Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Most Dangerous Year

 Living is a sort of continuum; that is, it is a flow of events that are related to each other, have a certain cohesion, but vary from hour to hour as the life progresses.  It is possible for changes to occur and not even be noticed until some future point when you can look back upon them. 
     Think of your looks. We all have in our heads an image of ourselves and each morning when we awake and stare in the mirror we see that image. We might see a wrinkle here or a gray hair there and think nothing of it, but then one day we see a picture of ourselves from a few years earlier and, boy, have there been changes. Wo the heck is that creepy ld man? Anyway, life is that way. We don’t really notice some of the changes until later when we experience the consequences.
The couple in the first photograph certainly  look different from the couple a year earlier. This picture was taken in June of 1968, we were probably at my parents for one of our family birthdays and my mom was probably glad to see my current appearance. The long, sometimes shoulder length hair that both Lois and I sported previously was gone (See left and right.). We both had shorter dos now. My hair was still fashionably long. Its length constantly changed. Our outfits have become pretty pedestrian, although Lois looks a little Maoist in her brown suit.

The fact that we looked less rebellious in mid-1968 than in 1967 is a delusion for our appearance was deceiving. The life lived throughout 1967 continued on seemingly the same, but wasn’t. I was still working at Atlantic Richfield as a Regional Ledgerman, promoted to that position just that January. I was still doing my writing on the side. I was still an Atheist and we still took occasional parts in protests. We still did a lot of sponging off my parents for meals. In other words, time went by and we carried on as usual, at least we did as we entered 1968.
This is what makes writing an autobiography difficult. Each day may be different, but not by much. You don’t want to be writing, “I got up this morning. Drove to Paoli and rode the Pennsylvania Mainliner into Philadelphia. Walked several blocks to the ARCo headquarters where I spend several hours sifting through and matching up IBM punched cards. Went home by the same route in reverse. Had dinner with Lois. Spent a couple hours alone in a room with a typewriter producing a new story. Went down stairs and spent the rest of the evening with my wife.” That account was a typical day, but nobody wants to read page after page of a typical routine day. Therefore, you mention your daily life and then concentrate on those matters that weren’t routine.

Amidst the daily grind, this was to be a most dangerous year.
It was certainly a most dangerous year for the country. The changes in the air were signaled on the last day of 1967 in the New York flat of Abbie and Anita Hoffman (left). There along with the Hoffmans were Nancy Kurshan, Jerry Rubin and Paul Krassner and they formed a new group they called “The Yippies”.
"Yippies" stood for the Youth International Party and in 1968 they ran Pegasus the Pig for President. Unlike the Hippies, whose name they punned off of, the Yippies were boisterous, profane, visible and intrusive and known for their pranks and street theater. They were more militant than the Hippies. Two of the Yippie founders, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, later found themselves among the infamous Chicago 7. The appearance of the Yippies should have been a warning that the times were indeed a-changin’. It was clear we hadn't really given peace a chance.

The country was a torn by the Vietnam War and the divide was growing. There had been assurances that we had the Viet Cong on the run, they were in a weakened state, and every day we heard about the kills. We kept supposedly killing so many Viet Cong there surely couldn't be anyone left to fight. Then on January 30 there was a mass coordinated attack made on around 100 South Vietnam cities by the North. This became known as the Tet Offensive, and although our troops went on to defeat the North in this attck and drive them back, the massive surprise attack broke the U. S. Morale and more and more people turned against the war. In fact, a lot of people think we lose that battle when we didn't. (The kill stats being fed to us by the government during the Vietnam War really com to my mind every time I hear the present regime announce they killed another Isis Leader. It seems like Isis never runs out, though, doesn't it?)
 1968 was a Presidential election year. The Democratic Party was somewhat split. Early on a Senator, Eugene McCarthy (right), jumped into the race to take on President Johnson. McCarthy was highly critical of the Vietnam War and the youth were drawn to him. He was similar in this appeal to the young to Bernie Sanders. There were even a number of Hippies who cut their hair and shaved off their beards in order to support McCarthy’s peace movement and they coined a slogan, “Get Clean with Gene.”

