My review of The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats

The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats is composed of the writings of many who were, knew, or were influenced by the Beatniks, as they came to known.

The article by Douglas Brinkley titled The American Journey of Jack Kerouac is my best deep dive into Jack, and I am sympathetic to him. If only he exercised more Buddhist admonitions for compassion and self-control over his drinking, who knows, he might have given us a better model to emulate. Allen Ginsberg took that assignment upon himself and helped create a model for seeking youth to follow.   

It’s a welcome and timely read for me, as I’ve belatedly begun reading and trying to map out the influence they had on my hippie-yippee generation. Generation is the wrong word. I’m sick of the wholesale labeling of people born into a certain era as good, bad, or indifferent, especially as GREAT in some way or other. The so-called GREATEST GENERATION, meaning my father’s WWII generation, was also the very same Beat generation. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, et al were all a few years older than my father, who was a gunner on a Fletcher Class Destroyer who splashed a few Japanese planes in some of the big fights. At that same historical moment these still unlabeled Beats began their palling around and writing. Jack even served hazardous duty in the Merchant Marine for a time, from 1942 until he was discharged as a “schizoid personality” in 1943, perhaps because he announced he’d never kill anyone, even in self-defense.  

In fact, all these men and a few women, beat or not, were individuals, as different as they were similar. Jack even distanced himself from his fellow Beats in the sixties and rather than advising and mentoring the oncoming Hippie “generation,” again composed of many elder mentors like Tim Leary, et al, he turned into a sour, politically conservative alcoholic mama’s boy, expressing too little of his vaunted Bodhisattva compassion. I’m grieved to note that lack of compassion included his daughter, making him a deadbeat dad as well as an ingrate to so many who’d helped him. We must separate the man from his art and not deify our heroes as any more perfect or moral than mythic Greek Gods.   

Mythology can be fun, but it can lead us astray if we take it too seriously. Jack, for one, created a mythic persona to obscure much of how he wrote, even who he really was. His spontaneous prose style of writing was, according to numerous witnesses cited in this book, revised through countless drafts before a final draft was hammered out on his famous “scroll” fed through his typewriter, so he wouldn’t have to break his flow by inserting another page. How many earnest writers have been misled by this aspiration to be ‘spontaneous’ at all costs and got swamped by unedited gibberish? It sure didn’t work for me.     

September 11, 1973. A Day of Shame for America. Sponsored Coup d’etat in Chile — Lee’s Perspective

September 11, 1973. La Moneda Palace in flames – Santiago Chile – 9.11.1973 A Day of Shame for America. Chilean military fires on La Moneda Palace in Santiago – September 11, 1973 The American government. Encouraged. Sponsored. Backed. American media beat the drums to oust Salvador Allende with headline – Marxist Threat In The Americas […]

September 11, 1973. A Day of Shame for America. Sponsored Coup d’etat in Chile — Lee’s Perspective

Political Burnout

She slammed her laptop shut and screamed, “My anger has reached a goddamn fever pitch!”

Startled out of my catnap on the far side of the living room, I dropped the cat on the floor and jumped to my feet.

“Shit, woman! The cat freaked and I could of been clawed.”

“Well, I’m sick to death of these repugnant Republicans using human beings as pawns. The governors of Texas and Florida are putting people on buses and dropping them off out of their jurisdiction, sometimes in some godforsaken place like Martha’s Vineyard. Fucking politics, winning is all they care about, not who gets hurt for them to prove a point.”

“That’s why we vote blue, Hon. WE can’t even trust so-called moderate Republicans to do what’s right. Right?” She glared at me; my attempt to calm her only pushed her buttons more.

“Moderate Republicans my ass! These are the same Republicans that quote the Bible as they do unkind things and spin the truth for their own benefit. I just can’t take it anymore. Maybe I need to check myself into a mental hospital or something before I have a breakdown or a heart attack or, or… Will you drive me?”

We had to go beyond words. I grabbed her thrashing arms and hugged her tight while shushing in her ear.

She pushed me away. “We vote, we donate, we actually win the popular vote, then they pull some hat trick with electrical college or what the fuck it’s called.”

“Electoral College.”

“Don’t you man-splan shit to me while I’m pissed off!”

