Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Month: April, 2016

All We Are Saying: Part 2 “The Rot in Arcadia”

[All We Are Saying: Part 1 “E Pluribus Unum”]

Go ahead and flash forward now. You’re back in Miami sitting with Sophie and Mike outside your tent. The three of you are deciding what you want to do on the last day. Tuesday and Wednesday were as electrifying as Monday night when you rolled in, but a dissonance was building—first at the exteriors, but quickly spreading inward.

On Tuesday, people spotted Jane Fonda roaming around and saying hello to all the young protestors. Hanoi Hannah was in your corner. You were uncertain what to think. You never saw her, so it might have all been a fantasy. People were dropping a lot of acid. Rumors had spread overnight that John Lennon was going to make an appearance. He and Yoko were hopping on a plane from Manhattan and coming down to join you all. But as the day carried on it seemed more apparent that the duo were not going to attend. So maybe Jane was a fabrication, too. Even if she weren’t, you were unsure what to think of her. Perhaps you didn’t like the idea of your authenticity being questioned by its proximity to this Hollywood royalty, or maybe that was your father talking. You didn’t know.

You and Sophie visited Allen Ginsberg’s tent on Wednesday. People sat around and got high. The idea was: by simply sitting and not participating in the bullshit political affair, you were destroying the apparatus that was destroying the nation—“the purest, funnest form of anarchy.” You never cared for Ginsberg, thought his poetry was bullshit, thought most poetry was bullshit, that music was the better form, that you derived more pleasure and meaning from The Byrds than anything Frost could manage, but anarchy sounded cool and free weed was nice so what the hell? You and Sophie hung out passing a spliff around with some others who were talking about these cats named Gramsci and Bakunin until you overheard some commotion coming from the stage area. As you two got closer you saw a strange sight. People being shoved around, one kid was held up as another guy kicked him in the gut, more people being ripped off the stage, shouting, jeering. At first you thought the enforcers were undercover cops. You’d been warned about that kind of activity. They had been handing out “bust cards” which told you your rights and how to behave in the event a cop was harassing you. There was a big concern that the FBI or CIA was walking around waiting to “black bag” protesters and take them away for interrogation. But the scene didn’t look like that at all. The guys doing the beating were veterans. “What’s going on?” someone asked. “Neo-fascists are trying to rob the stage. They’re saluting and quoting Hitler, saying we have no right to be here. That we’re the scum.” “Fucking Nazi pigs!” a guy yelled from behind you. “Kick their asses!” “Kill the Nazi pigs!” Members of the VVAW were clearly working out their battlefield trauma on these guys. “Figures Nazis would support Nixon,” Sophie said as she turned to go back to Ginsberg’s tent. You watched as the crowd heckled, spat, and spanked the neo-fascists out of  “the Land.”

Friction was all around and combined with the electricity of the park it set off sparks. From the start the plan was simple: peaceful disruptions that sparked conversations or resulted in voluntary arrests from the fairly liberally led Miami PD and absolutely “NO thrashing.” But already on the first day of the peaceful occupation matters were quickly challenged. There was a failed attempt at forming a human barricade to stop a delegate bus from Arizona when members of the SDS showed up at the wrong location. The students were saying they had been sabotaged by the FBI: “we were deliberately fed the wrong information! They’ve got agents on the inside.” People were being asked to show their student IDs. A little later, news broke that the veterans were trying to stage a protest march but the police wouldn’t let them near the convention center. One of the guys got upset and took a swing at an officer. A small skirmish broke out. Seven guys were carted off. “It was some shit, man,” one of the veterans said. “Fucking pig was trying to get him to swing. Fucking pigs.” A meeting was held that night to again reestablish the objectives, but a squabble broke out between the gays, SDS, and VVAW. The students and veterans were in disagreement over what was more key to protest, and who should lead the scheduling, marches, message, etc. The gays were upset that no one (apart from a handful of the Women’s Organization and People’s Pot Party) wanted to join them in their “death march” the next day. The Christian group was uneasy with the anti-war chant that most agreed upon: “One, two, three, four. We don’t want your fucking war!” They wanted to lose fucking. Another collaboration was trying to organize a blockade into the convention center for buses. Some of the socialists got on stage and said they wouldn’t march if Jane Fonda was going to be present because: “She, like McGovern, support the same capitalist system that is destroying the country.” At some point, a few absurdists commandeered the megaphone and wanted to “end this egregious mockery of human contention once and for all, and answer the question that has been on all our minds for years now: Who is the greater guitarist: Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix?”

