Posts Tagged ‘True Story’

Viva La Revolution

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Viva La Revolution

It was a glorious, spring day. Puffy, white clouds caressed an eye-popping, blue sky. Cool but not cold. I was on the quad of my university playing guitar and singing “The Great Mandala” by Peter Yarrow. “So I told him, that he’d better, shut his mouth and do his job like a man. And he answered, ‘Listen, Father. I will never kill another.’ He thinks he’s better than his brother that died.” Vietnam. It was a war that killed and mutilated and left many a young man’s future tossed off onto the shoulder of the highway of life, forlorn and forgotten. All for a cause that didn’t exist .

“If we don’t stop communism in Southeast Asia, we’ll be fighting them in San Diego.” I was from Colorado. I didn’t care if the Vietnamese invaded San Diego. But it never occurred to the hawks that the agrarian communism of Russia and China didn’t appeal to Americans the way it appealed to undeveloped countries trying to throw of the yoke of colonialism. In Vietnam’s case, us.

Every night you saw film of injured or killed American soldiers being carted off the battlefield, Viet Cong executed, villages set on fire and the women and children running in terror, Buddhist monks self-immolating in protest. The nightly news. I don’t know if I can convey how important it was. If you wanted to know what was going on, you read the paper and watched the nightly news. There were 3 of them: NBC, CBS, and ABC. And they were insulated from their parent companies so that the news wouldn’t be beholden to advertisers. So when you watched the news, you got…news!

Walter Cronkite was the anchor for the CBS nightly news. He was the man who cried when Kennedy was killed. He was the man who told America after the Tet offensive in 1968 that, despite what our leaders told us, the war in Vietnam could not be won no matter how many young men we threw at it. Because we weren’t fighting a country, we were fighting an idea: freedom.

The draft had made the war a part of every family’s nightmare. It brought families to the verge of civil war. I remember that year, 1970, my family celebrated Easter at a brunch. And my sisters yelled at me for being against the war. I have to explain yelling in the context of my family. It was more like stage whispering. “How dare you not support your country?! How can you sit there and judge the actions of the elders?!” To which I would respond, “It doesn’t make sense. The only way it makes sense is from the perspective of those profiting from it.” That didn’t stop the stage whispers.

Vietnam was the main reason the children of the people got together. Protests, marches, sit-ins, lie-ins, love-ins, draft card burnings. The anti-war movement was the burning flame in the heart of American youth. Women, blacks and gays pinned their movements to it, because here was a large group of young American men who would listen and even help with their causes.

April, 1970. The United States invaded Cambodia. Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 because he promised to “get America out of Vietnam, with honor.” Those last two words translated from Nixonese to, “never.” Students across the country left our classrooms behind and took control of the grassy open spaces on the campuses, and created “peace villages” made of tents and sleeping bags and lean-tos, protests, laughter, speeches, heated discussions, music, love and life. The teachers joined us and the administrations panicked. Had they waited us out just a little longer, boredom would have set in. “Whatcha doing tonight?” “Protesting I guess, you?” “Yeah.” We were young.

But they panicked. They called the governors and the governors called the national guard. So it was at my school, so it was at Kent State where the national guard murdered 4, unarmed students and wounded 9 others.

So there I was, singing and playing when the national guard formed a phalanx, three soldiers deep, along one side of the quadrangle. Our fearless leaders with the bullhorns ran to the other side of the quadrangle to put as many students between the soldiers and them as they could.  A beautiful woman crossed in front of me, carrying a bunch of daisies towards the guardsmen. I followed her. She placed a daisy in the muzzle of each M-1 rifle the soldiers carried at port arms. Some softened but many yanked the flower out of their weapons, crushed it in their hands, dropped it, and spat on it to show their utter male contempt for the fact that she made them doubt, even for a moment, that they were doing the right thing. The young man in front of me let the flower stay in his rifle. I knew I knew him and I could see from his face that he knew me.

“Regis High School?” I asked. “You were two years ahead of me,” was his reply. Will was his name. I knew him because everyone in the school knew him. He was brilliant. Everyone thought that he would win a Nobel prize or become a supreme court justice or the first black president. Faced with the draft, he joined the national guard in hopes of staying out of Vietnam. So there he was with all his promise, dressed in drab, olive green carrying a rifle with a daisy sprouting out of it.

