Rats In the Rafters

When I wasn’t working on the engine of the C-10 and day-dreaming about killing the barking dog (and his owner) next door, I was either reading a book or watching a movie on television, stoned and laughing my ass off. I still remember how hilarious Godzilla versus Mothra seemed. Another that hit my funny bone was The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Bill became so disgusted seeing me doing nothing he finally took the television away. It amused me. So I read every book of Maxim Gorky’s in the Spring Valley library, and then I read his powerful autobiography again. I read it three times. No work of Russian literature ever affected me as much. Tolstoy was a count; Dostoyevsky was a bureaucrat, Lermontov an official, Chekhov a doctor. They all wrote about the serfs and their owners—what else was there to write about in Russia?—but Gorky was a serf. His grandmother had died begging in the street. He was the protégé both of Tolstoy and Chekhov. Reading him was like hearing my own voice, feeling my own feelings. Gorky didn’t need big words to tell a story. The content with little embellishment was the story. Every story was full of power because it was true. Gorky revealed Russian meanness, the meanness of the landlords and the meanness of the serfs and indentured workers to each other. It resonated with me. It was the cruelty of the oppressed who had no way of defying their masters. The first time I had witnessed actual meanness and wanton cruelty, it had astonished me. It still does. The cruel things people do to one another over petty grievances floors me sometimes. Since I woke up and saw and understood my condition as the powerless peasant I really was, it wasn’t hard to see things from his point-of-view, or to find relevant similarity to the everyday meanness, injustice and depravity of American life.

I came from a poor family living by the railroad tracks, abandoned by my parents like Gorky was. My devout and frank Irish grandmother, full of God, the bible and love for anybody’s kids, and containing within herself the sorrow of her own losses as well as the losses of her Irish tribe, had raised me. Gorky’s grandmother had raised him too. She made her living selling songbirds in town markets that she trapped in the deep green forest. My grandmother supported my sister Pat and I by taking in sewing and knitting. She had a hard life, growing up in a frontier turpentine camp in the Big Thicket in Texas, over near Jasper. On her honeymoon she had ridden a horse all the way from Alexandria to Lake Charles to stay in the Majestic Hotel, more than 100 miles. Gorky had worked at hard and drudging jobs, and so had I. Once that he had learned how to read and write (from a kindly, educated woman) he never stopped writing, and neither have I. I’d worked a lot of jobs too, from ditch-digging to truck-driving, and knew what it was to break your back, have to live with the stupidity of semi-conscious workers, and be paid in dimes for hard labor. I wrote about everything but couldn’t make it go anywhere or do anything. I wonder if Gorky threw away as much stuff as I have. I doubt it. Once I dumped 50 pounds of spiral notebooks in a garbage can in New Jersey and walked away saying good riddance. I figured if there was anything important in them it had to still be in my head. Sometimes I regret having done it. But I was tired of lugging them around, and when I tried to read what I had written—sometimes so drunk my scribbling was merely an unbroken wavy line—I couldn’t stand the stuff. I’d start reading and say, Oh God, this was in Texas. What a lousy trip. I didn’t want to go there again; I remembered it all. But I wouldn’t hesitate to go back a hundred miles to recover a notebook I had left in a restaurant, find it closed, and sleep in the parking lot so I could get it in the morning. In a cold rage I junked most of it. Throw away the whole damned thing and start over. It was evidence of what a lousy writer I was and how I was wasting my life. Burn the evidence and start again. But, why was I going on with it? Sometimes I would remember with irony why I had started writing in the first place: I had thought it would be an easy way to make a living.

