Sections Above and Below This Page:
For Matthew "Peanut" Johnson
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For when you're alone
When you're alone like he was alone
You're either or neither
I tell you again it dont apply
Death or life or life or death
Death is life and life is death
I gotta use words when I talk to you
But if you understand or if you dont
That's nothing to me and nothing to you
We all gotta do what we gotta do
T. S. Eliot, Sweeney Agonistes
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It was the last Sunday in November of 1965 and his twenty-first birthday when Kenny Wisdom landed at Idlewild airport, which had been renamed John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
A lot of things had changed. Kenny's parents had moved to a different section of Brooklyn a few years back. He took the crumpled letter they had written him about their change of address from his pocket and dialed their new phone number from a booth at the airport. He didn't yell "Surprise!" when his mother answered, he just asked her what was for dinner because he said he would be home in half an hour. He hung up before she could express her astonishment.
He caught a cab for Brooklyn which took him on the Belt Parkway past the fishing boats returning to Canarsie from their early morning trawl, the red-tiled roof of the Lundy Brothers' huge seafood restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, and the parachute jump in Coney Island and . . . "What's that?"
"Whadda ya mean, 'Wat's dat?' " said the cabby. "Dat's de bridge. De longest suspended bridge in de woild, de Verrazano, dat's all! Where you been?"
When they arrived Kenny paid the fare and stood for a moment looking at the six-story, gray, sixty-unit building with the name "The Royal Poinciana" cut into the cement above the front entrance when the building was constructed prior to World War One.
He went inside and checked out the mailboxes for the right apartment number, took the elevator up to the proper floor and rang the doorbell. He heard the joyful commotion even before it explodedopen the door, and pulled him in and spilled all over him. His mother was hugging and kissing his head, his sister wrapped her arms around his waist, and his father was shaking his left hand with both of his.
His mother began crying with happiness. Her hair had turned gray with streaks of white and she had gained a little weight since she had the operation she wrote him about. His sister was also laughing-crying. She was a teen-ager--tall, blond, shy and pale from anemia. His father was smiling broadly with honest embarrassment. He had suffered a cardiac thrombosis a while ago but he was over it now, and his hair was still thick and jet-black, and his shoulders and back were as straight and erect as they always had been.
Kenny sort of felt like a stranger but he knew he was home with
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his family and it was good. Good to be back where they could see each other in the flesh instead of through letters and photographs. His sister hardly knew her brother any other way, and his parents remembered their son as a boy they watched grow up in words on pieces of paper. Now they saw that their boy-son-brother was indeed a man. He looked at them and saw the adolescence he had spent as a twenty-two-year-old in Europe on their faces, which had grown older in the way that people age in Brooklyn.
After Kenny phoned them from the airport that Sunday afternoon, his mother and sister had dressed back into the clothes they had worn to church that morning and his father had put on a clean sports shirt to greet their world-traveling son, the film director-- who arrived with unshined, scuffed shoes, dirty, wrinkled trousers and sweater, torn coat, and a two-day beard. "Don't you have any luggage?" was the first question he was asked after the Happy Birthdays and Welcome Homes.
"There was a baggage mix-up, it seems, at the London airport and half the passengers on my flight lost their bags in the shuffle, including me. But the BOAC people said they'd notify us on Monday or Tuesday when they found out where our stuff ended up. It's probably all in Tunisia by now or some other remote godforsaken place."
While Kenny took the first real shower he had since he left his pad in Rome and changed into different clothes, which still fit and had been mothball-stored in a dresser by his parents in a bedroom which they said was his "own room," his mother was on the phone notifying all the relatives and friends of the family that the prodigal had returned and they should all come over. And come over they did. As soon as Kenny finished eating a pot-roast dinner with his father the doorbell started ringing, and aunts and uncles, first cousins and second, by blood and by proxy, all sorts of people he hadn't seen in six, seven years, and some little children he'd never seen before, crowded into the kitchen and living room of the fiveroom, eighty-five-dollar-a-month apartment, and Kenny was as glad to see them as they said they were to see him.
When the initial greetings were finished, the booze was broken out and someone asked Kenny if he wanted ice and he said yes because he hadn't had any for a very long time, and everyone relaxed into a party mood. He told them pleasant stories about Italy and the Center of Experimental Cinematography in Rome and the films he made, and how he went to Dublin and grass-rooted it with [end page 212]
the people there to find out what it meant to be Irish and whether he had any distant relatives still around. He gave up trying to locate them after a while and accepted an offer from the Granada television network in London to assistant-direct some documentary shorts, which he did for half a year until they discovered he wasn't an Irish citizen but an American and took his work permit away. So he decided it was time to come back home anyway and he did.
An aunt mentioned something about his being a citizen of the world, which prompted Kenny to tell them about a small town in Italy called Rocca Sinibalda which had a big castle constructed in the shape of an eagle with its wings spread in flight. The castle was purchased by a woman from Washington, D.C., whose family had made millions selling brassieres. She turned the spacious castle into a series of studios where artists could live and work for free. The woman also became the town's benefactress and she changed the jail into a hospital and bought farm machinery for the people and made sure that everyone was well fed and housed. One day she had someone hoist a flag with a blue circle on a white background up the pole on the castle's tower and she proclaimed that the people of Rocca Sinibalda were now citizens of the world and the town itself was going to secede from the nation of Italy. The people of the town were confused at first, but when they were informed that secession from Italy meant they wouldn't be bothered by paying taxes any longer, and also that they would no longer be subject to Italian law or authority, they immediately became citizens of the world and enthusiastic advocates of secession.
It went on like that until Kenny had polished off a fifth of Seagram's Canadian whiskey and was smashed, and everyone else had to go because tomorrow was Monday which meant getting up early for work or school. They all said "Goodnight" and "Nice to have you back" and "See you again soon, maybe next weekend" and "Take care of yourself" and left without asking him about what he intended to do now that he was home. Even his parents didn't question him that way, and he could see they were proud of him simply for his presence and for having returned home. They were happy to have their son, and his sister her older brother, and he was too.
When he regained consciousness late the following morning, he had a difficult time remembering where he was, because he feared that if he opened his eyes to the daylight he might be permanently blinded or suffer a brain hemorrhage in his splitting head, which was already reeling from an alcoholic concussion. He deliberated for
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a time and finally figured out he was home. He cupped his hands over his eyes and made his way to the bathroom where he delicately sprinkled water on his fractured face and washed the ashtray from his mouth with toothpaste and some Listerine which he almost swallowed because the rye whiskey shakes had taken over his spastic reflexes.
He was still dressed in the clothes he wore the night before, except for his shoes which someone had thoughtfully removed. He shuffled slowly to the kitchen in a trance, aware only of the painful effort it took to move. He made some instant coffee and sat down at the table, trying to focus his bloodshot eyes on a note braced between the salt and pepper shakers which was signed, "Mom." It wasn't until he was drinking his second cup of coffee that he could read it. His mother wrote that she had gotten a job in the personnel department of some company because, with his sister grown up, there was really nothing to keep her occupied around the house. And there was plenty of food in the fridge and his sister would be home from school around four thirty and she and his father would get back at about six that evening, "Love, Mom."
Kenny had three more cups of coffee and walked around the apartment. It was a comfortable place with green wallpaper in the carpeted foyer, which doubled as a dining room, and reupholstered furniture in the yellow and brown living room, with thick green drapes over the windows. His parents' bedroom was all white with a crucifix tacked to the wall, overlooking a woven, white, woolen bedspread. The French doors that had separated it from the living room had been removed, his mother told him, because they were warped and wouldn't close properly, and anyway, without them the living room had a more open feeling. His sister's room was also painted white and the three-quarter bed, like the rest of the furniture in her room, was new and made of light-colored wood. The furniture in his "own room" was also new and manufactured with the same wood by the same company in the same style. There was a desk, a dresser, a single bed and a row of waist-high bookcases along one of the blue walls. There was a red nagahide armchair below a reading lamp which gave the room the finishing touch of a study. The room had been designed for a young boy to do his high school homework in, or write his university term papers. Besides his sister's furniture, "his" was the only new furniture in the apartment, and it was obvious his parents bought it with the hope that their son would have returned a long time ago to continue his education--a fantasy the
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study-styled room encouraged, even though the blue linoleum floor had only been worn by his mother's entering the empty room over the years to hang her wash on the clotheslines outside the windows.
Inside the closet, hanging on a wooden rack in long, zippered plastic bags, were the suits and clothes he had worn when he was a student at the private preparatory school on Park Avenue. Even the cordovan shoes were there, on the floor with trees in them. Rummaging around in the closet, he noticed something that was ironically funny. On the left, behind an old Eisenhower jacket, was an ancient wall safe that was built into the closet when the building was constructed as a fashionable residence at the turn of the century. Kenny couldn't help but laugh, and he was curious to see if anyone had left anything in it. He got a small crowbar from the tool chest in the kitchen and easily pried open the door of the antique box. There was only a letter inside which was written in German, and as far as Kenny could make out, it was about love. There was also a small photo of a very distinguished gray-bearded man with a high collar in the envelope with the letter. Kenny was disappointed because he expected something more extravagant. He put them back into the box and banged-jammed the door shut on someone's fading lonely-heart memory.
He was still hangover-tired and he sat down in the armchair and thought about it for a moment: about how his family had more money since he left them with one less mouth to feed and his mother had gone to work; about how they spent their money to make a nice home for themselves and give him and his sister their own rooms; about the disappointment they must have felt all the years his room remained empty, except for an occasional guest staying the night or his cousin Paul, whose family's nearby apartment was too small for him to have any privacy and whose books were on top of the desk. Paul at least used the room as it was intended to be used. He also thought about what he was going to tell his parents when they eventually asked him what were his plans for the future. He would really have to think about the answer to that one.
For the next couple of days Kenny stayed around the house reintroducing himself to New York's television, daily newspapers, and AM and FM radio stations. He was impressed more by the quantity of the media barrage being pumped into the homes throughout the city for the entertainment of its residents and by the incredible amount of things advertised for sale, than he was by the quality.
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Everything from the six o'clock newscasts to the FM midnight-to-dawn, musical-interlude interviews, to the search-for-tomorrow soap operas at noon, was nothing short of hypnotic. He concluded that if you had enough beer and pretzels and a radio and TV you could barricade yourself inside a room for a week and just sit and listen and watch and switch stations. Whether you wanted to or not, you would learn what they wished you to know about so-and-so and such-and-such in a way that left little for you to decide except what station and from whom you wanted to hear it. The content was always inoffensively the same--only the styles of delivery and the images of the performers varied slightly.
By that Wednesday, Kenny had enough of home entertainment and he took the subway over to Manhattan to see for himself what the voices on the airwaves were trying to tell him about the city streets. He got off at a stop in Greenwich Village and stood on the corner of Eighth Street and Broadway for a moment to get his bearings.
"Kenny! How you been, man?" wanted to know a very long-curlyhaired guy wearing a floppy brown car coat which hung below his knees and made him look shorter than he was. He was standing in front of him with his hand outstretched waiting to shake Kenny's Kenny didn't recognize him for the hair but shook his hand anyway and said he was fine and "Okay, I give up. Who are you?"
"Billy. Billy Landout from Brooklyn. Remember?"
"Billy! I'll be a son of a bitch! My mother wrote 'n told me that you were away at some college studying to be an engineer. What happened?"
"Nothing happened. I graduated last summer with a degree in engineering and just decided I didn't want to be an engineer for a while, that's all."
"Well, are you in a play or something?"
"What do you mean, in a play?"
"I mean your hair and everything."
"No, man. I just felt like a change, and besides the chicks like to run their fingers through my curly locks and make believe I'm Donovan or somebody but I'm just me, man. Just me."
"Are you still living in Brooklyn?"
