Flag Story

I’d been hanging out in the Tinker Street Café in Woodstock in the early 90’s. I drove all the way there from Central Valley, about 50 miles, to get away from the middle class workingmen bars of Orange County because they were boring, had hillbilly rock jukeboxes, and guys old and young who sat around staring blankly at whichever baseball, hockey, basketball or football game happened to be on the boob tube, hardly aware of who was playing or what the score was, games they wouldn’t remember tomorrow. They don’t even remember who played the last Super bowl a month later. It’s a group hooraw and chest-beating ritual and a communal experience I guess, but it's as interesting to me as a bucket of milk. I couldn’t find a conversation that didn’t start with “How about them Giants?” The men that I knew and worked with were a bunch of cokehead braggarts and working-class prima donnas. They were always scheming to get more cocaine to stuff up their only noses. To hear them tell it, they were the best, the absolute, uncontested hands-down-best at whatever trade they practiced: taping sheet rock, carpentry, painting, plumbing, whatever. They competed with one another all day, showing off their skills, their muscles or their sexual prowess, and as far as I was concerned but didn’t say they were a bunch of closet homosexuals. You know, guys who have to put down “queers and fags” often-enough to convince you they aren’t one, in case there are doubts. Cocaine is one drug that I really detest. If you were not an asshole when you started using it, you will be if you are ever finished (and broke) or when it is finished with you. Smoke pot, stupid cokeheads. You don’t need to ream your neural pathways and destroy your nose to get high. God gave us pot; man invented cocaine, and cocaine is destroying our country worse than al Qaeda.

Tinker Street Café was a relief because interesting people, musicians and artists, writers and creative craftsmen and craftswomen and plain but intelligent workers like me came for drinks or music and talk, then went home as couples and lived lives, I presumed, in more comfortable and together digs than I was accustomed to. There’s a lot of money in Woodstock but not everyone is rich. One night I ran into Rick Danko of The Band after the group had quit the scene. (Groups like that never really “retire.”) He came to jam with other musicians. That night he was playing a set with some players I’d never heard of, and they were good. Later at the bar we stood beside each other ordering beers, and I told him: “One time I walked all the way across Denver with a backpack to see you guys in some stadium, and you canceled.” Danko turned and looked at me, then leaned his forehead over until it touched mine, his eyes only an inch away with an amused and gentle look, and said, “I’m sorry.” It made me laugh. His good vibes went directly through my forehead into my brain. He was a good guy. I said I hadn’t been all that put out, only a bit disappointed because I’d never caught them live except when they played with Dylan once at the Garden, that I had merely continued my hitchhiking to New York. I told him like a thousand others must have that I loved their music. He thanked me and we drank our beers and had some small talk. He died only recently.

What a life those guys must have had, playing with Dylan, then hitting the big-time so hard it blew even John Lennon’s mind. The Band played some wonderful music. I don’t know what I would have done without music. I swear I would have gone nuts. That’s the truth. I can live without it, and the awful truth is that I often have to (I have never had a working radio in any van of mine,) but I like to have music available. In fact I’m listening to a 1978 Grateful Dead concert as I write this. One of the reasons I spent so much time in bars over the years was for the music, which sometime set just the right mood for what I was trying to write. On the other hand, I don’t need it going all the time. My poetic wife had taught me to appreciate silence, and I can do that too. I can be the quietest cat in the manger. I can go days and not say a thing, and would do it more often except for the fact that I must communicate with people to buy cigarettes and coffee, and you always have to buy something. And at work in the trades of course you have to listen to a lot of egotistical bullshit. Then there are those people who talk your head off and expect you to respond to everything they say. Some people get up with their mouths running the four-minute mile on trivialities from the moment their eyes open, and their current of largely meaningless chatter flows on like the Mississippi River, unstoppable through the work day and inexorably on like a cruise missile through dinner and television, until they hit the pillow again. Then they probably talk in their sleep. I don’t know how people stand it. Apparently, if there’s another human being within sound of their voice, they feel obligated to talk. A moment of silence makes them uneasy. A prolonged silence scares the crap out of them and makes them think you are hostile.