The final day continued on in much the same way: great activity in all directions met with awesome reactionary counter-force. The gays applied their war paint, caking their faces in white and black in masks of death. They held a crafted American flag with: “GAY LOVE FOR THE VIETNAMESE” sewn into its fabric. They called out for more recruits as they left the Land on their journey. “Do not fear, join a queer!” “It’s OK, we’re just gay!” One of the lesbians looked at you: “I don’t want to fuck you, I just want to end a war!” Their honesty and good vibes moved people, and their crowd became a little larger as they left. Some veterans and students who were sick of the dissent had re-doubled their efforts to have a uniform march. They went around Flamingo Park collecting as many hippies and random others as they could to join them. You were there, along with Sophie and Mike, surrounded by this concoction of anti-war weirdos, the beautiful fringe of the country that was trying to alter the entire American mind on the question of Vietnam, but more importantly the question of America. You marched alongside battle-scarred men who had seen the unimaginable, students who were ridiculed and forsaken for the very ideals they were taught to uphold, bra-less women shirking their feminine duties, Marxists who were… (well you didn’t really get the Marxists, but they were cool), anti-McGoverns, anarchists, blacks, a few straggling gays (who missed their march), men and women dressed as dead Vietnamese mothers, even a few of the senior citizens you had seen in the park a few days earlier (you learned some refused to join because of the socialists who marched in the ranks; they being expatriate Cubans could not bear the thought), some former World-War II veterans, all standing together, holding up protest signs and each other as they walked down the street environed by invisible animosity. Not everyone hated you, you knew. Some people were just out watering their lawns or walking their dogs as you passed by. There were folks in lawn chairs set up along the sidewalk watching you as if it were a national holiday. They were your audience. They were the silent ones you needed to speak to. You felt they might be starting to understand, and thought if only the convention went on for a few more days, or weeks, you might be able to convince them to join you. You were close to that oneness you felt back in Detroit on that autumn day. This sense filled you with immense hope and paralyzing frustration. You wondered how many around you felt the same.

When your group returned to Flamingo, the residue of unity and accomplishment lingered in your mind. You gave brief sanctuary to thought that maybe, just maybe, the tide was breaking back and the flow moving in your direction. As you made your way back to the tent you felt as though this whole long protest was finally revealing its full worth. You were doing it. The small bits of energy you were putting out there were being received. The revolution was in motion, and you didn’t have to resolve to anything but holding up two fingers in the symbol of peace and walk down a street. You were doing it. You were changing the world. Perhaps for only a second, but maybe for even more. And that was what you were allowing yourself to imagine. Just imagine it, you thought.

Your “neighbors” were out lounging underneath one of the magnolias. Trent and Dallas. Drop outs, surfer bums. You know the type. Read On the Road once, dug it. They came out to Miami because “didn’t have anything better to do” was an option. They had no food or water, no tent when they arrived. Just looked at the tree and said: “This’ll do.” Their clothes were dirty from sleeping outside, their effluvia potent. Trent was sitting at the base of the tree with a jay, he passed it off to Dallas who was hanging from a limb, her long arm reached down and plucked it from his mouth. They asked you to sit and talk a while. You did. The three of you each taking time speaking your mind and smoking. It seemed a terribly important Southern thing to do: sit underneath a magnolia, lounging, and conversing. The pitiless hot air of southern Florida was getting to your neighbors. You could see the toll it wrought in their burnt faces. People had been walking around since day one warning about the dangers of the heat and the sun. Warnings to make sure you were staying hydrated and wearing plenty of sunscreen. Not everyone listened. You watched a few people just fall to the ground from sunstroke, as if someone had just cast a sleeping spell on them. For others dehydration was their downfall. But for everyone in the Land, the temperature and humidity were draining. You sat down across from Trent, and took a hit, the noise of the camp grew as more and more protestors returned for the day. Sitting there, you looked around and listened to the swirling conversations going on. As you did, that small sanctuary you gave that thought grew smaller and smaller.

Negativity rose like the heat creating waves of unease. You felt it all around. People were standing out in the sun looking confused, looking thirsty, looking for something to happen. Some SDS members were complaining about their members lack of commitment and “fighting for the right cause.” Something about mechanisms and cogs and the need for a more “vertical” approach to measures. You overheard a few of the SCLC people complaining about the SDS. “They ain’t listening to us. This is some bullshit. Why we even down here if they ain’t gonna listen to us?” A pair of veterans told a story of convention-goers spitting in their faces and sicking the police on them.  Another story came back about two vets in a local bar who were ambushed. They were taken off to jail, but not the patrons (who presumably started the altercation). Arrests were being made throughout the day. More and more protestors returned saying they needed to get to the police station and help bail their friends or lovers out. It looked as though the Miami PD had finally buckled to the pressure administered by the FBI, Secret Service, and whoever else. “It was a matter of time,” one socialist said. A huge message of force was on full display that day. Most of the police were in riot gear already, even though this was a peaceful demonstration. They were more willing to give a hippie their baton today than talk it out like before. “There is no justification for this ruthless display of power!” you heard coming from the stage. “We need to start a petition to send to the Miami PD for a formal inquiry on human rights violations!” Cheers followed. Shortly after you heard one of the GFP members telling an RFP that she saw a small number of veterans and students pelting a delegate bus with rocks until they were doused with pepper spray, beaten, and thrown into the wagons. “It was unreal.” The force might have been obscene, but it was expected. “That’s all they know how to do,” the GFP said. “Beat the shit out of us kids.” Kids? You thought. A Yippie friend of Trent sat down with you three. He was disgruntled “because of the socialists.” He explained a large group of them were at the Fountainbleu Hotel. “We were there to protest and deliver a very specific message. We were there for Tu Phong Bui, a farmer who had his entire crop and village destroyed in one of these awful urbanization programs they are trying to enforce! We were there to stop the violence and this awful Trail of Tears-type relocation. To tell his story for him because he cannot face the people who are enacting his oppression. And it was all ruined by them! They came and started chanting some nonsense about ‘Free Speech, Free Phones’ to the president of AT&T. It completely diluted our message!” You stopped listening because you couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. His frustration was kinda killing your high. You wished he’d shut up, but then you felt bad because Tu Phong Bui’s life was just as important as yours, and the knowledge of the ruination of his way of life should not be silenced for your pleasure, and then you got a little scared that they could hear what you were thinking, so you lied down and told yourself to stop thinking. The earth shifted, sunlight slowly crawled across your face and you thought you needed more shade. Just a little something to help cool your head. The whole park did.

