean, and he promised he would visit, if he could get down there. As if anyone could keep me away from such a vision of paradise. He traveled on that day, reluctantly, since all he could think of was a farm in Virginia and three lovely young women.
He found another hostel that night and checked in. It was Sunday. He took out a book, Prairie Fire: Notes from the Weather Underground. He thumbed through it, looking at the drawings of women holding guns high in their hands, reading the quotes of famous revolutionary rebels, and day dreaming of utopias. But I’m not helping to build any perfect society anymore, I’m running away. True, I had revolutionary ideals, but I‘m not there anymore, I’m not where it’s happening. He spent the day and night at the hostel, lazily, dreamily, in perfect isolation from all that he had been. He didn’t know who he was anymore.

Here I am – on a bicycle! – riding across Canada. Am I the same boy who had to run to the sink with the hot water running – so many times – and stand under a towel, trying to suck in the delicious steam that might open my paralyzed throat and kickstart my lungs? The same eight-year-old boy lying in a hospital bed recovering from blood poisoned by a ruptured appendix? The same seven-year old pushed into the darkness of a cellar in a half-built house? That was Eddie. How could I ever forget? We were friends. Pick Up Sticks and serious checker games. Me and Eddie Knight and my brother John walking through the field to the new apartment foundations. Picking up stones and throwing them into the muddy pool of water at the bottom of new cellars not yet filled with concrete. We had to hunt for stones that got bigger and better as we competed for bigger and better splashes. Eddie found a big one. The foundations of the apartment were almost as high above the ground as we were, so he had to put the rock up first and climb up. I couldn’t resist. I grabbed the rock and dropped it in. Eddie was mad. He came towards me. “God damn you!” he screamed. I fell. Did he push me? I remembered nothing except Eddie’s parents carrying me across a field, then lying on a couch, then the urgent whining of an ambulance, then stitches in my head. I never saw Eddie again. I guess he ran for his parents. My brother had pulled me out of the water. He said I had been laying face down and he thought I was dead. I would have been, except for him. I read every rescue story I came across after that. The Boy Scouts taught me how to save drowning people, give artificial respiration, stop bleeding and make a tourniquet.
I learned more from John. He had been scared out of his six-year-old wits, but had saved my life. No medal for him, we weren’t in the scouts then. He was too young for speeches or flowery words, but I paid him back, I did. Years later, he slipped off the concrete by a sewer outlet, in a deep pool of trash-filled water, and panicked. We were teenagers then, we could both swim, but he couldn’t get his footing, couldn’t get out of that slimy hole. I found something for him to grab and I held on to a pole until I had half pulled him, and he had half crawled, out. I missed him now, on this great adventure, so mature in his family responsibilities, so far away. I’m still the boy I’d been, I’ve never grown up. I still believe in rescues and heroes, in revolutions and saving the world.

“I’m sorry. You’ll have to go now.”
“What? I thought I could stay here?”
“Well, you can stay on weekends and overnight, but on weekdays this is a day camp for boys from town. If you’d like, you can leave your bike here and take the shuttle bus back to town.”
Sean had a bowl of oatmeal that the camp provided, and took the ride to town, to downtown Sault Sainte Marie. There wasn’t much to see or do, that he could find, so he stopped at a park. He had brought his sleeping bag with him. “Always be prepared,” was his motto, and not coincidentally, also the Boy Scout motto. He looked out west across Lake Superior. It looked like an ocean, although part of Michigan was visible to the south, back in the U.S., which he had hoped to be farther away from. There were factories there, spewing out clouds of smoke. Lenny had told him about the fight between Canada and the U.S. over pollution of the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. The U.S. was unwilling to spend money cleaning up a shared resource. The Canadians had already cleaned up their side and had strong nonpartisan legislation that prevented further pollution.
“Hey. You want a beer?” distracted him from his reveries. Two men, Indians, were waving him over. They looked to be bums, but then again, so did Sean. They were pretty friendly. They talked about Canada, the Lakes, and pollution, and Sean had a beer. He figured that it would help fill his stomach until he got back to the hostel for a free dinner later. They offered another beer, and for some reason, Sean drank it. Then they pulled out the wine, and by then Sean couldn’t think of a good reason to refuse, so he helped them finish the bottle. He was pretty loaded and they suggested coffee. They went to a cafe together. He looked down at the cup of coffee in front of him – and ran for the bathroom. He dumped the contents of his stomach, repeatedly. He couldn’t stand up. The owner came in after awhile.
“You’ll have to clean this up.”
“I can’t move.”
“If you don’t clean up, I’ll have to call the police.”
“Go ahead,” he said. He didn’t care, he couldn’t move.
“Sir?”
“Yes?”
“The owner says that he asked you to clean this mess up?”
“Yes, but I can’t get up.”
“Sir, if you don’t get up, I’m afraid we’ll have to arrest you.” Sean thought about that. He tried to get up again, but just couldn’t do it. He knew that he was in trouble. “Go ahead,” he said. They pulled him up and took him outside. Air! Thank God! But he couldn’t stand up without supporting himself on the dirty red bricks wavering in front of him.
“Sir, if you’ll go back in and clean up your mess, we’ll let you go.” He moved, and the world was spinning, his head was too heavy to hold up, and he tasted stomach acid. “I can’t,” was all he could say. They dragged him to their car and drove him to a jail. He was led into a single cell. It was comforting to Sean, just to lie down. He never got to sleep, however. It was cold. There were no sheets or blankets on the steel cot, and then he noticed it. Or rather, it noticed him. It was a camera. On an oval track, it slowly traveled the length of the cellblock, checking out each individual cell. He could hear it whirring along all night. He was shaking, shivering. He focused on that camera, waiting for it to reappear, waiting for it to pass. He never saw another soul. There was nothing else in the cell except a toilet. The walls were freshly painted, there was not even the usual graffiti to read. He was thirsty as hell. He was dirty, covered with bits of oatmeal puke. He felt wired, somehow. The appearance of a guard in the morning was blessed relief, but he was taking Sean to a judge.
“Can I clean up first?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
The judge fined him twenty bucks for public drunkenness. Since all his money was with his gear back at camp, he convinced the judge to let him go to the hostel. He did. He went back to the cafe first and apologized to the owner. The owner apologized for calling the police. He didn’t have Sean’s sleeping bag. He said one of the Indians took it with him, that he didn’t know it was Sean’s. He went back to the hostel for his bike. I need that bag, he whined to himself, but he had little hope of ever seeing it again.
He bicycled back into Sault Sainte Marie, and headed for the park to see if those guys were there. Before he even got there he saw one of them.
“Oh, yeah, I remember it. Thomas has it. I can give you his address, if you want it. That Thomas is a mean one, I wouldn’t want to mess with him. I don’t think you’ll get it back.”
“I’ve got to try.”
Amazingly enough, he found Thomas’s place quickly. Thomas had a room on the second floor of a house in a quiet, pretty city neighborhood.
“Thomas?” God, he does look mean. “I was drinking yesterday with you and your buddy.” He started to lose his nerve – the look on the man’s face was anything but friendly. “He says you have my sleeping bag.”
“Yeah? What of it?”
Summoning up his courage he said, “I need it back.”
“I like it, I’m using it as a pillow.”
“It’s all I have to sleep in, I really need it back.”
Thomas laughed and slammed the door.
Nice. Sean went back to the hostel that night. In the morning he packed up one of their blankets with his gear.
I have to have something to sleep in, he reasoned.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, Life, My Life, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Eleven

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 4, 2008

It was around midnight when Sean passed through Detroit and stopped for a cup of coffee. It was cool and calm in the motor city. There was the occasional cry of a cop siren, which Sean thought sounded like cats in heat. Someone was racing their hot wheels around and around the block somewhere near, like a rat on a treadmill.  A radio blasted from a pink convertible passing by. In short, it didn’t seem any different from Baltimore. Sean had a couple mugsful of steaming pick-me-up and left. The road outside of town was quieter and much darker. He rode until he was ready to drop, then conked out in his sleeping bag.
He was up at dawn. He smiled, thinking, Canada today! By mid afternoon he saw the bridge, pedaled across it, and got in line at customs. There were a lot of funny looks directed his way. Perhaps it was the long ponytail, the bandana around his forehead, or the bright red beard. But then again, it could have been the bicycle, basket in the front, the bright yellow panniers and the sleeping bag over the rear wheel. Anyway, he waited his turn. “You’ll have to bring your bike inside,” he was told. The old clerk gave him some forms.
“Country of origin?” “Purpose of trip?” “Length of stay?” “Date of return?” “Address?” “Birth date?” “Name and address of employer?” Sean rushed through it and handed it back to the clerk, who told him, “Have a seat.” Another guy came out and took Sean to his desk. He questioned Sean about his plans, so he explained the purpose of his trip. He told him of his plan to travel across his country to the coast, and then head on down to California. The clerk’s face was expressionless. He wanted to know how much money Sean had.
“I have eighty dollars, why?”
“Oh, you know, we have to be sure that you have enough money to take care of yourself.”
“How much do I need?”
“A lot more than you have actually. We don’t want any more people on welfare.”
“Welfare? I’m just traveling through. I don’t need much money. I’ve got food, and I’m going to be visiting a friend in Toronto.”
“Well, I can see that you won’t have the same expenditures as most people, but the guidelines do ask that you prove self-sufficiency for the entire length of your stay.”
“What can I do? Go back to Baltimore? now?”
“Nah, it’s alright. I think I can make an exception, considering your circumstance.”
“Thanks.”
“Is that your stuff?”
“Yeah.”
“We’ll have to inspect your bags.”
“Sure.”
“What’s this?”
“Alfalfa.”
“What?”
“They’re alfalfa sprouts, I mean, seeds, for sprouting.”
“Yeah?”
“Honest. I needed some kind of greens.”
“And these?”
“Soybeans, and that’s granola, and that’s brown rice.”
“Hey, Bill, look at this I found in the basket.” Oh no!
“Smells funny, what is it?”
“Seeds. It’s just some more seeds.”
“Hmmm, what kind of seeds?”
“Well, actually, yeah, they are marijuana seeds.”
“What are you doing with this?”
“Nothing. I forgot I had ’em.”
“What were you going to do with it?”
“They’re just seeds. I thought I’d throw ’em somewhere.”
“Where?”
“Anywhere. Just alongside the road.”
“Why didn’t you do that before you got here?”
“I forgot. I just plain forgot.”
“Come with me.” He showed Sean to a small room. “Wait here.” Two men came in a few minutes later.
“Where are you from? Where are you going? What were you planning to do with the marijuana?”
“I wasn’t planning anything. I forgot I had it. It’s just seeds.”
“Strip.”
“What?”
“Remove your clothes.”
“Everything?”
“Everything, now.”
As Sean took off my clothes, he was immediately reminded of his pre-induction physical. The army makes you strip down to your underwear first. Then they run you around, weighing you, measuring you, taking blood. “Pee in this cup.” You fill out forms, and answer questions about your health. Then they line you up in a room and tell you to drop your shorts, bend over, and spread your cheeks. Kind of symbolic. Then this guy in a white coat takes a little flashlight and runs down the whole line, somehow looking into every butt hole, or pretending to.
“Bend over.” Oh no, not again.
“OK, you can get dressed.”
“What was that all about?”
“We had to look for drugs.”
“In there?”
“You’d be surprised what people can carry in there.”
“You’re right, I would.”
“Why were you carrying a deadly weapon?”
“A what?”
“Is this yours?” 

“My knife. Yes. What are you doing with my knife?”
“This is classified as a deadly weapon.”
“What do you mean?”
“Anything over six inches is considered a deadly weapon. This is seven inches.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“What were you doing with it?”
“I brought it along for protection.”
“Protection? Against who?”
“No one. I was planning to do some camping. I thought I might need it.”
“What for?”
“What for? Well, I’d use it for hunting and skinning. And I thought I might run into a bear or something.”
“Do you know that you could go to jail for seven years?”
“No. I don’t understand. What for?”
“Possession of narcotics and attempting to smuggle a deadly weapon across the border.”
Jesus! I’m dead now. What a trip. I’ve barely gotten started, and I’m going to jail. How can I ever go back? How can I face people? Damn, I can’t even survive on my own for a week. What a god-damned failure I am. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Wait here, we’ll be back.”
Goddamn! what am I gonna do? Who should I call? God! I don’t want to go to jail. I couldn’t stand it. How can people live in a cage? I’ll go crazy. So much for wilderness!
They came back. “Well, you can go. We’re not filing charges. But we’ll have to deny you entry.”
“Of course. Thank you. Uh, what about my knife?”
“Sorry, but we’ll have to keep that.”
Shit! That’s such a good knife, too. The old clerk came in and took Sean back to his bike.
“You know, you can always cross at the next station.”
“What? Won’t they know about this?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, the paperwork won’t be finished for a few days. It might even take me a week to file it.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“You have a good trip.”
“Yes sir.”
He gave Sean directions to the next crossing point, but by the time he was back on the highway it was already dark. He couldn’t find a safe place to sleep, so he pulled into a couple of bushes not far off the road, and snuggled into his sleeping bag with the bike chained to his arm. Try and get that! he challenged the world. He watched the stars, wondering which ones had life, and what they were like. That old guy sure was nice. After all that, there was one nice thing. I guess he approved of my little adventure. Maybe he just felt sorry for me. I’m glad there’s people like him.
He was up at dawn again, excited, full of energy. Canada today! As soon as he rolled up the bag he bungee corded it across the back of the bike, and took off. One mile after another he pedaled along. Push with this foot, pull it back up, and push, pull, push, pull, and don’t stop, keep going, don’t stop, and use your back, and push, pull, don’t lean forward, and push, pull, and push. Alright! I’m gonna make it.
“Get off the road!”
“Roads are for cars, that’s why I pay taxes.”
“Get outta my way!”
Middle finger salutes often followed these greetings. Sean cheerfully returned the feeling. His special contempt, however, was reserved for those mindless honking geese that followed him for miles, refusing to pass. One such goose was the one who shouted: “Roads are for cars…” as he finally roared past and pulled back right in front of Sean. It often seemed as though some of the idiots wanted to kill him. They came close. Sean wondered if he could shoot them. Maybe I could claim self-defense? They were threatening me with deadly weapons – and that’s assault. Blam! Blam! Blam! He started blowing holes in engine blocks. Blam! Got another one. Blam! Whoops. He’s still coming. Blam. Blam. Got the bastard. He tired of that game after awhile – the danger was too real. Besides, it was soon time for lunch.
The sign read: “Picnic Area. No Fires Except In Grilles.” He gathered kindling, broke up some thick branches, and boiled some water. Soybeans first; they take a long time. Then some brown rice. Unfortunately, without spices, butter, oil or margarine, it was bland fare. It was filling, however, and the ritual of building the fire and cooking gave him a pleasant rest. He sat for awhile after eating, sipping sassafras tea.  No one bothered him. In fact, people seemed to be making a wide berth around him. He thought it might be his appearance, but his hair was neatly pulled back into a ponytail, and his beard was neat and clean. As he ambled over to the water pump to wash his pan out, the people there moved out of the way. He said “Hello,” and they helloed him back, but coldly. A boy asked him why he was riding a bicycle and he explained his trip again, while the boy’s mother kept a tight grip on him. Finally, she summoned up the courage to suddenly blurt out:
“I thought you might be one of those Charlie Manson types.” 
“Uh, no. Why do you say that?”
“Well, you look so much like him. You just never know.”
Sean laughed. “You should have heard what someone called me once. I was walking toward a woman one night. Just before we would have passed each other, she pulled back, staring at me bug-eyed, and said: ‘Are you Jesus?'” The boy’s mother laughed.
“I see the resemblance. Better to look like Him, I suppose.”
“You know, I tried to convince her that I wasn’t Jesus, but I don’t think I did. She kept staring at me, even after I said goodnight and walked away.”
“Well, good luck on your trip now. Come on Jimmy, let’s get back to the trailer.”
Sean packed up, put what was left of the fire out. He heard the woman calling.
“Would you like some sandwiches? We’ve got way too many.”

“““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““

By mid-afternoon it was hot.  Sean pulled into a gas station to change clothes and clean up.  He stripped down to a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.  Miles later, he realized that he’d left everything that’d been in his pockets at the gas station, including money.  He backtracked real quick, but the station attendant said he hadn’t found anything.  When God passed out brains He surely shorted me.  Damn. Damn, Damn! He was stupefied, looking through the bathroom, under and behind everything, again, and again, and again.  Fifty bucks, fifty bucks I couldn’t really do without, gone.  My stupidity is beginning to even amaze me.  Could I really do this to myself? Fortunately, he still had thirty dollars stashed in his shoe, so he decided to continue.  What choice do I have anyway? he thought, I’m not going back now.
The next border crossing was close by.  He went through almost the same rigmarole, until they got to the money business again.
“I have eighty dollars,” he told them.
“I’m sorry.  That’s not enough.”
“But, that’s been enough before.  I won’t be staying long.”
“That’s the rule.  I don’t know who let you in before, but there’s nothing I can do about it.  Eighty dollars won’t even pay for a hotel for two weeks.”
Why am I doing this? he wondered, not for the last time.  At a phone booth in a supermarket parking lot, he gambled some money on a call to his old friend Lenny in Toronto.
“Hi Lenny, this is Sean.”
“Sean?  Where are you?”
“Almost in Canada.”
“You are?  Are you coming here?”
“Yeah, if I can ever get across the border.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
He explained the problem he was having and where he was.  Lenny said he’d check into it, and to call him back in the morning.
“In the morning?  What can I do until then?”
“I don’t know, what have you been doing?”
“I can’t roll out my sleeping bag here in a parking lot.”
“Don’t you have any money?  Can’t you stay at a motel?
“No, not really.  I don’t have that much money, I have just enough for food.”
“Sean, there’s nothing I can do until morning.  I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK Lenny, thanks for helping.”
“Talk to you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, talk to you then.”
Now what?  He sat for awhile, then got up and started riding the bike around in circles.  He didn’t know what to do, where to go.
“Hello.  Where are you headed?”
“What?  Oh, hello.  I’m trying to get across the border into Canada, but I’m having a hell of a time doing it.”
“Do you have a place to stay?”
“Nah, ‘fraid not.  I haven’t figured out what to do just yet.”
“Why don’t you come to my place?  You can stay there tonight.”
“Sure.”
“Here, I’ll give you directions.  By the way, name’s Mike.”
“I’m Sean.”
“Well, I’ve gotta go; see you soon.”
On the way to Mike’s Sean couldn’t help thinking that he might be making another mistake.  Why should a total stranger take such an interest in my welfare?  Should I be more cautious?  I don’t have much money and my bike isn’t fancy.  I can’t believe Mike is just a thief. Sean knocked on the door of a small, old house.  Mike seemed surprised to see him, but welcomed him in and introduced him to his wife Carla.  Sean was surprised.  Mike seemed so young.  Sean couldn’t imagine being married so young.  After dinner they all sat around the tube watching the “Watergate” hearings.  Mike was fascinated by the whole thing.
“Who’d have believed Nixon would be involved in something like this?”
“I believe it,” I said.
“Why’s that?”
“Oh, you know, Nixon’s such a jerk.”
“It looks that way, now.  But you know, I voted for him.”
Whoops! “You did?  Why?”
“He said he would end the War.  I didn’t want to go to Vietnam.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“You?  But, how old are you anyway?”
“Twenty-two.”
“You are?  I thought you were much older.”
Mike’s wife spoke up for the first time: “Yeah, Mike told me he had met an old man who was bicycling ‘cross country.”  She smiled.  Mike looked disappointed.  So he thought I was some poor old man that needed help.  How funny.  As he was thinking about Mike’s error, he was still looking at Carla.  She was smiling at Sean.  Mike glared at her, and she scuttled off.  “I have to clean up,” she said.  Sean thought of offering to help, but the look on Mike’s face convinced him otherwise.
“Maybe I’d better get back on the road,” he said.
“Oh, no.  It’s way too dark.  I said you could stay the night.  We have a cot you can sleep on.  You should get a good night’s rest.”
Mike was up early for work, and Sean left with him.  Before he left, however, he called Lenny.
“It’s all taken care of.”
“That’s a relief.  How’d you do that?”
“I knew someone that worked there.  He got the paperwork OK’d, but I had to take responsibility for you.”
“Thanks Lenny.”
“You’ll have to take a train to get here.  I live in Scarborough.  It’s a suburb of Toronto, and it’s not close.”
“I don’t understand, it won’t take me long to get there by bike.”
“Listen,  I’m responsible for you.  If you get into any trouble, my ass is grass.  I don’t need any more problems in my life.”
“OK, OK.  I’ll take the train.”
He got off the train in Scarborough and found Lenny’s apartment.
“Sean.  You made it, I see.”
“Yeah.  How ya doing Lenny?”
“Listen, I can’t talk now, I’m late for work.  Make yourself at home.  There’s food in the fridge and a T.V. in the bedroom.  See ya later.”
Later they went to a bar and sampled Canada’s Moosehead beer.  Lenny was involved in Canadian politics.  He was helping to elect a Liberal Party candidate.
“I watched T.V. all day and all I saw were political ads.”
“Did you see anyone you liked?”
“I don’t know.  There was this one guy from the Conservatives who was promoting bicycle paths.”
“That’s what you’ll find here.  The most conservative of the Conservatives are more liberal than most U.S. liberals.”
“So you’re pretty happy here.”
“You bet.  I’m getting to be part of the local government.  How about that?  Can you imagine me in a position of power?”
“Actually no.  Seems a little frightening.”
“Oh, you.  Still a little creep huh?”
“And you?”
“I’m doing fine.  Better than fine actually.  You wouldn’t believe how accepted I am here.  And you wouldn’t believe how many people like me there are in government.”
“That’s why you’re in politics!”
“It’s a good reason, you little fucker, but no, that’s not the whole reason.  I’m happy here.  I’m involved in making things happen.  People respect me.  I’ve got power.”
“Why don’t you run for office?”
“Oh I will, I will, when the time’s right.  Look, why don’t we head on home?  I’ve still got to get up early.”
Sean was nervous when he undressed and climbed into his bag.  He remembered what Lenny was like.  He could tell he was still a horny bastard, and he could get violent.  He remembered the way Lenny could react if he pushed him too far.  They could be having a discussion on just about any topic, and if Sean didn’t accept Lenny’s logic, he’d smash his huge arm down on the table, and then he’d be up and screaming about how stupid Sean could be.  He’d jump up and down like a little kid having a temper tantrum.  I wonder if he’s still on tranks?  But the night passed uneventfully.
“Hey, Sean? I’ve gotta go.  Make yourself some breakfast, but take it easy on the eggs and bacon.  It’s all I’ve got.”
“What’s this stuff?”
“It’s Canadian bacon. Didn’t you ever have it?”
“No, I’ve never seen it before.  Looks like ham.”
“It’s bacon here.  You’re such a babe in the woods.”
“Hey, I thought you were doing real well?  As a matter of fact, I was hoping to borrow a few bucks.”
“No way.  I don’t even get paid until next week.  Listen.  I can’t afford to feed you, I can barely afford to feed myself.  Especially if I’m not getting anything in return.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it.”
Sean thought about it.  I am imposing on him. What should I do?  I suppose I owe him.  I’d never have gotten across the border without his help.  Can I really do it?  He’s so repulsive.  Damn.  What else can I do?  I do owe him.  Damn.
Sure enough, when Lenny got home, really late that night, he seemed to be expecting something.
“Well, did you leave me any food?  How long were you planning to stay?  I really can’t afford to keep you.”
“Yeah. I know.  Look, I thought about it, and I need to be going, but I know I owe you, and I need to repay you.”
“Oh yeah?  How are you going to do that?”
“Anyway you want.”
“Really?”
“Really.”
“You know what I want?”
“Yeah.”
“Let’s go.”
This was it.  I’ll find out now if I’m repressing my attraction to men.  Maybe I’ll enjoy it, but then again, maybe not. His best friend Bonnie in college had said that heterosexuals were abnormal; that bisexuality was the only real sexual freedom.  He’d been in love with her, even though she was gay. She’d always implied that maybe she’d be interested if I was bisexual.  “Well, come on Sean, let’s get some action here.”
He looked at Lenny’s huge butt and he looked at his limp penis.  No, this wouldn’t work. Sean decided he just wasn’t able to do it, couldn’t fake it, and that was that.  And, there was no way in hell he was going to suggest any other options to Lenny.   Lenny said, “Just forget it,” and Sean got into his sleeping bag.  Really time to go, he thought, and zipped the bag up to his chin.

