You Have to Tough Up

by Matt Olson


I was always getting whacked in the nose. I remember, and it's a fact, that when I was late-2 or early-3 years old, my same-aged pal hit me in the nose. Happened again before I was much on the road. Bobby Thompson had older brothers who beat the hell out of him, so he knew exactly how to set me down at age 4. The story about my cousin and the rake is in this site somewhere. In those early, early years, my dad was too busy to get involved or too distracted by trying to make a living. Maybe he felt these events were, more or less, the standard stuff of growing up.

Jump ahead to 1957. We moved lots when I was a kid. My dad was a U.S. Forest Ranger and went wherever he won a better job. Now was Gallup, New Mexico, and I was in first grade. I came home crying one day. A 3rd grade kid, Billy G., had socked me in the eye and choked me down. My dad tried to calm me, in his own hapless way, and we had a mostly pleasant evening. He went out for a few hours, and when he got back, he told me we would do something about "it" in the morning. I did not understand.

He roused me by 7 next morning-- in this case a Saturday. He had already been up for two hours. He took me out to our garage. We lived in a duplex apartment in Gallup, and we sort of had a one-car garage, but not quite. The semi-garage was now my designated gym. The car could be outside in the weather. Didn't matter. He had decided.

He had filled a double-layer gunny sack with sand. Sand. He rigged up a block-and-tackle arrangement to hoist this hundred pound-plus bag and lock it. This was to be my Heavy Bag. Night before, when he was out and about, he found a Speed Bag--- that hanging apparatus for rhythm and accuracy...tada ta tada ta tada ta ... yes? It was up on the wall, just the right height for a first grader. He had also fashioned a jump-rope--put genuine tape around the ends of a piece of rope. And that was about it. 

Here's the deal. When he went off to WWII, he took up boxing. He already had plenty of rage and plenty of fights in his pocket. While he was in the Army, he won two Lightweight titles on different military bases, and his bad attitude never improved. There was no way he would see me come come crying again. Training began.

I loved learning to work the Speed Bag. That was musical. Learning to jump-rope-- doing the quick skips and crossovers-- was a rush. The Heavy Bag was especially interesting, and both of my wrists and hands remember it today. Somehow, in his rush to tough me up, he never thought about gloves or--better-- wraps to protect my wrists and hands. So here's a first grade kid, hammering on a hundred-plus bag of sand--hands bleeding with nothing but frequent threats and infrequent encouragements from the coach. Wrists were preparing for an arthritic sensation and surgery in about 60 years. We sparred every day. He didn't throw many punches and let me hit good body shots. It was good training; and he taught me to hit hard. When I was 10 or 11, I stepped to him. He finally threw one for real. When I regained my senses, I waited for 5 more years before testing those waters again.

 I could punch, despite my small hands and my "mother's wrists." I knocked down Billy G. with one shot within weeks after training began, and I only had to do it twice before he understood. I beat up two 6th graders somehow mad after I jeopardized their uncle's job by setting the elementary school on fire. They were upset and wanted to fight. This time, I understood. I know it sounds bad, but it was a small fire, and Uncle Pete put it out by himself. 

 By age 11 or 12, I did not want to hit anybody, anymore, anytime. I was almost 5' 7"--about the same as now. It hurt to hit; it hurt to get hit. And other guys were starting through their growth spurts. I didn't know that mine was done, but I was tired of getting hit.  Last general schoolyard fight I had was with Henry Jackson, because he called me "Mertue" (or Myrtue). Every Navajo kid who lived in the BIA dorms in Holbrook, AZ, between 1962 and 1964 knows why Henry and I had to fight. Call me a fuckin’ Mertue. He should have known better. None of the rest of yours' business. And because of the whole deal, the whole deal, I was so ashamed. It wasn't cause I fought a Navajo kid. We fought all the time, cause they knew. At least they knew they could fight with me. The Mormons and other random kids had no clue and wouldn't dare mix it with the BIA dorm Indians. They helped me tough up for sure.

