I’d been hanging out in the Tinker Street Café in
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
What a life those guys must have had, playing with
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
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
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
I was working with
“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
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
“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
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
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
I’d never done this kind of thing before, and neither had anyone else. I’d seen political theater in demonstrations from
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
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
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
One night I was listening to
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
“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
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
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
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
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
When I returned to
“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
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.