"No, I got a pad in the East Village."
"The East Village? Where's that?"
"Oh, that's just a name some real-estate dudes gave to the Lower East Side to promote it as sort of a new bohemia, an extension of
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Greenwich Village. Come on, walk over with me and I'll show you around, and you can buy me a beer and tell me what you've been doing with yourself."
"Listen, tell me something."
"How'd you recognize me after all these years?"
"Your freckles, how else?"
"Fuck you, too! "
The sky darkened with gray clouds hovering as they walked across Third Avenue into the wind. Billy mentioned that the Lower East Side had originally been marshland, which is what the word Bowery meant if you spelled it bouwerie. A group of panhandlers were huddled against the cold on the corner outside the Gem Spa candy store, and Kenny was confused for a moment by their juvenile, wellfed, cherubic faces, until Billy explained that it was just a new game the kids from the other boroughs played in Manhattan. On Saint Mark's Place just before First Avenue they passed a building where, according to Billy, Trotsky, and two of his comrades had edited a political journal during the months prior to the Russian workers' struggle for power in 1917. They crossed one of the city's largest and least-known parks at Tompkins Square, continuing along Avenue B to Tenth Street and the Annex.
The bar had a late afternoon crowd of mostly Jewish chicks, and black guys dressed like aesthetes and coming on like noble savages. Kenny bought a pair of Ballantine ales and carried them over to a table where Billy had piled a couple handfuls of peanuts. They drank ale and shelled peanuts for a few hours and talked about themselves and the news. Kenny ran down a precis of his more than five years in Europe. Billy talked about what was happening on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. About how it had evolved from the violent battleground for opposing ideas of immigrant peoples to the frontier of adventure for the East Coast of America's aggressively searching youth who kept time to Kerouac's On the Road beat, but settled for a more stationary scene here, and let their hair grow long. About how people who wrote in newspapers for a living had categorized the place as a "new Bohemia" and the young who came there "Hippies." About the low rents; the Kerista free love cultists who set up a floating sexual kibbutz which daily congregated in various pads; the cafes, bars, clubs, theaters, galleries, magazines, papers, films that were springing out from underground throughout
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the area; the young people who were dropping out of their generation like flies and pushing further toward a vision which was out of sight. About acid and how it just might be one of the keys to the locks on the door of that empty room filled with nothing, nowhere.
After nursing beers at the Five Spot while listening to Charles Mingus and crashing the rest of the night on a floor-mattress in Billy's walk-up apartment on Avenue C, the next morning Kenny dropped two 300-microgram capsules of this LSD drug he had only heard about. Billy had taken it several times and was by far the best person for Kenny to trip with, since he never took himself too seriously and knew how to calmly chart a course during a psychedelic experience. He suggested that Kenny take 600 mics rather than the usual 300 because it would insure a total high. A lesser dosage would probably allow Kenny to resist the possibilities of the drug and chalk the trip up as simply another kick, thereby negating or blocking the chance for him to glimpse into the blindspot of his consciousness. Billy took just one 300 cap because he had been there before and it didn't take him much to get there again.
Within an hour Kenny was zonked. Inanimate objects and irrelevancies melt-twisted free of importance and drip-faded into the waterfall of pretension. Remembered images invoked from the past exploded into a kaleidoscopic burst of day-glo spirochetes wistfully dancing in a chaotic, nostalgic, timeless cascade of moment, like a drowning man's thoughts. Everything moved at the speed of light, with yesterday's light gleaming in one direction and tomorrow's in another. He saw that what was and will be--only is. There was a glimmer inside the privacy of his being, and he immediately understood that if he became anxious or panicky, he'd miss the clear light of his own death which is part of life. Then everything that was supposed to happen happened, until he was flashed-out-spaced. It seemed like he was going to stay that way forever and just when he started to feel that enough's enough, it was over and he began to come down. His kidneys ached.
Now that the psychedelic storm was over, Kenny's thoughts settled into a calm. He knew that most people were simply in trouble with themselves because they feared who they were. He dug that no matter how much he begged to know whether he might be the hero of his own life or its victim, he would be unable to discover his destiny. He understood that everything always happens and that his
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needs were just his needs and didn't reflect some universal principle. That there were some things even more important than being alive and one of them was being alive the way you want to be alive.
He walked over to the sink, picked up a nearly empty bottle of Cott orange soda and finished it. He studied the empty for a moment and ran his thumb across the "Deposit" impressed in raised glass. He slammed the bottle against the porcelain, and the glass shattered into the sink. The noise startled Billy and he came into the small kitchen to see what it was. He saw Kenny standing over by the sink. There was a funny, intense look on his face which made Billy a bit apprehensive.
Kenny: Why was that bottle worth five cents?
Billy: Because it was a re-usable commodity.
Kenny: Why wasn't it worth a dollar?
Billy: It didn't have enough value . . .
Kenny: The magic of property. Inanimate objects have no intrinsic value except what they can do for you, but in our culture they're invested with all sorts of magical properties, and cops protect that magic by making sure property has to be paid for--the unimaginative flunkies. Everything revolves around profit and private property. Those are the premises. I just questioned the logic by destroying the magic.
The seriousness in Kenny's face broke and he began to laugh. Billy relaxed and smiled too, wondering what brought on that dissertation. They went outside and over to Tompkins Square Park with Kenny conc]uding that it was good to be wacked out on acid because it made it difficult to be reasonable, and that way you cou]d see right through things while looking incomprehensible and mad and you could make statements that were frightening and true.
It was cold and there were very few people in the park. They each bought a pint of warming red wine and walked the streets looking at the faces of the people and the curious activities in which they were involved. After a while the wine was finished, and Kenny decided to return to Brooklyn before it all got boring. He told Billy he would see him in a day or two and went over to the Eighth Street subway station.
There was a girl standing on the platform who looked vaguely familiar. They stared at each other for a moment, and when the train pulled in they entered the same car and sat down together.
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Her name was Lucille Collins, and he had gone to grammar school with her and hung around with her brother. "Don't you remember?" she asked Kenny. He remembered and he also recalled he hadn't liked her very much or her brother either but he forgot why. The acid was still making it difficult to consider anything other than absurdity, and he answered her questions with a slight flipness he felt they required--especially when she said her brother was in Vietnam and asked Kenny what he was going to do about the army now that he was back in the country.
He replied that he wasn't going to do anything about the army and added that the next time she wrote to her brother she should advise him to "watch his ass because no matter how good his wages are, those little yellow people have been in the business of war for a long time and they don't consider it employment but rather a co-op in which they all own shares." She got a little snotty after that and countered with a remark about how the draft was going to get him, like it or not. Kenny laughed and blurted out that they didn't even know he existed because he had never registered.
Lucille Collins said something like, "Don't bet on it!" before getting off the train at her stop. The following afternoon Kenny Wisdom remembered why he had never liked her when they were kids: she was a snitch. He remembered this as soon as he answered the bell and the two men at the door, who identified themselves as FBI agents, presented him with two possible choices: he could go into the U.S. Army or to a federal penitentiary. Needless to say, this blew Kenny's mind and he kept protesting the fact.
"This can't be happening! Man, I just got here!"
But the agents simply suggested that the brevity of his return home was his own blues and three days later, on Monday, December 6th, Wisdom was inducted into the army and bussed to CoB, 6th Tng Bn, 2nd Tng Bde, USATC, Fort Gordon, Georgia.
It was only in boot camp that Kenny finally knew, through the haze of his amazement, that he was actually in the service. He also knew he had no intention of remaining. He wasn't about to try some dumb faggot routine, however, or pull a cornball lunacy stunt to get an immediate discharge. No, there was a war on and they would lock you in the stockade before they would let you out if you tried something stupid to fake a Section Eight. He remembered all the stories he heard when he was a kid about all the guys who ended up in Leavenworth after trying to cop out on the so-called police action in Korea. Now, with Vietnam on the stove, they were nab
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bing the same stiffs who were giving the same scams a whirl, making vain attempts to receive a medical discharge. Kenny was going to play it smart and smooth his way into a reverse, arriving at the psychological point where they would pay him to leave. There was no other way except walking AWOL, and so he decided to be stonecold-blooded about it until he regained his freedom.
Kenny kept himself cooled out by smoking reefer in the barrack's boiler room with a few black dudes from Philadelphia whenever he got a chance, which was frequently. In fact, he spent so many of his off-duty hours hanging out with his black buddies that the group of pink-faced appleknockers from upstate New York who talked about becoming suburban Kiwanians formed the opinion that Kenny was probably a "moulonjam" himself. They even suggested that his freckles were proof of his being a mulatto. Of course no one ever expressed these insights to Kenny himself, but he picked up on the vibes and would joke while high with the brothers about all the suckers in their squads who were terrified that someday they would find their women fucking a nigger in the backseat of the family Ford.
Kenny coasted through the eight weeks of training at Fort Gordon, and angered the chumps who wanted to make good in the army and bewildered his goof-off, hipster friends by being classified a high achiever. He scored a top rating on the written I.Q. tests, placed second in the physical fitness trials, and won a trophy as the best rifleman in the company. With these laurels in his file, he applied for officer candidate school and signed up for the Airborne before returning to New York for his two weeks' leave, glad that everything had worked out as straight as he planned.
Billy laughed himself silly when he saw Kenny in uniform, saying he was sorry about his predicament but it was hilarious just the same. They spent some time together in that city and Kenny explained his good soldier scheme to him and confided that it was really easy because most of the schmucks who got duped into the service were losers from the get go, anyway. "The way I got it figured, the army will cut me loose with an honorable discharge before Easter."
Kenny had only been home a few days when his orders arrived. He was to report to Fort Ord, California, within a week, to begin advanced infantry training, a prelude to OCS. He liked the idea of going to California and he remembered a girl who lived in San Francisco, a model he met in Rome. She had written him a letter
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which had been forwarded halfway around the world before finally arriving in Georgia, enclosed in an envelope from his mother. He had copied her phone number from the letter into his little book, and now he called and told her to change the sheets because he would be there early the following evening.
The next day on the plane, he felt good about his move to the West Coast and more than confident that his time in the service was nearly over. The flight took about five hours, and he phoned Rhea from the airport. She was waiting for him when the coach pulled into the air terminal in downtown San Francisco.
Kenny hadn't seen Rhea for two years, and then he had only known her for a couple of months. But when he saw her standing on the sidewalk--all slender, firm, tall and beautiful with her chestnut hair full like a mane--he gave her a long-lost-lover embrace and the kind of kiss he felt the woman who was going to remove the celibate state which he had endured since returning to America, deserved. She was glad to see him, too. He left his duffel bag in the trunk of her car, and they had something to eat in a Chinese restaurant before retiring to her North Beach apartment. There they made love in a hard, solid, tender, active expression of life, until they felt it beautiful to stop and sleep in each other's arms--no longer anxious about being alone.
They spent the week together and it went by much too fast. Kenny liked the North Beach section of the city and he only left it to watch the sun set from the beach over the Pacific Ocean. He'd heard a lot about the area from the poets who had been turning him on with their books for years now. The Co-Existence Bagel Shop was gone, but the bars were still there, as was the only tangible evidence of the San Francisco Beat Renaissance during the late fifties--the City Lights bookstore. It remained open till two every morning with Ferlinghetti and his partner Shig competing against the topless clip joints along Broadway for a piece of the street action, and simply by its presence, giving notice to whomever it may concern in the tourist crowd that there were other poets in America besides Robert Frost who had miles to go before they slept.