I can hypnotize you or at least put you to sleep just talking or reading to you. People drop off on me all the time. I’ve done it lots of times. No kidding. I used to hypnotize Alvin Jackson Winberry and Thurmond Mawyer in the ice house in Yonishiro or Nishihari, Okinawa, in 1961-62, when we all were drunken and brawling but hardworking marines. I’d seen a professional hypnotist at work and gotten the hang of it: repetition, repetition, repetition, a smooth, confident voice, and finally a direct order or suggestion to “sleep.” I didn’t know what to do with those two though when I got them under, so I would tell them that they had no feeling in their arm, and then I would burn the shit out of them with a cigarette. I would plant a post-hypnotic suggestion that they would not feel it after they woke, and lo and behold they didn’t. But Winberry looked at one gaping black hole I had burned into his forearm once and said, “Havenar, what the hell did you do?” They weren’t faking it, either, because their arms were completely relaxed during the branding. Bonham—who had gotten drunk and tried to steal an airplane once as a civilian after only one lesson and had tangled it in electric wires-- tried to fake it on me, but his arm shook under the tension of pain and pretense, and I saw through it. But Mawyer, a big dumb totally drunken racist hillbilly kid from Lynchburg, VA, still with his baby fat, was so suggestible I could put him under with a simple command that I’d sowed as a post-hypnotic suggestion. I’d say something like “fried oyster,” and he would go into a trance. This is the truth I’m telling you.

It seems like another world, and it was. The early Sixties was a completely different world. None of the stuff going down today was going down then. Hard drugs were yet to rake their capitalistic scar across the face of America, people still had a modicum of public modesty, and men I knew and worked with pretty much watched their language when women and children were around. The race and police riots and racial paranoia hadn’t come and gone, the Vietnam War wasn’t really a war yet anywhere but in Vietnam; the pill was new, everybody had short hair. The antiwar movement was hardly a notion much less a dream. Sex was still whispered about except wherever Lenny Bruce appeared. The Media said he was the “sick comedian,” and prosecutors made their names prosecuting him for saying “fuck” in public.

I was getting out of the Marine Corps soon and hadn’t even thought about what I might do as a civilian, but was eager to get out. I had read a number of books and sort of knew I wanted to be a writer, but no idea at all what I might write. (I thought it was an easy way to make a living—hilarious now.) The southern Civil Rights Movement was in full swing in 1962 but we didn’t hear anything about it at Camp Del Mar in California, where the Third Amtrack Battalion was my last stop before civilian life. Some guy got caught reading the mildly-liberal magazine, The New Republic, and received Office Hours for it, which is sort of like a company reprimand, maybe a demotion or up to 30 days in the Brig. I was reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land at Del Mar after surf-training or fixing an Amtrack all day. The paperback had no cover so I never knew the name of it, until several years later when it became sort of a minor literary rage, people reading it as symbolic and analogous to our rigid thinking compared with Michael Valentine Smith’s right brain approach to living and reverence for all living things as the result of having been nurtured by Martians. I read it too because everyone else was reading it, finally realizing it was the book I’d enjoyed at Camp Del Mar five years before.

I was working with Jim K. and another guy at Mrs. Julia Thompson’s modest mansion on 25 acres atop a hill in Central Valley. The house was modest by comparison with Averill Harriman’s castle on a mountain in Harriman next door, with its 45 bathrooms, giant microwave antennae and a helicopter pad for the CIA and Army boys and diplomats, who regularly flew in and out when the former governor of New York and adviser to Presidents lived. But Mrs. Thompson’s home was a mansion nonetheless. It was built of old brick, had a dark tile roof with copper guttering and downspouts. Old ivy climbed the kitchen side. It had several nice fireplaces and a wonderful library chock-full of leather-bound volumes. A large portico faced the road that could not be seen through the trees, and beyond the oft-mowed lawn wildflowers gloried the hillside. Once she showed me where the old main road had been during the American Revolution. We discussed a small archaeological dig to find cast-off stuff from wagons, but never did it. She claimed to have located their well site with a forked branch for a divining rod. I believe that too.