McCarthy was doing quite well in the first primaries, but then Lyndon Johnson proclaimed on March 31 that he would not seek another term as President. This threw things into turmoil. Robert F. Kennedy, President JFK’s brother had stayed on the sidelines, but now he jumped in with both feet and began building a heavy following.
On April 2 Robert Kennedy campaigned in Philadelphia. He had a stop scheduled at noon at the Democratic Headquarters, which was located at 15th and Chestnut streets. I walked down to the intersection on my lunchhour. The place was packed, wall to wall people on both streets. The sidewalks were totally blocked and people kept spilling out onto the street. Philadelphia Police kept walking up and down along the ground yelling at everyone to stay on the sidewalk. They were none too delicate about it. They were referring to the pedestrians as Assholes and using the F-bomb profusely.
I came up behind the crowd from South 15th Street and pushed myself into the melee. In those days I was bigger than your average bear at 6 foot and nearly 200 pounds. There was ahead of me a small woman, who was being battered by the crowd and at one point with the cops herding everyone up against the buildings, she was in danger of being crushed against the stones of whatever structure lined that area. I stepped to her side and created a shield with my body to keep the surging crowd off her. I could withstand their shoving and pushing, but it was obvious she couldn’t and it was also obvious she was frightened. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t done that she would have suffered some kind of injury.
Of course, Kennedy wasn’t on time, which only made matters worse. The waiting crowd was growing impatient and the cops were growing angrier. People were beginning to defy the officers' orders and plunge more and more into the street and traffic. Then an hour late Bobby Kennedy and his group showed up. They eased into the crowd on Chestnut to the middle of the intersection. The flood gates opened, cop or no, and people swept into the streets and surrounded Kennedy’s open convertible. Robert stood up on the back seat and gave a speech and everyone there just cheered and cheered as I turned back to work. The small woman seemed safe enough. The herd had shifted forward and she had hung back out of dangers path.
Two days later Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. He was assassinated by a fugitive convict from the Missouri State penitentiary named James Earl Ray. Ray had a long criminal history. He was serving time for repeated offences when in 1967 he escaped from the prison in a bread truck. He moved around the country, underwent plastic surgery to change his face and in March took a long cross country trip from where he was hiding in Los Angeles to Atlantic, Georgia. He bought a .03-06 caliber Remington rifle in Birmingham and eventually went to Memphis to intercept King. For an escaped convict he seemed to travel around fairly easily. After killing King he drove from Memphis to Toronto, Canada. Two months after the assassination he was arrested in the Heathrow Airport trying to leave Britain. He was eventually sentence to 99 years in the pen. He died there in 1998 at the age of 70.
On the day after King’s death we were sent home from work by mid-morning. Tensions were high across the country. 150 U. S. cities experienced riot in the aftermath, and it was that fear that more or less closed businesses down, but a riot never broke out in Philadelphia. Some credit this to a stern proclamation issued under Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo. There were a scattering of a 100 people arrested under this proclamation, but there was no great outbreak of violence.
During the month of April, tone of the less threatening events occurred. The musical “Hair” opened on Broadway, declaring this the Age of Aquarius and bringing full nudity to the legitimate theater. If “Hair” was a celebration of the Hippie beliefs in peace and love, it wasn’t playing out that way in the real world at all. Perhaps it would have been a more peaceful world if everyone went about nude. Difficult to get into fights when you are feeling that vulnerable.
June 5, a few minutes after midnight on the West coast, Robert F. Kennedy was shot several times by Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan in the Ambassador Hotel. Kennedy had just won the California Primary and given a rousing speech on TV. He left the stage through the kitchen considered a more secure route when 22 year-old Sirhan stepped in his path and shot him with a .22 caliber revolver. Kennedy lingered through the night and emergency operations, but he was officially pronounced dead at 1:44 A.M. Pacific Time on June 6.
Lois and I were watching this happen at my parents.
Kennedy’s death opened wide the whole White House race for the Democrats. Senator George McGovern (right) was quick to jump in as a substitute for Kennedy. He split the followers of Eugene McCarthy. With Lyndon Johnson not running, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, the current Vice-President, decided to jump into the battle. Humphrey eventually won the nomination at the embattled Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The Republic Convention had taken place from August 5 to the 8th in Miami. Compared to Chicago it was relatively quiet, although there were some protests there. Chicago was a mess by comparison. It was held from August 26 through the 29 and every day seemed to bring violence between protestors and police. It culminated on August 28 when Police began beating a protestor who had lowered the flag in Grant Park. A full scale riot broke out and pushed its way even to the Hilton Hotel where Humphrey was staying. All of this played out before the TV news cameras.

The Republicans had nominated Richard M. Nixon (who apparently is for 4th Cousin). His runner ups were Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney These names would pop up in the future and dominate Republican politics, but 1968 belonged to Nixon.

There was a strong third party candidate that year, who actually won 13 percent of the electoral college. He ran on a segregation platform for what was called the American Independent Party. This was former Democratic Governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace. Shown here blocking the doorway of the University of Alabama when it was ordered to admit Black students. Wallace would become a near assassination victim himself. While running again for President in 1972, he ws gunned down in Laurel, Maryland. The wound left him paralyzed.

All this was pointless to me. I didn’t like any of them, just as it is this time around, only this time the candidates are much, much worse. On election day 1968 I went to the poles and voted for Dick Gregory and Dr. Benjamin Spock running as write-ins on the Freedom and Peace Party Ticket. Gregory was running nationally, but somehow he had different running mates in different states. In Pennsylvania, where I resided and was registered, it was Dr. Spock (as opposed to Mr. Spock). In certain states his running mate was the writer Mark Lane, who wrote the critique of the “Warren Commission Report” called Rush to Judgment. In other states it was David Frost. (Was that THE David Frost? If so, he was a foreigner not even eligible for the office.)

If this was the country then, what about me? Well, 1968 was a more dangerous year for my marriage than I knew.

No comments: