Friday, October 31, 2014

***Johnny Boy, Indeed-Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Suspicion, starring Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1941

The twentieth century, the triumphant “age of democracy,” at least in the developed West was not a particularly good time for properly trained elite school gentlemen, assorted nobles, and wayward royalty as the stresses of war, the masses, and the vigor of more secular states did in more empires than one could shake a stick at from Russia to Britain and France and broke up empires without regret. They, those sullen gentry, especially daunted second sons and certainly forlorn third or more with no hope inheriting more than a piss-pot, those degreed nobles who could neither hold onto their estates against a fellahin world or pay the damn mortgage after successive generations of entailment, social if not legal, those “kings” among men working as dime a dozen waiters in Parisian cafes or huddled in some backwater corner reliving their former splendors to a bored world all had that insufferable proper training, good breeding and only hanging with the best café society.

But the twentieth century (and now extending into the twenty-first) besides bringing fellahin uprisings and democratic veneers was preeminently the “age of the cash nexus” as well and that little problem of entailed estates, social or legal, and mortgaged to the hilt princely residences required more that some nodding acquaintance with fellow blue-bloods before selling the family silverware for one last blast before the streets.  All of this by way of introducing a stellar British example of the wayward proper gentry left adrift in the twentieth century (and extending into the twenty-first for the progeny), Johnny A., (no full last name needed as his is emblematic of the breed), and his self-imposed financial problems in the film under review, Suspicion.  Oh yes, since this film does not hinge on some left-wing sociological analysis and has the imprimatur of Sir (belatedly Sir) Alfred Hitchcock, a director known for mudding the waters with some off-hand intrigue and suspense before resolving all doubts, has the smell of murder in the air, murder most foul if certain imaginations are allowed to get the better of the situation.      

Here’s why we can speak candidly of murder, murder most foul. Our boy Johnny A. (played to a tee by Cary Grant who seems to have been born to fill such ruined high bred, good fellow well met, gentry cinematic roles), all good breeding and manners was a sporting man, a serious sporting man who had run out of possibilities with the known gentry but who still had those nagging problems of owing every Tom, Dick, and Harry around. And one of those Tom, Dick, and Harrys is his friendly bookie who is looking for his dough when Johnny boy’s nags ran out. See he figured that if Johnny had won he would have to have paid out so fair is fair. And Johnny is smart enough to see that if he wants to live another day to make that surefire bet that will get him on easy street that he must agree with such a proverbial thought.

So what is a hard-pressed man about town to do? Well here was Johnny’s scam (guys like Johnny spent many a sleepless night working out the details of such plans rather than face the prospect of gainful employment which would lead to nightmares). Or what looks to an untrained eye like an easy scam He “hit” on this dowdy spinsterly rural gentlewoman, Lina (played by Joan Fontaine, who as the film progresses remarkably loses that dowdiness, loses it all the way to an Oscar), who also has plenty of breeding, very good manners and, some dough, although as a 1940s woman she is not expected to use her obvious intelligence beyond the knitting table. Oh yes she is also looking for a man to sweep her away (although she did not know it). See Johnny, all bluster and sweet sweep her off her feet moves, figured to marry her and live off of her largess like any proper squire. Which he did, both swept her off her feet and married her. Nice work Johnny and good luck on easy street.


Well not quite. The problem was Lina’s father, a gentleman of the old school, who had insured Lina’s spinsterly future by keeping her on a short leash, a yearly allowance and not any real dough. And once he passed on later in the film, to show one final kick in the shins distain for Lina’s choice of husband, he left Lina with a thimble full of good thoughts but no dough. Oops, Johnny.            

Once Johnny figured out the score (after running up the bills on the expectation of fatherly largess) he of course decided to go to work, nothing too heavy maybe managing some well- established estate, and make something of himself. Make a crestfallen Lina proud. Hold on, have you been reading this plotline, Johnny was a sport not a worker bee and so the only work he was doing, his only gainful employment, was scratching away at every scheme he could figure out to keep the creditors from the door, or worse. And that is where murder, murder most foul, really where suspicion of such deeds comes in. A series of events unfolds which look very much like somebody is being set up for murder, murder by the book if you want to know, and that somebody is Lina. At least as Johnny grows distant, as untoward things begin to happen that is what Lina believed her fate to be.

That series of unexplained coincidences from the mysterious death of Johnny’s partner in a real estate scheme just before it was to be completed by a party, or parties unknown, to those various suspense-building untoward things happening to Lina drives the last part of the film. Remember too Johnny was a sport, a con man, a flimflam man and not built for murder. Know this as well, if you can believe this about sporting Johnny, in the end, despite his financial problems and whatever drove him to pull his scams on her he actually loved his Lina. Go figure, right.     

Poets’ Corner- The Mad Hatter 15th Century France’s Francois Villon- Whether France Claims Him Or Not

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Once, a long time ago, an old communist I do not remember which version of the Marx-Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin-Mao-Castro Hoxha  creed he adhered to, although he had had some impressive documented revolutionary credentials in Germany before Hitler pulled the hammer down in 1933 and he just barely got out into American exile by a very long and circuitous route, told me that as far as culture affairs, you know art, novels, music and what I want to talk about here, poetry, is basically subject to whatever personal whims a person may have on these matters. The caveat to all this is that both creators and admirers should be left to their own devises except if they are actively engaged with counter-revolutionary activity. Now that I think about it that old communist probably got the idea from Leon Trotsky himself who wrote about such matters in the 1920s in books like  Literature and Revolution although I now almost positive that he did not consider himself a follower of that great revolutionary who was exiled in the late 1920s.

The point today is that if a left-wing political activist like myself, say, were very interested in the poetry of Emily Dickerson or Wallace Stevens or Thomas Mann or, what the hell, Edna Saint Vincent Millay then what of it. Except those kinds of poets do not “speak” to me. Poets like Allan Ginsberg burning the pages with his negro streets, his clamoring against the industrial complex, his angel hipsters, his chanting against the fate of the best minds of his generation, guys like the gangster-poet Gregory Corso blazing the hot New York streets with his words and taking no prisoners, old Rimbaud with his Paris mad ravings, Verlaine too, Genet with his black soul and ladies of the flowers “speak” to me. The troubadours, the “bad boys and girls,” the waifs, the gangsters, the drifters, grifters and midnight sifters and those who act as muses for the fallen are what makes me sit up and listen.                  

 And that brings us to Francois Villon, the “max daddy” of bad boy poets (and brigands) from the 15th century. Strangely while I have picked up on most of my favorite poets from some academic setting I learned of Villon from two maybe unusual sources. First from the 1930s film The Petrified Forest where the Bette Davis character, Gabby, was crazy for the Villon book of poems sent from her returned to home mother in France. More importantly the poet and what he stood for was brought up in the film in conversation with Leslie Howard’s character Alan who was a Villon-like misplaced out of sorts wanderer out in the Arizona desert. The other source was a poem by Villon used as a front-piece of an article by Hunter S. Thompson who used the sentiment expressed by Villon where he considered himself a stranger in his own country (as did Thompson back in Nixon times in America).

