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Freedom Songs Index
X - SDS
Freedom Songs -
my Journey through 1964
part XI - News York & Orleans
Manhattan with all those tall buildings. I stood in one from where I could look down the streets four ways. How could there be that many stretching so far? And this was just one view from one corner. In distinct contrast to my prior months, I was now with mother and sister in a hotel fronting Central Park, dining at famous restaurants, going to Broadway and off-Broadway shows. West Side Story made me cry. Beyond the Fringe from England made me laugh, Saw my favorite commercial folk group, the Limelighters and talked to Lou Gottlieb back stage after the show, reminding him I'd talked to him two years before after a show in Fort Worth. I played many of their songs. Nice to be back where there was so much happening. I ate massively the most incredible meals, each one more than I'd eaten in a whole day up to then that year. We'd been in New York before. One could drink alcohol there then at eighteen - like New Orleans and Washington DC. Mother would have a whiskey sour and I'd have a double scotch straight then a couple of glasses of wine with the meal. Hadn't had much to drink since high school except for a few nights in Ohio and a few others scattered here and there. After we'd returned to our hotel room one night, I went back out, bought a pint of something, and shared it with some winos sitting on a side walk on a side street. On an earlier trip with family I'd done the same except, being underage, I'd give them the money to buy it. Met some quite interesting and surprisingly intelligent people that way.
A Worlds Fair was held in a former tidal Marsh in Queens that year. A twelve story globe greeted us on arrival. The theme was Peace through Understanding but it had no rides which didn't seem very understanding. To me it was mainly a bunch of propaganda for big corporations. There were, however, some neat dinosaurs, rockets, and computers - all quite large. I was surprised to read the man in charge of it was a well known city planner named Robert Moses - same name as the long hot summer planner who'd played such an important role in my life and the nation's that year.
My strongest memory of New York City on that trip was the result of finding a wallet in the men's room of a restaurant where we ate lunch. There were two plane tickets in it for the next day and a card for a hotel. With some effort I got hold of the owner. Told him where we'd be eating dinner that night. Notified the maitre de. When I was told the gentleman had arrived, I proudly went to the front and handed him his wallet. He snatched it from me and departed hurriedly without a word. I can't remember if there was money in it or not but I think he didn't even look. Maybe I don't remember right and he saw all his money was gone. Why else would he act that way? I was waiting to be thanked. Now I'm grateful to him. It's much more interesting this way.
We went to Washington DC and saw a few sights. Had dinner with the family of Anne, the sister of my uncle Walt who'd refused to stop the car for cousin Cathy in Ann Arbor (See prior chapter). Anne's Air Force colonel husband Pete was a nice guy. Their kids were cool and near my age. At dinner there was open discussion which focused that night on integration and civil rights. One of the boys brought up Gandhi and non violence.
My most memorable experience in the nation's capitol also occurred in a fancy restaurant, French as I recall. The prior spring I'd slept out behind columns of landmark buildings. Not this trip. We were waiting for our drinks to arrive when my empty wine glass suddenly exploded right in front of me. I was staring in its direction when it blew. Nothing had come in contact with it. I don't think the waiter believed me when I said it just shattered on its own. What was that?
Then to Rochester for a family reunion. Nothing much was made of what I'd been doing that year by me or others. I think it was seen as just more of my craziness which was to be expected.
Spent a little time in Fort Worth hanging out with my friends, drinking, smoking tobacco products, singing, getting in endless conversations about politics, race, religion, poetry, playing pingpong, staying up late. Called the SDS women's house in Chicago to say hi. Talked to Toni. Things were progressing there. I said that's because I left.
Didn't do much political. Helped Dr. Rapfogel with some busywork for a fledgling chapter of the ACLU. I always liked to check up on what different folks were thinking, especially what I regarded as the nut right. Dropped by the John Birch Society offices in Fort Worth and Dallas which was much more active, innocently chatted with people without expressing opinions. Took some literature to amuse my friends and add to my collection along with embarrassingly simplistic extreme right-wing editorials by Dallas billionaire HL Hunt that had been printed in a Houston newspaper I assumed he owned.
Went to Dallas to hear Hunt-supported Dallas-residing General Edwin A. Walker give a talk. My neighbors, the Howlers, knew him and loved what he had to say and how forcefully he said it. Before he'd retired from the military, Walker had commanded the troops when Little Rock was integrated. In 1963, as a civilian, with help from the (to him commie) ACLU, he'd beaten a sedition charge and was freed from commitment to a mental institution Robert Kennedy had seen that he was stuck in. This was all because of him organizing protests at the University of Mississippi the year before which led to an extended riot with hundreds injured, two deaths, six federal marshals shot, many others injured - all over the enrollment of one black student, James Meredith. Turned out Walker had organized the protests against Stevenson that got violent the year before. He was on a speaking tour around the country and filling auditoriums with sympathetic patriots. In his talk, Walker railed against the US near surrender to Soviet communism, commies in government, the anti-Christ supreme court, integration, and the government in general. He seemed to be eager for a revolution. A lot of the soldiers for that revolution could have come from that enthusiastic audience.
