Thursday, October 23, 2008

Writers Guild Office Boy 1970 (v)

Between the time I escaped the draft, stopped working for Newsreel and moved to the Bronx in April 1970 and the time I went down to the Newsreel office again in November 1970 to pick up the film on the 1968 Chicago antiwar protests that I was screening at Lehman College, over 7 months had passed. But, coincidentally, when I stopped by the Newsreel office, I noticed that two of the women Newsreel members in their 20s with whom I had worked in its high school organizing caucus, Karen and Sara, were each working with the films in the Newsreel office loft.

Both Sara and Karen smiled, said hello to me and seemed friendly. But neither seemed to have yet concluded, like I had concluded 7 months before, that Newsreel’s lack of an effective mass distribution network meant that its films were not going to be able to change mass political consciousness dramatically during the 1970s.

Sara was dressed more mannishly than she had dressed 7 months before and seemed to be both more radical politically and more of a radical feminist than she had been in March 1970. And Karen of Newsreel still looked as beautiful and revolutionary as she had ever been.

Stopping by the Newsreel office again and bumping into Sara and Karen again reminded me that I still admired Movement people--and the alternative media work they were doing (despite it being politically ineffective)--more than the plastic upper-middle-class, predominantly white male liberal radio and television writers and plastic corporate liberal mass media people I was meeting in my 9-to-5 straight job as a Writers Guild office boy in the Fall of 1970. And despite having dropped out of Newsreel over 7 months before, meeting Sara and Karen again reminded me that I still generally felt attracted more to U.S. women who were involved in doing Movement work than to U.S. women who weren’t as politically conscious or as politically active in the Movement.

So in late 1970 and in the early months of 1971, I attempted to show some moral support for Newsreel’s work again by donating some of the wages I was earning as the Writers Guild office boy to help fund Newsreel’s early 1970s work. In addition, I began to write a political analysis of Newsreel, from a male feminist antii-imperialist left perspective, which attempted to clarify why Newsreel didn’t seem to be making as much political progress between 1968 and 1971 as the SDS chapter at Columbia had made between 1966 and 1968.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Writers Guild Office Boy 1970 (iv)

The second evening ed course I took at Lehman College in the Fall of 1970, on methods of teaching social studies in secondary schools, was taught by a white guy in his early or late 30s who was then the head of the Social Studies Department at Jamaica High School in Queens. The ten other students in this class all seemed to be teachers in their late 20s or early 30s who were just taking the course in order to receive permanent licenses; and who all seemed to be culturally straight, non-intellectual and conventionally middle-class in their aspirations.

In contrast to the students in his evening secondary educational teaching methods class, the Jamaica High School social studies department head was intellectual, somewhat hip culturally and seemed to identify with the New Left Movement of the late 1960s, despite being in his 30s in 1970. You got the impression that when he was in college during the late 1950s, he had been some kind of a bohemian rebel.

I don’t recall much of what was discussed in this course, other than that the instructor and I usually expressed similar views on both what needed to be changed in the way social studies was taught in high school and what methods worked best in teaching social studies; while the conventional teachers who were in the class either just sat there without participating much in the classroom discussion or expressed more concern about how to motivate their students than on how to change the way social studies was taught and what was taught in social studies, so that high schools became agents for creating a more democratic society, instead of institutions that were run in authoritarian ways.

To pass the course, each student in the class was required to show the methods he or she would use to teach a social studies lesson in one of our evening class’s sessions. I can’t recall now at all what methods others used when they gave their demonstration lessons in the evening ed class. But I do remember that for my demonstration lesson I got the instructor to arrange to have a projector in the room for the evening class, so that I could screen a Newsreel film on the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention antiwar street protests for the class, as a prelude to a post-screening discussion.

Compared to the demonstration lessons the others in the evening class had done, my demonstration lesson seemed much more interesting to the instructor and to most of the conventional teachers who were taking this course--mainly because in 1970 the footage of the 1968 Vietnam antiwar protests that were included in Newsreel’s films had not yet been aired on the U.S. television screens. And the Newsreel film created the impression that more young people in their early 20s were really ready to make a Revolution in the 1970s than the U.S. mainstream television news programs seemed to have indicated to the older students in this evening class and to the older class instructor.

Not surprisingly, because I had been the student in his evening class who had stimulated him intellectually most during the semester, the Jamaica High School social studies department head not only gave me an “A” for his course on teaching methods. He also invited me to contact him at Jamaica High School once I got my teachers license and wanted to start teaching social studies in a New York City public high school.

But although I also aced the other ed evening course I took in the fall of 1970, by the time it came to register for the Spring Semester, I once again realized that being a high school teacher in the public schools while the Viet Nam War was still raging was, given my revolutionary anti-imperialist politics, not what I felt morally comfortable doing in the early 1970s, especially while other anti-imperialist activists from the 1960s had been forced to live underground lives as a result of the COINTELPRO repression.

