Sunday, January 24, 2010

"The Other Womens Movement," by Dorothy Sue Cobble

highwayscribery wanted to tell you about "The Other Women's Movement,"by a Rutgers University professor named Dorothy Sue Cobble.

The text relates specifically to organized labor and focusing on it through a patented highwayscribery "book report" maintains continuity with the previous post’s theme - the Teamsters organizing victory at the L.A. Times.

The reason for reading this academic thesis was a little primary research for a screenplay dramatizing the 1964 Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union drive to organize bunnies at the Detroit Playboy Club.

The force behind this effort was a left-over from 1930s union activism, one Myra Wolfgang, “the battling belle of Detroit.” A rebel woman who had helped organize the Woolworths lunch counters during the Great Depression.

Years later, she was something of a national figure to the extent women were paid attention to at all and held a position as a national vice president of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union.

She was old school. Betty Friedan called her an “Aunt Tom,” for what she considered Wolfgang's subservience to union bosses. Wolfgang responded that Friedan was the Chamber of Commerce’s Aunt Tom.

Anyway, Wolfgang sent her 17-year old daughter into the Playboy Club as a union “salt”- an insider - and began the successful drive.

She said Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy” perpetuated the notion that women should be, “Obscene and Not Heard.”

That’s the scribe’s title. Go ahead and try to steal it, he can use the publicity.

Anyway, Cobble knows a lot about Myra Wolfgang, waitress unions, and the Playboy campaign in particular so the scribe went out and ordered her book from Princeton University Press.

It was the wrong book. The one (hopefully) with all the Playboy stuff is in “Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the 20th Century.”

But this book was interesting and will serve to deepen the scribe's indoctrination prior to scribbling that story.

“The Other Women’s Movement,” is what Cobble believes to have been a forgotten generation largely excluded from the story of feminism as currently redacted.

That story, and the scribe admits to not having known this, involved a “first wave” of feminists in the suffragettes’ era (early 1900s) and a “second wave” of the 1960s spawned and led by the Betty Friedans and Gloria Steinems of the world.

Cobble’s thesis is that in between these two waves was a crucial period peopled with a special breed of “labor feminists” who took root and then cover in their unions during what was the heyday of organized syndicates in the United States. They took the form of activists in large feminine “auxiliaries” to the unions, and later as members and leaders themselves.

The labor feminists tackled, early, the questions women are still dealing with today; the need to make employers understand that “time” itself is the most valuable commodity to a woman with family; and that less work, rather than more money, is preferable to them.

This book reviews the debate between working class women in unions and those in a more conservative outfit called the National Women’s Party, which first (and the scribe did not know this either) floated the idea of that Equal Rights Amendment feminists pushed until the mid-‘80s.

Later, all feminists were behind ERA, but in the beginning, the factory girls and servers felt it was a Republican ruse for allowing employers to circumvent the real issues of industrial democracy, wages, and job security they fought for in statehouses and at the collective bargaining table.

Cobble successfully renders the exciting rebel-girl beginnings of, Wolfgang, Anne Draper, Ruth Young, Esther Peterson, Gladys Dickason, and a long cast of worthwhile characters you’ve never heard of, and follows the threads of each’s long career dedicated to the same issues that fired their youths.

Labor feminists were split amongst themselves and others in the women's movement over whether special labor laws protecting women in particular (capping hours, preventing dismissal for pregnancy) actually kept women apart, or separate, and thus more vulnerable to being judged as “less” than men.

Others wanted no special protections, just the same rights everybody else had. These latter eventually won out, but only with the slow passing of the labor feminists and their influence on women in America

So that is what was interesting about the thesis; the airing out of bread and butter issues afoot in the land or at least among the womanry. It shows the cracks and coalescence and the interests that separated women by class and race when it came to defining exactly the kind of “progress” women should aspire to.

It reminds us that these debates are going on today and provides a primer on the roots of those debates.

More than anything, and as was to be expected, the labor feminists were concerned with the workplace and Cobble argues that such should be the focus today, work having the feature role it does in most our lives.

The sixties wave of feminism offered some correctives to the labor feminist doctrine, Cobble says, but also accepted, rather quietly, some if its most important analyses of work, class and their relation to women’s position in society, beyond gender itself.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"The Name of the Rose," by Umberto Eco

the scribe just finished, after a true reader’s via crucis, the long and impressive "The Name of the Rose,"by Umbérto Eco.

The book came to him through his old man, whom got it from somebody he works with at the California Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fund.

the scribe has always wanted to read the book: first, for its beguiling name, second for all the great covers depicting a deep medieval ambience, and third because Eco is an Italian intellectual, which the scribe believes makes them kindred spirits, if not seriously linked at some unseen level of things.

Nonetheless, the book was more a labor than a love. The beguiling name, it turns out, was chosen for how little it revealed. We know this because Eco has penned a considerable “postscript” in excess of 30 pages.

If the scribe were allowed that kind of indulgence he wouldn’t take it, because that would be explaining the book. You can explain a book a little - the scribe’s adaption of passages from “Vedette” to the wonderful music of Omar Torrez are a case in point – but not too much, as least not as much as Eco has.

After all, you’ve written a book and that should be explanation enough.

The author opens the p.s. with some observations on how titles can give a book away, or worse, mislead readers, and has some fun with classic titles that even a guy as famous as he shouldn’t, at least out of false humility, compare his own book to.

“Perhaps,” he writes, “the best course is to be honestly dishonest, as Dumas was: it is clear that ‘The Three Musketeers’ is, in reality, the tale of the fourth.”

He chose “The Name of the Rose” because, “the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left...The title rightly disoriented the reader, who was unable to choose just one interpretation...”

Which is to say the scribe was tricked, which is no small trick.

Beguiled by a title not the book’s own, the scribe hoped the promise of medieval culture, the repairing to a quiet soul-enriching world of chants and hooded monks, grassy quads spreading over a scholastic abbey peopled by pure men, held firm.

And there, Eco, a self-described medievalist, keeps his promise, but to the point of distraction.

Disclosure here. Historians, those of the Spanish Civil War in particular, have been cool to the scribe’s “Vedette,” which was something of surprise because things Spanish are always underwritten and neglected in the U.S. press.

And the many professors who received the novel free of charge have never penned an insulting letter dubbing the scribe as a lying, licentious poet-so-and-so.

But neither have they done the opposite and after reading Eco the conclusion would lead a novelist to suspect jealously at the root of the snub, because one thing is a painstaking and scientific accumulation of facts, the other is spinning an exciting tale.

Eco leaves no middle-aged stone unturned and ultimately bludgeons the reader with facts, architectural essays to the minutest detail, and historical reviews of sectarian battles in the Catholic Church of that time so that the story itself seems an afterthought.

At least so it seemed to the guy writing this book report who remained focused and oriented through repeated playings of “Chant: The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.”

Among the problems are a cast of monks (Jorge of Burgos, Salamander of Sweden) too long and too difficult to distinguish from one another so that you – or maybe just the scribe – have to just kind of trundle along with the ensemble, taking them in and listening when they reappear without ever being sure when their last showing was, nor its narrative significance.