Went to an open event about civil rights in a large black church in Fort Worth. I always wanted to go in there because I'd been to the lot before it was built with my father who was advising the church on site selection. There were hundreds of black people in attendance and most the speakers, maybe all were black. I remember a minister giving a moving, enthusiastically received talk. Nothing especially radical was coming down, not a lot of anger expressed, pretty reserved I thought as I sat in the back and listened. When it was over a couple of reporters came up to me. They knew who I was and what I'd been up to that year and asked if I had any plans to be involved in that sort of activity in Fort Worth. I said I was pleased the Civil Rights law had passed and was just there to hear what people had to say.
John Jackson was up from Houston to hang out. Barry Goldwater was coming to town as well - on his campaign to replace Lyndon Johnson as president. Jackson and I created a flyer with a title using a well-known query from the TV show What's My Line?. It read, Will the Real Barry Goldwater Please Stand Up? Below were two columns of contradictory Goldwater quotes undermining the idea that he was a man of unchanging conviction. We also stapled posters to long slats from a produce box, posters with anti-Goldwater, pro-Johnson messages. Each holding a placard, we entered the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum walking into a crowd of Republican enthusiasts. People we're booing us and saying nasty things. Some young cowpoke types with Goldwater placards surrounded us so our signs couldn't be seen. To counter that I got on Jackson's shoulders. To counter that they banged on us till we toppled. Eventually we were bullied out but not by security as would happen today. As people departed we handed out our leaflets.
There was a storm. Jackson and I were still talking at four in the morning. I went out to see if the paper had arrived and found water just below porch level. Our house was in a low lying wooded area. Jackson and I waded through the water going door to door waking neighbors, some who said they stepped into water out of bed when they heard their bell ring. When we got to the creek, water was flowing over the bridge. The creek hadn't been cleared enough and branches had clogged up the flow below so that it came above. Rushing water at waist level, we held on to the railing and each other to get to the other side to notify people over there.
Hitched to New Orleans. First visited a friend at the Kappa Sig house, the top jock fraternity. He and I always got along but he was under pressure, especially from another graduate of our high school, to get me out of there because they were rushing and didn't want a scruffy integrationist weirdo around and I understood. My friend was for integration but he wasn't scruffy and weird and was cautious with his opinions.
So I went to visit my two years senior bud Bates at another frat house. I felt at home there. It could have been the prototype for Animal House. They were rushing too and were unconcerned about me lowering the bar, even about my stance on integration and voting rights, neither of which anyone seemed to care about one way or another unless it could be worked into a joke. They had an Hawaiian luau party the night I got there. Everyone got as drunk as possible and the frat brothers, especially the more senior ones, did as many outrageous acts as they could come up with. One brother broke every downstairs window with a bamboo pole charging from the outside going whoopee! I saw one pole come through a window and knock the drink out of the hand of an inebriated co-ed who calmly walked over to the bar and got another.
A particularly outrageous always inebriated guy was Jim Crassass as I called him. He cut class to take me to the French quarter for a Hurricane, the beverage equivalent of a smorgasbord. We went to a Tulane football game and partied in the stands without paying any attention to Tulane loosing another game. He'd tell people I was there to promote miscegenation, a word I had heard and read quite a bit that year. When I'd take out my guitar and sing, he'd get into laughing paroxysms imagining me giving a concert at Carnegie hall.
After a late breakfast of donuts and bourbon, I never liked bourbon but it was there, I went over to the Catholic girls school across the street. Wandered around pretending to look for my sister which led to conversations in the halls with some cute girls interested in a lost boy. Before long a sister kicked me out and apparently watched me go back inside the frat house. Before long again some plain clothes cops knocked on the door. I said it was me they were looking for and told them the truth - that I just walked over to check the place out for fun and the girls. They just laughed, told me not to go back, and went off.
Having decided that I'd spent enough time with these leading citizens of the future, Bates took me to a home where he said I could stay longer. It was an old two story white wood home on a tree lined street. No one was there so I lay on a bed in a room off the front door and caught up on sleep.
That afternoon I was awakened by a pretty young girl standing over me. She called my name and asked if I were he. I said yes. "Stand on your head," she said. I promptly did so. She clapped saying, "I knew it! I knew you'd do it! I've heard you're crazy. I'm Julie."
