A story of mid childhood.Continue reading…
“It is my sad duty to inform you that the …president… was shot twenty-five minutes ago and has been transported to the hospital.” The children in Frank’s class cheered. It was not an uncommon occurrence. It happened in other classes. The teacher’s face fell. He scowled at the children and started angrily berating them. “That is the president of these United States!” he said.
The lack of unity amongst the children for these United States flustered him. It was unacceptable. Would not be given toleration. When you lose the youth, your society declines. Freedom to choose is the promise of these United States. That was sacred. Could not be deviated from. Not an inch. The flag. Worth defending. The children quieted down, but a certain giddiness remained through-out the day.
The president was not popular in the eighth grade circle. And the breaking up of the monotony of the everyday was not without its part in the festive, circus-like atmosphere. At least the class clowns were respectful; silent, all in the same car. But there were sporadic lectures resulting throughout the day. As a corrective, drained of all meaning. A dark ritual.
But there was one class, and what I tell you now has passed into legend, where, after a stern lecture from the teacher began, a single student, unnamed, but it was a female student, said, “How do you know the cheering was for the shooting of the president and not his transport to a regional hospital?”
And the teacher was struck dumb for answers.
And the girl broke the silence again, “Frankly I’m offended you didn’t ask. The judgmental attitude you hold toward innocent youths is disturbing. I should report you.” And with that she physically moved her desk around to face away from him. A rejection of status. Emboldened, the other students did the same. Anarchy! Rules turned on heads. Silence reigned until the bell.
There was a bathroom in the lower hall where there were no stalls. People didn’t linger. There was no stalling.
Three toilets in a row with no walls. Communal commodes. It is crazy how close the toilets seem without stalls. An illusion. Once Frank sat there with another boy and he didn’t remember who spoke first. They spent an afternoon there, because who wanted to go back to class. But he didn’t catch the other truant’s name, and even if he had seen him in the hall later they would not have made eye contact. Sometimes people drift apart, even when they bonded quite closely initially. Because circumstances change.
And there was also no mirror in that bathroom, being that there was no time for self reflection. Where there had been a place for a mirror, on the far wall, there was a framed piece of plywood. Like it was meant to be a mirror but was going against the grain. On this flat surface people scribbled messages like throwing a bottle into a polluted sea. “I live near campus and I have a waterbed.” (One is identified by what one owns.) “For a good time call #######” but the numbers were cross hatched out. (Mysteries are enticing to the inquisitive mind.)
Sometimes people squinted at the dull polished metal of the paper towel dispenser to see how they looked. A clown funhouse reflection on demand. You don’t need to know what people’s hair looks like. Einstein hardly used his comb. Maybe he never found one to his liking.
Fritz Haber stood in the garden across from the inspector. Surrounded by the summer bloom. The aroma. The night after the day after Mayday.
“I came right over,” said the inspector. “My partner is otherwise occupied. Another matter.”
“It is just, you see, my wife,” said Haber.
“Is there a party going on in the house?” said the inspector.
“Yes, just something about work.”
“At the University?”
“At the front,” said Haber.
At their feet lay the body of Mrs. Haber, Mr. Haber’s better half.
“Are there witnesses?” said the inspector.
“My son,” said Haber. “Heard the shots.”
“Shot,” said the inspector, “through the heart.”
“He is upstairs,” said Haber.
It was the precipice of a great victory. We… We all stand on that precipice. Together.
I went to the generals. They held themselves high, in their uniforms of office. They were blind to the times. I moved upon them as a ghost of the future passing by. They had plans, you see. Based on the learning of past wars. But I brought to them the future. And they were not prepared to see that future. And they said, “That is not the way of war. No war which we know. You are unschooled in this matter. War is a game of inches. Hard-fought. There are rules and you don’t even know them.”
And they sent me away.
“So, you threw a party?” said the inspector.
“No. The party was going on when… It happened.”
“Mm,” said the inspector. “Back story.”