“Okay, look. You just need to step back and forget everything a while. The whole world is too heavy to carry on anyone’s shoulders, mine too.”

She flopped on the couch, pulling me with her. ‘Alright, tell me what I should do.”

“I get it, there’s no escape from bad news. We’re like soldiers at war, except we’re fighting for justice. How do soldiers do it?”

“They get R&R.”

“Right! Don’t you think we need R&R too, just like the enemy. We don’t stop caring, we just take a break to recharge and heal. Get it? Us humans are not cartoons that can get back up after a truck runs us over.”

“Then I’d find peace.”

“Why rush it, death is inevitable anyway. But let’s start from there. What the fuck have we got to lose? We’ll die anyway no matter what they do. Can we be as crass and selfish as them?

“No fucking way, man”

“I’ve seen jail, the Booby Hatch, slander, ridicule by those I’ve loved who turned into Q-Anons, physical & emotional abuse from bosses, co-workers, spouses, ah, not you, Hon. The list goes on. Hey! Let’s laugh at it!”

We both made a feeble attempt and it felt so ridiculous that we ended up laughing for real. She finally caught her breath and let out a deep sigh of recovery. “We gotta do that more often.”

“Yeah,” I played with the top of her blouse. “And make more love too.”

She fixed me with a crooked leer. “Alright, big handsome boy, make me a cocktail and we’ll see where it takes us.” She hadn’t called me that in a long time.

She held both glasses and I carried her into the bedroom. It had been a long week, a longer month, but we took all the time we needed to make up for it.

Rush Limbaugh Gone and Forgotten

Rush is gone to his inevitable reward, whatever that may be. Who’s that? Good question. Will anyone miss him? Uh… don’t know. Did he leave warm feelings behind for us to treasure his memory? Hot hatred for sure, oh, and hot ash from his cigar, probably still in the ashtray. Other than that, the silence is deafening.

I heard that Cape Girardeau, Missouri was his hometown and that there was a little shrine to him there, long before his death, even before his drug use was known beyond his dealer and public relations managers trying to keep his public image clean. That is, if such a screaming, antisocial conservative could ever be clean.

Hey, I had relatives in Cape Girardeau too back in the day. My great-grandma lived there, at least in 1920 when she appears on the census and briefly cared for an aunt, and maybe her soon-to-be widowed husband too, following the inevitable fate of all flesh. Tales of her wild lifestyle, rum-running, and divorcing multiple husbands, came down to me as a cherished legacy. The gossip of now gone aunts painted her as the black sheep of my mother’s family, but at least she lived with gusto. I copied down that oral history just in time, before the rest of that generation vanished from our mortal plane. I was able to document some of it, the overlapping marriages and divorces anyway, that helped me fill in her partners in crime, or at least debauchery, during the ravages of Prohibition and the earlier patchwork of wet and dry counties that offered bootleggers a ready market. Great grandma was colorful to say the least, but I felt ever more sympathy for her the more details I uncovered.

Born in “the hills and hollers” of southern Illinois along the Mississippi, seduced and impregnated at fourteen by a well to do farmers son, she had a rough start. He didn’t, or wasn’t permitted to step in as the daddy, so her next son, my grandpa, had another father, but then the first came back to father a third boy, before he up and married a “Lulu” of a girl, leaving Great grandma to marry yet another fellow, who may have been her first bootlegger. Sad to say, that union didn’t last long. Suicide by drowning, but the newspaper reports didn’t give his reason, other than that he often spoke of ending his existence.

After she dropped her boys in an orphanage, her trail grew cold. She popped up in Seattle before winding back to Cape Girardeau, but whatever relations with men at the time are a mystery until she snared an ex-tavern owner who married her despite never divorcing his other wife. And the beat went on.

So, you may ask what is the connection to poor dead Rush. Absolutely none, I’m happy to say. While Rush lies unlamented in his grave, Maggie, for all her wild adventures, was missed, and even by those scandalized wagging tongue women especially by those who never met her except in legend. We all gotta go sometime, so let’s go out in style. Viva Maggie!

Running the Walk

“Hey Ron,” Barb called out to me. She sat under the shady trees in the park with friends. “Are you going to the Walk for Development?”