Eco’s architecture leaves something to be desired as well. The narrative, such as it is, meanders along over a few macabre murders and some confusing visits to the impenetrable library of the abbey in which it is set, as co-protagonist William, and the narrator/voice Adso, traverse great swatches of Catholic/European history in conversations most remarkable for the distance between start and end.

When Adso takes a backseat to Ubertino, or the Abbot, or one of the many other hooded theologians peopling the interminable text, the form is imposed anew as two elderly men talk at each other in pages-long dissertations that make “The Sidewalk Smokers Club” seem like a snappy, noir-yarn shorn of all excess (which it’s not).

By this the scribe means to say that if Umberto Eco were not Umberto Eco, and instead were master of the highwayscribery universe, this book might never has seen the light of day, let alone become a bestseller.

“Story of the Rose,” does have a number of messages and that’s fair reward for someone who grants Eco the respect we are told he’s due and stays the course.

What the scribe took from it was a reinforcement of his perception regarding the savagery in European man and the endless and senseless deaths sacrificed to the Christian mono-God.

As a non-believer the scribe finds it absolutely astounding that millions of people lost their lives to men of the kind portrayed here, and the cruelty of those deaths horrifying.

And it really happened.

Eco’s a smart man who’s trying to tell us something about the inquisitorial urge, its unstoppable momentum and irrefutable logic (they have God on their side), and the poor uses to which ostensibly spiritual mechanisms have been put to use since the pagan world collapsed.

May God help us.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Odd Man Out," by Matt McCarthy

"Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit,"
makes clear the virtues associated with being good at two things.

Matt MacCarthy's is an autobiographical account of a Yale grad with a scientific bent and the good fortune of being a southpaw.

The fact of his left-handed birth limited the competition for pitching slots nationwide. It paved the way for McCarthy to play at Yale and later be drafted by the Los Angeles Angels Baseball Club.

The dynamic here is simple and effective. A young and cerebral son of old Ivy is tossed into the social wilds of the American West and the Angels farm system as a prospect with few prospects.

Most of the players he runs into can only do one thing and their level of education has been limited by the facts that they never went to school or that their schools only required them to play ball very well.

McCarthy is not so much a minor league misfit -- he wants baseball success as much as the others -- as he is a guy who took the time to develop both mind and body.

"Odd Man Out," dissects the system by which baseball separates its winners and losers. And although it is not necessarily seamy, immoral or perverse, the game is certainly tilted in favor of certain prospects and cruel to those with lesser pedigrees.

McCarthy only lasts a year and there is nothing his learned eye beholds along the way to encourage him.

In one episode, he is on the mound tossing pitches in front of Angel manager Mike Scioscia, former general manager Bill Stoneman, and his own pitching coach.

Asked for a little background, the pitching coach, in full-voice and easily within earshot of McCarthy informs the big shots that the kid's "nothing special."

Along the way he learns that all Latino players are grouped as "Dominicans" by their American counterparts and that some of the latter would rather quit the game than room with one.

He learns a good "gay" joke will always lift the players' spirits and that the team's fortunes take a back seat to individual statistics in what the author concludes is a "numbers game."

There is a familiar assortment of desperate types doing steroids to hang in there, the obligatory Bible freak, and meat-headed, beer-guzzling jocks.

The author's brief thumbnail portrait of White Sox reliever Bobby Jenks in his early days makes for great fun if you actually know who Jenks is.

The most complete portrait achieved is that of Provo Angels manager Tom Kotchman, father of the professional Angels' former first baseman, Casey (now with the Red Sox).

It's not a novel portrait, but rather one that confirms our impression of the chaw-chewing hard-ass we expect a guy charged with squiring a bunch of young lugs around the far West to be.

Although some of the insights are grim, there is nothing over-the-top in "Odd Man Out" that marks it for a special place in the annals of baseball literature, but it's an informative, easy read with moments of sly humor.

The most appreciative audience for "Odd Man Out" would have to be among fans of the Angels. It pulls back the curtain to reveals why what was once one of baseball's clunkers is now a well-oiled winning machine.

Similarly, McCarthy's time in the minors coincided with the apprenticeship of the club's present day stars.

Erik Aybar, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Mike Napoli, and Rafael Rodriguez are clearly marked as winners in system that is made up largely of losers and the few anecdotes involving them make for good stuff.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"'68," by Paco Ignacio Taibo II

One of the advantages to surviving and getting older (take if from the highway scribe) is that your not-so-distant experiences of youth become worthy of recounting to those whose perspective holds them to be quite distant.

the highway scribe, fortunate enough to still be chugging along, has strong memories of the 1960s and 1970s and, unlike most everything else he thinks about, people are wont to probe that particular set of recollections.

The reason is clear, regardless of your position on the virtue of same. The generation was - and it cannot be contested - a vibrant and revolutionary one that changed many small worlds it touched and many countries, too.

Today’s book covers the version that went down in Mexico and is simply entitled: "68" by Paco Ignacio Taibo II

Taibo II, is a scribe and historian who has apparently made a career of writing detective novels and an award-winning biography of Che Guevara.

By the by, “’68” was obtained through the Web site at Labyrinth Books for the grand total of $2.98 along with the gripping “Life of An Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader,” about which a patented highwayscribery “book report” will be produced in short order.

The total cost was about $12 with most being attributed to postage, which, you know, is-oh-so -digital. Both were put out by Seven Stories Press, a charming generator of radical texts that also cranked out “Targeted” by highwayscribery friend Deepa Fernandes.

Anyway, this book is short and thin, picked from Taibo’s diaries and other scribbled observations from the student rebellion of that distant year in Mexico City.

There could be more, or should be more, but there isn’t. The author confesses to having many, many pages of remembrances on what was obviously the critical chapter of his life, unfolding at the tender age of 18, but has never been able to write the novel he thought the whole thing deserved.

So here we have a disparate collection of vignettes still useful, because we know so little about all of this. In fact, we still don’t know much, because this book is written in Spanish.

Now where would you be without the highway scribe?

Today the term “globalization” conjures thoughts of an unstoppable flow of capital (even the French capitulate), tainted Chinese food, and a monoculture spread like lumpy peanut butter across every outdated boundary marking the old nation states, binding us together in a nonbinding agreement of commercial flux.

But Taibo claims that the student movements of the ’60s, and certainly that of Mexico, were forged in a new environment of shared music, news, and politics...of globalized information.

For all their left politics and social concerns, he is quick to point out that the students never really succeeded in connecting with the workers and the “people” so much as forced a despotic government into crushing them with demands it could not, by its very nature, assent to.

While the 123 days of rebellion drew up to 500,000 students and hangers-on in Mexico City to some of its demonstrations, the nucleus was perhaps 8,000 students from the education department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, “constructed in the stew of political/cultural cultivation that had a global virtue. That integral madness surrounded us at every turn of our lives. It had to do with readings, heroes, myths, rejections, cinema, theater, love, and information.”

At the center of it all was El Che whose mini-skirted adherents were a source of constant sexual agitation to Taibo and his compañeros.

“His death in ’67 left us with an enormous void not even his ‘Diaries from Bolivia’ could fill. He was the number one ghost. He who was there, and who was not, moving through our lives, the voice, the personality, the command from above to throw everything aside and get moving, the mocking dialogue, the project, the photo that looked out at you from every corner, the anecdote that grew and grew accumulating knowledge that seemed to have no end, through whom expressions worthy of boleros such as ‘total commitment’ did not seem laughable.