I rolled into the encampment of the men on the ground with my equipment in tow. They didn’t understand it, but the trucks were official and these men were trained to follow orders, not give them. And that can be handy when one just wants to get something done. When time is the matter most pressing. Always shortening here and elongating there. And, as a scientist, I seek to control the elements in conflict. To understand. To set the conditions. To examine the data of the response.
And we set up the equipment. Field conditions. Safety equipment first. And at the crack of dawn we released the experiment which was more successful than I had supposed. The gas, released from its confines, spread forward toward the line. It changed the color of the sunlight. As it rolled over the grass and plants they turned gray at its touch, draining all color out in an instant. It was a sight to behold, as we did. Directed by a reliable Wind it crossed territory. It killed any living thing it came across. We could hear the struggle for breath, unforthcoming, in the near distance. We were right there. Right there.
“I had an accomplishment at work,” said Haber. “And while all this is unfortunate, I must, in the morning, return to my work. Work through the mourning.”
“Of course,” said the inspector. “Sometimes our work is all we have to sustain meaning in this crazy world.”
6/4/89 is the Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. As this is being posted the whole of the USA is engulfed in violence as police have been called out and they have acted to brutally suppress peaceful protests against endemic police violence.
They just piss away their revolutionary history. Blank stares. Red Haikou. Hope of the world. Revolutionaries came from all over the world to the bustling streets. But if you ask about it today they look at you with blank eyes. They don’t understand it anymore. Their own history. Gone. In the wind.
Or it’s become so garbled as a memory it is now meaningless. “Foreign advisers on matters industrial.”
I came here only because they are evacuating foreigners from Beijing. It was by chance I was where I was, in a hotel across from Tiananmen Square, with the window looking straight down. A western journalist specializing in the history and economics of the communist systems. My name is Harrison E. Salisbury.
When I left for China, I said that the People’s Army was different than any other in the world. They were of the people. And would not strike out at the people. But I later learned that the army had been forbidden to read or listen to news broadcasts from months before. For pain of court-martial. I said they would not but they did. I saw it from the window. I heard the shots, repeating. Excessive. Terror shooting. They will obey orders to kill their own children. Gun them down in the street. Roll tanks over them. Officially they’re saying a few soldiers have been hurt. Some equipment damaged.
An announcer on the radio shouted thousands had died and was then immediately yanked off the air.
They refer to the students as “bandits,” what Chiang Kaishek used to call Mao’s forces. But what is there to steal in the public square? What is there that is not open to all? A common treasury. Fought over.
The students were supporters, like the sailors of Kronstadt, of a democratic communism. The Square encampments were festooned with red flags waving in the breeze.
But they are gone now. I saw the last I shall ever see, walk dignified toward some men in fine attire, speak to them in a dignified manner to no response, as if he were invisible, and then he turned and walked away with his head high. I do not know what became of him. He slid between cars and was gone in the heat.
I talked to some locals. They saw the military coming, guns, tanks. They shouted at them not to go to the Square. Not to harm their own people. These were the residents, out in the night, smoking, talking. Bullets rain down on them. The Emergency services came quickly to get the wounded. They did not have room for the dead. They had been told to give no aid, to let the protesters die, but they came anyway. But they had no room for the dead. And the Hospitals were overflowing. The dead must care for their own.
The students had held a vote the night before, to stay or go. A minority voted to stay. So everyone stayed. Many were weak from hunger, and it is easy to imagine they did not move as the tanks came in the night, bodies wrapped in sleeping bags, they knew death was coming. Defeat. They were on a train with no more stops, on a crash-course with no possible exit. Their only hope is that their remembrance will one day…
There can be no peaceful transition. Of Power.
They just used bullets to prove they were nothing to be laughed at. In desperation.
In the morning a man danced in the street, one-on-one, his partner cold as steel. He led the tank, back-and-forth. A dance on the street with heavy arms. Confusion. He climbed onto his dance partner. To have a conversation. To whisper in an ear receptive. He left. I do not know what happened to him. He looked like anyone. Out of place. Like he did not belong here. And then he left.
