Monday, October 26, 2009

Communication Breakdown

Once upon a time there was this space, a block of years, here on earth that we called The Sixties. During that time Led Zeppelin sang a song called “Communication Breakdown,” never did I think such a gap in communication would become such a profound reality.
It was a time of vibes where you met the person inside the body you spoke to. A realization occurred in the course of an exchange when two people touched the spot of understanding in each other, it was like a bell rang, and thus the phrase “I hear you,” was born.
Picture a time on a parallel universe where people become so overly communicated that they can’t even speak to one another. Picture masses walking around with their ears closed in by plugs playing loud music to block out all the natural sounds of the world that create our characters. Picture these people holding a gadget in their hands that one can use to connect to the internet so they are not out of touch for even one relaxing moment.
Imagine people who for generations were raised by nannies forgoing all practical forms of communications as they grew up. Reductions in the communication process have now brought this new species to conversing by texting with these hand held gadgets that by the way are also telephones. It has become much more non-committal to text rather than speak. Is it any wonder that this new species is a weak group?
Perhaps this will evolve full circle and the next phase will be communicating with vibes only. That would be a positive step, but would this new species after so many reducing years know how to read vibes?
Picture all of this, naw, never mine, save your precious imagination for something more possible.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No Bell Piece Prize

The no bell piece prize? Yes, Mr. President you received a prize but now it’s time to pull together the pieces so we can all cheer once again to the sound of your bell. I was an avid supporter of your campaign and I enthusiastically voted for you. Like millions of Americans we projected our wishes on you after being starved and deprived by the worst governing in our history for the previous 8 years. We believed in you and our collective enthusiasm propelled you to the Presidency.
When I was a teenager I worked for the Bobby Kennedy campaign as a coordinator of the college youth vote. I can say that I have not been excited about anyone else since 1968, until I saw your Iowa speech as the tears rolled down my cheeks. You were given this prize because the Nobel committee also believes their projections on you will result in the change you yelled about from the rooftops of the world. I know you wish to also change the tone of politicians but domestically that may not be possible, so please if you can’t get the other side to agree, mow them down. They live every moment looking to chop you apart and discredit you in anyway they can up to and including their silence on the outrageous lunatic fringe comments about you. They literally are praying for your failure. If they needed to cross the water and you parted the sea for them they would accuse you of messing up the environment. If you single handedly found a cure for cancer they would call you a murderer and say that you had this cure as you watched people die.
This week you were given two gifts, one was a non profit health care provider denying coverage to a healthy 4 month old child because in their view the infant was over weight, and the big one was Monday’s report from the insurance companies that no matter what bill is passed they will raise rates to over 100%. They dissed you sir as you were trying to keep them at the table with apparent cooperation. Just as Senator Grassley dissed you as you were giving speeches singing his praises, as a republican who is working hard for a decent bill. He too was giving speeches saying he was against everything that he helped put in the bill and that you were out to kill grandma. Enough! It seems everyone has a seat at the negotiating table except the people. The American people are for a public option by nearly 70% including the blue dog states. Now you have your cover for passionate support on a public option. It’s unseemly to me that what the people want can’t happen because a handful of servants of the people are standing in it’s way in order to earn their checks from insurance companies. This sir is not change.
There is also the irony of being a war president and getting a peace prize. We spent 8 years in Afghanistan and we don’t want to spend 10 more there, so please earn your prize and don’t get us into another quagmire in a war that cannot be won by traditional means, as was the case in Viet Nam. We trust your judgment and your intelligent powers of discretion to come up with a creative solution.
Please sir fulfill all our projections and be the man that the whole world knows that you are and give us a meaningful healthcare bill that works for the people, with a now obviously badly needed public option. The Max Mucus bill as it stands makes me sick. Although there are good points in it the main purpose seems to be to placate all the special interests involved so they will support the bill. This is supposed to be a process to get the people what they need, not what various interests want.
One of the best lines that I ever heard came from John Lennon “Life is what’s happening to you as you are busy making other plans.” Now is your moment, seize it, stand tall and make us hear the sounds of your bell once again, by putting together the right pieces.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Berkeley in Turbulent Times Part 2