“What’s that? A protest march.” I was on probation but anxious to get back in the Revolution.

“Not exactly. The Young World Development Committee is a group that’s raising funds for worthy causes like the Havasupai Indian Project.”

Jill, one of her freakier friends added, “You’ve been to Arizona, right, Ron? That tribe lives on a remote, cramped reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.” She nodded with enthusiasm. “Then, on a local level there’s Project HOPE, Homes of Private Enterprise, a nonprofit organization based in Wheaton, buying, and rehabilitating older homes in DuPage county for families on welfare. It’s Sunday May 3rd, jeez, that tomorrow, isn’t it? Do ya wanna come?”

It was 1970. I’d been crashing in their girl’s college dorm since April 22, the very first Earth Day. The gals were pretty, but, sad to say, our relationship didn’t progress beyond the platonic. It had been a long dry spell for me, and I needed a touchy-feely girlfriend. Maybe I’d meet some cool chicks along the way on this walk.

It was to be a thirty-mile trek through several Chicago suburbs, from the start line at Willowbrook high school in Villa Park to Wheaton via Lombard and Glen Ellyn, making several loops through Elmhurst to end up at the start line. That shouldn’t be a problem for me. I jogged between my parent’s place in Wood Dale to Elmhurst College on a regular basis and considered myself in excellent shape.

“You need to get sponsors,” said Barb. “You know, businesses, like grocery stores and such, to pledge a sum to donate for each mile you walk.”

“Cozying up to business owners isn’t my forte, Barb and it’s tomorrow, right? That’s too late. Maybe if I heard about it beforehand…”

My pal Bob shook his head when I told him. “Thirty miles? Are you fucken crazy, man!”

“Well, Bob, some people would rather grab some adventure then spend all day smoking dope and listening to Rock and Roll. Dig?”

At the student union they were running a carpool shuttle to Willowbrook high. I joined the milling crowd behind the start line shortly after seven a.m. They were all strangers to me. Clunky combat boots were my only footwear. I wore jeans and my Army surplus jacket against the morning chill, even though I’d have to carry it as the day and the exertion made me warmer. When I approached the table to sign in, they asked who my sponsors were.

“Uh, well, I don’t have any.”

She looked at me funny. “Well, you need sponsors to sign in.”

“Ok,” I walked away from the table, an undocumented participant.

The crowd grew, estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000, so many people that they decided to turn us loose four minutes before the official start time at 8 o’clock sharp. We took off walking elbow to elbow in a giant herd that soon began thinning out along the road. Most of the chicks I met in the first few miles claimed to be with someone. Then I got lucky, falling into easy banter with a petite brunette and her none too ugly blond girlfriend.

“We’re high school students from Western Springs.”

“Oh, yeah? If I hadn’t dropped out to join the Revolution I’d be graduating as a senior this spring.” I started a long rambling dialog, hoping to wow them with tales of my heroism facing the Pigs on the streets of Chicago last fall, but noticing their lack of enthusiasm I cut it short.

By the time we made it to the first refreshment station we three seemed to be good friends. There were twelve checkpoint stations set up along the route where registered walkers had to check in and grab free sandwiches along with fruit juice or water in paper cups. I’d not had much to eat and  was glad for the food, and gobbled whatever they offered, even when it was bologna on white bread, not my preferred fare.

Bathroom relief was another comfort offered at specially marked houses along the route. Kindhearted family members stood outside to direct us to the John. I patiently waited for my two ladies to finish, shrugging off the temptation to forge ahead as I watched with envy as fitter couples blew on passed. I thought it was darn gallant of me to move at their pace.

The girls were smiling more at my jokes, and I saw a flicker of interest cross those lovely brown eyes. I was plugging for the brunette and walking between them, took her and her friend’s hand too. A guy had to hedge his bets, just in case, because you never know.

The brunette suddenly dropped my hand as we approached the third check point.

“Oh, shit, that’s my dad!”

“How are you holding up, honey?” Her Dad waved, smiling at his precious brown-haired girl.

“I’ll make it.” She assured him, grabbed a juice, and continued on without introducing me. He was waiting at the next one too and then each check point thereafter, so she brushed away my proffered hand to go it alone. Gradually, this girl who’d entered my daydreams, was flagging and becoming cross and irritable with me. Maybe I’d bet on the wrong horse.