Everything in Mrs. Thompson’s house reflected taste and tradition, from the real Persian carpets to the chandeliers and wallpaper and items on the shelves. She kept her best silver in a safe-like room in the basement. She was the sharpest and sweetest old lady I ever knew. I swear I loved that woman. She treated me like I was somebody, had respect for my intelligence and skills, and brought out my wit. I’d started at $10 per hour, at first only fixing the old wind-out windows that opened like doors, a more-complicated job than you might imagine. She paid cash without taking taxes. The first time I stood in her office with Jim to be paid for my 40 hours, she overpaid me $400. I laughed and handed it back. I didn’t realize until I left her employ (at $16 an hour, the most I’d ever made) about a year later, that she had deliberately overpaid me to test my honesty. A $400 loss would have been a cheap price to pay, because she had a lot of nice things, and employees had pilfered her stuff before. “You did yourself a lot of good,” she told me when I was leaving for California, “giving that money back.” I had forgotten it, but she hadn’t. As soon as I finished a job for her, she would find me another. Finally, near the end, when four of her five wealthy sons were carping at her about spending part of their inheritance on her own house, she said she thought the cellar needed painting.

Mrs. Thompson,” I said, “I just painted it.”

“Yes,” she said, her eyes twinkling, “but I think it needs it again.” So I painted it again.

She had a rather high, sweet voice that didn’t talk nonsense or trivialities. Small talk was too small for her. She liked to talk history and literature and politics and about the America she had known. I do too. On Sundays I would buy her the NY Times and we’d have a coffee and some chat before I took off. Once I rented her The Accidental Tourist, and though doubtful about its title she watched it and said it was “delightful,” and to please bring her another. And I did. Mrs. Thompson was a true conservative Republican and I’m mostly an anarchist of course, but she and I got along fine. I was usually first on the job, and we would sit in her small office and talk about the work and the world. She was computer-literate in her mid-80’s and was always writing something, though I never saw or asked what it was. She’d written a book named “Judy in Moscow” when she was nine. I looked it up in the Library of Congress when I was doing my Nicaragua research in the 80’s. Mrs. Thompson’s father was a well-known Presbyterian minister, who did for Turkey after WW I what Herbert Hoover is said to have done re-building Europe. The elder Thompson had discovered the oldest city on Earth, Ur, in southern Iraq, and she had an inscribed stone from Ur, which rested on the floor beneath the table that supported a large dictionary in her library. He’d had a diplomatic post in Moscow when she was a girl, and others as well, but I forgot what they were, and can’t remember his name now.

She laughed at my take on things sometimes, but agreed with me more often than not on political if not economic matters. She still called President Franklin D. Roosevelt—whom she had known—“a traitor to his class.” But she would have scorned the nasty right wing religious nuts and fundamentalist hypocrite Faulknerian Snopes who took over her party. Fortunately, she didn’t live long enough to see it. I returned briefly to Central Valley once sometime in the 90’s, and, it being a Sunday, I picked up a Times and went up, but no one answered the door. Leaving, I ran into one of her sons coming up the driveway, and he told me that she had died a few years previously.

“She lost touch with reality in the end,” he told me. “She kept saying she was a passenger on the Titanic.” I couldn’t for the life of me see why he thought she had “lost touch with reality.” But I didn’t tell him. I still miss her and laugh sometimes thinking of her. She was so nice to me. She told me once, “I think you don’t have a lot of self-confidence,” and I had to admit she was right. Another time, she watched me paint—I painted nearly everything paint-able twice and re-finished the library floor. She said, “I think you can’t see well-enough. Let me send you to my eye doctor in Manhattan.” I visited this very wealthy ophthalmologist on Park Avenue, and he wrote a prescription for the best pair of glasses I ever owned, which she insisted on paying for as well. In earlier years she’d been a Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue interior decorator, and she knew more about materials and work methods of various trades than she would let on. She had keen insight into working men. Her standards were very high. I helped a paperhanger paper a room with a thick and expensive paper which was an exact replica of French wallpaper that had covered the walls of the original castle of the Du Pont family. He wouldn’t spend the money for a proper paper-cutting table, and scissored the paper on a 4 x 8 plywood table. Each roll had to match exactly in 26 places. It was branches and birds and such. When he finished the job, she told me privately, “Well, it’s all right for me, but it wouldn’t do for the places I decorated.”