But back to the muses, back to the gangsta muses (sorry hip-hop nation for stealing your thunder but your sing-song lyrics definitely make me think you have drawn from the same well, the same Villon well, especially guys like Biggie, Tupac, 50 cent, and Brother Cole, a brother from the same damn “sew those worn-out pants” projects neighborhood in spirit as me). Old Villon must have gotten tripped up on his DNA finding the back streets of Paris and later exile spots more attractive than the court life, the scholar’s. Trouble followed the guy wherever he moved, or maybe better he followed trouble seeking low-life haunts and dark characters to help do his nocturnal bidding in times when the night was your friend. Granted he had little room to maneuver in those days since he was a city man, an educated man of the Paris circuit, and not some outlaw Robin Hood working the old rural pastures and forests). His poetry speaks of drunken town sots, of quick upstairs flights with besotten wenches, wenches who moreover know how to take him around the world for a small bag of dust, of grand bargains with the kings of thieves, of hard-crusted corner boys doing his bidding (excuse the anachronism but a precious read of his life makes me think of such young men hanging against sullen walls, boots up, looking for all the world like jaded youth), of sweet sweated tavern dark corners to plan, plan the next caper, or the next poem to explain away his life led.         

Who knows what makes a man or woman a stranger in their own land, an internal exile. Maybe like Villon it was his dismissal of the vanities of court life, the vacuity of the student life, or the lure of the outlaw life when bourgeois society (and France in the 15th century was reaping the beggar’s banquet of bourgeois society, beginning to create those little master craftsmen workshops that would dominate the French economy until very recently) and it took no Karl Marx to notice that the old ways had to give way to the new city ways with their gold and death to free spirits, to those who lived outside allegiances. Maybe like Ginsberg shattered by the smoke of downtown Paterson, maybe shattered by the hysterical cries of his beloved if discarded mother, maybe shattered by the square-ness of his father-poet. Maybe like Jean bon Genet born of some ancient mix of the crime that dared not speak its name and crimes that had names. Trolling waterfronts looking for rough trade, looking for his lady of the flowers. Strangers, strangers all looking for some new Algiers, some new Casablanca, and incense, some new city a-borning.

Villon, lord of the sneak away night, besotted with six wines, drunk with the fragrance of women. Women who reek of the kingdom’s perfumes and if Hilary Mantel is to be believed over in bedeviled England of the time all the women worked lilac and lemon tree leaves into their skin so that guys, guys like Villon ready to seek a lady’s favor could stand to be within ten feet of them. Reeking of words too, Villon reeking of words that is, quick words, words with hidden messages, words heard in taverns, on wormy mattresses, in stinking hayloft barns, unholy holy words that would make men quake if they had the sense that their God gave them as a gift (or was it the son, the damn crazed son, Jesus, called bandit), stealthily grabbing whatever was to be grabbed and the hell with the lord business. Then writing in dark dungeon nights looking for reprieves from a wretched life.

Beautiful, a beat down brother, no wonder Alan the wandering homeless out of fashion intellectual in The Petrified Forest claimed Villon as kindred, and why he could have walked on steamy late night New York streets and found kindred among the midnight sifters. Beat, beatified before his time probably clamoring on some woe begotten trumpet, blowing out big medieval blow notes to the hard Seine, the hard Norman shores, to all who would listen, Yeah, Saint Villon, sanctified, man of misrule, man of the hidden cloth, beat, beat about six ways to Sunday if you believe his resume, if you believe his 15th century be-bop wail. What did Kerouac, hell, a kindred, a Breton, said-yes, moan, moan long and hard for man, and Saint Villon grant us some sign, some path that we might come to rescue you in sotted, sweated dungeons, so that you too can walk the fetid streets singing, holy, holy, holy.

What was it that his literary descendants, guys like Jack Kerouac who I swear had Villon blood in him, guys like Alan Ginsberg who sang holy, holy, holy to the new age except he cried out in vain to vanquish dreaded Molochs, called those who listened to their own drummers, listened to the winds beyond the towns, beyond the cities, listened to the forest men, the men who earlier in their lives lived in towns and cities?  Oh yeah, “holy goofs.” Not goofs like you would call some guy walking down the street today looking down and he hits his head on a telephone pole because he wasn’t watching where he was going. No, our holy goof, I think Kerouac used that term to describe, or rather used that term as one of the ways to describe mad man fellow traveler Dean Moriarty, and hence the model Neal Cassady as well, to his Sal Paradise in On The Road. A guy who is for the moment, an existential be-bop guy, a guy who knows the score, knows right from wrong even, knows it better than you and me, and says “what the fuck,” says you know, I know, and so let the mystery be, let the cloistered intellectuals in their sullen monasteries poring over the number of angel that can fit on the head of a needle sulk while he worked on the angles, looked for dough, dames and dope. See, I swear Villon from his hidden grave sent down to posterity the model for the holy goof, and these other guys picked it out of the fog-bound air.          

Sweet word man Villon articulate in a hoary dark world when gangster warlord and unsavory princes vied with each for land, for wealth, for some fair maiden’s favors. And let’s not beat about the bush about those favors it wasn’t for some silly scarf just off the boats from faraway China or the Japan Seas but for a tussle in some off-hand hayloft, some milady’s boudoir, some back room tavern straw bed. Read what you want into that but some buck jack was taking his right of first night well before the first night. But heroic buck jacks sometimes could speak no lady’s words, could not utter the thoughts in an otherwise black heart and so old Villon had a space to breath, had words to tell of love’s truths, or what milady would go to the downy billows for. And for his services, for he was a man of the city, a man of the back alleys, a man who consorted with the rabble, a con man and a wordsmith in his own right and so every once in a while a bored milady would stop her quilting, stop her needlepoint and show the old curmudgeon her downy billows for just one word of the night, for the sound of those moans that no child should know before his or her time.    

Of course a guy who liked to walk on the wild side, who was organically incapable of saying a straight thing if for no other reason than self-preservation would have many a back room tavern wench taking him around the world (yes, they, the wenches, and their procurers, knew all about “taking a guy around the world” laughing at a candid world that liked to think that little sexual trick was invented by Masters and Johnson or something). And on a normal night, maybe after stealing some gold from a merchant’s back room, maybe pilfering some goods just off the boat from the Japan seas, maybe after waylaying some drunken sot for his ready bag of cash that would be good enough, would sate his sexual desire. But once every dark moonless night, maybe feeling a little put upon by his wretched place in the world he would seek the high life, “go uptown” as they said in their own way among the brotherhood.

And here is how it was done. A great and gratifying scam. Some poor high life guy who made his dough off the Japan seas or something like that had a lady love who could not be moved except by words, words of love. And he from rough usage spoke only in twaddle. No sale. So sweet boy Villon to the rescue. Pretty words at a dime a throw. A few ducats. But get this that poor roughly used guy would have old boy Villon prate the words to his love to his love. And sometimes, sometimes when there was a dark, moonless, night maybe a little sweaty milady would close her virginal eyes and act the backroom tavern wench and take old brother Villon around the world. See she knew such arts too. And that roughly used sot would never be the wiser. Oh sweet boy Villon teach your arts.        

When you mess with women though, mess in the bedroom anyway, some paid for bedroom, and it was not you paying the freight, whether it was Eve in the garden, hell, maybe before when two primates started doing the courtly dance or today with some Evita trying to avoid getting your toes stepped on by some fast moving female you have to be prepared to take the gaff. Be prepared to find that the end could only lead one way, and it was not in favor of Villon and his progeny. So, Eve, Helen, Mary, the Pea, some sweetie, whoever was ready to throw you to the wolves once they were done with you had you stymied. Or maybe they would throw you to the wolves even if they were not done with you just for practice. Ah, love, love divine, love in the back alleys, love in that scented boudoir but love nevertheless.