About the time the truck came together and I was seeing a way west, the troubles began at WBAI in New York. Some capitalists on the Board of the Pacifica Foundation, which owns and operates the five Pacifica Network stations in the US, probably took payoffs to betray us with a bright idea to sell the non-commercial, listener-sponsored station’s place in the middle of the FM dial (99.5) to The Ministry of Truth. WBAI-listeners went slightly berserk. Well, most of us are slightly nuts, anyway, if you ask me. You have to be half-crazy to think you can change this stupid system; or an incurable optimist. I'm the latter. You probably think I’m a cynic. Hell, I won the oratorical contest for the Lake Charles Optimists' Club in 1954 by delivering a speech named, “What Is Optimism?” If we didn’t think we could “fight City Hall,” why, do you suppose, we would bother?

WBAI was and is the voice of the antiwar movement, the lesbians and gays, the blacks, the blind, women, the minority communities, the doctors and scientists nobody listens to until it’s too late, the dispossessed Indians of Guatemala, the poisoned people of Love Canal, the assaulted at Wounded Knee, the murdered at Kent State, the wrongly imprisoned, the vilified transvestites, and just about anybody else with a legitimate grievance against injustice, racism, sexism, ageism, militarism, imperialism and official corruption. Most of us believe things can be better. And there is humor. I never laughed so hard than I did one night when a Jewish scholar, a long-time broadcaster at WBAI, whose name regretfully eludes me in old age, read his own translation of part of the Dead Sea Scrolls--the part where Jesus' dad says, "Don't let him out of the house. If he doesn't like someone, they die!"

All we “outlaws,” who can’t get on television or invited to the White House Rose Garden, listen to ‘BAI to the exclusion of almost everything else. (wbai.org) Most of us entertain a certain degree of hatred for commercials. Our commercial government has always hated it. But what they hate the most is that we see them for what they are: hypocrites, liars, crooks, opportunists, careerists, ass-kissers, greedy and warmongers. There have been many attempts to shut Pacifica down in this land of free speech and democracy. When the first news of the attempted sell-off hit the airwaves, alarm bells jangled in our heads and things rolled rapidly toward what we do best: confrontation. It wasn’t a day before activist-listeners converged on the old church on East 62nd Street where WBAI was located then. About the same time my great friend Bob Fass, originator and “Father of Free Speech radio,” (Radio Unnameable) went with keys and accomplices into the transmitter room at the top of the Empire State Building and barred the door so no one could get in to turn the station off. Bob knows how to do it. You bar the damned door and dare them to bust it down to silence defiance. You keep cameras and a live radio feed on hand so you can let the world hear and see what jackboots they really are. (You should be prepared for a beating and some time in jail.) It wasn’t long before a 24-hour windstorm of protests, letters-to-the-editor, meetings, shouting matches, and some actual fistfights were underway all over town. Nearly all of us fell in love with a lovely and intelligent young woman named Elizabeth Lowell Seaton, who entranced us and reminded everyone of a true “flower child,” she was so fresh, sincere and natural. At first there was a tug-of-war over what could be said on-the-air about an internal station matter, but when the conspirators saw they were outnumbered by a bunch of people who didn’t mind, and in fact liked staying up all night and day to save the station, they evacuated the premises in a little tornado of recriminations and threats, and worked behind-the-scenes to get officials to shut the words off or get people out of the church so they could take over. I couldn’t stay away of course. I was there the second day and for the next 77 days I was there quite a lot. It was one of the best things I ever did, because if I hadn’t, I probably never would have met Fass or his friend, Abbie Hoffman, or some of the other creative and interesting people about.