Quickly news spread like a wildFire. Here is how:
In the end, no hope, runners split up in all directions. They walked far away. They went to places where they were not known. Better to not be traced. They appeared in front of strangers. Mysterious. They told their story. Like ghosts. To be believed or not. Then they disappeared. Repeat. In this way sparks branch out across the countryside, starting many brushFires, left wild to burn, unstoppable. It is as Mao wrote in his Little Red Book.
This was explained to me by a woman I met in a province who told me of the student’s gambit. A tactical move meant to keep their idea going as long as it was required, until they would raise the struggle from the ashes.
“That was a long time ago,” says the attendant.
“It depends on how you measure time,” says the Griot. “I take a long view, myself.”
“How long did this go on, these sparks?”
“Comrade! It is still happening now. Have you not heard? Have you not heard?”
It was not about the guns. We had them. They were a necessity. And a defense. That was the necessity. That’s why the full name of our organization was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Self-defense and the defense of others. Defense of the wider community.
I died in my sleep. I was twenty-one years old.
I had done more by twenty-one than the government would allow.
I died for the people.
The most important task of the Panthers was political education. To these ends our most important programs were our services to the community. The people. Why don’t you live for the people? The free breakfast for children program. Free medical and legal clinics.
We serve the brothers and sisters who came on the same boat. Or another boat. Or, it does not matter which boat you came on, but only that you are here and you are in need. Why don’t you fight for the people?
They poisoned the first store of food when we were starting the program. Like poisoning the food in a dumpster so poor people cannot eat. Like poisoning the blankets handed out to the Indians, for convenience. Like poisoning alcohol during Prohibition, for ideology. A display of power. Hung up for all to see. You don’t think I know these things? I have studied the Man. Brutality. Greed. And I have dared to imagine a better world than this, not in some hereafter, but Here. Now.
We all know there will be no peaceful transition of power, though that is what we most desire. We only hope it will be as peaceful as possible under such brutal conditions. Letting things go on as they have is not an acceptable option. People were already dying in the streets. Ignored. Before the resistance arose. The resistance rose because of the brutality. A response. In Self-Defense. And defense of others. Do not step on the fallen. Offer aid to the weak. Do not think you are above it all, buy in-to that system. The brutality has lasted so long it gives the illusion it is the only way. That it is normal. Right. If you are not a member of the resistance you are an accomplice. Let them lay down their weapons. Then we will all have peace.
But we all know they will not fade away quietly. They will fight to retain power over others. Insidiously, they will poison minds. Young and old. They will turn brother against brother, sister against sister, brother against sister, sister against brother. An un-civil war. For what? Scraps? They have to do this. If they don’t turn us against each other the system will fail. It has no authority. People would see it for what it is: A sham. A scheme. A disgrace.
If you are of the underclass they will have you think your position is some fault of your own. A moral failing. A genetic inferiority. The other. The outsiders. Lies. Lies prosper.
Lies make money.
Money is the root of all evil.
There is such a thing.
The answer to a lie is a truth.
Do not be afraid to speak the truth.
Fear is a great enemy.
Old John Brown. He made Kansas bleed and Virginia quake. In 1837 a pro-slavery mob attacked a warehouse and printing press and killed the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy. “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!” said John Brown. He attended speeches by Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. He helped to make an entire city one of the safest stops on the underground railroad. He led many battles, the last being an attack on Harpers Ferry armory in Virginia, 1859. He planned to use the oppressor’s own weapons against them, traveling and freeing slaves, arming them, but fighting only in self-defense. He planned to start an army of emancipation, consulting with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, whom he referred to as “General Tubman.” But the masses did not rise up, they were afraid. And John Brown was executed by the government for treason, the first person convicted of this, for trying to end the institution of slavery. Which robbed many to enrich few. An abomination. But historians agree these were the first shots Fired in the US Civil War, which formally started a year later.