"But more than anything, El Che was the guy who was everywhere even in death. Our dead.”

Mixed-in with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and other American exports were France’s Charles Aznavour and somebody named Cuco Sánchez. The rebels were also hooked on poetry, specifically anthologies from the Cuban revolution and the anti-Franco resistance in Spain.

There was, towards the end on October 2, when the government lost patience and cared not that the world saw it for the vicious, heartless entity it was, a massacre in a square called Tlatelolco.

“Radio Rumor,” the system of street level communications, mimeographed flyers, and roving “brigades” so crucial to the amorphous and adaptive rebellion, said 200 students were killed, that their bodies were taken out over the Gulf of Mexico in airplanes and disposed of.

Shades of Pinochet in Chile five years later.

Tlatleloco became the symbol for whole thing so that semi-aware observers of Latin American history like the highway scribe are often left with the impression that was all there was; that one night some students got crazy, started marching through the streets and got shot.

Taibo’s book is valuable for the way it divests a degree of importance from the graveyard that was Tatlelolco and restores it to many other positive events in which the students’ genius for organization shines, and to smaller clashes no less important to those shot, captured or tortured for their participation.

It went on for months, the kids hunkering down in the universities, the question of whether to continue striking the university in the face of fear and increasing repression always reaffirmed by the many student councils organized around their particular fields and schools of study.

Taibo’s book gives names and faces to the players of Mexico ’68; some who went on to star in the a growing democratic intelligentsia, and some who died, disappeared in ensuing urban and jungle insurrections, or just kind of faded in the duller lights of later years.


There was David “el ruso” or the Russian who, many years before Tiananmen Square, in the absence of photographers, “grabbed a pipe and moved toward an armored car entering [Mexico City’s main square]. Eye to eye he remained stuck on the fucking machine as it advanced growling. The soldier who manned the machine gun was locked into a stare with David, who, suddenly, lurched forward and unleashed a flurry of blows against the tank, denting it in numerous places. The machine halted. We pulled him out of there, dragging him, the soldier fixed upon him. Later, David said he had no memory of the occurrence.”

And one more, Arlette, the daughter of a stationery store owner who’d helped the rebels rob 150,000 sheets of paper from her father and for the cause. Her pseudonym was La Quinta, a brand of cigarettes, and she was remarkable for her capacity to unleash a string of epithets unmatched by other comrades.

Taibo and a clandestine group of which he and La Quinta were a part, had set a date to meet in a park, Parque Hundido. As were a lot of public places, Hundido was occupied by two companies of grenadiers; the government’s tool of choice in combating the future of the country-- the students.

Anyway, Taibo recounts, “The very irresponsible one came dressed in a suit made of a short cut white vest and mini-skirt, quite content eating a mango on a stick.” Walking right past rows of armed men, La Quinta was suddenly accosted by one, who grabbed her booty. “She turned and slapped him with the sloppy mango in the face. The grenadier fell back shocked. I closed my eyes. It was far enough away so that I could not hear anything. I counted to ten. She crossed the street looking for me. I did not dare raise my hand in recognition. When she reached me, La Quinta apologized for being ten minutes late, cleaning herself with a tissue of the sticky mango. We didn’t even talk about the incident. Each of us utilized a specific brand of lunacy in those days and if anything was the source of respect it was that, that personal lunacy.”

It was serious business. The school was cordoned off. The public transportation system, once painted in the black and red of the strike, strewn with slogans, was off-limits. The kids were hiding in anonymous homes and living in fear of kidnap by government agents and certain physical abuse.

The kids knew that the wick on a Molotov cocktail must be cut short to work, not because it was cool and exciting, rather a matter of self-preservation and a sign of recalcitrance.

The mass media joined with the government spreading lies and fear about the students that even the organic flight of Radio Rumor could not combat completely. But the people were with them; in Mexico City and in a little town called Topilejo.

Mexicans for the first time since the revolution were demanding accountability from their government.

Taibo’s story is about what they got instead.

You can probably guess, but read it anyway.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Life of An Anarchist," by Alexander Berkman

“What we call progress has been a painful but continuous march in the direction of limited authority and the power of government and increasing the rights and liberties of the individual, of the masses."

Alexander Berkman, “The ABC of Anarchism”

Alexander Berkman burned life-long for his idea.

Berkman was an anarchist born at the turn of the 20th century. Early on he befriended the famed rabble-rouser Emma Goldman and forged a revolutionary bond that would endure until his final letter to her; contained in this exciting collection of writings entitled, "Life of an Anarchist."

Born in Russia and suckled on the idea of deposing the Czar, Berkman’s writings reveal a precocious and brilliant young mind antagonized by the injustice he saw everywhere in the world, but mostly in the work warrens sprouted everywhere by the Industrial Revolution.

So convinced were he, Goldman, and other immigrant libertarians, that the social revolution was just around the corner - for science held it to be so - that the twenty-one year Berkman injected himself into the Homestead strike of anthracite miners in Pennsylvania.

Although atheist, there is nothing hangdog about the original anarchists. Gerald Brennan, in his “The Spanish Labyrinth,” notes that they are “uncompromising moralists.”

Brennan recounts, “I was standing on a hill watching the smoke and flames of some two hundred houses in Malaga mount into the sky. An old anarchist of my acquaintance was standing beside me. ‘What do you think of that?’ he asked.

“I said, ‘They are burning down Malaga.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘they are burning it down. And I tell you - not one stone will be left on another stone - no, not a plant nor even a cabbage will grow there, so that there may be no more wickedness in the world.’

“It was the voice of Amos or Isaiah (though the old man had never read either) or of an English sectarian of the seventeenth century.”

For Brennan, the anger of the Spanish anarchists against the Catholic church, “is the anger of an intensely religious people who feel they have been deserted and deceived.”

At Homestead, the mine owners had hired the notorious Henry Frick to break the strike with his special brand of violence and industrial espionage. Workers were shot and killed. And so the brave young crazy man took it upon himself to kill Frick. Berkman shot him, but unfortunately did not kill him and ended up with 14 years of jail time for his futile efforts.

Incarcerated, he ran into a striker whom did not jibe with his anarchist’s vision of the revolutionary worker; a common experience for the free communist looking to unions as the vehicle by which the “new day” will be obtained.

Berkman was a very good writer, and this tome edited by Gene Fellner and published by Seven Stories Press, also enjoys the blessings of excellent translation.

What the scribe is trying to say is that “Life of An Anarchist,” makes for good novel-style reading.

Berkman’s account of his time in jail is truly harrowing and makes the case for a society without, as he liked to put it, “compulsion.”

Something of an anti-celebrity at the time, the young rebel was singled out for brutal attentions to which he commonly responded with more energy and defiance than the average fellow might be able to muster under such dire circumstances.

It makes for a gripping narrative as the prison dramas, personal travails, and even an attempt at escape with help from his tunnel-digging Italian anarchist friends, make for real-life human drama.

Reading an intelligent writer’s sentiments upon his release into a great, wide world that no longer knows him, nor he it, is also worth the effort.