Her friend still had energy, but since I’d directed so much attention on the brunette, she’d moved to walk on her far side and her polite smiles didn’t seem meant to entice.

We climbed a steep section at Hill Avenue in Glen Ellyn. Up and up and up we climbed and then trudged downhill as others more fleet of foot passed by. I tried pep talk.

“You can’t give out!” The brunette’s listless glance told me I wasn’t helping. “Here, I’ll carry you!”

And I did, hoisting the pretty lass on my shoulders to straddle my neck. Then her friend and I picked up the pace. Even with her petite weight I got my second wind and felt invincible, jogging in triumph to the crowd’s applause. On we flew through two check points, passing many of the weary couples who’d passed us, and waving at her dad who cheered us on. Could she have been embarrassed about her Dad seeing us like this, or was she only tired of it, tired of me! At the next check she begged off.

“Just drop me here and go ahead,” she urged. “I’ll be alright, my Dad will pick me up.”

“But will I see you again? Can I have your number?”

 “Gee, I don’t know. I mean maybe we’ll meet again some time.”

“Maybe?” After all my effort to wow her, I couldn’t let both her and her friend slip away without some hope of reunion. Her friend, who’d been holding up very well until then, gave me a sideways glance. I wondered if I could switch horses in midstream. Not with her friend still astride my shoulders.

“How about you,” I asked her friend. “Giving up with her?”

After a long pause, with her eyes downcast, she spoke. “Oh, I’d better stay with her.” But I knew she’d rather finish the course.

I squatted and dropped off my mount and waved her aboard. “Climb on if you’re tired! You can finish riding on me.”

Her eyes pivoted between me and her girlfriend, as if weighing her options. “No, I’d better stick with my friend. Her dad is my ride home.” Then her eyes lit up. “Sometimes we hang out at the Union or that park in Elmhurst.”

“Wilder Park?” My hope sprang anew. “There’s going to be a concert there in a few days, on May 9th. I could meet you then or at the student Union tonight, or whenever you like.”

“Sure, maybe we’ll see you at the finish line.”

With that vague promise I felt as frisky as a colt and unburdened I jogged onward, passing whole regiments of frazzled walkers who’d been passing us by all day. Some warned me to take it easy, but I knew they were pooped out and sour at eating my dust. I flew passed one check point without stopping, then gulped downed two cups of water at the next and got the heartening encouragement of the volunteer staff.

“You’re almost there, man, pace yourself!”

I alternated between a dog trot and a brisk walking pace. Spectators all along these last miles cheered me, which fired me up even more. With all my trekking between Wood Dale, the West End and Elmhurst, I was in decent shape. I hadn’t let my time in jail sap my will or my wind. The girls would be waiting for me at the finish, I told myself.

As I came up on station number 11, A volunteer yelled. “This is the last check point before the finish line. You’re making it man!” A spectator yelled, “It’s just straight on from here!”

Getting ever closer, I broke into a run as I turned onto Harvard Street and crossed Jackson. The finish line at the school was just ahead and then I was there, my heart bursting from my chest as I joined those stalwarts who’d preceded me and flopped down on the grass, overwhelmed by a combination of dizzy exhilaration and fatigue.

I’d done it! Of the original 20,000 who began only 6,000 finished the full marathon walk. It gave me some sense of pride, some macho hubris, to know that I’d made it. The committee raised over $200,000 for various projects, although, as an undocumented member, I wasn’t in their statistics and earned them zero. But hey, I was no goddamned Suburbanite Middle class American kid. I was an outsider, a Revolutionary, a stranger in a strange land and proud of defying the corporate structure.

When I got back up on rubbery legs, I searched the crowd for my erstwhile companions. There I saw my little brunette beside her dad. She saw me too and gave me a curt wave back so her dad wouldn’t see in that cool, brusque, dismissive way that communicates less than Hello and more than Goodbye. I’d have been embarrassed too. Girls have different relationships with their fathers than guys do, an Electra thing, sort of like an Oedipus complex. Her friend spotted me and waved with a little more vigor, so I approached, thinking I should have been trying for instead.

“Too bad you two didn’t make the finish.”