Except when you mess with another man’s woman, go against some broken code, and this too has been going on since the garden, maybe before, maybe in some half-remembered tussle in the savannah where the winner dragged the queen of Sheba, his queen of Sheba anyway by the hair and took her by main force you must take the gaff as well and be prepared to run after the rut. Whether she liked it or not. But still playing with kingly woman is always a dicey thing and so Villon, Adam, Markin, Jackman, whoever is now out begging for alms, for his life for the chance once more to get at that jasmine scent that maddens his mind, keeps his thoughts clouded, disturbs his sleep and makes him ask the question-what the fuck- or whatever old Villon term used with his corner boys to signify defeat. And proclaim that defeat in sweet saucy words to a candid world.        

Ah youth, ah the flower of youth and immorality, and living forever. Who had time for worrying about tomorrow today was the thing with some loose dope, some loose talk, some loose luscious butterfly swirl keeping you company against the dark, against the light if it came to that over some misty river spill or some Norman exile deep sea ocean twirl. She slumming against the drab home that she fled the last time, fled that that too soon met husband. And so she headed north to the May time fair, headed north to see if she could find a certain guy that she had dreamed about ever since that night when he performed on stage and only had eyes for her. Well, she was wrong about those eyes only for her but she found him among the Mayfair swells, found him and he did look at her then, long longing looks before the night was over, and before the expected other shoe fell. He, a poet after all, spoke of flaxen hair, fierce blue eyes (fiercer when he did some foolish thing even fiercer when some other flaxen-haired woman looked his way, or he hers), high point breasts, shoulders built to be held, a waspish waist, honey dew thighs, a sweet sweet spot and well-turned legs and ankles. Very heaven like some new day Botticelli vision, garlands in her hair, rosy cheeks after he put his heat to her.

And so they spent their time together, moving when rumors floated that her husband had his evil design on her, and on him for having her. But nothing ever came of it, at least nobody around the May fair ever heard anything about any confrontation. As we catch up to our couple though, having travelled some distance up even further north one day they were standing in the square and an old woman (not really old today but then old) strangling flaxen hair, sullen blues eyes (more sullen when some other hag tried to take her flask), sagging breasts which once too had been high pointed, craven shoulders, expanding waist (being kind to years of flask-holding womanhood), flabby thighs, barren sweet spot, veined legs and swollen ankles. The picture of, well, of something but that is not the point. That day that now aging flaxen-haired one (not really aging today but then aging) free butterfly swirl caught just a glimmer of mortality and shuttered.            

Old Villon like all of us, or most of us, was a man of his time, spent his hours in back tavern rooms lifting up the skirts of some low-born wench when he could (when he had his florins at the ready and his friends too) and since he was a mixer and had some decent blood in his veins some high-born virginal white sheets as well if he could get through the door, could find out that her husband was out with the falcons or with his own mistress and he would tumble her and she for days and days would look for a sign from him, foolish woman. Spent his time in low pursuits with his corner boys doing their midnight creep, figuring out some grift.

So, yes, he loved well, he sweated those bulky beds well, devised many a plan to keep himself in clover but hear this he also as a man of his time had to make his peace with the religious sentiments of the time and while he could be accused of blasphemy, could face the executioner’s block for what he said, could speak incestuously of his holy mother, could speak of fondling some sweet sister saint. Yes, a man of his time.

But know this old Villon was a man of words, low cunning words, high born spiritual words, crafty words, insincere words, love cometh words, wench-fetching words, suck hole words, slanderous words, but words and for that he will ride the white horse, ride off to some faraway beach.        

Yes, wanderers, waifs, strangers in a strange land, sneak thieves in the milady’s heart heated night, those are the poets I want to read and listen to. And what of it.        

Thursday, October 30, 2014

In The Desperate Search For Peace- The Maine Veterans For Peace-Sponsored March For Peace and Protection Of The Planet From Rangeley To North Berwick-October 2014 -Take Two 

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

“You know I never stepped up and opposed that damn war in Vietnam that I was part of, a big part of gathering intelligence to direct those monster B-52s to their targets. Never thought about much except to try and get my ass out of there alive, in one piece. Didn’t get “religion” on the issues of war and peace until sometime after I got out when I ran into a few Vietnam veterans who were organizing a demonstration with the famous Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) down in Washington and they told me what was what. So since then, you know, even if we never get peace, and at times that seems like some kind of naïve fantasy I have felt I have to be part of actions like today, like today with guys like you and other members of Veterans for Peace, to let people know, to let myself know, that when the deal went down I was where the action was, ’’ said Jack Scully to his fellow Vietnam veteran Peter Mullin.

Peter had been sitting in the passenger seat of the car Jack was driving when he made his comment as they were travelling back to Jack’s summer place in York after they had just finished participating in the last leg of the Maine Veterans for Peace-sponsored walk for peace and preservation of the planet from Rangeley to North Berwick, a distance of about one hundred and twenty miles over a ten day period in the October breezes, the wayward October 2014 breezes. (Mike Kelly, a younger veteran from the Iraq wars, a newer member who neither of the Vietnam veterans knew well other than he had suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  and had received a disability allowance, whose story they would find out more about some time later sat in back silently drinking in what these grizzled old activists were discussing)

The organizers of the march had a method to their madness since Rangeley was projected to be a missile site, and the stopping points in between were related to the war industries or to some environmental protection issue ending in North Berwick where the giant defense contractor Pratt-Whitney has three shifts running building F-35 missiles and parts for fighter jets. The three veterans who had come up from Boston to participate in the action had walked the last leg from Saco (pronounced “socko” as a Mainiac pointed out to Peter when he said “sacko”) to the Pratt-Whitney plant in North Berwick, some fifteen miles or so along U.S. Route One and Maine Route Nine.  

As Peter let Jack’s comment sink in this is what he had already had known about Jack, whom he had worked with on several anti-war campaigns previously, before he made his comment. Jack, born and raised in the Irish diaspora ghettoes of hard rock Philadelphia, had enlisted in the Army in 1968, before he was to be foregone conclusion drafted as he called it, along with his friends from the neighborhood (“a package deal” he called it so they would all go to basic training together at nearby Fort Dix), Pudge, Pinky and Five Fingers (guess what that five fingers had been doing to earn that sobriquet). None of them would have thought for a second about not going in when called, had enlisted just to get a better deal, not get stuck in the infantry like a lot of draftees (so they thought), could not have stood the gaff in the neighborhoods back home from friends, from the neighbors, and worse, from the family if they had done otherwise. Options, if they had been thought about at all, would have been eliminated out of hand, going to jail for draft refusal was not the kind of crime the corner boys of Irish working class neighborhoods in Philadelphia went to jail for back then, flight to Canada was out of the question because running away from anything human, except a pursuing cop, was unmanly, and applying for conscientious objector status was out, none of them were in that category if they had known what it was and how to apply (and an application would have been rejected out of hand since the church had a “just war” position while objection then required total opposition to war). No, Jack and his boys were reared in the traditional Irish Catholic verities of home, church and country pushed weekly at church and on television by Bishop Sheehan and reinforced by the screeds from some high-shelf pulpit of the hard anti-communist prelate Cardinal Spellman of New York City. Where was there room in that mix for a confused young man from North Philadelphia, if he had been confused, to make a conscientious stand against the war in those precincts.