Anarchists played for keeps in those days and an associated of Berkman’s and Goldman’s murdered President McKinley. So that when one of the periodic red scares gripped American by the throat, both found themselves arrested (more prison stories) and shipped-off to the new promised land, Russia.

It’s not a pretty chapter, the one on Russia. Arriving with a song in his heart, Berkman comes to know first hand the repression and death dealt in by the Bolsheviks - the people that ruined socialism.

He relates experiences and conversations with characters from a Russia gone by, honest and authentic folk, nearly incandescent with the promise of emancipation, often paying the cruel price of their own lives at the hands of a power crazy clan.

Berkman does a wonderful rendering of the grim face-off in Petrograd with the communist government. There the Kronstadt sailors, loyal sons of the October Revolution, made a stand in the name of democracy betrayed, proclaiming “all power to the workers soviets.”

Their massacre at the hands of Mr. Trotsky, who always enjoys the hip left’s support, what with his theory of “permanent revolution” and all, makes for sad reading; a Russian “Les Miserables,” that concludes with Berkman’s declaring the revolution dead.

The account is detailed, blow by blow. Actually, it’s journalism, clean and mean, featuring a terse narrative that lets the actual documents, declarations and decrees from both sides speak the best parts.

The last part of the book is taken up with Berkman’s “The ABC of Anarchism.”

Admittedly highwayscribery, run by a bourgeois poet maintaining a traditional family, does things with its anarchistic tongue in its syndicalist cheek. It’s a way of not taking things too seriously, but the “ABC” is a delightful primer that takes the scribe back to a hopeful youth.

A simple manual for the application of a free and communal social order, the manifesto is infused with the joy only a true black-flagger carries around, infused with the euphoria an abiding faith in human potential lights within.

He starts from square one, holding the reader’s hand while heading down the black-bricked path, formulating a Socratic dialogue:

“Anarchy, therefore, does not mean disorder and chaos, as you thought before,” Berkman writes, “On the contrary, it is the very reverse of it; it means no government, which is freedom and liberty. Disorder is the child of authority and compulsion. Liberty is the mother of order.”

He makes convincing and reasoned arguments about the social salve in taking the competition out of life, of neutering the marketplace, of eliminating discrimination. Better people, he asserts, will come from better treatment. The sky is the limit.

“Imperatives and taboos will disappear, and man will begin to be himself, to develop and express his individual tendencies and uniqueness. Instead of ‘though shall not,’ the public conscience will say ‘though mayest, taking full responsibility.’ that will be a training in human dignity and self-reliance, beginning at home and in school, which will produce a new race with a new attitude in life.

“The man of the coming day will see and feel existence on an entirely different plane. Living to him will be an art and a joy. He will cease to consider it as a race where everyone must try to become as good a runner as the fastest. He will regard leisure as more important than work, and work will fall into its proper, subordinate place as the means to leisure, to the enjoyment of life.”

This from a guy who spent his life on the run, in and out of prison, a man welcome nowhere.

In our perverse civilization, he points out, the value of things is placed on a monetary standards.

“From the viewpoint of social usefulness the street cleaners is the professional colleague of the doctor: the latter treats us when we are well, but the former helps us to keep well. Yet the physician is looked up to and respected, while the street cleaner is slighted. Why? Is it because the street cleaner’s work is dirty? But the surgeon often has much ‘dirtier’ jobs to perform. Then why is the street cleaner scorned? Because he earns little.”

Under anarchy, the wage scale will no longer be speak to the worth of the person, only their willingness to be socially useful.

Berkman’s theorizing can be applied to the very book under the glass here. Purchased at Labyrinth Books, for a paltry $2.98, its value outpaces so much of the drub that hits your face upon entering a Barnes & Nobel, (for example).

Of course. the relationship between the “industrial proletarian” and “peasant farmer” is no longer a crucial question. And Berkman’s wide-eyed view of science and all it will do for us would be somewhat tempered had he the same points of reference (Chernobyl, the declining oceans, Hiroshima, global warming) we do today.

But his hope for a society organized around the loose principles of mutual responsibility, human kindness, and equality still sounds better than anything the scribe pulled from the “New York Times” this morning (or the morning before that).

Long live anarchy!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Forty Years with the Blues Legends," by Melvin (Deacon) Jones

the highway scribe would like to gather up his red Fender Starcaster and his 22 watt amplifier and go over to Deacon Jones’ place for a jam.

That way he would be associated with Jones, and all the legends Jones has jammed with and recounted in his charming autobiography,"The Blues Man: 40 Years with the Blues Legends."

That way the highway scribe could tell his grandchildren he’d jammed with a guy who’d jammed with all those famous guys.

Which would be an improvement on the scribe’s current career trajectory.

But seriously, Jones’ story is a lot like the blues itself. It's sad, but it sounds good so that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“I guess the only reason that I haven’t given in is because I don’t know how to quit. I’m sort of like a Timex watch; I take a licking, but I keep on ticking. I just hope and pray that one day the sun will shine on Deacon Jones and I’ll finally get lucky and hit it big. It seems that every time I’m near the top, something goes wrong and I fall down again.”

Here’s a gentleman who has played with Baby Huey and The Babysitters, The Impressions, Curtis Mayfield, John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, Elvin Bishop, Buddy Miles, Greg Allman, Willie Dixon, Carlos Santana and a veritable who’s who? of sixties/seventies music stars.

It’s a classic story about the music industry.

Says Deacon (with the help of an able M. Jonathan Hayes):

“In 1965, we finally settled into a regular gig at the Thumbs Up on the North Side. They started us off at one night a week, $5 each, and all we could drink. And everyone wants to know why I got to be an alcoholic.”

Keeping in mind that Melvyn’s story (that’s his real name) winds through the early ’60s and is still unspooling, drugs and booze are a part of things, given the predilections of his lively and special generation.

Here’s an accounting of an all-star jam with Buddy Miles, Noel Redding [Hendrix’ bassman] Eric Clapton, and Deacon’s boss at the time, Freddie King.

“The music and the vibes were just blowing everyone away. Eric was a monster on guitar but he was pretty blitzed. During the performance, he came over and sat down on the organ bench next to me on my right side. It was pretty cool except that he started leaning into me while I was trying to play, bumping into my right arm during my solos. I was whispering to him out of the side of his mouth. “ Eric, Eric, I can’t play.”

“Oh, sorry mate, sorry,” he would gurgle and sit up straight for a moment. It was hilarious. Soon he was tilting to the side gain, leaning into me."

That was the joy, but in the crazy world of endless travel, shoestring budgets, and reckless lifestyles, there was much sadness for Deacon, too.

Jones, who was born in Richmond, Indiana while the gale winds of World War II were blowing full force, headed north to Chicago at a tender age with a very large fellow from the neighborhood named Jimmy Ramey, who took the show name of Baby Huey and sang for “The Babysitters” of which Deacon formed a part.

Maybe you have to be a music junkie to enjoy Jones’ stories about how this guy did not like to practice, or that guy couldn’t remember the lyrics, or couldn’t play lest he was stoned out of his mind or had some fried chicken first, but the book contains lots of personal peculiarities of people elevated by stardom who are really, just people.

Freddie King, for example, was a great lead guitarist, but couldn’t “chord” very well, which is a way of saying he loved the spotlight, but wasn’t crazy about driving the band with a little mundane dirty work.