City Lights published a series of paperbacks called Pocket Poetry and Kenny bought one entitled Gasoline by Gregory Corso, and several others which he took with him on the two-hour bus ride to Fort Ord. His processing began when he arrived that Wednesday and was completed by midafternoon Friday. The unit he was assigned to wouldn't be made up till the following Monday, so he was
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given a weekend pass. He phoned Rhea and she suggested they spend the two days with friends of hers who had a house in Carmel. They did, and it was West-Coast-wonderful with horseback riding along the beach and into the surf at dawn each morning, and Bordeaux-and-steak suppers outdoors each evening. It was March but the sun was warm and boot camp had put Kenny into such great, high-keyed, physical shape that his vigor matched that of the sea. The beauty of nature in that area reminded him of the wilderness he had enjoyed in the Italian Alps. He hadn't felt so good in years, and now more than ever he knew he wanted to live for a while in northern California. "But first things first," he said to himself, thinking about the army.
When he returned to his barracks, he saw a notice on the bulletin board saying that the company had been formed and training was to begin in the morning. Bright and early it did, with a march out to a firing range where they sighted their rifles. Kenny liked to march. The cadence relaxed him and allowed him to think. He decided that the best time to pull anything was right away, in these first few days before they got to know him. He had brought half a dozen Dexamyls with him from New York and carried them in his pocket, intending to use them whenever the moment came to heighten whatever contradiction he would cause.
The right moment came two days later on another firing range. Kenny realized this while sitting in the bleachers and listening to an instructor rap about what not to do when firing a bazooka. The sergeant explained that the most important thing to worry about was not the shell itself, but the exhaust of the explosion caused by firing it. The concussion that burst from the rear of the bazooka was known as the back-blast, and he demonstrated its action on an empty orange crate. He knelt and another sergeant loaded the bazooka with a blank shell, telling the training class to keep their eyes on the crate, which he lined up with the tail end of the weapon. Then he tapped the instructor on the head and there was a loud, rumbled crack-sound, and the wooden crate disappeared into a puff of dust as the blank shell leaped across the field and curved down into the open turret of a tank target, eighty yards away.
It was very impressive and Kenny dropped the six Dexamyls with a gulp from his canteen in preparation for what he knew was going to happen. The instructor again cautioned the class to be aware of the back-blast and told them they would be firing two rounds from the weapon, using that same tank as their target. The first round
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would be a dud, but the second contained a phosphorous explosive. Kenny decided to wait until his platoon was on the line to fire their live round, before making his move.
By the time he finished firing the blank round, the amphetamine was coming on, and he began to have an overwhelming sense of wellbeing. He already knew what he was going to do and waited for his platoon to be called forward, while his mind raced time and went nowhere. He sneaked a cigarette and sat in the bleachers, watching the blue-white phosphorous explode in bursts around the tank. It was like a fireworks display, and he wondered what it would be like at nighttime in battle. He remembered all the films he had seen about war. How the realism was always muffled to keep it from becoming unpleasant for the audience, and how they would leave the theaters going, "Tsk! Tsk! War is hell," but remark also that some men were able to measure their manhood by the sword, like Audie Murphy. Like George Armstrong Custer.
His platoon moved to the firing line and he knelt next to the weapon. Everything was going Ziiinnggg! Ziiinnggg! as the instructor ordered the gunners over the loudspeaker to raise the weapons into position and the loaders to ready the shells. The weapons were loaded, and as soon as this was acknowledged with a tap on his head, and while everyone else was sighting their aim on the target, Kenny stood up with the loaded bazooka resting on his shoulder. He just stood straight up while his firing partner made like an ostrich and covered his head with his arms. A closet-queen corporal standing nearby alerted everybody by screaming with terror and running away. The loudspeaker began shouting, "Hold your fire! Hold your fire! No one move! No one move!" But when the other trainees turned and saw Kenny standing and pointing his bazooka all around, they panicked. Some of them laid down their weapons and split, while others carried them and ran.
The confusion was frightening. With noncoms diving for cover and trainees running all over the place with primed bazookas in their hands and the loudspeaker pleading with everyone to "Stop! Stop!" and calling for the "Captain! Captain!" If someone had fired his weapon it would have caused a chain reaction, and t~ey all would have gone off. It was scary but Kenny wasn't particularly concerned. He even considered walking back to the barracks but the bazooka was too heavy. Ziiinnggg! Ziiinnggg!
The loudspeaker yelled and finally wheedled him to, "Please, Wisdom, lay the weapon on the ground, that's an order!" while a
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second lieutenant crawled on his belly over to Kenny's blind side. There was no way the lieutenant could secure the bazooka in a struggle without causing danger to himself and the others, so he thought he would use some lame, junior-college logic to beg Kenny to be reasonable. Kenny didn't see the lieutenant sneaking up alongside him, and when he begged his first "Please!" into his left ear, Kenny jumped in surprise. The lieutenant froze, wetting his pants while everyone else cringed and hid their eyes. Even the captain began to weep and mumble something about his seventeen years in the service.
After a moment Kenny resumed his calm and looked all around surveying the scene. Two sergeants ran up to the lieutenant and one of them tore the officer's .45 out of its holster, cocked a round into the chamber, placed the barrel next to Wisdom's temple, and was about to blow it open when Kenny abruptly sat down, cradling the weapon in his lap. He studied it briefly, then looked up at the startled sergeant clutching the pistol and asked, "How do you unload a bazooka?"
The sergeant handed the lieutenant back his .45 and squatted down beside Wisdom. "Here, I'll show you," he said and took the bazooka. He walked about ten yards away, and the loudspeaker sighed, "All clear! ,qll clear! Return to your firing positions! Return to your firing positions! and cajoled the trainees carefully back to their posts on the line, where they discharged their weapons at the target downfield and then returned to their seats in the bleachers.
The lieutenant pointed his pistol at Wisdom while both sergeants held him firmly between them. The black sergeant kept asking him why he wanted to go and do such a goddamn fool thing, but Kenny wasn't listening. He was looking at the chubby figure running awkwardly toward him from the far side of the training area. The rest of the trainees were watching, too, as their company commander huffed and puffed his fat-assed way past them with his belly bouncing in front of him like Jell-O. He was going full-tilt, and Kenny could see that his face was flushed red. As he came nearer, he cocked his right hand, and about two feet away he threw the punch at Kenny, leaping into the air like a baby elephant. The two noncoms eased themselves to one side, and the captain, widely missing Kenny's head, slammed into the lieutenant. The collision sent both of them to the ground with a groan and caused the .45 to fire a round into the sand, sending everyone ducking for cover again.
The captain struggled to get up, his face changing through the
[end page 226]
colors of the American flag. The lieutenant leaned over to help him and invoked, "Put that fucking pistol away!" Pointing toward Wisdom the captain screamed, "Take that son of a bitch back to company headquarters! And if he gives you any trouble, ram your feet up his ass!" As the captain was trying to overcome the difficulty that a bloated panda faces in regaining his footing, Kenny was tied to a fixture inside an armored personnel carrier and driven back to his company area.
After the first sergeant was briefed, Kenny was led into his office at headquarters. The topkick was an old soldier right out of the movies. The veins in his face were broken from whiskey, and his neck was thick-red with wrinkles. His enlistment had begun in Asia back in '44 when he served in Burma against the Japanese, and now it was ending while an undeclared war was being waged in that same part of the world. He didn't want to hear any bullshit, he just wanted to know whether the private standing in front of him was trying to punk out of that war, or was truly bat-shit.
Kenny's brain was completely jangled with tension, and when the first sergeant asked him for his full name and service number, he flipped out and started to scream hysterically. The shrillness of his tantrum forced everyone to cover their ears and the first sergeant yelled for his men to "Get him outta here! Now!" Kenny screamed all the way to the hospital. He only stopped after a doctor ordered him strapped in a bed and locked in a private room.
The doctor reviewed Wisdom's file and later reported to the captain that the young man's previous high performance record as a soldier convinced him that he went bananas at the bazooka training area because of some severe strain and he recommended his immediate transfer. The next morning Kenny was wrapped in a straitjacket, strapped into an ambulance, and driven north to the Letterman General Hospital at the Presidio military base in San Francisco.
The neuropsychiatric building was a separate annex of the hospital. It had been constructed at the turn of the century by the government to house inmates who became criminally insane while imprisoned at the federal penitentiary on Alcatraz. When the foot-thick, steel-plated, front door opened, and Kenny saw the three-hundred-pound black orderly standing inside, grinning--the name WASHINGTON on a plate pinned to his uniform--he moaned. They sat him on a bench in the receiving room, and he wondered what sort of fun and games were in store for him and how long it would
[end page 227]
take before he would be disqualified as a pawn and get released from the war team. He had been wide awake for the last thirty hours, but now the speed was wearing itself out of his system and he felt tired and shaky. They removed the straitjacket and he stretched out and relaxed. He longed for a bed and some sleep, but he had to wait while his papers were sorted by the staff sergeant in charge and his transfer orders processed.
When that was over, Washington, the buffalo nurse brought him upstairs to be interviewed by a psychiatrist named Kruze, who questioned Kenny briefly and studied him for a moment until he felt satisfied that he was fairly sober and safely subdued. He told Washington he could leave them alone.
They talked for about forty minutes and it was a congenial conversation. At one point Kenny even admitted that, yes, he wanted out of the army as soon as possible. Dr. Kruze was sympathetic and offered to arrange for his honorable discharge from the service, but said it would take a few weeks to be effected and asked, "Do you think you'll need any medication?"
"I don't know, doctor. Why?"
"Well, you're going to be here for a while and there's very little to do. Most of the patients are pretty sick and a tranquilizer will help relieve any anxiety which may occur during your stay."
"Sure. Whatever you say, Doctor."
"All right, I'll prescribe a fifty-milligram Thorazine in the morning, one in the evening, and a chloral hydrate for sleep."
"What about work? It says here in your file that you have cinematographic experience. They have a fair-sized film unit and photo lab on this base. I think one of the patients works over there now. Should I see if they can use you? It'd be good to have something to do for a few hours a day, to break up the monotony of just sitting around here and waiting."
"Good, I'll talk to them about it. Now, there's no bed available downstairs in the sign-out-patient ward, and there won't be until after the weekend. So you'll have to stay locked up in the control ward here on the second floor till Monday, when they'll move you below, where you can go and come as you please. I'll call Washington to get you set. Is there anything you want to know?"
"Yes, Doctor. What about visitors?"
"Do you have family in San Francisco?"
[end page 228]
"No, just a friend."
"Oh. Well, until Monday you'll only be able to visit in the reception room during the day. However, when you're moved downstairs there'll be no restrictions other than the usual requirements that you remain on the base and return to the ward before lights out.
"Thank you, Doctor."
"Be seeing you."
The control ward had eighty beds in four rows--two rows along the walls and two down the middle of the floor. It was a cramped, barren, austere place with everything colored white or drab green. The patients all wore dark blue pajamas and shuffled around instead of walking. They were either temporarily lobotomized from electric shock treatments or too phenothiazined to lift their feet. There was no conversation. Just what was left of people sitting on beds in dumbfounded silence or talking to themselves with vacant stares. There was also a lot of openmouthed dribbling.
The patients in the control unit ate in a mess hall which could have been designed by the Marquis de Sade. It was the basement of the building: a dark, high-ceilinged, concrete dungeon with a stainless-steel steam table and long metal benches attached to several long metal dining tables bolted to the cement floor. There were no windows, and the lighting was purposely bad so no one could see anyone else's eyes without it being obvious.
There were a dozen girls and a handful of women. The girls were young dependents of career soldiers, and pretty in that raw, simple way girls are when they're vulnerable and fragile. The women, on the other hand, were old and tired. They were either in the army or the wives of men who were, and they had reached their own rock bottoms without any intention of bouncing back. The girls and boys and men and women sat together at the tables during mealtime but there was seldom any contact made. Nothing was said to anyone, and even the food was left practically untouched. Sometimes, someone would laugh or cry but only to themselves.