And so Jack dutifully went in, was in the course of training assigned to military intelligence school to learn how to evaluate bombing runs and enemy targets and then duly sent to the only place where such specialists were in demand in those days, the hellhole sweaty, sultry god forsaken Republic of Vietnam. Right at MACV headquarters out by the airport at first then various field stations within fifty miles of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) later.  From about the second week Jack could sense that something was not right, that the work he was assigned to do was evil. Every day his conscience was troubled, but the way he dealt with that conflict was to try to survive a day at a time, that, and smoke as much of the plentiful dope that was always just laying around as possible.

After Jack had been a couple of months in-country it did not help that Pudge had been killed when his encampment down in the Delta had been overrun one night by Charlie. (Pudge, Pinky and Five Fingers not being as bright as Jack, who had been to a semester of college, were assigned to infantry training, their worst fear,  another specialty that was then in hot demand in stinking ‘Nam). Jack had reacted to the news by taking his rifle out in the street and tried to go and shoot every “gook” (his usage at the time) that he could see. Fortunately he was so stoned at the time that he fired out into nothing in the night before his barracks mates subdued him. When after six months in-country Five Fingers was seriously wounded up in Pleiku and had to be Evac-ed home Jack began to shoot up, do H to keep the demons at bay.

Finally, mercifully, Jack’s tour was up, he had extended his tour six month just to get out of the service a few months early. After being discharged he went home but home was no longer what it had been, he deserved no hero’s welcome, deserved no free drinks at Sully’s from the corner boys and their fathers and so slipped out of town one night and headed south. The first stop was Washington and that is where he met the kindred from VVAW who talked to him, finally got him to make sense of what the hell he had been through. Through fits and starts over the next couple of years he got his “religion” and that was that.                

After Peter thought about what Jack had said about his commitment to such actions as that day’s he made this reply, “You know I didn’t step up and oppose the Vietnam War very seriously until pretty late, after I got out of the Army in 1971 and was working with some Quaker-types in a GI bookstore near Fort Dix down in New Jersey (both of the other men gave the usual signs of recognition of that place, a place where they had taken their respective basis trainings) and that is where I got, what did you call it Jack, “religion” on the war issue. You know I have done quite a few things in my life, some good, some bad but of the good that people have always praised me for, that social work I did for a while, and later teaching I always tell them this- there are a million social workers, there are a million teachers, but these days, and for long time now, there have been very few peace activists on the ground so if you want to praise me, want to remember me for anything then let it be for this kind of work, things like this march today when our forces were few and the tasks enormous.”             

This is what Jack already had known about Peter before he made his comment. Peter, born and raised in the Irish diaspora ghettoes of hard rock North Adamsville just outside of Boston, had been drafted in the Army in 1969, kicking and screaming a little not over the morality of the war but that he was leaving his flirty girlfriend behind who would be hit on by every guy, even his corner boys, in the neighborhood and might just succumb to some sweet talk. Unlike Jack though he went in alone since, being a little older that Jack and his crowd, his corner boys had already done their service (one, Jimmy J. from down his street, had been killed during the Tet Offensive). Here is the common drill though. None of them, including Peter, would have thought for a second about not going in when called, most had enlisted to get a better deal (so they thought), none could  have stood the gaff in the neighborhoods back home from friends, from the neighbors, and worse, from the family if they had done otherwise. Options, if they had been thought about at all, would have been eliminated out of hand, going to jail for draft refusal was not the kind of crime the corner boys of Irish working class neighborhoods went to jail for back then, armed robbery being more likely, and then maybe a deal with the judge to go into the service in lieu of jail time. Flight to Canada was out of the question because running away from anything human, except a pursuing cop, was unmanly, and applying for conscientious objector status was out, none of them were in that category if they had known what it was and how to apply (and would have been rejected since the church had a “just war” position while objection then required total opposition to war). No, like  Jack and his boys,  Peter and his boys were reared in the traditional Irish Catholic verities of home, church and country pushed weekly at church and on television by Bishop Sheehan and reinforced by the screeds of the hard anti-communist prelate Cardinal Spellman of New York City. Where was there room in that mix for a confused young man from North Adamsville, if he had been confused, to make a conscientious stand against the war in those precincts. Where, indeed.

So Peter went in, losing that flirty girlfriend to some guy from Hull during basic training down at Fort Dix and then assigned to infantry training. And infantry trained soldiers in 1969, despite everybody with any sense knowing that the whole damn war was lost, were being respectfully requested in the hellhole, sweaty, sultry Republic of Vietnam. And so Peter went to the hellhole, and unbelievably, came back without a scratch although he lost about twenty pounds from the loss of fluids that he could never keep up with as they sweated away in the horrible humidity. But like Jack he had seen things, done things that no man should have ever had to have done. He wasn’t much for talking about that stuff, then or now, even with veterans. Spend most of his time in-country stoned on grass, maybe a little cocaine, like every other GI with any sense (except the southern boys, southern white boys, who didn’t do dope but drank their time away, mostly cheap PX whiskey).           

Finally, mercifully, Peter’s tour was up, in those days, in late 1970, they were letting Vietnam guys with short time get stationed near home when possible and he was assigned to Fort Devens about forty miles from Boston. One day as he was leaving the post he ran into some anti-war protestors, mostly Quakers from around the area and not some student SDS-types from Boston who he had kind of scorned, who told him they had staged a weekly vigil in front of the fort for the previous year. He said he would to talk to them sometime after telling them he had been in ‘Nam and could sure use somebody to talk to. They told him to come to a Friends meeting, and that it probably best to do so in Cambridge away from the fort where he could relax and not be monitored. He did do so one Sunday on a weekend pass, talked a lot to a very sympathetic young Quaker woman, Susan, whom after several meeting he started to date, kind of, kind of they both called it even after they had gone to bed together later after he had been discharged.

After being discharged he went home but like with Jack home was no longer what it had been, he deserved no hero’s welcome, deserved no free drinks at Dublin Grille  from the corner boys and their fathers and so slipped out of town one night and headed to Cambridge and that good Quaker woman’s arms. Stayed with Susan there until she talked him into going to Fort Dix with her and help with the GI anti-war work there centered on a coffeehouse that had been set up. Peter did that for a while, stayed with that sweet Quaker woman too but he was no Quaker and so he moved on after a while. But it was those Quakers who talked to him, talked to him without condescension, and finally got him to make sense of what the hell he had been through. Over the next couple of years he got his “religion” and that was that.               

With that exchange between the two men done the three men, as the sun started setting, headed back on the last stretch to York in silence all thinking about what they had accomplished that day.  

It had been a long day, a long Monday to begin a hectic week, starting early for Peter since, due to other commitments, he had had to drive up to York before dawn that morning. Those commitments included having stayed up late the night before working on a leaflet in support of the imprisoned heroic Wikileaks whistle-blower transgender Army soldier, Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley), who had been serving a thirty-five sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas for basically telling the American people, telling her fellow soldiers, telling Peter, the truth about American military atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan and other nefarious acts of the American government abroad,  which was to be passed out at the Veterans Day anti-war parade in Boston. That previous night’s task a labor of love which had also included a few years of work on Chelsea’s behalf ever since he heard about the case in the fall of 2010 which Peter saw as some penance for his own failure to speak up in the military in his time.

Jack and Mike already in York too had gotten up early to make sure all the Veterans for Peace and personal gear for the march was in order. They were expected in Saco (you know how to say it now even if you are not from Maine, or never been there) for an 8:30 start to the walk and so left York for the twenty-five mile trip up to that town about 7:30. They arrived at the inevitable Universalist-Unitarian Church (U-U) about 8:15 and prepared the Veterans for Peace flags that the twelve VFPers from the Smedley Butler Brigade who came up from Boston for the last leg would carry.