Ramey, who only knew two numbers when the joint venture began (“Peanut Butter” and “Wiggle Wobble”), “was kind of lazy when it came to learning new songs. I told him he had to know more songs if he was going to make it with any band. We learned, ‘Go, Gorilla, Go’, by the Ideals, and some Four Tops, James Brown, Stevie Wonder songs. The number one song we learned that always got the crowd going was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight, Everything is Alright’ .”

highwayscribery includes the anecdote because it shows the book for what it is: a recounting from the stage and from the rehearsal room by a craftsman in pop and blues, rather than a conceptual rambling about the black roots of music, slave canticles and what have you.

Deacon went on stage and played songs. That was and is his life and through him the reader learns the nuts and bolts of performing at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre and how perilous it could be when the organ player printed up a few shirts to make an extra buck selling them outside the show.

Ramey liked his drugs apparently, though Jones never specifies. He recounts how he’s was having cereal for breakfast one morning at Baby Huey’s place when his “drug kit” fell out of the Wheaties box when Deacon turned it over to fill his bowl.

“All of a sudden there was a loud demanding knock at the door. A big voice yelled, ‘ Chicago Police - open the door - now.’ Ramey calmly dropped his kit back into the box and the wax paper on top of it. Someone opened the door and in comes all these burly task force narcotics officers with bullet proof vests, holding semi-automatic guns and big pistols. One of them barked, ‘ Freeze. Don’t noboby move!’

“Ramey looked up and said nonchalantly, ‘ Can I finish my breakfast?’

“ A cop said, ‘ Yeah smart ass. Go ahead’.”

“The man” looked everywhere in that place, except the Wheaties box.

But Ramey could not escape himself and died of an overdose just when Curtis Mayfield was about to make him a star.

A lot of tragedy. Dennis Moore, drummer for The Babysitters dropped out of school so he could go to Paris with the band. There they were a smash with the crowde and press, but had failed to get a contract and came home empty-handed.

For Moore, it was worse. The Viet Nam War was happening and leaving school cost him his draft exempt status. He served, but came back and found he could not play anymore and killed himself.

“A drummer is the only musician who can’t put his instrument away for a couple of years an come back. Everyone else can quit and come back and continue where he left off but the drummer.”

And there’s lots more where that came from. Deacon got his job with the Impressions when the backing band was killed in a car accident rushing to a gig, weighted down with musical equipment.

Jones was hitched well to Freddie King’s rising star, although there were always the attendant ambiguities of the artistic life.

They opened for Grand Funk Railroad at the height of that band’s popularity, which, for those of you who don’t remember, was considerable. The ticket played Madison Square Garden and rocked the house, according to Deacon who made $35 for the night.

“It didn’t matter that it was a huge show before a zillion people with news reporters, celebrities, flashbulbs clicking the whole night, interviewers in our dressing room after the show, pictures in the papers the next day. The fans didn’t know that I didn’t have a nickel to my name. They didn’t know that I lived hand to mouth at home and on the road. I probably slept on a box spring that night. I was an organ sideman with nothing living the glamorous life on the road with a superstar.”

But even that came to an end. Again, with superstardom within a finger’s length, King died at the age of 41, leaving Jones to start all over again.

And start he did, introducing himself to the legendary John Lee Hooker and asking to sit in for one night that turned into many.

Again, Jones was close, but left without that fat cigar. He has some complaints about these big boys, their broken promises, the waiting until the next big break that never came, but that’s the arts. Deacon takes his space to gripe, but it is only a way of completing a picture mostly filled with the privilege of having talent and shared it with others in similar possession.

Hayes lets Jones tell it his way and Jones tells it well, in an authentic voice, carrying many a keen observation.

It’s not all music because when you’ve lived through such times and such people, you’ve been a part of history, too. A historical event is something that encompasses everybody, not just the direct protagonists.

For instance, while students and radicals were demonstrating at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley declared martial law.

“I was driving my station wagon one night, back to the house where we were all living near Hyde Park. I pulled up to a stoplight and heard chinka chinka chinka right next tome and I thought, what the hell is that? I looked over and a Sherman tank had pulled up along side of me - on Garfield Boulevard. A soldier’s head was sticking out of the little hole on the top of the tank and he was looking over at me. He pointed to his watch and I yelled out, ‘I know, I got 10 minutes.’

“He said, ‘You got far to go?’

“I said, ‘Just two minutes and I’ll be home.’

“He said, ‘You better hurry,’ and hurry I did.”

Deacon Jones is a black man and the story is laced with occurrences that could happen to a black man, without the organmeister necessarily pointing it out. In just one anecdote does he air his despair.

It involves a car trip from Los Angeles to South Carolina with a quarter pound of weed stashed somewhere in the vehicle and a New Mexico State patrolman. Without probably cause, but highly suspicious, the officer is unable to break the cool musicians’ united front.

Sending Jones back to the car, the cop begins to work over drummer Jeff Miller, a white guy, trying to “divide and conquer,” offering to let him go and arrest the black guys if he’d share the secret about where the drugs were.

“[A]ny time you’re looking at a police officer who has an American flag on his collar and handcuffs for a tie tac, he’s not going to take a bag of weed over there and dump it out. And by trying to divide us racially, you could tell he was a racist. He didn’t like two white guys and two black guys traveling together...

...He was the nightmare of America."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Ask the Dust," John Fante

In "Ask the Dust"John Fante renders a pre-freeway Los Angeles; a Los Angeles that is organically connected to the surrounding environs, constantly reminded by the ever-present dust that it is a desert city.

That desert city was focused on downtown with its train tracks and depots, trolley system and urban grid known today as the “historic core.” His alter-ego and anti-hero Arturo Bandini rides the Angel’s Flight railway not as a tourist, but as someone who must get down the hill to Broadway for a drink and a pack of cigarettes.

It is a Los Angeles not yet divorced from its western reality, not yet a left coast New York, primed, but not entirely enveloped by the entertainment business. In fact, in a letter to his cousin Jo Campiglia, he describes the book as having “no Hollywood stuff.”

Fante’s is centered around Bunker Hill; a residential redoubt of ramshackle hotels, fading Victorian mansions, and wood-slatted apartment buildings.

And who resides in the redoubt? Well, the familiar characters of today and yore. But let us bow to Bandini, a struggling writer paying rent by the week for a hotel room; on the cusp of a great literary success:

Dust and old buildings and old people sitting at windows, old people tottering out of doors, old people moving painfully along the dark street. The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots of their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun…The uprooted ones, the empty sad folks, the folks from back home. These were my countrymen, these were the new Californians. With their bright polo shirts and sunglasses, they were in paradise, they belonged.

Time has been kind to “Ask the Dust” in the way it is kind to a lot of literature because the world it portrays is gone or much changed. So what was in 1939 an oddly paced, edgy and offbeat drama of insignificants taking place in a world familiar to many, is now the same drama in a disappeared world, which adds appeal.

And what of that drama? Fante writes Campiglia that it is the, “Story of a girl I once loved who loved someone else, who in turn despised her.”