Yeah. Mrs. Thompson to me was a really classy dame; and I mean “Dame.” Her kind among the wealthy is the only true “nobility” to me. She was rich, but she was kind, generous and democratic with everyone, was circumspect with her opinions, and never insulted anyone directly or indirectly. Her husband had been a top editor at the NY Times, The Saturday Evening Post, and Collier’s Magazine, among other accomplishments. He died a few years before I lucked into working for Mrs. Julia Thompson. Marc and I worked there together many months after Jim K. moved on to other jobs. Marc by himself totally re-surfaced the clay of her tennis court, a perfect job.

She liked to have men and women working around her place not only for maintaining and improving it, but because she liked company. She’d thought, she told me, that hiring a “farm couple” to tend to her needs and the house and grounds would be a good idea, “because that is what they do naturally.” But she was quite unsatisfied with the rude and blunt pair she had hired. I won’t go into why. Once she had a lovely bright young woman putting up wallpaper, and spent nearly all day inside talking with her as she did an expert and lovely job in two rooms in a cottage halfway down the hill. They laughed most of the day while I was painting in another room.

I worked for her for about a year. It was the best money I had ever made, and I actually managed to send my former wife some of it for some months, helping her and my son for a change, and venting some pressure from the volcano of guilt and crippling self-reproach bubbling in my psyche. For some crazy reason, I still thought I could help change the world. The Persian Gulf War was in the advertising phase with Maggie Thatcher coming over to flatter George Herbert Walker Bush into thinking it was his chance to be Churchill by invading Iraq for presumptuously threatening to seize Kuwait’s oil fields. Saddam Hussein claimed it was retaliation for "slant drilling" to steal Iraq's oil. I could see it coming and it pissed me off again because I knew it was another wheelbarrow full of crap. I became involved with a small antiwar group of just normal ordinary and priceless citizens, who organized a small-but-determined public education effort from a Quaker Meeting House in Cornwall, just up the road. They’d had demonstrations and had passed out literature in the malls on the approaching war and without knowing all the secret details knew it was wrong. I ran into Carol Ferraro there, and we discussed guerrilla street theater, and then decided to give it a try. I would write a play and build a stage that slid out of my van and folded out to an 8 x 8-foot platform with a ladder to another stage on the roof.

And I did it. I spent a couple of hundred building the stage. It worked exactly the way I designed it, like a big card table with folding legs. I put a plywood platform on the roof rack and used a stepladder to reach it. I wrote a script in two days. I used every cliché I could think of, keeping it simple. I wanted archetypes. I used dialog from well-known television commercials that illustrated the whole thing somehow. The cast included characters named George Bush, Jim Baker, Mother Nature, Death, The Statue of Liberty (“Miss Liberty,) and Uncle Sam. I played Sam and Carol played Miss Liberty. She sewed a fine green taffeta gown with a train and made a great spiked crown and torch and looked like a million bucks in it. I went to Woodstock to buy an Uncle Sam suit, a Death mask, masks of Bush and Baker, and a top hat. A fine and cheerful English nun named Ann, who was involved with the guerrillas of El Salvador (FMLN) played Mother Nature. Her accent and delivery were perfect: “It’s NOT NICE to fool Mother Nature!” An athletic young woman wore a skintight black leotard and played a white-faced Death. A nice guy that I ran into again a few years later played the Secretary of State, wearing a blue pin-striped suit and the top hat. An Italian guy did a perfect Bush, albeit with an New York Italian accent. The first reading had us all laughing. It wasn’t much, but it made the right points and provided some laughs. I’ve lost my only copy. I can still hear that Italian guy saying, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” (From an old Alka-Seltzer commercial.)