The war had already been going on, a shooting war, for decades. It was an imaginary line that divided traitor from patriot, terrorist from just soldier. A matter of perspective. Positioning.
But why does it have to come to war?
“Let America know and ponder on this: there is something more frightening than Cain killing Abel, and that is Washington killing Spartacus.”
– Victor Hugo, letter to the London News.
“Whenever commenced, I cannot but wish success to all slave insurrections.”
– William Lloyd Garrison
His bones and those of some of his comrades are buried at the John Brown Farm, a national historic site in New York.
And let us be clear. The destination of the underground railroad was not the free north of a United States, for there was no such place. Even non-slave states had laws making it illegal not to return a person who has escaped bondage back to that very same bondage. Even the United States of to-day has not outlawed slavery, making exceptions in prisons, and thus building one of the largest prison systems in the world. A strange point of pride for a supposed free people.
No one knows what became of the bones of Nat Turner, like those of Thomas Paine.
Nat Turner was a visionary. That is, he had visions, prophetic. They started early, as a boy, bright but constrained, grew up into a man not wanted for brightness. He ministered to others about his visions, like Joan of Arc. And he developed followers. Even a white man, who it is said that Turner convinced to renounce his previous wickedness.
He determined that only a cataclysmic act of violence could prove to the oppressors violence begets only violence. It was 1831.
They needed a way to communicate with themselves, without giving themselves away.
They communicated through code, in song.
He recruited seventy free and slave men. They went door-to-door in the night killing everyone inside each fine house. They only passed over the houses of poorer whites known to not consider others beneath them.
They were captured. Nat Turner was beheaded by the US government. His body was dumped, anonymous and unmarked. Headless.
The State made it illegal to educate blacks. It restricted our right to assemble and bear arms, it denied free blacks right to trial by jury, denied them the right to vote, and made it possible to enslave them through the courts. They eventually outlawed slavery but made an exception for prisoners. Thus they have filled the prisons to profit by slave labor, legally, while giving lip service to civil rights. Even when freed they continued to restrict our rights either through law or tradition. A way of life. Defended.
In 1955, Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy, was murdered in Money Mississippi, for the false testimony he whistled at a white woman. He was beaten, unrecognizable, shot in the head, and dumped in the river. His mother defiantly left the coffin open. “Let people see what they did to my boy. Let them see.” This stark picture of brutality gave Fire to the fight for freedom.
After Martin Luther King was assassinated a pig came up on the street and said, “You’re next!”
I was having a dream.
The Judas goat is a trained goat. Trained to lead a flock to slaughter. A traitor. It sells out the community for self-benefit.
We need to bring all people together. We formed a Rainbow Coalition. Along with feeding the hungry, organizing across racial lines was what made us a threat to the establishment. Read their own words on the matter.
We joined with street gangs, asking, “Why aren’t you fighting for the people? Help us feed the children. You are needed. You can make a difference.”
We joined the churches, unbelievers. We sat in their pews. Because there were people there. “Why aren’t you fighting for the people? Help us feed the children. You are needed. You can make a difference.”
We joined with the Young Patriots, young men immigrated to the city from the rural South. White men raised in prejudice. Confederate flag bandannas on their heads. But they saw with us our common humanity, and they put their counterfeit beliefs aside. And joined with us in our greater shared struggle. Our Rainbow Coalition. Because they were us, and we, them. Links on the chain. Scarred. Our brothers and sisters. We came on different boats, but now we are all here. Together.
“How will we do it? Guns?” they asked.
Don’t get hung up on that. Help us serve the people to make this a better world. Soon. Now.
After Martin Luther King was assassinated a pig came up on the street and said, “You’re next!”
And I was.
I was having a dream. It was not this dream.
The Judas goat. The silent betrayer.
One of our own. Our brother.
Like this: The state takes a man. A crime, real or planted. A threat. But if you help us, they say, you go free. You must only betray. Betray the people.
And so my trusted bodyguard was a police infiltrator. A puppet. And he drugged me. And gave the police the layout and the schedule.
I did not even get a kiss.