Kenny was nearly overwhelmed by the sadness of it all. The sadness of seeing so many young people with their minds broken-- knowing that none of them were faking. He wondered whether they could tell that he was . . . and how long it would be before he wasn't. He had been locked inside the ward for three days and had conformed his appearance to its style of madness, remaining silent and shoveling himself around. How long would it take before the role
[end page 229]
he was playing ate its way into his being and enveloped him--before he actually became what he only appeared to be?
He was glad, very glad, when they moved him downstairs to the other unit. There, he was allowed to sign himself out and roam around the Presidio base and eat his meals at the mess hall in the main building of the hospital. Rhea visited often, bringing him civilian clothes and books from City Lights. Kenny used these books to defend himself against the self-recrimination and guilt which some of the patients in his unit continually displayed, convincing themselves that they were to blame for their illness. Visions of God were also big, and the group therapy sessions struck Kenny as merely self-indulgent self-pity. These guys weren't very sick, they were just flake-outs who liked to think they were ill because it satisfied their masochism. When their wailings became persistent and loud enough to upset him, Kenny would retaliate by reading aloud poetry from the Antonin Ar/;aud Anthology.
God does not exist, he withdraws, gets the fuck on out and leaves the cops to keep an eye on things. He separates from himself 3 cops divided into 3. Okay, but why not 4 or 2 or I or zero or nothing at all? And from where did these 3 incorrigibly filthy accomplices of the father, the son, the holy ghost (the father, mother, son), come to equal 1 and not 3 ?
HANGING FROM THE
wholly of its vitality and put in its place . . . who?
[end page 230]
he who was made by Bein~ and Nothin~ness, the way one puts a baby to make peepee.
AND THEN THEY ALL GOT
THE FUCK OUT OF THERE
I tell myself that there's scum and crud abroad and god's sucked Lenin's ass: and that's the way it's always been,
and it isn't worth talking about anymore, it doesn't matter, it's just another fucking bill to pay.
Kenny didn't read out loud any of Artaud's words on electric shock in deference to the truly sick patients in the ward who belonged upstairs. There was no room for them up there because the unit was already overcrowded with casualties from Vietnam-- young guys who were plucked from their farms and small towns and big city tenements all over the country and shipped to the other side of the planet, to a foreign culture where the people only thought of them with hate or in terms of money. Men high on drugs for the first time and memories of fat-backed America, torn by helicopters from some behind-the-lines recreation, and thrown into the mouth of fury, maybe to be hit in the back by a bullet that comes from nowhere, surely to become paranoid and inhuman. Men who shot down women and babies because they were terrified, and who later collapsed with overwhelming guilt--their minds blown by the horror of what they'd done.
Some of these men ended up in neuropsychiatric wards, some more in VA hospitals with their limbs lost and their minds teetering on the brink, others in prisons for fragging officers who ordered them about, and still others, paradoxically, didn't live to regret it. Only the glory boys escaped, but home wasn't the same for them either.
Kenny was quickly sick of looking at the splintered results of his country's insidious scheming in Indo-China. Boredom set in and he was fired from his work therapy at the photo lab for using the equipment and chemicals to process almost ~ooo eight-by-ten prints of a snapshot of his own face taken by one of the other patients! He went AWOL frequently and spent those nights with Rhea. Dope was all over the base and he mixed it with booze. His response to the junior officers who wanted to punish him with Article 1~ fines, was always the same--he said he was crazy.
[end page 231]
He was anxious to be discharged and live in the city. He wanted to get involved with theater. He read about the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the newspaper and thought about working with them. They were a radical company who had developed their theater arts into a medium for revealing the lies on which the U.S. Government based most of its foreign and domestic policies. Since Kenny's political awareness had grown into a need for action, he wanted to become a part of that. He knew, however, that most radical groups had a built-in, self-destructive energy that was dangerous not only to their ability to perform, but to the individual as well. They were always too quick to identify themselves with progressive such-andsuch and insurgent so-and-so, and always signing their names to whatever was resisting, defiant of, or agin the government. Kenny didn't think that was too smart. Set yourself up in clear view, and someone is bound to set you down. The one thing he learned, especially during the time he spent in prisons, was how not to satisfy anyone's curiosity. Jails are built to feed the curiosity of the guards and the voyeurism of other inmates. There are few solid doors, and the lights are always on. A prisoner quickly teaches himself to hide his feelings and whatever he's into from everyone, mostly because he knows it's dangerous to reveal anything, but sometimes for no other reason than to spite a prying system and its lackies.
This had become second nature to Wisdom, and because it had, he decided to change his identity before hitting the streets of the counterculture. He thought about it for a while. The longhairs were all changing their names to more romantic-sounding, rough 'n ready, American tags--like William Bonney, Mitzi Gaynor and John Wesley Harding. He wanted to reflect his Irishness and rebellious ancestry. He hit on the name of Robert Emmet but felt it was too corny. However, he liked the sound of Emmet. He played around with it for a time, linking it to various others, until he finally chose to translate his grandfather's name from the Gaelic (~ Gruagain to Grogan. He added another t to Emmet and he had it. Emmett Grogan--double sixes, boxcars and a good, solid, Irish name for someone classified a schizophrenic by the Defense Department.
He had been at the neuropsychiatric ward nearly four weeks when his papers were finally processed and he was mustered out of the service. He was happy it was over and even happier when the army made a considerable mistake in the amount of back pay and travel allowances owed to him by giving him seven hundred dollars,
[end page 232]
three times his due. He celebrated with Rhea that night in North Beach and lived with her while trying to find a place of his own. She was a little confused at first by his new name but began calling him Emmett after a while, like everyone else he got to know.
A cultural alternative was being tried out in America by some young people who adopted their cause with evangelical fervor in the face of the secular establishment. They were a generation utterly separated from their parents by the unbreachable gap of acid. San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district was the focal point for most of them. Unlike New York's East Village, it was empty when the longhairs began arriving in search of a community. The predominately black neighborhood was sparsely peopled with Filipinos, Japanese, Russians, Czechs, Scandinavians, Armenians, Greeks, Germans and Irish before it became the city's "West Beach," or new bohemian quarter. Old-timers and newcomers were attracted by the low rents of the houses, but that soon changed. The old, wooden, Victorian homes were quickly divided into flats by brokers looking for fast money, and who preferred renting to faggots because they were thought to always improve the places they lived in. The shopkeepers were purported to be the pulse of the neighborhood's development. They left their shopwindow lights on all night to brighten up the area, and the straights simply considered them brave eccentrics on the side of virtue.
Emmett rented an unfurnished studio apartment in a huge, wooden building owned and divided by an art dealer. The rent was only fifty dollars a month and the place was in the Fillmore district on Fell Street, below the borderline separating that black ghetto from the Haight-Ashbury love ghetto. He painted the room a soft, mustard yellow and built a bed and a long, thin worktable out of lumber he copped from a construction site. He only used the communal kitchen down the hall for coffee or to store beer in the fridge. He ate regularly at a barbecue-and-booze parlor on the corner.
He signed up for unemployment as soon as he was discharged, and when he went down to pick up his first thirty-five-dollar check, he walked over a few blocks to the Mime Troupe. His hair had filled out from the boot-camp crew cut but it was by no means long, and he was wearing a green sports jacket, slacks and a turtleneck. He seemed to attract a bit of attention and even disturb a few people when he entered the office. One of those he put on edge was the company's founder-director, R. G. Davis, who asked him what he wanted, and also, "Are you a police officer?" After Emmett smiled
[end page 233]
No, he wasn't, and carefully introduced himself by his new name and recent medical discharge, he was given a form to fill out and told to arrange for an audition with a middle-aged insurance salesman, one of the most talented comedians on anyone's stage, Joe Bellan.
Emmett rehearsed a monologue from an eighteenth-century Goldoni play for two days and returned to audition at the troupe. His performance was strong but his style was too tight for the broad, open manner of acting demanded by commedia dell'arte. He was told he needed to work hard if he wanted to develop his skills, and was invited to learn what he could in a mime class conducted for members of the troupe early every afternoon by Davis.
Now, mime isn't the pantomime of Marcel Marceau. Although it incorporates the same physical movements as pantomime, it is neither silent nor restricted from using props to dramatize a dialogue. On the contrary, it uses everything from loud buffoonery to slapstick travesty to perform dramas in which scenes imitated from life are exaggerated and broadened to make obvious what is usually subtle. Ronnie Davis had studied with Etienne Decroux in Paris during his early twenties and Emmett could only compare his mimic action to that of Jean-Louis Barrault whom he saw perform the role of Battiste in the film version of the nineteenth-century play, Children of Paradise. He was good, very good.
[to here index]
The season began and Emmett played small, baker-candlestickmaker roles on the weekends, while continuing to develop as a mime in workouts during the week. The plays were performed outdoors on a portable stage the troupe would set up on the grass of the parks around the city. The performances were free with only a hat being passed around afterward. There were no government subsidies or foundation grants but every moment--from the preshow, warm-up songs like "Avanti Popolo" to the tits-'n-ass-costumed deliveries of the actresses--was professional. The performers were paid five dollars for each show when the money was available, which was seldom, after the resignation of the troupe's business manager. His name was Bill Graham and he left the company to follow up an idea he got at a benefit party thrown for the Mime Troupe. He leased a hall for dancing, hired the same groups who had played at the party, and charged people admission to get in. It was simple and an immediate hit. Within weeks the Jewish war hero had a booming successful operation going at the Fillmore auditorium and the purists all over the Bay Area felt they were being burned by his
[end page 234]
shorthaired attitude towards business. They began calling him the antichrist of the underground and a cultural rip-off artist. Graham reacted in turn by raising his middle finger and inviting them all to "sit on this and rotate!" He was one of few public figures on the scene not to give credence to the bullshitters.
Rhea was working full time at her career, traveling to Los Angeles for modeling gigs, and Emmett saw her less and less. Instead, he hung out in the Haight, where he maintained a diet of hallucinogens and developed a heavy crush for teenyboppettes, falling in love with every young, runaway girl he met. All these relationships were always beautiful. He would get high with a soft teen miss turned flower-lovely, and they would ball with their knuckles and knees, the ends of their hair, the tips of their fingers, and insides of their eyes. There was very little talk involved in these wonderful dialogues. The young always feel more poignantly without words.
Billy Landout traveled into town from New York during that first week in August when the former Eagle Scout, Charles Whitman demonstrated his easy familiarity with guns by climbing to the top of the University of Texas' observation tower in Austin and opening fire on campus strollers for ninety minutes, killing sixteen, wounding thirty-one, and being shot to death himself by a cop to become the U.S. title holder for a single-handed, mass-murder rampage. Two days later, a flash-talking Brooklyn-Broadway hipster was killed by an overdose in his Hollywood Hills house overlooking the Sunset Strip. Lenny Bruce was suicided by society. His deathblow had actually been dealt years before he was found stretched out naked on his bathroom floor with that curious, serene expression on his face. New York City District Attorney Frank Hogan, fulfilling his role as one of society's most insipid henchmen, ordered his office staff to turn the spiv-dressed comedian into a fat, mad, abject figure. Vincent Cuccia, one of his assistant district attorneys who tried the case, repented to Bruce's lawyer, Martin Garbus, in Garbus's book Ready For The Defense: "I feel terrible about Bruce. . . . I watched him gradually fall apart. It's the only thing I did in Hogan's office that I'm really ashamed of. We all knew what we were doing. We used the law to kill him." To no one's great surprise.