All We Are Saying: Part 1 “E Pluribus Unum”

Let’s say you’re twenty. You drive down all the way from Detroit. Three days. 1400 miles. You drive through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida. Places like Toledo, Dayton, Cincinnati, Lexington, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Macon, Valdosta, Gainesville, Orlando, Miami. You travel at top speed in  your Volkswagen Beatle, an empty Coca-Cola can is wedged against the accelerator to keep it around 70mph. Sitting Indian-style in the driver’s seat you check the rear-view mirror to admire all the camping equipment, or lack thereof, contained in your backseat. You’re heading to Miami to help a revolution: the first one started, waged, and won on the engines of peace and love. You and the rest of the like-minded people who will be there can win a major battle by opposing the president, and through the power of intense moral understanding, consciousness raising, or outright public shaming convince delegates at the Republican National Convention that the war against the Vietnamese people is an unjust one. You believe this wholeheartedly.

Five years ago you watched sections of your city burn from your parents’ porch. In the evening hue of modernized Detroit, an old glow of humanity hummed off in the distance, masked by the sounds of faint sirens and the occasional crack of gunfire.

The circumstances that led to the chaos were debatable. You heard from friends it had to do with an illegal bust. Some cops thought they’d rough up a handful of Negros at some unsanctioned bar in the ghetto on 12th. Instead, they walked into a mass gathering (celebrating the return of some brothers fighting overseas) who weren’t in the mood for the traditional customs of an oppressive white community. In other stories you heard the cops walked in on a Black Panther rally, or walked in on a voodoo ritual, or it was an ambush by some congregation of law-breaking Negroes with bedlam on their minds. Whatever the story really was, the results were the same. The citizens resisted, the cops enforced, a crowd gathered, but this time, the script altered in a big way and then the next thing anyone knew bottles were flying, curses were made, windows were broken, goods stolen, cars pelted, fires started, and the worst riot in the history of the nation since the Civil War was afoot.

This went on for a week. You heard more stories, each intensifying with every telling. They seemed to catch fire and spread wildly through the neighborhoods and classrooms mimicking the reality unfolding in the urbanscape. Snipers were firing at policemen and National Guardsmen trying to keep the peace and firefighters who attempted to extinguish burning stores. People were setting fire to trash cans and hurling them at tanks. Armored vehicles were running cars over out of spite. People were being executed in firing lines by the Detroit PD and Michigan National Guard. “They” dragged John Conyers out of his car and spanked him in the middle of the street. Effigies of Mayor Cavanaugh were the cause of several arsonist attacks throughout the city. There was some mention of a hotel where cops found two white boys and a black sharing a bed. They called for reinforcement and proceeded to beat all three to death. The one story that was most frequented, though, (mostly by friends of your parents) concerned a mysterious marauding group of Negroes running through the neighborhoods and even as far west as Dearborn and north as Warren, clubbing senior citizens and raping dogs. Such madness was like a confection.

Everyone searched for an answer as to why this was happening. Your parents, their friends, some of the teachers, many of your schoolmates, friends were confused and hurt by what they saw from their porches, and from what they read in the newspaper, and saw on the television. A massive rejection of all that they knew, the projections of themselves. One man who stood in front of his burnt-out store on 12th Street assembled this thought: “I just don’t understand it. We gave them everything. Cavanaugh’s givin’ ’em everything. Everything they asked for, they got. And this… it’s unbelievable. I’ve been very good to these people. I just… I don’t understand it.” How could this happen? What explained such violence, such vicious rejection of the hallowed concept of law and order? Martin Luther King Jr.? The NAACP? But Charles Diggs was lambasting Johnson, practically daring him not to send troops in—with the support of the colored organization. Possible socialist shadow networks then. Who knew? Most were content to blame it on unruly “niggers” and “social agitators” general “hoodlums and hatemongers” who were not content with what every other reasonable Detroit citizen was.