That inevitable U-U remark by the way needs some explanation, or rather a kudo. Of all the churches, with the honorable exception of the Quakers, the U-Us have been the one consistent church which has provided a haven for peace activists and their projects, various social support groups and 12- step programs. And, of course, the thing that Peter knew them for through his companion who spent many hours in such places improving her voice by practicing in front of small audiences in what he felt had been the last gasp effort to preserve the folk minute of the early 1960s by opening their doors on a monthly basis and turn their basements or auditoria into throw-back coffeehouses with the remnant folk performers from that milieu playing, young and old.                  

And so a little after 8:30 they were off, a motley collection of about forty to fifty people, some VFPers from the sponsoring Maine chapter (who when Peter inquired to Brent, the organizer and all-around wizard, found out that they had taken turns doing the various legs as they were able to do so from Rangeley on down), the Smedleys (who as previously mentioned were making this last leg to finish the week off in good style. Peter had mentioned to Jack on the way up to Saco that they would horn in on the accolades for the march by showing up on the last day to be before the cameras and microphones looking like they had walked the entire distance. Jack laughed that such illusionary actions were part of politics, what the hell), some church peace activist types (the usual U-Us and Quakers, but also a few from a Hindu commune in Portland, a commune of Westerners who had converted along the way seeing that religion as one of searching for self-peace and world peace, who proved to be very interesting when Jack talked to couple of them on the route, a few young environmental activists (representing the protection of Mother Earth part of march but unlike a lot of such young people linking up the tremendous social waste of the military with the soon-to-be over the top climate problems not usually connected by that movement), and a cohort of Buddhists in full yellow robe regalia leading the procession with their chanting and pacing drum beating.

These Buddhists were well-known to Jack and Peter from various peace actions in Boston and the annual peace walk they walked each year from their monastery in Northampton, Massachusetts to some distant location, perhaps as far away as Washington, D.C. Peter joked to one of them, a Westerner, that they were the walkingest people he knew. She replied that the walking freed up energies to bring some little peace in the world. And Peter to his surprise seeing them still going strong after several miles of walking swore that he picked up his own flagging pace just being part of their procession.     

Those Buddhists, or some of them, had been on the whole journey from Rangeley unlike most participants who came on one or a few legs and then left. A little saunter of one hundred and twenty miles for them, child’s play. The group started appropriately enough walking up the eternal America Main Street although if you know about coastal Maine that is really U.S. Route One which would be the main road of the march until Wells where they would pick up Maine Route Nine into North Berwick and the Pratt-Whitney plant.

Peter had a flash-back thought early on the walk through downtown Saco as he noticed that the area was filled with old red brick buildings that had once been part of the thriving textile industry which ignited the Industrial Revolution here in America. Had been the place where his old friend, Josh Breslin, met out in California after he got out of the service who had tried to escape from the place and who just couldn’t get it out of his blood and eventually returned to the area now living in Old Orchard. Josh had told him many stories about growing up here, about how the mills leaving in the 1950s to head to the cheap labor non-union South had almost destroyed his father, and about the pull of the place on him after he had “sown his wild oats.”

Yes, Peter “knew” this town much like his own North Adamsville, another red brick building town, and like old Jack Kerouac’s red brick building Merrimack River Lowell which he had been in the previous week to help celebrate the annual Kerouac festival. All those towns had seen better days, had also made certain come-backs of late, but walking pass the small store blocks in Saco there were plenty of empty spaces and a look of quiet desperation on those that were still operating just like he had recently observed in those other towns. And the same look on the early morning winos, homeless, stranglers and vacant eyed they passed along the way. 

That sociological observation though was about the only one that Peter (or anybody) on the march could make since once outside the downtown area heading to Biddeford and Kennebunk the views in passing were mainly houses, small strip malls, an occasional gas station and many trees. As the Buddhists warmed up to their task the first leg proved to be uneventful except for the odd car or truck honking support from the roadway. (Peter and every other peace activist he knew always counted honks as support whether they were or not, whether it was more a matter of road rage or not in the area of an action, stand-out or march). Both Peter and Jack made it their business to connect with the Maine VFPers on the march in order to update and encourage them to send a contingent down to Boston for the Saint Patrick’s Day anti-war peace parade which the Smedleys had organized for the past four years in opposition to the pro-war orientation of the “official” parade in South Boston that day after they had been excluded from that official parade (along with the GLTBQ community, generic peaceniks and anybody else who did not buy into their narrow program). They both also, since they had connections to Maine, although not having been born there like some of the marchers could never claim Mainaic status, talked to others along the way to get an idea of what had been going on in Maine since the days when everybody would march on George H.W. Bush’s place in Kennebunkport to protest his and his son’s wars.          

And so the three legs of the morning went. A longer stop for lunch followed and then back on the road for the final stages trying to reach the Pratt-Whitney plant for a planned vigil as the shifts were changing about three o’clock.   

[A word on logistics since this was a straight line march with no circling back. The organizers had been given an old small green bus by a supporter up in Ellsworth for their transportation needs. That green bus was festooned with painted graffiti drawings which reminded Peter of the old time 1960s Ken Kesey Merry Prankster bus and a million replicas that one could see coming about every other minute out of the Pacific Coast Highway hitchhike minute back then. The green bus served as the storage area for personal belongings and snacks and, importantly, as the vehicle which   would periodically pick up the drivers in the group and leaf-frog their cars toward North Berwick. Also provided rest for those too tired or injured to walk any farther. And was the lead vehicle for the short portion of the walk where everybody rode during one leg before the final walk to the plant gate.]       

So just before three o’clock they arrived at the plant and spread out to the areas in front of the three parking lots holding signs and waving to on-coming traffic. Receiving a fair share of peace signs, the ubiquitous two fingers spread apart to form a V and the occasional honk. That was done for about an hour, including massing at the Employees parking lot to take advantage of the mass exodus which had to wait at a stop sign before hitting Route Nine home. After that crowd thinned out they gathered together and formed a circle, sang a couple of songs, took some group photographs before the Pratt-Whitney sign and then headed for the cars to be carried a few miles up the road to friendly farmhouse for a simple meal before dispersing to their various homes. In all an uneventful day as far as logistics went. Of course no vigil, no march, no rally or anything else in the front of some huge corporate enterprise, some war industries target, or some high finance or technological site would be complete without the cops, public or private, thinking they were confronting the Russian Revolution of 1917 on their property and that was the case this day as well. 

Peter did not know whether the organizers had contacted Pratt-Whitney, probably not nor he thought should they have, or security had intelligence that the march was heading their way but a surly security type made it plain that the marchers were not to go on that P-W property, or else. As if a rag-tag group of fifty mostly older pacifists, lukewarm socialists, non-violent veterans and assorted church people were going to shut the damn place down, or try to, that day.         

Nothing came of the security agent’s threats as there was no need for that but as Peter got out of Jack’s car in York he expressed the hope that someday they would be leading a big crowd to shut that plant down. No questions asked. In the meantime they had set the fragile groundwork. Yes, it had been a good day and they had all been at the right place. 
Stop The Wars!-Stop The Desecration Of Mother Earth!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

***The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night - Sam’s Song  


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

 Sam Lowell thought it was funny how things worked out sometimes in such a contrary fashion in this wicked old world, not his expression that “wicked old world” for he preferred of late the more elastic and ironic “sad old world” but that of his old time North Adamsville corner boy Peter Markin who will be more fully introduced in a moment (Markin aka Peter Paul Markin although nobody ever called him that except his mother, as one would expect although he hated to be teased by every kid from elementary school on including girls, girls who liked to tease him, tease him when they wanted to show their interest usually, and his first ill-advised wife, Martha, a heiress of the local Mayfair swells who tried, unsuccessfully since they sensed right away that he was not one of them, to impress her leafy horse country Dover suburban parents with the familiar waspy triple names).

