The Weathermen stumbled into Larry’s life on a languid fall Sunday down on Calhoun Street in Cincinnati, a stretch of road just off from the University. A street that catered to the listless.
Lined with hamburger shops, diners, tiny hole-in-the-wall international restaurants, bars; Larry and his buddy Daltry Brewer walked it undecided about where to drink a beer. They talked about baseball.
“Pick up your feet Larry.” Daltry pointed up the street with his chin. “You walk like one of them hobo cats up the street.”
“Bad habit.” He looked at his feet. “I welcome laziness after being on the move so much in Nam.” The left leg ached. Rain threatened. Larry pushed away the hot memory of splintered shrapnel peppering his body. He didn’t complain about the ache because didn’t want to mention the dead American slung over his back when he got hit and not mentioning would’ve seemed to dishonor the grunt’s memory but bringing it up in the moment would seem a senseless afterthought. He put both feelings; the emotional and the physical quickly away. Damn. Kenner had been a heavy guy. “Shit Daltry. Make up your mind where you want a beer.”
“We’ve gotta find some place with something a little better than Schaeffer or Hi-Lite.”
They passed the large Catholic church facing the UC campus on the corner of Calhoun and Ohio with a tiny Shell service station advertised by a large yellow sign sitting across the street.
“I need to sit a minute.” Larry groaned, bracing his left knee with the palm of his hand to sit on the Church’s cold granite steps. “Umpf!”
“How you think the Mets’ll do?”
“If they beat Atlanta they could make the Series.”
“At least they’ve got Seaver going for them.”
Daltry recited a laundry list of what team had done what during the last year and vetted an opinion as to whom-should-have-done-what on the Mets to have changed their fortunes the last season.
A slight, chilly breeze sunk its claws mercilessly through Larry’s jeans. Trash blew about the street and he tuned out his friend, nodding politely at important points. Small bits of airborne paper intermingled in the air with discarded delivery slips, candy wrappers, restaurant tickets, and crumpled parking violations. Larry tracked the flight of even smaller scraps of paper that managed to get airborne, then noticed several forlorn sectionals skipping barely an inch off the ground like paper magic carpets afloat on a slight air.
“Say Daltry. You ever had Vietnamese food?”
“You mean like Chinese food?”
“Not even. Heard they had Pho place open up nearby.”
Daltry looked confused.
“Soup with noodles.”
“Forget it. Let’s just go to Papa Dino’s. I’d rather put a rock in my belly. I eat Pho, I’ll be hungry in two hours.”
Daltry smiled “You know they’ve got Peroni? I’ll buy.”
Before rounding the next block, they again faced Calhoun Street’s other drawback besides litter, societal slugs Larry called loafs; the type of people comfortable with a parasitic life who never have to answer to society as long as they scrounge around a university.
Same two from earlier. Larry hadn’t recognized one as a girl.
“Get some change. They spotted us.”
The guy approaching them seemed embroiled in an identity crisis’ over being a hippie, or a Hell’s Angel. He wore a patchwork multi-colored shirt underneath a German Army field jacket and he reeked a confused duality. His shredded brown boots poorly swallowed the bellbottom jeans shoved haphazard down their throats.
A hunting knife was strapped to his left leg.
He was right handed.
His female companion sported a soiled green linsey-woolsey blazer and tight blue jeans that did nothing for a lanky figure giving her the look of a knotted tree-twig encased in soote’d plastic shrunk over it with a lighter. Her hair fell cut just above the collar and had no form. A small white canvas bag several shades lighter than her complexion hung long and low over he left shoulder.
Both looked so thin that if they exaggerated a smile their gaunt skin would rip. The lifestyle hadn’t worn them well.
Both looked nearer to forty.
He was in his mid-twenties, the girl in her teens.
The male acted tough but flitted his eyes erratically between Larry and the ground. A bent arm across his chest clamped a number of mimeographed tracts.