And yet, other friends of yours, and even more classmates saw it differently, their parents and neighbors and fellow citizens, too. “Man, I see plenty of white boys out there, too, it’s not just us,” your friend Lucas was saying. But it wasn’t merely about this one point in time, which was in itself insufficient to explain these bitterly hot days, but an entire apparatus of spatial and temporal behavior that weighed down on the moment. Their focus was not solely given to the foreground, they did not have the luxury. It was there, it was in the background, it was in the ignored corners, in every paint stroke, every craquelure. They did not just view the painting in its entirety but lived it in a horror of quotidian being. The entire apparatus had failed them, failed everyone, and it was largely perpetrated by you and yours. The police, the real estate agents, the factory workers, union leaders,  store managers, landlords, mortgage officers, car salesmen, bank tellers, nurses, doctors, cab drivers, neighbors, on and on and on in every direction everywhere they looked.

No one was innocent. Not even you. “Goddamned hippie!” one father shouted from his door at you as you walked home with your friend Mary. You were fifteen then. Once the initial terror subsided you wore it with pride, the label was your liberation. You were going to say something, but Mary acted faster: “Rather that than a pig!” she shouted back. She was dressed more “respectably,” which made her response even more shocking to the man. He went back inside; “so he can beat his kids” Mary said. She might have looked like a square, but she was more of a “degenerate” than you. Her parents didn’t allow for the kind of “subversive” fashion the way yours let you “get away with.” It wasn’t that simple. You had to explain to friends that your parents never approved, you just wore them down.

Your father had words with the neighbor later that evening. “He won’t be shouting at you anymore, but you better show some more respect, otherwise I will make you regret it.” That was your father. God love him. He might have been repulsed by the anti-war movement, just like most, but he loved you. And even though he was utterly disgusted by the code of conduct many of his peers acted upon, he still defended them as much as he did you. But if anyone was going to whip you into shape, it would be him. After all, you were all he and Mom had left. Your brother passed away a few years back, so they had to keep you as much as possible. Both would have rather locked you up if they had their druthers. Well, they did. Or they tried at least. Nothing worked. You were your own force.

“I just ask one thing,” your dad requested one early morning, the day you gained your independence. He had stayed up all night, waiting for your return. You were returning from an MC5 show. You smelled of sweat, cigarettes, alcohol, and a few other things. It was a familiar scene. He sat in his chair, turned away from the television set toward the door. You stood, hand resting on the knob, fighting sleep deprivation, ears still ringing, eyes bloodshot, the room reverberating and blurry. “I’m not going to punish you anymore. If I did, you wouldn’t have an ass to sit on much longer. And I’m sick of replacing the locks. So,” he stood up. You flinched. “I’m going to make you a deal. I don’t want to receive any calls from the police. If I don’t receive any calls, then we can work something out.” He couldn’t control you, just save a semblance of his face.

Let’s get back to now. The windows are rolled down. Your foot is hanging outside. The air pushes against your toes and blows your long hair in every which direction. You put it in a ponytail. You’re maybe fifteen, twenty miles out of the final destination where you’ll meet up with your friend Sophie and her boyfriend Mike and about a couple of hundred like-minded weirdos, Yippies, veterans, drop-outs, and more. The Atlantic’s musk is thick in the humidity that coats everything in its damp residue. The most radical song you can find on the radio is “Made In Japan.”  You’re holding a pink poster, it’s flailing wildly. In that fat cloud-like hand-designed writing, it reads: “Come end the war!”

You’ve been told numerous times that this is a fool’s task. Something about how civil disobedience only engenders further resentment and emboldens the resolve of the resistance. But… you are the resistance. You reject the current state, and you do not do it alone. A mass of strangers just like you are assembling down in Miami to make this happen, too. Surely this collective of disparate people, joining together under one banner to resist and reform, is evidence of your righteousness and you cannot possibly falter. You know it won’t be easy, but you also know in the basic nature of people, a common will to bend towards the light and reject the darkness. The people will bring the change, and you and your strangers are going to help usher them.