Sean headed North, as in Great White.  He was just leaving Toronto’s city limits, had, in fact, just passed the last streetlight, when he heard the cat-wail of his siren and a cop pulled in behind him. What could he possibly want? God damn! I’ve never been pulled over on a bicycle before.
“Yes?”
“Could I see your driver’s license, sir?”
“For a bicycle?”
“I need to see some I.D. Did you know that you have to have a light on your bicycle to ride at night?”
“Well, no. But I do have a light, I just hadn’t put it on yet. It was pretty bright back there.”
“Baltimore, eh?”
“Yeah, I’m on a cross-country trip.”
“Mmmm. Well, O.K., here’s your I.D., Sean. Don’t forget to use your light.”
“Yes sir.” Strange. I wonder what that was about? I wonder if Lenny had a hand in that? Nah, I’m just being paranoid. Although, he did have to promise Immigration that I wouldn’t be staying long, in order to get them to allow me in.  Officer McMurphy. Nice Irish name.
After awhile he set up camp off the road. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were incredible! He had never considered what it would be like to be so close to a lake. He built the greenest, smokiest fire he could without discouraging them. He sat in the middle of the smoke, without success, and it was hard to breathe in there. He gave up, got back on the highway. He rode until he started weaving. There was still some truck traffic, so he got off the bike and walked. Soon, he thought he heard footsteps. Just like in a movie, every time he stopped, the footsteps would stop. As he would resume walking, he’d hear the steps. These are not echos! The sounds didn’t seem to quite match his cadence and he could hear twigs snapping and leaves crunching too. He searched through his tools until he found his exacto knife – at least it had a razor blade. He used a leather thong to hang it around his neck. He kept walking, faster and faster, but the noise got louder. Just as he started to cross a small bridge, SPLASH! One hell of a loud splash convinced him it was time to get back on the bike. Fear banished his fatigue. He rode down the center of the road; there wasn’t any more truck traffic. Several miles away he saw a sign for a campground, still another five miles away, and he made for that. There was a ranger at the gate, and he asked if he could stay there. The ranger told him he could sleep on one of the picnic tables.
“What’s that around your neck?” he asked.
“Oh, I thought something might be following me, it sounded big, like a bear.”
“And you were going to stop it with that?”
“It’s all I have.” He decided not to mention the problems at the border.
He slept well, convinced that the ranger would notice a bear. When dawn crept through the trees he was back on the highway riding the white line on the edge. Trans-Canadian highways have no shoulders and only one lane for each direction of traffic. The force of the air being pushed by a tractor-trailer followed by a bus followed by another truck sometimes pushed him right off the road into the gravel, but he managed to stick to that borderline most times, like a wolf to a scared rabbit. He got used to it, and the truckers tried to give him a wide berth. Sometimes they couldn’t move over due to oncoming traffic, so he steeled himself for the blast of air and held on.

After a few days, he thought about human company again.  His path wasn’t random, after all.  Back in college, he had known a woman who had given him directions to a summer camp where she taught. He hadn’t known Lynn very well, but she’d been friendly and had encouraged him to visit when he’d told her where he was going. He found the turnoff for the camp and had reason to regret the decision. The road abruptly headed up a mountain. Oh well, at least it’ll be worth it to see a friendly face. Who knows? maybe something good will happen.
There was a bend in the road ahead when he heard a truck coming up the hill behind him. Should I get off the road? Nah, I’ve never had a problem before, why should it be any different now? I’m talking to myself! When have I ever argued with myself like this before? I know! I remember. I was wrong. I thought something was going to happen, dismissed the possibility that I could know something like that, and I was wrong! He pulled off the road just as the truck passed. It’s wheels rolled over the exact space he had been riding. The truck hadn’t moved over. Next time I’ll listen to that voice, if there is a next time.
He found Lynn at the camp and she was exited to see him. Her boyfriend, Bob, wasn’t. There goes that possibility. They showed him the camp, and offered to let him stay overnight, but he left after dinner in the mess hall. He had happened to overhear a whispered conversation between Lynn and Bob on his way back from peeing. Bob said, “He’s the BMOC you told me about?” Lynn had shushed him. What could that mean? I wasn’t any big-man-on-campus, I didn’t even know there was such a term around anymore. He rode away wondering how he had impressed Lynn that way. What had I done?
Sean had plodded through the usual classes at the University of Maryland, and ended up doing badly. Perhaps Lynn was referring to my articles in the school paper. He’d written a few things on the meat boycott, child care, and bicycling, but never thought people even read ’em. Of course, I’d helped organize that teach-in on the War. That was sad. We’d not generated anywhere near the excitement of the sixties’ strikes and boycotts, but at least some people, like Lynn, had gotten involved. I remember showing movies about the War. People just wandered in and out. I remember that guy saying, “This is nothing new, I’ve seen all before.” I guess we all had, but hell, the war wasn’t over just because U.S. soldiers weren’t dying anymore. He came away convinced that the whole thing was a failure, but people like Lynn hadn’t seen it that way.
That’d been such a bad time for me. Besides attending demonstrations and organizing meetings, and working at the Free Clinic, Sean still had his job on the weekends. His best friend Bonnie was lesbian. They managed to have some laughs over a few joints, and studied together sometimes, but it was frustarting too. I sure as hell wasn’t happy. Life was too complicated. I could never figure out how to please everyone. Don and Joan were too busy with each other to help me out. I had introduced them – of course – and asked them to room with me.  I could’ve hooked up with Joan joanfisher07-74-1 if I hadn’t gone off to Chicago after Marilyn.  By the time I came back, she and Don were a couple. They had their lives, I had mine. Don said my Catholic background was the reason I took everything so seriously. Well, I sure as hell ain’t taking anything very serious now. I‘m on the road, free, but still alone.
The night after he left the camp where Lynn worked he learned how to deal with the mosquitoes. As long as he pedaled late enough into the night, the mosquitoes would eventually disappear.  But, the blackflies were something else. They followed him some days, all along Trans Canadian highway 69.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, Life, My Life, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70′s – Chapter Ten

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 3, 2008

Sean was sitting in the Free Clinic one day when another volunteer, a tall, heavy-set red-haired guy, started talking to him. “Hey, Sean, did you ever think about posing nude?”
“What? Well, no. What the hell are you talking about?” It was an odd question, especially twenty feet away from the Women’s Center.
“I’m serious. There’s a lady I know needs a male model. She wants to do a nude painting.”
“You’re serious? Hell, why don’t you volunteer?”
“She’s a friend, I couldn’t do something like that.”
“Well, I guess I don’t have any objections….”
“Good! Hey, here’s her number. Her name’s Geri.”
Sean called when he got home, and she asked him to come out to her place a little later. The city bus left him right in front of a Fish’n’Chips. Geri’s apartment was around back, up two flights of stairs. A grossly fat woman answered the door. Oh well, what the hell. “Geri?”
“No.” Thank God! “She’s not here.”
“I was supposed to meet her here. Did she say she’d be back soon?”
“No, I really don’t know when to expect her.”
“Could I wait for her here?”
“No,” she said, “I have to go to work. I work right downstairs, and I have to go now.”
Sean took the next bus, and it was the same driver, end of the line, and he had just gone around the block to turn around. Heading home again. Another bus. Another dead end, Sean thought.
Well, shit. Maybe it’s just some kind of joke, he thought, but Geri called later, apologized for not being home, and offered him dinner to make up for it. Then she asked if she could come over tomorrow night.

“Do you like liver? she asked.

“Sure,” Sean answered, and he laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“Did you ever read Portnoy’s Complaint?”

“Yeah! I did. Oh, yeah, you’re thinking about what he did with his family’s dinner.”

“And then they ate it!” They both laughed.
He cut up some onions and made dinner with the liver Geri had brought. They made small talk while they ate. Geri was in Nursing school.

“So, you’re going to be a nurse?” he asked her. Sean was not much of a talker.

“Maybe,” she said, “I haven’t made up my mind. I like to paint.”

“Really? What all do you paint?”

“Well, I paint people, mostly nudes. I could really use a model.”

“Sign me up.” Sean was getting really excited.

He noticed scars faintly sculpted on Geri’s lonely face, “From a bad case of acne,” she told him. As they were finishing dinner, Geri asked, “Do you want to hear some music, Sean?”
Sean moved over to the stereo to put some music on, but Laurie stopped him. “No, wait. I have a guitar in my trunk. Do you want to hear my singing?”
“Yes! Definitely. You’re pretty talented, aren’t you?”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” she promised. Sean thought about that while she was getting her guitar, and he threw the dishes in the sink, and filled it up with hot soapy water. Laurie came back in, and Sean joined her on the couch. Sean didn’t know what to expect, but she really knew how to play, and her voice was angelic, so sweet. She sang love songs. Sean wondered what her wild, curly red hair felt like. He ran his eyes up and down her body. He imagined his arm wrapped around her waist. The slight Southern drawl in her Texas voice made him think of Scarlet O’Hara, humorous and intriguing. Sean was impressed. Sean was also impatient.
“You have a gorgeous voice,” he told her, and he reached over and caressed her throat with the back of his fingers. He turned his hand over and reached along the back of her neck. He pulled her towards him and kissed her.
“Let’s go upstairs,” Geri urged.
Sean laughed. “That’s my line,” he said, and he led her upstairs to his room. He was still nervous, however, as anyone would be for their first encounter with the big S,E,X.
Sean had bought into the mystique surrounding waterbeds, and had built one for himself instead of a conventional bed. “Ooh, you have a waterbed,” Geri said, “I’ve never tried one of these.” They took their own clothes off, and climbed under the sheet. They touched each other’s bodies, experimentally at first, then rubbing against each other. Sean fumbled a bit getting his penis into Geri, not knowing how this was supposed to work exactly. He moved his penis back and forth slowly at first. Then, as he tried to pick up the pace, the waterbed mocked him, moving in a counter rhythm of it’s own. It was hard to match. His penis popped out a few times and he kept having to push it in again. After a while, they lay still, letting the bed bounce and slosh around, until it was just a slow ripple under them.
“Sorry Geri,” he said, “The bed was moving around too much.”
“Would you like a massage, Sean?”
“Yeah! That’d be real nice!” he said, relieved. “I, I’m just not used to this bed.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Geri said, and got out of bed.

“Where are you going?” Sean asked.

“You just relax, I’ll be right back,” she said, and went downstairs. She came back with a sauce pot of oil that she’d warmed on the stove. She worked it into Sean’s body, rubbing a little on his penis. Sean didn’t find it relaxing. His penis signaled it was ready for action. They gave it another try, and managed to substitute erotic for erratic. Sean kept his rhythm even as long as he could, only gradually moving faster as he found he couldn’t control himself anymore. Spent, he lay there satisfied and happy, luxuriating in Geri’s soft warm body for a space of time he couldn’t have measured. He felt drowsy. One moment Geri was lying next to him, but the next, she was up, getting dressed.

“Geri? Where’re you going?”
“I have to go home, Sean. No commitments, right?” she said, but it sounded less like a question than resignation.
“What? I guess, I mean, I know we just met….”
“Well, good night Sean. Thank you. I had a very nice time. Bye.”
“Bye…?” Sean sputtered, “Wait. I’ll walk you out.”

“No, that’s OK,” she said, “Please don’t get up,” and with that she skipped quickly down the stairs. By the time he climbed out of the bed and hit the stairs, she was out the front door. He walked to the door naked and looked out as she pulled away. Did I screw up that bad? Shit! He went back to his bed and drifted off to sleep easily, not wanting to think about it too much, but convinced he’d never see her again. The next day, however, she called. She invited him out to her place for dinner. They ate dinner with her roommate Laurie, and after some talk, Geri and Sean said goodnight to Laurie and went to Geri’s room, closing the door. Sex this time was much better, smoother, and more satisfying. They had a fucking good time. Real beds are far better suited to real movements. Afterwards, lying in the sudden quiet, they laughed quietly at the bed squeaks and moans coming from Laurie’s room. Laurie was alone.
Geri was indeed an art student, and Sean promised to pose for her. As soon as he got off work the next day, he made a beeline for her place. When he got there she was packing. Her canary-yellow Volkswagen was already full of clothes and boxes.
“Geri, what’s going on?”
“Oh, Sean, I’m sorry. I should’ve called you. I thought it would be easier this way.”
“What?” he blurted, disbelief etched in his face, disappointment etched in his heart.
“I’m going back to Texas.” Sean didn’t know what to say.

“Uh, you’re going to drive all the way back there?” he finally asked.

“Oh, no. I’m meeting my father at the airport.”

“Why? I don’t understand. You never mentioned this before. What happened to the posing? to nursing school?”

“I’m sorry, Sean. It’s just something that came up.”

“But, what is it?” Sean pleaded.
“I can’t explain right now. I’ll write to you, Sean, OK?”
She kissed him, and got in her car.
“Bye,” she called out, and drove away.

Sean returned to his monkish existence for awhile. Then he met Leigh. They were thrown together, literally. Kathleen was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and told Sean he should come to a tournament. She came by and picked him up. Her boyfriend was with her, so Sean had no illusions there. He climbed into the back of the van where another woman sat. Leigh introduced herself, but Sean was not interested in anyone with Kathleen so close by. He still fantasized about her. The van took a sharp turn and Sean and Leigh ended up sprawled all over each other. “Hey, what’s going on back there you two?” Kathleen laughed. Sean and Leigh looked and each other, and didn’t move out of their accidental embrace. “Nothing,” they both said at once, and everyone laughed.
Leigh took Sean in tow and explained the costumes and swords and regalia of the tournaments, with their knights and royalty. Afterwards they dropped Leigh off first, but she lived just five blocks from Sean, so he got out too, saying he’d walk from there. Leigh took Sean right up to her bedroom. Sean was thrilled. It’s taken me seven painful years from puberty to get this far. Leigh had an operatic voice and loved to yell and squeal, but when she came she cried, every time. Sean asked her why, but she said she didn’t know. Her skin was smooth, with a little too much fat for someone her age, but he loved the feel of her. Her practiced hands and mouth kept him stimulated. She was amazingly insatiable. They fucked and fucked until they were exhausted every night for the next two months.
Sean still had a dilemma, however: trying to do what was important. He thought everything was important, and that he could do anything, but he was wrong. Demonstrations took priority, the Free Clinic was next, his part-time job at the Physics lab was next to last, and studying took last place. He wanted to complete his education. He knew that he wasn’t doing a good job of it, but didn’t think he should quit. One day he received a letter from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. His grade-point average was too low; he was being suspended for six months. UMBC had finally decided for him. He could apply for readmission in six months, but his savings from working in the Physics lab were almost gone, and there’d be no more scholarships or loans now. It was time, he decided, to take that long trip across country he’d dreamt about.
Leigh said that he could stay with her until he found full-time work, but Sean really didn’t want to do that. Leigh had already told him that she didn’t want to get serious, and, he didn’t know what kind of a full-time job he could find or when. He didn’t want anyone’s charity, and he wasn’t about to just waste time at some boring excuse for a living. Baltimore was already issuing pollution alerts like L.A. Sean was sick of dark little row houses, with their mildewed basements and closets and the legions of cockroaches breeding in the damp. He wanted out. There has to be something better, somewhere. He’d also gotten a letter from his old roommate a few weeks back. Lenny had moved to Toronto, and was going to become a Canadian citizen. Sean would visit him, see Toronto, then head across Canada to the West coast and on down to California. I could do odd jobs, bail hay, pick apples, or something. Yeah, I can do this!
He fine-tuned the bike, bought tough black & yellow saddle bags, and collected tools and spare parts. When he was almost ready to go, he rode over to Leigh’s. He left his bike in her back yard and walked across the street to the People’s Food Co-op. He picked up five pounds each of granola, brown rice, and soybeans. “You’ll need some greens,” the manager of the Co-op said, and talked him into taking some alfalfa seeds to sprout on the way, somehow. He took his supplies back to Leigh’s kitchen, looked out the window, and saw that his bike was gone. Gone? He ran out and looked around, but there was no one, and no trace of the bike in any direction. “How can you do this to me?” he screamed at the world. He knew people on every block from his years of work with the Free Clinic. How could someone take the bike I had just gotten, the day before I was to leave? He was crushed, defeated before he started. He didn’t have enough money left to buy another one. He’d seen his other bike crushed from the car that had slammed into him, dragging the bike across two lanes of street. The driver had bought him another bike. Now it was gone too.
Then he heard from a friend at the Clinic that some guy had a bike he’d lend him. Sean had seen the guy around before, Michael: tall, thin, with a long beard and usually wearing a white turban. He didn’t know what he was, nor did he care to ask. He did give Sean his Gitane. It was a French bike. He told him that gitane meant gypsy. Ready for lift-off! Beam me up, Mr. Spock. He finished loading his things onto the bike. A tool basket in front, sleeping bag over the rear tire, and saddle bags full of food and clothes. Cleaning out the refrigerator, he happened to see a small film container of marijuana seeds gleaned from various bags of cheap dope. He had hoped to try growing them. What the hell, I’ll take ’em with me, maybe I can find a nice place to sprinkle ’em. Not a good idea, as he would soon find out. He also went to the army-navy surplus store and picked up a good knife. Also, not, as it turned out, a good idea either. Border agents are not happy to see such things.
Finally, he went to Leigh to say good-bye. However, she offered him a ride as far as Ohio. He resisted. He didn’t want to cheat like that. He was eager to pedal his way across country.
“Come on,” she insisted. “There’s that Sci Fi convention in Columbus. You’ll like it. I already have a room booked. You can stay with me.”
Now that was enticing. He and Leigh hadn’t known each other long, but he’d miss her. He’d certainly miss the sex. “OK Leigh, let’s go to Ohio.”
“This convention is not a serious one,” Leigh explained on the way, “It’s more of a just-for-fun type of thing. You’d be amazed at what goes on at these things,” she said. As soon as they arrived, he saw green-skinned belly dancers parading through the halls. There were star ship captains by the pool, and unicorns, trolls, and Hobbits buying and selling. He’d be even more amazed at what happened later to bring him crashing back to planet Earth.
He returned to Leigh’s room from a late-night swim, hoping to find her there. In all the party hopping, he’d lost track of her. Or she of him. Well, there she was, in bed, and certainly not alone. What to say? What to do? It wasn’t like they had a commitment to each other, and he was going to be leaving for Canada. Still, it rankled. Leigh just laughed and introduced them, without turning on a light.
“Sean, this is Dan, an old friend. We haven’t seen each other in ages.”
“Uh, hi Dan.” I’m thrilled.
“Dan, this is Sean, a friend from Baltimore, he doesn’t have a room, so I told him he could sleep here.”
“Hi Sean.”
“Uh, Leigh, am I interrupting?”
“Not at all. Why don’t you stay? We’re about to go to sleep. There might even be room up here, if you’d like?” Jesus Fucking Christ.
“No thanks. I’ve got my sleeping bag. I can sleep on the floor.” Oh, Great. He pulled his sleeping bag out of his gear and climbed in. “Comfortable down there, Sean?” Leigh asked.
“Yeah, I’m OK. I feel a little like a dog down here though.”
“Well, what does rover have to say?” Leigh asked.
“Woof, woof,” was all Sean replied and Leigh and Dan laughed, but he went to sleep wishing he’d growled, which was the way he felt.
Next day, he was up early, hunting down breakfast, when Leigh found him. “Sean, I’m sorry. Dan is an old lover of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and things just happened.”
“So you said. I thought that’s why we had the room together.”
“Sean, that’s my room, I paid for it. You’re just a guest of mine at this hotel.”
“Well, I’m leaving anyway.”
“Listen, Sean, I’ve got some friends that are driving up to Toledo in the morning. Why don’t you go with them? I spoke to them and they’d be happy to take you with them. Detroit’s not far from there, and you’d be able to cross right into Canada there.”
“That might be a good idea. I’d like to get to Canada as soon as possible.”
“OK, I’ll tell them. You know, Sean, we could go back up to my room for awhile?”
“No thanks, Leigh.” She turned and marched stiffly away. Well, this was a slightly different parting than I’d imagined, he thought, bitterly. The Williamsons found him later on. “Leigh says you’re headed for Detroit?”
“Yeah. Actually I’m on my way into Canada. I plan to bike across the country to the west coast and on down to California.”
“That’s fantastic! We’re leaving early in the morning. Can we take you as far as Toledo?”
“Thank you. Sure. I’d like that.”
Sean spent part of the day wandering around, looking at exhibits and watching the free Sci Fi movies. “Clatou, veratis Nictos”. He ran into one of the Williamsons, Mary, all by herself. She asked him what he was doing, and took him with her to her room so he could take a shower there. Sean didn’t want to go back to Leigh’s room. When he came out she was lying on the bed so he joined her. Her toddler son was asleep nearby. Mary rolled over next to Sean. She looked at him, Sean looked into her eyes, and was won over immediately. They wrapped themselves around each other, and Sean started pulling her clothes off. Suddenly, her son was awake: “What are you doing to my mommy?” he wanted to know. Bummer.
“You see why I end up by myself a lot,” she said. She quieted her son down. Her husband was always off at these conventions, and often screwing around, but she was stuck with her child 24 hours a day.
“Sean, will you take me with you?” she asked.
“How?” Sean said, “I can’t really take you on the bike with me.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t we just throw your bike in the van and we take off, right now?”
“But, but, your husband? Won’t he be mad?”
“Yeah, I suppose, but I don’t care. I really want to get away from all this. I’m sick of it.”
Sean thought about it. After Leigh’s behavior, he was ready for anything. A woman and a child, he thought. I don’t know if I’m ready for that. A life on the road? What? How? He was silent for too long, because Mary said, “Oh, you’re right, it’s a terrible idea.”
Sean tied his bike to the Williamson’s van and went to sleep early, in his sleeping bag. Leigh wasn’t in bed, but he didn’t want to be there when she came back with someone else. In the morning she was there, alone. Sean tried to slip out, but she was awake.
“Morning, Sean.”
“Morning, Leigh.”
“Good luck on your trip. Don’t forget to look those people up in San Francisco. I know they’ll put you up.”
“Thanks. Well, I’ve got to go. The Williamsons are waiting.”
It didn’t take long to reach Toledo. He thought about Leigh, wishing that he’d spent those last nights with her. Damn. I sure wish she had waited until I’d left. He and Mary shot glances at each other from time to time. Damn, Sean thought, That sure would have been nice.
He also thought about Geri. His plan was to head back to Texas from California. He might see her then. She had written, to tell him that she was in a psychiatric hospital. She said that she was being treated for chronic depression. Strange woman, Sean thought, but I want to see her again.
The Williamsons said good-bye, wished him luck, and left him on a road to Detroit. He pedaled away, looking back at Mary, who waved. Bique (bike) is French slang for penis. Sean was riding a “gypsy” Gitane. He was wondering what he could do with his gypsy penis, and entertained himself with that poor little joke into the night.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, Life, love, madness, My Life, relationships, sex, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Nine