Larry shrugged an ‘I don’t know’ look at Daltry and held a quarter by its edge at arm’s length. The guy dropped a clawed hand over it and secreted it deep into his jacket’s front pocket. He said nothing and signaled the girl with a nod to reach into her canvas bag for papers like what he clutched at his disheveled side.
“No thanks for the quarter?”
The girl made a noise more chirp than chuckle. The guy held a stare on Daltry.
The girl handed both a tabloid sized paper larger than what Larry figured a mimeo machine could produce. He stepped back from the transaction making enough space to snap the paper flat in front of him with both hands and take stock of the front page.
Comic strip caricatures straight from MAD Magazine filled the bottom half of the page below a large mimeo blue balloon with letters reading: “CLASS WAR!”
“What’s this shit?” Daltry mumbled under his breath.
Speaking for him, the girl motioned sideways as if presenting a Broadway actor, “Outlaw wants you to read.”
As she spoke, the girl rocked forward, back, and from side to side like tall grass in an uncertain breeze.
They learned her name was Joyce. She’d finger-painted it on the side of the canvas bag she held against her body.
Outlaw spoke. “Are you going to Chicago to kill the pig?”
“What?” Larry asked.
“Come on man. The national action in Chicago? You been hiding under a log or something? Look at the paper—Shit—Joyce?” He wanted her to explain.
“Give ’em the other flyer, this guy looks straight enough.” Outlaw nodded at Larry. “No charge.”
Outlaw’s orders muted Joyce’s gyrations. She reached into her bag and fished out another wrinkled flyer. It demanded the United States withdraw from Vietnam, all foreign countries, and all black and brown communities throughout America. BRING THE WAR HOME, the paper displayed in block letters.
Larry crossed his arms and looked stoically at the man.
“Aren’t you guys are a little late? Nixon announced troop cutbacks this week?”
Outlaw’s eyes widened and he spun at Daltry who’d asked the question, “You believe that bullshit? You believe that fascist in D.C.? The war makes him rich. He supports the capitalistic pigs in Saigon like he supports the capitalistic puppets in Latin America against the people. The world is suppressed everywhere man. America’s is the mother-pig and Nixon’s its master!” He turned on Larry. “You dig war too?”
Larry didn’t dig war. War. This war. That war. Any war. The asshat in front of him never had a buddy bleed out on him; never saw the enemy intentionally target medics and chaplains.
“No, I’m not fond of war.”
Pleased, Outlaw leaned forward. “Listen man. We’re goin to Chicago to get the pigs before the pigs get all of us. We gotta bring the war home there. We gotta fight it here. We got to kill the capitalist pig that makes us slaves. Makes you a slave man.” Outlaw looked into both their faces without blinking and nodded. “Makes you a slave. Dig? We’ve got to get the pigs before the pigs get us.”
“You know Outlaw, if you don’t go to Chicago the pigs can’t get you.” The jibe didn’t register on Outlaw’s mind too busy stumbling over the jumble of talking points in his head. Larry didn’t pity the ignorant and contempt filled him watching Outlaw regurgitate factoids, his face uncomfortably close, fingers underlining bold print as he recited from the tract gripped hungrily in his hands. Outlaw’s breath smelled of smoke and old warm milk. “Yeah!” Outlaw looked vacantly past them. “It’s coming,” he said. “We welcome everybody that’s under the boot of oppression. Even the Army, man. We’ll get the GIs to turn their guns around on their officers. Fuck the Army.” Outlaw tapped a rolled-up flyer loudly against his side.
“I was in the Army, Outlaw.” Larry said.
Outlaw missed that too.
Larry tuned out the Outlaw speaking in long sweeping circles and let his mind go elsewhere alternating shifting weight on his legs.
Outlaw and Joyce had never known death or suffering. They’d come from the upper-class, he suspected, but chose to flip ’off their parents, a fuck you to authority. Larry watched their numbers on Calhoun Street grow as the decade ended. Outlaw’s twisted hatred for the country was palpable, his expressions showed it, and he expressed an unflinching commitment to violence.