Another reason I lost interest in continuing on the middle-class high school teacher preparation career track by 1971 was that when I visited the Newsreel office on 28th Street and Seventh Avenue again, to pick up the films I screened in my Lehman College evening ed course, it reminded me why I had previously rejected the teaching career option in favor of the Movement writer-activist-musician lifestyle choice.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Writers Guild Office Boy 1970 (iii)

The hashish that I smoked with Mary on our Saturday night trip to the Fillmore East had been obtained from John on Staten Island.

John was a white working-class guy who had grown up in poverty in Bedford-Stuyvesant, before eventually enrolling in Staten Island Community College and, subsequently, in the experimental upper-division CUNY school on Staten Island, Richmond College, in the late 1960s. By the time I met John in the Fall of 1968, when I enrolled at Richmond College for my senior year of college, John was into both underground anti-war journalism and psychedelic drugs.

John was both a good writer and a good editor. He had been one of the official student newspaper editors at Staten Island Community College. And in the Fall of 1968, he was one of the editors and founders of the anti-war student underground newspaper at Richmond College. But by the Spring of 1969, John seemed to be more into smoking pot and hashish, using psychedelic drugs and dealing pot, hash and psychedelic drugs on Staten Island than into underground journalism anymore.

In the Spring of 1969, John had a Volkswagen car, was usually high on pot, hashish or some psychedelic drug all the time, and had no difficulty driving around Staten Island, onto the ferry and into Manhattan while high on marijuana or hashish. He was into a hippie-love trip in the Spring of 1969. And, if you stopped by his pad in Staten Island to hang out for awhile, John was always very generous about sharing a joint with you, while you both listened to records and got into deep philosophical, metaphysical and political discussions.

After I moved from Staten Island in late May 1969, I didn’t see much of John on a day-to-day basis. But about every three or four months, I would usually spend an evening taking the ferry into Staten Island and see which people there from Richmond College that I might bump into while down there. And I would sometimes also spontaneously stop by at John’s pad and, if he were at home, we’d spend a few hours turning on together and I’d sometimes also buy some grass or hashish or mescaline from John.

So in the Fall of 1970 when I wanted to get some hashish and tabs of mescaline, I paid John a visit on Staten Island. When I got to his apartment, John wasn’t home. But his roommate at the time, a good-natured African-American guy who had graduated CUNY with a BA in engineering was at home, and we had an interesting chat about what kind of job market was then being offered to college graduates who had majored in engineering in 1970, while we waited for John to get home from work.

John’s roommate felt that his firm employed many more engineers than they actually needed for the Defense Department work they had contracted to do, because it enabled his firm to bill its clients more. And he felt that engineers like himself were just being paid to warm seats and not to do any actual work at his engineering firm. So he was already looking for some other engineering firm to work for that would provide him with a more challenging and interesting paying job.

After I had talked for a short-time with John’s roommate, John arrived home from his job at the local mental hospital on Staten Island. He was as friendly as ever and seemed high on something.
But after we smoked some hashish together and talked for awhile, John casually mentioned that now, in the Fall of 1970, he was using the needle and into heroin on a fairly regular basis, because he felt that nothing else could match the pleasurable sensation it gave him. But he wasn’t a junkie and was able to perform both his assigned work at the mental hospital and deal grass, hash, mescaline and acid as efficiently as he had been able to do before he started using the needle.

John also mentioned that some of our fellow working-class freak students at Richmond College from the Spring of 1969 had also gotten into heroin and died of overdoses, died from injecting some bad smack or become junkies. But John seemed confident that there was little danger that he would either end up OD-ing or becoming a junkie.

Like me, John assumed that in the 1970s pot, hashish, and psychedelic drugs would be legalized in a few years, heroin would be distributed,as required, to junkies at local hospitals and there would likely be a Revolution in the United States. But while he waited for the legalization of soft drugs and the Revolution to happen, John seemed to figure it made little sense to think in terms of doing anything else when not at work other than using the needle or getting high on psychedelic drugs for the next few years.

Shortly after I paid John for the hashish and tabs of mescaline he sold me, and still high from the hashish we had smoked, I left his apartment and started walking back towards the Ferry Terminal. But this proved to be the last time I ever spoke with John and I have no idea whether or not he survived through the late 1970s, the early 1980s, the 1990s or the early 21st century. I recall that there was some rumor during the late 1970s that John had either died of an overdose of heroin or been killed in some drug deal-related incident.

Yet this could have just been a rumor based on John deciding to move to a different part of the United States without having to let anyone on Staten Island know where he was going to live, for a variety of personal or business reasons. For all I know, John of Staten Island may have ended up just becoming a professional in the 1980s who married and raised kids. Although if he had been able to enter the upper-middle-class in the 1980s, he would probably have been the type of middle-class person who got into cocaine heavily during that decade.