I was maybe the only, or for sure one of the onliest, in my 7th Grade Civics class in Holbrook, Arizona, who said aloud that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was doing the right and moral thing and that he was asking for nothing more than legal Constitutional Rights. Not exactly a comment designed to make friends with the Mormon kids, who, by 7th grade, were already starting to close-off outsiders. I read about Ghandi, and non-violent resistance. I saw the logic--and tragic loss-- of the argument. No worry. I believed and still do.  I had two brief relapses, but I keep trying. This is one about the relapses.

Just as I was starting on the road to non-violence, my parents moved us to Albuquerque, and I had to tough up again. Not sure how, but two of the most dangerous guys in my junior high became my friends. I knew one from Gallup! Both had parole officers. One had helped another junior high student acquire a protective metal plate in his head. No idea why they liked me; no idea why they didn't beat me down. Because of them, most people didn't fuck with me. I had only two fights in the Burque. One ended as soon as he learned that I could punch. That guy and I became good pals, and he taught me how to smoke cigarettes. Or maybe that was payback. The other tussle ended as soon as I hit Alphonso smack on his kneecap with a three-foot piece of rebar. As soon as I had his attention, he announced that the fight was over. Still, I carried an illegal knife to school every day--not bad cause some other guys brought guns. It was 1964. I got called out of class one day because someone accused me of cutting holes in the seats on a school bus. I figured that the knife in my pocket would seal my coffin, but when they found out that I didn't ride the bus, they sent me back to class. Close call. Never had to turn out my pockets or surrender the knife.

Next, we moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin. Actually only one fight there, although I tried to instigate two others-- just to get established, you see. I had a girlfriend in 10th grade, and this idiot named Bill was snapping her ass with a winter scarf. She asked him to stop, but he didn't. I told him to stop, and he laughed and popped her ass one more time. I pushed him against a wall and got off a clean kick to his nuts. When he slumped against the wall, trying to suck in some air, I punched him in the throat.  End of fight, and no broken knuckles or any of that hassle. No bloody noses or any other evidence he could take to the Vice Principal. He gave me decent distance for the rest of high school, which was good because I was still only about 5'7", and Bill was a big guy. I guess I took his breath away.

Toward the end of the next summer, I almost became a better person. Father James Groppi, Alderwoman Belle Phillips, Dick Gregory, and others coordinated with the NAACP to begin nonviolent, open-housing marches in Milwaukee. Milwaukee County (and Waukesha County too) had laws on the books that forbade people of color from owning property. Pay taxes, yes. Own your own home or business?  No. This was blatantly and shamelessly racist, but the Great White North is what it is. In the later 60s, it was reported there were more Klan members and other Aryan freaks in Wisconsin than in the whole Deep South. Remember, MLK refused to march north into or beyond Cicero, Illinois. He feared for his life, and he was damn right. 

The law affected us directly. In New Mexico and maybe even Arizona, my parents filed taxes and owned their homes jointly. This was illegal in Wisconsin, because of my mother. BIA Indian, the kind that gave me license and encouragement to play--and fight---with the dorm Indians. Didn't matter that she worked for the federal government. Under Wisconsin law, if my father died, nobody owned our home. It couldn't be her. It couldn't be me. There was too much good blood. My dad and I were watching local television news one evening. Upstanding White citizens were throwing bricks and other assorted shit at the people marching for open housing. The Milwaukee pigs were showering the line with tear gas and beating on them when possible. My dad asked me if I thought the Marchers were right. I said yes they were, and that the cops and Southsiders were wrong. His words were these: "Why are you sitting here on your ass watching TV?" Next night, I was at Saint Boniface church on the North Side, beginning my nonviolent training as a new member of the NAACP Youth Council, and getting ready to get on the line and be bricked and gassed. I even show up on two documentary pieces about Father Groppi.