‘BAI listeners are unabashed fanatics about the station. Everybody has his or her own reasons. I started listening in 1968. First it was Bob’s program, which started at midnight and ran till 5 a.m. five nights a week then. One night he was on the phone with Abbie. Ab said he and some people were going out into a snowstorm to "have a “snow ball,” and after that a reading by 26 readers—including William F. Buckley--of Tale of Two Cities. (Buckley read “Knitting.") Years later I heard Bill Schechner (first host of Nightline) cut his hair on KPFK. Clip. Clip. Clip. Listeners were accustomed to occasional long silences, unheard of on commercial radio, where every minute is money, money, and money. Who else would dare? A sudden silence actually makes you listen better. WBAI also started the “War Report.” It was the daily and sometimes hourly news from Vietnam. Nobody else in the country was doing it. The 30 minutes you got on the Nightly News was about it for Americans who claim to be the best-informed people in the world. What can one say about a bloody stupid criminal war in 30 minutes? As you see, I can go on for hours. After commercials and other items, about 10 minutes of “network news” about the criminal war was mostly government handouts, insufficient, misleading and outright lies. Besides that, competent newsmen and newswomen were being censored by the US military in Vietnam.WBAI dug deeper, and interviewed victims of official acts, and publicized dissident opinion. “BAI gave the war news an hour, or however long it took, without commercials. Naturally, it is all "propaganda" to warmongers. To the established news hounds, we were a bunch of nuts; to us, they were a bunch of sellouts.

You might listen to WBAI for a week or two and not hear anything you like. But when you do, you will be hopelessly in love with that station, you poor devil, or you will hate it and badmouth it for the rest of your life. One thing we are sure of is that if there is ever a military coup in this country, we will know by tuning in WBAI and finding it gone--silenced. Amy Goodman, one of the best investigative reporters in the country, and in the same league with Seymour Hersh and Bill Moyers, was news director at ‘BAI for years, and at present does Democracy Now, radio and television, which is syndicated daily to about 200 radio and television stations. Amy won the Pulitzer Prize for radio journalism for her risky reporting from dangerous East Timor, exposing the 20-year genocide of a quarter million people by Indonesia under President Suharto, another of our trusted dictators. When she got on stage in front of media moguls and fancy pants news anchors, she declined the award and gave them such a blast. They had known what was happening in East Timor for at least a decade and had ignored or avoided the story for domestic political reasons. Those shameless bastards didn’t know what to answer. They tried to laugh it off, but the laughter was hollow to us. Amy Goodman, another hero without a uniform, risking her life fighting for the truth.

‘WBAI?” one of my passengers, a brew master at Reingold Beer, said. “All that those guys do is talk!” I asked him what else you are supposed to do on the radio. He told me when he wanted to change things he had voted for Nixon. A really big change. Under Nixon, the war got worse. It didn’t end until the US made the final point of bombing North Vietnam military, rail, harbor, fuel storage yards, bridges, SAM missile batteries and the Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi three days before Christmas, killing 27 doctors and nurses (patients had been moved) and (the US said) "only 1,667 civilian casualties." The hospital was obliterated by a string of "errant bombs" on the fourth day of an 11-day campaign from one of the 207 B-52s and hundreds of tactical aircraft launched on Dec. 18 known as The Christmas Bombings. The Air Force and Navy wanted to prove once and for all that massive aerial bombing was still a viable tactic, but it lost 11 B-52s and a number of F-111s, A-4s, A-6s, a Huey helicopter and other aircraft, and 34 B-52 crews. (North Vietnam claimed 34 B-52s destroyed.) Then, knowing a new Congress was about to cut funding for the slaughter, and pretending it had "bombed Hanoi back to the peace table," Nixon and Kissinger signed the Paris Peace Accords in terms which it had already agreed to in October. If you weren't there, this was the kind of lying crap that illuminated every moment of the Vietnam War.

When I was driving a cab, I switched back and forth between WBAI and WRVR, the non-commercial jazz station that later sold out to cowboy music. One night listeners all over the metropolitan region tuned in to hear some Coltrane, Dinah Washington or Charlie Parker and there it was: crying-in-your-beer music. Welcome to the Irrelevant Seventies. What stands out for me about the Stultifying Seventies is disco, streaking, mass cocaine-addiction, the CIA murder of the legally elected President of Chile and thousands of his followers, and the writing of a hundred thousand lies about Vietnam. But finally, in 1979, came the blessed triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, our only victory. I also remember President Jimmy Carter, the great humanitarian, cutting off medical aid to Nicaragua soon after Somoza Debayle fled with his father's coffin. (They would have scattered his bones.) Somoza had left thousands dead and wounded in a final act of spite by bombing poor neighborhoods of a number of cities. Fidel sent 500 doctors, nurses, and medical supplies. Then the US started charging the Sandinistas--nationalists of course--with "communism."