Fante was a successful screenwriter in Hollywood with credits such as “Full of Life,” “Walk on the Wildside,” and “My Six Loves,” among others, to his credit, so his ability to synopsize a story quite so well is understandable given the demands of “industrial” writing.

With equal efficiency does he go on to explain, “Strange story of a Mexican girl who somehow doesn’t fit into modern life, took to marijuana, lost her mind and wandered into the Mojave desert with a little Pekingese dog.”

And there you have it, in Fante’s words, which preclude the highway scribe from going more into more plot details.

Aside from the portrait of depression-era Los Angeles, a rather poor-fitting excerpt on an earthquake experienced by the author in Long Beach, and more of the above-quoted visions of a downtown now overrun with antiseptic corporate towers, “Ask the Dust,” is the portrait of a woman:

Except for the contour of her face and the brilliance of her teeth, she was not beautiful. But at that moment she turned to smile at one of her old customers, and I saw a streak of white under her lips. Her nose was Mayan, flat, with large nostrils. Her lips were heavily rouged, with the thickness of a negress’ lips. She was a racial type, and as such she was beautiful, but she was too strange for me. Her eyes were at a high slant, her skin was dark but not black, and as she walked her breasts moved in a way that showed their firmness.

But something about this girl, Camilla Lopez, works for him, perhaps it is this…

The girl moved like a dancer, her strong silk legs gathering bits of sawdust as her tattered shoes glided over the marble floor.

Bandini, a guy who is serious about his literature, if a bit roughly-hewn in the personality department, latches onto the girl’s class and lower life station when her natural aristocracy provokes his second generation Dago insecurities.

Those shoes, they were huaraches, the leather thongs wrapped several times around her ankles. They were desperately ragged huaraches; the woven leather had become unraveled.

Camilla works downtown at the Columbia Buffet where she and Bandini open the door to a relationship better left closed. He’s taken in a strange way by her; she disdains. He gains her interest through the application of lesser arts. “I hate you,” she tells him in turn. By the end of their psychological skirmish she blows him a kiss goodbye.

Do people really behave in this way?


She follows him out, girlish, flirty, surrendering. Rather than relish his conquest, Bandini digs for a deeper cut.

“Those huaraches - do you have to wear them, Camilla? Do you have to emphasize the fact that you always were and always will be a filthy little greaser?”

Nice guy, Arturo Bandini.

She looked at me in horror, her lips open. Clasping both hands against her mouth, she rushed inside the saloon. I heard her moaning, “Oh, oh, oh.”

In between this first meeting and the next, Bandini has a second short story published “back East.” Yes, in spite of his cruelty, we’re rooting for this first-person narrator much as we do an escaped convict hunted by hounds. He takes his subsequent winnings down to the Columbia Buffet where Camilla is wearing, “New white pumps, with high heels.”

She’s not impressed by his newfound wealth, in fact, prefers him the other way. It was for Bandini she’d shed the huaraches, but in doing so, loses him again.

The new shoes were hurting Camilla’s feet. She didn’t have her old style. She winced as she walked and gritted her teeth.

They go back and forth anew. There’s an unhealthiness that pervades their relationship rooted largely in the fact she is inexplicably in love with a rundown, dying in fact, bartender at the buffet.

“Ask the Dust,” really, has two anti-heroes, or at least one anti-hero and one anti-heroine in the bewitching, irascible Camilla.

On a first “date” (for lack of a more appropriate word) she takes Bandini out to the beach at Santa Monica in her 1929 Ford. The dish he portrays reads delicious…

After a mile she complained about her feet and asked me to hold the wheel. As I did it she reached down and took offer her shoes. Then she took the wheel again and threw one foot over the side of the Ford. At once her dress ballooned out, spanked her face. She tucked it under herself, but even so her brown thighs were exposed even to a pinkish underthing. It drew a lot of attention. Motorists shot by, pulled up short, and heads came out of windows to observe her brown naked leg. It made her angry. She took to shouting at the spectators, yelling that they ought to mind their own business. I sat at her side, slouched down, trying to enjoy a cigaret (that’s Fante’s spelling for the smoke) that burned too hotly in the rush of the wind.

Fante went on to enjoy success in his own time, to own a ranch in Southern California, and then to become the tragic in his own life’s play, stricken by diabetes that left him blind while relatively young.

One hopes his darkness was in some way brightened by the vision of his Mexican girl.

Ah, Camilla. You are the reason for the book, the muse around which a story, your story, asked to be spun. With many shortcomings, its autobiographical bent the greatest, you rescue “Ask the Dust,” ask that it be read, ask us to ask, “What dust did you become?” And beg us to touch it with our lips.

"The Ungovernable City," by Vincent J. Cannato

Vote people into power and they'll send police to beat you when there's a disagreement.

Ever has it been, save for a unique time in New York City from 1965 to 1973 when a tall, handsome, patrician man -- a Republican of all things -- succeeded in governing a different way.

He left the mayoralty exhausted, his political fortunes in ruin. He aged without the benefit of any commemoration or recognition of merit. His health was failing and, because his time in city government had been so short, lacked a pensioner’s health care until then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani cooked up a job for him.

In the end he could not afford to live in the city over which he once reigned glamorous and intellectually challenging, and moved to South Carolina where he died a mostly forgotten man.

But today we remember John Vliet Lindsay for the unique, almost odd, position he held in American politics, and the meritorious way he chose to look into the eyes of those he governed, rather than down on them.

The information gathered for this essay comes from a fantastic book by Vincent J. Cannato entitled, The Ungovernable City

So complete is the author’s job that consulting related books seemed pointless given the work's size (675 pages) and myriad sources. highwayscribery consulted its own library and came up with “The Cost of Good Intentions: New York City and the Liberal Experiment, 1960-1975,” and found the information covered but a thin outline for Cannato’s meatier rendering.

The author himself seems conflicted about John Lindsay for he has dedicated a goodly portion of time and talent to study a man he considers a failure, which is okay. Life's purported "losers" have much to teach us and this he seems to know.

Cannato's analysis is that Lindsay stitched together a unique coalition of ritzy Manhattan liberals, poor blacks, poor Puerto Ricans, and ambivalent Jews to assume power, but failed miserably at understanding or governing to the benefit of ethnic Irish, Italian and German middle-class elements in the outer boroughs.

More on that further down. Now we recall, remember, and reminisce.

Lindsay was wildly disliked by the New York Police Department which rightly felt “handcuffed” by him. Elected as a reformer willing to tackle a city of “power brokers,” the new mayor stumbled over the very first issue he chose to focus upon - police brutality.

Lindsay felt the people of New York, minorities in particular, had a reasonable gripe where the issue of police violence was concerned. In response, he proposed a Civilian Complaint Review Board to weigh their protests.

Toward this end the mayor assembled a Law Enforcement Task Force to draft a report with recommendations for shaping the proposed entity.

Marjorie Friedlander, at the New York City Review Board Conference, supported the report and highlighted its, “avoidance of a spirit of repression and punitiveness in crime control...its humanitarianism and rehabilitation orientation in law enforcement.”

Cannatto peppers the tome with his own interpretations of things said 40 years ago, which is perfectly fine and good for the discussion that was not happening until he wrote “The Ungovernable City.”

