Saturday, December 28, 2013
David Ehrenstein presents ... "High School Madness," a chapter from Raised By Hand Puppets
Hey, let’s rush ‘em” somebody said. It was typical autumn afternoon in 1961 on the Morningside Heights campus of New York City’s “High School of Music and Art,” and a group of us were engaged in our most beloved “prank” – “Rushing the Red Squad.” We would (almost instantaneously) form a pack and run up to the unmarked police car that was invariably parked in front of the building, yelling at the cops inside (some in uniform, some not). This would cause said cops to gun the car’s engine and take off down the street – to our considerable amusement. Then, roughly 10 to 15 minutes later the unmarked car and its cops would be back – parked in a different spot – to resume their activities, which consisted of taking pictures of students as they came and went from the building. The “Red Squad” was a permanent fixture of our lives, and my first exposure to the brand of government surveillance that Ron Paul-supporting cyber-spook Edward Snowden has with the help of “journalist” Glenn Greenwald turned into a “Major News Story” – for a spell. For what lay behind Glennzilla’s “scoop” was Standard Operating Procedure well before the ‘net was invented or Snowjob was born.
Why were our pictures being taken? Simple. “Music and Art” was the home of the so-called “Red-Diaper babies;” the spawn of radical leftists of the immediate postwar era. One of our number, Mike Zagarell went on to run for Vice President in 1968 on the Communist Party ticket. Mike was a familiar figure on campus, always leaping about with leaflets devoted to one extreme left-wing cause or other – the most memorable of them warning about the coming U.S. invasion of Vietnam. Some of us were interested in what Mike had to say. Most of us weren’t. Yes we cared about “Politics” but a fortiori we were all about “Culture” – with as Capital a “C” as possible. In the chorus we reveled to music as varied as Orff’s “Catulli Carmina” and Brahms’ “a German Requiem” This was “The High School of Music and Art” after all. This was the cradle/context that opened me up to Breton, Sartre, Shakespeare, Leonard Bernstein James Purdy, Gavin Lambert and Jean-Luc Godard. The Catcher in the Rye and Siddhartha were also popular, but not taken quite so seriously. We were primed for more adventurous fare to match our adventurous emotions. Laura Nyro (then Negron) was a classmate. “M&A” was the site of my first (de rigueur unrequited) love. “Un” only in the sense that he enjoyed kissing me, and nothing more “Strange twilight urges” blossomed like flowers in springtime as I discovered the stealth ménage a trois of Jeff, Bob and Marty, whose modes and manners seemed to me at the time to be conquering the front lines of the “homoerotic.” But as we were teenagers this was largely “pose” rather than “position papers.”
The only trouble I ever encountered on this sexual score was from a fellow African-American, who one day walking up the hill to school called me a “Faggot!” and punched me in the stomach. I was astonished I didn’t know this kid personally at all. But as asked him why he hit me he became terrified. What was going on was clear. He was gay himself, and fearful of that fact took out his self-loathing on me. Happily it was a discreet incident. He never launched a repeat attack. Au contraire he regarded me with not inconsiderable fear, poor bunny. Fear wasn’t part of the school curriculum. After all we were students at what the late great “Firesign Theater” would lovingly refer to as “Communist Martyrs High.” We feared no man – least of all the men of the “Red Squad.” What ever became of those pictures? They doubtless went into files that were being created for the delectation of the FBI and its closet queen boss J. Edgar Hoover. We were “subversives” that needed “looking after” much like New York’s Muslim community is monitored by the “Red Squad’s” successor today. When the Vietnam war Mike Zagarell had warned us about began in earnest the mini-protest he stage metastasized into a massive protest movement involving hundreds of thousands of young people who prior to this had never been involved in politics before. At “M& A” we had no expectation the “Red Squad” would physically assault us. The same couldn’t be said of those who witnessed the violence the Chicago police unleashed on anti-war protesters at h 1968 Democratic National Convention. And when on May 4, 1970 when the Ohio National Guard fired on unarmed student protesters at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine others (one of who suffered permanent paralysis) all bets were off. This horror had its sequel on May 14 in a similar massacre at the African-American dominated Jackson State College in Jackson Mississippi where two were killed and twelve injured. Happily such government-sponsored slaughter didn’t become the rule, stateside. Overseas we had our army do the dirty work – or the “death squads” of our “allies” (particularly in Latin America.) Americans, with a few exceptions (eg. Fred Hampton), were “safe” More or less.
