Wednesday, June 25, 2008

hood#3 At The Skylark

'hood#3 At The Skylark
Sunday mornings we ate at church – father Joey started very promptly at 10:00 and by 10:05 we’d given our order to Josie who was always our waitress (till she had her baby). Joey said Mass in place of Father Anthony and he would finish just as the eggs and pancakes hit the table. Sometimes we would need three booths, especially when the girls started coming. Bobby Seirs, one of us smooth 'Four Bloods' would never come to The Skylark until he heard the girls showed up and from then on he was a regular. Fact is, more girls came when they heard he was there. Bobby was probably the best looking guy in the ‘hood. He had that wavy hair and black leather jacket that looked just like Marlon Brandos jacket in the wild one motorcycle movie. Most of us guys surrounded Joey because most of the girls hung with Bobby were hoping for a date with him – or at least a good make out behind the casket company. There was a dark loading dock at the alley where if you wanted you could get down in the corner and not even a shadow could be seen of two people. I went there once with Marie but we didn’t stay ‘cause she’s got too much class and revolted at the thought of making love our first time at the back of some factory that made coffins – me, I wanted to stay
i'm itchin like a man on a fuzzy tree
my hands are shaky, my knees are weak
i can't seem to stand on my own two feet
i'm all shook up
…… well; we continued our search.

The Skylark was our church and Joey was our priest. Every Sunday he had something new to tell us attesting to the underlying truth that not all of us were there for the chicks. This particular Sunday's homily captivated Dominic because Joey’s pet fear about Sputniks in space was the topic. About a year after he was elected, John Kennedy had this meeting with Nikita Khrushchev about the two countries getting together on a space program. Well, the Russians were way ahead of us already and Nikita felt he shouldn’t be sharing space secrets. Now here’s the thing we didn’t know – and hardly anyone knew. After Nikita said nyet, Johns father, Joe Kennedy had a talk with Nikita’s father, Sergei Kruschev, and they came up with a strategy for putting pressure on Nikita. Shortly after the meeting in May of 1961, Congress got the message that “we should make it a national priority to land a man on the moon and return him to earth safely” and from that day forward JFK made a lot of speeches about a space program. We heard him say “No nation that expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space”. That’s how we came to have a “space race”. Nikita was pissed – he aimed some missiles at Cuba and JFK had to send up a militia. Nikita banged his shoe in protest and it was after that they began to talk about space again. How Joey ever found out about the Sergei meeting is still a mystery. Dominic reasoned it was probably alderman Marzullo.
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Marie was brought up in a very open-minded home. Her mom always encouraged her to do whatever made her feel both right and good. Her dad would talk to me about the civil rights movement and the freedom riders (shit, I was gonna graduate high school this year and didn’t he know he was making me feel bad because I wasn’t going south to join the protests - and did that make me a lesser person in his eyes)? This thought hurt me because I hung on this mans' every word.

Things were heating up again – John and his brother Bobby had Martin Luther King released from jail right after they got elected. JFK couldn’t do too much too quick because he figured that if he angered the Southern Democrats, the laws he wanted didn’t stand a chance in the Congress. Marie’s dad didn’t see it that way. He thought our new president was suddenly not supportive enough of civil rights activists. Me? When Marie came into the room I didn’t even know he was talking. It was Friday night and we were going to the dance at St. Michaels. She dressed in slacks and a white top and while revealing nothing, showed all of her beauty. She changed her hair every time we were going to dance. She would take its’ length all into one hand and put a rubber band around it and let it fall to a glorious shiny black pony tail.
The dances this year were bogus.
Every time Father Anthony could play something new, all he had was either Connie Francis or Ricky Nelson. The Twist by Chubby Checker and Runaway by Del Shannon were the only up-tempo songs of the year that hit the top of the charts. One of our favorites he still played was 'At The Hop' by Danny and the Juniors and we’d really hit the floor for 'Do You Want to Dance'. The rest of the new music for a couple of years was horrible; the only good thing about the dances at St. Michaels was slow-dancing with Marie. Some good ones for holding each other were 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' by the Shirelles and 'Are You Lonesome Tonight', by The King and almost anything by Sam Cooke – but please, NOT 'Cathy’s Clown' or 'Theme from a Summer Place'. So much crap was coming out that had a symphony orchestra playing a sound THEY called rock n' roll - they didn't even have one guitar!

Marie told me that all last year she had bought only one album (Elvis is Back) and two 45’s because music became submissive (I knew we were meant for each other)!
To think that Heart Break Hotel came out in ’56 and it took five years to get Dirty Dirty Feeling and It Feels So Right on an album. The 45 releases of these songs went nowhere because most radio stations wouldn’t play ‘em and the stores wouldn’t stock ‘em. And Father Anthony couldn’t play 'em cause he couldn't find where to buy 'em.
We were seventeen and seniors and had all this heavy shit to think about not the least of which was where are we going to college. We really didn’t want to talk about it and later on we found that it was best thing we could have done. Yes, JFK was making lots of speeches and many of us were inspired and thought this was what real leadership was about. I think a good example would be the speech that motivated Nikita. JFK said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard”. The hardest things had nothing to do with the science of space and rockets - and real leadership had just been released from jail. The hardest thing was all about doing the right thing for “our fellow man”. That was one of Marie's dad's favorite phrases. We could see on the TV that the right things weren’t happening, yet it was so hard to know how to make it right. Marie’s dad was all behind the student sit-ins that began in 1960.
We saw students of all races marching and as they’d turn the corner, likely to be faced down by police commissioners and their cop cronies (who had dogs). After harassing the freedom riders during the day, the cops would abandon their posts so that those guys in white covering could have their turn. Yes, Mississippi was burning and the fed wasn’t doing the right thing either. JFK’s brother Bobby wiretapped Martin Luther King in ’61 in one of the only times he and the FBI guy J. Edgar Hoover ever talked.