I’d never done this kind of thing before, and neither had anyone else. I’d seen political theater in demonstrations from New York to San Francisco. It’s a powerful political tool. I’d seen the Bread & Puppet Theater, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Harlem Dance Ensemble, and the Living Theater. (Bread & Puppet is my favorite.) Human beings love a play. They have avidly watched and participated in them since they first found moments to rest around a gigantic fire protecting them from saber tooth tigers and cold weather.

As opposition to the Vietnam War grew, creative bursts of public theater for education and entertainment went off like little skyrockets, momentarily sparking the conscious understanding of participants and spectators, doing for them what no amount of “evening news” reports could: exposing the essence of the matter. The war was illegal, immoral, unnecessary, expensive, anti-progressive, ridiculous, cruel, money-driven, hurtful to our infrastructure and international reputation, cooked-up by monsters, and an outrageous lie, guaranteeing an endless supply of new enemies. Like all the others, the Persian Gulf War was fought by workers and poor people who have no real stake in it, against other poor workers. Every war is fought against “another Hitler” by Presidents who resemble him and follow his policy of “preventive war” for territory and power. Furthermore—and you can read the Geneva Conventions if you don’t believe it-- it is a war crime to even plan a war. They plan them on television now, controlling American public opinion with Aristotelian drama. “Hooray for our side.” Hooray for John Wayne and Rambo and outright murder of men, women and children so rich oilmen can sleep comfortably. Hooray for mucking up the environment with blown-up oil wells and a cloud of oily black smoke from Baghdad to Bombay. Hooray for uranium-depleted weapons that'll cause cancers for 26,000 years.

We rehearsed it one day in a black neighborhood of Newburg and drew a small audience of perplexed but pleased children and a few adults. Then a very large woman from Woodstock who was jealous of the fact that I had appeared from nowhere and drawn attention from her—because some had accepted her leadership-- began a complaining and sniping routine when I wasn’t around. I forget what happened next. I became a little discombobulated and stayed away from counter-demonstrating at a large parade in Newburg supporting the troops. (If the parade had been named “Support the War,” it might not have had such a large reception.) Our small counter-demonstration tagged along at the end to hoots, jeers and other abuse, and I wasn’t there. I didn’t think it would do a bit of good, and it didn’t, but it made the obese woman feel good to be so brave. Someone pushed her in a wheelchair while she held a sign.

Carol and the others a short time later went to a shopping mall and performed small actions, like having another Uncle Sam drag Miss Liberty with a chain around her neck. Bush, Death and Jim Baker strolled behind arm-in-arm waving at the crowd and shouting “Support the troops!” She said they got a nice reception from startled onlookers, who got the point immediately, some of them applauding, others scowling at their outrageous expression of free speech. But we never got to use my stage.

One night I was listening to Bob Fass’ Radio Unnamable on WBAI, and flag-burning was the topic. Bob casually mentioned that Norman Thomas, who ran for President on the Socialist ticket and got a million votes, had suggested that people wash the flag instead of burning it. I thought it was a great idea. The first emergency demonstration against the Gulf War was set for Jan. 19. I bought an American flag, a galvanized tub, a five-gallon plastic jug for hot soapy water, and borrowed an antique scrub board from Mrs. Thompson. Then I headed to Washington. I think that burning the flag is one of the worst ideas in history. The next step in the process is violence between people who love the flag and those who seem to hate it, whether they do or not. The value of the act as “free speech” or “free expression” is negated, because, frankly, it is like taking a crap on someone’s bible. Discussion and debate stops, supplanted by outrage and anger. It is totally unnecessary and provocative, and in fact is usually performed by agents-provocateurs with cameras certainly whirring, provocateurs who want to give the antiwar movement an even worse image. Or by kids and other immature types whose passion and logic overrule intelligence and sober judgment.