Here he paraphrases Friedlander: “Thus civilian review was needed not only to curb police brutality, but also to foster a more humanitarian vision of criminals. Since crime was a product of social forces such as poverty and discrimination, ‘repressive’ law enforcement techniques would only add more oppression to the lives of the poor and increase crime."

Opponents of the Civilian Complaint Review Board took their battle to the ballot box where Lindsay, hands full running the madcap city, was not up to a proper counter-campaign and lost.

And so the police remained accountable to essentially no one but themselves.

But there would be further battles against the NYPD, most of which Lindsay, sitting atop the city’s hierarchy and aided by detective Frank Serpico's timely revelations of police corruption, would win.

They were uncommonly difficult years to be at loggerheads with the police. Years when people hit the streets and demonstrated over long-festering grievances.

One was racial, what was called at that time, “the Negro question.”

American cities burned with the rage of American blacks and they, in turn, suffered death and injury by violent state reaction. In New York, Lindsay sought to limit the damage, to prevent the kind of riots that signaled the permanent downturn of cities such as Detroit.

Cannato observes how Lindsay actively contrasted himself with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley who ordered his police force to shoot rioters dead and maim looters. “We happen to think that protection of life, particularly innocent life, is more important than protecting property or anything else," said Lindsay. "We are not going to turn disorder into chaos through the unprincipled use of armed force. In short, we are not going to shoot children in New York City.”

There were opportunities aplenty to shoot (or not), the most prominent being Martin Luther King's assassination.

Lindsay was at a Broadway play with his wife Mary. Harlem went bonkers and, against the advice of police officials and aides, the mayor decided upon wading into the maelstrom.

“[S]omebody has to go up there,” he told them. “Somebody white just has to face that emotion and say that we’re sorry.”

He met the crowd and spoke, protected by a Harlem group known as Allah’s Five Percenters, which aide Barry Gottehrer had cultivated. The mayor's presence diffused a situation spun out of control in other American cities that evening.

Jack Newfield of the “Village Voice” wrote: “In the collective American fantasy of ‘High Noon’ updated, tall, grim Lindsay strides down Lenox Avenue, into a subsiding storm of bricks. It’s a comforting fantasy Lindsay has earned because he is the only white Mayor in America…to have the grudging trust of the black underclass.”

Columnist Jimmy Breslin was more generous still: "He looked straight at the people on the streets and he told them he was sick and he was sorry about Martin Luther King. And the poor he spoke to who are so much more real than the rest of us, understood the truth of John Lindsay. And there was no riot in New York.”

Cannato asserts that there was a riot and arrests and vandalism, but grudgingly concedes that it was on a much smaller scale than elsewhere in urban America. He dubs Lindsay's intervention, “a high point in his administration.”

The Lindsay strategy of cordoning off a rebellious area and letting what happened happen without the use of billyclubs and police violence became common practice throughout his term; a remarkable achievement and unique approach to governance and civil order.

An odd and ultimately extinct animal known as the “liberal Republican,” Lindsay saw the forces of law and order as social agents that could be used in pro of the disadvantaged and rebellious rather than against them.

During a difficult sanitation workers strike in 1967, Lindsay butted heads with another liberal Republican, Governor Nelson Rockefeller who opposed bringing in the National Guard to clean up the accumulating trash for fear of inciting a riot.

Cannato notes that, “Lindsay countered that not having the National Guard visible in the inner city cleaning up garbage would reinforce the feeling that government was unconcerned about poor minorities. Like almost every other issue that he faced in his term as mayor, Lindsay viewed the garbage strike as a civil rights issue.”

Black anger was not the only issue that separated Chicago’s Daley from Lindsay. There was the other great street expression of those times, the anti-war/student left.

Here's Cannato again: “He said youth of the time included a ‘prophetic minority,’ of activists and protesters who, ‘react to the world not by turning their backs upon it, but by facing it honestly and forthrightly -- as it is…Those who would rebel against the conventions of our society have sound grounds, in logic and in conscience, for doing so. I should remind you, however, that the rebel who overturns society’s conventions, must take on the corresponding obligation to construct new and better conventions in their place.’”

This good mayor said things that are not said today regarding the impact of war expenditures on urban America. Another reason why we focus upon him here.

Addressing Harvard students in April 1968, Lindsay stated, “For the truth, I’m afraid, is that we cannot achieve either the cities or the society we would like as long as we continue the war in Vietnam. We cannot spend more than $24 billion a year in Vietnam and still rebuild our cities. We cannot speak of non-violence at home when we are displacing, maiming, and killing thousands of Asians for the professed purpose of protecting the peace in a land halfway across the world.”

He told a Greenwich Village rally for a Moratorium on the Vietnam War that theirs was “the highest form of patriotism. It is an attempt to turn this nation away from a dangerous, self-defeating cause…Those that charge this is unpatriotic do not know the history of their own nation and they do not understand that our greatness comes from the right to speak out.”

Who has the guts to say such a thing today? To risk political oblivion in response? Which is to say Lindsay's stance did not go down well with everyone.

Ordering the American flag be pulled to half-mast at all city buildings for Moratorium Day, Lindsay ran up against a police force that refused to follow his diktat. Something of pitched battle ensued at Gracie Mansion, the New York mayoral residence, where the stars-and-stripes were drawn up and pulled down by alternating forces of Lindsay aides and recalcitrant officers of the law.

It was a scary episode that demonstrated the extent to which the American consensus is rooted in acquiescence by civilian leaders to those with the guns, who threaten to step in and set things right as they understand them to be right, and not as those elected to direct them do.

In 1971 the city’s police, those charged with its safety and security, called a wildcat strike. Cannato attributes the ensuing calm to the fact it all went down in the dead of winter, but that's his opinion and begs the question about why we call a riot involving police a "police riot."

The cops struck, not for wages and pensions, although those herrings were served up as rationale. They struck because they did not like the mayor and the people he chose to work with rather than beat up.

They had no respect for a boss that would cooperate with, say, Yippie rabble-rouser Abbie Hoffman whom Lindsay dispatched aide Ted Mastroiannni, head of the Lower East Side Task Force, to deal with.

Cannato writes that, "The Lindsay administration used the same theory on Hoffman as it used with black militants in the city’s ghettos. They would try to co-opt him and get him to help cool down the tense East Village."


The bottom line is that Hoffman’s anarchic treatise, “Fuck the System,” was funded by the Lindsay administration, however obliquely. Cannato describes the tome as, “a guide for young people to mooch their way through New York. It gave information on free food, clothes, money, rent, movies as well as on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases.”

The paragraph conveys the author’s bourgeois sensibility and is a proper reflection of many a New Yorker's attitude and inability to comprehend the great mayor's approach, to see that if something is free, one is not mooching, that where there is information about sexually transmitted diseases, less diseases are transmitted sexually.

The Lindsay crowd floated upon their own intellectual ether, according to Cannato: “Gottehrer was anything but displeased with the book, which he called ‘everything I expected and more.’ Though he bemoaned the inclusion of information on panhandling and cheating the telephone company and Transit Authority, Gottehrer still found the book ‘perfect’ and ‘hysterically funny’.”

Years later, when Hoffman surfaced from the underground to face criminal charges, the same Lindsay aide stood on his behalf, saying, "His creativity and commitment forced our government in New York and other governments to face up to the inequities of our society.”