Billy arrived shortly after the comic was put into the ground by stand-up, old-timer Milton Berle. He moved in with a girl friend who was a student at the Experimental College of San Francisco State. He also joined the Mime Troupe, working as a technician on
[end page 235]
the weekly outdoor productions and studying mime with Ronnie Davis. Billy and Emmett would get together and talk about the evolving phenomenon in the Haight-Ashbury, until the wee hours of nearly every morning. Other members of the troupe would sometimes take part in these discussions, particularly Coyote and the Hun. Coyote described himself in a book as having grown up with very smart, wealthy parents in Englewood, New Jersey. He was a very imaginative but fat child who only learned to like his body after having graduated from Grinnell College and then dropping out of graduate school and beginning to work at the Mime Troupe, studying with Davis. At twenty-five, he was no longer fat, but was tall and handsome. He had an affinity toward Zen discipline and a scholarly, intelligent mind, due in part to the emphasis his family put on education. He was performing the lead role of Pantalone, an eighteenth-century Jewish-Italian shylock in the current commedia dell'arte production. He played the part well.
The Hun got his name because some believed he was his own horde, while others felt he looked like a Mongolian Iago. He also profiled himself in that same book. Born in New York City in ~937, he spent his adolescence as a car-hiker in the potpourri city of Miami which, he would point out, was only built in 927 and represented the Pow! Pow! naked power of the South. He was a child genius with an I.Q. of 160 and a Quiz Kid, but in high school he hung around with "fourteen-fifteen-year-old hillbilly boys that used to stand in Levi's and boots, with thunderbird belts and kind of like denim or, y'know, a shirt with whaddaya-call-it, a Western shirt, pearl buttons on the things, drunk, drunk, and going like this and looking like Montgomery Clift in that flick he made with Arthur Miller's script and lookin' like that, y'know, with brass knuckles." He picked up a political orientation from his father, an H. G. Wells Outline of History libertarian, who thought the Russians were good people. He went to the University of Florida on a work scholarship, got a degree, concentrating in literature, and after getting over the New York blues-life mystique, drifted to San Francisco to meet the older members of the beat generation. He joined the Mime Troupe as a writer-director and was in the process of directing a one-act play about police harassment and brutality called Search and Seizure, which he wrote from the actors' improvisations.
These discussions that Billy, Emmett, and the others had, dealt with the freedom being assumed by young people in Haight-Ashbury and throughout the world. They agreed that the ultimate goal
[end page 236]
of the Haight community seemed to be freedom and a chance to do your thing, but they felt one could only be free by drawing the line and living outside the profit, private property, and power premises of Western culture because, as Coyote remarked, "The idea of changing anything from within has been exploded long ago."
"Hope was the shot" for the Hun, and he believed along with everyone else that the foundation of a civilization was growing, being built, on young people who were really very wishful: forms of a civilization coming after the deal went down. The deal being roughly the same as in the Soviet Union in 1917, with the young going for hard kicks as a way out, and paying heavy dues because "you can't have the beauty of being a hard liver without payin' those dues. You're not gonna do it. You try it, you're not gonna do it.
Emmett wondered whether anything viable was going to come out of all of it: whether the powerless might for once obtain enough power to make some sort of relevant change in society. He immediately dismissed as ridiculous the notion that everything would be all right when everyone turned on to acid. It was noted that LSD was used during World War Two to solve naval tactical maneuvers, and they concluded that although the drug might facilitate understanding, or the process of doing something, it offered no moral direction or imperatives.
In quick time, Emmett and Billy decided to get things real by challenging the street people with the conclusions they arrived at during these sessions. They mimeographed their thoughts, using a different color paper for each set of leaflets, which soon became known as the "Digger Papers." The name "Diggers" had been tossed forward by another member of the troupe who read about the seventeenth-century group in a British history book and felt that Emmett, Billy and their ideas about freedom resembled those of Gerrard Winstanley, William Everard and their one hundred supporters. These men began to cultivate the common parkland they appropriated in 1649 around Saint George's Hill in Surrey, to feed themselves as a protest against the astonishingly high food prices and to give the surplus to other poor. Cromwell and his Roundheads answered the cries of the food merchants and local farmers, who wanted the land themselves, by using the army to suppress that small, hardy, radical band of agrarian reformers who intended "No other matter herein, but to observe the Law of righteous action, endeavoring to shut out of the Creation, the cursed thing, called
[end page 237]
Particular propriety, which is the cause of all wars, blood-shed, crime, and enslaving Laws, that hold the people under miserie."
It was stone idealism--something neither Billy nor Emmett had tried before but felt was needed to shake up the street's rite of purification: a purification of the young people which began with their depurification on the streets. Every few days, after dark, Emmett would sneak into the SDS office next to the Mime Troupe's studio with Billy, and they would mimeograph their handbills on the students' Gestetner without anyone knowing. Late afternoon of the following day, Emmett would walk on one side of Haight Street, and Billy down the other, giving them out.
The Digger Papers were also a reaction against the pansyness of the S.F. Oracle underground newspaper, and the way it catered to the new, hip, moneyed class by refusing to reveal the overall grime of Haight-Ashbury reality. Essentially, however, the Papers were an attempt to antagonize the street people into an awareness of the absolute bullshit implicit in the psychedelic transcendentalism promoted by the self-proclaimed, media-fabricated shamans who espoused the tune-in, turn-on, drop-out, jerk-off ideology of Leary and Alpert. The first paper successfully antagonized the acid community with its mocking refrain: "Time to forget because flowers are beautiful and the sun's not yellow, it's chicken!"
Another and probably the most famous Digger Paper was a response to statements by self-appointed spokesmen, and to notices placed in shopwindows by the Haight Independent Proprietor (HIP) merchants association, which advised the people to invite policemen to share a meal with them--to build up better community relations with the force. It said:
Take a Cop to Dinner Cop a Dinner to Take a Cop Dinner Cop a Take
Mr. Answer Man
a weapon Why a cunt
worse which is
ten times ten times
than the than the largest Degoutante,
Hydrogen cock said Mickey
Bomb~ extant, kissing cops.
Mickey. to hedge the bet.
[end page 238]
Take a cop to dinner.
Racketeers take cops to dinner with payoffs. Pimps take cops to dinner with free tricks. Dealers take cops to dinner with free highs. Business takes cops to dinner with graft.
Unions and Corporations take cops to dinner with post-retirement jobs.
Schools and Professional Clubs take cops to dinner with free tickets to athletic events and social affairs.
The Catholic Church takes cops to dinner by exempting them from religious duties.
The Justice Department takes cops to dinner with laws
giving them the right to do almost anything.
The Defense Department takes cops to dinner by releasing
them from all military obligations.
Establishment newspapers take cops to dinner by propagating the image of the friendly, uncorrupt, neighborhood policeman.
Places of entertainment take cops to dinner with free booze and admission to shows.
Merchants take cops to dinner with discounts and gifts.
Neighborhood Committees and Social Organizations take cops to dinner with free discussions offering discriminating insights into hipsterism, black militancy and the drug culture.
Cops take cops to dinner by granting each other immunity to prosecu
tion for misdemeanors and anything else they can get away with.Cops take themselves to dinner by inciting riots.
~nd so, if you own anything or yol~ don't, take a cop to dinner this week and feed his power to judge, prosecute and brutalize the streets of your Clty.
n.b. Gourmet George Metesky would remind everyone not to make the same mistake as ~rnold Schuster who served the right course at the wrong time.
These Papers, which only cost $1.50 per thousand, more than aroused the so-called leadership class of the Haight-Ashbury, and they tried to find out who the Diggers were. They were answered with telegrams: REGARDING INQUIRIES CONCERNED WITH THE IDENTITY AND WHEREABOUTS OF THE DIGGERS; HAPPY TO REPORT THE DIGGERS ARE NOT THAT. Emmett and Billy wanted to maintain their anonymity in the hope of achieving the kind of autonomy Gregory Corso
[end page 239]
talks about in his poem, "Power." They sought to dramatize that power of autonomy by performing Corso's only play, Standing on a Street Corner, before the morning, lunch, and evening rush-hour crowd of Montgomery Street office workers, without letting on that the performance was a staged event--the point being to lead the white-collars into believing they were witnessing an actuality which thrice repeated itself. However, something happened that made the one-act play seem relatively unimportant, and it never got beyond rehearsal.
Mid-Tuesday afternoon in that last week of September, a sixteenyear-old kid named Johnson was shot three times dead in the back by a fifty-one-year-old, pot-bellied cop named Johnson, who was only a few feet away from him on "the Hill" overlooking Palau Street in Hunter's Point. The boy was black, the cop was white and said, "I did everything I could to avoid doing what I did. I'm sure sorry."
His apology didn't satisfy the black community, which had emerged during World War Two when the white trickle to the outer cities became a tide and the myth of suburbia was built. The black population of San Francisco swelled from four thousand to eighty thousand. They came to work in the war industries, and after the war was over they were deposited in an outer-city slum instead of an inner-city ghetto. Hunter's Point was their outer city. It's a peninsula, and when the insurrection erupted a few hours after the boy had been killed running away from a car, which wasn't reported stolen until the next day, the cops effectively cut off the peninsula from the mainland by blocking off the linking span at Third Street for ten blocks.
As soon as black tempers began to flare, and the young ones started to run through the streets, looting and setting fires, Mayor John Shelly declared that a state of emergency existed in the Bayview-Hunter's Point Area and proclaimed a curfew from 8 P.M. to 6 A.M. He also announced that he wasn't going to permit a repetition of what had occurred "in that other city south of here," and he telephoned Governor Edmund Brown, who was on tour campaigning against Ronald Reagan for reelection in Imperial County, and asked him to order out the national guard.
Many of the two thousand troops were veterans of Watts, and most of them were stashed in a makeshift outpost at Kezar Stadium when they arrived in the city. Police Chief Thomas Cahill ordered the entire S.F. police force, on duty together for the first time since
[end page 240]
V.J. Day in 1945, to try and restore some semblance of imposed order. They wore helmets and carried shotguns against the rock-andbottle-throwing blacks who were massed around the E.O.C.'s Bayview Community Center, which had been the S.F. Opera House before the earthquake.
It was Indian summer weather and the mass media gave hourly reports of the temperature readings; City Supervisor Terry Francois begged his "black brothers" to cool it; Assemblyman Willie Brown demanded the dismissal of the cop and more jobs for black men; at the request of both Governor Brown and Mayor Shelly, the S.F. Giants-Atlanta Braves baseball game was televised to the home audience with a special tape-recorded feature of Willie Mays appealing to his people to remain inside and "root for your team."
The heatwave continued with record breaking ninety-five-to-onehundred-degree temperatures, and the violent outbreak spread to the Western Addition, inner-city areas of Fillmore and Haight-Ashbury. Several unfounded reports of sniper attacks were radioed to the authorities, and the national guard was ordered into the streets with M- 1 's and rapid-firing Browning automatic rifies. The cops began shooting at the kids and laid down a thunderous barrage of fire into the Bayview Community Center, riddling the place with bullets. There was a photo in the next morning's Chronicle of a black man cakewalking in front of the police line cordoning off Third Street, shouting, "Shoot me! I'm not armed! Shoot me!" They did.
SNCC, SDS, and the Progressive Labor Party organized a demonstration of less than forty University of California students against the presence of the national guard. They marched with picket signs outside the Mission Street Armory, demanding that the troops "Get Out of Vietnam and San Francisco!" and "Go Home!" A few of them surrounded three military trucks in the street behind the armory and shouted, "No soldiers are going to leave this place tonight!" before they were rousted by the cops.
Emmett was up in the Haight-Ashbury when middle-aged, selfasserting radical Paul Jacobs and his attorney-wife, Ruth, led seventy-odd SDS and Community for New Politics members in a demonstration up Haight Street, with signs proclaiming their solidarity with the "Psychedelic Community." The white, radical-liberals of the Bay Area had quickly turned to the equally white people of the Haight-Ashbury after they had been told to go fuck themselves by the blacks with whom they sympathized. But the lon~hairs weren't hav
[end page 241]
ing any either, and there were shouts of "Go back to school whereyou belong!" and lots of outside-agitator jokes hurled at the condescending Berkeley crowd as they submitted to peaceful arrest.