Washing the flag is another statement altogether. Where burning the American flag says, “Destroy it, it can’t be fixed,” a careful washing of the flag symbolizes the hope that it can, indeed, be fixed, or at least can be cleaned up and made more presentable. Some stains will only fade and never be removed, but the mere washing of it says that one cares about it and wants to keep it flying. The flag can wave over a reformed government and an enlightened people and show the world what Americans are really made of.

I got to Washington in late morning and found the demonstration in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. I walked up to three bored-looking network cameramen and asked if they wanted a shot of a guy washing the flag. They unanimously shook their heads no. So I set the tub up about 20 feet in front of them, poured the soapy water, and lowered the scrub board into it. It was a chilly day but the water was still warm. Then I got on my knees and began scrubbing the flag. I made up the spiel as I went along, and before I finished the suds were flying and people were cheering and clapping.

“Hey! Do you know why I am washing this flag?” I shouted. Demonstrators drifted over and got it immediately. “Because it’s dirty! Good God, it’s bloody! Look, there’s the blood of Vietnam. My God [scrubbing] it won’t come out. What’s this? [scrubbing furiously]It’s the blood of Korea, and look, here’s the blood of the Mexicans we stole California from.” I scrubbed and scrubbed and found the ineradicable stain of the blood of 30 million American Indians who Americans slaughtered as our white ancestors “won the West.” The blood of slaves, the blood of poets, the blood of countless soldiers who were bamboozled into fighting for the rich against the poor, the blood of mine workers and their families shot down in Ludlow, Colorado, in 1877. The blood of slaves, the blood of labor and women and children and Nicaraguans and Africans and just about every nation and tribe on earth, and blood, blood, blood all over the fouled-up flag. Occasionally I would say, “Look, it’s coming out! It just takes a little work, folks!” I went on and on, war after war after war. I covered the lynching, the Civil War, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, the Nicaragua and El Salvador Wars, the murder of a million by the CIA in Indonesia, the murder of President Allende of Chile and thousands of his followers, and in less than 10 minutes about 300 people were crowded around urging me on and providing the response such an act requires.

The tv cameras rolled throughout, but not an inch of the footage appeared on any network or other station that I ever heard of. Probably some editor in the pay of the government or an octopus corporation looked it over and said something like, “He’s just a showboat looking for attention.” Whatever. I didn’t do it for them and only a little for myself. The people who saw it got the idea, and one guy shot a video and immediately put it on the internet. A few days later an antiwar group in Vermont did it, and I called my feminist friend Catherine Allport, the lesbian photographer in Berkeley, and told her about it. She flipped out on the idea and said she would do it too. I called Bob on his program and related it to his audience. I only wanted to spread the idea and bring the flag-burning talk to a screeching halt.

I moved it around the park three times so everybody could see it. At one corner a group of super-patriots who were loudly calling for our torture and execution began yelling at me. Cops moved between us. Imagine, cops protecting me for a change. As I was wringing out my spotless flag, a man yelled, “I’d like to wring your neck!” I just laughed at him from behind my cordon of cops, but I knew he meant it. The most-satisfying thing was when Daniel Ellsberg, one of my all-time heroes for releasing to the NY Times the Pentagon Papers that blew the stinking lie of the Vietnam War sky-high, came over and said, “That’s a very creative thing you’re doing!” I gave him a big smile and said, “Hi Danny!” He said he wanted to put me on stage so I could wash Old Glory in front of the whole crowd and media. We made our way there through the crowd, which had gotten thicker. Just as we were at the steps and he was telling the organizers what he wanted to do, Jesse Jackson made an unscheduled appearance and upstaged me. There went my fifteen minutes of fame. Sucker has had more than his share already. When Ellsberg got on the mike, he said, “The spirit of Abbie Hoffman is alive and here today!” I knew he meant me. Abbie had committed suicide in 1989 and is sorely missed every time another war is shoved down our throats. It was one of the most-gratifying moments of my life, because I loved Abbie. Most of us did. I’d actually gone to Nicaragua with the second of his four tours to introduce Americans to the Sandinistas that Presidents had been murdering for longer than Americans know. But that’s another story.