Neither of those expressions referred to however dated back to their youth since neither Sam nor Peter back then, back in their 1960s youth, would have used such old-fashioned religious-drenched expressions to explain their take on the world since as with all youth, or at least youth who expected to “turn the world upside down” (an expression that they both did use although each in very different contexts) they would have withheld such judgments or were too busy doing that “turning” business they had no time for adjectives to express their worldly concerns. No that expression, that understanding about the wickedness of the world had been picked up by Sam from Peter when they had reconnected a number of years before after they had not seen each other for decades to express the uphill battles of those who had expected humankind to exhibit the better angels of their nature on a more regular basis. Some might call this nostalgic glancing back, especially by Peter since he had more at stake in a favorable result, on a world that did not turn upside down or did so in a way very different from those hazy days.  

The funny part (or ironic if you prefer) was that back then Sam had been in his youth the least political, the least culturally-oriented, the least musically-oriented of those corner boys like Markin, Jack Dawson, Jimmy Jenkins and “max daddy” leader Fritz Fallon (that “max daddy” another expression coined by Peter so although he has not even been properly introduced we know plenty about his place in the corner boy life, his place as “flak,” for Fritz’s operation although Fritz always called him “the Scribe” when he wanted something written and needed to play on Peter’s vanity) who kept the coins flowing into the jukebox at Phil’s House of Pizza. That shop had been located down a couple of blocks from the choppy ocean waters of Adamsville Beach (and is still there although under totally different management from the arch-Italian Rizzo family that ran the place for several generations now run by some immigrant Albanians named Hoxha).

That made Phil’s among other things a natural hang-out place for wayward but harmless poor teenage corner boys. The serious “townie” professional corner boys, the rumblers, tumblers, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters hung around Harry’s Variety with leader Red Riley over on Sagamore far from beaches. Night haunting boys far from sweated sun, tanned daytime beaches, with their equally pale, black dress-etched “tramps,” well known the boyos network at the high school for those few adventurous enough to mess with an off-hand “from hunger” girl looking for kicks and a fast ride in some souped-up Chevy or on back of fat hog Harley, the bike of choice around the town. Although tanned daytime beaches rumors had it that the beach, the isolated Rock Island enough, had been the site of more than one nighttime orgy with “nice” publicly virginal girls looking for kicks with rough boys down among the briny rocks. Rumors they remained until Sam ran into Sissy Roswell many years later who confessed that she and the “social butterfly” prom/fall dance/ yearbook crowd she hung around with on a couple of occasions had been among the briny rocks the summer after graduation when school social ladders and girls’ locker room talk didn’t mean a thing.    

Getting back to Harry’s, a place where cops with their patrol cars parked conspicuously in front of the store during the daytime placed their bets with “connected” Harry who used the store as a front for the bookie operation and fence for Red’s nighttime work, Fritz and the boys would not have gone within three blocks of that place. Maybe more from fear, legitimate fear as Fritz’s older brother, Timmy, a serious tough guy himself, could testify to the one time he tried to wait outside Harry’s for some reason and got chain-whipped by Red for his indiscretion. So the tame corner boys at Phil’s were more than happy to hang out there where the Rizzos were more than happy to have them spent dough on the jukebox and pizzas except on Friday family pizza night to give Mom a rest for once until after nine (and secretly, since these corner boys were, if tame, still appealing looking to passing girls glad to have then around at that hour to boost the weekend sales). Moreover this spot provided a beautiful vantage point for scanning the horizon for those wayward girls who also kept their coins flowing into Phil’s jukebox (or a stray “nice” girl after Red and his corner boys threw her over).

Sam had recently thought about that funny story that Markin had told the crowd once on a hot night when nobody had any money and were just holding up the wall at Phil’s about Johnny Callahan, the flashy and unstoppable halfback from the high school team (and a guy even Red respected having made plenty of money off of local sports who bet with him on the strength of Johnny’s prowess any given Saturday although Johnny once confessed that he, rightly, avoided Harry’s after what had happened to Timmy Fallon). See Johnny was pretty poor even by the median working poor standard of the old neighborhoods in those days (although now, courtesy of his incessant radio and television advertising which continues to make everyone within fifty miles of North Adamsville who knew Johnny back in the day aware of his new profession, he is a prosperous Toyota car dealer, called Mr. Toyota,  down across from the mall in Hull about twenty miles from North Adamsville, the town where their mutual friend Josh Breslin soon to be introduced came from). Johnny, a real music maniac who would do his football weight-lifting exercises to Jerry Lee’s Great Balls of Fire, Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula and stuff like that to get him hyped up, had this routine in order to get to hear songs that he was dying to hear, stuff he would hear late at night coming from a rock station out of Detroit and which would show up a few weeks later on Phil’s jukebox just waiting for Johnny and the kids to fill the coffers, with the girls who had some dough, enough dough anyway to put coins into that jukebox.

Johnny would go up all flirty and virile to some young thing (a Fritz expression coped from Jerry Lee and not an invention of Markin as Peter would later claim to some “young thing” that he was trying to “score”). Maybe, depending on whatever intelligent he had on the girl, maybe she had just had a fight with her boyfriend or had broken up with him Johnny would be all sympathy, or maybe she was just down in the dumps for no articulable reason like every teen goes through every chance they get, whatever it took. Johnny, by the way, would have gotten that intelligence via Peter who whatever else anybody had to say about him, good or bad, was wired into, no, made himself consciously privy to, all kinds of boy-girl information almost like he had a hook into that Monday morning before school girls’ locker room talkfest. Everybody already knew that he was hooked into the boys’ Monday morning version and had started more rumors and other unsavory deeds than any ten other guys.  Spreading ugly rumors about a guy whose girl he was interested in a specialty. But the guy was like Teflon, nobody ever thought to take him out for his actions they were so dependent on his information to keep their place in the social pecking order.

Now here is what Johnny “knew” about almost every girl if they had the quarter which allowed them to play three selections. He would let them pick that first one on their own, maybe something to express interest in his flirtation, maybe her name, say Donna, was also being used as the title of a latest hit, or if broken up some boy sorrow thing. Brenda Lee’s I Want To Be Wanted, stuff like that. The second one he would “suggest” something everybody wanted to listen to no matter what but which was starting to get old. Maybe an Elvis, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee thing still on the jukebox playlist but getting wearisome. Then he would go in for the kill and “suggest” they play this new platter, you know, something like Martha and the Vandelas Dancing in the Streets or Roy’s Blue Bayou both of which he had heard on the midnight radio airwaves out of Detroit one night and were just getting play on the jukeboxes. And bingo before you know it she was playing the thing again, and again. Beautiful. And Johnny said that sometimes he would wind up with a date, especially if he had just scored about three touchdowns for the school, a date that is in the days before he and Kitty Kelly became an item. An item, although it is not germane to the story, who still is Johnny’s girl, wife, known as Mrs. Toyota now.