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 30, 2008

For all the 1970s media-hype about free love, guiltless sex, and non-nuclear families, and the ubiquitous peer pressure, the closest Sean had come to sex was a dry hump in the front seat of a borrowed car, and Sharon had only been trying to make her boyfriend jealous. He’d met her at a party with some of Kathleen’s friends in Frederick. They’d exchanged phone numbers. He’d called her, and arranged to meet her up there. He still didn’t have a car, so he took a Greyhound. The bus ride was pretty long from Baltimore to Frederick, but this woman seemed interested in Sean, and Sean was becoming increasingly frustrated by fate’s teasing. He found her house, but she had him wait outside. She said she didn’t want her father to know. She was borrowing his car. Sean drove and Sharon navigated. They drove around Frederick, Sharon had brought sodas with her. She also brought champagne glasses. She directed Sean to a closed storefront and had him park right in front, facing the street. Sean thought it strange, but here was this beautiful woman, dark-haired, brown-eyed, with a ready smile and, well, something in mind. She poured the soda into the glasses, but after a couple sips, she asked Sean if he wanted to make out. He put his glass on the dash; she did the same. They kissed. Sharon’s tongue was suddenly in Sean’s mouth and he tickled the base of it with the tip of his own. Kissing was something Sean liked. After a few minutes, his hand began roaming Sharon’s back and arms and neck. Sharon leaned into Sean, until he felt her weight on him and he leaned back against the door. He asked her if she wanted to get in the back seat, but she just pushed him all the way down and kissed him some more. Sean ran his hands under her blouse, and had both hands on her bra hooks when a flashlight beam knifed through the darkness, and the voice behind it wanted to know what they were doing. An odd question, considering that there was no mistaking what they were doing. The deputy shone his light in both faces, one at a time. Sean said, “We were just parking for a little bit, officer.” The deputy played the light around the car, taking in the glasses on the dash, but he didn’t even ask if they were drinking, or how old they were. He simply said, “Well, you’ll have to move on. You can’t park here.” So they drove away down the main street.
“What now?’ Sean asked. “I know a place we can go,” Sharon said. They drove out of town up into the hills. She had Sean stop the car in a clearing off the road in the woods. It looked like a make-out spot. “You’ve been here before?” he asked her. “Yes,” she told him, “With my boyfriend.” “You have a boyfriend? Sean asked, surprised. “Yes”, she said. “In fact,” she said, “that was him back there.” “The cop?!” he squeaked. “Well, he was my boyfriend,” she said. Sean’s mind woke up: Now I get it. The whole thing had been a plan to get caught. To make her boyfriend see her with someone else, to make him jealous. The champagne glasses, parking in plain sight of the highway. She must have known he’d be along.
They sat in silence for awhile. Sean pulled her over and kissed her some more. He opened her blouse. He kissed her shoulders and neck. This bra has to go, he thought. He popped her bra open, and pulled it down, exposing the pale flesh in the weak moonlight. He reveled in the sight and kissed her nipples. They were strangely, to Sean, stiff and hard. He ran his hand along her back into her jeans. Just then a car engine roared up the steep hill, and headlights lit up the underside of the trees around them. They froze for a moment. Sean felt anxious, but Sharon sat up, clutching her chest, then pulled her bra up and closed her blouse. Sean was thinking about being arrested for public indecency or something. He had no idea what Sharon could be up to. Was this her ex-boyfriend? Was she expecting him to fight me or something? The other car turned in a small circle and left, and they sat there like that for a few moments. They drifted back down onto the seat. Sharon rubbed her crotch against Sean’s. Sean’s penis was erect alright, and Sharon pushed against it. Sean could feel her slit through his pants. He kept trying to get her blouse off, but she pushed his hands away. Sean popped the button on her jeans and started to open them, but Sharon had had enough by then. “Let’s just go home, OK? She said. She drove Sean back to the bus station in silence. Sean didn’t know what to say. He kissed her, but her lips were closed, and taut. He took the long ride home in the dark night, back to Baltimore, watching the houses slip by, with lights in the windows. Lots of activity in some of those houses, he thought, and the lonliness he lived felt more miserable than ever.

After two and a half years of taking night school classes, Sean decided that he would never finish that way. He had only now finished his freshman year. He had been saving money, but it wouldn’t be enough to live on. He applied to the Univeristy of Maryland,  and hoped he could find a way to attend full time. When he told his boss, Dr. Bearden, he had said, “Don’t you worry about it, Sean. I know how important school is to a young man like you. But tell me, do you think that you could continue working on a part-time basis here?”
“I don’t know,” Sean answered, “How many hours?”
“Well now, I think that’s up to you. Would you want to work after school, or on the weekends?”
“On the weekends, mostly.”
“Fine. If I really needed you, could you come in on a weeknight too once in a while?”
“Yeah. I mean, yes, I think I could.”
“Good, that’s fine. Let’s see – what are you making now?”
“Four dollars an hour.”
“I think six dollars an hour would be a good rate. That’s like time-and-a-half. That’s what you’re really doing when you work during non-regular hours.”
“Great,” Sean said, beaming, “Six dollars is fine,” and he knew that he could make it now. Six dollars an hour was a lot of money to a twenty-one year old in 1971. He was admitted to the University of Maryland, transferring in as a sophomore. He was elated.
The campus, however, was not close to his apartment, or his job. He commuted by bus, but he was unhappy with that. The trip took from between fifty and seventy minutes to cover a ten mile distance, and it was time wasted, he decided. I’m not getting anything done. I can’t study on the bus, and I can’t stand sitting down anymore. I need to get off my butt.
Sean had just spent two and a half years planted in a big wooden chair in the Physics lab, and studying would now mean that he’d spend all his time sitting. One day he walked to school, but that took way too long, and besides, he was exhausted by the time he got home. Then he decided to get a bicycle. It had been a long time since he’d ridden one. His previous bicycle had been stolen when he was thirteen. He took a bus to a store five miles away – bicycles were not all that popular at the time – and rode a brand new Schwinn Suburban ten-speed home to his apartment.
He wished he hadn’t. Halfway home his legs felt so weak, he had to get off and rest on the City High School lawn. He was wheezing, and his heart was pumping a little too hard, or so he thought. Before long, however, that bicycle was his constant companion. He felt more alive, using his own leg-power, and not adding to the polluted air he was breathing.
He started pedaling to the theater, to movies, or to local demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. He didn’t have much of a love life, but he sure as hell had transportation.
I can go anywhere, he thought. Just how far could I go? To California? Canada? Shit! I might still need to do that if I’m drafted. I should travel, see the country, other cities. Man! To swim in clean rivers, camp in the mountains, see the canyons and forests, that would be my version of real happiness.
However, he usually had to fight his way through herds of buses, semi’s, Fords, Chevies, beetles, caddies, Mustangs, and ‘vettes on his way to and from school – in a cloud of fumes, greasy air and soot. He was not happy about that, but he had other things to worry about over the next couple of years.
The war was not over yet. He could still be drafted. People were still being killed wholesale. He wanted to do more than walk in demonstrations and yell at the President. In the previous decade, Universities had been the scene of violent protests and strikes against the military and war profiteers. He’d only read about it, and seen it on the news. He wanted to do something before people forgot that the war wasn’t over yet, even though the President kept repeating his four-year-old promises to end it soon.
He talked to other students about the war. Some of them felt the way he did. He decided to organize a teach-in. He’d been to plenty of them at the University where he worked, and he thought it was still a good idea.
He wrote a short article for the school paper calling for a meeting to make plans, but only six people showed up. It’s enough, he decided. “Let’s do something,” he told them.
The others were new to this kind of activity, having just left high school. But, they all wanted to get in on the protests they’d missed in the Sixties. “I think we should call for a boycott of classes,” Lynn suggested.
“We need leaflets,” Michael said.
“And movies, and speakers,” Sean suggested.
Sean went to teachers he knew would be sympathetic and asked them to print up the leaflets. He called the American Friends Service Committee and asked them for movies about the war. The others posted the leaflets and talked to their friends. Mike arranged space to show the movies, and Lynn got approval to use the central mall for speeches. An English teacher brought a lectern and a microphone – Sean knew she would help, she didn’t use The Prison Letters of George Jackson in her classes for nothing.
Sean went to class as usual on the morning of the teach-in. The activities wouldn’t start until noon, and he had a Genetics lab to do first.
The lab assistant, a Biology grad student, came over to Sean while he was finishing up. He knew what was being planned, and he knew who had started the whole thing. “So, are you still going on with it?”
“Yeah,” Sean said, “Of course.”
“Do you really think it will do any good?”
“I don’t know, I certainly hope so. I have to do something.”
“You know, you really should decide what’s important.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, are you going to run around yelling and screaming about something you can’t do anything about, or are you going to study Genetics?”


Sean looked at him for a minute. What is he telling me? he wondered. And why? “I have to do both,” he finally said, and he left to go join the students already gathered on the mall.
“Nixon said he had a secret plan to end this war,” the first speaker said, “and he was elected twice now. The war is not over. He says he’ll bring the troops home, but every time he does, he sends over another warship with twice as many men. His “secret plan” was the carpet bombing of Hanoi, and the mining of Haiphong harbor. He used his end-the-war promise just to get elected, and then he used it again. He’s a liar.” The small crowd cheered. Sean went inside to check on the movies.
“Hey Sean,” Michael asked, “Can you run the projector for awhile? This movie’s about over, and I’ve got some other things to do.”
Few people stayed for the next movie. By the time Sean rewound the first one, and got another one loaded in the projector, only four people were left.
He stopped one of the people as he was walking out the door. “How come you’re leaving?” he asked him.
“Aw, hell, we’ve seen all this before.”
“But,” Sean insisted, “that’s the whole point. It’s still going on.
“Well, I’m not going to have to go there.”
“Our tax money is being used to keep a corrupt dictatorship in power. We’re paying for the weapons, the tanks, the helicopters, the napalm. Don’t you think that’s important?” Sean asked, but the guy just turned and walked away.
The crowd thinned out at the rally by the time Sean shut the projector down. An Anthropology professor was calmly discussing the effects of war on society when Sean went outside. Most people weren’t listening. I thought he would be great, Sean thought, He sounded so enthusiastic in class. Thank God it’s almost time for this to be over.
Sean gathered his books, and started his long ride home through traffic. Maybe that guy was right. Maybe it was all a waste of time, a waste of energy. He brooded about the teach-in for a few minutes, but the effort of pushing the pedals and straining his thighs to keep his speed up with traffic brought his mind back to the joy of physical exertion. There was clear road ahead of him.  Cool air caressed his sweaty forehead as he leaned into his bike, becoming one with it, pushing it harder, faster.

Posted in 1970s, Life, madness, My Life, relationships, sex, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Eight

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 4, 2008

Sean had tried “acid” himself once, under different conditions, with different results.  He had moved into a house with several other guys including Jeff, the young, long-haired landlord. The landlord was from New York City, and played a keyboard for parties and such around town. He had a friend in New York who made the stuff.  Sean bought two tabs from Jeff and had one tested by a lab, a free lab set up for just that purpose.  The lab tested street drugs to prevent people from being poisoned.  Pushers are such creepy people.  They’ll use strychnine to imitate LSD, since it has hallucinogenic properties.  They’ll even put animal tranquilizers in bags of oregano or cheap weed, and sell it as “Acapulco Gold”, and shit like that.  Most often, people found that all they’d gotten in place of acid was powdered sugar and methamphetamine – “speed” – deadly stuff, and highly addictive.
Sean’s tab turned out to be really pure LSD-25, the real deal, so he tried it.  He’d heard all the hype about visions and suicides, but Lenny’s friend David had insisted that the pure stuff wouldn’t hurt anyone. Sean had researched the journals in the Hopkins Medical library, and that appeared to be true.  The pure, unadulterated drug got pissed out of one’s system in short order.  He wanted to see if this drug could really unlock his subconscious mind.  At first, he had been disappointed.  He could make images in a black-light poster on his wall appear to move, but there were no colored lights, no hallucinations of things that weren’t there.  I think I see it now; most of this is hype. People see what they expect to see, he thought. This says so much about expectations, and self-delusion, he had pondered, thinking he understood a lot more about the world. Suddenly he had noticed that he was thinking a lot, non-stop.  All at once, he seemed to be aware of different levels of thought.  He was thinking about the Clinic, about friends, family, and school, all at the same time.  He felt detached, felt as if he was observing his thoughts from a distance.  This is interesting, he had thought.  I wonder why people jump out of windows?  Oh, yeah.  The effects of LSD are like temporary insanity.  So this is what it feels like to be insane. He felt like he was on the edge, that he could go either way – back to normalcy, or over the edge, trapped in his own thoughts. Insanity was actually attractive, in a sense.  One could give up responsibility for one’s self, and the rest of the world could go hang.  He got a phone call.  “Sean, it’s for you,” Jeff yelled up the stairs.  It was Sean’s brother Pat, a military cop home from Germany.    Sean couldn’t figure out why Pat would call, especially now. He was having a hard time following the conversation.  Pat said he just wanted to say hi.  That was unusual, in fact, it had never occurred to either of them to call each other before.  Sean told Pat he was tripping.  Pat had been involved with drugs himself, and Sean had always suspected that the drugs Pat picked up readily in Baltimore to sell in rural Pennsylvania had been the trouble that had pushed him into military service.  He expected Pat to congratulate him for trying it, that they’d have something in common now.  However, Pat said, “Well you know, I don’t do that stuff anymore.  I gave all that up in the army.  In fact, I once busted my whole platoon for drugs.”  Weird. Who is this guy? Sean wondered.  “Well, you take it easy.  I was just calling to say hi.”  Sean was really puzzled now.  If was as if he had called on cue.  He couldn’t have known; I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do this.  The drug lab? Nah. The deal with the lab ran like this: you wrote down the serial number on a dollar bill, and gave it to them with whatever drug you wanted tested.  That was the only way to get people to trust the service.  Then you called the lab later on and gave them the serial number.  Sean had called from the Free Clinic. They couldn’t have traced the call to me, he thought.  But that guy he spoke with, he had told Sean that the LSD was pure, more pure in fact, than anything he’d seen there. “Can you get some more?” the lab guy wanted to know.  “Sean said, No. I don’t think that would be a good idea, and had hung up. It had made him nervous then, and his mind spun wildly now.  Could they have a tap on the Clinic’s phone, traced the call to me, called my parents, and they’d called Pat?” Conspiracy theories and paranoia are common to drug users.
Sean was really getting tired of this already.  He wanted to go to sleep, but couldn’t.  He wandered around the house, looking at everything.  He tried to study, but couldn’t concentrate.  He’d think about the texture of his skin, and marvel at its complexity.  He’d watch the patterns of light shift in the house.  He’d feel lonely, then afraid.  He’d feel nothing.  In the light of dawn he went outside to watch the rain falling, feeling it thud against his eyeballs. Later on he marveled at the drops of water hanging onto each blade of grass.  So much life in each drop of water!  But, he’d had enough.  When Jeff finally woke up, he asked him to help.  Jeff gave him a mega-dose of  vitamin B6, which didn’t help.  It felt as if every cell in Sean’s body was on fire, and even a cold shower felt warm on his skin, but eventually he managed to fall asleep after the drug ran its course.
Well, anyway, that was why he knew that the woman in the Clinic that night was going to be alright.  Most nights at the Clinic, things were pretty routine. It felt good to work there.  Sean had spent two years buried in the physics lab, literally, for it was underground with no windows, few visitors, and no other regular employees.  Contact with new people and new ideas was exciting.
One night, he was talking with a patient, Mary, who had brought a stack of the Black Panther Party’s newspapers with her.  The Panthers, after the initial organization of the Clinic, had dropped out.  They had decided to work alone, in the poorest, not coincidentally, blackest section of the city.  He argued with Mary about the politics of violence that the Panthers represented.
“How can we become a peaceful society using violence?  Would anything change if everyone had a gun?  How could we defeat the government if it came to a real contest anyway?”
“You don’t understand.  The police shoot and kill people in the Black community every day.  They must be able to defend themselves.”
“But that still won’t change racism.”
“Sean, what I think you should do is come to a study group.”

And what a strange bunch that study group turned out to be!  A research technician, a taxi-driver on the fringes of the Mafia, the wife of the Panther’s lawyer, an ex-prostitute who still stripped on Baltimore’s infamous “Block” to help support her family, a former cheerleader and debutante, and Ron, a neighborhood guy, and the only Panther in the group.  They studied the ideology of the Panthers, a strategy of struggle based on the writings of China’s Mao Zedong.  Sean learned of the Panther’s free breakfast and school for ghetto kids.  The Panthers were also involved in trying to coax irresponsible absentee landlords into maintaining and repairing their rat infested buildings.  Additionally, flaking lead paint was being eaten by children – they had a campaign going to eliminate lead paint and have the houses repainted.   The group learned of Mao’s “Long March” across China and his efforts to modernize a backward country.  Mao had wanted to organize the peasants, the poorest people, to improve their own lives, and such also was the philosophy of the Panthers.  One day the study group was interrupted by a loud banging on the door.  “Police.  Open up.”  They swarmed in like (dare I say it?) loose hogs.  They dumped drawers, turned beds over, searched everyone, and refused to answer questions.  They took Ron.  “It’s not unusual,” Mary told Sean, “Happens all the time.”
Ron got out later, although they never found out what the cops had been looking for or why they took him in.
“We were lucky,” Mary said, “Sometimes they don’t bother to knock, they break the door down and come in shooting.  A house down the street got raided once and the pigs shot two people.  Later they said that they had made a mistake.”
“But didn’t the cops do anything for them?”
“They didn’t even offer to pay for the damages.”
“I don’t believe the police would do that.  How could they get away with it?”
“Sean, you’re too smart to be so naïve.  This is racism.  This is how it affects people here.  Many of the police are out-and-out racists.  A black man’s life is nothing to them.”
Well, the study group would not be just idle armchair philosophers.  They picketed jails in support of striking prisoners.  Only their visible presence prevented retaliations against the strikers.  “The guards must go.  The guards must go.  Stop racist attacks.  Stop racist beatings,” and so on.
They attended trials and Sean saw, first hand, how poor people were railroaded into jail.  Police crimes went unpunished, white-collar criminals stole thousands and were given petty fines, but a poor man who stole $28.75 with a gun was jailed for twenty years. 

Then came the end for the Panthers in Baltimore.  As a group, they were accused of the murder of a police informer.  Sean joined a legal study group to help with the defense, and watched those trials.  Those trials were the worst mockery of justice he’d seen.  The paid witnesses would contradict not only each other, but themselves.  Everyone was finally acquitted of the murder, but one man was convicted of conspiracy, for driving the car that was supposed to have taken the victim to the park where his body was found.  That man eventually became the first inmate in the Baltimore City jail ever to graduate from college while in prison.
The study group kept going.  Sean had  a vision: the Vietnamese, Chinese, South Africans, Palestinians, Blacks and other working people of the world and the U.S. would unite in common struggle; they were in fact already beginning to do so.  Freed of their daily struggle to survive, The Wretched of the Earth, as Franz Fanon of Africa put it, could rapidly take control of their own lives, just as Sean had been learning that people could take control of their own health.
In reality, in the U.S., few people were willing to talk, much less walk, the same direction.  People still talked about racism, injustice, poverty, and war as if they were campaign slogans.  Not much seemed to really be “a changing”, after all.
Panthers all over the country were attacked in their headquarters by police who always claimed that they were “responding to an unprovoked attack.”
The War ground on.  “Dick Nixon before he dicks you,” was a popular slogan.  Nevertheless, Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon used the promise of ending the War to win election for a second term.  His “secret plan” had meant escalation: the mining of Haiphong Harbor, the carpet bombing of Vietnamese cities and farmlands, and illegal “incursions” into Cambodia and Laos.

There was only one thing to do, Sean believed,  Destroy the U.S. government, the war machine, and all entrenched institutions that perpetuated war, human indignity, and destruction of our Earth.  But that was not only improbable, but stupid.  Even if such a thing could be brought to pass, what would emerge?  How could petty dictators be prevented from setting up local kingdoms?  How would we insure the quality of life that we hoped would be everyone’s birthright?  No, that was not a solution. As much as he hated to admit it, Sean knew governments were necessary just to maintain civilization and protect everyone’s rights.  Obviously the world’s present institutions are inadequate to prevent war, injustice and poverty, but what would replace them?  And how?  I can’t see a solution.  No one is ready to agree on how a better society would function.  Sure, no racism, sexism, or nationalism.  No war or poverty or injustice.  That was the goal only.  How could it be brought about and maintained?
In the meantime, until solutions could be found, Sean decided, I will disagree, I will protest, and I would keep on keeping on at the People’s Free Medical Clinic.  That place is my only real hope for the future.  I will defend it against all attack.

Sean really enjoyed decision making at the Clinic. Once a month they all ate together, doctors, nurses, staff volunteers, and neighbors.  Everyone had a say in policy making, but first they shared their potato salads, rice, squash, homemade bread, casseroles, beans, meatloaf, Quiche, or funny little Swedish meatballs.
When you share your food, and your stomach’s full, most disagreements seem petty.  Arguments among friends have resolutions.  They found funding, doctors and supplies.  Patients found them.  They made their presence and their ideals known.  Word got around the city.  The Women’s Center, separate but connected to the Clinic – physically and politically – had founded a city-wide network of consciousness raising groups, and published a widely read magazine: Women: A Journal of Liberation, dealing with alternative life styles, social change, and sexual politics.
They had contacts in all the hospitals.  Sean found that he could make referrals with every assurance that people could get the treatment and support that they needed.  Some patients joined the Clinic staff, and others joined them on buses to demonstrations.
On a practical level, the clinic staff went door-to-door, asking for monthly pledges of fifty cents or a dollar to maintain the Clinic and pay the rent.  It worked.   But the greater part of society seemed unchangeable to Sean.  What could really be done to revolutionize the way our country, and the world, operated? That question would follow him everywhere he went, from Baltimore to North Dakota to Oklahoma to Arizona to Florida and about thirty-five other states in the nation.  He was anxious to see and learn more about how people were living and coping in the rest of the country.  But where to go and how?  My part-time job and student loans barely keep me alive.  I didn’t want to quit school, now that I’m finally a full-time student, and I would certainly need money to travel.  I’d tried hitchhiking to Chicago once.  What a disaster.  You could kill a whole day just waiting for a ride.