Please read Part 1 below first

There was an afternoon TV talk show at the time called THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW. He took a real chance and invited John Lennon and Yoko Ono to co-host the show for an entire week. They could invite anyone they wished to be quests. They had Jerry Rubin, Chuck Berry, some guy with something called an alpha-wave machine—you get the picture. With my hero John Lennon and offbeat guests, there was no chance I could miss this. So, a sign was posted on the shop door: “Due to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s appearance on The Mike Douglas Show every afternoon this week, Rag Theater will close at 2pm Monday through Friday. Regular hours will resume next week. Thank you.” These were not just times of dreams but also freedoms. The freedom of not conforming but adjusting everything in your life to suit you and the relaxed lifestyle, up to and including business interests.
As much as I was enjoying work and my newfound tranquility, a reward that meditation brought, this was not a stress-free time. There was much unrest in the always political and radical haven of Berkeley. And I jumped in with both feet. I got involved in protests. The hot button issue of the day was, of course, the war in Vietnam. We also protested for the rights of women, blacks, gays, and all Americans.
I attended every anti-war rally I could. I even lent a hand in organizing some of them. It was on this front that my inner struggle resurfaced. My Spiritual Compass believed in peaceful demonstrations and in setting the proper tone for all the world to see. On the other hand, the Inner Bad Boy’s slogan was “Peace Now or I’ll Hit You With This Baseball Bat!”
Over the years, it has baffled many as to how, during those turbulent times, so many supposedly stoned individuals could become so passionate and organized. We may have been stoned some of the time, even a lot of the time, but we were never apathetic. In fact, activism was part of the theater; it went hand in hand with the social changes we were striving for.
Some of the rallies were peaceful and quite beautiful. Many were held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with musicians like Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, the incomparable Joan Baez, and many more, leading the chants and making great music. Others were comprised of local protest singers, poets, and humorous clowns like Wavy Gravy, and Berkeley’s own, X Swami X, who brought the message home through the use of words and humor.
However, there was an ever-growing mistrust of government, particularly the Nixon White House, that reached a fever pitch, especially on college campuses across America, that inevitably boiled over into clashes between protestors and authorities. One of the most intense and drawn out of these played out in Berkeley.
People’s Park was born by default on a piece of land, just under 3 acres, along Telegraph Avenue. The University of California had purchased the parcel from homeowners and others using its power of eminent domain, displacing the residents. In 1968, the existing buildings were bulldozed, but due to lack of funds, the empty field was left unused, becoming debris-strewn. With the following rainy season, it quickly turned into a muddy eyesore. Finally, in April of 1969, area merchants, citizens, and students, organized and began a beautification program, planting trees and shrubs, transforming it into a neighborhood park.
People from all races and economic backgrounds joined together, supplying materials, gardening, and contributing food for what became a free kitchen, creating an isle of peace for one and all. That is, until the University raised the money to carry out its expansion plans. After much civic discourse between UC and the townsfolk who had gone to the effort and expense of creating it, including a student vote that came down in favor of keeping the park, the University’s Chancellor promised to hold off on plans until an accord could be reached.
However, then-Governor Ronald Reagan, who took office on a popular get tough on protesters campaign, framed the situation as a leftist challenge to the University’s property rights. The contentious rhetoric escalated. So did tempers.
“It’s nothing but a safe haven for commie sympathizers,” the governor stated. “If there has to be a bloodbath, then let's get it over with.”
In the early morning hours of May 15, 1969, Reagan ordered hundreds of police officers to clear the area around the park. Much of what was planted was destroyed and a wire fence was installed to keep people out.