Knock knock. 4:45 in the morning. Who’s there? “Tommy Gun,” they said. Who? Terror shooting.
Bullets tear through the door and walls. Ninety percent aimed at the location I lay sleeping, drugged.
My woman rolled over and tried to shield me, heavy with child. She didn’t know what she was doing. Screaming everywhere, underwater. Fuzzy. She lifted my head from the bloody mattress. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
People scream, “There is a pregnant sister in here!” More shooting. Assassin’s bullets. Only one shot went the other direction, shot by brother Mark Clark, after he himself was shot in the heart.
They rush in.
“Is he dead?” “Barely alive. He’ll make it.”
Shooting resumes. Point blank.
“He’s good and dead now.”
They were talking about me. I never woke up.
I was having a dream. Not this one.
Mark Clark was shot in the heart. He lay in a pool of blood. Dead.
The Judas goat went on. Thrived. To see many future holidays.
But you cannot kill a revolution by killing a revolutionary. Though it is often tried. In time, events do not look the same as they did in the heat of the moment. People come to see things previously thought unbelievable.
After, the government was forced to set up free breakfast and lunch programs in schools.
But the slave labor in prisons only got worse.
Someday, my friend, we will be together.
All power to all people.
The newspapers reach toward the ceiling. Forming trees of yesterdays news today. They sway to-and-fro as pine trees in the breeze, a genetic memory. The windows are papered over yellow. The sunlight filtered and made artificial, for it is day outside. Inside time stands still. We are a people of the dark. You know how it is. The trees rustle. We like to be alone. Together. There is the tickling of keys.
A man is playing with the edge of expertise, sitting at a piano which forms the trunk of a mighty tree. His name is Langley Collyer.
“We were afraid,” says Langley…
“Not afraid. Aware!” says a crumpled lump to his right. His head at his knees. “Eyes opened!” His eyes were filmed over. Blue cloudy azure. He is blind.
“My brother, Homer,” says Langley. “A lawyer.”
“A lawyer of the Admiralty. The laws of the sea,” says Homer. “Are different than the laws of the jungle. On the open seas the captain is omnipotent. His omnipotence makes up for his lack of omniscience. But on the land, in the open, surrounded by the beasts, and man is a beast, you don’t know where you stand. My brother is an engineer, a chemist, and a concert pianist. And this is our safe place.”
“Father said we were overeducated,” says Langley. “Do you wonder what Fate places us here? I have studied mythology. My brother and I both served for years as teachers of Sunday school.”
“Oh, yes,” says Homer.
“But we don’t do it any longer.”
“We prefer not to, now.”
“Too much bother.”
“Oh, dear, yes. Tell it, brother.”
“We prefer to stay here.”
“Where we are safe.”
“Indeed!” says Homer. “Home.”
“Home,” says Langley, a tear running slowly down his face. “Where one can be oneself. To not be overpowered by otherness.”
“Because out there,” says Homer, “It is not safe. I never go out.”
“Oh, dear, no,” says Langley. “I go out. At night. I dress in rags. Otherwise I would surely be attacked. For who I am. For what I have. Peace of mind. Robbed. This neighborhood has changed complexion around us.”
“Darkness,” says Homer. “I’ve not left this place since 1933. And what is it now?”
“1947,” says Langley. “February.”
“Won’t you be our Valentine?” says Homer.
Really. You are speechless.
“You could at least thank us,” says Langley.
“For thinking of you,” says Homer. “Are you having a lovely holiday?”
“My brother is a master of rhetorical quests,” says Langley.
“A necessity when one so rarely has houseguests,” says Homer. “Over.”
“As we prefer not to,” says Langley. “I go out at night and I scavenge. Things. Valuables. Food from dumpsters. Anything. Everything. Did you know the great man Sigmund Freud said you judge a society by the separation of itself from the garbage dump? If you want to judge a people you must look at their trash.”
“It’s where it is,” says Homer. “I used to walk sixteen miles every week day to go to work at my law office. A nickel to ride the subway? A waste. Not that I don’t have a nickel. But why part with a nickel?”