He remembered why he’d gone to Chicago.  He’d met a woman at the Clinic once, Marilyn Gans. She was pretty and friendly.  She volunteered at the clinic, and wrote for Women.  After a dinner and meeting at her apartment for the patient advocates, Sean had stayed to help her clean up, and they fell to talking until the storm hit.  Baltimore had suddenly been hit with another one of the tail ends of a hurricane, and flood waters had risen quickly around the city.  The streets were all overflowing with water, and the emergency warnings took over all broadcasts on radio and TV.  Everyone was ordered to stay off the streets and indoors.  Sean and Marilyn just stared at her TV in disbelief.  Sean had seen bad storms before, but never heard warnings like this.  Marilyn had told him to stay the night, so he did. She had made a bed for him on the living room floor with sheets and blankets.  “You’ll have to stay in here, OK,” she asked. “Can I trust you?” she wanted to know.  Sean promised.  He had no intention of getting into trouble with the clinic or the Women’s center.  She said “goodnight” to him from her bedroom. Sean was in love again.  He liked her a lot, even though he hadn’t known her before that night. He enjoyed talking with her, liked the way she looked.  He said, “Goodnight Marilyn”.  But then, he said, “I wish we could sleep together.”  There was no reply, and Sean wasn’t expecting one.  He turned on his side, ready to sleep.  They had stayed up for hours, watching the storm sweep down the streets, and talked, and talked.  Sean was dead tired.  Suddenly, Marilyn was there, under the blanket next to him on the floor. Sean was excited.  She said, “Let’s just hold each other, OK?” So that was what they did. Sean noticed she had a short top on and cotton panties.  His erection felt painfully unused.
Marilyn contacted Sean a few days later, asked him to help her take a group of kids on a field trip.  She was a teacher, and Sean had told her how much he liked being around kids, how much he missed his brothers and sisters.  But Marilyn was polite and reserved with Sean.  He didn’t know how to pursue this relationship.  The constant talk around the clinic about Women’s liberation, and sex roles, and male domination had confused him.  He held back, waited to hear from her again, but she went back to Chicago when the school year ended.  She told him to come visit.  That was why he had gone to Chicago, even though he had little money.
He had finally started walking, hitchhiking at first, through Maryland and a bit of Pennsylvania. When he arrived in Ohio, he found himself stuck.  All around, on the concrete and guard rails of this huge intersection of highways were written things like, “This place sucks! No rides! Been here three days!” etc.  He was there an entire day.  He struck up a conversation with a younger guy who showed up.  Bill was an ex-marine from Iowa City; he said he had lied about his age to get in early when he was 17.  They read the graffiti, decided it was hopeless, and  then walked across the entire state of Ohio.  Bill had all his belongings in a paper bag.  He said he’d had a fight with his wife and had just thrown stuff in a bag and walked out one day.  He was on his way home now.  He was packing a huge bottle of black pills.  Sean asked him about those.  “Oh, they’re not speed,” Bill said, “These are something called Texedrine, with a T, and they’re not harmful.”  Sean passed on those at first. He and Bill walked into a diner one night and drank all the free coffee they could get.  When the waitress stopped being friendly they left the diner and tried to sleep around back, but they were too wired from the coffee. They decided to just keep walking, but Sean was losing steam after a while, so he took some of Bill’s pills.  After finally passing the Ohio state line into Indiana, they were picked up by a trucker who told them a grisly story about dead long-haired hitchhikers being found along the highway. He said they had been castrated.  The trucker let them off in front of a barber shop. Bill had a buzz cut, but Sean had long since grown his hair long, and wore a big, green, floppy hat. He’d realized that his long hair was a factor in not getting rides, so he had tucked it up inside the hat. Inside the truck cab he had taken off his hat and exposed the long hair.
They walked through cornfields all day and into the night. They were shot at outside of Gary, Indiana, as they walked along a dark road past a never-ending cornfield.  Sean had been walking behind Bill.  Bill stuck his thumb out to try for a ride when they noticed lights coming up behind them.  The response was a loud explosion that lit up the inside of a VW beetle, which had slowed down, and Sean saw a streak of light bisect the space between him and Bill.  The VW sped off as fast as one of those could go.  They kept walking until they were exhausted and slept right on the shoulder.  A sheriff woke them before dawn; wanted to know what they were doing, said they couldn’t sleep there.  They had to keep walking.   Eventually, Bill took the road for Iowa City, and Sean made it to Chicago.
Marilyn invited him to stay with her at her parent’s home.  They fed him three different kinds of meat at the first meal he had with them.  Marilyn said that her parents had been in a concentration camp, and that afterwards they had developed this need to have tons of food available all the time.  Both were now overweight, but Marilyn was thin.  Sean went to a theater group she was involved with, and learned to play basic percussion, as part of an effort to involve people in music and theater.  She asked Sean to stay in Chicago, but she wouldn’t kiss him, wouldn’t sleep with him.  She told him he could get a job there.  Sean didn’t want to live in Chicago.  He still liked Baltimore, “What would I do here?” he asked her.  She told him he could probably get a job in a record store she knew about.  Sean didn’t want to do that. After that, Marilyn told Sean she had things to do, so she couldn’t show him around the city anymore, but she had a friend, Amy, who could.  Amy kept asking him what his intentions were with Marilyn, and did he want to come back to her place. Sean realized that Marilyn was dumping him, and had set him up with this girlfriend of hers.  When he saw her again, Marilyn had wanted to know, “So, how’d you get along with Amy?”  It was clear to Sean what was what.  Sean counted out his remaining money, and found out he could afford to take the train home to Baltimore.  Marilyn drove him to the train station, and asked him one more time if he’d stay and get a job there, but Sean said no.  They promised to write.

Sean wasn’t about to try hitchhiking again, especially without a specific destination in mind.

 

Posted in 1970s, Life, madness, medical, My Life, politics, race, relationships, Writing | 5 Comments »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter seven

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 4, 2008

One thing the 1970s is known for is the beginnings of large-scale environmental awareness and activism. Sean, through his readings, was aware that the planet was in danger, from pollution of air and water, from overpopulation, from fallout from nuclear testing, from ozone depletion, and from the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, possibly leading to a hothouse effect. The envelope of air around Earth is very thin in proportion to the size of the world, but few people seemed aware of it. He’d read Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring,  Gordon Ratray Taylor’s The Biological Time Bomb,  Dr. Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, and excerpts from the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth.  Sean decided, first off, that he wasn’t going to father any children. Perhaps he would adopt. A moot point unless he found a woman to share his life with. In the meantime, he decided the least he could do was have as small an impact on the earth’s ecosystem as possible. He decided to get a bicycle.
Bike (bique) is French slang for penis. He wasn’t aware of that when he first bought the new ten-speed. He rode it home from the store, much to the consternation of his body, which totally freaked out. He had to snatch a nap on the City High School lawn. It had been a long time since he’d ridden one.

His last bicycle had disappeared when he was thirteen. Sean heard that a few of his rowdiest classmates had been stealing bikes in the neighborhood. Sean decided to confront them. “Hey, Marconi. I hear you know a thing or two about stolen bicycles?” “Yo, Emmet.  So, you lost a bicycle. We’ll look for it.” Marconi tried to look serious for a moment, but smiled at his two buddies on either side of him. Sean didn’t have any proof, and he had already learned from his dad, by way of negative example, not to assume guilt. “You sure you don’t know anything about it? A Bendix two-speed?” “Look, Emmet, I’ll keep my eyes open for it, OK?” “Sure. OK. Let me know if you see anything.” This was before Sean’s confrontation with his dad, and it was a good thing too, because, not only was Gino Marconi much larger than Sean, but his friends were tough. Sean would have had the shit kicked out of him. I was stupid enough to leave it leaning against the store; I guess I deserved to have it stolen.   His father had gotten the Bendix Aviation bicycles for him and his brother through an employee discount.  Sean didn’t dare ask for another. Eight years later he was lying on the grass, wondering if he’d have to walk home again.
His brother John, a year younger, had been the first to learn how to ride. He was also the first to date. He was already married, and had fathered a child.  John drove a car. Sean had failed to learn how to drive one, and couldn’t afford one anyway.  You might say Sean was kind of deficient in many skills, especially social skills: no home life, no wife, no lover. He worked in a Physics research lab, buried underground, sitting in a chair behind the x-ray equipment he operated. He spent most of his evenings taking classes at the university he worked for. He was not athletic, had never participated in sports, and hadn’t ridden a bicycle in too many years; his muscles were rebellious. Before long, however, that bicycle became his constant companion. Shortly before he bought it, he had quit his full-time job to attend school outside the city, at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. His boss had agreed to let him work part-time after school and Saturdays. The first day he rode it to classes was a killer – ten miles in rush hour traffic across Baltimore City. After that, he rode the twenty mile round trip every day, and enjoyed it. He was getting stronger. He felt more alert, more alive. He pedaled to the theater, to movies, or to local demonstrations. He didn’t have much of a love life, but he sure had transportation. 
He could go anywhere on a bike, and he wondered just how far he could go. To California? Canada? He might need to do that yet. Could I afford to go? I want to travel, to see the country, other states, other cities; to swim in clean rivers, and walk through mountains, canyons, and forests – that would be my version of happiness.
Choking on fumes, greasy air, and soot, however, he fought his way through herds of buses, semi’s, beetles, caddies, mustangs, and ‘vettes. He crested a small hill one morning and saw clear road in front of him. An electric current surged through him as his thighs orbited the pedals of his Schwinn Suburban. Warp factor seven, Scotty. Cool morning air caressed his sweaty forehead and ripped tears from his eyes. On his left he noticed the metallic beasts slowing. He thought he must be overtaking them. I’m good at this, he crowed to himself. Then, there was a gap in front of the beast next to him. A white whale was pointed right at him! Trapped within, the look of panic on the face of the whale’s prisoner mirrored his own slack-jawed expression. He felt air beneath him. He knew he was airborne, but his eyes didn’t focus on anything as he spun high through the air. The car had made contact with his foot first, and he had kicked up and forward down the hill. He had time to think, as people oddly do in times like that, I’m gonna die. All these cars; I’m going to get crushed. I guess I won’t make it to classes today. What? where? who? slipped through his barely conscious mind when he came to rest. There were no answers available. Up. I need to get up. As he started to lift his head, he couldn’t imagine where he was. In a sudden panic, he realized he didn’t know who he was. He felt like he was dreaming. A name, I must have a name. I’d better just lie still, maybe I’ll wake up. But, there were vague noises, and voices, somewhere.
“What about him?” penetrated his haze. He strained to listen.
“Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s dead.”
Me! They’re talking about me! Of course – the car – an accident. Am I hurt? He forced his eyes to open. He saw a typical blue-grey Baltimore sky above him.
“Don’t you worry about it none, Miz Penny. I saw the whole thing. It wasn’t your fault. I’ll testify to it.” He turned his head slightly; saw a group of black and white men clustered around a well-dressed white woman about 10 feet away on the sidewalk. The men, wearing coveralls and carrying lunch pails, weren’t looking his way. Time seemed frozen. No one moved. Even traffic, backed up behind the red light about a block away, had stopped.
He had been bicycling for over a year already, every day, so he rolled onto his feet, catlike. He felt like a ghost rising from a forgotten grave.  He tried walking, but one leg was weak; it seemed to not want to hold him. He limped towards the crowd, who turned as one man to look at him. The woman noticed. She ran out to him.
“Are you alright?”
A quick “No!” was all he could manage. Waves of pain were spreading up his leg with every step.
“Here, you come sit in my car.” He sat on the spotless white upholstery and she left him there. The pain in his foot was throbbing now. He eased his leg onto the seat, and lay down. He was staring at the plush interior of the snow-white Continental when a fireman appeared in the doorway. “Are you hurt?” No, I always sleep in Continentals, Sean thought, angry that none of the firemen had come over before. “Do you need anything?”
“My foot hurts, a lot. I don’t think I can walk on it. It’s already swollen.”
“Hang on, I’ll get you something,” and he disappeared, back across the street into the firehouse. He came back with a plastic bag that he pulled onto Sean’s leg.
“What’s that?” Sean asked.
“It’s a temporary cast. Here, I’ll fill it up.” Fwoosh, and the bag stiffened. “Is that any better?”
“A little – yes – thank you.”
“You should go have this x-rayed. Where do you want to go?”
“Could you possibly take me to the closest place, please? Soon?”
Hours later his roommates came and helped him limp, bruised and sprained, out of the hospital. The neglect and lack of concern in there had vindicated his contempt for establishment medical practice. “Don’t you have insurance? Can you pay for this visit? Sign here, and here, and here.” And then, hurry up and wait. Lie there alone until they’re ready. Listen to the children crying, one of them with a head wound, another with a broken arm. Smell the antiseptic. Watch people ignore everyone. On the way home, Sean had his roommates stop at the Free Clinic to get some crutches. It seemed he had only sprained the upper part of his foot, and gotten some nasty-looking bruises. When the bill came from the hospital, he was amazed to learn that they were charging him for crutches! But ‘Miz Penny’ paid the bill, and sent him a check for a new bike.
Of course, it wasn’t all the hospital’s fault. There were very few doctors in the poor neighborhoods for people to go to, so people used the emergency rooms as their family doctor.
That was why the People’s Free Medical Clinic  has been founded. That was the reason why such a diverse group of people, including Black Panthers, women’s libbers, and war protesters had worked to start such a place. The Clinic stood for socialized medicine. But, there was also draft resistance advice, birth control counseling, and the obligatory V.D. screening and sex education. There was a commitment to humane health care, community control of the Clinic, and the redefinition of the doctor-patient relationship.

“What are you doing?”
“I’m checking your lungs.”
“Yeah, but why do you do that?”
“I’m timpaning. By tapping on you like this, I produce sound in your lungs. I can tell by the sound where there’s fluid.”
“What does that mean?”
“That would mean that you have an infection of some kind.”
As a patient “advocate”, Sean’s job was to interview patients, find out why they had come in, and if anything else was bothering them. Advocates encouraged patients to ask questions of the docs, and followed their progress through the Clinic. No one was ever lost in a shuffle of bureaucratic paper.
“Mr. Stefans, did you get everything taken care of?”
“Sure. But you know, he gave me these prescriptions, and I don’t know which one to take once a day and which to take three times.”
“Let’s go back and ask him.”
“Oh, no. I don’t want to bother him.”
“No bother. That’s what he’s here for.”
“Hi Lillian. All squared away.?”
“Yes, thank you. Can someone take me to my appointment at the hospital tomorrow?”
“I’ll arrange it with the day staff right now.”
“Can you tell me when my test results will be in?”
“We should have them by this time tomorrow night.”
“Am I covered by Workman’s comp?”
“Let’s find out.”
“Is there anything else?”
“No. Yes, I do have a sorta problem.”
“What’s that?”
“I don’t know if I should talk about it.”
“Would you like to talk to a counselor? Everything you say is confidential.”
“No one can find out?”
“Absolutely no one, not without your written permission.”

There were interesting counselors at the Clinic. Supervised and trained by psychiatrists, and then by each other, the “People’s Counselors” helped people open up and express their angers, frustrations, and pain. There might be only a simple physical need to be remedied or there might be something more.

“Have you thought about using birth control?”

“I can’t, my parents don’t believe in it.”
“Do you want to get pregnant?”
“No way! Not for a long time, at least until I’m twenty.”

“I’m so mad I could scream!”
“Why don’t you?”
“Scream? It’s OK?”
“Sure, would you rather be mad?”

The basic philosophy of the People’s Counselors was that it was not always the patient who was fucked up, but society itself. Unreal expectations, peer pressure, media-created role models, and laws against “victimless” crimes drove people into self-depreciation. It was radical, it was revolutionary, to just help people without judging them.
The counselors, staff and volunteers at the Free Clinic worked hard, hoping to renew a society of, by, and for the people. They questioned everything. Does the nuclear family form the basis for repressive authority? Are male and female roles only learned, conditioned behavior? Is competitiveness the root of war? Is bisexuality the future of sex?
Could we create a society in which war was impossible? Could a racist, sexist, patriarchal, avaricious, hypocritical society become one loving caring family? Sean juggled all of these questions and more, hoping to understand why the U.S. was at war, why people got into fights, why people killed each other, why there was so much violence in the world.
He was not a counselor, but one night he found myself pushed into it. For some reason, there was no one around to help a woman freaking out from some drug, presumably LSD. She was agitated, depressed, and could hardly speak for crying.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“There’s nothing with you, you’re just having a bad trip, that’s all.”
“That’s all? That’s all? Why do I feel this way? Help me. Help me. Help me.”
Someone put their arm around her, and Sean took her hand.
“It’s OK, really, you’ll just have to wait for the drug to wear off.”
“How long?”
“Sometimes it takes up to fourteen hours.”
“Oh god, no. I can’t. My parents! Why do I hate my parents?” she sobbed suddenly.
I’m blowing this, I’m in over my head, Sean thought. “Look, you probably don’t hate them.”
“Yes I do! I thought I loved them, but now they hate me.”
“They don’t.”
“Why do I feel this way? Make it stop.”
“We’ll try. OK?”
Eventually, she was alright. People with more experience in those things took over.

Sean went upstairs to the empty childcare room, grabbed a broom and swept it. He got the wet mop and filled a bucket with hot soapy water to wash the old wooden floor. The kids played on that floor.  He was mostly trying to stay busy.  LSD.  He was remembering his own experience.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, family, Life, madness, My Life, Writing | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Six

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 29, 2008

November 15, 1969: 500,000 people, protesting The War, march by a barricaded White House in which the President watches football.

December 1, 1969: The first draft lottery since 1942 affects the lives of 850,000 men aged 19 through 26.

April 30, 1970: President Nixon announces U.S. invasion of Cambodia, a fait accompli, considering that incursions into Cambodia were by then routine.

May 4, 1970: National Guardsman, “only following orders,” kill four and wound eleven student demonstrators at Kent State University.

May 15, 1970: Two Jackson State students are killed by police who riddle a dormitory with automatic weapons fire, following protests over discrimination and the Kent State killings.

March, 1971: Lt. William Calley is found guilty of the premeditated murder of 22 unarmed civilians at My Lai, Vietnam, but is paroled shortly thereafter.

Death stalked Sean’s thoughts. Not only were U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese dying, but U.S. students were being shot and killed. It began to look as though protest was not only ineffective, but deadly. So far Sean had been lucky, the draft had passed him by, and he wasn’t in jail. He’d marched in demonstrations, and spoken out against The War. Nothing had changed, but the excitement of protest had been exhilarating.

Imagine agreeing with half a million other people all assembled in one place! At the ‘69 demo Sean had been to, he’d been swimming in a sea of people. The crowd had swelled from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. There had been entertainment between the speeches, and that time the Broadway cast of Hair performed, and Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, and even the Beach Boys sang and denounced The War. Kathleen was there for that one. She and Sean were too far from the stage to see much, so Sean offered to put Kath on his shoulders, as many others were doing. She accepted, much to Sean’s shock and delight. The feel of her legs in his hands was incredible. Her mound pressed against the back of his neck. It was hard to concentrate on the speeches, but the music was fantastic. Most of those people had marched thought the D.C. streets: working stiffs, college students, high school students, feminists, civil rights workers, unionists, and children in baby strollers, chanting and shouting around the Nixon White House. It had been surrounded, barricaded with bumper-to-bumper D.C. transit buses. Nixon had been freaked out! That was the biggest anti-war march of them all. Not even Johnson had drawn so many people to D.C. President Johnson had been running the War when Sean had first gotten involved in protest. His administration had increased spending on social programs and the War. There had been good legislation passed during his term of office, so there had not been the tremendous backlash of hatred that Nixon was now enjoying. Nixon wanted to broaden the War, increase military spending, and cut domestic spending.
So there was the feeling that the protests were ineffective. Neither Johnson nor Congress had ended the War. The Nixon government seemed to think that people who opposed the War were naive, misguided, and of no consequence compared to the silent majority, who wholeheartedly supported their government. There were some people, seeing only the ineffectiveness of marches and lobbying efforts, who said, “Bring the War home.”
The Weathermen, formally part of the Students for a Democratic Society, hoped to start another American revolution. They called attention to local infestations of the war machine by bombing them. It didn’t seem like such a bad idea to Sean. ROTC, Dow Chemical, and weapons research labs sure seemed to deserve it, and burning down a branch of the Bank of America made sense – the bankers were financing and profiting from The War. But Sean didn’t want anyone to get hurt. Wasn’t he opposed to war? to violence? to the settling of economic and political differences by short-lived military solutions?
Sean really liked the SDS chants though, things like: “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war.” There were others too, people who supported a North Vietnamese victory. They had chants: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, N.L.F. is gonna win.” The N.L.F., as Sean understood it, was an organization of people in South Vietnam who opposed their own corrupt government and were collaborating with the North. More and more, it appeared, the Vietnamese were fighting a civil war not unlike the US’s own, and the US was not welcome in Vietnam.
Anyone who opposed the U.S. government was alright by me, Sean thought, but he wasn’t about to join any of the crazies, not yet. Sean saw what the cops did to them, and how little difference it made. The real power, he thought, lay in the ability to organize people of diverse backgrounds, having different ideas, into one solid block of opposition to The War. Sean sure as hell didn’t know how to do it.
Many people had answers. Some of the socialists wanted to see more mass demonstrations: “Power to the people!” The Communist Party, America’s bogeymen, called for more participation in electoral politics, especially within the Democratic Party. The Communists’ influence was already weak. By asking us to keep on believing that we could reform the Democratic Party, they alienated themselves totally from the anti-war movement. Other groups wanted to form “The” workingman’s party, but couldn’t agree on who would head it. Every little group knew that they were the only ones who could “lead” us to victory using “the lessons of history.” Some of these weirdos had split off from one group, formed their own “correct” group, and spent most of their time and energy just attacking each other. No strategy, no coalition, no party was allowed to accomplish anything for long. Every proposal was argued to death.
“This meeting is being run by men, I’m tired of male planning.” “The meeting is not addressing the issue of discrimination against gays.” “We can’t stop war and injustice until we change ourselves.” “This is wrong, Lenin said….” “Marx said….” “No he didn’t, what Marx really said was….” “Trotsky….” “Mao is the only true socialist.” “You say you’re for a labor party, but you’re all middle class kids.” “Only the ‘oppressed’ can lead us.” “Only a Party of trade unions can win.” “Only women can get us out of this mess.” “You’re all racists.” “I object to using Roberts’ Rules of Order.” “I object to making decisions by consensus.”
People objected to the clothes people wore, to the food people ate, to the way they lived, and the way they worked. “You support the system of injustice and war by consuming.” “You can’t change the system, you work for it, you benefit from it.” Sean knew he had to do something, but what? Beats the hell out of me, he thought.
He went to a different kind of demo next time he was to D.C. Several groups had called for a C.D., a civil disobedience, in celebration of May Day – an international distress call, a pagan celebration of spring, and also a working peoples’ holiday in other parts of the world. May Day had begun in the US, but few knew it. Using Gandhi’s technique, the streets of Washington would be blocked, and bring business-as-usual to a halt.
Sean couldn’t find anyone else willing to go to D.C. this time. There was more of a risk involved. Few people seemed willing to risk arrest as Gandhi and Martin Luther King had. Sean asked around the Free Medical Clinic that he volunteered at, but no one was going among the people Sean knew. The people in his night school classes said that they couldn’t take time off work and miss school too. Some political “activists” claimed that the whole thing was just a schoolboy adventure. Even Sean’s own brother John said that Sean just wanted to get arrested. Eventually Sean took a Greyhound to D.C., and the Greyhound people there told him what bus Sean needed to get to the park by the Washington Monument. There were thousands of people there already, and a sound stage was being set up.
Once again, the performers were there. Music blared out a rebel beat all the first day and night. Words of protest bounced off Washington’s monument and rippled the Reflecting Pool at Lincoln’s feet. Lincoln sat listening, as usual. There were planning meetings and strategy sessions with all the usual bickering, but in spite of those who wanted to take over the planning, and those who wanted more violent actions, they managed to agree to block streets in an organized fashion. Sean would go with a Washington-Baltimore group to a specific street at 7:00 a.m. Monday. We will shut D.C. down, and force the business-as-usual war machine to listen to us, Sean thought. On Saturday night he listened to the familiar sounds of rock’n’roll, and slept peacefully, knowing that he was with good people, and that he might be able to affect the course of The War. The police had other ideas.