The marches were led and guided by some young men--older than me but young-- called the NAACP Commandos. Their jobs were to make sure that we were peaceful and never acted out at the hate--that and to put their bodies in the way when the cops or anyone else attacked us. They were mostly Black, mostly from Milwaukee, and a few were Viet Nam vets. One White Commando turned out to be the older brother of a fellow, recently deceased, who I worked with at Hamline University for 37 years. Those guys were heroes. When the cops attacked the line, they avoided the Commandos as much as possible. It was easy to do because there might only be 10 Commandos trying to protect 200 people. The cops never went near the Viet Nam vets, and they avoided Major Milton cause he was one big guy.  They loved to find the weak spots in the line and wade in swinging their riot sticks. One evening, some bigot moron in a downtown hotel tossed a water glass out of a window, and it hit a woman two people ahead of me in the line. When she fell, the cops were on her like a dog pack. No curiosity about who might have thrown a glass out of the 10th or 12th floor of the hotel, but they beat her down good. She was, perhaps, 65 years old with grey hair- a dangerous and subversive person.

It was lots of fun getting gassed and bricked and sticked, but like all parties it came to an end. When the Civil Rights Act of 1968 became law, it contained a clause (Title VIII) that forbade unfair housing practices. Now, there was no need for Open Housing marches, for the Commandos, or for the NAACP Youth Council. We all just drifted away. I tried to believe that I took my non-violent training with me.

Two years later, I was in college at Madison... University of Wisconsin. The school was a great boiling pot of political awakening. Lots of clashes between students and the local cops. In late October or early November, the Teaching Assistants (TAs) organized for a strike. The great majority of classes... maybe 3/4 were taught by TAs. The "real" professors wrote grant proposals and did research. They paid TAs to teach their courses, but the TAs had no health care, no job security, and no nothing. In my NAACP vacuum, I signed up. Became an undergrad member of the Strike Force. I walked out of classes on strike, and got some PASS grades because we shut lots of departments down. No violence.

One day, minding my own, I was at some kind of street party. I think it was on Mifflin, where the old time freaks lived. I know the band was Tayles' Blues Band, good lawd. As I'm enjoying myself, a friend and another guy, Crazy Joe, hauled me up on a porch to have a chat. Crazy Joe, a Viet Nam vet, says "You are some kind of organizer, right?" I said that I was involved. He asked why I wasn't involved with the Anti-War movement. I told him I was 4-F... disqualified from military service since I was 12. As far as I was concerned, the war in Nam was not my business. Rights, yes. War, not so much. Joe spent a few hours teaching me. If I was into civil rights, why wasn't I interested in the wholesale slaughter of the Vietnamese? Why wasn't I concerned that most kids drafted into that disaster were Black? Why, especially me, wasn't I concerned that the US was drafting people right off the Rez, when upper class white guys ( Like Dick Cheney and Trump and Ted Nugent) got exemptions over and over. Turned my life.

Some weeks later, there was to be a candlelight procession of anti-war protest. We would walk, everyone with a candle, from the campus to the capitol. We were to walk silently, in peaceful attitude, to the capitol grounds where various members of the clergy would read the names of Wisconsin kids that died in Viet Nam. In those times, there was a commons, near the U library, one-way streets hemmed it in on two sides. The U library blocked off one end... some other U building occupied the other. Most of the marching folks were gathered in the commons area with our candles... some were backed up behind us toward the middle of campus. Before we got in motion, buses full of Dane County Sheriffs and City Cops pulled up on the two streets trapping us on the commons green. These pigs piled out and just waded into the crowd swinging. They beat the shit out of anyone who couldn't get away. They went into the U library and beat on students not even involved. If you do not believe me, just check it out on your search crutch. The cops gassed the McDonalds near campus that night. And they were only getting started.

A guy I knew and I ran like hell, slow as I was, to a friend's apartment off of State Street. I really didn't know New York Pete well. He was from Brooklyn. He consumed unusual quantities of drugs. He once got up screaming as his flight from NYC to Wisconsin was taking off, complaining that the bus was going too fast. That night, while I wore my jeans, navy pea coat, and a bandana (for the tear gas--same blue bandana as in the cover photo), he was a wearing a gold lame suit. Looked kind of like Monty Rock III.  I suppose we became friends that night. I doubt he recalls it.

 The place where we went to hide was at the end of an alley. You could sit in the "living" room, look down the alley, and have a special little window on State Street. What we watched were cops chasing students in one direction, and then there would be cops and students going the other direction. Roiling clouds of tear gas or pepper gas blew left this time and to the right next time. The street show was subsiding after what seemed about two hours. Pete and I agreed that we could try to get back to our own places and wash off some tear gas. 

We walked down the alley and turned right onto State Street. What wonderful luck! Just coming around the next corner on the same sidewalk were 8 Dane County Cops, marching two by two, all decked out in riot gear and carrying the big sticks.  I immediately backed to the wall and put my hands up. Pete was from Brooklyn, however. The first two cops walked just past us, Pete was still pretending to be some random, casual person, wearing a gold lame suit, hair down below his shoulders, just walking down State Street at 2 AM. The second two cops stopped to protect and serve. The cop closest held his big ol' stick in both hands and snapped my throat even closer to the wall than I wanted. The other cop shoved NY Pete-- can't be too specific on the method, because I was a little distracted. What I remember with DIAMOND clarity is that NYP tried to kick his cop in the nuts. While his cop was beating Pete senseless, mine held my throat against the wall with one hand and beat my shins with his fucking big stick. He kept saying "Don't fall down. Don't you dare fall down."  He didn't know that I was tough up. I didn't fall, but I was crying real tears. My blue-jean bell bottoms were soaked with blood below my knees.  If you don't believe me, I'll show you the divots in my shins. The cops walked off, laughing. NYP and I helped each other home for the night. And I still wonder if he remembers any of his time at UW. I never saw him again.

Days later, maybe the next day, there was to be a protest on Bascomb Hill... center of campus those days. Some big classroom building at the top of the small hill. Lots of green space. If I remember correctly--but I have avoided Madison since 1970--maybe State Street starts at the base of Bascomb Hill. Some important Madison street does. So there we were. Lots of students and others assembled to protest the ugly treatment from previous peaceful protests. The cops showed up. They had no intention of tolerating this bunch of people with moral and ethical and ethnical arguments. They attacked. I continued to assume my better-than-thou nonviolent stance. Better to be sacrificed for a noble cause than to harm

During that horrible afternoon, the cops charged up the hill to clear us away. A cop, probably a good guy with a family and all that, shot a tear-gas canister at me. Not near me. I realized he shot AT me. I ducked. Almost reflexively, I picked up a red-brown paving brick that was nearby and threw it. Like my cousin Mikey, I had a good arm-- not as good as Mikey's, ever.  I only bounced it in front of the cop, but the bounce caught him in his left knee, and he went down like the sack of shit he was being.

I cannot tell you how it felt. It was better than sex (I was 18. Didn't know much then.) The release had not come since I punched that stupid fucking Bill in the throat. Good Gawd! When you grow up poking people in the eye just to distract them or punching them up in the nose so they pay attention or taking out their knee sideways, it is hard to put it away and keep it locked up. My short stint as a non-violent pacifist was dangling by a thread.