What the fuck was goin on?

This was a ball of confusion wound as tight as that gordian knot. Hoover couldn’t find any Communist ties to Martin Luther King and it wasn’t till after Alabama that they stopped tapping his phone. But in 1961 came the first big time movement in Albany, Georgia? The Albany Movement hit the lunch counters, the libraries, the train stations; this was about much more than votes, this was about doing the right thing in so many ways. MLK was there, alright, but he left after one day. Marie's dad called ML every name in the book for abandoning Georgia and leaving the young people in the student non-violent coordinating community to take the heat: right when he could’ve helped. Her dad was really mad.
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Bobby Siers was hurt; badly – they took him to the hospital in an ambulance and there were three police cars in front of The Skylark. Joey and me were running across Cermak Road and we saw about twenty people already were there and more were coming. When I saw the blood on the sidewalk and heard the cops and my friends yelling at each other and saw Dominic get hit with a baton I was ready to jump in but Joey grabbed me right around my shoulders and turned me around. I bit hard my lip to focus my mind which was in rage right now, mostly because of Bobby’s blood.
Is he dead?
The Skylark regularly closed at ten p m because the neighborhood wanted all the kids home by curfew and the owner knew that cooperating with the men of the ’hood was the right thing to do. It was ten-twenty.
Bobby and Carm and Sandy were leaving for the casket company when three guys moved into their path. Both girls shouted out at them while Bobby kept his eyes moving from their eyes to their hands then one came flashing out silver slashing sharp toward his face catching his rising arm slitting his leather. He raised his leg and kicked right at the guy with the blade and another guy grabbed his retreating ankle and pulled Bobby down. That was it – stabbed three times. The bright lights from The Skylark preserved the red stain right next to where Carm held him on her lap while Sandy went back in to get help. Now Dominic was downed when he tried to go through the police line to care for his blood brother and only the fierce threatening looks from the cops kept the rest of us from jumping in. Out of the crowd came Carlo and he grabbed Tony Castellano and they peeled away in his 57 Chevy. The police were now putting up some rope and trying to disperse a growing crowd. Tomasino pushed his way to the sergeant and looked right at him and said “lay off, I’ll get everyone away”. You didn’t cross TEE, he was the man and his payback was swift and certain.
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I know today that no other love is found as easily as Marie and I found ours. There was this one song called 'At Last' by Etta James that talks about a love that has finally come – it was a lot like ours in one way; we still wait for the sexual expression of our love. Etta savors her newfound love and we get it when she says “life is like a song”. Her joy and our anticipation in harmony.

Bad blood flowed as red rivers in America - north and south.

'hood, another part

Dominic was ecstatic.
John F. Kennedy got elected
and The King came back from Germany.
My life was confusion; a compass spiraling in directions I couldn’t control and didn’t understand. These were days and months of a sixteen-year-old lifetime dragging to sixteen and a half. The roots of my restless period are found in a Billboard release of the “Top Five”. Pat Boone was rated # 1 and Elvis was second and I was in free fall; ultimately saved by Marie and 'Satisfaction' with a lot of pain and smiles in between.
Marie was soft; her breast pressed my breast, her hair lay on my face and I breathed in her gentle intensity. This moment promising to extinguish our uncertainty and timidity, holding firm we did not falter. I longed for this instant, though not knowing where next to go, her delicate strong hand stroking my neck and falling to my shoulder while she pulled me to her. There was no confusion in this embrace and we reeled with heightening intensity seeking the next moment. It came upon release to witness the excitement in each other’s eyes. Fixed, we didn’t move; we learned and cherished how this felt while we began to breathe again. I knew and she wanted what was to come next and I reached out with my hand to her chest, onto her breastbone, from clavicle onto the side of her breasts. Our eyes vulnerable as I felt the woman’s body at her round shoulders, following her lines across her rounded breasts, down to her hip onto her belly and up to her eyes – its sultry touch came to define beauty.
Now if you love me, please don't tease
if I can hold them, let me squeeze
You leave me aaahhhhhhhh
Jerry Lee Lewis

The next period, 16 ¼, rocked me when Billboard proclaimed “Volare” the song of the year and Elvis was #2, again. A fuckin step backwards and all the whiteman DJ’s were ecstatic that the devil and his swivel were confronting demise and his end was near. Who knows, "Doggie in the Window " might make a comeback. But we weren’t giving up and the next Top 100 sent its own shockwave when "Wooly Bully " scandalized our parents and General Motors pulled their ads. It’s all right because Phillip Morris was singing for our side and Dave Clark hi-jacked Bandstand from Philadelphia to take it on the road as American with Beach Boys and Bobby Darin – both a little lame and tame but heading in the right direction. Joey, our street priest, knew all along that this was temporary -
then Elvis recorded 'I’m Back'
He unleashed the fullness of his talents and Joey reminded us that the Top Ten meant only that - the first ten. All we needed to do was read further down the list to find Little Richard who blew the lid off the fifties and the rythyms of Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly and Fats Domino and the everlasting Chuck Berry and Roy Orbison and the Devil himselfJerry Lee Lewis who married his fourteen year old cousin.
“Great Balls of Fire”
and Joey, always educating us, pursuing balance, reminded us of our enemies – Pat Boone who actually released a recording of Blue Suede Shoes (and the payola stations played it)! Tony Diono threw his transistor radio at a brick wall and stomped on it ‘til Pat died. The other demons were Tab Hunter and Brenda Lee. Tony destroyed his entire album collection the day she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a tune called “I’m Sorry”. Fuck, she, and they, should be!There was another movement that Joey was trying to get some focus on. His cousin from Minnesota told him about a young rock n’ roller named Zimmerman who traded in his electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustic. Seems he was attracted to the folk music of Seeger and Guthrie; further influenced by three writers called beatniks. One of ‘em was a guy named Ginsberg who wrote some really rebellious poetry (and some of it was pretty dirty too ‘cause his book got banned a few years back ) and the only place you could buy it was London or San Franciso. Later, Joey got a copy – it was called “Howl” - and we figured out “beatnik” meant “on the beat”. Their movement lasted into the coffe house times but their music didn’t match rock n’ roll and I figured that three writers do not a movement make!Unless they’re songwriters - and Zimmerman was.

