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Archive for August, 2008

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. Sean was nervous, and 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 felt more lonely 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 state university anyway, and hoped he could find a way. When he told his boss, Dr. Lyon, 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?”
“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, 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.

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

BREAKING POINTS

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 29, 2008

Things happen

violence flares

mom throws things

yells at Dad

Dad yells at Mom

throws things

Mom threw a glass at me

broken shard cut my leg.

Dad, angry knocked me

into walls or

my breath out

backhanded me

from across a table

spankings,

leather strap too

didn’t faze me

much

but

when he falsely accused

and slapped me

one way and back the other

and back again and

his hand swung

and I snapped

knocked him down

and raised my foot

to kick!

his head in

smash his brains

but

he caught my leg

in powerful arms

smiling

never hit me again.

35 years later

married

arguing

she accuses

falsely

she yells

calls me a liar

coffee cups in our hands

I empty mine at her

she throws hers in my face

and I snap

What is wrong with you?

escapes my lips

between clenched teeth

and I slap one way

and the other and swing

my open hand

to slap again

with fingers only

but she backs away

and I sit in my chair

and smash a remote

against a wall

I am my father.

she calls the police

domestic violence, she says

I’m in a domestic violence situation

she says

I listen from my chair

disbelief replaces anger.

the police come

while I clean up the coffee

she is not there

cops are suspicious

stained rag in my hand

no one else around

oh shit! I think

yes, of course, come in

search the house

she is not here

I don’t know where

crap!

I show them neighbors

where she might be

they find her

tell me I have to leave

counseling for me

anger management for me

Later on

She tells me to stay

unless it ever happens again

It never does, but

she keeps drinking

moody

angry happy sad up and down

never satisfied

impatient

demanding and hard

belittling and mean.

I left all that as a boy

but, now, in love

I can’t leave her

my heart beats

in a hollow

relationship

year after year after year.

Posted in family, Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, poem, poetry, relationships | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

THREE

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 29, 2008

In two thousand and three

three thousand dollars

bought three weeks in China

two 23-hour plane trips

meals hotels and travel

buses, trains, and boats

five more plane rides

Beijing and Shanghai

Gulin, Xian, Hong Kong

Rivers Yangtze and Li

the Grand Canal in Suzhou

markets and pandas

and cormorants too

small concrete towns

terraced hills

and fish ponds on roofs

lacquerware silk

acrobats motorcyles

museums and gardens

flowers and ponds

temples and factories.

Thousands of

the national bird

— the construction crane —

are everywhere.

Curious white masks

more and more we see

worn on bikes in shops

in cars on buses

an epidemic – SARS

Meanwhile —

the USA invades Iraq

no weapons are found

bloody pictures posted

on walls, fences, bus stops

of Iraqi children.

Chinese express sympathy

for us poor Americans

our country is at war.

I wear my peace symbol Peace

on my lapel as I travel.

A soldier stares at it

under Tianamen Square

But, returning home

brings anxiety —

will they let me return?

will SARS close US borders?

is peace treasonous?

But

all they ask is

did I have contact with

anyone, anyone with SARS?

and I have to remove

my shoes

pass through x-rays

and my bag is searched.

I’m home.

O’Maolchaithaigh 2008-2017

Posted in Life, My Life, poem, poetry, Travel, World | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

 
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