The crisis deepened as ‘BAI listeners began splitting into factions. Nobody doubted that some were working for “others” to divide and rule. Of course without private detectives and eavesdropping and spying gear and people who know how to use it, you can never prove anything. Suspicion and paranoia were only more tools of the psy-ops boys. We were all tired. After awhile news about the situation couldn’t be distinguished from rumors. That’s the way it goes on the Left. Sincere and competent people start an effort, other seemingly “sincere” people come forth and join, and soon quarrels and secret conversations abound, and whatever comes from weeks or months of networking and planning, meetings, licking envelopes, reading, studying, taking notes, making phone calls, talking yourself hoarse, mass-mailings and wheat-pasting posters, usually results in a “massive demonstration” in Washington—on a Saturday. When only tourists and cops are about, who find it entertaining. (“We can’t have it on a weekday, because people have to work.”) The fact is that nothing of any worth can be accomplished without sacrifice, and, until massive numbers are willing to sacrifice perhaps even our jobs and more, this stupid situation will just get worse.

If I had my way we’d go with five thousand in a lightning strike at 8 a.m. and shut traffic and the government down for the whole day, then disappear. I loved it when anarchists donned masks for the Seattle attacks against the World Trade Organization. I was in San Francisco then. An electric current went through that town and soon hundreds of cars were streaming north. Wreck a few Starbucks; turn a Lexus upside-down, set fire to some garbage cans, smash a few plate glass windows and throw back the tear gas. Nothing gets their attention like destroying holy property. A million people can be butchered anywhere in the world and the American people go ho-hum. Wreck property and people think the end of the world is near. We must shock the citizenry awake, make them see we are damned serious, make them listen to the facts of the matter, to pay attention. Provoke the authorities into overreacting (they always do,) revealing the depth of its incompetence, corruption and stupidity. How else are you going to get these lazy, lying, indolent, self-absorbed, selfish, greedy, avoidant, insensitive, ignorant, arrogant, alcoholic, drug-addicted, illogical, romantic-minded, soap-opera-polluted, indifferent and mean-spirited, Rambo-enthralled, hero-worshiping, simple-minded and "dumbed-down" Americans off their asses, if you don’t’ pinch them awake to make them think? Submitting petitions and writing to Congress is like giving verbal instructions to a grasshopper. If a petition hasn’t been signed by a Supreme Court Justice, it probably goes with the stale pizza crusts.

The spy agencies and FBI programs like the notorious COINTELPRO (exposed in all its blatant criminality and unconstitutionality) have learned to cripple progressive movements not by destroying them, but by causing internal dissension, weakening their impact and deflecting their aim. A near-miss is a miss. There is no answer for it in any sort of revolution, except total secrecy, and severe punishment for informers. Tactics don't work for long when they know what to expect.

So we’re stuck with whatever outcome the government thinks is most-palatable: like stopping the war in Vietnam, but only after major aims have been achieved regardless of the cost. In Vietnam, the US tested weapons, tactics and strategies, learned how to silence or sideline critics, blooded the army for the next war, showed other nations who would be independent how low we will stoop to stop change, and after incidentally murdering 6.5 million people all over Indochina and wounding many more, setting Vietnam back 100 years. Our government refuses to admit that it lost the war. Because as far as it is concerned, the US won. Maybe not unconditional surrender, but look at the damage we did. We all but wrecked the place. Some of that poisoned land won’t produce agriculture for a hundred years or more. Those crippling birth defects go on forever. The health costs imposed on the nation where we killed 3.5 million people are enormous. The government has been fighting against The Vietnam Syndrome since the day in 1975, when it was finally over and US troops and allies were fighting like rats to get on the last helicopters out. That "syndrome" is basically the true perception of common people that we lost, and don't want any more of it.