The sun almost disappears into the west as you reach the campsite. Flamingo Park is a giant field of energy bursting in every which direction. In the fading glow of the sun, all these wonderful colors become saturated and more accentuated: the greens and yellows of the surrounding magnolias and silent hedges that gleam in the oppressive heat, gold stars and crimsons painted on the tents, black and white on the faces of “miscreants,” greens and reds and blues on the kaleidoscopic shirts, vibrant purple and orange banners. Beautiful shirtless bodies are roaming around, long-haired freaks walk with joints in their mouths, and huge tufts of black hair bob atop the heads of their proud owners. Hippies here, Yippies there, and zippies everywhere, the Women’s Coalition, eco freaks, Jesus creeps, the gays, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, too, all the acronyms: SCLC, SDS, VVAW, RLP, PLP, GFP, SWP, PPP, YSA: surf bums from California, New England’s crop of fortunates and misfortunates, the underbelly of the sun belt full of its Christian positivists and agnostic skeptics (and vice versa), those who rolled in from the great vast landscapes of the plains, and the byproduct of American industrial modernism itself: the Midwesterners like you, every skin and hair pigmentation, veterans, civilians, men, women, and children, they all showed up. Even the elderly are sitting around on their favored benches to listen to your generation play guitar and sing songs. People start saying: “Bring your grandparents!” “Radicalize the Omas and the Papas!” “Peace and love transcend the generations!” Inside one of the larger tents is a multi-television display flashing images of Vietnam, Bangladesh, Laos, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Bolivia, Brazil, and the United States, intermeshed in a fragmentary fashion so that you see the poverty of one Latin American country, to the destruction of a rice farmer’s crop, to a production assembly of milk bottles. The North Vietnamese flag is draped over people’s shoulders, covering tents, hanging from trees. A sign reads: “Register for the Pot People’s Party.” A poster requests donations for a local zippie named Pat Small who needed defense for: “…throwing a pie after a city council meeting,” any help would be kind. Some people try to mobilize you into their movement for an extended nationwide rent strike. “I live with my parents,” you tell them. “Far out. Well, stay out past your bedtime then!” You all laugh over that. You pass the food court where the Coconut Co-op is providing food in return for donations of any type. Someone offers you pamphlet titled: “Revised Manual for the Republican Convention,” the letters handwritten in the same style as your pink poster. Another zippie approaches and offers you a joint. A cadre of guitarists start playing through huge loudspeakers on a makeshift stage singing: “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall” and then “The Boxer.” More people gather. Someone puts an arm around you, you put one around the person to your left. A rope of humanity begins to be woven in front of the performers. You start to feel as though your heart is beating in unison with every other one standing in the park right now. Who else feels this? Who else understands what is going on here, what is really happening? This is all for us. All for you. It’s a pageantry you’ve never quite experienced before.

Think back to Detroit in the fall of 1968. Torn newspapers were falling from the windows of skyscrapers on Woodward. Children were running through the sidewalks and streets throwing streamers with one hand and holding sweets in the other. People of different neighborhoods were clinging to one another in tears, strangers embraced in celebration holding one finger in the air and cheering: “Go get’um Tigers!” The headline read: “WE WIN!” Radios blasted the news: “Their first since 1945.” Over twenty years. There weren’t even any Negroes allowed on the team back then. Even after Jackie Robinson, the team did not integrate until more than a decade later. You were six when they finally brought on Ozzie Virgil. Only the Red Sox were more “delayed.” Now, you watched in the store front window with your Dad as Willie Horton put his arm around Al Kaline, doused in bubbly, all smiles.

The pure delirium must have looked so odd to those from outside of the city. For the behavior was not just a celebration of a championship, but much more in line with a kind of post-War jubilation.

To remember how the season started, Opening Day postponed due to nationwide riots over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., America’s Game starting so inauspiciously, the Model City still smoldering along with cities throughout the country as citizens balanced on that razor’s edge the whole summer. Yet despite the origins of the season, and the perturbations outside the walls of Tiger Stadium, the team just kept winning. They had secured first place in the American League by May 10th (only twenty-six games in) and never relinquished the position for another one hundred and thirty-six consecutive games. By the end of the season, they had double-digit victories against every AL team. Denny McLain won 31 games that year (the most wins by any pitcher in the “modern era”—whatever that meant), he would have won at least one more had they not blew it against Baltimore or Washington in the final two games he pitched. They were so dominate they won over one-hundred games and secured the pennant almost two weeks before the last game of the season. They finished twelve games ahead of Baltimore in the final standings, and six games ahead of the National League leader (and defending World Series champion) St. Louis Cardinals.

There was a certain poetry in motion unfolding before you; the beautiful symmetry of baseball’s historical narrative taking hold. The last team to finish twelve games ahead in the American League standings was the 1947 New York Yankees, they won the World Series. Who was in second behind them? The Detroit Tigers. In the previous year, as suburban landowners were still collecting insurance checks on their burned-down property along 12th Street, the Tigers finished one game behind the Boston Red Sox. The last time Detroit finished one game shy of claiming the pennant was 1944, the next year they won the pennant and the World Series. The only other time they had surpassed one-hundred wins was in 1934 when they went to the World Series only to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps now, however, the rhyme might just pivot at the end of the stanza, and the Tigers would be world champions again.

At least, that was the narrative. Not that it really mattered to you. It was just a collection of hundreds of pointless storylines connected from all different corners of a vast sea of statistics, the first-world equivalent of reading tea leaves. It was fun to learn but had no influence in your daily life, neither did it affect the lives of any other person in your city. And yet, so many people were extracting such a wealth of importance from these stories. You did not follow the pennant race, or pay attention to the Cy Young candidates, could not be concerned with how many runs the Tigers averaged in each game (it was just over four), or take comfort in the fact that it was “the Year of the Pitcher,” and yet when your father recalled with pure elation or overwhelming distress how “the boys” played that day, you could not help but listen with interest.

What you remember most about that time was your father. Sitting in his chair throughout the post-season games, accompanied by a bag of salted pecans or some packzi he bought over in Poletown, he would root for those “Bengals to bring the pennant home where it belongs.” For seven long games, he sat and watched history reveal itself to him through the snowy grey screen. Each game he muted the TV and turned on the radio where the “Voice of the Tigers” delivered the play-by-play in that slight genteel Southern drawl of his.