The worst of it came at The Bridge. Cops are easy to ambush because of their herd mentality and authoritarian outlook. Two nights earlier, a Viet Vet led us up the Fraternity/Sorority Row. We pushed a  dumpster into the middle of the street and lit it up. It didn't take long until a cop car showed up. Unfortunately, the herd mentality and convinced these big porkers to crowd into their car 3 in the front and 3 in the back. When they pulled up, they were so wedged into the car they were struggling to get the doors open. A guy from Florida , Rick, had really been beaten badly earlier that week. He saw the opportunity before anybody. In the seconds before the cops could even move their arms, Rick smashed a cinder block-- not a red paving brick-- through the front-side passenger window. Have you ever seen a cinder block crash through a car window and into the big fat head pushing against that window?  It was awesome and inspirational! As debris suddenly rained down on the car, the driver managed to pork it into reverse and screech away. They did not come back that night. I got to spend most of the night in a sorority house, nothing naughty; but the women helped me clean up a few cuts and wash tear gas out of my eyes. I appreciated it.

 The dorm where I lived, actually where I kept my clothes and guitar and sometimes ate, was connected by the Witte Bridge, to a nearby dorm full of women. Co-ed dorms were, in those days, the stuff of teen-porn fantasy and would not occur for 20 or more years later when young men were learning to be less predatory. The evening began when the Madison cops threw tear gas into the ventilator system in my dorm. This was actually a minor incident. I already mentioned how they gassed the McDonald's on campus. They also gassed the children's wing of the UW hospital. They also blocked off Mifflin Street and hacked fire hoses so the fire department couldn't get in to put out fires in hippie houses-- fires that started because the pigs launched big, hot, gas-canisters into a few lucky houses. I told Senator William Proxmire, in person, about all this shit, and I still thank him for trying to sue the city of Madison on behalf of relatively peaceful people. 

Back to The Bridge. When the vent system blew tear gas into every room, 13 floors of male students headed for the exits. Cops were all over the place, taking a free whack with the big sticks, knocking kids down, and dragging some off. Those of us who had already been seriously gassed and beat around stayed inside and watched it happen. Once you've had a bunch of CS tear gas, it stops being annoying and only makes you mad. It makes you kind of high, but not in a happy way. When the streets cleared, we went out.... maybe 10 of us, and pushed a University delivery truck into the street under the bridge. Some of us got busy collecting paving bricks and other heavy shit for throwing. Others got busy puncturing the gas tank on the little truck. Somebody lit a match and we waited. When the fire department arrived, they waived at us and laughed and chatted. Even the fire department hated the Madison cops. They put out the fire and we hid and waited a little more. When the cops came, we ambushed them and got payback. One fine officer shot a big CS canister at me, and I grabbed it (cause I remembered to wear a glove!) and threw it back. Lucky toss; landed right between his legs. Unlike me and other students, he wasn't used to getting gassed. He tore off his helmet and gas mask in an automatic, but stupid, move to get relief. No helmet is a mistake when you are too close to someone with a brick, a bad attitude, and an arm almost as good as Mikey's. I hope he drools and stutters to this day.

A guy came up to me in the middle of this fest and showed me his gun--Smith & Wesson revolver. He said that if I would back him, he would shoot. I declined. Two few shots, plus he was crazy. Things were getting awfully confusing. I found my friends, Bob (thanks forever) and Jerry (now a MD) and we disappeared back into the dorm. 

Kent State was one or two days away. Only one student got shot by a cop in Madison, and he lived. The story showed up only in the Milwaukee newspaper, so little ruckus about it. The Kent State killings made national news. I'm sure that the Dane County and Madison cops, once inspired, could have killed more than four. It was time to stop this machine.

But they keep at it, don't they? The authoritarian rigidity remains in place. The herd mentality must be a cognitive deficiency prerequisite for the job. Close ranks. Internal hearings. No charges. No reason to look over here. Protect and Serve.

My statutes of limitations expired in 1976. There are still people in prison for inciting at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, 1968. 