May 2, 1971: 242 people arrested at antiwar camp.

Dawn catches most people asleep, but not the police. Squad cars drove across the grass forcing sleepy people out of the way. Paddy wagons gobbled up everyone who didn’t run fast enough. Night-sticks were swinging. Sean got the hell out of there.
Some were able to regroup, later on that day, in safe-houses, churches, and empty offices. Many people were afraid to use the phones (wiretapping was so common) so runners carried messages around. Everyone was determined. The vote, no, the consensus, was to proceed as planned. No one knew exactly how many people were left. Whereas previously there had been groupings by affiliation, as from a certain church, city, state, or other organization, now there were simply groups, groups large enough to block a street each. Sean hooked up with some people who worked out of a church office that what used as a command post. He saw the runners coming and going. He felt like he was in a war zone. He couldn’t find out much. Some runners reported that people were going home, some said that people had been arrested, and he heard speculation that everyone was being hunted down; that the police were searching everywhere, and that we were all going to be arrested just to keep traffic flowing. It was depressing, exciting, and unreal at the same time.

Next day, a cold grey D.C. morning, Sean and so many others advanced – by foot, thumb, bus, or van – to designated streets. The police were waiting. Sean stood, with others, on a corner looking at the police across the street. He crossed the opposite way with a large group, and the police followed from corner to corner, with their riot helmets, tear gas, and clubs. But everyone obeyed the traffic signals! It was clear, however, that the cops weren’t going to let the streets be blocked. Some people elected to stay behind to keep the cops busy. The rest ran up the block and jumped into the street. No one knew if the vehicles would stop. People, especially union pickets during strikes, had been run over before. The cars did stop, but then police began rerouting traffic. They found ourselves blocking empty streets.
Now, from up the street, Sean saw dozens of little white motor-scooters, with the men in blue. He waited with the others for the clubs to start swinging, but the cops would just ride straight on to spook them. They held on, for a while. Then the cops got the idea to come right at them, and, if they didn’t move, to brake and slide sideways right into people. That broke the line. People traveled up the street in groups, and the cops followed. Sean watched one cop, whose activity defined him as a “pig”, tap a guy on the shoulder from behind, and squirt Mace into his eyes when he turned his head around. Someone stayed to help the poor guy but got a club across his chest. Both were arrested, probably for assaulting a police “officer”. Sean kept going. The police stopped every once in a while to make arrests, but Sean managed to stay ahead. There were no contingency plans, so they were forced away from the main streets. Then more cops showed up, and they began chasing people down with their scooters. Sean took off running, pulling trashcans off the sidewalk into the street as he went, hoping to slow ’em down, and keep the streets closed a bit longer.
Elsewhere, streets remained blockaded when not enough police were available, but within an hour, the Mace, clubbings, and arrests cleared the streets. Sean wandered the sidewalks with one large group until he saw a transit bus pull up fast. Helmeted police jumped out and started clubbing people with the biggest night-sticks Sean had ever seen, four-foot riot batons. Sean saw people go down, but there was nothing he could do. Sean spotted Phyllis, from the Free Clinic at home, running the wrong way. Sean grabbed her hand and ran down an alley. The police were waiting on the other side, but at least the riot batons were behind. As they came out of the alley there were fifteen to twenty people leaning against the wall being searched. There was a cop directly in front who calmly asked them to stop and motioned them off to the side. Sean and Phyllis just stood and watched.
“Phyllis, I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Neither did I. But Carole was coming, and I came with her and some other people from the Women’s Center.
“What happened?”
“I don’t know. We were walking down the street, and the police started grabbing people all of a sudden.”
“Weren’t you blocking traffic?”
“Hell no. We tried it earlier, but they chased us off. We hadn’t even gotten to our designated street yet.”
“Where is everyone else?”
“I don’t know. Somebody said, ‘Run,’ so we ran. People went in every direction. I lost track of Carole.”
“What do you think is going to happen to us now?”
“I wish I knew, I just want to get out of here.”
“Well, nobody seems to be paying any attention to us, let’s go!”
“OK.” They started to move away.
“Where are you two going?” the calm patrolman asked.
“Well, we haven’t been arrested, we’re leaving,” Sean said.
“Get back here.” Still more people were brought over and searched. They were arguing with the cops about The War. “Won’t you join us?” “Please join us, together we could stop The War.” The cops asked: “Would you support us when we ask for higher wages?” “Of course,” was the immediate reply. The cops laughed, and everyone relaxed a bit. Another bus finally pulled up, and the cops made us get on it. It was an ordinary bus. Everyone found out how to open the windows because the little sign said: “Push Here in an Emergency.” Sean saw people jump out of a bus in front of them, and Sean wanted to do the same, but Phyllis wasn’t going for it. Sean didn’t want to abandon her, so they rode along, flapping the windows like wings and calling out to the people we passed: “No more war! U.S. out! Stop the killing!”
The destination was a football field. What was this? Sean wondered. As it turned out, the jails were full. There were about two thousand people herded into that field, surrounded by a fence, a ring of National Guard, and a ring of cops. We’re that dangerous? Sean wondered.
A large group of people did try to bust out. Sean remembered the chain-link fence bent and sagging to the ground with their weight. The police moved in, past the Guardsmen, and beat them back with tear gas and clubs. No one tried that again. Everyone on the field got the gas. Most couldn’t see for awhile; the fumes were so intensely acrid that Sean shut his eyes, trying to squeeze the obnoxious irritant out. The police didn’t trust the Guard, so they increased their strength. One Guardsman said to Sean: “I don’t know if they’re guarding you or us.” He told him that many of the guys like him had joined the guard in order not to be sent to Vietnam. “We’re with you, hang in there,” he said.
Phyllis had found her friend Carole, so Sean wandered around trying to figure out what was going to happen. A meeting (of course) was called. They found tarps, ordinarily used to over the field, and constructed a tent, using a goalpost as the support. They met in the tent, but, naturally, couldn’t agree on a plan of action. No one knew what was “going down” anymore. More of the tarpaulin was ripped up and used to build privies for the women, and trenches were dug to carry waste to the rear of the field. The Guardsmen lent them shovels, and a water tap was available. They begged the guard for cups and canteens to get water, after it got muddy and slippery around the tap from hundreds of people trying to run water into their mouths. When night came many people were huddling together for warmth and comfort. Sean was desperate for a little physical and human warmth, so he sought Phyllis out. Sean liked her and he hoped to use the occasion to snuggle up with her, at least. When Sean found her she was with some smoothie, a stranger, who had his arms around her and was taking her to a small tent he’d made – so that she could warm up. “Oh, God! I want to be warm,” she said, and snuggled up against him. How the hell had that happened in the short time I was in the meeting? “Me too,” Sean said. The guy, Bruce, said, “I’m afraid there’s barely room for two, but you’re welcome to use my space blanket.” Phyllis had her hand in Bruce’s. “Thanks,” Sean mumbled. I suppose I should be grateful, he thought, but he wasn’t. It had turned into a lousy day. The main tent was full by then, but Sean found a space behind it where there was some shelter from the wind, and he managed to grab a few zees – it was a good blanket.
Around midnight the lights Zapped! on. Amazing how noisy those floodlights are in the still of the night. The buses were back. They were being moved out. It was pitch dark past the floodlights, and no one could see anything with those things blasting sleepy retinas. They were herded onto the buses, packed in like cattle. There were no families or press around. Sean was scared. No one knew what the government would do. Sean and most other people conjured up nightmares of concentration camps, or worse. After all, hadn’t the U.S. government rounded up and imprisoned Japanese-Americans during the last war? And, hadn’t Nixon and Agnew called peace activists traitors to America? The buses drove away. Sean tried to get back to sleep, but that’s not real easy to do standing up. Sean couldn’t see where they were going, and he wasn’t much relieved by the sight of a huge fortress-looking structure. It turned out to be Washington Coliseum, and they were taken inside. Everyone was exhausted, and tried to sleep on the concrete floor. The Guard finally brought in wool blankets. The police did nothing.

May 3, 1971: Using tear gas and night-sticks, police arrest 7,000 antiwar protesters in Washington, D.C., including 1,200 who are arrested while legally assembled on the Capitol steps.

As daylight penetrated to the deep floor from up above the bleachers, they were awakened by shouts. More people were being brought in! Some had been released from jail. Most were people who had heard of the bust from them, and joined them in the streets that morning. They got a standing ovation, with cheering and singing. Sean was totally freaking amazed. No one had any idea how many people had been arrested. The news media spoke of only a few hundred busts. Clearly there were thousands. Every D.C. jail was full. People sang songs and told jokes and wondered what to do. The police came in with bullhorns. They said that anyone could leave, if they admitted to resisting arrest – a felony! The entire assembly split up into three groups, discussed the “offer”, and passed word back and forth (easy to do in those crowded conditions). The consensus: “refuse to cooperate.”
Later, after Sean ate two of the several thousand bologna sandwiches that suddenly showed up, the “offer” changed. Now, they were promised no felony charges would be brought, but the arrests would be misdemeanor charges only! Another meeting followed, and the huge group rejected that plan too. A few people left, but Sean figured that was their right. He looked everywhere for Phyllis. He liked her a lot; they were both volunteers at the People’s Free Medical Clinic in Baltimore. She had an infectious smile, and wore thick coke-bottle lenses. They worked as patient advocates, people who stayed with a patient through their visit, to explain things, ask questions, take medical histories, and follow up before the patient left. He and Phyllis made sure that patients asked questions of the doctors, got explanations of treatment, and were given treatment options. As advocates they received frequent group trainings, and had even gone on retreat together to Assateague Island, camping among the wild ponies. Sean found her very attractive.
The A.C.L.U. lawyers finally found out where everyone was and began negotiating with the cops. The Guardsmen tossed Frisbee’s back and forth with the protesters, carried messages for them, and even brought them chocolate bars (talk about feeling like a POW) until their Commander caught them at it. He forced them all to stand at attention. Sean heard it start and he joined in: “…sit down. Let them sit down.” All three thousand or more chanted: “Let them sit down. Sit down. Sit down. Sit down. Sit down.” In fear of a riot, for that is how the media reported it, the Guardsmen were allowed to sit back down in the bleachers. Victory! Sean thought, and felt better.
Of course, no one else was allowed to sit in the bleachers. People wandered aimlessly around, ate more prison-fare bologna sandwiches, and tried to get messages in and out. Sean finally got access to the phones, so he called his boss to tell him that he couldn’t make it to work. Sean’s boss asked him where he was. Sean told him, but he didn’t seem to believe him. “I heard about a ruckus in Washington where some people got arrested. You weren’t involved in that were you?” Sean told him that the police had been arresting everyone on the streets, and that he wasn’t sure when he’d get back to work. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked. “No,” Sean told him, “I don’t think there’s anything you can do now, but the ACLU is trying to help get us out of here.”
People sang, some people performed roving plays, and some chanted. Someone got the idea to do a round with om. Sean joined in a continuous ommmmmmm that was maintained for over an hour by having large groups start at different times. Feels great! Sean thought, and such cooperation! The effect was mesmerizing – there were at least 3000 people jammed into that place. Another night passed in this way.

Sean still hadn’t found Phyllis, so he curled up in a wool blanket and tried to sleep. Some crazy guy ran around half naked, danging his penis and balls in women’s faces where they slept. A roar of disapproval echoed around the collesium, and he was gone. Next morning they were offered a new deal. Who’s in charge here? Sean was not the only one wondering. If they allowed themselves to be “processed” – fingerprinted and photographed – they would not be charged. Sean was ready for that. It wasn’t a bad deal, despite the contradiction of being booked without having been arrested, but no one would be charged with a crime.
Some were against it, pointing out the contradictions, and wanting to maintain the “revolution”. A group calling themselves “Weatherwomen”, presumably a split-off from the “Weathermen”, who were a splinter group from the nonviolent Students for a Democratic Society, argued against it vehemently. They passed word around that some of them were wanted by the F.B.I., and that we had to help prevent their arrest. They actually screamed at the crowd to stay, but they’d had enough. No one knew these people anyway. They could have been police agents. There was no more to be gained by staying. At least people knew what had happened. A vote was taken and it was agreed to leave. Sean managed to find Phyllis again; her friend seemed to have disappeared, and they stayed together for the rest of “processing”.
It turned out to be a real gas. People borrowed each others clothes and hats, and painted mustaches on each other. Sean borrowed Phyllis’s thick glasses and they both stumbled through the lines. People with P.O.W. tattooed on their foreheads with magic markers signed their names as Mickey de Mouse, Donald Q. Duck, Tricky Dick Nixon, Ho Chi Minh, Mao ZeDong, John Hancock, or even John Mitchell, the U.S. Attorney General who had illegally ordered the mass arrests. The F.B.I. got everyone’s fingerprints, but a judge later ordered the records of the illegal arrests destroyed. No one was left in jail, and no one had been seriously hurt.
Sean’s boss had been understanding, after he’d heard the whole story, so Sean still had his job. Public opinion had changed. Day-to-day organizing, in churches, in synagogues, in PTA’s and labor unions, was finally beginning to pay off. The end of The War would come soon, or the Government was in serious trouble. Sean saw only two options for his future: jail or Canada.

Posted in 1970s, Life, madness, My Life, politics, Writing | 3 Comments »

Trippin’ Through The ’70s Chapter Four

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 29, 2008

“Leaving home is a kick, you know? kind of like summer vacation? Only it’s no more screams, no more fights, no more parents’ dirty looks,” Sean had told Lenny a few weeks before he would graduate from his high school. Lenny had a new job teaching, downtown, and a new apartment nearby. Sean’s part-time job was only eight blocks from the apartment. He could leave home now, and he was gradually shifting his books and clothes into Lenny’s new place.
“So when are you moving in?”
“Just as soon as I graduate.”
“Have you told your parents yet?”
“No. Why should I?”
“Well, I don’t want any trouble with them. You are kind of young, Sean. And you told me how they run your life.”
“Don’t worry about it. I looked into it. There’s not a damn thing they can do if I have a job, and I start full-time a week before graduation. I’m really looking forward to this.”
“Won’t you miss home?”
“Are you kidding? What’s to miss? An old house with bad plumbing? Holes in the walls? Freezing in the morning because the heating oil ran out again?”
“What about your parents? Won’t you miss them?”
“No fucking way, Lenny. I think they’re crazy. You should have heard some of the fights they had: cursing each other, throwing things, breaking things.”
“Kind of infantile, huh?”
“You said it. I couldn’t see much difference between them and the younger kids.”
“Don’t you love them?”
“No, I don’t care anymore. I’ll miss my brothers and sisters, but I don’t want to ever have to go back there once I’m out.”
“Well, you’ve gotta go back there now. Do you want some help?”
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine this way, moving things a little at a time. I don’t want to get into a fight right now.”
“Why’s that?”
“Hell, Lenny, I’ve got finals coming up.”
“For high school?”
“Hey, it’s a good school.”
“From what I’ve seen, public education sucks.”
“Maybe so, but I’ve got a job already, at Johns Hopkins, in a Physics lab.”
“Well, don’t forget the rent. I hope you can give me some money soon. I have to have it by the fifteenth of every month.”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t be such a worry-wart. I’ll have the money. Look, I’ll see you later, O.K.?”
“Sean. Wait. I was planning on going down to David’s tonight. Don’t you want to come with me?”
“Can’t. I told you I’ve got finals. I’ve gotta study.”
“I’ll help you.”
“With Chemistry? Analytic Geometry? You teach English!”
“Oh, you’re right,” Lenny laughed. “Well, when are you coming back?”
“I’ll bring some more books down tomorrow or the next day.”
“How come you have so many books? I thought your folks didn’t have money?”
“I stole most of ’em, one or two at a time, and I flipped burgers for the rest. See ya later.”
“Yeah. See you,” Lenny said, but he was thinking about keeping his dresser locked.
Steve didn’t have much money. His new roommate worried him. The guy’s only eighteen. Can I trust him? We’ll have rent and bills to pay. What if he won’t pay his share? I want him here, but I sure can’t afford to keep him.
Lenny was not the most stable of people himself. Sean didn’t know it, but Lenny had almost not finished college. His relationship with Henry had almost destroyed him. Henry had quit school and disappeared. Lenny hadn’t taken enough pills to die, but the psychiatrists had helped. Now he was getting by with weekly outpatient visits and a little help from his Thorazine pills.
Oh, well, at least Sean’s good looking. Maybe he’ll come around. Things are looking up, Lenny thought, as a smile brightened his face. I hope he doesn’t get drafted.
Lenny didn’t have to worry about the draft. He was eighty pounds overweight and the letter from his psychiatrist had assured his 4-F (last to be called) status.
Sean passed his exams. His parents looked forward to the graduation ceremony, but Sean didn’t want to go. He wanted to just grab his diploma and join the real world. The more interested they were, the less interested he was. It’s just another dumb ritual, he thought. He had read about the protests and boycotts of college graduations over the war and other things.
“What do mean you’re not going?” his mother asked.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Since when do you decide? This is your graduation. It’s important to you, to us. You have to go.”
“I have to go? No I don’t. Not anymore.”
“Not anymore? As long as you live here you do what we say.”
“I don’t live here anymore.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m moving out.”
“What?”
“I’m leaving.”
“You’re not going anywhere. Your father will talk to you.”
Mr. Emmet took Sean to the cellar to “talk.” There had been a lot of spankings, whippings, and lectures down there, so Sean wondered what kind of talk this would be. His father preceded him down the narrow stairs. A small piece of old linoleum flaked off a stair onto the concrete floor below. Sean was acutely aware of the damp smell of the cellar, ducking his head to avoid the ceiling joists at the bottom of the stairs. His father turned around to face him. Sean almost didn’t recognize the look on his face, but then he remembered. That look, I saw it before. Yeah, it was the way he grinned when he gave me and Paul that cryptic birds-and-the-bees talk.
“What is all this about your leaving? Where are you going? What are you going to do?”
“I have an apartment, and my job is full-time now. I’m moving Saturday.”
“Saturday? You can’t go just like that.”
“You’re the one told me to go.”
“What? Me? When?”
“You said, ‘If you don’t like it, get out,’ so I’m going,” Sean said, defiantly, but ready to duck.
“What?” Mr. Emmet asked, more puzzled than angry. Then he snapped. “That? That doesn’t matter. Uh, you know your mother doesn’t want you to leave. This will be real hard on her.”
It didn’t matter to Sean. His mind was set, but he agreed to go to the graduation. What does it matter, he thought, I’ve won. In two days I’m out of here.
On Saturday Sean was up and dressed faster than he had gotten up in twelve years of the same routine. He threw a tie around his neck, adjusted the two ends and let his hands take over tying the knot. I can do what I want, go where I want, stay out all night, Sean thought, as he pulled the longer end over the other, and up and over, and around the left loop, and behind the right side. And I don’t ever have to talk to them again. He pulled hard on the almost completed knot, wrapped it all the way around the front and up the back and then down through the front of the knot. He pulled it tight. “Aw, shit,” he yelled – the wide front end was too short.
“You’re gonna be late for your own graduation,” his mother yelled up the attic stairs.
He pulled the tie apart, and slowly, fixedly, re-tied the knot. He tucked his shirt in, grabbed his rented black jacket, and ran down the stairs – sideways, in order to give his feet maximum purchase on the crumbling narrow boards – fingered the attic door lintel and swung through the gap. From there, he jumped the rest of the stairs from the second floor three and four at a time, grabbed the railing post and swung onto the hallway floor.
As soon as he and his parents got back from the ceremony downtown, they were going to give him a ride to his new apartment with the rest of his things. He was ready.
No one talked on the way down, except for Mr. Emmet’s ritualistic cursing of all other drivers: “Where’d you get your license, in a box of crackerjacks? Horn works, try your lights. Idiot! Learn how to drive,” etc. Sean was used to it, only this time he was as anxious as his father to get somewhere – he wanted to get this over with and finish moving.
He found his seat on stage and looked around. There were four hundred and ninety-one other guys on stage, and four hundred and ninety of them in black suits. One guy came in a white suit, all the way from the white tie down to his white shoes. Now that was an idea, Sean thought, better than not coming at all.

Baltimore’s Mayor Tommy D’Alessandro gave out the diplomas. Principal Burkert had the people stand up who were going to college; over half the class stood. Then he had the people stand who already had a job. Most of the rest stood, except for Sean, who didn’t give a rat’s ass anymore.

Mr. and Mrs. Emmet brought their son back to their house. He left his diploma on the table in the hall while he ran up the stairs to gather his few remaining clothes and books. The small roll of paper looked out of place with all the family rollar skating trophies and medals. Only Sean had rejected the competitions. Trophies and medals weren’t sufficient incentive for Sean. The endless hours of practice and travel hadn’t interested Sean in the least, and his school work had required endless hours of study, just to graduate. Somehow Paul did both, but Sean had struggled through his courses, even repeating his junior year.
“This is all your fault,” Mrs. Emmet accused.
“How do figure that? You’re the one that spoiled him for so many years. I’m surprised he had the balls to do this.”
Before they could continue, Sean came down the stairs with some clothes, a few books, and an old suitcase that once belonged to his maternal grandmother. She’d died when Sean was two. He didn’t remember her, but the suitcase was still good, and the stuffed animal she had bought for him before she died was in the case. His father took it out to the car, and they drove silently to the apartment on Twenty-fifth and Calvert streets. The buiding was old but well-maintained. Not far away the city was already tearing whole blocks of dilapidated slums down.
They carried his things up the two flights of stairs – against his protests – and looked the place over. He was anxious for them to leave.
“I guess this is it,” Mr. Emmet said.
“Call us sometime,” Mrs. Emmet urged.
Sean just nodded his head. His mother moved to hug him, but he backed away. “We’d better get going,” she told Mr. Emmet, and they left. Sean was elated. That was easy, he thought, This is all easier than I thought it would be.
“Welcome Sean, I see your parents brought you.”
“Yeah, yeah, they insisted.”
Lenny carried the suitcase to Sean’s bed in the small bedroom. “You know,” he said, “You don’t have to sleep here.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I mean I have a nice king size bed out there. We could both fit easily, and then we could use this room for storage.”
“Uh, no thanks, Lenny. I like it just fine in here.” Aw, hell, what have I got myself into now?