We talked about high school. Memories of crazy, wonderful, mean, brilliant Jesuits made us laugh.

His sergeant growled in Will’s ear. “You taking up gardening, son? You miss your mama that bad?” The sergeant turned his dead eyes on me and I back up a step. Will expression removed the flower from his rifle and turned the weapon upside down so that any residue of peace could tumble out.

Way in the back of the crowd, the leaders of our protest exhorted us over bullhorns to “Kill the pigs”, “Fuck Nixon”, and “Give peace a chance.” I guess they hadn’t been able to decide if they were going radical or hippie. I wondered, Why were the leaders in back, I wondered. Shouldn’t they be in front inspiring us with their compassion or fierceness, depending on which bullhorn you were listening to? I thought about Wellington and Napoleon, surrounded by their adjutants on their opposing hillocks, watching their armies slaughter each other. Did Agamemnon lead the fruitless charges against the walls of Troy or was he back in his ship thinking thoughts of empire with a slave tending to his lap?

Will nudged me with his rifle.  “I think you better get out of here,” he said. “…said the joker to the thief,” I replied. I forgot about history. Now I was lost in the Jimi Hendrix version of Dylan’s song.

His rifle nudged me a little harder. I could smell his nervous sweat and gun oil and the daisy.

“I mean it, man.”

I looked at him. Without turning his head he slid his eyes sideways. I followed them. Behind the phalanx an officer, red-faced with anger, yelled, “Fix bayonets!” I looked at Will who unsheathed his bayonet and attached it to his rifle. He gave me a sheepish shrug and I ran. I ran across the boulevard to fraternity row. The frat-boys were for the war because their fathers had made sure their sons wouldn’t be drafted.

Before my eyes, the peace village that had was full of life and love was destroyed in a matter of minutes by young men carrying rifles with blades attached. In their wake were only cries of terror, agony and rage.

My lasting memories are of the clowns on the bullhorns, a governor who decided the national guard was the right way to stop a peace demonstration, a beautiful woman who smelled like spring, and a boy, a school mate and potential friend, separated from me by a gun with a blade attached. For a brief moment, the war and protest had been forgotten as he and I shared memories of a less dramatic childhood.

I read later that Will and all his potential died in Vietnam.

The revolution ended a few years after that. Not because xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny, and fear of anything sexual or non-Christian were defeated.  No, they went into hiding in the Republican party along with the war-profiteers waiting for a more opportune time. The revolution ended the day they ended the draft. No longer unified by the larger cause, black rights, women’s rights, and gay rights had to stutter step on their own through the decades.

The leaders with the bull horns became bankers or hedge fund managers. We all sold our souls for a piece of the American pie. But some of us tried to pass on to our children the knowledge that we all, every living thing, live and breath on this little blue marble in the middle of space. And, no matter what we believe or what god we pray to, we had better learn to get alongPerhaps some of you are those children.

I Had a Ghost

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

I had a ghost. Not someone following me. I might like that. Not a ghost writer. I’m a writer who is basically unread so I think of myself as a ghost writer.

A long time ago my former wife and I were on the path to become former. She was off …modeling, I think she called it, in one city or another. I was remodeling our house. Perhaps in the back of my head I was thinking about sprucing it up for sale, but maybe it was just to clear out some of the dust of a marriage that had grown old and crumbly.

I concentrated on the basement which a predecessor in the fifties had redone with horrendous tile and wallpaper covered plywood walls. I worked methodically through the basement. We had a large, walk-in cedar closet. The cedar boards were thick and still very aromatic. Carefully, I pulled off each cedar board so that I could reattach it after I sealed the concrete behind it. I got to the last section. I realized that the parts of the boards that overlapped the concrete foundation wall weren’t attached but the rest of them were glued on to the last section. I tried to figure out how I could remove them without losing them.