“Yeah,” the friend said. I didn’t want to miss my ride home. Maybe we’ll see you again someday.”

But it wasn’t to be. The next day was Monday, the 4th of May, the day our sky fell with the Kent State massacre of college students. The fast sweep of events shook America and altered our dreams of love. 1970 was an action-packed year for me, for all of us. Goodbye my dear would be lovers, wherever you are.

My Review of Charles Bukowski’s Book Post Office

I’d seen and enjoyed some of Bukowski’s work with Ron Crumb’s comix but hadn’t read any of his books or poetry. When a reviewer compared MY book, CHICAGO RAGE to HIS writing, I just had to dive into his POST OFFICE and look for resemblances. It’s a novel, but reputed to be autobiographical, a window into his mindset, as are my memoirs that read as novels.  

His main character is either drunk or hung over all the time, whereas I’m only an occasional imbiber who favors psychedelics over the hard stuff. His fascination and lustful desire for the female body matches mine, however he shows little empathy for those he beds beyond his own gratification. Well, okay, he paints a stark portrait of the all-too-common man, too many of whom I’ve written about. I suppose he’s being honest about his motivations, but even a guy down on his luck, enveloped in an alcoholic haze, ought to have some flicker of interest in his broader horizons.

His portrayal of the hostile workplace is spot on. Employees are verbally abused and ground down, used up, their only reward is to be thrown away as worthless empty shells to be replaced by fresh meat for the grinder. The American work culture is remorseless and often as pitiless and deadly as a fascist labor camp. De-fanged labor unions may be powerless to address these issues head on because achieving broader goals in the Realpolitik power-play with entrenched management often necessitates compromise and sacrifice for the greater good. I’ve been there.

I couldn’t identify or sympathize with his character’s lack of effort at understanding womankind, much less his sad-sack workmates, until his divorce. Then his character, still valuing booze over the affection of his ladies, makes more of an attempt at some show of minimal gratitude for all he’s received on a one-way street of emotional and financial support. That gets a low-key BRAVO from me.

But then there is the birth of his child and the death by booze of an ex, sad tales of distracted interest that should inspire the reader to forswear drinking and wrap his/her arms around those precious beings in his/her own life.

Yes, the book is worth reading, adding to the sum of our experience and as a warning not to emulate a near-sighted drunk. I hope the real Bukowski is more of a Mensch than his cartoon character. Maybe I’d like to have a beer, even get drunk with him some time. Or maybe we ought better to trip on LSD or Magic Mushrooms and explore the death culture from another angle.

My New Book Coming Out

Great news, my new book is accepted for publication! And so it is on the way to editing, cover design and all the necessary steps it takes before landing in the reader’s lap. As a new author, getting published is like climbing Mount Everest, but getting to the top of a lesser mountain can be just as exhilarating. I’d only gotten ‘thanks but no thanks’ from agents who told me my genre wasn’t marketable right now. ‘Try back in a few years.’ I should live so long.

I mean REALLY, I’m 70 freaking years old now, the same age my father and both of my grandfathers died. Sure, I’m still healthy, trying to follow the usual recommendations of eating right, exercising, getting more sleep than I was able before my semi-retirement, but even so, my cholesterol remains higher than it should be. The obits of friends and classmates keep reminding me of our common mortality. Time’s a wasting.

Sending queries direct to the big name publishers got similar ‘sorry’ responses, but I kept at it, sending my words to small and far distant publishers, even offshore. Then success at last. Or was it? I almost didn’t believe it. Maybe it’s a scam. I’d been getting so many of those, promising book and even blockbuster movie deals, but at a steep cost. They almost hooked me too, because flattering interest is a beguiling oasis to one crawling across the hot desert floor of rejection.

It is a small press but legit and we all have to start somewhere. New hurdles arise. Marketing is an ogre, even by a bigger publisher it may not be enough to get your book noticed. The market is ruled by the same invisible economic hand that moves the consumer of other goods. You can become lost in a swirling sea of ‘social media’ attempting to plug your book, even finding an audience–on the media. That doesn’t always mean they will shell out to PAY for your book. Don’t expect to get rich or even break even until by some lucky stroke, a typo of fate, perhaps a love affair with a celebrity, you become the next Steven King. That may come posthumously, so don’t hold your breath.