Okay, war protesters, now you win. We’ll stop the war now. See? Democracy works. Free speech lives. Pat yourselves on the back and congratulate yourselves for 30 years, thinking you made the government back off, while sitting on your prosperous butts watching one “low-intensity” war after another on television, that wreck lives and destroy order from Nicaragua and El Salvador to Grenada and Panama, Indonesia to Africa. Antiwar activists still won’t swallow the bitter notion that antiwar protests may actually have prolonged the Vietnam War. The argument goes that our protests may have stiffened the government’s resistance as a matter of prestige, and many serious and effective opponents of the war policy might have held back, not wanting to be identified with hippies. I don’t like the idea either, but it might be true. The Vietnam War ended because Europe started withdrawing its gold from the Gold Pool, because most of US goals were achieved, because world opinion was solidly against it, because the army and marines were exhausted fighting a thousand small battles a day, because it was costing too much, because US troops were starting to mutiny, and because the North Vietnamese moved SAM missile batteries over the DMZ, ending American air superiority in South Vietnam. I want to believe that our disruption of business-as-usual might have wakened some. But I have no illusion that I had ended the Vietnam War. The Vietnamese ended it.

One day about 50 of us were picketing a Board-member sellout in front of his apartment building at 87th and Central Park West. I looked up to see carved above the entrance, “The White House.” It was where I had lived as a newborn in 1941 with my mother and the father I don’t remember. Mickey had told me how, when she was bathing me, I had thrown my teddy bear out the ninth-floor window into a blizzard. I raised such a ruckus, she said, that she had to go to the second floor and through someone’s apartment to crawl out on a roof for it. Now here I was picketing the place.

The WBAI staff of producers and engineers, journalists, creative writers and musicians, scholars, researchers, philosophers, theologians, weapons experts, historians, educators, holistic and other health experts, scientists, linguists, unionists, dissidents, occultists, trivia-collectors and foreign policy experts is one of the best of permanent or rotating staffs of any radio station in the world, in my humble opinion. (I listen to international stations now, thanks to the internet.) Most are unpaid volunteers or people with something of quality deserving air time. Some stuff is mediocre, amateurish and sometimes in error. Talent levels rise and fall, but the aim remains the same. Listener phone calls aired daily give listeners a broad view of issues, keep conversations going in the community, and inform the station of what listeners are thinking. Fund-raising marathons can go on for a month, and first-time listeners sometimes gripe and never listen again, but long-time-listeners know that marathons send producers into the archives to replay some of the best stuff WBAI has ever done. Like an on-the-spot newscast in the middle of a police assault on a black community in Mississippi in 1957, for example.) Without WBAI, the progressive and dissident community in New York (and SF, LA, Houston, and Washington, DC) would not know what was going on or even have a voice. We know from experience this is exactly what our government desires: that we shut up. It ain’t gonna happen.

As far as I was concerned, Fass was the most dynamic and intelligent cat there. What I liked as much as that was his passion, commitment and flair for the dramatic. Because he is fundamentally an actor, he can turn into King Lear when pleading a point or mollifying foes. Once he threw himself to his knees and spreading wide his arms literally begged for forgiveness and peace. Some of us cracked up, but he was sincere. Along with Abbie, Paul Krassner and Jerry Rubin (none of whom were involved in this) Fass had started the Yippies (political hippies.) To Fass and the rest of us, a revolution without a more open culture allowing room for creativity and the participation of everyone is a failure. I don’t think there is a revolutionary or reformer or anyone with a just grievance against oppression who has not appeared on Bob Fass’ Radio Unnameable. I remember him having Rigoberto Manchu (Nobel Peace Prize winner) on his program long before anyone had ever heard of her. Manchu's advocacy of justice for Guatemalan Indians, nearly exterminated in a land grab by U.S.-backed governments, put her life on the line. Guatemala at that time had 500 “generals,” and they accumulated land like bees gathering pollen, killing poor Indians who didn’t want to move. Indians were afraid to wear their colorful native dress. In some places, it was a death sentence. Don't believe it? It's documented.