Exasperated, I leaned on the section and it moved inward with an audible, metallic click. I stepped back and the perfectly disguised section of wall swung effortlessly open to reveal a secret room. There was a light switch by the disguised door. Miraculously, it worked. It turned on a naked, single-bulb, ceiling fixture that had an outlet in it. Plugged into the outlet was a Bakelite plug and cloth-wrapped wire cord that hung straight down. The naked, copper wires at the end of the cord were coiled around a heavy, home-made metal cot. The harsh light revealed an otherwise empty, twenty foot long narrow room. When I say narrow I mean not as wide as my outstretched arms. Two sides were concrete basement walls. The door formed the third and the back of a plaster-and-lath wall in the large room of the basement was the fourth.

Trembling, I tip-toed into the room as if fearing to wake someone.

I was too late.

It took about two months to finish the basement. I cleansed it of anything that than hinted at torture and spent some research time in the library. The Bakelite plug and cloth-wrapped wire suggested that the setup had been done before the introduction of modern plastics. Other than discovering that my house was built in 1929, the house and the neighborhood had a quiet history, I found no evidence of a sadistic maniac loose in the Denver area.

The basement was done. The marriage was all but done. I was asleep. April 19th, at a bit past one in the morning, I woke because I was unable to stretch my feet out.

I assumed it was my dog, Fozzie, and was about to make her move when a scream coming from that spot at the foot of my bed chilled me as though I were walking through the frozen section of a grocery store wearing nothing.

I switched on the light, saw that Fozzie was standing frozen at my left side looking at the depression at my feet. The scream intensified. After what seemed an interminable length of time, it and the weight on the bed dissipated. Fozzie, who never passed up a chance to investigate anything with her nose, snuggled close to me instead.

I walked through the house. It was closed-uptight and there was no evidence of anyone but the dog and I inside. I found the door to the cedar closet open, closed it. A cedar closet works on the principle of concentrating the cedar odors from the heartwood oils that thwart an invasion of moths. Leaving the door open was a like having a neon sign advertising an all-you-can-eat wool dinner. Although I considered it, I didn’t lend much weight to the notion that what had just occurred was related to the torture room, because months had transpired since I finished remodeling without anything happening. I continued my patrol, Fozzie glued to my side. Finding nothing, I chalked it up to a bad dream but, for some reason, sleep couldn’t find me again and I spent the night with a book.

The next night, at a little past midnight, I was just settling in. A long, hard day with little sleep behind it made me forget about what I had convinced myself had to have been a dream. Just as sleep was calling me to her, someone sat on the bed beside my right hip.

I assumed that my wife had returned home unannounced and sat next to me in a misguided attempt to right the wrongs of a marriage gone bad.

I turned on the light. Fozzie was on my left. Hair raised and a strangled growl emanating from her. The scream. I hit nothing as I slapped at the air over the depression in my bed. I covered my ears and rolled away from it. Like the night before, the scream and the presence, disappeared.

After another sleepless night. I called in sick to work. I went down into the part of the basement that was the torture room and told the air, “I’m not your tormentor. I just live here. You are free. You don’t need to relive whatever happened to you.” I was a smart and creative guy and was pretty sure that would do the trick.

April 21st. I sat up in my bed reading. I was not going to let my half-asleep subconscious deal with whatever was going on. One a.m. Fozzie stood up, her hair raised as if she were in a Tesla Chamber. A growl struggled to get out of her body. The room chilled. I watched the bed depress as if someone sat on the edge next to my right arm. The scream pierced me. Eyes clamped shut and hands desperately trying to block the heart-rending sound, I rolled to my left.

As before, it stopped. I yelled, “Either kill me or let me sleep. I am not the person who hurt you.”

Although my every inclination was to check into a motel or move and worry about my possessions later, I remained in the house. I moved the television into the bedroom figuring that late night television would discourage the most insistent ghost. That night and for nights to come, there was no visitation. I congratulated myself that the ghost had understood and taken pity on me.

But strange things started happening. Friends, who normally loved to spend some time at my house, quickly suggested going out or made an excuse for leaving. I had a party. One of the guests brought a Ouija board.  After much kidding and joking about raising the dead, I watch from a distance filled with trepidation. As soon as her fingers touched the planchette, a look of electrical shock took over face. She started to moan. We all thought she was kidding but her body tried to continue to moan after she had run out of breath. I grabbed the Board and planchette from her and threw it outside explaining that I had a ghost and raising the dead wasn’t the best idea for the party. The party devolved into a ghost hunt before it devolved back into a party. It was a hell of an ice breaker.