Maybe you are like me, a struggling writer, balancing work and family, with a nagging goal to craft a message that should withstand the passing of ages, a legacy for future generations! Maybe you too have read and studied under writing coaches who applauded your efforts. You have re-written, honed your literary effort as best you can without losing the message you need to convey. You are ready. Do not give up hope. Persevere. March or die across the vast Sahara. You are doing it for love of your tempestuous muse. Some flesh clothed reader in this harried world will appreciate it. Write on!

Woke and Wide Awake

Woke was preceded by Wide Awake long before Lincoln and the Civil War, as this article below exemplifies. Then as now, bumper sticker slogans could not encapsulate the depth of political positions. But racism and sexism were the undercurrent that fueled the divisiveness that tore our nation apart. Their fear was “buck,” that is male Negroes, who they assumed white women would reject, more so than black women who as subordinate sexual partners–that is unfree, un-legitimized sex objects for white men, were not a threat to the status quo. Their fears came true when white women became as free as men to choose and “mulottoize,” that is diversify the gene pool. Sex brings us all back together in the Garden of Eden.

When the Jehovahs come knocking

I like an occasional debate with those I disagree with, but if they only want to beat their own drum and denigrate my reasoned rebuttals and refuse to even consider them it’s not worth my time. Conservative Religions are a case in point. I once rode over the Khyber Pass with an Islamic missionary who tried to convert me as I enjoyed the scenery, which included farmers plowing their fields with automatic rifles on their shoulders, murderous feuds and banditry being endemic there long before the Russians, followed by the Taliban and us. His insistence that I simply accept Mohammad as the one and only “Seal of the Prophets,” after which spiritual revelations come to a dead stop, and I must do so at the cost of abandoning all other worthy spiritual paths. Well, it didn’t sit well and I told him my Buddhist take on direct access spirituality. His anger was tempered by perplexity. How could I, raised a Christian, not accept without question the faith I was born into, until that is, the final installment, or newer testament, in the form of Mohammad, was revealed to me? Didn’t I realize that all other paths, besides the Abraham descended ones, led to the fires of hell? My disagreement was tantamount to blasphemy.

Change the names and places and I encounter the same incurious closed minds among Christians of various persuasions. Jehovah Witnesses being a prime example. Nice folks when I worked with them selling insurance door to door in South Dakota. That job allowed them to sell jewelry on the side, and, you guessed it, espouse their faith with free Watchtower literature and gentle prodding to accept their only one way truth and be saved from the eternal fires of the very hell Muslims feared. Fear and thus hatred of the satanic other is the common thread of all these dogmatic beliefs.

Long before and after, I’ve been accosted, nay, harried by Bible thumping missionaries trying to save my freethinking ‘soul’ by any means necessary. Well-meaning Christian friends have led me into ambushes disguised as friendly dinners and social gatherings similar to the Amway marketing technique. I try to be polite, but I was hungry and the promised food came much later if at all. Fire and brimstone spews at me when I rebut them and I’ve come to rely on sterner strategies to keep them at bay.

Door knockers can be just as obnoxious in their approach. Jehovah Witnesses once interrupted my shower and I grabbed a towel to open the door, expecting friends, maybe even lovers. The well dressed couple seemed embarrassed giving their salvation spiel to a dripping wet half naked man, but unrepentant Hippie that I am, I’ve no prurient shame in my natural flesh and found their discomfiture funny and the blushing woman attractive. At least I could get a chuckle if I have to endure hearing the same old tune. The nervous man finally asked me if there was a better time to come back, which I didn’t want to encourage, so dropping the towel about my loins, I cut it short, uncovering my immodesty at the threshold. Opps! They beat a hasty retreat, never to return. I’d found the best way to get rid of unwelcome interruptions.

Now, if they’d wanted to stay and join me in the shower? After all, saving precious water in a drought makes us good stewards of our Planet. Well, that could have made for a different, more pleasurable ending, perhaps I’d even convert them to my Satanic lifestyle.

Which reminds me of my encounter with the Christian LOVE family. Ah, yes, God’s whores, they called themselves. If only I’d known. But, busy now, that must wait for a later telling.