But enough of this downstream stuff Sam thought. The hell with Johnny and his cheapjack tricks (although not to those three beautiful touchdowns days, okay) this thing gnawing at him was about old age angst and not the corner boy glory days at Phil’s, although it is about old time corners boys and their current doings, some of them anyway. So yeah he had other things he wanted to think about (and besides he had already, with a good trade-in, gotten his latest car from Mr. Toyota so enough there), to tell a candid world about how over the past few years with the country, the world, the universe had been going to hell in a hand-basket. In the old day, like he kept going back to, back in the day he was not the least bit interested in anything in the big world outside of sports, and girls, of course. And endlessly working on plans to own his own business, a print shop, before he was twenty-five. Well, he did get that small business, although not until thirty and had prospered when he made connections to do printing for several big high-tech companies, notably IBM when they began outsourcing their work. He had prospered, had married (twice, and divorced twice), had the requisite tolerated children and adored grandchildren, and in his old age a woman companion to ease his time.

But there had been for a long time, through those failed marriages, through that business success something gnawing at him, something that Sam felt he had missed out on, or felt he had do something about. Then a few years ago when it was getting time for a high school class reunion he had Googled “North Adamsville Class of 1964” and came upon a class website for that year, his year, that had been set up by the reunion committee, and decided to joint to keep up with what was going on with developments there. He would wind up not going to that reunion as he had planned, a long story about a slight ill-advised flirtation with an old flame classmate although that too is not germane to the story here except as one more thing that gnawed at him. But mostly in the end he could not face going home, came to believe what Thomas Wolfe said in the title of one of his novels, you can’t go home again).

After he had registered on the site giving a brief resume of his interests and what he had been up to those past forty years or so years Sam  looked at the class list, the entire list of class members alive and deceased (a rose beside their name signifying their passing)  of who had joined and found the names of Peter Markin. He had to laugh Peter had been listed as Peter Paul Markin since everybody was listed by their full names, revenge from the grave by his poor mother, and that leafy suburban first wife who tried to give him Mayflower credentials, he thought.  He also found the name of corner boy Jimmy Jenkins among those who had done so. (Jack Dawson had passed away a few years before, a broken man, broken after his son who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan had committed suicide, according to Peter, as had their corner boy leader, Fritz Fallon, homeless, and found down along a railroad trestle in New Jersey, after going through a couple of fortunes, his own and a third wife’s).

Through the mechanism established on the site which allowed each class member who joined to have a private cyberspace e-mail slot Sam contacted both men and the three of them started a rather vigorous on-line chat line for several weeks going through the alphabet of their experiences, good and bad. The time for sugar-coating was over unlike in their youth when all three would lie like crazy, especially about sex and with whom in order to keep their place in the pecking order, and in order to keep up with Fritz whom lied more than the three of them combined. Peter knew that, knew it better than anybody else but in order to keep his place as “scribe” in that crazy quill pecking order went along with such silly teenage stuff, stuff that in his other pursuits he would have laughed at but that is what made being a teenager back then, now too, from what Sam saw of his grandchildren’s trials and tribulations.

After a while, once the e-mail questions had worked their course, all three men met in Boston at the Sunnyvale Grille, a place where Markin had begun to hang out in after he had moved back to Boston (read: where he did his daytime drinking) over by the waterfront, and spent a few hours discussing not so much old times per se but what was going on in the world, and how the world had changed so much in the meantime. And since Markin, the political maniac of the tribe, was involved in the conversations maybe do something about it at least that is what Sam had hoped since he knew that is where he thought he needed to head in order to cut into that gnawing feeling. Sam was elated, and unlike in his youth he did not shut his ears down, when those two guys would talk politics, about the arts or about music. He now regretted that he had not listened back then since he was so strictly into girls and sports, not always in that order (which caused many problems later including one of the grounds for his one of his divorces, not the sports but the girls).

This is probably the place for Sam to introduce Peter Markin although he had already given an earful (and what goes for Peter goes to a lesser extent for Jimmy who tended to follow in Pete’s wake on the issues back then, and still does). Peter, as Sam has already noted, provided that noteworthy, national security agency-worthy service, that “intelligence” he provided all the guys (and not just his corner boys, although they had first dibs) about girls. Who was “taken,” a very important factor if some frail (a Fritz term from watching too many 1940s gangster and detective movies and reading Dashiell Hammett too closely, especially The Maltese Falcon),was involved with some bruiser football player, some college joe who belonged to a fraternity and the brothers were sworn to avenge any brother’s indignities, or worse, worse of all, if she was involved with some outlaw biker who hung out in Adamsville and who if he hadn’t his monthly quota of  college boy wannabes red meat hanging out at Phil’s would not think twice about chain-whipping you just for the fuck of it (“for the fuck of it” a  term Jimmy constantly used then, and now, so it was not always Markin or Fritz who led the verbal life around the corner). Who was “unapproachable,”  probably more important than that social blunder of ‘hitting on” a taken woman since that snub by Miss Perfect-Turned-Up-Nose would make the rounds of the now legendary seminar, Monday morning before school girls’ locker room (and eventually work its way though Markin to the boys’ Monday morning version ruining whatever social standing the guy had spent since junior high trying to perfect in order to avoid the fatal nerd-dweeb-wallflower-square name your term existence). Strangely Markin made a serious mistake with Melinda Loring who blasted her freeze deep on him and he survived to tell the tale, or at least that is what he had the boys believe. Make of this what you will though, Peter never after that Melinda Loring mistake, had a high school girlfriend from North Adamsville High, who, well, liked to “do the do” as they called it back then, that last part not always correct since everybody, girls and boys alike, were lying like crazy about whether they were “doing the do” or not, including Markin.

But beyond, well beyond, that schoolboy silliness Markin was made of sterner stuff (although Sam would not have bothered to use such a positive attribute about Markin back then) was super-political, super into art and into what he called culture, you know going to poetry readings at coffeehouses, going over Cambridge to watch foreign films with subtitles and themes at the Brattle Theater that he would try to talk about and even Jimmy would turn his head when he went on and on about French films, especially those films by Jean Renoir, and super into music, fortunately he was not crazy for classical music (unlike some nerds in school then who were in the band) but serious about what is now called classic rock and roll and then in turn, the blues, and folk music. (Sam still shuttered at that hillbilly folk music stuff Markin tried to interest him in when he thought about it).

That folk music was how Peter had first met Josh Breslin, still a friend, whom he introduced to Sam at one of their meetings over at the Sunnyvale Grille. Josh told the gathering that Markin had met him after high school, after he had graduated from Hull High (the same town where Johnny Callahan was burning up the Toyota sales records for New England) down at the Surf Ballroom (Sam had his own under twenty-one memories of the place, some good, some bad including one affair that almost wound up in marriage). Apparently Josh and Peter had had their wanting habits on the same girl at one Friday night dance when the great local cover band, the Rockin’ Ramrods held sway there, and had been successively her boyfriend for short periods both to be dumped for some stockbroker from New York. But their friendship remained and they had gone west together, gone on that Jack Kerouac On The Road for a number of years when they were trying their own version of turning the world upside down on. Josh also dabbled (his word) in the turning upside down politics of the time.