In the first four games, the script did not read the way your father and so many others had written it. Their dreams began to lose form as the subscribed meaning became more void and less obtainable. Not only had the Cardinals won three out of the four, but they had just won back-to-back games in Tiger Stadium, the last one ending in an 8-1 rout. Denny McLain had lost both of his starts against St. Louis’s ace pitcher Bob Gibson. What was worse, the Tigers only managed one run against Gibson in eighteen innings. So in the final game in Tiger Stadium, in what might have been the final game of the season, Mayo Smith decided to start Mickey Lolich, the only pitcher that had been able to stop the Cardinals’ bench, and Tiger Town held its breath.

Your father switched on the set, turned down the volume dial, and sighed as he sat in his chair. You were getting ready to meet up with your friends across town. You were supposed to be studying for an Algebra test the next day, but Love was playing  at the Palms Theatre, so fuck math. You watched your old man slowly open the greasy paper bag of salted pecans. The worry on his skin made you smile. He was so focused on the black-and-white screen that his hand kept missing the opening of the bag. He finally had to look down and practice the most basic hand-eye coordination when the Cardinals got their first run. Your father was nearly in a state of panic by the time he popped a few pecans in his mouth. “Goddamnit!” By the third run scored he shot out of his chair and turned the television off. “Fucking bums!” “Lawrence!” your mother shouted from the other room. “What?!” “Language!” He mumbled something and scratched the top of his balding head. He looked over and spotted you sitting on the stairs smiling at him. He laughed at himself. “Yeah. Well… buncha bums.” The two of you were silent while “the Voice” carried on. Your father looked back at the TV set, then at you. He turned the game back on and sat down. Shortly after the doorbell rang and your friend Yardley was there to pick you up, her boyfriend had a car. Looking back before you shut the door, your father looked wan, sunk into the fabric of his beloved burgundy chair.

The next day, though, the world had not ended. Quite the opposite, in fact, took place. The sun rose again over the city along with the hopes of all its Tigers fans. They had survived to see a Game Six. More than that, they seemed to have weathered the storm once again and were now ready to complete the tale your father and the droves of others had envisioned. In the final two games, the Tigers outscored St. Louis a combined 17-2. Denny McLain redeemed himself and finally got that elusive thirty-second win, and the Detroit darling Mickey Lolich (the “Croatian Kid”) beat Bob Gibson in Game Seven to hoist the World Series for the first time in twenty-three years.

And then suddenly all across the city, a different sort of uncontrollable human emotion sprang forth from the neighborhoods and into the veins of the city heading to its heart to celebrate.

It was an incredible positivity in all directions. A true sight to behold, especially juxtaposed against the reality that some of the buildings on Woodward were still burned down from the uprising over a year ago. None of the people leaning out of the windows in the nearby buildings were holding rifles. Malice was extinguished in that moment. More so, people who once held tightly to formless notions in the year before now let them dissolve in the face of such celebration. “White devils” stood next to “jigaboos” while “fascist pigs” high-fived “ungrateful thugs” and “rapists” danced with “harpies” in the streets. Future Nixon voters and past FDR supporters offered to buy anarchists and drug aficionados beers in the local bars. Something more than any sport was doing this. It was a palpable connectivity. You were witnessing a kind of cognitive syncing of one city’s massive identity. Your dad pulled out some cash and ordered you both a pop and a hot dog. Printed on the back of the currency were those ancient, dead words, the motto of you and your people, the spirit of the city on that day. As you sat with your father and witnessed the jubilation, you couldn’t help but wonder if it could always be like this. Not the confetti and impromptu pomp, but the glee, the pure positivity, and oneness. How to channel all of this raw potential energy into one sustaining kinetic force that transcended the excess heaviness? How indeed.

Infinite City: The Trouble with Facts Is…

[The below piece: “How We Got to Now” was featured in The Daily Chimera, news-gathering/reporting and opinion-based website last week. It concerns the on-going disputes over the historical accuracy of certain aspects of the city’s past.]

 

For the past three months the city has experienced a vicious back-and-forth between two dissenting groups of citizens. Death threats have been made, fights have broken out at protests and rallies, arrest have been conducted, a federal investigation has been issued, and much more. This “War for True History” as it is being called has divided parents, teachers, students, citizens in the city. 90+ days into this conflict, it is possible we may have forgotten how this all really started. This was evident yesterday at a protest outside the publisher Macmilliamous-McGrood’s city headquarters. There, both protestors and advocates confused facts and details about what actually caused this unrest.

Below is an effort to explain and clear up some misunderstandings. Here is a very short summary:

Basically it started with one parent. We will call her Mrs. T on account of the innumerable death threats she has received since this all started (she is under police protection at the moment). Mrs. T was displeased with the Macmilliamous-McGrood textbook’s origin story of the city. She took offense at the glorification of the founders (Ludwig von Küssenass and Hans-Johanns Schmudieb) and the overlooking description of the native tribes that inhabited the land before any Europeans landed. She was concerned this kind of (as she saw it) poor historical accuracy was detrimental to her daughter’s (and the other children’s) education.