Marie made a difference. We were searchers of our days and nights and found each others fondness on the street and in our hands. I loved her; she was soft. We helped each other deal with our bodies touching and we felt a flame in the boldness of each encounter. I leaned into her and we moved till our lips met slowly yet softly with certainty; breathing harder as we pressed. Her strong rounded shoulders rolled downward to full breasts that, as I cupped them, served as a chalice for beads of her perspiration. I would drink from those pools and become thirsty for her love, only to suffer of our passions; our nest exposed.
Cedar Lake
Holly, Bopper, Valens in cold wind; pioneers, gone.
Buddy and his band were the first white people to play at the Apollo Theater in Harlem since the big band era. Buddy said, “if it weren’t for Elvis, none of us would be here”. Now he’s not here but Elvis is - Buddy had a #1 a couple years back called
'that’ll be the day'.
It was one of the songs his band did on tour in Liverpool, England at a club where two guys named John Lennon and Paul McCartney were in the audience.

my day to be lost, a whole generation’s worth

The charts are so lying. I don’t have the money to gig the rank of a song by buying it but Allen Freed and other DJ’s are committed to rock n’ roll and the radio is free to me – it’s become my toy! Somehow Bossa nova jumped across the network airwaves, appealing to jazz people who found no musical fulfillment in their local coffee house. Joey told me about Ipanema type love music and Marie and I tried it but Bossa died quickly of dispassion because the coffee house poetry just does not mesh with Bossa rhythms. I knew the back beat could support the poetry – I could feel it – why couldn’t the 'hood hear it?

and Zimmerman switched
but this time he had a following and his people were not happy. After all, Joni Mitchel didn’t sell out to the back beat rhythms that were too loud for the confined spaces!
An anthem hit the streets that made the distinction clear – if it’s too loud, you’re too old! Coffee houses were meant for delicate strumming and extended storytelling. Rock and roll never let up and the newer electric gear filled open spaces with newer, very raw sounds that came from blues and country and gospel and a lotta folk lyrics – except for the “roll” part which meant sex!

We were good kids. We did all the right shit for our parents (which began to fall apart the night when Bobby Siers and me went to a black party on Christmas Eve instead of Midnite Mass). Good grades and all. Marie and I were hot for each other. Like there was that night where we sat in the shadows on the entry stoop of an old Methodist church that didn’t make it in our neighborhood and our hands were at places we’d never been before. We kissed so hard that our lips swelled the next day. We lay on the stoop, our bodies hotter than the summer nights swelter that came on us and eventually even our fingertips dripped. Still, there was nowhere to go.

He sang those songs because beautiful people began to die and we were lost. Where would we be going without his words.


they are a' changin"

'hood, one part

‘ hood
During the early years of Elvis and Little Richard but before the Beatles, we grew up in an area in central Chicago searching for its’ own identity. Like when someone asked you what part of Chicago were you from, you didn't have an easy answer like Lincoln Park or Rogers Park or Uptown or even Bridgeport where the Mayor lived throughout his five elections and our lifetime. We lived in the harmless sounding "near west side" – surrounded by produce terminals, the sanitary drainage canal and railroad tracks to either side.
Mayor Daley didn't campaign in our neighborhood because it wasn't necessary. Vito Marzullo, the alderman and boss of our 25th ward, got out the vote always in numbers far greater than registered voters. Vito, in his latter years as dean of the city council, was invited to Harvard University where he lectured on practical politics; such as empowering the precinct captains with the delivery of garbage cans or handing out jobs - like being the pick and shovel man on a curb and gutter crew.
One of my blood brothers was Dominic - he is Italian and I am Lithuanian, (most of us were one or the other) - well, he had his sights on becoming part of the Daley machine when he got out of the Army. He was in about the same time as Elvis but he never saw him. Dom got an honorable discharge and became an assistant precinct captain, which meant he would also have a job working for the city - except on election days when he was a chauffeur to the polling places.
He had a real passion for this calling and he would assist people in pulling the levers on the voting machine. Of course, Dominic swore he was doing no wrong and most of the people in the neighborhood felt exactly the same way. All through our young lives we knew the President was a Republican and everything else was Democratic. Dominic was inspired to work hard this campaign because one of our blood brothers Joey Margiola told him he was having trouble sleeping ever since the Russians put "the Sputnik" into space. Joey did all kinds of cerebral thinking and we had a lot of faith in him because he would read magazines all the time and he read a lot of books, too. So, in 1960 Vito and the Democratic machine and guys like Dominic got out the vote to elect John F. Kennedy and the rest of the country helped them do it.
But this 'near west side' thing was the real challenge for us; you see, the voters constantly turned out 88% Democratic (the other 18% Republican) so we never made the news as a "key" precinct; therefore, we never got named. There was a local newspaper that ran a banner proclaiming the area "The Heart of Chicago" except nobody outside the neighborhood ever read it and so, like if you were at a dance on the North Side and said you were from the "Heart of Chicago" it didn't help.