Julie said she was just home from a Catholic girls high school. I said I knew where it was and they'd already called the police on me. She was delighted by that too. We talked and bonded until her mother came home. Her mother asked where I was from and then if I was related to Ahdel Chadwick. I said yes, she's my mother. She said they were very close old friends. That struck me as quite a coincidence. Turned out Bates' Fort Worth girlfriend was Julie's cousin. Julie's family had lived in Fort Worth for years.
I got a room and hung out with the Woodwinds which is how I pronounced their family name. Hung out focusing on Julie. I got along with all the kids - her younger siblings and older brother who was off playing cello with Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico. Mom Orline had played with Casals too. She was 2nd violin in the New Orleans symphony and 1st in Mobile, Alabama not far away down the coast. She also had done violin overdubbing for records including some of Elvis'. And when she lived in Fort Worth she'd often played with my mother who was a pianist. I'd go with Orline of Orleans, as I called her, to symphony rehearsals and get in free to the concerts. Julie was an excellent pianist too and I'd listen to her practice.
One sort of stupid story the kids always reminded me of in subsequent years was when a an old lady neighbor called to complain about Bill and some friends making too much noise playing in the backyard. I said we couldn't see or hear them because of all the boxes of chicken fat stacked up against the windows and other nonsense until she got tired of talking to me and hung up.
Orline never complained about me staying there several months. She did admonish me to clean the tub after I'd used it, get rid of that ring - another lesson in communal living. She also had me stay by her when a Korean musician from the symphony would come to visit because she said she couldn't control herself with men and would prefer not to have sex with him.
Sometimes I'd accompany Julie to school and then walk around town, go get some coffee with chicory at the Morning Call, stroll about the French Quarter, take the streetcar named Desire to get back home.
One day I went to the Johnson for President campaign headquarters and volunteered. They gave me a stack of leaflets to pass out door to door. I sat down and read one. The whole point of what they wanted me to distribute was to show that Goldwater had a more supportive record on civil rights than Johnson. Sort of hard to make that point when Johnson had just pushed through an historic, sweeping civil rights law that Goldwater voted against, but make the point it did. I left the leaflets on the chair and vowed never to campaign for a politician.
Another day I walked into Tulane University, found the psychology department, met with a professor, and asked him about an unusual experience, a strange feeling I got now and then. It was hard to describe. It happened when I was calm. I can remember it happening while I was lying in the back seat of my mother's car taking a nap while she was playing music with some friends. A buzzing would start in my head, a feeling buzzing, not a sound buzzing. There'd be light, a little brightness, a floating feeling. strange time sensations as it increased, then a sense of everything being very fast and then slow and fast and slow at the same time as if one side of time were fast and the other slow, and I'd feel big and small at the same time, and other contradictory sensations. It was a little bit pleasant and a little bit unpleasant. I could stop it at any time by just getting up, shaking myself, and looking around. The professor said the closest he could come to was that sometimes writers, poets, artists express something like that. I said that Sartre described something in Nausea that reminded me a bit of it - how a doorknob would feel and I couldn't think of more to say nor he.
I got a job in a pork barbeque stand earning seventy-five cents an hour. The only other employee was a black woman named Lucille. Lucille and I got along great. The owner liked me because I never stopped working and got the whole place cleaner than she'd ever seen it - including a back room that wasn't used and around the building. Lucille liked me she said because I treated her with respect. She said the other white guys who'd worked there would try to get her to have sex with them in the back room. I loved Lucille. She was so much fun and she told me lots of stories and I was keenly interested because they were really stories from another culture. She told me about eating clay and said she was worried she ate too much but that she just had to have some when she walked by that clay hillside on the way to the bus. I'd never heard of eating clay but learned it was not uncommon for poor people to get into that habit. A lot of her stories were about altercations in bars. She came in one day and said she was in "turible trouble," that she'd found her husband in a bar with another woman and throwed a beer bottle at him across the room and knocked another man's front teeth out and now she needed a hundred dollars so he could get some new teeth. I thought they must have some sort of alternative dentistry or economy for a new set of teeth to be that cheap.
One day Lucille came in with a black eye crying. I urged her to lie down on the couch in the back and she slept for hours. Every day when we said goodbye she'd say, "Please don't leave me. I know you're going to leave me."
The owner also begged me, begged me to please serve blacks their food made to go. I told her there was a new law of the land that said they could eat anywhere the interstate highway system reached which was pretty much everywhere - that's how the civil rights law got around state's rights. She said, "But did you see that white man walk out without ordering?"
I pointed out to her that she was Jewish and after all the discrimination and persecution that Jews had suffered, did she really want to pass that on to another minority.
She cried, "I know. I know. You're right and I feel terrible about it but I can't afford to loose any business. I'm hardly staying in business."
That made me feel bad because I'd been sneaking a little pork barbeque home at night to feed my host family which was also just barely getting by.
Hurricane Hilda was coming. Wind and rain then more wind and rain. Julie's oldest younger sibling Pat and I went out to a levee and tossed sandbags with other volunteers. By the time we got back home the winds were super strong. It made the cockroaches stay home. In hot weather there'd be tons of really big cockroaches on the ground, so many at times they'd be running over my feet. People were leaving town, being evacuated from low lying coastal areas. Julie and I sat on the front porch and watched the dance of the tree branches. Her mother demanded we come back in when she found us dancing in the street.
There was suffering, depression in the family, a hovering insecurity about how stable their minds and futures would be. The father had been a successful lawyer who's career and life were destroyed by his use of alcohol some years before. Orline had deserted the family in Puerto Rico once - an early contribution on her part to integration. They were there because she and her oldest son Sam, a cellist, were involved musically with the great cellist Pablo Casals. But Orline had dissapeared and the husband was drunk. The girls went to a nunnery and the unemployed father and boys ate dog food. The FBI got involved and Orline returned. Orline had occasional bouts of Malaria. Pat was said to be having mental problems. Back then Sam's sexual orientation was also considered an aberration - not by the family, but it added to the list Julie and I made of their collective abnormality. The family had a curious tendency to all laugh together when someone got hurt. Julie said they used to trip their drunken father by hiding and pulling a heavy string up in his path. They were still a loving family who stuck together. And I fit in well. I wrote a song for the family, sort of a downer, called Don't Cry and jokingly told them it was called For the Psychos on Roberts Street.
I called the pork barbeque stand from a pay phone at a gas station by the highway out of town, still a two lane highway. Lucille answered and as soon as I identified myself she started crying and saying she knew I was leaving her. I apologized while gazing out at a field which ended in an embankment of red earth that I thought must be clay. I wondered if it was the sort of clay that Lucille liked to eat.
Back in Fort Worth I got a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles. My drunk driving ticket in Mississippi had caught up with me. I gave a lawyer twenty-five dollars to go with me to meet with a highway patrolman as I had called and said I wanted to contest Texas suspending my license. I never let the poor frustrated lawyer say anything. The patrolman was a nice guy. I told him what happened - that I was neither drinking nor driving and that it was routine for civil rights workers to get charged with something that was dreamed up. People got arrested for stealing their own cars. He was shocked. When I told him that most people also got beat up - that my fellow civil-rights workers were suspicious of me because I wasn't. He was appalled. He was frustrated, said he didn't know what to do, that he had to at least suspend my license for three months unless I wanted to take it court which would cost money. I said that's okay. I'll just go to Mexico. "And anyway," I added, "Reflecting on my driving habits when I was in high school, it could be said that Mississippi was the first place that brought me real justice."
I was back home sitting in the living room reading in Bermuda shorts one afternoon and drinking a warm German beer from a glass stein, when the doorbell rang. Two men in suits identified themselves as FBI agents. They were looking for me and Jackson whose name they didn't have. I invited them in and offered them appropriate non alcoholic drinks which they declined. Someone had complained to them that at the Goldwater talk we'd handed out unsigned campaign literature which is against the law. Oh, I said. Yes. I never thought of that. All they had to do was ask us. We personally handed them all out. They asked where had I printed the fliers. I'd printed them at Dr. Rapfogel's home on the machine he was using for ACLU material. Called him and the line was busy. Called my friend Jim and said, "Guess who came to visit and are sitting in the living room right now?" Tried Rapfogel again and he said not to give out his name, that he had to work with the FBI some and didn't want to complicate things. I told them I couldn't reveal where we'd made the leaflets or the names of my accomplices. They said they'd find out some other way. I said I bet I know who made the complaint - the Howlers in a house behind ours. They were super Goldwater supporters who were convinced I'd become a communist. One agent apologized for bothering me with such a minor matter but they were required to follow up. They stood to leave.
"You're leaving so soon? Are you sure you don't want something? Coffee?"
They declined. Said they had to get on to other business and started for the door.
"I was with SDS!" I called out.
"And I was in Mississippi doing civil rights work."
They pulled out their notebooks, and sat back down. And then, without naming any names or revealing any secrets - of which I knew none - I eagerly reviewed what had transpired since Jackson told me about Chief Crazy Horse.
(See the beginning of Chapter I - College - to clarify last sentence.)
next - part XII - Afterwords
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