Posted in 1970s, family, Life, My Life, relationships, Writing | 1 Comment »

Trippin’ Through The ’70s Chapter One

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 17, 2008

“Wash your own clothes,” Mrs. Emmet had barked out one day. “And you know how to use the iron,” she had told John and Sean, “You know I don’t have time anymore, not with five other kids to take care of. Six, counting your father.” Sean understood the logic in that. After scorching a few shirts and putting extra creases in his pants for a couple weeks, and mopping up the suds, which had the annoying habit of leaking out the top of the washer, he had learned how to do those things. By the time he was in high school, he was pretty good at it.
As he ironed his pants one morning, Sean realized that he sort of enjoyed the work, enjoyed the time spent in the meditative removal of wrinkles from his clothes.  He had come to enjoy any repetitive task for the peace he found in concentrating on something other than his parent’s demands, his grades, or his endless obsession with things he could’ve done, or should’ve said, or should not have said.
He could love his parents more. He should never again sin against God. He should study more. He shouldn’t have written love notes to the girls in his fifth grade class. Not only was that embarrassing to have them read to the whole class, but his father brought out the leather strap for that.  He shouldn’t have talked in line – he had been dropped from serving mass as an Altar boy for that.

He knew now that the boys in grade school had teased him no more than they teased each other – if only he’d not felt so insulted, he might have had some friends. He worried about everything, this morose boy with downcast eyes. He was afraid of people, even to the extent of crossing the street to avoid having to speak to someone, or even look at them. He knew he’d say something for people to laugh at. Always straightening his shirt, adjusting his pants, or combing his hair, even in his dreams. He used to have nightmares of being chased, or falling into bottomless holes when he was younger, but as he got older his nightmares were about his shirt not being tucked in, showing up in class barefoot, or being altogether nude in public.
Damn, this knee’s torn, he noticed, and yelled up the cellar steps: “Mom, have you got anymore of those patches?.” 
“What patches?” she yelled back from the kitchen at the top of the stairs.
“You know, the one’s you iron on?”
“I think so, look in the box on my sewing machine.”
He ran up the stairs, found the packet of patches, and jumped groups of stairs back to the ironing board. He was going to be late for school if he didn’t get going. None of the gluey strips of cloth matched his pants, but he found one that was the right color. Damned things, he thought, When I wanted a corduroy patch I couldn’t find one. Now I’ll have to use one on these pants. It’ll have to do. At least it’s the right color. He carefully placed the patch over the center of the tear, and meticulously pressed the iron around the edge. He pulled the pants on, shut the iron off, grabbed his lunch, ran out the door, across the street, and down the hill to the bus stop. A bus was just pulling away.
Damn it. And John’s gone. He must have been on that bus.

Sean’s brother John had started high school the year after Sean, and since then the years of being inseparable had yielded to the pressures of socialization. John had found new friends, been invited to parties, and even gone on dates. They didn’t talk much anymore, as John was seldom home. The entire family, including John, but except for Sean, roller skated every weekend and one to two nights a week as well. They were either at roller-skating lessons, practices, or contests in three states (his parents had been Tri-State champions). skates.jpg It was not something Sean wanted to do, so he was often left at home to study. Studying, however, had it’s upside. Sean got to stay in the peace and quiet, to study. Nerds back then didn’t have video games, or Internet, or role-playing games, but they had books, coin collecting, and science kits. Sean loved to mix chemicals up to see what would happen. For awhile, he kept a jar of piss and spit and fingernail clippings and hair. The results were disappointing. chem.jpg With real pure chemicals though, he didn’t do much better, often just creating smelly and/or smoking goo. It kept him entertained though.

John combed his hair down, a la Beatles, and even found a part-time job after school and summers on a PC-board assembly line. He never said how he got the job, or where to go, but many years later told Sean that all he would have had to do was to have gone to a place downtown and applied, but he had never mentioned it. Both kids had worked together with a snowball stand for a few years. food_trad8.jpg It made money, but only enough to buy a few pair of socks, or candy, or books, or things like that. They had tried, unsuccessfully, to sell magazine subscriptions door to door. They had both worked at the same hamburger place. ginos-menu.jpg Sean liked that job, not for the pitiful amount of money it brought him but for the free food. He was spending increasing amounts of time in the attic by himself (hence the human waste experiment). He read a lot, of course, and studied. He also discovered masturbation. He told John about it, but John had spent his freshman year going to a pre-seminary high school out of state and had learned about it from those guys. Once, they tried doing it at the same time. (If seminary students did it, why not?) It was exciting to discover this fun fact about their penises. “How high can you shoot?” John asked.  “Pretty high,” Sean told him. Everything was a competition. penis.jpg After that though, they kept it to ourselves, but it was hard to completely hide it when the covers of your bed were inexplicably tented in the middle of the night. They had discovered masturbation before they even knew what sperm was for or what sex was.  John had a vague idea about putting one’s penis in a girl, but neither of them knew how or why. It wasn’t so easy to know about in the 50s and early 60s, and their dad took his time getting around to ‘the talk’, which was actually so vague and confusing they had to complete the lesson through books and magazines.

Sean had gradually retreated into himself, spending more time than usual at the library, or browsing comics at the drugstore. Or he would hole up in the attic with classic novels like War and Peace, The Grapes of Wrath, or To Kill a Mockingbird. His favorite reading was Science Fiction, especially the mix of easy to understand science and science fiction by Issac Asimov. Sometimes, however, he cut pictures of half-naked women out of his father’s True Adventure magazines, which he then hid among the rafters under his bed.

Aside from that, he spent a lot of time in clubs after school: Science, Coin Collecting, Camera, computer, and even in burlesque shows (which the school called plays). Those were odd, since the school had no girls, so they wore wigs and sock-stuffed bras and took on those roles. (This was a very different time.) Even the captain of the football team and many of the teachers got into the act, donning wigs and dresses. smallprocessionkick.jpg These were Christmas plays, and The Poly Follies. They were not serious drama, but just for fun; with even a faux can-can. Sean couldn’t cut it as a dancer, but ended up as a female nurse with a line or two that year. One time he was a folk singer – not too bad at that. Other times he was one of many singing sailors or soldiers crowded onto the stage. Drama showed up later on with the introduction of the Drama Club. mrroberts.jpg The first production, Mr. Roberts, had only one woman, but they borrowed her from the girls’ high school, which was now next door.  A new school had been built during his junior years.  Sean got a part in one of the girl’s school plays: Sorry, Wrong Number, in which a man plots to have his wife killed (yes, those were indeed very different times). He was the hired killer, and all of his lines were delivered into a fake phone. There was only one girl and her drama club director, so he didn’t get to meet any other girls in the school. sorry-wrong-number.jpg

So far, his adventures with the opposite sex had been, simply put, painful.

He had dated his fourth cousin Theresa; fallen in love with her. His mother had urged him to get to know her, even though it bothered him to have his mother and her mother involved. He hadn’t wanted to initially, but he agreed to take her to a CCD dance logo.gif (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine – for Catholic students not attending a Catholic high school). She was breathtakingly beautiful. beehive.jpg Dancing with her close, besides the thumping of his heart and the burning heat everywhere her body made contact with his, he also noticed how stiff her hair was. The style at that time still included beehive hairdos, glitter sprinkled onto it before the hairspray hardened. Of course, when you are 15 and you have a beautiful woman in your arms, such things as glitter sticking to your face hardly matter. He was dumbfounded, of course, to have danced with such a beauty. They had dated a little after that, once going to a swim social at the Knights of Columbus pool. There was music there, but the girls danced among themselves. Sean was torn between wanting to dance with Theresa and his fear of being laughed at. 60sgirls.jpeg The boys stayed in their corner, the girls in theirs. Thus continued Sean’s pattern  of regretting all of his actions, obsessing over everything he should have said or done.

Still, he had seen Theresa more and more. He would stop by her house on the way home. She was also the oldest in her family, and often in charge of the younger kids. Usually her parents weren’t home. One time, after he’d been doing that for awhile, she led him by the hand upstairs into the bathroom so they could kiss. Sean was nervous. “Maybe we should go into the bedroom,” he suggested. Theresa shook her head and shut the bathroom door. She put her arms around him.  He wanted to kiss her real bad, but there were those other kids running around, and two nearly Theresa’s age, so he didn’t want to get caught. Her father was really strict. They had barely gotten started when someone knocked on the door. It was one of her sisters. She was needed downstairs. Theresa left. Sean jumped behind the shower curtain. He had thought the sister would leave, but since she came in and closed the door, he jumped out and and went, “Boo!” He left the house right away, more embarrassed than he had ever been.

Sometimes John would show up there. He knew where Sean was, of course. They had always been together before this, and it was not unusual to have one know what the other was doing. Sean did not, however, expect him to hit on Theresa, but that is what he did. He went so far as to try to get her to think Sean looked like Howdy Doody, the puppet from the children’s show years earlier. Sean did have the big ears and goofy grin. 14.jpg However, Theresa told him about it, and he resented John for that. Puberty tends to do that. New friends push out old friends, especially if the new friends are female.

Sean had been in the Boy Scouts for a time, although both he and John had switched to the older-age, more sophisticated Explorer wing. As Explorers, they would do things like visit a Nuclear Power plant or an aircraft carrier (the USS Enterprise), fly in a small plane, or run the Boy Scout encampments. At one such encampment, they had played poker long after the younger boys were put to bed.  No lights for the younger Scouts, and one of the other Explorers had produced a bottle of Thunderbird (a bottle of the cheap whiskey was embedded in a wooden post at the entrance to Camp Thunderbird).

Then there had been that party at one Explorer’s house. Sean brought Theresa with him.  When he had gone to her house to pick her up, her dad had warned him not to come home late, or he’d be waiting for him with a shotgun.  This was going to be the ideal chance for the two of them to do what they wanted, away from siblings and adults. They danced to Louie, Louie, and other rock ‘n’ roll. The song was reported to have hidden meanings, and even deliberately-slurred profanity. (The song was banned on many radio stations and in many places in the United States, including Indiana, where it was personally prohibited by the Governor. The FBI became involved in the controversy but concluded a 31-month investigation with a report that they were “unable to interpret any of the wording in the record.”) kingsmen.jpg

Inexplicably, Theresa disappeared. Sean waited for her to came back from the bathroom, but no one stays in a bathroom that long. He had been completely crushed. There were boys and girls going off together, and he’d seen Theresa with Louis, whose house this was. Louis was a weird one, claiming to have an incurable disease that would kill him in a few years. Sean never found out if it was true, but Louis used it to impress girls that he was dying and accelerate the ‘game’ from base to base. Sean could have killed him when he saw him return from another part of the house with Theresa, with her hair and makeup messed up. I couldn’t believe she’d go off with Mr. Sleezy after the way we’d danced and touched on the dance floor. It was very late by then, so Sean called his dad to pick them up to get Theresa home. She had avoided his eyes, but it was obvious she’d been drinking. Her dad was at the door, but he didn’t say anything. Sean had never called her or gone over after that. Maybe John did. He probably told him about it, or he heard from one of the other boys. He was the type to tell their mom, who would have called her cousin, Theresa’s mom. Theresa called Sean. “Sean, I’m really, really sorry. Louis gave me some wine and I don’t know what happened. Can you forgive me?” Sean said, “No.”  It sounded too forced of an apology to Sean, he just couldn’t buy it. Never saw her again. He heard, not long after, that she had run off to Texas with an older guy.

Then he discovered opposition to The War.

A rally had been held in Sean’s high school auditorium, and leaflets were scattered around the parking lot. Sean picked one up as he got off the bus. He’d had to wait fifteen minutes for another bus, and ten minutes waiting to transfer. He was late.
“The war in Vietnam is central to all the problems of America,” he read. He skimmed the paper quickly, intending to throw it away, but certain phrases caught his attention: “A war of questionable legality and questionable constitutionality.” “Questionable?” Sean wondered, “Who is this George Romney character? The only thing wrong with Vietnam is that we don’t drop the bomb and get it over with.”
His eyes kept reading, even as his brain disputed what his eyes saw: “The United States…cannot stand apart, attempting to control the world…by violent military intervention.” “What?” he said out loud, “We have a right to be there, we were invited.”
And there was more, and Sean couldn’t stop reading: “Our role is not to police the planet. A war that is not defensible even in military terms. A war which is morally wrong.”
Sean folded the leaflet into his pocket, he’d read it later. He ran into the main building of the school, and screeched into his assigned seat.
“Hey Test-tube! Make any babies lately?” Ellis called out. Bill Ellis was no friend of Sean’s, having one time taken a slice of dill pickle and dropped it in a rip in Sean’s pants. At the mention of Sean’s nickname several other boys snickered and jeered. Sean ignored them. He’d given up trying to explain artificial insemination or test-tube babies, and he wished he had never heard of the ideas at all.
It had all started with an English assignment. Sean had read The Biological Time Bomb and used the idea of artificial insemination as his topic for the oral presentation. He thought he’d done a real fine job. There were supposed to be questions at the end, but his classmates just stared. Finally Frankie Marconi asked: “Do you think women shouldn’t have babies?” and Sean fell into the hole in the ice that Frankie had broken.
Even as he tried to explain that he was just giving a report, the questions started coming: “Are you against sex?” “Did you ever have sex, Sean?”
“You don’t have to answer that, Sean,” the teacher interrupted.
“No,” Sean said, defiantly boasting of his moral superiority, but secretly wishing he could be more like Frankie.
“Don’t you like girls?” “Didn’t you ever eat a girl out?”
The teacher broke in with: “That’s enough, let’s get back to the reports,” but before he even finished speaking, Ellis had answered for him: “Yeah, I’ll bet if he did, he’d use a spoon.”
Sean avoided people now, but he noticed the snickers. Once in a while, someone would ask him a straight question, like “Do you believe all that?” but it was usually just an excuse for more laughter, so he ignored the jeers.
Lately Sean had begun to wonder more about other, newer things. He read a lot, and since the war in Vietnam was in the newspapers and on TV every day, he’d read everything he could find on both sides of the issue. The news media in Maryland was anything but biased against the war, but he found out that there was opposition. Demonstrations were news, and there were plenty of those just forty miles away in Washington, D.C. He’d read about peaceniks, but the pictures in the paper were of religious groups with priests and nuns in the middle of ban-the-bomb demonstrations.

Then there was the news one night that the Pentagon was surrounded by a huge group of people who wanted to “exorcise” the place. He watched people being arrested. That’s exciting, he thought, those people are standing up for what they believe, even though they know they’ll be arrested. Then one day, there was local news: two Jesuit priests had dragged files out of the draft board offices in Catonsville, not all that far away, and poured blood on ’em. After they were arrested, and released, they did it again, using homemade napalm to actually burn the files. Sean was impressed.

He read all he could find about the war in Vietnam, and decided that the Government should withdraw from the fighting and leave the Vietnamese to solve their own problems. Sean remembered the leaflet that he’d picked up. He remembered the name of the candidate: George Romney. Unfortunately, Romney had dropped out of the race to be the Republican candiadte for President. Now there was another candidate calling for peace in Vietnam: Eugene McCarthy, a Democrat. That was good enough for Sean. He went down to the Students for McCarthy office near the medical school, and even though the people there were all college students or older, he was treated respectfully. These were the”kids” – according to the media – “McCarthy’s kids”, and they had rushed to support Sen. Eugene McCarthy when he’d made opposition to the war in Vietnam the focus of his campaign for President. Sean felt secure with them. They were rich kids, and they were older, and more mature, but no one seemed to be taking them very seriously either. We’re all in this together, Sean thought.
At first he went door-to-door with leaflets and other campaign materials, but he wasn’t much of a talker, and he found politics about as rewarding as selling magazine subscriptions. Then there was the trip to Indiana.  He shared a seat with Lenny, a college student, someone who said he was a member of S.D.S., the Students for a Democratic Society. They rode together on the way back and always found time to talk together at the McCarthy office, or went door-to-door together.
As he carefully stretched a shirt-sleeve out one morning, meticulously smoothing out both sides, he thought about Indiana. The trip had been, well, educational. He had had interesting conversations with Democrats who seemed to believe as he did, but he knew how they were going to vote when he saw the smiling pictures of Pope John XXIII and Pres. Kennedy enshrined together on their mantelpieces or TV sets. Robert Kennedy was the late President’s brother, and he had suddenly entered the race too. Damned rich kid, Sean thought, Why should I support somebody like that? It pissed Sean off to hear Kennedy blurbs on every radio station and see expensive TV commercials, and full-page newspaper ads for this rich kid. And he’s using his brothers name to get elected President, Sean thought.
Then there were the allegations that the governor of the state was illegally using state offices and state employees to campaign for office himself. Governor Branigin had some kind of favorite-son plan to keep as many votes away from both McCarthy and Kennedy as possible, and then instruct his state’s delegation to vote for his own choice for President. Sean was outraged. This ain’t Democracy, he fumed, and he decided, Politics sucks.
After Sean returned to Baltimore, he did what he could to influence people to vote for McCarthy, but, after all, not only was he too young to vote himself, but so were his peers. He watched the democratic national convention on TV. His father joined him. They didn’t do much together anymore, but before Sean could be surprised, they both saw police charging into crowds and maiming people. There were demonstrators yelling at the cops, and the cops were breaking heads, and arresting everyone they could grab, including bystanders. They even knocked cameras out of the hands of reporters, and knocked TV cameramen down.
Sean and his father just stared at the screen, and then looked at each other. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” Mr. Emmet said.
“It’s incredible,” Sean answered. Damn, I missed it. “Did you see those students get clubbed and arrested?”
“Yeah, and they weren’t doing anything. I saw it myself.”
The results of the convention were disappointing. Sean knew his father, as a Republican, didn’t care much, but he had really expected McCarthy to get the nomination and go on to win the Presidency, and end the war. Instead, even though Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, McCarthy had lost, and lost big, to President Johnson’s vice-president.
That was depressing. And then political arch-conservative Richard Nixon won the Presidency anyway. Sean no longer had anything to believe in. His one chance to stop the war – and actually do something important – had failed. He felt like a fanatic who had lost his faith, but he dutifully went to a meeting called by one of his high school’s history teachers. Mr. Blond was fresh out of college, and he’d been to a convention of the Students for a Democratic Society. Sean hoped to hear something exciting. He wanted to do something. Blond, however, told them about a convention unable to agree on a single plan of action.
“What do you think should be done?” Blond asked this small collection of high school intellectuals, and then the arguing started. “I think we have to start organizing for the next election,” said an engineering student. “No way,” yelled a writer on the school paper, “I think we need to get out there on the streets. Now.” “Yeah,” a science major added, “We tried the electoral process. It didn’t work. Now’s the time for action.”
“You’re all crazy,” shouted Vernon, a rich “liberal” from the suburbs, “This is America. We have to work for change legally. We had our chance this last election, and we lost. You can talk about protests if you want, but I’ve got better things to do.”
“Like what?” Sean wanted to know.
“Well, like being a volunteer, and collecting money for needy causes. There’s lots of good things we can do.”
“That won’t change anything,” Sean replied.
“At least I’ll feel good about myself.”
Sean thought about the people dying in that war, as several other people loudly reminded Vernon. The meeting broke up after that, as people took sides and most left with Vernon.
Sean took the bus to Lenny’s, instead of home. His parents wouldn’t expect him to come home right away, they’d expect him to be with his Science Club, or Drama Club, or something like that. He had to transfer twice, because Lenny lived up near the State Teachers College that he was about to graduate from.  Sean enjoyed the respect Lenny showed him and his ideas.
On the way, he wondered about marijuana and why it seemed to have no effect on him. He had smoked it three times already, making the rounds with Lenny, visiting Lenny’s friends. At first he had refused it, but eventually he had sucked the harsh smoke into lungs that were scarred from several bouts with pneumonia and years of breath-stealing asthma, and he had chocked so much that Lenny’s friends had stopped laughing long enough to worry about him. Again and again he made the effort, trying in vain to feel what the others felt. I wonder if Lenny gets high. He never seems to hold it in his lungs at all, and then he starts giggling and laughing right away. It’s probably all a trick, some kind of mass hallucination, he thought, like the way people in a crowd say that they see what other people see. I wonder if John’s smoked?
Lenny lived alone, in a small rented room. They talked about religion, and politics, and drugs.
“Hi Sean. Good to see you. You want a beer?”
“No. Thanks, but I really don’t like beer. Smells like rancid piss.  Hey, listen. There was a meeting after school today. One of the teachers talked about a convention of SDS that he went to. He said that there was a lot of arguing and that people split up into different factions. He said SDS doesn’t know what to do anymore. You know anything about that?”
“Oh, I don’t belong to SDS anymore.”
“Why not?”
“Well, it was getting to be like that. There were a lot of arguments over strategy, people dropped out, and the chapter broke up. It didn’t make any difference, we weren’t doing anything.”
“What are you into now?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care about politics. Look who we have for President. Hey, you know what? I have a friend who guides people through LSD trips,” Lenny offered Sean, “Do you want to try it sometime?”
“Nah, I don’t think so, I hear people do strange things when they’re tripping.”
“Yeah, like what?”
“Well, like jumping out of windows, and stuff like that.”
“That won’t happen with David. He’s a trained psychologist. He knows how to keep people from freaking out.”
“How?”
“He’s done acid, himself. It’s amazing, but he always seems to know just what you’re going through.”
“Have you done it?” Sean asked.
“I’m not saying,” Lenny answered, pushing his face into Sean’s and trying to sound mysterious, but coming off corny, like a bad actor, laughing like the villainous landlord in an old melodrama. Sean enjoyed Lenny’s company, not that he didn’t suspect that Randy was just a little weird, but because of it.
“You’ve gotta try it, Sean.”
“Maybe. But hey, it’s late. I’ve got to get going,” he told Randy.
“No, stay awhile,” Lenny pleaded.
“No way, man, I’ve got homework to do. See ya’ later.”
“Hey, listen, come back Friday, we’ll go down to David’s.”
“All right, maybe then.”
Sean wondered about David on the way home, wondering if LSD really was OK, but mostly he wondered why Lenny wanted him to try it so much.

Soon, his curiosity would lead him to the mythical drug.

Posted in 1970s, Life, madness, My Life, Writing | 2 Comments »

Trippin’ Through The ’70s Chapter Five

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 17, 2008

Sean found a room to rent, from an Indian doctor, closer to the University where he worked and attended classes. For twelve dollars a week, it was OK, he thought. He shared the upstairs floor with a real quiet cabdriver, John, who mostly watched TV or sat in a stuffed chair by the window overlooking the street, newspaper in hand, and a strange little old lady who always wore white gloves, expensive-looking dresses, lots of makeup, and a puffed out hairdo. A smell of Indian spices drifted up from Dr. Thakkar’s kitchen all the time, but, the aloof Dr. Thakkar never offered the use of it. Without a kitchen upstairs, Sean would eat out on paydays, and then he lived on peanut butter and jam sandwiches and jars of grapefruit slices. The little old lady, Just-call-me-May, had a hotplate in her room for tea, and hundreds of mementos of her life. There was a silver tea set, and knickknacks, and clocks, and framed pictures, and more things that Sean thought possible to cram into one tiny room. She was friendly and nice, but even older than Sean’s grandmother. He couldn’t believe anyone could be that old. She was wrinkled and wattled, and smelled old.  The cabdriver never talked, and May talked too much, so Sean spent most of his time alone, reading or studying.

The machine clattered along, pap-a-pa-pap, pap-a-pa-pap, ching, pap-a-pa-pap, sometimes for fifteen to twenty minutes, unattended, which gave Sean time to wander through the lab. He spent eight hours a day there, turning dials, flipping switches, and moving an x-ray detector back and forth. The machine he operated could measure the physical length of an x-ray, or it could use those values to measure the spaces between atoms in a crystal of some mineral.   It had all seemed very exciting to Sean, fresh out of high school, but the novelty was wearing thin. Every day he moved dials along the “great circle” at the base of the instrument, and pressed buttons to send information to the teletype, which punched out coded rows of holes – pap-a-pa-pap – in rolls of pink or purple or yellow paper. He took these rolls to the computing center at the end of every day; a machine there turned them into piles of rectangularly holed punch cards. He added a small stack of cards to the top of the stack.  That was the program to interpret, average and print the data points he’d collected all day.  He left the stack of cards there on a counter, to be fed by hand into the great computer, which would turn it into rows of data points, averaged and printed in tabular format.

