April 27 – Mic and I are bustin’ out, leaving the campus scene. Georgia Southern is so, so parochial, provincial, so out of touch with what’s happening in the world. It’s the blue blazer / charcoal slacks / school tie capital of the South, the frats boozin’ and screwin’ their way thru life, making us sick on a daily basis. All the mindless little pretties with their titillating titties and gold chains against perfect tans. Bobbie Brooks cashmere. We’ve been showing up to class in unwashed jeans and old fatigue jackets from the Army Navy Surplus downtown for months now. Mine is particularly appealing with its big scar across the back where a gash was rudely sewed up, and BRIG stamped on it.
Because it’s just all been too much since Dr. King was gunned down. It seems like the entire country is going down to the dogs of hatred and violence. And that blind corner called graduation that ends our 2S deferments, leading directly to that pit of hell called the Vietnam War, makes everything seem dark, ominous, …. Dr. Rudoni says I should go to grad school in Con Law, and Alan says I could go to GW, study International Relations. But we all know Hoyt got drafted right out of graduate school, the most promising graduate assistant in the History Department, and not even Daddy Jack could get him off, and he’s gone, boot camp, cannon fodder, off to Vietnam most likely. Seems our nation doesn’t need historians or Constitution scholars right now, might make us think too much about what it is we’re doing over there in Vietnam. Might be looking into the history of the Vietnamese people and their millennia-long tradition of independence… never accepted occupation by any foreign power… centuries of resistance in the sure knowledge that eventually the aggressor would be driven out… — even drove out the Chinese… drove out the French, now they’re working on us. And we don’t even know it. No, let’s not have too many historians. Might destabilize the power structure.
It’s the middle of winter quarter, senior year, and we are seriously disaffected. Graduation seems considerably less desirable than it once did, but not graduating wouldn’t even help now, because the guidelines are calling for ending student deferment after four years, graduation or no. So June is just a blind corner. Maybe a six-foot deep hole. A black plastic bag. Not much to look forward to. We debate endlessly, searching for a reason for it all, searching for a reason to believe. The only good arguments out there are the radical ones. We may not be the scholars our professors want us to be, but the analysis is not too tough. The Big Fool got us into this morass that the French washed their hands of, and now nobody can figure out how to get us out. Do any of them really think there’s still a compelling reason to be there dying, killing innocent peasants? Can’t see it.
So now we’re off in Atlanta, hitched a ride with some friends going up for the Young Republicans Convention! We’ll just cruise Fourteenth Street, hangin’ with the hippies and the radicals. Rumor is there’s a march this weekend. Maybe we can hook up with the marchers, listen to some radical rhetoric.
Jarrell and his blue-blazer Republican buddies are buzzing it up in the Friday night mixer, so we drop in to have a drink and freak them out with Miki’s long hair and beard. Some guy in a blazer corners me, lecturing about the four laws of the universe, or is it three? He’s had a few too many and isn’t really sure. Seems to have something to do with school cafeterias, but I don’t quite get it. Then we split. Hit the streets headed for the corner of Fourteenth and Peachtree. There’s a black-lit bar in the basement with some band screeching away, flower children everywhere. We feel pretty conservative in our jeans and fatigues and college-boy haircuts – funny, we felt like freaks back up there with the YR group, now we feel like choir boys. I ask some gas station guy if he sells Excedrin, and he gives us a disgusted look – “Naw, but I got a bar a’ soap!” Weird.
And it’s a very weird night on the street. Several nights ago, someone fired a gun into the crowd from a passing car, shouting epithets, so now everyone is afraid, closed, staying dispersed. We’re just getting into a car in the parking lot to ride to another scene when a shot rings out from somewhere in the lot. We pile into the car and roar off, frightened and angry. We end up at the Twelfth Gate, a coffee-house on Tenth Street.
It’s a different scene, folk music and coffee, no psychedelics or rock-n-roll. We hook up with some of the members of Kindred Spirit, and they kinda remember us from when they played at the coffeehouse in the ‘Boro. Deborah’s feeling blue, holds me and sings me a song, but then she’s off to some other light of her life and I’m the one blue.
Then we meet Jim Cross, who’s also performing that night. He’s just in from Nashville, been playing guitar there for months, no one will listen, and he’s the best performer I ever heard! Says there’s hundreds of guys better’n anybody you ever hear on the radio just walking the streets of Nashville, looking for a job and a record contract. Jim writes songs every day. On stage, he reads them off the notebook paper he wrote them on, propped on a music stand, cause he just wrote them this afternoon or last night and he hasn’t had time to learn the words yet. And they’re great. He also plays the sitar. How well we don’t know, since one Ravi Shankar album doesn’t make you a sitar expert. But everybody seems to enjoy it, and we love it, and we make friends with him.
The three of us and some other people who just kinda follow along head off up to Peachtree Street later, talking about the war and the evil mood America seems to be in. Not much to do this time of night, so we walk down Peachtree for miles, it seems, to the fancy new hotel, the one with the revolving blue UFO on top, and go into the restaurant in the lobby and order coffee and vanilla ice cream at one-thirty a.m. The waitress looks at us like we came in on that UFO, but she pours our coffee and almost smiles as she sets the little dishes of ice cream on the table. We sit and watch the glass elevators with their rows of little lights, like Scheherazade, go up the wall to the rooms with their cute little balconies looking out over the huge open lobby and it seems like we’ve entered some kind of alternate reality. It’s too hard to grasp that this world and that one back at Fourteenth Street can exist in the same space-time continuum, much less in the same city, on the same street. The same kind of split we feel sitting in the student center on the GSC campus watching nightly news of the war. Can this be the same world? What is happening? And there’s just a big scream living inside your throat, all the time.