One morning, I was hustling to get ready for work. I had to iron a shirt and the laundry room was in the basement. To get there, I passed through the kitchen and I noticed a broken shade, which I had been meaning to fix, lying on the breakfast nook table. I ironed the shirt. On my way back through the kitchen, I saw the shade hanging in the window. I raced through the house hoping to catch whoever was playing this prank on me. The house was still locked from the night before.

My hand shook as I reached to touch the shade. It was real and it was fixed. From then on, anything that needed repair ended up on the breakfast nook table. The ghost decided his or her time was better spent elsewhere.

In December of that year, a friend of mine moved into my basement. He knew about the ghost but we didn’t talk about it since nothing ghostly had happened in quite a while. About two months later, I was wakened by what I thought was an explosion followed by what he would describe as an angry yell, what I thought was a scream of panic, in the basement. I went into the basement calling out my friend’s name and assuring him that it was me. He told me everything was fine but when I entered his room, I saw a nine millimeter gun in his hand and a small hole in the ceiling over his bed. Thank god for the way houses were built back then. The bullet lodged in the stout subflooring of the living room.

He said that he woke when he felt someone get on his bed. Standing over him was an apparition wrapped in what he thought was aluminum foil. Naturally, he shot at it. I mean naturally if you’re a gun owner.

Other than putting a hole in the ceiling and making me worry just a little bit about his stability, I understood. I told him the ghost was harmless and he went back to sleep as if I had given him a knock-out potion.

April 19th and for the following two nights, the screaming returned. For whatever reason the ghost didn’t wake my friend again who was sleeping mere steps from the torture room but decided to scream at me instead. I wondered if sleeping with a gun was such a bad idea.

About a month later, I started dating. I had known this woman for a while and this was not her first time in my house. She was a model as well, so it didn’t strike me as out of the ordinary when she took an intense interest in her image in the mirror of the dining room. What I did notice was Fozzie, remember my dog, standing in the corner of the room, hair raised, and gurgling a growl. The room chilled perceptibly as if a gigantic air conditioner had turned on.

I looked back at Barbara. Eyes locked with herself in the mirror, she mumbled a mantra, “It’s not me!” She took her long nails to her face. The first sight of blood sprung me to her side. I grabbed her hands to keep her from doing permanent damage. I thought about calling 911 but had no idea how to do it and still control her hands. I wished there was some way to just say, “Siri! Call 9-1-1!” But that wasn’t available then.

After a brief struggle, she stopped. I tended to her superficial wounds. She had no recollection of what had just happened, and accused me of scratching her until I she saw the specks of blood on the underside of her nails. For some reason, she stopped seeing me. Women!

A year passed with the same pattern. Two other people had interactions with the ghost that I didn’t witness. April 19th through the 21st the screaming recurred. It would wake me, I’d wait it out, then almost as soon as it stopped I’d fall back to sleep.

I was hired to write a libretto for a new opera and the producers moved me to New York for a short time to be close to them. The composer lived in Paris. Through the mail and telegraphs, we communicated through some of the most interesting French-English mishmash exchanges one could imagine. I wished there was some way to correspond instantly and maybe have a computerized translation as well.

One of the producers introduced me to a famous psychic who wanted to hire a ghostwriter for his memoir. Ironic? He was the soothsayer to the stars.

He invited me to his house which was opposite the old Saint Patrick’s just south of Houston on Mulberry. Seated in the solarium, we started the interview to see if I was a psychic fit for him—something I thought he should have been able to divine without my presence but what do I know of psychics. The doorbell rang and he excused himself. I was sitting there, probably picking my nose or something when in walked Princess Diana and a body guard. As she removed her scarf and sunglasses, she said, “Oh, hello!” To which I responded, being smart and very creative, “Hi…Di!” Her body guard whisked her out of the room afraid that I might say something even more insipid.

I sat there for a while. I could hear voices in another room, one of them feminine and British. It gave me time to think of all the things I could have said. Just as I was ready to find the Princess and say something more indicative of a person with a brain, Patrick walked in, excused himself and set another date for us to interview. As he was walking me to the door he said, “You have a ghost.” I, being smart and creative said, “Uh huh.”