Billy showed up, just as a car full of Students for a Democratic Society pulled down the street with a bullhorn blaring out instructions to "Stay on the Avenue of Psychedelics after the curfew hour and confront the fascist police!" The HIP merchants countered with signs in their fog-lighted shop windows advising, "For your own safety and for your own good, stay home and off the streets!" Emmett and Billy disagreed with the SDS and HIP, because both used the curfew for their own petty interests. They decided simply to ignore the curfew and do or not do whatever they wanted. They put up a few scribbled posters to notify the street of their alternative to foolhardy confrontation and cowardly acquiescence.
A short time later, Emmett spotted a number of the Leary-oriented leaders from the psychedelic Oracle staff, standing under the marquee of the Straight Theater near the top of Haight Street. One of them was a chubby thirty-year-old named Michael with a penchant for white cotton clothes that invited comparison with yesteryear prophets. He was also the Mickey put down in Norman Mailer's poem that was liberated into the "Take a Cop to Dinner" leaflet, and he was actually tearing down a poster--a poster Emmett had just fastened to the lamppost in front of the theater.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing! Huh!" Emmett yelled, as he came up from behind and spun him around. He was about to paste him one in the face, but Billy caught him because the area was full of heat whose attention he was already attracting by shouting, "Well, what the fuck do you think you're doing with our sign?!"
"Take it easy, Emmett. We didn't mean anything. We just have a different way of dealing with the police, that's all. Why don't you come over to the office with us and we'll talk about it, okay?"
"No, there's nothing 'okay' about it! We already know your ingenious plan! You're gonna love 'em to death with fancy suppers 'n suffocate 'em with smoke from burning incense! Well, we got our own way, see! Like standin' on a street corner waiting for no one, if you want, 'n defendin' your right to do it or anything else! That curfew's for you! So, you better hurry home before the nasty policemens give you all a spankin'! 'N leave our signs alone!"
"Emmett, why do you have to be so hostile? We're--"
"Oh, get outta my face, willya! Just Get Outta My Face!" [end page 242]
Afterwards, Emmett and Billy went down to Fillmore Street for some barbecue. While they were ordering, the twenty-block area of Fillmore was sealed off from Fulton to Geary streets. They took their paper plates of food with them and stood outside the eatery, watching the surreality of the paramilitary operation unfold on the sidewalks where children had been playing only moments before. They got caught up in a crowd of black people who were trying to get back to their homes, and it felt strange being white but nobody said anything.
Some kids started throwing bricks from the vacant lot at an official car that was passing, and suddenly someone hollered, "Lock 'n load!" Fifty cops immediately dropped to their knees and jacked shells containing pea-sized charges of buckshot into the chambers of their riot guns. Everyone scattered in hysteria, as a sergeant called, "Bag that kid in the red sweater!" The kid was pinched and thrown into a squad car.
The crowd re-formed with everyone muttering about the insanity of fifty loaded shotguns on a city street. Their faces were all flushed with anger and the heat--the heat that made the tar on the streets soft and sticky and the apartments too hot to stay in. It took most of those people over two frustrating hours to get back to their own places, only to spill back out onto the street again until 3 or 4 A.M.
Billy returned with Emmett to his room and they were hassled by cops and soldiers all the way. By the time they arrived, they were pissed off and bent on vengeance. They made a brace of Molotov cocktails with a couple of half-filled bottles of turpentine and went up to the building's roof. Down below passed personnel carriers with armed national guardsmen patrolling Fell Street. Both of them knew that if they dropped the fire bombs onto a truck, they wouldn't be immediately suspect, because they were white. They also realized that it would touch off a murderous, repressive onslaught by the soldiers, in which black people would suffer a far more devastating and wholesale oppression than they did already. They looked at each other and quietly decided it wasn't their play to make. They hid the rag-wicked bottles in a corner of the roof, and drank up the rest of the beer in the icebox downstairs.
The insurrection simmered down and the newspapers claimed that it was caused by the "cancer of discrimination," and they gave notice that President Johnson had ordered an investigation into the severe unemployment of black San Franciscans. The president of the Chamber of Commerce, Cyril Magnin, immediately announced
[end page 243]
an urgent crash plan to provide some two thousand quick jobs for the minority-race unemployed, and Congressman Phillip Burton claimed that one thousand jobs would be made available in the city's post office during the Christmas rush. Judges Elton Lawless and Joseph G. Kennedy declared a "San Francisco riots amnesty" and freed three hundred adult prisoners, ninety of whom were white and had been arrested in the national guard curfew protests and were bruised and shaken when released because they'd been knocked about by the black inmates of the jail. The House UnAmerican Activities Committee launched an inquiry to probe the "riots" for subversive elements, and sought the support of moderate civil rights groups like the NAACP and the Urban League "to purge black action groups of subversion." The Artists' Political Action Committee of the Artists' Liberation Front paraded in front of city hall with a black coffin labeled "Another 16 Year Old." Connie's Haight Street restaurant, along with the Socialist Workers Party-Young Socialist Alliance, laid two large, bright, yellow wreaths on the dirt of the rubbish-strewn hillside where Matthew "Peanut" Johnson had been shot dead, as a poignant memorial-- "In Brutal Memory of Black Justice."
Then it was all over and the riot headlines were pushed off the front pages by a sensational expose of a former Kentucky governor's grandson named Augustus Owsley Stanley III, as the "LSD Millionaire," and by the "LSD Fugitive's Strange Story" concerning Ken Kesey's totally unstrange return trip to San Francisco while everyone had been preoccupied during the insurrection. After having fled the city ten months before to escape a pot bust, he came back from Mexico, he said, "as a fugitive, and as salt in J. Edgar Hoover's wounds," and also to help with a "graduation ceremony." He confused everyone with his change of heart about LSD and angered some former friends by wanting to convene seventy-five hundred people for an "acid test commencement" on Halloween, to show the way to a new style of communal interchange. At the same time, he wanted to deemphasize chemical turn-ons by graduating acidheads out of LSD. All it finally amounted to, after the hoopla died do~hn, was a by-invitation-only, private party held in a warehouse with a lot of booze and plenty of group analysis. For weeks the press had everyone hyped about what a Slam! Bang! party-bash it was going to be, but it turned out to be something less than a whimper. "Spargere voces in vulgum ambiguas," someone said a long time ago in the prologue of the past.
[end page 244]
As the weather and black people continued to cool out, the press kept up its graphic coverage of the hippies. In fact, the word hippie was itself a fabrication of the mass media, and in order to do it justice, there was a flood of newsprint devoted to the subject of hipsterism, ranging from stories about the "Beatnik-Anarchist Provos" in Holland, to profiles of various Haight Street characters like Super-Spade, a twenty-five-year-old, leather-clad, black grass dealer, who wore a button proclaiming himself "Faster than a speeding mind." The media launched such a concentrated, focused assault on the Haight-Ashbury that it soon became the most overexposed neighborhood in the country. Only Washington, D.C., and other seats of government have been more closely covered by journalists.
The Mime Troupe's outdoor season in the parks ended, and the company accepted a few indoor bookings around the Bay Area. Emmett and Billy performed together nightly in a comedy-farce called In-Put, Out-Put, a one-act written and directed by the Hun about the basic absurdity of computer programming. The performances ran for a week at a Berkeley coffeehouse and died the way live theater always dies when it upsets or embarrasses audiences. Emmett's unemployment checks stopped shortly afterwards and he was broke, which was no big thing because everybody was. Neither he nor Billy could see what was so hip about it, however, or what was soulful about panhandling. Since being fleeced was the daily condition of most Haight people, the two of them resolved not only to relieve their individual strapped conditions, but to try also to aid some part of the larger down-and-out community. After all, that's what they were talking about and demanding in the Digger Papers: collective social consciousness and community action.
Billy and Emmett wanted to pull some sort of score which would benefit others besides themselves--some job that would provide a take big enough to share. Plain money wasn't the answer because greed would probably never permit a sizable cash haul to be properly divided among the people and besides, no one would learn anything about collective interaction from it. What was needed that they could buy with a sackful of stolen money?
"Bread!" exclaimed Emmett. He got Billy to drive his '55 Ford station wagon to the San Francisco Produce Market on the outskirts of the city. The sun had only been up for half an hour when they pulled through the chain-link front gate and drove into the lot, past the loading platforms stacked high with crates of fresh fruit and
[end page 245]
vegetables. One of Emmett's uncles used to truck wholesale produce from the West Side marketplace in Greenwich Village to some small supermarkets around Brooklyn, and at age ten or eleven Emmett had helped him quite a few times when his uncle's regular helper was sick. He learned his way around produce during those brief assists and stole meat from the same markets to pay for his junk habit. Now he attracted a lot of attention because of his very long hair, but Emmett's fluent Italian compensated for that. He spoke with the immigrants who ran the wholesale stalls lining both sides of the market. At first most of them were suspicious, but they became friendly after he handed them a line, and within an hour the Ford wagon was packed tight with crates of food. There were tomatoes, turnips, green beans, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, onions, eggplant, squash, potatoes, lettuce, yams, apples and oranges. From a particularly generous Italian named Paddy, who managed the only poultry plant in the market, they got fifty pounds of chicken and turkey parts. That was all there was to it.
Driving back to town, they discussed different ways of distributing the food. The problem was that the street people, who really needed it, had no place or means to cook it.
"We can get it cooked. We'll make a stew."
"What do we use to cook with? What'll be big enough?"
"Cans? Garbage Cans?
"No, milk cans. They re sterlllzed n durable 'n you can handle 'em easy."
So they snatched a pair of twenty-gallon milk cans from a dairy plant in the Mission district and transported everything back to Emmett's place. It was around 8 A.M., when they began boiling down the fowl to make a stock for the stew. They worked hard for hours preparing the vegetables, Emmett working as hard that first morning as he was going to daily for over a year. He worked harder than most blue-collar folks work for a living--something Emmett had done only occasionally to the probable chagrin of the ghost of his late grandfather whose union cards he still carried in his pocket. They talked while they worked and decided to give away the stew in the Fell Street Panhandle of Golden Gate Park at 4 P.M. that afternoon. While Emmett ladled the inches of grease away from the surface of the stock and continued to ready the greens, Billy went downtown to mimeograph and hand out several hundred leaflets notifying the Haight community about
[end page 246]
FREE FOOD GOOD HOT STEW
RIPE TOMATOES FRESH FRUIT
BRINC A BOWL AND SPOON TO
THE PANHANDLE AT ASHBURY STREET
4 PM 4 PM 4 PM 4 PM 4 PM
FREE FOOD EVERYDAY FREE FOOD
IT S FREE BECAUSE IT S YOURS!
They added the greens and potatoes to the stock only minutes prior to leaving, otherwise they would have lost their solidity in the boiling hot soup and melted into a mush, instead of becoming a stew. It was just before 4 P.M. when the two of them drove over to the Panhandle and set the hot milk cans on the grass with the boxes of tomatoes and cartons of fruit. There were already fifty people waiting and another fifty-odd showed up immediately, some of them carrying their bowls tied to their belts. The number of people increased to a stationary two hundred, as the Free Food continued through the week in the Panhandle, every afternoon at four. The bowls dangling from the waistbands took on an immediately recognizable significance.
The word quickly spread and soon such underground papers as the Berkeley Barb were nibbling around, trying to scoop a story on who was behind the Free Food event. They only ended up running into an anonymous wall, and finally were discouraged enough to simply chalk it all up to that "mystery-shrouded Haight-Ashbury group, the Diggers." The hipsters who knew Emmett and Billy searched them out in the cold fog and found them sitting on the grass among the young newcomers to the Haight and the old-timers from skid row, gobbling up the soup du jour. The Hun remarked that it was a great idea. "Try to keep it going for another week, if you can, and you'll really get your point across. Just another week. Terrific!" The straight New Lefties came around and turned a little green with envy that they hadn't thought of the food angle as an organizing principle themselves. If they had, they would have done it only as a one-shot for the publicity. The liberals, hip and square, would watch the hungry crowd being fed and grope around, looking for someone to offer a donation to. Conservatives would ask why everyone didn't get a job.