Back in the early 90s I was hauled off an RTD bus in broad daylight, handcuffed and thrown to the ground with a revolver placed against my temple by a pair of police officers who had apparently “mistaken” me for a much shorter, much darker man. A few years later I had another “unfortunate” run-in with ‘the authorities” though this time race was not involved. A pair of Secret Service agents accompanied by members of the LAPD (gun drawn bien sur ) came knocking (loudly) at my door. They were inquiring about “threats” I had allegedly made to then President George W. Bush. Mystified by the charge as I had done no such thing, I discovered in our resultant doorway conversation (I refused to allow these people access to my apartment) that they were referring to a comment I had made in an internet chat room that was reported to them by the wingnut website “Free Republic.” It was quotation from Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II: “Remove their heads and let them preach upon poles for trespass of their tongues.” I was referring not to President Bush but the “Mainstream” media. Once my antagonists were informed of that fact – and who Christopher Marlowe was – they went away. Being that I had already experienced surveillance from high school on, as I was a member of the anti-war movement and a gay activist, these intrusions were par for the course. But this lesson learned “outside of class” wasn’t the only one my “M & A” years contextualized. There was also a clandestine love story.
One early afternoon in 1970 I was walking toward The Ramble in Central Park (for a little al fresco action) when I heard someone call out my name. I turned and saw a man pulling himself out of Central Park lake and rushing up towards me. It was the area of the lake near the boat house so it was rather shallow, but what he was doing in the lake (Fall? Pushed? Deliberately jumped in?) I never learned. That’s because Steve was talking too fast for me to ask any questions. Average height, “stocky” (but in no way fat) Steve was the classic “Hail Fellow Well Met.” He was always smiling at school. Always talking amiably to all and sundry. The smile and the amiability were still there but what he was talking to me about – in a massive torrent of words – wasn’t something to smile about He was talking about Nelson. The seeming opposite of Steve, Nelson was the Great Beauty. Chilly, removed, always speaking in a voice a few shades above a whisper his noli me tangere was both off-putting and alluring. Ever so many girls had thrown themselves at him recklessly – to no avail. None of the boys so much as tried. That he knew Steve at all save by sight astonished me. But as Steve explained it he knew Nelson not only personally but Biblically. Why did I not see this going on right under my nose? But then nobody else did either. Had that been the case the gossip would have been non-stop. I can just imagine Marty Fulterman (who invariably took me aside in the Boys’ Room for “the latest” about whoever) getting wind of this. But he didn’t. And the wind was quite intense. For while Steve wanted to go on forever Nelson wanted to get married to a woman. He did. And Steve told me about showing up at the wedding, pleading with him to change his mind and being dragged off screaming in protest.
And then as soon as he’d appeared Steve was gone – never to be seen or heard from by me ever again. Why did he choose me? Hell, what was he doing in the lake? There’s a song that explains it by Al Dubin and Joe Burke.
“This life's a play from the start,
It's hard to play thru a part,
When there's an ache in your heart all day
I have my dreams 'til the dawn,
I wake to find they are gone,
But still the play "must go on" they say.
When I pretend I'm gay
I never feel that way,
I'm only painting the clouds with sunshine.
When I hold back a tear
To make a smile appear,
I'm only painting the clouds with sunshine
Painting the blues beautiful hues,
Colored with gold and old rose;
Playing the clown,
Trying to drown
All of my woes;
Tho' things may not look bright
They'll all turn out alright
If I keep painting the clouds with sunshine.”