“Dig up your backyard and you’ll release it.” He punctuated that with the close of the door behind me.

In the succeeding year, I relandscaped the yard. Not because of what the psychic had said but because I was bored.

I didn’t find any bones or bloody clothing or tools, but the house changed. No more screaming. No more things getting fixed by invisible hands. No more friends tearing their faces off or firing guns at the intangible. I wish I could say that I had one last visit where the ghost patted me on the head for helping him or her shuffle off this mortal coil, but no. Much like my marriage, it simply dissolved.  The haunting was so confined and regulated that it never became central to me. Just another odd link in the chain of events of a human life.

School for Wayward Girls

Monday, July 13th, 2015

I’m old. I’m from a different lifetime than the rest of you. Well, back then, back when I was itching to turn sixteen, you couldn’t buy liquor on Sundays, stores and most restaurants were closed on Sundays. Just about anything you wanted to do, if you were itching to turn sixteen, wasn’t allowed on Sunday. It was, after all, the Lord’s day. That left television, which was three channels…four if you counted PBS, five if you counted the independent channel that ran cartoons and reruns from six in the morning until eight at night…and something good Catholic boys itching to be anything but good Catholic boys called, interpersonal recreation.

Boys were encouraged by friends and often family members to become a man sometimes with much back patting and crude humor and sometimes with wry, sometimes wistful, sometimes sad smiles from the females in the family while they said “boys will be boys.” But the risk for girls was extreme. Unwed motherhood had a stigma attached to it akin to being a gong farmer in olden times. Gong farmers would dredge out privies and outhouses. They were paid, not well, but they were paid to do so but the real payment was the occasional wallet, gem, or coin they would find. “Mmmm, tastes like shit but I think it’s gold.” Because of the stench that came with their job, people would cross the street rather than pass near them.

Unwed motherhood had pretty much the same stench. It was, after all, the girls fault because, after all, boys will be boys. Girls and their bastards cast out on the street, or hurried, shotgun weddings, or factitious elopements to men who tragically were shipped out to war before friends and family could meet them were not uncommon practices and excuses rather than the family face the scorn of society. The girls’ education, most friendships, and often any sort of loving relationship with the family stopped when they started to show no matter how young they were.

Birth control pills were in their infancy. Few doctors would prescribe them and certainly no one under the age of 21 could get them. Morning after pills and plan b hadn’t been invented yet. And Roe versus Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the United States, wasn’t even a sparkle in the eye of feminists.

The options for a girl who found herself, as my mother put it,  in the family way, were few. Daughters of the well-to-do were flown off for “a year abroad.” That could mean anything: boarding school—literally an academic year in a European school—or, what it usually meant, that she was pregnant and the family wanted her out of sight until she wasn’t pregnant. The girl would come back, high society smile pasted on her face and a prescription for a new drug called Valium to befuddle the memories of either an abortion or a baby snatched from her arms before the oxytocin could settle in to cement the bond between mother and child. The fact that some society girls spent several “years abroad” never seemed to bother anyone. The fact that she had another child with her ski instructor in Gstad seemed to never make it into the family history.

Poor girls had fewer choices…two, come to think of it: 1 – have the baby and become homeless or the sin-eater for the family, or  2 – find a back-street abortionist and this is where, in a modern pharmaceutical commercial, the announcer reels off all the side effects ending with … septicemia, chronic nausea, gastro-intestinal infection, hyper-sexuality, hypo-sexuality, sterility and—wait for it—death.

Middle class girls had another option: Schools for Wayward Girls.

I went to a Jesuit high school. The Jesuits were famous for being teachers of the highest quality and for their tough, no-nonsense approach to boys. I found both to be true. Their approach to the sexual nature of the teenage beasts they took under their tutelage was at once worldly and crude. They didn’t preach at us. They assumed that we would do all the things we weren’t supposed to do. But they had a couple of tricks up their sleeves.

One was showing us startlingly frank, lurid films about sexual diseases. The photos of destroyed genitalia, skin and body deformation, insanity, and—wait for it—death, are, to this day, burned in my mind’s eye.