Joyce interrupted Outlaw’s recital to present a black white picture cupped in her hand like a deck of cards. “These are the progressive women. We had 60 invade downtown Pittsburgh. Our white women marched through the streets for black women’s liberation against ‘pig white men’.”
“Right on,” Outlaw interrupted, pumping a fist.
“They invaded the high schools yelling “Ho Lives” and “Free Huey” and waving Viet Cong flags.”
“It was a guerilla action to commemorate Ho’s death,” Outlaw said.
“Twenty-six women got arrested,” Joyce added. “It was only right to have an action in Pittsburgh because of the racist capitalist unions and racist high schools there.”
Neither Larry or Daltry heard of the event.
Outlaw slid his feet out to shoulder width and looped his thumbs into the front pockets of the raggedy jeans like he planned to mosey cowboy-like, down the dirt street and into a saloon. Larry imagined Outlaw getting his ass kicked once he got in among the blue-collar wild-west company.
“Revolution man. We’re all over it. Dig? We support the suppressed, depressed, the recessed, the opposers to the opposition and oppressed man—no matter where, even if they are in the Army.” He pointed at Larry. “Shit—We’re going to tear this mother-fucker down. Chicago’s just the start.”
The bullshit coming out of Outlaw’s mouth bored him almost as much as pissed him off. Larry jiggled the toes of his right foot and watched his shoe move. Outlaw’s presentation cutting into his beer time aggravated him even more. A rumbling stomach, pangs of hunger, told him ‘time to go’.
When Larry considered Joyce’s face at length, what he saw sunk through his body like a brick. The look on her face; an ill-informed mix of glee and stupidity she cast, shown reverence for a group concerned with nothing more than destruction and Outlaw’s violent words seemed to feed her grinning.
She discussed the prospect of rioting, violence and death with Dorothy’s expression the first time she gazed on that yellow brick road except in Joyce’s histrionic antonym, her path lay paved with brutal colors of sinister overtone.
Daltry cleared his throat. “Larry. I’m thirsty.”
Joyce reached into her sack for two stapled leaflets. “Two for a quarter.”
They didn’t look at her.
“Two for a quarter.” His voice fainter, apprehensive.
“Why the hell not, it’s only a quarter,” Larry told Daltry. “I need a laugh.”
They didn’t look at her.
Joyce frowned. Outlaw missed another blight; his eyes busily tracing the scraps of paper flying about the street.
Daltry cleared his throat again and looked down to kick a rock off the curb. “Come on Larry,” he said low and guttural through gritted teeth.
“There’s a meeting this Sunday at the Unitarian Church. We’re showing a movie at 7 P.M.”
“What, like The Sound of Music?” Larry said.
Joyce shoved the paper in Larry’s hand then turned abruptly on her heels. Outlaw followed behind her like a puppy as she crossed the street.
Larry stood still watching them cross. “Wait till they’re out of sight.”
Before Outlaw and Joyce disappeared around the corner of an abandoned building, Outlaw turned around. “Off the pigs!” he said, holding a clenched fist over his head as he rounded the edge of the building.
Larry and Daltry stood there looking at the spot the two hippies left seconds before. “That’s the kind of shit I was dealing with while you were overseas.”
“You should have joined me.”
Daltry looked over and smiled. “For the first time, I have to say I’m thankful you distracted me in shop and I got the tip of my right index finger lopped off.”
“But your left handed.”
“They didn’t ask the question and I didn’t offer it up man. I just showed the finger, so-to-speak, and they made me 4F.”
Larry smiled back. “Glad I did then. I wouldn’t have wanted you out there fighting pieces of crap like that.” He motioned towards a spot with his head where Joyce and Outlaw disappeared. “Screw this—let’s get a beer at Papa Dino’s. I’ll buy.”