Within hours, a few thousand citizens and students gathered nearby for a rally, which turned into a march through the streets toward the park, with protesters chanting “We want the park!” As the now unruly crowd approached, they were met with police tear gas and nightsticks. Protesters threw rocks and bottles, and tried tearing down the fence. Their numbers grew to 3000. When backup police teams arrived, all in all, nearly 800, they went in swinging. Sheriff’s deputies, later called “Blue Meanies,” fired shotguns loaded with large buckshot, injuring hundreds. During one skirmish, they fired at a small group watching from a nearby rooftop, killing one student, and permanently blinding a carpenter. Neither had been there to protest.
Governor Reagan declared a state of emergency, sending in 2700 National Guard troops. The streets were barricaded with barbed wire, and helicopters sprayed tear gas on any group that began to assemble. On May 30, a citizens group was granted a city permit to assemble, and nearly a third the population of Berkeley marched past the park, protesting the occupation of the city, as well as the death and injury caused by authorities.
The National Guard occupied Berkeley for weeks. The government’s mission to take back the park succeeded, and the land remained fenced off. In May of 1971, on the first anniversary of the riot, there was another demonstration, but to no avail, the park remained fenced in and off-limits.
In 1972, in response to the Nixon Administration’s escalation of the Vietnam War and the mining of Haiphong harbor, I participated in the organizing of a public protest. Flyers went up all over Berkeley, and word spread (all the way to the governor’s mansion in Sacramento). As thousands gathered in the streets, Reagan lost no time in sending in the National Guard again, equipped with tear gas and accompanied by police in full riot gear. This time, we were determined to voice our protest in a non-violent, “Gandhi-like,” way. We believed that peace could only be achieved through peaceful means.
“Let’s not stoop to their level and become like them,” one of the organizers announced to the crowd through a bullhorn. “The world will be more sympathetic to our cause if we remain calm.”
Arm in arm, we marched through the streets to the park, which had now become a greater symbol of protest over our government’s foreign policy in Vietnam. As much as we tried to keep things peaceful, the hostility between the National Guard, the cops, and the protesters, pent up from the previous riots and the constant sight of the wasted, unused park, busted wide open. Fires broke out, heads were cracked, and I personally will never forget the effects of the tear gas. The worst of the violence broke out as we tried to take down the fence, but we managed to tear it down.
Afterward, the city of Berkeley and the university worked out a lease agreement that allowed the park to be used by the community and, for a time, to be administered by a citizen’s council. Over subsequent years, the park has remained a point of contention. The university has tried to reclaim the land several times for various uses, but each time has met with community resistance and solidarity.
Today, the park, though still university-owned, is open to locals, with a community garden, a free food kitchen, a basketball court, and other offerings.
After things settled down, I began to immerse myself more deeply in my spiritual studies of the Path. I meditated twice daily. I attended Satang (union with the truth) twice a week, where initiates would meditate, then hear a taped reading or message from Master. Afterward, I would usually light up a cigarette. One day, as I did, our group leader explained that intoxicants slowed progress. I decided to quit. I put out my cigarette, threw away the pack, and didn’t touch another for almost 4 years. I read Masters books and listened to his talks and became more and more absorbed in the Path. When it was announced that Master was about to visit the U.S., with a stop in the Bay Area, we all eagerly awaited. Meeting him in the physical and being in his presence for a couple of weeks was like being at the source of all bliss. I felt spiritually and psychically charged (I would joke that “Master Charge” was the only credit I had at that time). I knew I needed more, that this course of study, this way of life, was so right for me, so I decided to follow Master to India, where he had his international center, and where many other initiates were living and studying.
My Berkeley period was a time of discovery. Discovering a new way of life, the Berkeley way, and discovering the Path, gave me a fresh outlook and made me more whole. If this wasn’t HOME, I was now a little bit closer.