Emmett and Billy knew that Free Food everyday in the park was a popular act, but they didn't intend it solely as a symbol. No, they were hungry and so were a lot of others, and they were going to keep
[end page 247]
the Free Food going every day, in spite of everything and for nothing. When donors would offer notes of vicarious approval, they'd take the bills, strike a match, and burn them to the amusement of those eating. The young kids squatting in the Panhandle were hungry and afraid all right, but they were on their own for the first time for no matter how long, and they wanted no material support from members of their parents' world. The burning of the ten- and twenty-dollar bills typified, more than anything else, what they felt and what the Diggers believed.
A half-dozen young women, a few of whom were dropouts from Antioch College, shared a large pad together on Clayton Street and volunteered to take over the cooking indefinitely. Two other members of the Mime Troupe, Butcher Brooks and Slim Minnaux, undertook the everyday delivery of the prepared food to the 4 P.M. Panhandle feed. This left Emmett to make the early morning round of pickups at the Produce Market, the Farmers Market and the Ukranian Bakery. On his way back to Clayton Street every A.M., he would try to steal some beef for the stew. They didn't have access to any freezer storage space, so he could snatch only a side of beef at most from a meat packing plant, or from one of the trucks making deliveries, and take it back for the group to butcher themselves. He tried hustling a head butcher at the Allen Meat Company for a daily box of scraps and bones for soup stock, but he only got himself whacked on the head with the flat side of a cleaver--and no meat. Of course, he could have hijacked a whole trailer full of meat and fenced the goods, but that would have only been a one-shot deal, and the importance of Free Food was its steady continuance everyday at the same time for as long as it was needed.
Billy hustled some dough and Emmett rented a six-car garage on Page Street that was filled with empty window frames. He was joined by some young dudes from the 4 P.M. feed, who helped him nail the window frames all over the wooden front of the garage and clean up the inside. Simolean Gary had come down from Redwood looking for parts for his motorcycle; John-John had roamed out from Brooklyn, riding the rails, sleeping in freight cars; Motorcycle Richie had also wandered from Manhattan, driving out on a hot Harley-Davidson. John-John was Leo Gorcey personified, and if he had been born during the thirties, he would have undoubtedly been one of the Dead End Kids in the movies and he knew that. The combination of the three of them was enough to keep life from ever getting boring. They stenciled a sign below the roofline and opened
[end page 248]
the doors to the street within a few days. The place was called the Free Frame of Reference and it was the first free store.
Emmett didn't bother to make clear to the community something which was very important. He didn't bother because he didn't want to at the time. That something was that the Free Food was not begun to prolong the economic usefulness of day-old bread or vegetables or bad cuts of meat, and the free stores were not set up to prolong the economic usefulness of secondhand clothes and other items. Only a fraction of the goods used or accepted were secondhand and they were made available and displayed to effect a Salvation-Goodwill-salvage cover to conceal the fact that the rest of the stuff was new and fresh and had been stolen. People who tried to deposit their refuse at the Free Frame of Reference were told to go and recycle their garbage someplace else. And when the stiffs wanted to speak with whoever was in charge of the operation they were told, "You're in charge! You wanna see someone in charge? You be in charge!" This was done not only to dramatize the concept of assuming freedom, but also to prevent the cops from vamping and busting someone for being in possession or receipt of stolen property. For the same reason, the leases for these places were always signed by some drifter passing through town and not by Emmett or Billy or anyone else. No one ever accepted responsibility for anything.
Butcher Brooks was a photographer and he had a battered VW bus painted a bright yellow, with a slogan written on the outside panel in orange Day-Glo, "The Road of Excess Leads to the Palace of Wisdom!" He had been working as a Digger for about a month, and his bus became known around the streets as the yellow submarine, often carrying the Digger women--Natural Suzanne, Fyllis, Cindy Small, Bobsie, NanaNina--in the back with the prepared food. The crowd would see the yellow submarine coming down Ashbury Street and they would mill around near the curb in the park. Brooks sometimes felt the people were taking the Free Food too much for granted so, instead of parking and unloading, he often teased them by continually passing, until he sparked them into some sort of action, like waylaying the bus when it became delayed in traffic, removing the ignition keys, and seizing the cooked food. He also made them work for it by sealing the milk cans tight, banging the lids firmly shut with a hammer. It would take some time for several guys in the park to tug the jammed cover free of the blisterhot can and ladle out the stew. This Free Food theater evolved to a point where Billy constructed a giant, thirteen-foot square Frame of
[end page 249]
Reference from four two-by-fours bolted together, and Emmett painted it a golden orange. The frame would be set up between two large oak trees in the Panhandle every day before 4 P.M. When the Free Food arrived, it would be placed on one side of the frame and the hungry would be made to walk through it to get at the stew and whatever else was being shared on the other side, changing tneir frame of reference as they did.
The Hun was anxious to get involved in the theater aspect of the Diggers' activity and he proposed an event for Halloween. The hero of Kerouac's On the Road, Neil Cassady, was driving the KeseyPrankster bus around the Panhandle that afternoon, holding a lively conversation with the traffic. The bus was a regular school bus that had been Rorschached with almost every color of paint, and had a sign above the windshield spelling "Further," instead of "Bread" or "Meat." Emmett wondered briefly if there was an analogy to the Russian Black Marias that were painted various happy colors and labeled "Bread" or "Meat" to camouflage them from their citizens. That evening, while Ken Kesey furthered his pranksterism with a diploma from his own graduation, Emmett and Billy carried the two-by-four Frame of Reference up to the corners of Haight and Ashbury, where they stood it against a lamppost. Sculptor La Mortadella showed up with a pair of his nine-foot puppets, which he'd made for a Mime Troupe presentation, and the Hun, Slim Minnaux, and Butcher Brooks. Dozens of three-inchsquare yellow wooden frames made by the Digger women were given out to the gathered curious, who hung them around their necks like medallions. A puppet show was improvised on the corner about the in's and out's of being on either side of the Frame of Reference. Billy and Brooks held the frame steady, as the other four paired off to handle the gangly puppets--one maneuvering the hands, the other holding the stilt and performing the voice. Each puppet remained on the opposite side of the frame from the other, but both changed sides frequently, commenting on the differences between them.
A crowd of five hundred formed, blocking the sidewalk and traffic, and were quickly followed by the cops, who ordered everyone to "break it up! And move along!" No one moved, so for some reason the cops turned and addressed the puppets instead of the puppeteers, and warned them they were violating the law by causing a public nuisance and obstructing traffic and further informed them they would be arrested if they didn't cease and desist. This
[end page 250]
dialogue between the coppers and the puppets tickled the people silly, and continued until reinforcements arrived and the puppets were busted along with their maker and the puppeteers. The cops had a difficult time placing the dolls in custody because of their size. In fact, they were almost too large to fit into the paddy wagon, but were somehow squeezed inside after much effort.
Brooks got enthusiastically fanciful and tried to incite the crowd to "free the prisoners!" They began to rock the patrol wagon, and for a moment it seemed about to go over, but the people retreated when Brooks was popped and thrown in with his comrades. The cops drove the wagon away to the park police station, leaving Billy to dismantle the frame and carry it back to the Free Frame of Reference on Page Street with John-John, Gary and Richie. The rest of the Diggers, mostly women, scattered to raise bail money from the community.
At the station house, Captain Keily tongue-lashed Butcher but didn't charge him for attempting to incite a riot. Both puppets stood against a side wall, and cops entering and leaving the station would make startled comments like, "Will ya look how fuckin' big they are! Jesus, if one of 'em fell on somebody, it'd probably kill the son of a bitch! Why the hell does somebody make something so fuckin' big in the first place? They gotta want to hurt people! Look at how big those fuckers are!"
All five puppet showmen were charged with violating penal code 370, creating a public nuisance and were booked and locked up together in the same back cell. Emmett, like the rest, felt it was a "fun bust," the only time being arrested has ever been a fun thing in his life. It was fun when you consider that arrest was the moment he feared most during his career as a thief. This bust was just a goof--a misdemeanor punishable by a small fine, a reprimand and/ or a couple of days in the city jail, not by a term behind bars in some penitentiary.
None of the Haight Independent Proprietors, or HIP merchants, as they were called, came across with even a portion of the $625 needed to bail them out. But, after being transferred downtown to the city prison's misdemeanor tank in the Hall of Justice building, they were able to sweet-talk the head of VISTA's O.R. Project and get themselves released without bail on their own recognizance. They did this by proving to him through a series of telephone calls to the Mime Troupe and a signed affidavit from Ronnie Davis that they all lived in and had roots in San Francisco.
[end page 251]
The case went before Municipal Court Judge Elton C. Lawless within forty-eight hours--on Emmett's 22nd birthday. His honor reluctantly dismissed the case before anything got started, at the urging of Deputy District Attorney Arthur Schaffer, who said, "Further investigation indicates that the charges of creating a public nuisance should be dismissed in the interests of justice." The further investigation he mentioned was some cocktail conversation he had with the defendants before eating lunch with them. This penal code 370, which they were charged with violating, had been chosen by the park station cops as the main weapon in their declared war of harassment against the Haight Street people, and the puppet quintet was happy to be cut loose. They were in a good mood when they walked out of Lawless's courtroom, and their loudness attracted Bob Cambell, a newspaper photographer who was assigned to cover the municipal court building, which was quiet with the inactivity of a dull afternoon. He got the story from the deputy D.A. and asked the five defendants if they would stand on the outside steps for a photo. They did without thinking anything of it.
The next morning, Emmett walked down his block for a newspaper and a cup of coffee. On the corner there was a sealed container that unlatched a Chronicle when it was fed a dime. He dropped his ten cents into the slot, opened the lid, and what he saw made him lift out two copies instead of one. On the front page was a five-by-seven picture of him and the others, outside the court building after their release the day before. The photo was headlined, "In the Clear" and captioned with their names and a brief synopsis of who they were and what had gone down. He was referred to as an actor, but thankfully there was no mention of the Diggers or even the Mime Troupe. The photo captured each of them striking a pose: La Mortadella was shown with his pinky and forefinger raised in the sign of the cornuto or the cuckold; Slim Minnaux was leaping with arms-stretched, fists-clenched ecstasy; the Hun had his thumb jammed up into an imaginary asshole, and his face was pinched like .someone who just smelled a load of shit; Butcher Brooks was dressed in someone else's style and leaning forward in a stiff, fraternity stance, Emmett, still wearing his army boots, with a scarf knotted around his neck, an IRA cap flopping on his head, and a cigarette loosely hanging from the corner of his smile, was one step upstage from his pals, staring out at the reader from above the middle finger and index finger of his right hand, raised in the sign of a backwards
[end page 253]
V which to the English and Irish means "Up Your Ass!" and is the equivalent of the American, lone, uplifted, middle finger.
The photo seemed as big as life to Emmett, and he wondered if it meant any trouble. He didn't like too many people knowing about him, and now half the city was probably going to know all their names before the day was out. He finished his coffee and then thumbed a ride up Haight Street to Clayton. As he was walking up the hill to the house where the stew was being fixed and the station wagon was parked, several people called out to him by name and flashed him a V-sign. He stopped a few of them and explained that they had it all wrong. "You've got to turn your hand around 'n flash it backwards. Like giving someone the finger. See . . ." and he showed them. But there were too many to bother about and by the time he went over to the Panhandle at 4 P.M. for something to eat, everyone was waving the V-sign to him and to one another, saying things like, "Peace, brother." "When are you going to run for mayor, Emmett?" It was depressing. There he was, on the front page of the town's only morning newspaper, telling everyone to shove it all up their ass, and they thought he was just imitating Winston Churchill or something. "Fuck it!" He decided there was no way to make the hippies hip to it, and besides he had better things to do.