Bob was the first guy to have Bob Dylan on the radio. When he was just becoming well-known, Dylan would sit in with Bob and crack jokes, sing songs, make put-ons and put-downs, and take listener-phone calls from people who sometimes started the conversation with, “God, I can’t believe I’m talking to Bob Dylan.” Nobody in the country plays more Dylan (old and new) than Bob Fass. On Dylan’s 45th birthday, Bob put together a 45-hour Dylan marathon, and had a 45-minute interview with the great poet. Fass has had hundreds, perhaps thousands of musicians on his show, talking about and playing their own music, right up to last Friday, when I heard him last on this computer in New Orleans (midnight to 3, EST.) Everything. Even zither music. Why some good author has not yet undertaken the writing of Bob Fass’ rich biography is a mystery to me. He is a walking library and insider of important and unprecedented events in our country and alive to tell it. I know I’m not up to it. There’s too much there. Lucky for the future that he has most of his programs on tape. I’m talking 50 years of free speech radio here.

As I said, our government hates WBAI and the FCC has tried everything except bombing to get it off the air. (The Pacifica station in Houston was bombed. Nobody knows who did it.) But one day when we were all standing around in the large room of the deconsecrated church discussing things, news arrived that George Carlin had won in the Supreme Court. Carlin and Pacifica had appealed FCC charges that they had violated the law by broadcasting “the seven deadly words.” It seems Carlin had uttered these "obscenities" over WBAI (few can remember what all of them were and I’m not going to try here—you will have to imagine,). A guy driving on the Long Island Expressway with his young son had heard Carlin’s outrageous comedy routine (common now) and instead of changing the dial had listened to the whole thing and called a lawyer. It had been a long, expensive fight, but the Carlin Decision upheld George’s free speech rights and the right of the radio station to broadcast him. We cheered the news, and the messenger popped the cork on champagne.

Finally the big day arrived. US Marshals were going to take the station by storm and arrest anybody who didn’t clear out. At least a hundred of us were there. You should know by now that I am not a guy who likes to get arrested or confined, so I stayed outside. The large church doors were barred, and people were crowded on the steps to prevent access. Bob and everyone willing to go to jail was inside. It was a bright, sunny and cool day and the Upper East Side was going about it's business. And here they came, big guys with badges, clubs and a small battering ram. And here was the "vigilant press" that had all but ignored us and the important issue of press freedom for more than two months; notebooks out, cameras rolling. They like the sensational, dramatic moments. Since most of them cannot understand the issues, they think their readers can't either.

Marshals had a time clearing a path. People kept moving and laying down in front of their advance up the steps. But finally they reached the door and began trying to break it down. I believe it was Jim Froine who poked his head out the smaller side door they could have battered on instead, and told us to “Tell those guys they don’t have to destroy the door. We’ll open it.” Which they did. In 15 minutes the holdouts were led out in handcuffs. When Fass came out, he looked at the rolling cameras and announced passionately, “He told me to move, or he would put his foot up my ass!” It didn’t get on the Six O’clock News, of course, but that's what he said. Most of what's said and how it was said never makes it to television, does it? I remember a live report from Madison Square Garden when Angela Davis spoke there. We heard two of her words, then the "objective" news reporter told us what she supposedly had said. You can’t have a democracy without an informed populace. I think Thomas Jefferson said that. Free speech: use it or lose it. I said that. (Apologies to Bob Dylan. Thanks to Bob Fass.) People need to be informed not only with the facts, but with the passion too.