This is an excerpt from my book "I Just Happened To Be There," which my agent is about to shop, look for Part 2 soon. Go to Aug 09 on this blog to see "What's In My Book" for more of the books contents.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Berkeley in Turbulent Times Part 1

Coming Of Age, Or When Coming Is No Longer Enough
Part 1
Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, in 1971, was one of the most uniquely progressive streets in one of the most uniquely progressive cities in the world. At one end stood Sather Gate—the entrance to UC Berkeley, a beautiful campus with streams, creeks, and eucalyptus trees—at the other end, the city of Oakland. But it was all that lay between that made it special. The times held great promise. Everything was possible, with or without money, and this was the place that seemed to embody it all.
I met with the leader of the meditation group that Master had led me to, and was staying in his Berkeley home. Meeting him and his family was the equivalent of meeting long lost relatives. More parts were coming together, strengthening the whole.
Mindful of the stipulations of my probation officer back east that I find employment within two weeks, I pounded the pavement of Telegraph Avenue, determined to find a job on my first full day there.
All along Telegraph were a variety of stores and restaurants, some of which seemed straight off some film studio’s back lot. Many were managed and designed to reflect these socially conscious times. There were Co-Op stores and supermarkets, owned partly by their customers. There was John’s Soup Kitchen, a great place for interesting soups and sandwiches, that donated profits to a host of city causes. Then there was One World Family, a restaurant whose exterior was covered with psychedelic images, and whose proprietor, unfortunately, was an unlikable sort. He claimed to have been abducted by aliens and selected to spread their message on earth. He sought followers by misleading them with the promise they could leave on the spaceship when it ultimately returned for him. In time, I would grow to so dislike this character and the way he treated others, that I wished I could contact that ship to come pick him up ASAP.
Next door was the Mediterranean CafĂ©, serving European-style coffees, that became the home of my new obsession—strong Italian coffee. There were bookstores of every kind. Cody’s was well known for publishing local political essayists and writers, as well as poets. Shambala had the largest assortment of spiritual books I had ever seen.
And nestled in between was Rag Theater, a hippie-style clothing store. I met with the owner, Gene, and told him of my background as a salesman and buyer for a clothing store in my hometown of Rochester, New York, where I had worked on and off since I was sixteen. Actually, I had originally lied about my age to get the job. The owner and his wife were so happy with me, that by the time they discovered my true age, it didn’t matter. They treated me like a son. It was a wonderful and long relationship that taught me much about business. I also told Gene of my experience at Paul Sergeant’s and The Brick Shed House in Greenwich Village, both, famous boutiques on West 4th Street. Gene seemed like a hip guy, so I leveled with him about my probation requirement.
“Say no more,” he said. “You’re a cool guy and besides, anybody from New York can do the job better than anyone from here. Start tomorrow!”
I contacted my probation officer back in Rochester to report the news. Gene helped with the appropriate documentation, and thankfully, I was allowed to fulfill my probation in this fascinating, progressive mecca. I was in heaven. I now worked at a very cool place in a town that strived to be a utopia. I began to think that the spiritual Master, into whose studies I had been initiated, was looking out for me.
For the first time in a long time, I was enjoying myself. I had been war worn from my exhausting LSD experimentation, not to mention my arrest and the resulting stress. Now I was part of something positive and uplifting. I never felt better or clearer. I was attending group meetings, learning more and more about the “Path,” and meditating, glimpsing that euphoric state I had been seeking so vigorously. And I was CLEAN! No drugs, not even the smoking kind! Yet, I felt intoxicated. This is when I truly found my Guru. The Guru appears when the soul is ready. And ready I was!
I spent my days waiting on customers while listening to great music, selected by all of us who worked in the store. We had a deal with Moe’s Bookstore, where we had money on deposit. This allowed us to choose new albums whenever our current repertoire needed refreshing. Out the window, the endless Fellini-style parade of Telegraph Avenue would file by. As I took in the potpourri of sights, I would find myself daydreaming that the store was mine
Tim Leary had a son named Jackie who used to hang out front of Rag Theater. Jackie was a really nice guy who was a bit melancholy. Even though he was closer to my age, he hung around with a younger group of charming mischievous children that called themselves “The Mini Mob.” I really liked those pain-in-the-ass, ballsy kids. Jackie never knew it but I would get word back to his father on how he was doing. I know Tim appreciated it. Yes, Jackie, he really cared. They never got on that well, which bothered Tim greatly through the years. It can’t be easy to be the son of such a controversial figure.
The neighborhood attracted all kinds, some interesting and colorful, others less fortunate, even sad. Marty Balin, lead singer of Jefferson Airplane, was often hanging around. Apparently he and the group parted ways and he hit the drug skids. He would come around completely strung out. I was a huge fan, and it broke my heart to see him like this. Fortunately, in time he got himself together and rejoined the band, making a comeback with some of the best songs he ever wrote, singing better than he ever had, his music sounding even more poignant after he found his way out of the abyss.
One day Gene came in to the store and approached me, holding up a set of keys.
“Here,” he said, jingling them.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Take them, the place is yours.”
“What are you talking about?" I replied, sure he was kidding.
He wasn’t. Proving once again that dreams really do come true, apparently even daydreams. He had lost so much money through his Scientology that he could no longer afford to run the business. He said that all the stock was paid for, as was the rent. I could keep any money from sales as a severance bonus. After I sold everything, I could either get up some dough to keep the store going or I could walk away and let it close permanently. I appreciated the opportunity very much, but the likelihood of my being able to raise enough money on short notice to carry the place was slim. I decided to take a different approach, a more Berkeley approach.
I immediately called in the Mini Mob and outfitted them. I invited all my friends to come in and wardrobe themselves, on the house. I sold some of the remaining stock, and gave more away to homeless and others in need.

This is an excerpt from my book "I Just Happened To Be There," which my agent is about to shop, look for Part 2 soon. Go to Aug 09 on this blog to see "What's In My Book" for more of the books contents.