Most remarkable about the Lindsay gang was that they cared at all about people like Hoffman and their minions, as opposed to writing them off as loony and unrepresentative of a larger, "normal" public.

Theirs was an unusually open and, dare we say, democratic bent to governing seen, for example, in the administration's approach to the park system.

Lindsay's first appointee to the position of parks commissioner was Thomas P.F. Hoving, a thirty-five-year old curator of the Metropolitan Museum’s Cloisters, son of the president of Tiffany's, and possessor of an art history background

“He wanted to democratize the use of city parks and take the 'No' out of park signs…" writes Cannato. "Hoving was a whirl of activity. His most famous innovations were ‘Hoving Happenings.’ At one of these ‘happenings,’ on a Sunday afternoon in May, Hoving opened Central Park to adults and children alike to paint away on a 105-foot canvas with paint provided by the city…Hoving also held a kite party in Central Park, though kites had been banned there for sixty years. He organized a huge game of capture-the-flag for children…on the Lower East Side a mound of dirt brought into Tompkins Square Park to fill in tree pits had become a favorite play site for local children. When filling began and the mound shrunk, the community protested. Hoving proclaimed that the mount of dirt would remain, and ‘Hoving Hill’ was born.

This is called yielding to the wishes of those governed and doing so with a flexible mindset. And it is very hard to find.

“Hoving promoted the idea of vest-pocket parks - small playgrounds tucked into empty spaces in the city’s slums. According to Hoving, these parks were designed to ‘keep their [ghetto kids’] fucking minds off getting drugs and shooting each other.’ Hoving’s most enduring legacy was his decision to close Central Park to automobile traffic on Sundays in the summer. It was soon expanded to weekends throughout the year."

But the new access, Cannato continues, "created conflicts over the vision of the park, however. It caused strain on the upkeep of the park’s grass, shrubs, and plants. It also caused political strain as the park became a center for antiwar protests and countercultural activity such as love-ins, drug taking, loud music, and other uncivil behavior. Though a patrician Republican, Hoving was sympathetic to the counterculture. Robert Moses called Hoving a ‘recreational leftist’.”

That's an interesting category and something a person might aspire to in all apparent dignity.

Hoving was replaced by August Heckscher; a man cut from much the same cloth. Years later he wrote, “To put tidiness as the first or only consideration, and to be blind to the big things that were happening seemed a betrayal of the city’s best hope.”

Of countercultural actors, he wrote, “These dissidents and incendiary spokesman were in many cases the best members of the community. For all their faults, they had the breath of life in them.”

Above, it must be emphasized, are the words of a public official, as are those below:

“People in great numbers and of all varieties came out into the parks and squares and streets, and there they professed the values they lived by, exhibited the latest fads and fashions, paraded, demonstrated, acted out their emotions, walked, bicycled, made love, just sat. It was quite a spectacle. It was a source of alarm for politicians who raised the slogan of ‘Law and Order’ to the level of Holy Writ, for bureaucrats charged with keeping the grass green, and for some people scared by the abundance of life.”

Cannato claims that Lindsay himself thought the parks ought to be "a safety valve for all this protest, that they ought to be the area where these great dramas were acted out.”

Dramas to be acted out rather than flare-ups of disobedience to be suppressed by officially sanctioned violence.

A “New York Times” essayist, Marya Mannes drafted the darker side: "Litter overflows the baskets near the food stands, lies under benches, catches on twigs. Broken glass glints in the rocks where mica once glittered…" She saw vandalism, “What can’t be plucked or stolen is often mauled and destroyed. This includes most private planting of flowers and shrubs. It also includes tree branches and whole bushes."

Heckscher found it disconcerting but not irrational: “Some of what went for malicious destruction could be seen as an attempt on their part to rectify an error in design or conception: the failure, for example, to put a gate in a place where (from their point of view) it was obviously needed. Again: it is the nature of young people to build up, and then to destroy and to build anew.”

But these were analytical, patient interpretations of conditions that ignored simpler concerns about the city's being filthy, the breakdown in order, and an absence of common decency.

Cannato discusses Lindsay’s, “inability to understand white, middle- and working-class homeowners living outside Manhattan. Secure enough not to rely on the city’s social welfare system but poor enough not to be able to indulge in the leisure style or political reforms of the upper class, these men and women possessed what appeared to Lindsay and his liberal supporters to be parochial concerns: lower taxes, more police protection, better city services, and protection of their neighborhoods.”

It is true, and he correctly points out that all ensuing coalitions pieced together by New York mayors catered to the needs of these groups.

And of course, as Cannato discusses in great detail, New York City was falling apart. That fact was the lynchpin to Lindsay's unseating his predecessor, Robert Wagner. And so it is fair he be pinned with the failure of reversing that same trend, because it easier to critique than to mend.

But there was little awareness then about the way America was selling off its manufacturing franchise, of how globalization would eliminate factory work throughout the western democracies.

The neighborhoods that came undone, that disintegrated into violence and vandalism and welfare dependency during Lindsay's time, were not the product of his policies. They were well beyond the purview of any mayor, president even, to reverse for international capital was on the move and the flow of money is as tough to stop as a stream of demonstrators flowing down Broadway.

Nonetheless, this disintegration and disorder ended the American peoples' fling with liberalism. They were incapable of associating such things with greater freedom and the reaction was/is certainly predictable if not understandable.

But the city of filth was also the city of the Velvet Underground, the city of Andy Warhol's factory, Max's Kansas City, Fania Records, Tito Puente, SoHo, Edie Sedgewick, a metroplis that provided not only America, but the world at large, with artistic vision and direction for many years afterward.

Where are their like in Rudy Giuliani's and Michael Bloomberg's burg of corporate chains and real estate empires? What art stars have occupied a like stage or projected similar, seminal profiles?

None, because there are no John Lindsays to cultivate them; to create the tolerance and permissiveness they need to thrive. And that was an accomplishment of liberalism difficult to trace back to its policy origins and evident only years after its demise. No establishment politician today would dare to understand the needs of the counterculture, or speak in its defense, let alone provide accommodation.

Cannato concludes with the lost opportunity of Lindsay's liberalism, but leans too heavily on finding fault with the man, when it was the larger picture that had distorted and rendered an ideology of cooperation and compassion something quaint and unrealizable.

The author writes, "Lindsay saw the angry extremes of the reactionary and the revolutionary pulling the nation apart. Contrasted with these two extremes, Lindsay saw 'the center based on reason and truth,' of which he was obviously a part. He rued the fact that the ideology of the center was not 'easy to articulate because it is complex and even paradoxical.' Lindsay was speaking for the liberal Republicanism of his youth and the Cold War liberal Democratic philosophy of men like Robert McNamara. But this 'vital center,' as historian Arthur Schlesinger called it, no longer existed. By the late sixties, thanks to the Vietnam War and the challenge from the student left, this kind of politics had lost all claims to moral superiority."

That vital center has been pursued by American politicians for decades now. It would seem that, rather than a bad actor come late to the stage with outdated ideas, the liberal mayor was simultaneously behind and ahead of his times.

As such, John V. Lindsay's role was a difficult one, superhuman even, and still he delivered a rave performance as the "Marvelous Mayor."