And that was the remarkable thing about Peter, not so much later in cahoots with Josh because half of youth nation, half the generation of ’68 was knee-deep in some movement, but in staid old North Adamsville High days, days when to just be conventionally political, wanting to run for office or something, was kind of strange. See Peter was into the civil rights movement, nuclear disarmament, and social justice stuff that everybody thought he was crazy to be into, everybody from Ma to Fritz (and a few anonymous midnight phone-callers yelling n----r-lover in the Markin home phone).  He had actually gone into Boston when he was a freshman and joined the picket-line in front of Woolworths’ protesting the fact that they would not let black people eat in their lunchrooms down south (and maybe Markin would say when he mentioned what he was up to they were not that happy to have blacks in their northern lunchrooms either ), had joined a bunch of Quakers and little old ladies in tennis sneakers (a term then in use for airhead blue-haired lady do-gooders with nothing but time on their hands) calling on the government to stop building atomic bombs (not popular in the red scare Cold War we-are-fighting- against- the- Russians-terror North Adamsville, or most other American places either), running over to the art museum to check out the exhibits (including some funny stories about him and Jimmy busting up the place looking at the old Pharaoh times slave building Pyramids stuff uncovered by some Harvard guys way back), and going to coffeehouses in Harvard Square and listening to hokey folk music that was a drag. (Sam’s take on that subject then, and now.) So Peter was a walking contradiction, although that was probably not as strange now as it seemed back then when every new thing was looked at with suspicion, and when kids like Peter were twisted in the wind between being corner boys and trying to figure out what that new wind was that was blowing though the land, when Sam and the other corner boys, except Jimmy and sometimes Jack would try to talk him out of stuff that would only upset everybody in town.

But here is the beauty, beauty for Sam now that he was all ears about what Peter had to say, he had kept at it, had kept the faith, while everybody else from their generation, or almost everybody, who protested war, protested around the social issues, had hung around coffeehouses and who had listened to folk music had long before given it up. Markin had, after his  Army time, spent a lot of time working with GIs around the war issues, protested American foreign policy at the drop of a hat and frequented off-beat coffeehouses set up in the basements of churches in order to hear the dwindling number of folk artists around. He had gotten and kept his “religion,” kept the faith in a sullen world. And like in the old days a new generation (added to that older North Adamsville generation which still, from the class website e-mail traffic he received when classmates found out they were in communication had not gotten that much less hostile to what Peter had to say about this wicked old world, you already know the genesis of that term, right), was ready to curse him out, ready to curse the darkness against his small voice.

One night when Peter and Sam were alone at the Sunnyvale, maybe both had had a few too many high-shelf scotches (able to afford such liquor unlike in the old days when they both in their respective poverties, drank low-shelf Johnny Walker whiskey with a beer chaser when they had the dough, if not some cheapjack wine), Peter told Sam the story of how he had wanted to go to Alabama in high school, go to Selma, but his mother threatened to disown him if he did, threatened to disown him not for his desire to go but because she would not have been able to hold her head up in public if he had, and so although it ate at him not to go, go when his girlfriend, Helen Jackman, who lived in Gloversville, did go, he took a dive (Peter’s words).

Told a redemptive story too about his anti-war fight in the Army when he refused to go to Vietnam and wound up in an Army stockade for a couple of years altogether. (Sam thought that was a high price to pay for redemption but it may have been the scotch at work.) Told a number of stories about working with various veterans’ groups, throwing medals over Supreme Court barricades, chainings to the White House fence, sitting down in hostile honked traffic streets, blocking freeways complete with those same hostile honkings, a million walks for this and that, and some plain old ordinary handing out leaflets, working the polls and button-holing reluctant politicians to vote against the endless war budgets (this last the hardest task, harder than all the jailings, honkings, marches put together and seemingly the most fruitless). Told too stories about the small coffeehouse places seeing retread folkies who had gone on to other things and then in a fit of anguish, or hubris, decided to go back on the trail. Told of many things that night not in a feast of pride but to let Sam know that sometimes it was easier to act than to let that gnawing win the day. Told Sam that he too always had the gnaw, probably always would in this wicked old world. Sam was delighted by the whole talk, even if Peter was on his soapbox. 

That night too Peter mentioned in passing that he contributed to a number of blogs, a couple of political ones, including an anti-war veterans’ group, a couple of old time left-wing cultural sites and a folk music-oriented one. Sam confessed to Peter that although he had heard the word “blog” he did not know what a blog was. Peter told him that one of the virtues of the Internet was that it provided space (cyberspace, a term Sam had heard of and knew what it meant) for the average citizen to speak his or her mind via setting up a website or a blog. Blogs were simply a way to put your opinions and comments out there just like newspaper Op/Ed writers or news reporters and commentators although among professional reporters the average blog and blog writer were seen as too filled with opinions and sometimes rather loose with the facts. Peter said he was perfectly willing to allow the so-called “objective” reporters roam free to state the facts but he would be damned if the blog system was not a great way to get together with others interested in your areas of interest, yeah, stuff that interested you and that other like-minded spirits might respond to. Yeah that was worth the effort.

The actual process of blog creation (as opposed to the more complex website-creation which still takes a fair amount of expertise to create) had been made fairly simple over time, just follow a few simple prompts and you are in business. Also over time what was possible to do has been updated for ease, for example linking to other platforms to your site and be able to present multi-media works lashing up say your blog with YouTube or downloading photographs to add something to your presentation. Peter one afternoon after Sam had asked about his blog links showed him the most political one that he belonged to, one he had recently begun to share space with Josh Breslin, Frank Jackman and a couple of other guys that he had known since the 1960s on and who were familiar with the various social, political and cultural trends that floated out from that period. 

Sam was amazed at the topics that those guys tackled, stuff that he vaguely remembered hearing about but which kind of passed him by as he delved into the struggle to build his printing shop. He told Peter that he got dizzy looking at the various titles from reviews of old time black and white movies that he remembered watching at the old Strand second run theater uptown, poetry from the “beat” generation, various political pieces on current stuff like the Middle East, the fight against war, political prisoners most of whom he had never heard of except the ones who had been Black Panthers or guys like that, all kinds of reviews of rock and roll complete with the songs via YouTube, too many reviews of folk music that he never really cared for, books that he knew Peter read like crazy but he could not remember the titles. The guys really had put a lot of stuff together, even stuff from other sites and announcements for every conceivable left-wing oriented event. He decided that he would become a Follower which was nothing sinister like some cult but just that you would receive notice when something was put on the blog.

Peter also encouraged him to write some pieces about what interested him, maybe start out about the old days in North Adamsville since all the guys mined that vein for sketches. That is what Peter liked to call most of the material on site since they were usually too short to be considered short stories but too long to be human interest snapshots. Sam said he would think about the matter, think about it seriously once he read the caption below:                                                                          

“This space is noted for politics mainly, and mainly the desperate political fight against various social, economic and moral injustices and wrongs in this wicked old world, although the place where politics and cultural expression, especially post-World War II be-bop cultural expression, has drawn some of our interest over the past several years. The most telling example of that interest is in the field of popular music, centrally the blues, city and country, good woman on your mind, hardworking, hard drinking blues and folk music, mainly urban, mainly protest to high heaven against the world’s injustices smite the dragon down, folk music. Of late though the old time 1950s kid, primordial, big bang, jail-break rock and roll music that set us off from earlier generations has drawn our attention. Mostly by reviewing oldies CDs but here, and occasionally hereafter under this headline, specifically songs that some future archaeologists might dig up as prime examples of how we primitives lived ,and what we listened to back in the day.”

Sam could relate to that, had something to say about some of those songs. Josh Breslin laughed when he heard that Sam was interested in doing old time rock and roll sketches. He then added, “If we can only get him to move off his butt and come out and do some street politics with us we would be getting somewhere.” Peter just replied, “one step at a time.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.