And the war went on of course. Our millions in protest were as invisible as bacteria; it proceeded to kill thousands, waste billions, spread profits around, boost the stock market, enrich the wealthy, make weapons-makers happy again, and create a new set of enemies, who later decided to destroy the World Trade Center. And to top it off, they left Saddam in power. Why not? CIA had put him in, and he’d only gotten out of line after all, too big for the secular britches "the best and brightest" had made for him. The invasion of Kuwait threatened the Japanese oil supply, because most of Kuwait’s oil went to the trading partner which is a third of our economy.

I returned to DC for the Jan. 26 demonstrations, which were larger still, and did my bit again. Somebody said CSPAN caught it, but I never heard of anyone who saw it on CSPAN either. That’s too bad but still okay. It wasn’t about me. It was about another way of looking at and doing things. A lot of people saw it.

A week later I got a card in the mail with a picture of me washing that flag. It was a greeting card, and a woman photographer, whose company-moniker was “Photos with a Twist,” asked permission to sell it, which I signed over. Ha, ha! It tickles me to death knowing it made a greeting card, better than 15 minutes of fame. Somebody will find one in an attic in a hundred years and say, “Who was this guy? And what flag is that he is washing?”

Anyway, it was Norman Thomas’ idea, not mine. And I got it from Bob Fass, God bless him.

When I returned to New York I was elated. I felt like I’d finally done something positive and original which could only help not hurt our efforts to wake the American people from their historic murderous slumber. I was feeling so good that I went to Woodstock a few days later and drank beer in the Tinker Street Café and listened to the music. I hung out with some people smoking weed and talking until dawn, and then went to the local convenience store for coffee, the only place open at that hour. I was mixing in my sugar, when a nice-looking woman named Y_ stood beside me to do the same.

“Want to go swimming at the Big Deep?” I asked her with a smile. “Yes!” she said. “That’s just what I need.” Surprised, I thought, “me too.” We took our coffee to the larger of the two swimming holes almost in the middle of Woodstock. No one else was about that dawn, and it was strangely warm and snow-less for January. Tall pines enclose Big Deep and Little Deep in a nice-smelling privacy. We stripped and I went into the water and swam, but she said it was too cold and only dipped. She was a fine-looking woman and as natural as can be. We lay alongside on the small sandy beach with my flagpole straining toward the sky, but she slapped it gently and said, “I’m sorry. I’ve been doing it all night long, and I’m exhausted.” (Poor gal) So we simply lay beside each other, our hips touching, and talked for an hour or so and maybe I slept but I don’t think so. Later we exchanged names and addresses and parted friends with a couple of kisses and a hug.

That night I went back to the café but it wasn’t the same. No music plus me morosely considering how close I had come to getting some sex and being disappointed again led me back into a clawing depression. As usual, it had been several years—1987-- since I’d had intimate relations, when M_ had left me holding back tears at the Managua airport, and had flown off to her puritanical Heaven in commie Moscow. I kept going back to Woodstock on weekends until Spring. I couldn't pull out of the depression descending on me. It was all about me and my non-relations with women. One night when the birds were asleep and crickets were chirping for love, I watched people enjoying themselves and each other for hours and couldn't manage a smile or a happy thought. By the time the crowd thinned out and was skipping home hand-in-hand, I was deep into that depression plus the one you get from suddenly stopping Prozac (it made me fidgety.) That’s when I went to the police station across the street and tried to hang myself from the flagpole. I've written about it before in this long, anecdotal, braggodocian and pointless confession.


Did it again, Mike ... you are definitely a fine story-teller.
adolfo said…
A flag must represent the standard by which it's people live. Thus, the Universal African Flag, the 52nd Article of the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World was ratified in convention. This flag has been flown upside down contrary to the intention of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA who gave it to the world.
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