I can remember one Jesuit. Not a good looking man. He was a golden gloves heavy weight champ and looking at him you assumed he blocked all of his opponents’ punches with his face.  He spoke… perhaps emoted is a better word… to us after an amazingly disturbing film on pregnancy. His main thrust, if that’s the right word, was that all of the disease and problems with child bearing and birth came from seven seconds of pleasure.

Seven seconds! I tried to time it. Really, I did. I set up my clock.  Oh, god, oh, yes…and the next time I looked at the clock, it was an hour and a half later.

One of their other ploys was sending us to the Good Shepherd Home for Wayward Girls for a dance twice a year. These were during our pre-driving freshman and sophomore years—unless you were Danny Falk who had flunked so many times, he was a shaving, drinking, sexually active, driving twenty-year-old sophomore who was not allowed anywhere near this dance. But he was a hell of a bass player.

I remember my first dance. It was snowy and cold. We were transported from our school to Good Shepherd on a bus. The Jesuit chaperone was a shockingly good looking man. Think George Clooney at his best. He was funny, erudite, and incredibly worldly. He had women in every port. One of the jokes in school was that he was late to class because he couldn’t decide which of his girlfriends should get him off. There were three cardinal rules of the priesthood: Obedience, Poverty, and Chastity.  He came kind of close on Poverty. At least he was interested in adult women. Had he been a pedophile… I might have said yes.

The bus ride was typical adolescent maleness minus the rowdiness. Rowdiness was not something any Jesuit tolerated for long. Many variations on, “they can’t get any more pregnant,” were tossed about the bus.

We were lined up at the front door and stood in the cold. The doors opened to the sight of twenty ripe to over ripe girls lined up on their staircase. It was a throwback to catholic grade school dance. You were paired off by the teacher and that’s who you spent the dance with.

A friend of mine counted the girls on the staircase and the boys in front of him. He double-checked his count. “Peter, switch with me.”

“Your sister in the line or something? What difference does it make?” I was not yet old enough to appreciate the beauty and nuances of pregnancy.

“Just switch with me.”

I looked up. A few girls were sizing us up as well. Most seemed decidedly uncomfortable with the whole idea.  I switched with him. The one my friend, Joel, had settled on was one of the girls counting heads. I understood why he was interested in her. She was pretty and her pregnancy was barely showing. She, after Joel and I changed places, switched with the one behind her. I took that as a compliment. Joel took it as a challenge and we played that game until we were at the conjoining point. After a last minute dive in front of me, Joel got the one he wanted. The only way I can describe the girl I was paired with is, she looked like she had swallowed a fair-sized city and was anticipating with some relish a long post-prandial nap.

I had never seen a woman that pregnant. With adult perspective looking back, she was probably just a pregnant woman in her last month of gestation, but at the age of fourteen, she was… whoa. She, let’s call her Mary, looked at me like I might be the creature from her worst nightmare.  We walked awkwardly into the gym which had been decorated for a fall dance. The lighting was low, the music was a taped selection of what nuns thought children our age liked. It missed by about ten years.

We found a table, I seated her and asked if she would like something to drink, suspecting that city eating is thirsty work.

She nodded and asked for a couple of cupcakes. Other boys took my lead and we met at the food table. More crude jokes were whispered including several aimed specifically at my “date” who was the pregnantest of the group.

I returned with the goodies. Like a cat, she toyed with the cupcakes before devouring them with such delight, I could picture her eating a suburban neighborhood and topping it off with a succulent 9-hole golf course.

She asked for more cupcakes. I got them and placed them before her. A nun, who had been hanging out with our George Clooney in black, crossed the room with the uncanny speed that only a nun bent on punishment can exhibit—think of those horror films where people glide across the room with uncanny speed and you’ll get the image—grabbed the cupcakes from Mary and said, “You’ve had enough.” She took the cupcakes back to George and smiled as they receded into a dark corner to discuss the finer points of immaculate conception.

I had promised myself I wouldn’t bring up her pregnancy, the father of the baby, or anything that remotely touched on the whole, you’ll excuse the expression, elephant-in-the-room. I asked her if she wanted to dance. She laughed bitterly and looked at me like I was clearly a special-ed case.  I talked about all sorts of things. Football, Jesuits, my parents, nuns, the band I was in with the dumb but incredibly talented Danny Falk and, since nothing had roused more than mono-syllabic responses, I asked her how she got pregnant.