 

 

 


Lucky Me

by Matt Olson


I don't remember exactly who or where, but someone, either entertained or annoyed by my guitar playing, asked "What is her name?" The question was in reference to the guitar, and the whole misunderstanding should be blamed on B. B. King. He had a succession of guitars that he called "Lucille." For many years, Gibson guitar company produced a semi-hollow body electric (your choice of glossy Black or Red) called "Lucille" in honor of B. B..  I'm not sure if they still make it these days. I once owned a Lucille for 3 weeks or so. I don't remember whether it was the Black or Red version. The point is that lots of folks think guitars should be named after women because they (the guitars) have curvaceous bodies and often break your heart. But that was B. B. King's influence.

Eric Clapton, no guitar slob, named one of his guitars "Blackie" and another "Brownie." Guess why? Willie Nelson, surely an official guitar player, named his guitar "Trigger," after Roy Rogers' horse. This was Roy Rogers, the TV cowboy in the 50s and maybe 60s, not the great slide guitar player. Stevie Ray Vaughan had guitars named “Number One,” “Red,” and “Yellow.” See? So if we can agree that guitars aren't necessarily named after women, I can tell you how I got my guitar and how it got it's name. The entire story is a strange and twisted convergence of somethings. Might be energies. Might just be nonsense.

I got a toy guitar when I was 4 or 5, but it was just a toy. I first tried to guitar, for real, in 1962, and I wanted an electric guitar. Of course, that was not to happen. Electric guitars were for rock 'n roll juvenile delinquents and punks. My parents would have none of it, and they had the onliest checkbook that could have paid for a 1961 or '62 Les Paul or Stratocaster. My lawnmowing money just didn't make it. Imagine how my career trajectory would have changed if I only had an electric guitar and a pair of black jeans--both forbidden. My father told me that if I would play a classical guitar and take lessons--better yet, if I learned to play Flamenco-- I might get an electric one day. I actually thought about it for a few minutes. Then I realized that the owner of the music store in our little town was not a source of classical or Flamenco lessons. In fact, all he taught to his 2 or 3 guitar students was country/western strumming. No classical guitar or lessons in my near future, unless I wanted to strum classical with a guitar pick while yodeling about the Red River Valley. One of my friends taught me 1 or 2 chords on his acoustic guitar, and that was about it. The Beatles and Rolling Stones had not yet arrived in the USA, but their insane successes only made my guitar problem worse.

Next was Albuquerque in 1965. My girlfriend was taking guitar lessons and taught me the chords to "Abilene," a country strum song that I have long forgotten, because I was motivated. She showed me a few more chords and stuff, but I was more interested in her than her guitar. Nonetheless, the seeds were planted. Bob Dylan released Highway 61 Revisited that year, and I began to gobble up older Dylan songs and songbooks, which were really interesting for the lyrics. I could read the words, but I still had no guitar or reasonable facsimile.  I started to write obtuse poems, which I would set to imaginary music once I got my imaginary guitar. Nevermind the delusion about learning to play the instrument. My friend Sally listened patiently to the poems and agreed that I was a troubled youth.  

In 1966, my parents moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin, just for fun. I managed to save enough money to buy my very first guitar from Joe Bose, at a shop on North Avenue, in Milwaukee. It was a Harmony brand. I worked hard, and the guitar worked pretty well. When I was 16, that guitar became guitar parts, thanks to Trans World Airlines. It never earned a name, gendered or no.

Parts of that guitar were bartered, along with about $200 for a new guitar, same shop, same Joe Bose, that I played for about 30 years. It was a Kalamazoo-built Epiphone Texan. It came with me to Madison and San Francisco. It traveled through Chicago and New Orleans and across Texas in the middle of the night to the safety of Albuquerque. It never got a name. A decent series of more guitars, only 4 or 5, went by. No names except for the Gibson Lucille, and that guitar came pre-named, so it doesn't count. In 1989 or 90, my loving wife, Marcie, bought me a Gibson Dove, the first high-quality instrument that I ever had. It was one of the first from the new Gibson plant in Bozeman, and I got to talk with the man who built it. For anyone familiar, it has good tone and all that, but the indentifier is a really fancy pick-guard. It is inlayed with a mother-of-pearl dove, a good choice given the name. The guy from Gibson was delighted to learn that I was a finger picker. He told me that, if I ever used a flat-pick and scratched that inlay, he would find me. Not my problem now.