I think the only place in the city you could find other people from "the Heart" was Twelfth Street beach in the summertime. The sand beach wasn't the greatest, but it was big, and the waves carried little grimy-bits that stayed on you when you got out. It has a large grassy hill and meadow between Miegs field and the Planetarium – a great spot for getting sun and watching the girls. We could just put some cocoa butter on and soak up the rays or we could do something masculine like throw a softball around and onto the blanket of some good looking babe so we could check her out.

Every year this chick named Sandy was there and she had the darkest suntan and the greatest knockers we'd ever seen and a radio that played all the 'right' songs. She was slim, tall, blonde and dark from the sun and cocoa butter mix and she was forever sixteen. Bobby Siers worked hard at being as brown and would go out early in the morning to get a perfect spot on the hill, maximizing the angles of the sun and its rays. Joey would throw a ball onto Sandy’s blanket so Bobby Siers – the last of the ‘Four Bloods’, - could go over and hold his arm next to hers. He never quite made her color and would walk away with the ball and humming the song from her radio would say to us "Wait till next week and I'll ask her for a date".

Cooling Bobby down was easy at Twelfth Street beach by walking out to "the rocks" to dive into the chilly waters of Lake Michigan and swim out far enough to make the lifeguards uneasy. It's for sure they had no desire to swim out to the cold waters and eventually we would honor their frantic whistling and head back. But, Joey and Bobby and Dominic and me and this other guy named Chuck would go to the other side of the Planetarium where there were no lifeguards and we could swim straight west to the Aquarium.
Then one time out Chuck said we had no balls if we didn't try for the breakwater. It looked kind of far to the rest of us but Chuck said we could do it. I didn't always trust his judgement but I never doubted his courage. When we were thirteen he broke his arm as I ran over him with a bicycle. He never held it against me so I figured this was a guy who wouldn't let me drown. So, we swam to the breakwater that formed a harbor for the boats anchored across from Buckingham Fountain. Their white sails sparkled like diamonds in the bright sun. My eyes watered, the diamonds got bigger and I promised myself a handful.
It was a lot tougher swim than we had imagined; struggling against an unknown current, we finally reached the breakwater and when the grime next to the concrete filled our hands we felt it to be quite slimy - not at all like the rough cut of a diamond. We climbed, exhausted, onto the concrete lifesaver while our stubbornness, courage and strength faded. We waited; ….to signal for help from one of the passing boats.
As they helped us into their boat, they at first thought we capsized and that we swam to the breakwater for safety. Joey told them we had no boat and just needed help ashore and we could see a concern come over their faces as if they had just picked up a band of pirates.
Nobody I knew in "the Heart" had a sailboat, so this was my first time in one. I coveted both it and the pretty, young ladies aboard breaking two commandments at the same time. Joe was watching me check out one of the chicks and said to me "It's for sure you're going to burn in hell".

For all we knew Hell was being manufactured right in our neighborhood in an abandoned trolley car facility on 24th street. From the early nineteen hundreds to the early fifties electric cables criss-crossed the city powering what we called streetcars cars that ran on tracks down the middle of our streets. This sprawling barn was for maintenance and repair of those cars for the southwest side of Chicago’s transportation system. We saw the tracks paved over with asphalt and the car barns were slowly converted to accommodate buses. The last trolley rolled out on the flatbed of a truck – the tracks were gone when it left. By 1959 the barn was downsized even for bus maintenance and nobody knew what was going on inside. The Chicago Daily News ran a story about how the hottest temperature ever recorded was generated below the ground right there in that old brick and steel barn. It was time for Vito to act! His heat, however, was saved for us.
Presiding at a nervous community meeting, the classy, portly and bespectacled Vito Marzullo, speaking broken English, accused us of overreacting and standing in the way of progress. Johnny Torino asked, "Please tell us what is really going on"?
Vito said, "You woudn' unnestan; so I'm a no tella you to make lies".
"But are we in danger? What about our drinking water? What about our children", Johnny asked?
Vito started to turn red and shook three fingers right at Johnny and said, "Whenna you come to me an you ask me "Alderman, is everything O.K.", an I say "yes", …. don' ask me nomore. You got da annsr".
He walked away from the makeshift podium, right out of the building. In two days, the cars that came for years stopped coming and I saw four trucks pull out one night at about two thirty and head straight toward Western Avenue.
Hell came and went - it didn't feel any different when it was gone.
Dominic told us that it was the alderman had listened to us and took swift action to make the neighborhood safe for the children. People started to talk about the whole deal and figured if Vito couldn't tell us what was going on how could he have done something about it. Cerebral Joey tried to tell Dominic to cool his rhetoric, but Dom said it would get votes for Kennedy. They didn't need that story to get the vote but Dom continued to make a hero of Vito Marzullo. It was a good story at Harvard - told from "the heart".
A nod to Stuart Dybeck - who lived and grew in a parallel universe

Thursday, June 12, 2008

'hood 10

Guys in the ‘hood got their first suit when you graduated from grammar school. Most suits didn’t fit; on purpose. The pants were long (we had to pull‘em up) and the shoulders always drooped. You had time to grow into it because you were a ‘growing boy’ and for those of us who didn’t grow fast enough we would roll up the cuffs over the wrist. Rolling up the pant cuffs really did look bad, so you didn’t do it. Probably wouldn’t wear it again till next spring at weddings or on Easter. Certainly you weren’t going to wear it to high school.
There were three schools to go to. The serious boy Catholics went to St. Rita and the serious girl Catholics went to Maria. The rest of us poor heathen went to Tech along with people from other neighborhoods with different nationalities and races and religions. My experiences at Tech were to prepare me for my adult life, said my mom. The old man told me it would teach me how to get a job. I knew kids who went to college and I asked my dad about it and he wondered out loud if any of the hoodlums in this ‘hood ever made it through high school. How could he know? He wasn’t around all that much and mom relied on us kids a lot for a lot of different things. The old man worked a good job at the factory but never came home till late –could be he's hungry. It’s not like he had hobbies; he didn’t go to the bowling ally and he didn’t go to the clubs where the men would sit out and tell stories – and he didn’t drink, either. Where was he? After a while, I didn’t care.

I actually did get a job the first summer after grammar school – cleaning the butcher's basement at the end of every day; six days a week. While there was blood to be easily wiped up, the other……..forget about it! It only took about an hour and a half. You know, when ya got a job, your ma is always on ya to learn how to save some money and your old man is lookin for you to start buyin your own shoes. This second hand bike came up for sale and I wanted it - thinking I would save street car money to and from the beach. Dad said I went to the beach too much. Who was gonna pay for all the school supplies for Tech? Bobby Siers wasn’t workin and I’ll bet he’d have pencils when time came!

Sure enough, it was the first day of high school, registration day, and I had not yet worn that suit and I had to buy my own pencils and I never rode that bicycle. Joey and Bobby Siers and Dom and me all walked together straight down 24th street through other neighborhoods; across Western, across Washtenaw, across California until Tech loomed up in front of us. This building held three thousand students and the population was very diverse. There were a lot of people here. A lot of different people here.
# # # # # # # # # #

Kids in Little Rock, Arkansas were registering right at the same time. There were only nine colored kids wanting to sign up at Central High – nine brave kids – but the white people of Little Rock wouldn’t let them register at Central High; they had to go to their own school. They’ve been trying to get into Central for a couple years now. In 1954 there was a Brown vs. Education Board case in the Supreme Court that said “separate but equal” was not good enough anymore and the Board people of Little Rock had to follow the law and said these “Little Rock nine” could go to Central High with “all deliberate speed”. But, on this first day, the Governor, Mr. Orval Faubus sends the National Guard to surround the school because some angry white people from around the state were coming to Little Rock and he needed to keep them and the kids away! That NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall gets a federal judge to tell the governor to let the students in to classes in accordance with Supreme Court law and the governor spits.

Her name is Elizabeth Eckford and this was her first day of high school. Just like me; first day.
She took a bus; I walked with the guys. When she got off the bus, she saw something was wrong. She was a lone Negro student – all others there were white. Mobs of people screamed and tussling Guardsmen surrounded her as she looked to the faraway entrance of the magnificent castle-like school. Why are you here, people yelled? Did they call you? She knows she’s to go to this school on this day and begins to walk up the long stairs. Blocked by the mob, she turns to get back on the bus and someone spits on her. She keeps goin’ to the bus – all this happening ‘cause her family's too poor to have a telephone. I’ll remember this story every time someone tells me about the different ways of being rich. Elizabeth is wealthy!

President Eisenhower federalizes the National Guard. Now, how smart is that? Not too much I guess because after days of rioting they go home and he has to call in the 101st Airborne Division and Gov. Faubus calls them “an Army of occupation”. They sure looked like one: airborne troops in helicopters with M-1 rifles and bayonets. The mob of people were yelling “two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate” and threw bricks and stones and bottles at the soldiers. So the next Monday, the start of regular classes, the ‘Little Rock nine’ come together and the 101st Airborne gets them through the front entrance. The mob went crazy and beat some colored reporters while mothers screamed to their children “Come out! Don’t stay in there with them colored people” and before noontime the ‘nine’ were going out the rear entrance.

Then things got worse.
An editor of the Arkansas Gazette described what was going on, “Easy to explain in one sentence. The police have been routed, the mob is in the streets and we’re close to a reign of terror”.

Ike was on TV explaining why the U.S. Army invaded Little Rock. I wished some could come to Tech tomorrow. For now, I had to go find Joey.

# # # # # # #

I found him at the club goin face to face with Dom over whose man did the hotter music. It was classic Elvis vs. Jerry Lee stuff with the current frenzy being who had the most explosive opening – was it the King and his “Hound Dog” or was it the Killer with “Great Balls of Fire”?
Joey was selling the Kings act as two minutes of intense, malicious glee and Dom saw the Killer as a wild white singer with a pumpin’ piano.
And it went on with ones’ song outshining the others’.
From “Heartbreak Hotel” sliding up the fret board to “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On” bangin down the key board. It was “All Shook Up” and “Little Sister” standing tall to Killers masterpiece, “Breathless” which, as performed by Jerry Lee doin the stool kick-out while his elbows banged the ivory, got Dick Clark in trouble for havin Jerry Lee as the headliner for his prime-time bandstand.

“Breathless” is pure power rock filled with certainty and sexuality while exuding white country drawl in the black mans soul shout. Rock and roll was not ready for “live” Jerry Lee.
When Jerry Lee does “High School Confidential” he orders his woman to get her dancing shoes on before the juke box blows a fuse. The music stops; he sings; sweating through his thick golden mass of hair he hammers the keyboard and the song is so fast it stuns people as his voice is crying out ‘heartbreak’.
This is not sock hop music and little girls better get off the streets.
He was so hot; his voice will never die!
Jerry was blackballed on radio because he married his thirteen year old cousin and I think Buddy Holly wrote a song about it. Joey had a stacked deck though; the Elvis song list simply outlasted the Killer's collection. Dom couldn't win against Elvis. I took Joey aside to talk about tomorrow.