Let me be clear, I had watched the films and listened to my adolescent friends who had “experience” so I knew how she got pregnant but it just jumped out of my mouth. I mean I was planning on bringing up the weather and pregnant came out instead of snow.

The look on her face. I thought maybe her babies had decided to kick at once. I immediately back-tracked, apologized and prayed for an early death. Mary simply smiled and looked at the dance floor where Joel and the barely showing girl were getting close enough that another nun swooshed out of the darkness, two spear-like hands before her and separated them.

The dance lasted ten, twelve hours although my watch reported only two of them. We marched out as we had marched in, her hand resting on my crooked arm. As we reached the staircase, she grabbed my forearm with such force I thought she was giving birth that instant. A plaintive cry of, “I don’t know nothing about birthin’ babies,” built up inside of me.

In a barely audible voice, Mary said, “You’ve been nice.” She let go and went up the staircase.

In all the years that have followed, I never forgot her. I never knew her real name or what happened to her or the baby… babies. But I pray that her life has been a good one.

Has a spider monkey ever had its way with your ear?

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Has a spider monkey ever had its way with your ear? I don’t recommend it.

There was a time when I was a young, vibrant revolutionary. I thought of myself that way. In the sixties, 80% of the people my age supported the Viet Nam War…as long as they didn’t have to fight in it. They saw their future wrapped securely in the American flag. But I was a believer in Jefferson’s dream: “the Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” I wasn’t a tyrant and I wasn’t  sure if I was enough of a patriot to shed blood, but I envisioned myself like Jefferson, writing meaningful and trenchant tracts while fucking my brains out.

All around me was change. The streets seethed with protests and marches mostly peaceful, sometimes not. Civil rights, women’s rights, and nascent gay rights movements were trying to shake the country awake. Clearly, we stopped shaking way too early. Permeating all of it was Vietnam. Universal draft made the war something that was on everyone’s mind whether they red, white and blue approved or not. The hallowed halls of academe reverberated with debates, arguments, fist-fights, rage, and whimpering. And that was just the sociology department.

Twenty percent of nation’s youth were willing to throw their souls into the jaws of civil and not so civil disobedience for ideals. We clung to our student deferments like life preservers in a roiling ocean knowing that we were lucky to be in school and not on the front lines.  Yes, we were cowards and yes, we hid behind those who truly were on the front line. But, in our own lily-livered, yellow-bellied, pusillanimous, chicken-hearted ways, we fought the good fight.

And into this vortex I stepped, bright-eyed, holding the cause dear to my heart.  I was a mix of conservative and socialist. I listened to every side and tried to find a common, Confucian middle-path through the insanity. My heart was equally divided between the left and the right.

I was betrothed, if that’s the right word. Not engaged, certainly not married, but unmistakably attached to my high school sweetheart by a mixture of love, loyalty, and the comfort of the familiar. No longer a Catholic, something of a Taoist without realizing it, I was unwilling to tell my devout mother that the church and I no longer saw eye to eye on any level.  All the religious school torture I had gone through was for naught except that it created in me a true loathing for anything that even had a whiff of cult. I was educated but no more Catholic than it served me and it only served me in my mother’s presence. I wasn’t afraid of my mother, I was afraid of damaging the relationship we had. You see, I had a catholic size guilt built around relationships.

I was nineteen and there were no end of women around the campus. Every form of them. Women whose voices made me melt though the rest of them didn’t. Women whose bodies made me harden even as their voices or opinions ate away, bite by excruciating bite, at my lizard-brain interest. Occasionally, there was a woman who had body, mind, and soul. And I knew, had I not been betrothed, that she was the one … Until the next one. You see, young men want to fuck every thing that moves … and some things that don’t. Men don’t want to know women’s names or get to know their friends, unless the friends are other women. They just want sex. If they, perish the thought, become friends with the women, it just muddies the water and could lead, perish the thought, to love. Then it’s a whole other story.

One of those next ones brings me back to the spider monkey. She and I, the woman not the monkey, had been in a couple of classes together and were working on a project for one of those classes. She rented a house near the campus and I went over with at least a modicum of hope that she and I could collaborate on something more intimate. You see, I had not strayed but, as Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything but temptation.”