Wandering through the lab, he came upon the glass case where the bomb fuses developed for World War II were on display. These were not the kind of fuses one could light, but instead were clever mechanical devices that used a mercury switch to prevent an artillery shell from exploding too soon. After that war, Sean’s boss had turned to measuring x-rays. Dr. Bearden was out of the lab, as he often was. Sean went into his office to look around.
The molecular models were interesting, but the bookshelves were even more so. There were stacks of papers dealing with Dr. Bearden’s research into the nature and use of x-rays, and papers on a variety of topics in Physics. A high school kid could think up some of these, Sean thought. With a Physics book in one hand, and a funding request in the other, he could imagine himself making a career out of Physics research. I want to investigate what would happen if I did this to that, under these conditions, he fantasized. Growing the perfect Crystal, by Sean Lee Emmet. Or, The Structure of Compound X, by Dr. S.E. Emmet. It wouldn’t be too hard, he imagined. But how much of all this goes into new and better weapons? he asked himself. I’m going to be just as much a part of the war machine as anyone in ROTC, or the people in the weapons factories. Why does this war just go on and on?
Even without Lenny’s interference, his relationship with Plask never went any further. One day he received a letter from her, a Dear-Sean letter. He ripped the envelope open. On the top was a nude sketch of herself. Sean stared at it. He had never seen her nude. It was a good likeness of her face, so the rest of it looked to be accurate too. Under it was written, in a banner trailing under the feet: “All I want from living is to have no chains on me.” Next to that was neatly printed: “Look at me. 18, Naive, and Vulnerable,” The rest of the page was written in a clear, flowing script. Sean read down to the end of the page. She had written that Sean was too serious, that she didn’t want to be tied down, and that, “I think it’s for the best if we don’t see each other anymore.” Sean read the letter again, and traced the nude with his fingertips. Then he called her.
“Plask?”
“Oh. Hi Sean,” she answered, lightly. Sean hoped she would say that she wasn’t serious.
“I wondered, Plask, why you don’t want to see me anymore?”
“Oh, you got my letter?”
“Yes.”
“Well, I tried to explain. I thought you would understand.”
“No. I don’t. I want to see you, to talk to you.”
“That’s not a good idea, Sean.”
“Look, Plask, I need to see you. Can’t you explain it to me in person? I don’t understand.”
“Well, alright. Can you come over to my grandma’s?”
“Sure. When?”
“How about Saturday?”
“Two o’clock?”
“Just this once, Sean.”
Sean got off the bus, and walked over to Plask’s grandmother’s. He had never been there before. The neighborhood seemed unusually quiet, until the dogs started barking. Sean imagined that everyone was looking at him from behind their curtains. As he walked up to the door, he could hear yelling: “God damn it, I’m her father. She’ll do what I want, not what you say.” Sean hesitated. The yelling moved away from the door. He knocked.
“Who the hell is that,” Plask’s father yelled. Sean heard Plask say: “I’ll get it,” but her father yanked the door open. His face was beet-red, and his eyes glared accusation.
“What do you want?” he demanded of Sean.
“I came for, uh, Susan?” Mr. Plaskowitz turned and yelled for her, and left the door open. Plask came to the door and motioned for Sean to go out into the yard. “I’ll be right outside, daddy,” she called in, and she closed the door behind herself.
“What’s going on, Plask?”
“You came at a bad time. You heard my father yelling?”
“Hard to miss.”
“We’ve been fighting.”
“Why?” Sean asked, and they sat down on the iron lawn chairs.
“I can’t explain. My father is the reason I moved away from my house. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Should I leave?”
“No. Oh, no. Let’s talk out here.”
“Plask, I don’t understand. Why is it exactly that you don’t want to see me?” Sean asked, desperate to hear a reason, any reason. Just then her father came out. He walked clumsily over to Sean, and Sean smelled alcohol, lots of it.
“You stay the hell away from my daughter.”
“Why?”
“Listen, you long-haired punk,” Sean’s hair just covered the back of his shirt collar, but Plask’s father grabbed it and jerked him to his feet. “I don’t like you, and I don’t want you coming around here, understand?”
Sean was confused. He wanted to punch this drunk in the face, get his clammy hands off of him, but, It’s Plask’s father. She’d never forgive me. He tried to pull away, but his hair was wrapped tight in the older man’s fist.
“Daddy!” Plask screamed at him, and he released his grip. He turned toward her, fists clenched. Sean moved to intercept him. He’s toast if he touches her, he thought.
Her father pointed a finger at her, “I’ll talk to you later.” He turned back to Sean and told him to “Get off my property.” Then, the old woman, Plask’s grandmother, and the mother of this strange man who so little resembled the man Sean had met earlier, came outside and talked to him by the door for a few minutes. Sean looked over at Plask, but she avoided his eyes. “You’ve got five minutes,” Mr. Plaskowitz yelled over.
“Jesus,” Sean said softly, “What was that all about?”
“Let’s go for a walk, OK?”
Sean took Plask’s hand while they walked. His hand was sweaty around her cool fingers. “Plask?” he began.
And Plask cut him off with, “Sean, I’m sorry about my father.”
“Oh, that’s OK,” he answered her, “I think I understand.”
“No, I don’t think you do.”
Sean stopped, took hold of Plask’s other hand, and looked at her. He looked at her lips, compressed into thin determined lines, and he shuddered. He felt alone, and hurt. He pressed her hands tight and looked into her eyes. She looked back at him, and he thought he saw the face of the happy, lively coed he’d first danced with. He could almost feel the impression of her lips on his and her arms around his neck. Her eyes are such a beautiful brown, he thought, and so friendly, so alive. He wanted to kiss her eyes, but she suddenly looked away. “What do you mean?” he asked her.
“You don’t understand family, Sean,” Plask said, turning to him.
“What?!”
“Didn’t you tell me that you don’t want to see your parents anymore?”
“Well, yes, but I don’t see – ”
“How can I explain it to you?” she asked. “Don’t you see? My family is important to me. My priorities are too different from yours. I can’t be that way with my parents.”
“Doesn’t look as though you’re getting along real well.”
“That’s family business. But we’ll take care of it. Do you understand how different we are?”
“No. I don’t. That’s the way my father is too.”
“Sean, we can’t see each other anymore, OK?”
“Well, no. It’s not OK. But if that’s what you want, I don’t think I have much choice. Can I call you?” he asked.
“I don’t think that would be good idea. Look, Sean, I told you that I had a boyfriend who went to school in Michigan?”
“Yeah?”
“Well, he’s wants me to come up there.”
“To live?”

“Maybe, I don’t know. But even if I stay here, he doesn’t want me to see anyone else. You do understand, don’t you?”

“No.”
“Sean, I have to go. I have to get back. Good-bye,” she said, and she kissed Sean lightly on his lips. He kissed her cheek and she turned and ran back to her house. Her cheek had been wet, and Sean couldn’t forget the salty taste that remained on his lips from her cheek. He started walking towards the bus stop, but later on that night, as he was undressing for bed, he suddenly realized that he couldn’t remember what bus he had taken or who had been on it.

Sean wasn’t a quitter, however.  Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, was playing in movie theaters at the time. Sean hadn’t ever thought to ask Plask to see it because it was a kid’s flick, but now he called his mom.

“Mom.”

“Hello stranger.”

“Hey, I was wondering is the kids would want to go see a movie with me.”

“Probably. What movie?”

“That new Disney movie? Fantasia? ”

“Well, it’s OK with me. I’ll ask them. Hang on. Kathy! Karen! Brian! Betsy! Get in here!

Sean could hear her talking to them. They got excited. They missed their big brother a lot, and he didn’t visit. He missed them too.

“OK, they’re excited. How are you going to take them?”

“Oh, I think my girlfriend will drive us.”

“A girlfriend, huh? ”

“Yeah.”

“That’s all you’ve saying?’

“Yeah.”

Sean called Plask the next day.

“Hey Plask?”

“Sean?”

“Listen a minute, OK?”

“OK.”

“I want to take my sisters and youngest brother to see Fantasia. I can’t take them on the bus, and I really want to spend some time with them. This is real important to me.  Would you be willing to take all of us?”

“Well, I guess.”

“Great!” How about Saturday afternoon?”

“That’ll work. I have time if we go early. You know, I’ve been wanting to see that myself.”

“There’s a show at 3:00. I can meet you at your grandmother’s house.”

“No, that’s OK, Sean. I’ll pick you up.”

Saturday came, and Sean was as excited as he could get. Maybe there’s still a chance, he thought. Plask drove him to his parent’s house, but waited in the car. “We have to hurry, Sean,” she said. “If I go in we’ll end up being late.”

They were ready. Betsy jumped right up on Sean, clumsily. Sean didn’t know what to make of that. He didn’t think they’d been that close, since she was the youngest. She gotten bigger in the last year, and he couldn’t just pick her up like a baby. She calmed down. Kathy and Karen looked excited. Brian was a little sullen looking, but he wasn’t going to miss out on something the others did. It was, after all, an adventure. They’d never gone anywhere before without the parents around.

They drove downtown. Sean introduced everyone. None of the kids said more than hello. Like Sean, they’d been trained to not talk to strangers, or ever discuss family business outside the home. They seemed surprised to see Sean with someone else, but didn’t have much to say. No one in that family ever talked much.  Plask seemed animated and really happy to be around the kids. Sean was ecstatic. He hoped to sit next to Plask at the movie, hold her hand, maybe put his arm around her, but she shooed all the kids in behind her so they had all four kids sandwiched between them. After the movie, they drove the kids back to their home. She and Sean drove away together. Sean asked if she wanted to go get something to eat, or maybe some ice cream.

“I can’t, Sean. I really have to get home now. I’ve got studying to do. And my boyfriend is going to be calling, so I need to be home when he calls.”

Sean was crushed. He had hoped and hoped beyond reason. He looked at her, and sadness spilled out across his face.

“Look, Sean, I told you we can’t see each other anymore. I agreed to help you see your brothers and sisters, but that’s all. ”

“But, but you said family was real important to you. Family is real important to me too. I wanted to show you.”

“Sean, Sean, Sean. Is that what this was all about?”

“Well, I really wanted to see you. And, I do love my brother and sisters.”

“Sean, I don’t want to talk about it anymore, OK.”

She dropped him off at his apartment. No kiss. He never saw her again. Except. Except, one night, many years later, long after Star Trek had been resurrected as Star Trek: The Next Generation, he happened to catch the closing credits on an old repeat, and one of the Klingon women was played by a Susie Plakson. He looked up the actor on the internet, but couldn’t find any information about her except for her appearance on that Star Trek episode. They did, however, have a picture of the Klingon character she had played. It just might be, he thought but the alien makeup was thick and dark.  Damn, but she looks good, if that’s her. I’ll never know. Plask, Plask, Plask. If only, if only.

UPDATE: Found out who played the Klingon woman, and there’s no way it could have been my Susan Plaskowitz. Internet searches come up empty for her , so I’ll never know what happened to her, or what she did with her life.

Posted in 1970s, family, Life, love, My Life, relationships, sex, Writing | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through The ’70s Chapter Two

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 5, 2008

Sean lived in the left-hand side of a garishly green and yellow stuccoed duplex in an otherwise quiet neighborhood. The house looked as if the people on one side had wanted green, and the people on the other had wanted yellow, and they had compromised by rolling both colors, one right over the other, onto the jagged surface. The low smooth areas were yellow and the high rough spots were green. A windowed gable projected from each half of the steeply pitched roof that covered both attics. In the right half of the duplex lived an old bachelor and his mother. Nine people lived on the left.

Sean was the oldest of the children, an altar boy, and a boy scout. He was a “good” boy. He loved his parents, his three brothers and three sisters. He did his chores, not necessarily cheerfully, but dutifully hand scrubbing and waxing the kitchen floor on Saturday mornings, scrubbing the cellar’s bathroom, mopping the concrete cellar floor when asked, and he alternated washing the dishes, mowing the lawn, and weeding the small strip of land in the back of the house with his brother Paul. He played games with his younger brothers and sisters and read them stories whenever his parents were out. He went to confession on Saturday afternoons and never missed Mass on Sundays. Sometimes he just sat on an attic window ledge, wondering what it would feel like to hit the gravel in the driveway below, and what the most painless way to fall would be. Sean wanted out.
“Sean! Get in here!” Sean’s mom bellowed while he sat watching the old black and white one night.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, jumping up and running into the kitchen. Only twenty years older than him, Sean’s mother looked tired. She had gone upstairs to “lay down” before Sean’s dad had left for his second nighttime job with a janitorial crew. She was wearing a faded pink house dress, one or two sizes too small, and what looked like hundred-year-old pink cloth slippers.
“Look at the mess Brian made,” she said. A bowl of leftover peas was upside down under one of the table’s long benches. Brian was the six-year-old. “This is your fault. How come you haven’t done the dishes yet?” she demanded.
“I was watching Star Trek. I never get to see it, and I was going to clean up when it was over.”
“And this is what happened.”
“It’s not my fault.”
“Of course it’s your fault, you were supposed to have the dishes done.”
“What does it matter when I do ’em? Brian spilled the peas. Why aren’t you mad at him? Why don’t you make him clean it up?”

“Listen you. You don’t talk back to me. I’m your mother,” she screamed. At that point Sean knew he was in trouble, knew he should shut up and ignore it, but he was tired of seeing the four youngest get away with murder, and he was tired of being blamed for things he hadn’t done.
“Why are you yelling at me? He’s the one,” pointing at Brian, “that made the mess,” Sean yelled back.
“How dare you raise your voice to me?” she screeched, and she picked up a glass and threw it at him. The glass broke on the wall and a flying piece of it cut Sean’s leg. He stormed around her, dripping spots of blood, out of the kitchen, along the hall, and out of the front door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she screamed. Sean looked back as he closed the door, but he didn’t say anything. He closed the glass storm door slowly, suppressing an urge to slam it into pieces. It had been shattered at one time or another by all four brothers.
“Your father will take care of you when he gets home,” came through the door.
I’m sure of that, Sean thought, That’s what you always do, sic him on us.
He trotted up the street, past all the quiet houses, and slowed to a walk up the hill that had been paved into street. The old tree house was gone, of course, but a few of the trees that used to cover the whole hillside still stood along the edges of the new sidewalks. He climbed an old maple and sat on a thick branch that forked into two near the trunk. It was a sturdy seat. He noticed squashed peas on one shoe, which he scraped off with a rare leaf. There were just a few tenuous leaves hanging on, fluttering in the autumn breezes.

“Damn it! I want to get away from here,” he shouted at the stars, and he laughed, bitterly, crazily, almost crying, when he realized that he’d spoken out loud. He often gazed longingly at the stars, hoping to see a UFO, hoping that aliens would land and invite him to come with them. That’s such a stupid idea, he thought, I don’t know why I think of it so much. But he wanted a new life, somewhere, anywhere, and he knew it was all up to him: I’ve got to finish high school. What will I do if I don’t graduate? Wash dishes? I sure can shine and polish. Scrub floors? Yeah, a floor’s not done unless the corners are clean. And I can wax without leaving streaks. What else do people do? Drive trucks? Hell, I don’t even have a driver’s license.
“I’m sure as hell not going to make the same stupid mistake they did and get married so young. Seven kids later, all they have are bills, bill collectors on the phone, bill collectors at the door, and fights over money
.
“Tell him I’m not home,” he had to tell the ones who came to the door actually expecting money, even while his mom hid behind the door. Often the aggressive ones wouldn’t believe he was old enough to be home alone, and they challenged him, insisting on seeing his parents. On the phone he was told to say: “The check’s in the mail.” Sean shifted uncomfortably on his perch. Why do they fight so much? It doesn’t help. Why did they have to have so many kids? The memory of last night’s fight echoed in his mind, as it had echoed through the house to where he had lain in bed in the attic.

“More money? What did you do with the money I gave you? You sure didn’t spend it all on food.”
“You want to bet? There’s hardly enough as it is. I still have to send Sean or Paul down to the store every week. We run out of things. Maybe we’d have more money if you didn’t stop at bars on the way home.”
“I’ve got to cash my check somewhere.” His voice got louder, angrier. “Why can’t I have a few lousy beers, damn it? You’re spending too much, that’s all.”
“Beers? That’s all you spend it on? I spend too much? The kids need shoes, for Christ’s sake. And clothes.”
“Clothes? They just got clothes last Easter. And what do you mean ‘That’s all’? Tell me. Tell me.”

“They grow out of them. They’re growing, remember? And you know what I mean. You know damn well what I mean.”

The wind was getting stronger, and colder. Sean tucked his hands under his arms. Last night he had tucked his head under his pillow, trying to shut out the noise, but it hadn’t helped. I’m not going down there, he told himself, I’m tired. He and John had gotten in between their parents before, and stopped a fight by staring at them, or laughing at their inanities.
There were crashes mixed in with the shouting. That’s mom, throwing things, and he could see her arm winding back for the pitch. There were bangs and thuds, too, as his dad smashed his fists against walls and tables. He tried to ignore it, to go to sleep, but some words drilled through the pillow into his ears.

“Divorce? You know we can’t get divorced, the Church doesn’t allow it.”
“We can’t go on like this. Something’s got to give. We’ll have to separate, or something.”
“We don’t have any choice. What about the kids? You know we can’t separate with seven kids.”

Sean shivered, and wished he had brought a coat. No way I’m going back for one. I’m staying right here. I don’t care. This is never gonna to happen to me. I’ll be damned if I’ll have kids before I have the money to bring ’em up right. I’ve got to go to college. Shit, I’m gonna have to study my ass off to get accepted anywhere after failing last year. Wouldn’t it be something if I could go to California?
He dreamed about living on his own, buying food just for himself, buying his own clothes, and having things that were his, just his, for his own use. He wanted to be a chemist, mixing solutions, investigating the unknown and creating new things. He wanted respect. People will know who I am, he mused, I’ll be somebody.

But, it was getting pretty cold just sitting in that tree. He had cooled down by then, so it was time to get himself home, even though he knew he was going to get his butt kicked. Funny how cold the night is, I hadn’t noticed it when I left, he was thinking as he jumped out of the tree and double-timed it home. The street was dark except for his house; someone had turned the porch light on. Well, that’s something. At least I’m expected. The old Ford ‘wagon was in the driveway, so Sean’s dad was home. Sean crept up the porch steps and stood outside the door. Now or never, he decided. He walked in through the hallway to the kitchen and started cleaning up the mess. He heard his father come down the stairs, but he pretended not to notice. Sean’s dad came up behind him. Sean found himself amazingly calm.
“Why were you yelling at your mother?”
Sean started to turn around, but before he could speak, he heard the familiar command: “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” and his dad grabbed Sean’s chin in his hand.
Sean worked his jaw muscles against that hand, “She was yelling at me.”

“Why was she yelling at you?” his dad bellowed, and let go of his chin.

“Because I hadn’t washed the dishes yet, and Brian knocked the peas off the table, and I don’t think it was my fault.”

“You don’t think? And why weren’t the dishes done?”

“I wanted to watch a show that comes on after supper. I thought I’d watch it and then do the dishes.”

“Who told you to think? Come on, tell me, who told you to think? How dare you talk back to your mother? Listen you, you speak when you’re spoken to, and don’t ever, ever raise your voice to either one of us.”

While his father was working himself up, Sean had maneuvered himself around to the other side of the table by continuing to clean up. He knew he was going to get hit – as usual – but somehow he didn’t want it, this time. Parents, he was taught in Catholic school, are second only to God. You obey everything they say, unless it violates God’s laws. Sean’s father made sure of that. Sean swore he never tried to piss his father off, but he managed to find fault with most everything Sean did anyway.
“Come over here, I’m talking to you,” Sean’s dad said. They started playing cat and mouse around the table. Sean didn’t like the look on his father’s face.
“No,” he said. The older man’s snarled face told Sean that he’d kill him if he could.

“You don’t talk to me like that. If I have to come over this table to get to you, your lazy ass is going to be sorry.” He don’t know exactly why, but Sean suddenly took a swing at his dad. He tried to pull his arm back, even though he was too far away to connect anyway, but it was too late, his father had already seen it: “What? I’ll kill you!” And he probably would have too. Sean’s mom usually interceded before her husband did any real damage, and she had to drag him off of Sean this time too.   His father had jumped right over the table and backhanded Sean through the wall before Sean could move. Sean crawled under the table but he was trapped in the corner. His father alternated between screaming in his ears and whacking him on the head until Sean suddenly realized it was over. His mother had his father’s arms pinned behind his back.   By the time Sean left home that hole in the drywall still hadn’t been repaired.  He loved his dad. Most of the time he figured he deserved whatever punishment his father came up with. There were times, like this, when Sean doubted his father’s sanity, as his father doubted his. Once, when Sean was much younger, his dad had found a little bit of laundry detergent on the cellar floor and two empty boxes,  and he had threatened Sean and John with the strap if they denied doing it. He had made them stand there and sweat. “Someone poured all the soap out of those boxes,” he said.

“I don’t want to hear one word, unless it’s: ‘I did it.’  Well?  Speak up.”

“But, we didn’t…” Whack.

“I said not a word.”

The next time he challenged Sean like that, Sean kept his mouth shut.

“Why don’t you talk? What’s wrong with you?” Whack.
“But, you said not to talk unless it was to confess.”
“You literal-minded idiot.” Whack.

Sean lived in fear for most of his childhood. His dad had told him, more than once, how much he could really hurt him if he tried, and how much he had to hold back. Sean believed him. He tried not to ever step out of line, not at home, not at school, and not in church.

It was years later before he understood that his dad was probably keeping inside all the shit he took at work, and the problems he had stretching money to cover the bills, and was dumping it all on any convenient scapegoat once he had a couple beers in him. At the time Sean was not really sympathetic. Damn, but I want out, was his constant thought.

As it was, he stayed late at school as often as he could. There was sometimes dinner in a pot on the stove when he got home. Coming home from a Drama Club rehearsal one night, he looked in the pot, and tasted it; it was still warm, so he sat down to eat. His mother came down the stairs and into the kitchen. She was wearing a red dress with red high heels, and she had painted her lips deep red
“Wow. You look different,” he told her. 
“Yeah, we’ve got a contest tonight. And we need you to watch the kids.” Sean shoveled some more food in his mouth. That was nothing new, they were always at the roller rink, practicing, practicing, practicing. Sometimes, he thought, I wish I’d kept taking lessons. At least I wouldn’t be the one they use to watch the kids.
“I was hoping you’d get home before now, we have to leave soon,” his mother emphasized. Sean swallowed quickly, so he could ask, “What about John? or Pat? I have a lot of homework to do.”
“You should have come home sooner. John’s already at the rink. And Pat’s not here. He went to Pennsylvania.”
“Again?” Sean asked. His brother Pat had disappeared three times already, the last time was when he and their father had broken the dining room table during a fight. Pat was a feisty one. He always ended up with Aunt Millie, but he usually came back.
“Well, yes, but this time he’s going to stay there.”
I should have come home earlier, Sean thought.
“What about school? What will he do about that?”