Her letter to the principal is below.

Dear Principal Wexinburhe,

I am writing you today as a concerned parent. My daughter returned home last week with her Centuries of Events and Peoples history book. This year she gets to learn a great deal about her city’s history. It’s very important. She’s quite excited to learn about all the people that came before her to build up this city we all live in today. I, too, was excited to see her get the opportunity to learn more about the immediate world around her.

I was, however, greatly disappointed in the textbook’s brief summary of the “origins” of our city. Specifically, I was shocked to see the land described as “mostly underutilized” by the “tribes-people” until “the infamous German pirates” came along. There are two things that are particularly upsetting about this excerpt, and the whole summary. The first being this sense of “underutilization.”

As you may or may not know, the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway peoples had occupied that land (by the most conservative of estimates) a full three-hundred years before those two pirates and their gang arrived. The textbook describes their usage of the land as: “…seasonally for ritual dances, games, and political meetings…” This is a blatant understatement of the facts. Both the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway had come to use much of the land that now makes up our metropolis on a daily basis. The specific area in question (“Gorgon’s Alley” as referred to in the text) was of such deep religious and political significance. The only reason they visited the two islands at the mouth of the river (which had much different names than “Eye” and “Mond”) in each season was so that they could appease their spiritual ancestors together, and continue their long peace practices. I wouldn’t think I need to remind an educator, but perhaps I might, the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway had waged bloody campaigns against each other for years over the usufructuary rights of the land. Entire generations of people were born, lived, and died knowing nothing but fear, anguish, and continued hatred for the other group during this time period. Western Civilization does not have anything like this in kind. Not the 40 Years War, not even the 100 Years War. The conflict between the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway went well beyond those two wars combined, and on a scale of comparability were by far bloodier and more tolling on the people than anything the European campaigns might even imagine. So when these two peoples came together to celebrate in shared spiritual practices, and participate in games and tattoo one another, share harvests, etc. it was as a means of perpetuating peace and harmony. Also, it was a means to protect them against other warring tribes from the south and the west. My point here is that this land was being used for a long time before the Europeans came along, and it was of much greater significance to those people than some trading post for pirates.

Speaking of the pirates, this leads me to my second complaint/concern. What is with the beatification of these two pirates? They’re pirates! The textbook seems to paint them in a much lighter tone as the reader goes on. By the end I expected them to start referring to the pirates as “laissez-faire apostles” who freed the world of “evil-doing collectivism.” I mean, my God, these were the same men who (along with their subordinates) pitted the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway against each other, reigniting the war. They were perpetrators of by any account what can only be described as war crimes, enslaved what remained of both tribes, sold off women and children to other insidious Europeans who came along (including the Spaniards!), and should only be credited with bringing the disgusting habit of mechanized/organized subjugation and exploitation to the New Land.

None of that gets mentioned in this text. And I’d rather have that than some lame, half-informed, mostly balderdash writing about cartoon pirate figures bettering some “unused” land, as if other human beings never existed beforehand—like some sort of Shangri-La. That’s not history. That’s science fiction.

As someone who comes from a displaced, marginalized background, from a group of people who have often been side-stepped and left better off unspoken about in the annals of human history (which is to say white European-dominated history), I would appreciate if the school would make a much more concerted effort to educate not only my daughter (who shares my lineage), but also her peers. So that we do not destine ourselves to these awful tragedies again.

I understand the school probably has some sort of deal with Macmilliamous-McGrood and cannot necessarily rid themselves of this nonsense. But perhaps you can issue a formal complaint to the company, or insist the teachers offer some proper context to the lack of text involved in this largely fictional historical narrative.

Thank you for your time.

– Mrs. T

 

Principal Harvey Wexinburhe (who has not received as many death threats) responded about two months later, after consulting the school board and sponsored education board. That letter reads as such:

Dear Madame.

May I first take this moment to express my deep gratitude for sharing your concerns with me. As you are certainly aware, Tussock-Chandler Junior High (brought to you by Valvoline®) prides itself on being one of the most prestigious public schools in the city. The school does not achieve these accolades without the support of students’ parents—such as yourself—and their communication with the school—as evident in your letter. For over one hundred years the school has maintained its excellence, an excellence students benefit from and parents rely on, because of the continued community support it receives. It is without question that this support is what holds the utmost value for Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®) and its continuation means the prolonged success of the school. This support comes in many forms, as I’m sure you are aware.

One such instance is financially. Another through volunteering time and expertise. The one I find most beneficial is when the parent(s) continues the exemplary education their child/student receives in the classroom at home and assists in reinforcing the schooling lessons, homework, values, morals and ethnics the child learns while attending Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®). There are more still. The most common form of support the school receives is often by way of open, unadulterated communication from the parent. This is the method in which you chose, and we are very grateful for such support. Without you, and parents of your ilk, Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®) would not be able to properly assess what teaching methods, school courses, textbooks, et al. are properly utilized in the continued education of our young generations. 

Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®) prides itself on teaching every upcoming generation in the most effective, responsible, socially conscious way possible. We firmly believe in the fact that children will be the future. Perhaps that is a little obvious, but we do not reduce this universal truth to some platitude. We take this idea very seriously and strive each day to ensure our students, your child, have the best education (an omnibus word we see encompasses the following: fundamental learning, social interplay, proper rectitude). Without the best education provided, our future leaders, workers, thinkers would be operating at a deficit in society. That would be a horrible travesty. So to receive your letter is of the utmost importance to us. 

We were all very troubled by your letter. We took the issues raised very seriously. The fact you were so deeply disturbed by the historical account of our city’s founding gave us pause in considering teaching the passage to the students in the future, in addition we questioned our relationship with Macmilliamous-McGrood. So please know that your concern was our concern, too. 

That being clearly stated, I must inform you that the school board and the education board affiliated with our sponsored patron (Valvoline® — For All Your Motor Oil Needs) have decided to continue teaching the passage in question as is, and to continue our contract with Macmilliamous-McGrood. The reasons being are thus, as provided from the boards’s ruling opinion: 

– “The passage which is being challenged is in line with the generally accepted history of the city and coincides with historical facts as they happened from the point-of-view of the founders and collaborators. Whether there is any validity to the opposing view is not to the point, and broadly speaking does not confute the accepted position. All of the information provided in the text is accepted, even by the complainant. The only difference seems to be evident in semantics. Therefore, since most of the information provided is accepted as historical fact, the boards rule the text historically valid. 

Furthermore, there is the notion of “Proper View” (as indicated in Section IV, Area 41B of ECFA). The city needs to be viewed by its citizens in the best imaginable light available. To tarnish this view would possibly engender a loss of faith in the city and the community. It is imperative then that the children of Tussock-Chandler Junior High (brought to you by Valvoline®) need to experience a “Proper View” of their city’s founders, and anything possibly contra to that point is unacceptable. Children’s minds are fragile, and the slightest threat of disillusionment can wreak unprecedented damage for the future.” 

– “Tussock-Chandler Junior High (brought to you by Valvoline®) is a public school that accepts whatever provisions provided to it by both the city and its sponsored patron (Valvoline® — For All Your Motor Oil Needs). In this particular instance, with respect to the historical textbook received from Macmilliamous-McGrood, the city and the sponsored patron agreed to a lengthy contract with the education textbook publisher. Macmilliamous-McGrood provides quality textbooks to schools across the nation and is generally well-respected. For the book in question, Centuries of Events and Peoples, a team of historians collaborated to create the text, and collectively have years of experience. The board is more inclined to accept the work of those historians, and trust the judgment of the publisher over the complainant. 

Even if the boards agreed to the notion that the passage was unacceptable, or that (say) 90% of the textbook’s contents were historically dubious, the boards could not possibly enforce any change. The books the school receives are upheld by lengthy contracts (as implicated above). So there would be very little, if any, change possible for Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®).”

Your concern, time, patience, and understanding are very much appreciated, and we look forward to your continued passionate assistance in making Tussock-Chandler Junior High (brought to you by Valvoline®) one of the best schools in the city, state, and nation.

Sincerely.

Principal Wexinburhe.

P.S. On a personal note, being never a teacher or historian, I found your version of the city’s origin story quite interesting, but as they do not fit within the national education algorithms of the “Every Child First” Act (ECFA), specifically with respect to the “Proper View” rule, I encourage you to curb those lessons for your daughter. Perhaps it will be something covered later, say in high school or the university.

 

Needless to say, the response did not go over well with Mrs. T. After reading the letter, she gathered some like-minded parents (most of whom were from various minority ethnic groups, and not all of their children attended Tussock-Chandler) and started staging protests and sit-ins at the school. This eventually started being broadcast over social media, and within a week of the protests the news outlets picked up the story and ran with it (apparently there was not too much going on in the news cycle at that time), then a counter protest group rose in defense of the school and the origin story. The next thing you know chants turn vicious, people get angry, outsiders try to capitalize on the frenzy, social crusaders and grassroots organizations fly in from all around the country to attend rallies, everyone has an opinion on the situation, Donald Trump mentions it in one of his speeches saying: “In the old days, we just took hags like [Mrs. T] out back behind the shed and beat the living shit out of them, just as our founders had intended.” matters deteriorate so quickly people start throwing fists for a cause they don’t even fully understand, usually mature adults get six to twelve-month sentences in jail for things like: criminal threats, intimidation, harassment,  and assault: schools become grounds for outward hostility instead of learning centers, it becomes total bedlam.

And to think, all this started over a few disputed words from a sentence in a junior high school book. It just goes to show how tightly people cling to their histories—because their identities are the manifestations of them.

It actually reminds me of what one of the city founders once said, Hans-Johanns Schmudieb fancied himself a philosopher. He said: “When you spit in the face of an idol, you spit in the face of thousands.”