“Perfectly good things in the dumpster,” says Langley. “If you are willing to cut around the rot.”
“As we are,” says Homer. “One day I came to the office and the head of the firm looked at my worn-out shoes. And he said, ‘My dear man! Presentation is important in our profession.’ He immediately offered me a raise. On the spot. What could I do? I refused. The nerve. To suggest I cannot pay my own way. That I am not self-sufficient by my own means. I walked out. Right out. Never to return. Not even to get my last paycheck. That man was obsessed with fancy dress.”
“Disgusting,” says Langley. “Thoreau warned us of this.”
“And then I went blind. Strokes, you see. Father was a doctor. We have all the books. And some abnormal specimens in formaldehyde,” says Homer.
“And see a doctor? We have the books. And the doctors can’t be trusted,” says Langley.
“Our father,” says Homer, “Was a doctor.”
“And he left us his books,” says Langley. “I will cure my brother with a diet of one-hundred oranges a week and black bread with peanut butter. I expect results any day now. I save newspapers which I scavenge. When he regains his sight he will want to catch up with the news. Fourteen years worth! Any day now. This long night will end. In the meantime, I play him the piano. I read to him from the classics.”
“The old stories,” says Homer. “Odysseus. Sisyphus. Narcissus and Echo. Invictus. I am bloody but unbowed. Br’er Rabbit. The ascension of Horus.”
“The unconquerable sun,” says Langley. “At night we listen to the crystal radio I built. Our link to the outside. The depression. The war. The peace, uneasy.”
“My brother is quite the engineer,” says Homer. “Built a radio. Build a vacuum to clean the insides of the piano. Turned an old Model-T Ford into a power generator.”
“Didn’t work,” says Langley.
“Still,” says Homer, “ingenious. I’d never seen the likes of it. They had shut off our power, of course.”
“Who needs it!” says Langley.
“Who are we going to call?” says Langley.
“Perfectly good water from public fountains,” says Langley. “Gratis.”
“My brother,” says Homer. “A man after my own heart.”
“They even tried to take this house,” says Langley, “for in addition to not paying the utilities, we stopped paying the mortgage. Busted in here. Tried to turn us out into the streets. I had to write a check to pay it off in full to get them out of here. So we could be left alone. To be.”
“In peace,” says Homer. “So we may rest.”
“Money is not our problem,” says Langley. “people are. They took the house next-door. The house I paid cash for because I saw someone try to look at us through a window. They also took the house we owned across the street. Back taxes, they say.”
“We have money,” says Homer. “And we know the value of a nickel. And why do we owe taxes? We have no income. Just money. And goods. We left the rest behind. Sailed away, free.”
“I have newspapers. Bicycles. Pianos. Goods. Goods are items of value traded for dollars. The dollars are just barter tokens meant for exchange of goods. And you can simply live, living simply on the things fools toss away,” says Langley.
“And what do you do with the parking tickets?” says Homer to his brother.
“I take them,” says Langley. “I take them from the windshields of any car I see them on. We have a room here filled with them.”
“I can’t imagine the bother my brother has saved all those people,” says Homer. “An altruist at heart.”
“Those fortunate people,” says Langley. “Why they don’t even know.”
“But this is all very tiring,” says Homer.
“Yes,” says Langley. “We prefer to be left alone. To be.”
“In the darkness,” says Homer.
“Go!” says Langley. “We have had enough of visitors. Though, rest assured, you have brightened our day.”
“Shoo!” says Homer.
In 1947, Langley was bringing Homer food when he accidentally set off a booby-trap crawling through a tunnel and was crushed. Homer would starve to death ten feet away, ten days later.
This podcast is an excerpt from the novella “Sigmund, Falling Up!” by David Raffin.
“Winner Winner!” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
“Someone Else’s Memories” “Simulation Hypothesis” “Line of Flight” from the album The Politics of Desire by Revolution Void licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0.