She was a raven-haired, deep-voiced vixen who generally wore clothes that, in today’s standards weren’t revealing, but in that era revealed just enough to tweak my good, Catholic boy’s holy, little heart with a lustful wrench. I stepped into her house which gave the feeling that Woodstock and the commune were just out the back door.

A wonderland of macramé and tie-dye hung from every conceivable spot framing her like a hippie portrait. She wore something that I immediately assumed was God’s answer to my forbidden prayer—had I believed in God. A translucent muumuu. The words  muumuu and sexy sound like they should never be used in the same sentence. But…oh, my…

The dress’ patterns made her body appear and disappear, making me contort in all sorts of uncomfortable and obvious ways to manipulate her, myself, and the sun into the perfect angle.

We cracked a couple of beers and sat down in her living room. Jimi Hendrix played in the background and she smiled. I took the smile as encouragement but deep down I suspected that she was laughing at the effect she was having on me. I was, after all, listing heavily to my right side to try and get everything lined up. I was on the verge of broaching the subject of the 800 pound gorilla in the room when in bounded Mogo, her pet spider monkey.

I have to preface this by telling you that young children and animals like me. It’s not anything I do on purpose. They just do. And Mogo was no exception. He was on me like police on a hoodie-wearing black kid. Mogo’s proud, human mother, clapped and cooed her approval of Mogo and I getting to know each other. I didn’t mind. Mogo was friendly and cute and stared at me with those knowing, kindred eyes that speak more profoundly of evolution than anything ever written. He took one of my fingers, smelled it, made a face and a sound that made the woman clap and coo more enthusiastically. He touched my face, groomed my hair for a while—yes, I had hair then— before plopping down on my lap giving the impression he had found a new home.

The look on the woman’s face was one of finding the gold at the end of a rainbow. I had passed a  major test. She moved close. Her smell, her voice, that fact that she was much smarter than I, overwhelmed me. I leaned toward her. She toward me. The electricity we generated battled incense for dominance of the air.

I don’t know much about monkeys but I know Mogo was jealous. Of whom, I was not certain. He jumped up between us, grabbed my head with four prehensile paws, wrapped his tail around my throat and screamed while he tried to mate with my right ear. The woman screamed and flapped her hands uselessly and I would have been truly peeved had I not been doing the same thing.  Kind of proves the point that I wasn’t patriot enough to bleed for a cause.

The screaming and flapping spurred Mogo’s desire. Something wet touched my ear. I managed to get a hand between my virgin ear and Mogo’s growing interest. I tried to pry him off. Something about that movement broke the woman’s shock. Scolding and prying loose Mogo’s incredibly strong fingers–taking a little of my flesh with them–she was a flurry of activity. Between the two of us, we were able to dislodge monkey from sexual conquest. Mogo angrily scampered up a floor lamp, screeched and masturbated. Isn’t it amazing how much men are like monkeys?

I checked my ear for damage and she apologized profusely as she dabbed blood off my forehead and neck, both victims of  Mogo’s grasp. I could not wait to get out of there. The ironic thing was that her ministrations put me, her, and the sun in perfect alignment. I made my excuses and left wishing her and Mogo my best.

She and I ran into each other on campus once in a while and she made straightforward advances but Mogo had taught me that being true to my betrothed was the righteous path … Until the next one. To this day, I wonder if Mogo ever found the right ear for him.

 

Land of Opportunity

Monday, January 1st, 2007

A man runs for office against the Ku Klux Klan.  He must run for his life.

“Land of Opportunity” is the story of Carl, a hugely successful attorney, accustomed to luxury and servants, who is forced to flee everything he knows for the wilds of Colorado because he stands on the wrong side of the issue of immigration.  Because his candidacy threatens the Klan supported status quo. Carl is a deeply flawed man who must overcome his own weaknesses to save his life and reputation.

This is the story of Henry, an African-American whose life is torn apart. His brother has been lynched by the Klan and the Klan’s attention is now focused on him. Together, Carl and Henry, allied by circumstance, rediscover their strengths and humanity.  The role of savior passes between them like a baton in a race. Together they overcome the Klan’s assassins and the hardships of the mountains.  Carl and Henry help break the clenched fist the Klan has on the minds of the people and forge a life long friendship.

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