The Chronicle photo also had another effect: it clued in photographers who covered the Haight-Ashbury that the Diggers were newsworthy, and fed the Hun's enthusiasm toward media takeover and newsmaking. Emmett asked several hip, freelance photographers--and warned some straight, establishment cameramen--to refrain from taking his picture because it would interfere with his work and ultimately impair their health. The Hun was charged up and laid plans for the disruption and possible takeover of a radio station in San Jose and another in Berkeley, both of which had invited the Diggers to appear for an interview and telephone discussion with the listening audience. Meanwhile, the pick-up, preparation and distribution of Free Food was left to Emmett, Billy and the women, with everyone else opting out for the more exciting and adventurous game of guerrilla theater.
Emmett hustled some twenty turkeys from Paddy at the Produce Market, got them cooked in ovens all over the Haight community in the morning, and shared them with the people who gathered at the Free Frame of Reference on Page Street at 4 P.M. that Thanksgiving afternoon, 1966. He also went on radio with the Hun, Coyote and the others, but was careful not to say anything. He just remained [end page 258]
closemouthed and listened to the rap they laid down about what was happening in the Haight-Ashbury, and how the material affluence of America was permitting many of the young people to live off of society's surplus and enabling them to use wampum items that were already made, or that they created themselves instead of money. These points were further discussed in a meeting a few nights later at the Page Street Free Frame and developed into a theatrical event to "celebrate the death and rebirth of the Haight-Ashbury and the death of money."
To the stone disapproval of R. G. Davis, who felt his company was being co-opted by the Diggers and their street activities, most members of the Mime Troupe organized the celebration for that Saturday afternoon and Emmett invited the Frisco Hell's Angels to take part. Two hundred car mirrors were removed from wrecks in the junkyard and a thousand penny whistles, candles, incense sticks and several hundred lilies were collected, and two reams of two-foot wide posters were printed with the word NOW! blocked in six-inchhigh, red letters on a white background.
The event began with the NOW! posters being silently handed to everyone on Haight Street, while members of the Mime Troupe, having split into Group 1 and Group 2, walked parallel up and down on both sides of the street, chanting. First, Group 1 would go, "Ooooo!" Then Group 2, "Aaahhh!" Group 1, "Ssshhh!" Group 2, "Be cool!" Back and forth like that, over and over, louder and louder. At the same time, the penny whistles were distributed through the swelling crowd, and they used them to join in, blowing up an eerie, high-register shrill. Young girls dressed in white-sheet togas gave everyone a flower, and the car mirrors were passed around to reflect the light from the sunny side to the shaded side of the block. The smell of burning incense was everywhere, as the people surged onto the blacktop, blocking traffic. A muni-bus driver got out of his coach and danced in the street with a girl, and his passengers disembarked to mix in the fun. The Frisco Angels rode their chopped 74s along the white line between the stalled, bumperto-bumper cars. They rumble-roared past the crowd in a procession with NOW! banners flapping from their sissy-bars. Hairy Henry was up front with Fyllis standing on his buddy seat, wailing, "Frrreeeee!"
Soon there were three or four thousand assembled, and the noise of celebration rose to a jubilant crescendo, as the sound of a mantra began: "The streets belong to the people! The streets belong to the people!" The beat went on as the tactical police force bunched up
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on a side street toward the top of the Haight. They were summoned by Captain Kiely because the people had neither applied for nor been given a permit for their gathering, therefore it was unlawful and~had to be stopped. But how do you try to stop four thousand people from partying? They didn't, and the beat set in, "The streets belong to the people!" "The streets belong to the people!"
Their parade completed, the Frisco Angels parked their bikes up at the end of the block. As Hairy Henry was helping Fyllis from his scooter, a pair of TPF cops came over and told him he had committed a violation by allowing her to stand up on the seat while his machine was in motion. They asked to see his license, and then ran a radio check at headquarters to see whether he had any outstanding warrants. There were no traffic warrants out on him, but they learned that Henry had just been paroled from San Quentin, having finished an eight-year bit. They told him to come with them over to the station house and they would return his license to him there. Hairy Henry told them to keep it. More cops came over, and he was arrested for resisting arrest. "What resist? You never told me nothin' 'bout no arrest! What arrest? What for?" They dragged him into the paddy wagon, but his tight friend and Hells Angel brother, Chocolate George, started pulling him back out again. He was bystanding during the incident and felt that the coppers were doing Henry wrong. The cops piled all over the two, and after a struggle, shoved them both inside the wagon, locking the wire-mesh door.
The rest of the Frisco club had walked back to the party long before the cops had made their move against Henry, but several persons witnessed what went down and one of them ran over and told Emmett about the bust. He decided to lay it on the people and see if there was enough solidarity on the street to warrant the continued talk of community. Slim Minnaux, who was tall enough to be seen and heard far back in the crowd, bellowed out the news and told everyone to march on the park station for their release. There was a loud shout of unanimity as the people turned as one and started towards the station house. The party mood continued with poet Michael McClure strumming his autoharp and Hells Angel Freewheelin' Frank shaking his tambourine, both walking in front with everyone singing, "We want Hairy Henry! We want Chocolate George!"
Reinforcements were called in by Captain Kiely when he heard what was happening, and the cops surrounded the station. The
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crowd turned along Stanyon Street, went through Golden Gate Park and across to the parking lot in front of the station house. The line of cops fell back in face of the two to three thousand marchers who were lighting the candles now and still maintaining the song, "We want Hairy Henry! We want Chocolate George!" Some of the people even pushed their way past the surprised coppers and inside the station and almost succeeded in releasing both prisoners, but were driven back outside at gunpoint. A coffin, used to symbolize the death of money, was held up and quickly filled with the $380 bail required for the two. This was handed over to the Frisco club's president, Angel Pete, who remarked that he had never seen anything like it. The people had never stood up for the Hells Angels before, and the speed with which the money was collected really surprised him and he yelled, "Thanks!" to the crowd as he left with his brothers for the bondsman.
Chocolate George was bailed out later that night, but Hairy Henry was kept locked in the felony tank at the city prison on a parole hold with no possibility of bail until the case against him was tried. That's what you call being burned, and Emmett was pissed off. He got Henry an attorney who said he would defend him gratis. He even got to see Henry at the city prison--but not as a visitor.
Emmett was spotted lifting a one-hundred-pound box of prime round steaks from the rear of a truck being loaded at the Armour meat company. A truck driver, who was goofing off in the cab of a trailer parked nearby, clocked him as he slid the meat into the back of the Ford wagon and drove away. The fink also wrote down the plate number before calling the cops. Emmett had just dropped the haul at Clayton Street and was driving back to his pad with a steak he intended to fry for himself before collapsing asleep. He heard the sirens and the order to pull over at the same time. There was a .38 staring at the left side of his face and he didn't argue. They found the piece of meat on the fioor underneath the dashboard wrapped in a sheet of paper. He had carefully pulled the car into a parking space along the curb, so it wouldn't be towed away, and he was then handcuffed and taken downtown to the Hall of Justice in a squadrol. There he was booked for possession of stolen goods and suspicion of grand theft. He said hello to Henry when they locked him inside the same felony tank, and was asked what he'd been popped for.
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"Possession of what? Grass? Coke? What?"
"Meat. Possession of a fucking piece of meat!" And everyone laughed.
But this one wasn't a fun bust. The Armour meat company, as well as a couple of others, had been reporting frequent thefts~to the police, and he was going to be in real trouble if someone could place him at the scene of any other grabs. He sweated a little, but he could hardly keep his eyes open or his mind on the problem. This was his first day off in nearly three months and he just crashed on one of the bunks until his bond was posted the next day.
There didn't seem to be any witnesses to any of the other heists, or at least they weren't coming forward, but the company still wanted to prosecute him to the full extent of the law and set an example of him in the newspapers. Fortunately, his attorney, a strong man named Richard Wertheimer, who studied law after becoming crippled as a longshoreman, was able to talk with a few of the company's directors and make a deal. Emmett was to make restitution for the one hundred pounds of round steak and they would ask the court to reduce the complaint to simple petty theft and to grant clemency. At the preliminary hearing, Dick Wertheimer spoke with the judge in chambers, and when the court was in session continued his plea from the floor, asking that his honor understand that "the boy wasn't stealing the meat for himself or to sell for cash but he did it to divide among the poor and hungry, disenfranchised, young people who've been crowding into the Haight-Ashbury . . ."
Judge Joseph G. Kennedy was presiding and his response to that argument was, "Well, son, even Robin Hood had to pay his dues. Six months . . ."--and he hesitated long enough for Emmett to mutter, "Shit!" for having copped a plea--". . . suspended. And six months probation." With the stipulation that he reimburse the Armour people before the completion of that probation.
A week later, Hairy Henry and Chocolate George were in the same courtroom with Brian Rohan, the attorney Emmett had asked to defend the two. As soon as the court was called into session, the prosecution dismissed the charges for lack of evidence, and Rohan flipped out because Henry had already spent weeks in jail, and Rohan had put in long hours preparing for the defense. Why had the D.A.'s office waited until now to drop the charges? Why hadn't they notified him and his clients sooner? But there was nothing to be done. When he stormed out of the courtroom into the hallway, he ran smack into one of the arrestin~ officers, a punk-faced bastard
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named Kerrens, standing next to a crowd of newsmen. Kerrens had made a quick reputation on the streets in the Haight as a brutal, Iying prick, and Rohan knew this. He really let it fly in a good, solid, five-minute tirade, which he closed by promising the cop he was going to build a harassment-brutality case against him that wasn't only going to get him kicked off the force, but also give his wife grounds for divorce. Emmett enjoyed the at-the-drop-of-a-hat performance and so did Rohan. The cameras had recorded every moment of his displayed outrage and the cop's embarrassment for the six o'clock newscasts. It was plenty slick.
The Frisco Angels wanted to repay the people of the Haight for having come through with their brothers' bail. The club wanted to throw a party and Angel Pete talked about it with Emmett. They decided to have one in the Panhandle on New Year's Day and they did. It was called the New Year's Day Wail! and the Angels bought beer, which they gave away to everyone, and paid for the PA system. Emmett arranged for an eighteen-foot, flatbed truck to be used as a stage. Since it was early Sunday afternoon, Emmett had to go wake up Big Brother and the Holding Company, as well as the Grateful Dead. Pearl cursed his being to infinite damnation, and Jerry Garcia suggested he go play Russian roulette with a loaded automatic, but they came and he played his beautiful guitar licks and she sang her trashy soul out for the people.
It was a great day and a hell of a party--the first free rock-concertparty in any city park put on solely by the people for themselves. By late afternoon everybody was high and happy. The cops came, saw the way everyone looked wasted, and split, muttering something about the absence of a park permit. The crowd shouted a goodbye after them: "The parks belong to the people! The parks belong to the people!" Even so, Emmett believed the cops would have vamped, if the music had continued past dark. But the bands had to gig at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms that night, so there was no music. None that was played over the loudspeaker system, anyway. The "Wail!" ended with the falling sun and the Angels rode off on their scooters and everyone else drifted away, smiling with the feeling of having had a good time.
Emmett got loaded after he returned the truck, and bedded down with Natural Suzanne--a high-hipped, eighteen-year-old Michigan girl with sharply etched cheekbones, who dropped out of Antioch to live in the Haight-Ashbury. She had been staying with Emmett for a few weeks and they both liked it. The past three months, since the
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