They were bailed pretty quickly, and the case came to Court in a week or two, if I remember correctly. I was in the courthouse when the judge let them go. There were fines. The authorities didn’t want to prolong the publicity swirling around this sneaky attack on free speech and dissent. The new group that took over the station was a compromise, and the best thing that came out of it was Samori Marksman, the best manager, in my opinion, that WBAI ever had. All talk of selling the spot was ended. Bob was banned from the station for five years, and other good producers and creative artists were banned as well, some permanently. When Bob’s exile was over, I lucked out and was a guest on his first program. (I never have much to say; stage fright.) He’s just as good as he always was, and better. Someday New Yorkers and the rest of America will know what Bob Fass and others have done for them. But they sure don’t know it now.

So WBAI survived an attempted and underhanded sale. But it is still in the middle of the dial, and you have to pass it both ways. Millions upon millions have been offered for the slot, so it will never be “safe.” Other Pacifica stations went through the same process, most-notably KFPA in Berkeley in the late 90s. I was also there as a matter of coincidence (though as you know I don’t even believe in “coincidence.”) Berkeley and San Francisco listeners took care of the situation like we had. That’s how we are. We love these outlets of true information and free speech—our conduits to reality--and keep wondering when the rest of the country is going to catch up. National Public Radio is a pale imitation of WBAI. And if you have been reading my blog (unbelievable) you know how much I love radio and prefer it to television. Television imprisons you to sit and watch. (Shut your eyes for 30 minutes and then write down what you think the program was about.) With the radio you can do your homework or anything else that doesn’t require you to shut off your hearing. When you have the bonus of the real thing, you don’t need the boob tube anymore. In line with that, I recommend we organize rallies to publicly destroy millions of working television sets (which means hundreds and thousands of commercials we won’t see,) and sign pledges not to watch until meaningful steps are taken to abolish media monopolies, expand news coverage, improve the quality of programs and assure that there is at least one listener-sponsored or totally noncommercial and uncensored television and radio station in each significant market. Dump about 10,000 televisions in the skating rink at Rockefeller Center where the NBC octopus dwells. The whole idea of Pacifica is “community-responsive” media. How can you respond to NBC or Clear Channel? They are so rich they don’t have to listen to anyone except their advertisers and the government. You might as well yell at the television, for all the good your opinion does.

But finally it was finished. And so was I. The tomato bushes were dead, the truck was done, my rent was late, and one day, a week after we discovered rats in the rafters, Bill just moved to Vermont to build a log cabin. I knew I couldn’t afford the house alone and didn’t know anybody I would want for a roommate. I took one look at the half-empty house with Bill’s detritus strewn about, packed my stuff into the van, and hit the road. I spent about three months living with a friend in Binghamton and working off and on. One day he threw me out for sleeping with his gal. I had it coming. I drove south dejected over what I thought was the loss of a good friendship, but feeling more resentment than guilt, nearly broke, with a mixture of hope and despair, tired of the past and already sick of the future. I didn’t see any way of putting down roots. New York was too expensive and the suburbs were too boring. Sure the libraries were good, but there were other libraries. Suddenly I didn’t want to sink any roots. I wanted to skim over the earth like one of those water bugs whose trail vanishes immediately. I didn’t even want to leave a damned footprint. I still wanted to disappear. As far as I was concerned, except for my former wife and small son, there weren't many people I cared to see again.The truck was ugly but it was running fine. I had some carpentry tools and wasn’t worried about making a living. That’s when I started sleeping on a piece of plywood with a blanket over it, and learning how to stay clean without a daily hot shower, and how to stay away from the cops in a country that doesn’t provide much for people without a wooden roof, a permanent address and a bank account. It wouldn't hurt them to leave the libraries open 24-hours a day.

We, the people who disagree, pay a higher price than you know. But things are changing fast now. Faster than we might know or want to know.


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