# # # # # #

We walked up the steps at Tech and there were some of the ‘older guys’ from the ‘hood hangin out in front of the school along with a lot of other white people we didn’t know. There was two cops. There were about 50 colored guys. We stared; Bobby grabbed me by the arm and we went inside where there was a small group of mixed guys and girls talking real loud about Little Rock. I kinda knew what was happening down there and I could see anger in kids’ faces and knew for sure this was going to be a rough day. The bell rang for kids to go to class and only about half went. One cop came around the corner and a guy told him to go fuck himself. He left. Then this black kid steps up and asks who are you gonna stop from goin to school today.

Stupid fuckin Dom shouts out to not even ask because all of us are going to the same school, like it or not.
Well my names ‘juice’ and I want to know who is gonna watch my back, then this hillbilly lookin guy from Washtenaw jumps out and runs right at him – he steps back and trips him to the ground. The white kid’s on the sidewalk and ‘juice’ goes right down on him and thumps his head on the concrete and he bleeds immediately. Screams go up, yelling starts but nobody else moves. The hillbilly kicks at ‘juice’ right in the groin and rolls him over. Just like that the bleeding hillbilly is on top and he’s punching away with both fists. Still nobody moves while they’re both now rolling down the stairs not letting the other get up until they hit bottom. ‘juice’ makes it up first, swings across but hillbilly ducks leavin ‘juice’ wide open to a shot right in his gut. He goes down and the white boy stands over him. ‘juice’ sits up and says we’re done.

Elizabeth Eckford and eight others have more to do.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

'hood niner

The law was clear. Ole Miss had to accept him – Bobby had to enforce the law.
James Meredith presented his case to the state and federal government, he simply asking them and then the fifth circuit court ordering them, to implement the law. James wrote a letter to the U.S. Dept of Justice on February 21st, 1961. He ask for their help using their power and influence to insure compliance with the law. In another letter to Thurgood Marshall, who was the head of the NAACP, he asked for help because “I anticipate encountering some difficulties”.

What the hell was Bobby waiting for? Was he not the head of the department of justice? Why was it taking him and Jack a so long to be brave! Not until August 31st 1962 did the case get to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and in ten short days, finally, on September 10th 1962 the Supreme Court ordered Ole Miss to admit James Meredith.

Governor of Mississippi Ross Barnett declares: "There is no case in history where the Caucasian race has survived social integration. We will not drink from the cup of genocide. ... We must either submit to the unlawful dictates of the Federal government or stand up like men and tell them never! No school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor”.

* * * * * *

Marie and I finally made it to the no name restaurant where the food was served family style and in heaps. We had to wait a little bit until the next seating and when she excused herself I picked up a paper at the door called New Musical Express from London and on the front page at the bottom was a small headline and article about a new group from Liverpool called The Beatles. They just signed a record contract with Parlophone Records for a song called “Love Me Do”. I had to wonder who are these guys and where do they come from (musically) and are they any good at what they do? Maybe that’s an irrelevant question because lotsa people think Pat Boone is good - he just charted again with an awful “Speedy Gonzales” followed by “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett. I must admit that the monster hit of 1962 is Seegers’ “If I had a Hammer” by Peter, Paul and Mary and it was at least good lyrics. I got a buddy back home who I’m sure is ecstatic ‘cause his folk music now rules; except for the teeny boppers who made Mashed Potatoes a #1 song – you had to hear it to believe it!
Here’s the thing, I can look back over the entire past two years and I’ve watched my heroes fade away. The 1962 charts had a couple of Elvis songs – slower tempos – and even a Chubby Checker song called “Slow Twistin” but where’s Little Richard, where’s Chuck Berry, where are all the original rockers whose roots have provided me with the diversity I can “feel”. And that’s it – I can only define a back beat – emphasis on 2 – 4 in a 4/4 bar. I know the music schools, here, Northwestern, Chicago teach and study classical music and some jazz and maybe that’s the way they should be. They’re training people for and subsidized by symphonic expressions. These are people who write books and have lectures and discussion groups about a single piece of music.
I care about the “rockabilly” music of Fred Maddox and the hard driving “Freight Train Boogie” by the Delmore Brothers of 1946. Their music is “untamed”. Is the best I can say is that I ‘feel’ its rhythms and can relate to the youthful, relevant poetry in its lyrics? Beethoven was filled with passion, but he refined it to the expressions of his era. Maybe that’s it; our great writers haven’t yet arrived.

maybe it’s our era that needs defining
Still in my hand is the music news from London; announcing a Carnegie Hall concert organized by Pete Seeger for September 22nd.

A new folksong writer by the name of Bob Dylan will be premiering a new song called 'A Hard Rains a' gonna Fall'.

* * * * * *
It’s September 13th and on statewide TV and radio, Governor Ross Barnett declares to the people of Mississippi “We will not surrender to the evil and illegal forces of tyranny”. Bobby hears about it and calls him immediately but can’t reach him because he’s too busy getting his back slapped by his redneck buddies while tryin to not spill his bourbon whiskey. So he finds Jack and they are trying hard to figure this out. Jack had talked to Governor Barnett two days before about the ruling and though the stand-off had a Civil War flavor he came away convinced that all Barnett wanted was a way to save face with the people of Mississippi; of course, integration was going to happen but ole Ross wasn’t going to make it look easy. The voters in his state would be after his ass. He needs an out! With all of his high-minded speeches about principles vs. expediency and moral degradation and the flowers of Southern womanhood, what he really needed was some cover so he could get re-elected. So on the 15th Bobby calls him up - during the next few days they exchange six or eight phone calls trying to come up with a scheme acceptable to both sides.
Then the Mississippi legislature jumps in with a measure supporting the Governor with a vote of confidence. The next day, the state circuit court tried James in abstentia and found him guilty of ‘moral turpitude’ and fined him one hundred dollars. Well now, the legislature quickly enacted a law forbidding anyone with a criminal offense admission to its’ state universities. James is determined to smash these barriers to his race. He readies himself and with U.S. Marshals surrounding him, he walks to the Lyceum Building to make his first attempt to register at Ole Miss in Oxford.
Ross Barnett, as self-appointed registrar, looks James in the eyes, personally blocks his way and says “No”. They stand a few moments; James looks to the marshals, but they are only there to protect him. They were purposely un-armed. James walks away, with them, and a growing crowd yells out some pretty nasty stuff.