“Your Aunt Millie will put him in high school there.”
“Oh, he’ll like that,” Sean said, cynically. Aunt Millie was a teacher herself.
“He’ll have to, there was nothing else to do. You know how he and your father get along.”
Yeah, Sean mused, I wish I’d thought of that.
Just then his father came down the stairs yelling, “We’re gonna be late.”
“Yeah, I’m ready, I was just waiting for you,” she yelled back, but to Sean she said, “You can let them stay up to watch TV, but make sure they’re in bed by eight-thirty.”
“OK,” Sean agreed.
After they left, he tried to study, but the kids were fighting over which show they were going to watch, so he went in to arbitrate. “Look,” he asked Karen, if you’ll watch what Brian wants to watch, I’ll let you pick the next show.”
“But mom said we have to go to bed after this.”
“I’ll let you all stay up for another show.”
“Yeaaaah,” they all yelled, and Karen came over and climbed on his lap, so he sat and watched TV with them.
Of course, when the next show was over, they all saw the announcement for another one, so they pleaded for one more.
“Alright, one more. But, this is it, understand? You can watch this show, but then you have to go to bed, OK?”
“OK,” they all said, in unison. Sean was pleased. It wasn’t often that he’d ever been able to stay up late, so he was glad to give his sisters and little brother some freedom. And, they did get up when the show finished, and Sean turned off the TV. Karen, Betsy and Kathy were already on the stairs, when Sean heard the TV. Brian had turned it back on and sat down in front of it.
“I said it’s time for bed.”
“No.”
“Hey, I let you stay up an hour later than you were supposed to already. Now, get upstairs.”
“No, I wanna watch TV.”

Sean turned the tube off, Brian turned it back on, and Sean saw red. “I told you to get upstairs,” he yelled, but Brian just sat there. Sean picked him up, and then lifted him up over his head. “When I tell you to do something, you do it,” he yelled, and he carried Brian up the stairs that way, and threw him down on his bed. “And stay there, you little twerp.”
“Ow, ow, ow. My arm. My arm. You broke my arm. Aaaah. Aaaah. Aaaah,” Brian started screaming.
Sean looked at his arm, decided that he was OK, and told him: “Shut up and go to sleep,” and went back to his books. He listened to his brother crying and screaming. When he didn’t stop crying he went back upstairs to check on him.
“Brian.”

“Aaaah. Aaaah.”
“Brian, let me see your arm.”
“Aaaah, aaaah, aaaah. It hurts.”
“OK, OK, it’s not broken. Just go to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just mad at you, like Mom and Dad get mad at me. They told me to put you to bed, I have to do what they tell me. Understand?”
Brian stopped crying, but he was still whimpering into his pillow. Sean sat on the edge of the bed until Brian fell asleep. Damn, I hope he’s not hurt. They’ll kill me, he thought. Damn, I’ve got to get out of here. I’m becoming just like Dad. I don’t want to hurt these guys, not ever. This is ridiculous. I almost hurt Brian. I’m not going to be like them. I’m not, I’m not.
As it turned out, Brian wasn’t hurt, but the girls told their mother what happened, and she chewed him out.
“Didn’t you realize you could have hurt him?”
“I didn’t think about it. I was mad. I just carried him upstairs. I didn’t throw him on the floor, I made sure he fell in the middle of the bed.”
“And what if he hadn’t? What if he had hit the frame? or the headboard? You can’t lose your temper like that with them, they’re too little.”
“I know that. I’m not the only one with a temper around here.”
They left it at that. Sean just stared at his mother, and she just looked at him. There was a sadness in her face that made her look far older than the 20-year difference in their ages.

It hadn’t always been that way.  Sean liked his father’s laugh, but it wasn’t heard much anymore.  As each new kid had come along, things had gotten tougher: more bills, more arguments, and less of him around.  They had moved four times that Sean could remember.  Mr. Emmett came home from his job every day, and they all sat down promptly to eat at 4:30.  Dinners were quiet affairs, unless Sean’s mom had a complaint about one of the kids and wanted Mr. Emmett to “take care of it.”  Usually all he wanted was to eat and take a nap before he headed out again to his second job.  Sean remembered him helping put the kids to bed, fixing things around the house, and watching TV together. Mr. Emmett had shown Sean how to sweat copper tubing together; how to splice electric wires, how to take a sink trap apart and fix a toilet.  He used to take Sean and John for archery target practice.  Sean could pull his father’s big bow all the way back now, but there wasn’t any fun to it without his dad along.  It just didn’t happen anymore.  Trips to the drive in or to the beach were a lot less fun, usually cut short because one kid or another was sick or crying. It was quite a hassle to get seven kids organized and transported anywhere.  Between the jobs and the roller skating, there wasn’t much going on at home anymore.  The younger kids all saw their dad more than Sean did, as no one else had opted out of the endless skating competitions and practices as Sean had.  However, practice was hard, and Sean’s parents made everyone work at it.  Good for some, not for others.

Mr. Emmett was increasingly irritable, and demanding.   Sean loved his dad; missed the times they’d talked or done things together.  No amount of discipline could make Sean forget he loved his parents.

However, there is sometimes a breaking point, and Sean’s came one evening.  Mr. Emmett had called him down from the attic, stood facing the hallway from the kitchen doorway.  He had then accused Sean of stealing some money from his wallet, something Sean knew better than to even think of doing. “I didn’t do it,” he insisted.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Well, I didn’t do it. What do you want me to say?”
“I told you to not to ever talk back to me.” Whack, he backhanded Sean across the face.

“Well, speak up, damn you.” Sean didn’t say another word, didn’t want to make the situation worse. Whack again. Again. No tears now.  Sean stared directly into his father’s eyes, rage building up in him.  He couldn’t speak, because he knew his voice would be too loud.  That would be another heresy, raising his voice.  He stood his ground.  His dad slapped him again, and again, on either side of his head until, suddenly, Sean’s rage took hold.  He pushed his dad hard, knocked him right over. He jumped on him, and all he could think of was killing him. Sean’s dad grabbed his arms so Sean brought his foot up and tried to kick his dad’s head in. Fortunately, his dad was strong. He grabbed Sean’s leg when it was inches from his face. Oddly enough, he was smiling. The rest of the kids were sitting at the kitchen table a few feet away, and they were screaming, “Sean and Daddy are fighting,” and they started crying.  Sean and his dad both got up, looked at the kids, looked at each other, and walked away.

Posted in 1970s, family, Life, madness, My Life, Writing | 4 Comments »

Trippin’ through the ’70s – Chapter Five

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on May 20, 2008

Sean was in love – not, however, with Lenny, but with Lenny’s friends, especially Kathleen. He knew now that Lenny was gay, and that he wanted to share more than an apartment, yet he didn’t feel threatened by that. Life had suddenly become an adventure, a big party-cum-camping trip for Sean. Never having had friends who weren’t brothers or sisters or cousins, Sean was having the time of his life. There were parties and trips to the beach with Lenny’s college buddies, who seemed to accept Sean right away. The beach was suddenly a lot more fun. There were Frisbees to catch, and balls to bounce back and forth over nets and rock ‘n roll: funky, loud, and full of sexual rhythm. Sean loved it all.
There was Scott, who played the best Scrabble games Sean had ever seen. He missed the games he had played for so many years with his brother John. Scott, a grad student in economics, took the game seriously, plunking down seven-letter words several times a game, and teaching Sean how to go for the big scores.
Bill and Lucy were married, but they threw the best damn parties Sean had ever been to. Bill, a phone company engineer, played Alice’s Restaurant on his guitar, and everybody sang. Sean didn’t go home for Christmas that year, he went to Bill and Lucy’s, learned how to string popcorn and cranberries, and helped un-trim the tree of miniature bottles of Chianti, Seagrams-7, or Jack Daniels.
Jim was the strangest of the group. He was in the Air force, and had flown helicopters in Nam. The stories he told convinced Sean never to go there. Jim would show up at most parties with a supply of Jimi Hendricks’ albums – ‘Scuse me while I curse the sky – get as stoned as possible, and just sit in a corner playing air guitar. Sean wanted to know about Vietnam.
“You know how they interrogate prisoners?” Jim would start off with, “We would take suspected VC…”
“What’s a VC?”
“Vietcong. The communists, ya’ know? Well, the Lieutenant would have us take villagers up, and hang ’em out the door until they talked. You should have seen ’em squirm, and beg, and pee themselves.”
“And what if they didn’t talk?” Sean asked.
“Then he would kick ’em off anyway. Some of the guys just loved to watch the gooks go splat.”
“But what,” Sean asked, “if he or she weren’t VC? or if they didn’t know anything?”
“Then they got dropped anyway. The next guy we took up would usually talk.”
Jim said he’d never go back there again, and he wanted to get out, but “the Air Force still has my ass for a while.”
There was no escaping the war those days, and Sean knew he could still be drafted. He was going to have to decide what to do pretty damn soon.
But right now, what Sean really loved to do was go to Kathleen’s parties. She was brash and beautiful, with long brown hair flowing over a lean sensual body. Sean loved to watch her dance. She was a librarian. She wrote poetry. Her favorite musical groups were the Doors, and Simon and Garfunkel, so Sean bought their music and became a fan. She was a reader too, and he read the books she read. At a party one night, she exhaled a lungful of smoke from the joint passing around and told Sean: “Hey man, I’ve got a book you should read.” It was Atlas Shrugged, and he immediately became a fan of Ayn Rand: champion of absolute individual freedom. He visited Kathy, discussing individualism, and Capitalism, and the war in Vietnam, but she didn’t take Sean’s attentions very seriously. She considered him “still wet behind the ears,” and besides, she was in love with Brian. Brain, a teacher, was engaged to be married to Margaret. Kathy didn’t like that much, but she lived in a fantasy world where she was Scarlett O’Hara, and Brian was Ashley, who really loved her, not the woman he was marrying.
Sean was part of this family now.
“What’s wrong with you Sean? Don’t you know Kathy’s in love with Brian?” Lenny was fond of reminding Sean.
“Yeah, but I think she’s great.”
“Why?”
“Um, well, maybe because she’s a beautiful, long-legged, college-educated, beer-drinking poet.”
“You’re a hopeless case.”
“Maybe. Are you any better?”
“Oooh, you’re a nasty one, aren’t you?”
“You’re strange, Lenny.”
“I’m strange? And just who are you? You don’t even know what your future is, much less care.”
“I’m know I’m not going to Vietnam.”
“Why don’t you get out of it? Couldn’t you get a letter from your doctor or something?”
“Maybe. But I don’t think that’s the way to do it.”
“Then what is?”
“I don’t know. Revolution maybe.”
“Revolution? You shouldn’t talk that way, the walls have ears. You want to overthrow the government?”
“Why not? It sucks. The air’s polluted, rivers and lakes are dying – hell, the Patapsco River is dead – and the land is being sterilized by chemical fertilizers. Our food is not even safe to eat anymore.”
“That’s no reason to overthrow the government.”
“It’s not? You want more? Look at all the people dying in Vietnam. What about racism, and poverty? Our own government’s part of the problem.”
“Jesus Christ! You’re a nihilist!” Lenny’s face was turning red.
“What’s that?” Sean asked.
“What?” Lenny was pacing the room, but he turned to Sean and said: “You mean you haven’t read Nietzsche?”
“No, I haven’t. Who’s that? Somebody you read about in college? And I’m supposed to be all impressed?”
Lenny pointed a finger at Sean, “He’s one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived, and you never heard of him?” He started waving his hands in the air and shouting. “You don’t know anything about the world. You don’t know who runs things, or the power they have. You’re going to change the world, and you can’t even get laid.” He started pounding his fists on the table for emphasis. “You’re so incredibly naïve.”
“And you’re psychotic.”
Lenny reached over and grabbed Sean, and they rolled onto the floor and wrestled for a few minutes. They started laughing, but Sean suddenly realized that Lenny wasn’t just playing around. He was using the wrestling as an excuse to get his hands on Sean, and Sean pushed him off.
Sure I’m a virgin, Sean thought, but I’m not desperate. He was getting nervous living with Lenny. He wasn’t sure if he could trust him any more.
Sean finally met someone at a mixer. His job, in a research lab, was at a rich private university, Johns Hopkins University, and the mixer was for its freshman students and the students of an exclusive women’s college, Goucher. Sean took a bus out to the dance, which was at the women’s school. He was anxious to meet someone by now, and he was hoping that he could overcome his shyness. When he arrived, however, he saw that people had formed into cliques, and none of the women wanted to dance or talk with him. He was about to despair, feeling out-of-place and stupid amongst these rich-kid elites, when he noticed the girl playing the records. She kept changing the music, and urging people to dance. Sean watched her ponytail bobbing as she bounced around the room. She didn’t appear to be with anyone.
He forced his legs into action, and went over to her. “I like the music you’re playing,” was all he could think to say.
“Let’s dance,” she urged, smiling. Her name was Sue Plaskowitz, and she wore a Russian peasant blouse over faded blue jeans. “Call me Plask,” she said, “Everyone does.”
Sean was fascinated. She played great rock and roll, and she danced with a fervor that exited Sean as much as her erect nipples showing through her blouse. After awhile someone else took over as DJ, so he and Plask took a break for air. They walked along the grounds and Sean tried to think of something to say. Nice moon, he thought of saying, and, I like the way it shines on your face. But he didn’t say it. Too corny, he told himself.
Plask helped him out: “Hey, have you ever seen Hair?”
“No, I never did. I wanted to, but it’s kind of hard to get away to New York just to see a play.”
“Well, you know what? I’ve got the ‘pink’ album.”
“Pink?”
“Everybody calls it the pink album. It’s the original cast recording.”
“Do you have it here?”
“No, but I have it in my room.”
“Well, let’s go listen to it.”
“Oh, no, we’re not allowed to take men to our rooms,” she whispered conspiratorially, “Why don’t we go to your place?”
Sean was surprised, more like shocked. He never would have thought to even ask her. He had, after all, come on a bus. “Sure,” he said, “But you know, I took the bus out here.”
“That’s OK, I have a car.”
Again, Sean was taken aback. She’s beautiful, sexy, and she has a car! I would have been happy if she’d just agreed to date. I hope Lenny stays out late like he usually does.
They put the record on as soon as they got to the apartment, and sat down on opposite ends of the couch.
“I like the songs,” Sean said, “They’re not the same as the one’s I’ve heard.”
“That’s because it’s the original cast, before it went on Broadway. The songs changed after that.”

Exanaplanatooch…

“I never heard this one,” Sean began.
“Shush!”

…a planet where the air is pure, the river water’s crystal bright…

“Doesn’t sound like this planet.”
“Wait, Sean.”

…total beauty, total health. No government, no police, no wars, no crime, no hate.

“Sounds nice,” Sean said, “I wish it could be true.”
“Why?”
“Well, there’s all this pollution, racism, and this damn war the government keeps throwing money and bodies away on.”
“Will you be drafted, Sean?”
“Of corpse,” Sean said, but Plask didn’t laugh. “They’ve got me down as 1-A: grade A US-prime cannon fodder.”
“Can’t you get a deferment?”
“How? I only take a couple night classes, I can’t afford to go full-time. Even if I could, I hear the government’s going to start drafting students.”
“Will you go if they draft you?” Plask looked concerned. Sean felt like he was getting somewhere, she had moved a little closer.
“No way. I don’t think the government has the right to be fighting this war, or even drafting me.”
“Couldn’t you be a conscientious objector?”
“Nah, that’s only for religious people. You’ve got to be Quaker, or something like that. Seems like most religions support the war anyway, you know, ‘God is on our side’, and all that crap.”
“Sean, what will you do?”
“God, I don’t know.” Sean moved closer to Plask. She was leaning closer, and Sean’s arm was on the couch behind her. The record finished, and the stereo clicked off. Sean put his arm around her and pulled her close, but she pulled away and sat up.
“Uh, not so fast, Sean.”
“I’ll put another record on, OK?” Sean asked.
“I have to go soon.”
“This is a record I like a lot. Surrealistic Pillow.”
“Jefferson Airplane?”
“Yeah. It’s great. I’m gonna turn the sound up.” He turned the lights way down and sat as close to Plask as he could. He put his arm around her, and leaned back. She relaxed as well, and the Airplane sang: Don’t you want Somebody to love?
“So what if they draft you?”
Sean put his head back. “Do you think I should go to Canada?”
“What choice would you have?”
“I could go to jail.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“I wouldn’t, believe me. Did you hear about those priests?”
“Yeah. The ones that poured blood on draft files?”
“More than that. They made napalm from a recipe in a government handbook, and then they burned draft files with it. I liked that, it was real symbolic, you know, it’s the same stuff our troops are burning people with.”
“Well, it does seem like a better use for it.”

“Sure does. Anyway, I think if they could be prepared to go to jail for their beliefs, then so could I.”

“I hope they never call you to go,” Plask said, and she leaned against Sean. The album got softer and slower, as the Airplane played a love ballad.

Today, I feel like pleasing you, more than before.
Today, I know what I want to do, but I don’t know what for.
To be living for you, is all I want to do.
To be loving you, it’ll all be there when my dreams come true.

Sean brought his hand close to Plask’s face. Her hair seemed erotic between his fingers. He stroked her cheek and felt heat on his hand. Plask felt her face flush. Sean kissed her.
“Oh, hi!” Lenny said, as he flipped on the lights. He took in the scene on the couch and grinned. “Well, who’s this?” Plask pulled away and sat up as if she’d had an ice-cube down her blouse.
“This is, uh,  Susan,” Sean said, “Sue, my roommate, Lenny.”
“Nice to meet you,” Plask said, “Sean, I really have to go now.” She grabbed her album and headed for the door.
“Wait. I’ll walk down with you. Let’s go this way.” They walked down the back stairs, which was really just the fire escape. “Private entrance,” Sean said, and, “Do you have to go right away?”
“Well, no, I suppose I could stay a few minutes.” They got in her white Dodge Valiant. Sean noticed a peace symbol in her rear window. He reached over and kissed her again. This time they didn’t stop until they had to breathe. Sean pulled Plask over onto his lap.
“Why do boys always want girls to sit on them?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Doesn’t it feel good?”
“Well, it’s alright.” She put her arms around him. They kissed again, and again. Sean closed his eyes, and felt his body warming. Plask’s body felt so good against him. He felt comforted and loved, and alive. But Plask did have to go home, and they kissed one more time, and once again and said good night. Sean got out of the car and came around to the driver’s side. He said good night and kissed Plask again.
As he climbed the stairs, Sean found the answer to Plask’s question. My pants are wet. Jesus Christ! I creamed in my jeans! Lenny was waiting for him in the kitchen.
“What happened, Sean? Did I scare cutie-pie away?”
“Jesus! What did you have to turn the lights on for?”
“Did I interrupt something, Sean? I’m so sorry.”
“You know you did, and you’re not.”
“Aw, that’s too bad, Sean. Did your little girl leave you all horny? I can take care of that.”
“Fuck you, asshole.”
“Ooh, I’d like that. I like assholes, don’t you? Does your little girl like it in the ass?”
“Shut up, damn you!” Sean shouted, and went to bed. It wasn’t the last time they would fight.
Sean and Plask continued to see each other. She invited him to have Thanksgiving dinner with her family, and drove him to her parent’s suburban home.
“How come you aren’t having dinner with your parents, Sean?”
“Shit. Why would I do that? I’m glad to be out of there.”
“I don’t understand that. I’d always want to be with my family on holidays. The only reason I moved in with my grandma is because it’s closer to school.”
Sean was impressed by dinner. He’d never had champagne before, and he was surprised that everyone drank, even Plask’s younger brother. As he expected, Plask’s father asked him about his job, and his studies.
“I’m interested in chemistry. It may take a while,” he told Mr. Plaskowitz, “but I intend to go to night school until I can afford to go full-time.”
“But you do intend to get your degree?”
“Of course,” Sean said, and something about the way Plask’s dad asked questions suddenly made him aware that he was being sized up as a potential son-in-law. I haven’t even known Plask that long. I wonder what she’s said about me?”
Plask drove Sean home after a couple helpings of pumpkin pie. She told her parents that they were going to see a play. They went to Sean’s apartment, to his room. He shut the door, and put a Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash record on:

Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay lady stay, stay with your man awhile
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you.

They were sitting on the bed, and it didn’t take long for them to ease down into horizontal hold. They’d never had so much time alone before, and the champagne was helping to overcome their nervousness. Sean’s hands roamed over Plask’s supple body and she pressed herself closer to him. Their lips were squeezed together, and they tickled each other’s tongues, slowly probing and searching and experimenting with sensations.
“Hi guys! What’s happening?” It was Lenny, who knew exactly what was happening, since he’d been standing outside the door, and had thrown it open, pretending nonchalance. Plask stiffened in Sean’s arms and pulled away. Again! Sean thought. Lenny stood in the doorway. “Did you guys have a nice dinner?” he asked, and he kept on talking, as if everyone were just having a friendly little chat. Plask made her excuses and left. Sean was pissed.
“Why did you do that?”
“Do what? I was just trying to be polite. Didn’t you want me to talk to your honey?”
“Look, you stay the hell out of my life. Don’t you ever come into my room like that again.”
“No. This is my place. I found it, I paid the damage deposit, and I invited you here. I’ll come into this room anytime I want, in fact, I think I’ll come in now.” Lenny reached for Sean, and tried to put his arms around him. He was feeling horny now, after having eavesdropped on Sean and Plask. Sean pushed him off and punched him. Lenny put his arm up and Sean hit him again, and again, and even as Lenny backed off into his own room, Sean hit him, and was about to hit him again when he noticed that Lenny wasn’t even trying to defend himself. Lenny’s arms were over his face. He was whimpering, mumbling something that sounded like “mommy” to Sean, so he stopped and looked down at this huge bulk of a man huddled into a corner. He pitied him, and dropped his arms, gradually unclenching his fists.
“You just stay the hell away from me,” Sean yelled back at him as he turned away. He slammed the door to his room and locked it.
“I’m going for the police,” Lenny said a few minutes later, and he slammed the front door of the apartment on his way out. Some time later he came back in. He knocked on Sean’s open door.
“Sean. Sean. Hey, I’m sorry. You’re not mad at me, are you?”
Sean decided not to answer that one, so he asked: “So where’d you go to anyway?” Lenny looked at Sean and smiled.
“Oh, I just drove around. And I met somebody. Ooh, he was so nice. I like those young boys with their long blonde hair.”
“Where’d you find him?”
“Just cruising.”
“You picked him up off the street?”
“Sure. I always do. We had a great time.”
“Where? In your car?”
“Why do you think I have such a big car? Eh, little one?”
“I thought your parents gave it to you?”
“Yeah, but they drove me down to the lot, and I got to pick out the one I liked.” Lenny turned and looked out the window, pointing out the car.
“Nice,” Sean said.  The car was big, but hideous.
“Why didn’t your parents give you one, huh? Huh?”
“Because they have six other kids and hardly enough money as it is. That’s why.”
Lenny left the window, and walked over to Sean. “You need money? I’ve got money. I’ll give you the same I gave him, more, if you want.”
Sean stared. “You paid him?”
“Of course.”
“You’re strange,” Sean said, “But to each his own, huh?”
I’m looking for another place, tomorrow, he thought.

Posted in 1970s, fiction, humor, Life, love, madness, My Life, relationships, sex, Writing | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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