And we go back to the hotel full of Young Republicans and sleep on the floor with couch cushions for pillows and wake up with horrible headaches even though it was the Republicans who did all the drinking, and we drink more coffee and talk, and Jarrell says they’re all a bunch of shits but he just came to get extra credit in Mr. Richardson’s political science class cause he’s never gonna pass otherwise, and at least there’s lots of free booze even though they keep preaching about how there’s no such thing as a free lunch. He really is okay with that: free booze will make up for no free lunch anytime. So maybe he’s a Republican after all.
We find out the march is not this weekend, so we mostly just hang out and sleep in the hotel, head back to the Twelfth Gate that night to hook up with Jim again. We get there early and are jamming around on stage with him as he practices, and he says, hey, you guys come on with me tonight. It’s his style. So we do. I play one of his guitars, trying to get the chord changes in the right places, and Mic plays the tambourine. We have a great time and nobody in the audience seems to mind our spontaneous act. After the set, we sit around in a back room with some other folks talking, and Jim suggests we all write a poem and then go around and read them. We do. Jim’s is the best. He picks up his guitar and he’s got a new song.
May 10, 1968 – Back in Atlanta again, the weekend of the march. Got a ride with two girls going home for the weekend, no place to sleep, but something will turn up. Trust abounds. They drop us off somewhere near Peachtree and we walk a long time. Tired and hungry, we stop in some little greasy spoon with red plastic booths, sit down and wait for a waitress who never comes. After a while, we ask one who’s passing the booth for the fourteenth time if we could order. She keeps on walking, saying out of the corner of her mouth, “We don’t serve nobody wearin’ beads.” So Mic puts the beads inside his old burgundy parka and we say, “What beads?” as she passes again. She looks disgusted, but after a while, she takes our order. We have soup. We’re not feeling too comfortable here. I guess we’re just total freaks. I mean, my hair does touch the tops of my ears, and Mic’s is over his ears, plus a little fuzz on his chin. Otherwise we’re pretty much just average clean cut college kids on the weekend. But somehow we’re over somebody’s thin line. Things are weird here in America.
We head on up Peachtree and down Tenth Street to the coffeehouse. The march starts tomorrow morning at the induction center or some such place, then winds up in the park, Piedmont. It’s a pretty quiet night at the Twelfth Gate. We borrow some Day-Glo paint and I paint peace symbols and Stop the War on my blue workshirt, help make some signs. Everybody’s fired up for the march. We run into Lee – he loves Deborah too – and he says we can crash at his house tonight.
May 11 – Lee’s not marching this morning, but he’s got somewhere to go, so he drops us off at the march. Round and round in front of some post office-looking building, then down the streets, into the park. No shortage of radical rhetoric: speeches everywhere, little groups gather, costumes, mummers, street theatre: caskets are a big theme. The police keep to the perimeter. My head is spinning from sun and the confusion. I sleep under a tree for a while.
I’m sitting up again, in the haze of afternoon sleep, when Mic comes walking up with another guy, introduces me. He’s a friend from back home, Mic says, one of the march organizers, and says we can sleep at his house. We head over to the main stage where the final few speakers talk about the NVA and the ARVN and lots of other very confusing stuff. It’s hard for me to imagine that this has much to do with me, though I know the reality — it’s highly likely I’ll get drafted. I just can’t see myself in Vietnam, in any war. It just seems like anything as bad as this war will surely be over before next year. Now that everybody – at least all these thousands of people in the park — sees what it really is all about, they’ll just agree to stop doing it. Seems a pretty obvious conclusion.
When everything’s done and the roadies are packing in the equipment, we leave, go home with Mic’s friend. Home to a nice, quiet, very American, tree-lined neighborhood in mid-town. To a very homey little bungalow with heavy green eaves that make the house look wide, solid, planted in the earth. Inside is the headquarters of the SSOC, Southern Students Organizing Committee, the southern wing of the SDS, I discover.
On the living room table is a small green AB Dick printing press, and all over the living room are three-foot high piles of recently-printed materials: flyers, leaflets, tracts, posters. All of a radical revolutionary nature, as best I can tell without seeming too curious — or too naïve. The small stereo is playing “Le Sacre du Printemps.” Dimly I realize these people are the real thing. Revolutionaries. Though there is nothing threatening in the house or the people, I am trembling inside. All that conditioning from high school propaganda – “The World of Communism” and “None Dare Call it Treason” – kicks in. I try to relax, but I don’t say much. Just listen, but don’t act too interested. Act like I’m used to this sort of thing. I guess I’m afraid they may think I’m not radical enough to be trusted.
The night passes without incident, and Mic’s friend — who is a great guy, warm, kind, and funny though probably a Communist – takes us to meet our ride back to the safe, familiar world of Georgia Southern, where we are secure in our status as the most radical students on campus.