This was the opening salvo of what forever will be known as ‘The Battle of Oxford Mississippi” –the last great battle of the civil war:

September 20th 1962.

* * * * * *

We at last were seated and though it seemed a long wait, there was only a moment before platters of food were sliding across the twelve foot wooden tables where hungry people showed no hesitation filling their plate. We sat across and watched each move made from fingertips to napkin to goblet to lips to eye to eye. A dissonant voice cut short our gazing as I jerked my body around to see right next to me a tall black man grab another at the collar, raise a fist in the air…….then bite his lip as he dropped the younger man to the floor. People rose up all around but there was no touching – just hard stares. The black man scooped up his books and on the way out spewed out “Pray you were as strong as Mr. James Meredith. God is watchin over him – not you” and threw a copy of the Northeastern News that carried a headline about Ole Miss. It landed right at the side of his head and pages sprayed into the air. Marie grabbed my arm as a couple guys were helping the young man to his feet and he said he was gonna get his black ass. She pulled me harder –

I’ve been here before.

Wonder in a backyard garage

The rain is relentless. It forced us from our riverside picnic to the home of Jaime, father of the newly 5 years old daughter Fani’s birthday party. The tres leche cake is on a small portable table hastily set up next to the newly-wiped-from-outdoor-dirt chairs on a porch attached to the garage. Mowers, ladders, and extra household flotsam have all been unceremoniously purged from the garage to make room for a dry dance floor. It is Hispanic family , and extended family, and a few close friends; like me. Some have ventured forth in brief intermissions of the deluge, but return to our close backyard refuge as the drops become sheets again. The dancing has to be restrained because there are so many in this small space. Everyone is in a good mood. The rain is just a part of the day.

From a side door, enter a few very young children. They briefly watch the adults Bachata, Mambo, and Swing. Everyone is in motion. A boy of about 4 is rapt in his attention. His eyes are wide. His legs begin to flex in time to the music. He makes attempt to move immature muscles in ways new to him. He actually gets a little hip action going. A five year old girl in a flouncy sundress and maryjanes impulsively grabs his hand; first, as if to lead him; but then as a partner on this strangely gyrating floor. She, too, begins a sycopation. Could it be called flirtatious? The boy does not pull back or resist. She has him now she begins a twisting in time to the heavy beat. Soon, the adults notice. The two holding hands together, moving in time to the music. There is a great delight and a "come see this" tug is passed from blouse to shirt, and adults gather; more and more; until the garage entrance is backed up to the rain line outside with gawkers, all trying to see this handing off: this bridge between generations. The continuity of Life.

One father tries to insert his own son into this mix. That child is having none of this, and , throwing his hands in a swipe, walks away. "How dare you !" is the conveyance. Now, our host introduces his feted daughter into this dance of sweet innocence. By the legs and shoulders, he sits her down onto the concrete next to our dancers. Our originating girl frowns, pushes the new suitor away , and takes "her" boyfriend by the hand and exits, leaving Birthday girl Fani bewildered. She runs and holds to her father’s leg.

The adults disperse; the show is over. I sit in my chair, just watching the rain and a solitary couple on the garage dance floor. Our little girl appears again at the side door. She sees the audience has departed and drags her smaller partner back onto their stage. She has not had her fill. They start again. She has found her man; she has protected him, and now she claims his limbs again as her own, to move with her to the music. Two more songs and our little younger soldier is getting weak in the knees. He falters, and plop sits as his joints buckle. Our little siren takes him under the armpits and pulls him to his feet, making sure he can stand on his own, and gives him a quick buss on the cheek before she heads off to some new adventure. I wonder if they will ever dance together again.

How could you not be filled with emotion at being able to witness the wonder of humanity in purest form. This was the beginning of love, of protection, and of celebration. All in a small garage on a rainy afternoon.

Monday, June 2, 2008

'hood #8

It was a lingering walk back to 85 Mount Vernon and we talked of many things; the strengths of her voice, husky, yet clear and decisive made everything she had to say to me even more attractive. She asked about my browned skin and I told her it was only my arms and face, that working on a farm under a roasting sun makes you stay covered even if it made you warmer so I took the advice from Brother Bernard when he told me to keep my shirt on. I asked her about the note. What would she tell me of her dad's feelings about me? She deflected the real purpose of the question by telling me that Bobby was the only guy she trusted to get the note to me. I let it go and pulled her into me by her shoulder and savored the smells in her hair before kissing her full on the lips for a lasting minute – until someone walked past and gave us “a’ hem”. We chuckled knowing he couldn’t know how long it’s been.
I told her about the anti-war protestors (she immediately corrected me saying they’re called war-protesters); I didn't want to bring up the confusion with"peace protestors". The big protests on this campus were for Civil Rights, and there were people on campus who had participated in some of the freedom rides focusing on de-segregation of facilities all up and down Route 40. Marie told me about Michael and his girl friend named Penny who went to Swarthmore. Seems she was a big player in the Route 40 freedom rides. South of Boston, down the waters edge past New York City in Maryland, east of Baltimore is a little city called Cambridge where she joined their second ride into this city of segregated lunch counters, schools, churches and movie houses – but worst was lack of health care – if you needed a hospital, you also needed a car to take you 200 miles to Johns Hopkins where black doctors don’t have hospital privileges; but, at least, you are not turned away!
Penny and other students were on their way back to schools like Morgan, Howard, Lincoln and Bryn Mawr; all beaten, whites more so than the blacks. Not enough gains this summer and the ranks were thinning. Penny talked about how she had taken strength from the songs they sung.

"And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone If your time to you is worth savin' "
Bob Dylan

The stories Marie told me reminded me of Joey’s stories and both Cairo and Cambridge seemed to have predictable futures for a shrinking population, lack of customers for its’ stores and factories moving out of town with the new wave of corporations being formed creating more unemployment and even homeless people.
Both these cities represent an upheaval from old ways and pursuit of a new way of life. No longer was it acceptable to refuse a child to go to school. No longer was it acceptable to turn people away at the hospital front door. A man should be able to work if he can do the work and pray to his God wherever that may be. Many men and their families would have a home if they could live in a de-segregated society. These two small cities and others across America will be asked to be un-afraid of the future and trust to be asked for by their new leader. He had the foot soldiers, now he needed that support from every town and city across America including the capitol city on the Potomac River.

For the times they are a-changin’

Right turn onto the steps of 78 Mount Vernon and, she unlocks the outside door and goes up a flight of stairs into a hallway with three doorways – one for her front apartment and entry to a living room, the two rear doorstwo for two big bedrooms, each with its’ own bathroom, bed and desk and sofa and closets. Nice!

A shoulder to lie on, a body to embrace

Entering the room I felt a glow coming from
my inner self while I simply closed my eyes to breathe in the scents of my love. She asked for the duffel bag I carried and flung it into the corner. She goes to a radio and says she found a good station that had a good mix of “modern” music and flicks it on and The Righteous Brothers come forth as if on cue. She curls an arm across the small of my back, looks into my eyes and I want to read it as “nothings changed”. She rests her cheek on the muscles just below my collarbone and we begin to dance, a slow, swaying dance. We kiss softly and my hands fall onto her until our lips are simply rubbing and a small moan comes from her depths. I pull her hips closer into me and the swaying motion of our hips presses her harder against me and passionate pleasure slowly washes over us. We kiss harder now, as we dance and sway, our hearts race as we touch and hug and feel each other. The song slowly fades. She leaves me to go into the bathroom telling me to “get under the covers” and I’m momentarily asking someone who isn’t there what I’m supposed to do? Marie appears in a short white slip and I could already see her erected nipples to be a sign of how eager she is for the coming. I open the covers for her and wrap one arm around her, gazing into her eyes and I know we love each other.

Spent and exhilarated, exhausted and excited,

we lie hugging, warm and softly whispering private love-things to each other and we eventually fall asleep like this.

# # # # # # # # #

If the Potomac River is what gave Washington its’ bright reflections, it also made the darness much thicker. Here was Jack, trying to do a balancing act with Nikki and suddenly he found himself on a high wire without a net. Jack came back from Geneva a beaten man. Nikki was sure he had withered Jack down to a pansy; so he started sending missiles to Cuba in April to prevent an invasion by the Americans. At first he only sent surface-to-air missiles and surface-to-surface cruise missiles for the purpose of defending Cuba, but Jack had ticked him off back in ’61 by installing nuclear IRBM’s in Turkey; just 16 minutes away from Moscow. Nikki was gonna take one more step – in May he decided Cuba needed nuclear missiles and by July nearly 60 ships filled the ports and here’s how they found out. The head of the CIA was on his honeymoon and the French Intelligence Agency tells him about the Soviet missiles. So the Director of CIA finds a satellite-telephone and calls Jack from Paris. Well, Jack and Bobby and Rusk and McNamara have a meeting and they figure Nikki wouldn’t do that – mostly because the mid-term elections were coming and he didn’t want to influence them in any way (could it be he was afraid of Republicans). Well, it’s the end of August already so they do a fly-over and all they see

is the surface-to-air defensive missiles and, besides that, the Soviet ambassador said “nyet” to the existence or intent of offensive missiles. Jack goes to Congress and says everything’s O.K.;

Nikki had prevailed, again, for a little while.

He drank some vodka and went on a second honeymoon.

I awoke because my body was on fire! I put my face into her hair and at the end of this long day she was still fresh. Marie slept and I went to shower, thinking twice before soaping her off me; no denying I needed this shower – last being a thousand miles and two days ago. I fixed my eyes on her resting body and knew I couldn’t leave – especially now; we had shared each other deeply; yes, as so many have shared each other; all, they knew, in a special way. This was our first times and we were impassioned while those firing spots in our brain took us upwards to unseen and unknown places before bursting into rousing moments as finale leads to prelude. She awakened and turned to me opening her eyes and arms. As I sat onto the bed in my wet towel she rose up and stripped it from right under me praying I not wet the bed where WE will sleep tonight. But now she was hungry and flew into and out of the shower, her hair rolling in glistening curls to her shoulders. When her hair wasn’t wet, it had a fullness pulled higher by those curls; of course I’ve seen this many times at 12th street beach and would watch again the slow rising of her hair. I didn’t know where we were eating and I asked about how I should dress. She immediately asked where did I get those blue jeans and said it would be neat to wear them anywhere 'cause nobody on this campus was wearing them. So I reached into my second hand duffel bag to get my second hand blue jeans to slip over my old gym shoes that didn’t hold onto the gym floor any more. She told me I looked good; must be the shirt she bought me.

James Meredith rebuked,


for the last time.