p.s. Hey. This weekend we get an incredible treat in the form of an exclusive preview of eminent writer of innumerable stripes plus d.l. David Ehrenstein's legendary memoir, years in the gestating and writing. It's full of David's consummate gifts at their very finest, and I hope you will enjoy the treasure. Thank you so very kindly, David. ** les mots dans le nom, Hi. Wonderful thoughts about writing, Celan, Bonnefoy, thank you. It was a joy to read and think about. I love small books, so that sounds perfect, and thanks for the mailing troubles. I know how that is. Ha ha, that cat bed. Not being much of a cat person, I think it would look even more great with a loaf of bread in it. ** Allesfliesst, I don't think anything Muppets would help me get into them. Their thing defies me. Humor is so delicate a transmitter. I'm no fan at all of NYE, never have been. I don't like parties, and I don't drink much or drink much when I do, and a metro system packed with drunks is not a fairytale for me, so the event's charms are elsewhere. If something is going on here that night, I might attend. Might go see the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower. Meh, but that's usually what I do that night if I do anything. Who knows? Never say never to nothing, I guess. ** David Ehrenstein, Thank you again so much, David. What a book this memoir is so clearly going to be! ** Sypha, Hi, James. Thanks for the Muppets link. I tried. I like Vincent Price. He made me wish it was a solo performance. But, you know, I like(d) the kid stuff things I grew up with like Bullwinkle and Captain Kangaroo and all of that, so yeah. It was a very good year for music, I totally agree! ** _Black_Acrylic, Cool about the completed script. Ah, you'll start it the day I go to Japan. Maybe that simultaneity is a good luck sign for both of us. It sure sounds like an exciting new chapter for you. I don't see how it can't be. ** Steevee, Hi. Great, thanks for the link to your top ten. Really nice list. I agree with you on almost all of the bunch of them that I've seen too. Very nice typo then. Everyone, I think you want to help complete your year in culture by clicking this and reading Steevee's Top Ten Plus films of 2013. ** Grant maierhofer, Likewise on the great to speak with you again thing. Yeah, 'THEM" is a great project, and really happy to add a little light to its existence. Cool, so you have 'TMS' with both the redacted under threat cover image and the legal one. Thanks a bunch for the DG video links. I'll use those as soon as I type the final period here. Well, technically after I push the 'publish' button then link to here on FB. You putting together a thing for this place is, of course, music to my ears. To my eyes too. Anytime would be great. I'm about to travel, and it always gets hard to keep the blog up to speed just before and after that. Thank you a lot for the thought, man. Very bon weekend! ** Gary gray, Hi, Gary. I snuck back and caught your lost comment, and thanks a lot for your faves list. I made notes. You know how I feel about nostalgia. It's a sworn enemy of mine, although I do like the confusion and weird emotional effect of being where you were in a form that doesn't fit as mindlessly and comfortably there. It's very unnerving, and that unnerving thing is a very rich, complicated source for stuff. Thoughts or emotions or stuff for the page. As you can imagine, I really like that writing apparatus. I like writing apparatuses in general, but I like yours in particular. It seems like it could totally work and be an exciting groundwork to paw through as well. Nice. Ha ha, sweet, thanks, about the sort of namesake. I wish my first name was Washington. Wow, that would be cool. ** Creative Massacre, Hi, M. Gee, that island looks really cool. What an amazing photo of it too. I just immediately want to be there when I see it. It looks so fragile or something. Not the island but the life built on it. And everything looks so sweetly dated, like it was built decades ago, which makes it seem like candy or something. I don't know. Seductive picture, and a place that will obviously be the footing for an awesome vacation. Sweet. Thanks a lot, pal, and enjoy your Saturday and Sunday. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. We have those Outback joints in LA, and the commercials at least were ubiquitous when I was there 24/7. And I think their commercials were really loud or disruptively crass or something. Apropos of almost nothing, they opened the first ever Burger King in France this week. Can't be good. I just hope that, if the American fast food encroachment has to happen, there'll be Taco Bells and Chipotle's and Poquito Mas's (especially) ruining everything here too. Persian food, yum, I think. Sure, I'll get LPS something from Japan. But help me out by being as specific as you can. Like, what plush character or what, like, anime or TV show or whatever does he like or whatever. Or whatever else. I need hints or clues or something 'cos there's a ton of cool stuff like that for sale there, and it would be too easy for me to accidentally get him something dorky. But, sure, no prob at all. 5'8"?! When did that happen? Wow, he's like an adult or a simulacrum or something. ** I guess that's that. Spend some of your weekend learning about DE's life in his lustrous prose please. And speak to him in some way regarding your reading experience, okay? Thank you. Great weekends to you one and all, and I'll see you Monday.
Posted by Dennis Cooper at 12:04 AM