One day I was reading an interview in a guitar magazine.  Richard Hoover, the interviewee and founder of Santa Cruz guitars, pointed out that you can spend money in different ways. In those days, when buying good acoustic guitars, you needed to think somewhere between $2000 and the sky, even for a used instrument. Mr. Hoover also noted that you could buy a highly decorated guitar, knowing that a substantial part of the price might be in the decorations. On the other hand, your investment could be in the craft and the sound. Among other instruments, he mentioned the Santa Cruz Model H. It stuck fast in my head, but it took me a while to find one. One afternoon, I wandered into a high-end guitar shop near the U of Minnesota campus. I asked about Breedlove, Taylor, and Santa Cruz guitars. They had a few of each. I found the first two interesting and likable but I saved the Santa Cruz H for last. The small-body guitar had such a deep, projective voice that it startled me. I thanked the staff and headed off to figure out how to get one at a price that didn't hurt too much. 

Now comes an odd part of the story, odd partly because it involves a former student named Pat. He was about 6'8" and wore a straight-up, flat-top haircut and old style, black, horned-rim glasses. His humor was wonderfully twisted, and he laughed at strange things--like when he and his girlfriend got mugged and beat up the muggers. Just thinking about him makes me smile deep-- in the best way. At the time of this event, he had graduated and worked for university admissions. There was a ruckus in the neighborhood that autumn. Someone opened a gun shop about 3 blocks from an elementary school and even closer to a couple of churches. There were people with signs, marching around and protesting in front of the store. According to city ordinance the whole thing was legal.

Pat called me one afternoon and proposed that we go down to the shop and pretend that we are interested in doing the paperwork and buying guns. How could I resist? We made our way through the 3 or 4 protestors on the sidewalk, and we rang the bell so that the owner could "buzz" us in. The owner, already wary and pissed-off, did not seem to approve of us. He asked what we wanted, and Pat told him he wanted to buy a handgun. 

"For target or for self-defense?"  And Pat said the following:

"What kind of gun would I need to really stop a guy in his tracks? Really put him down." This is true.

Mr. Gun Shop Owner beamed like a neon Christmas tree. The previous December (1993), a man opened fire on passengers riding a Long Island commuter train. Mr. Owner held up a semi-automatic pistol and announced that it was the same model used by the Long Island commuter shooter. He assured Pat that he could fire as fast as he could pull the trigger and that the gun would never jam. Best of all, the shop carried extra-large capacity magazines, soon to be declared illegal, for that model. He promised Pat that he could shoot all day. He made sure that the gun was empty and offered it to Pat so that he could "get the heft." Then he turned his attention to me.

In high school, I had a friend who owned a Browning 9mm Automatic pistol. I did not know the names of any other guns. I had a BB gun as a little kid. Had a 22 rifle for a couple of years in the early '60s. Nothing else. So, when Mr. Owner asked me what I wanted, I asked if he had a Browning 9mm Auto. Nothing doing! He explained how bad that model was and how much more I would love the Long Island commuter shooter. And so we gathered the paperwork, NRA applications, event notifications.... and left.

Pat and I began to abuse email and send each other pictures of handguns. It was a good laugh, a nice private joke. When winter rolled around, my wife, Marcie, and daughter, Mira, and I went to Champaign, Illinois to spend the holiday with my mother-in-law. The gun game was still on, but only Pat and I knew about it. Marcie's mother came home one day and announced that she had not yet shopped for my Christmas present. She was sorry and asked what I would really like. Out of the great blue, I told her "I'd like a carton of Lucky Strikes and a handgun." This was a good one, a real knee-slapper. We stopped smoking cigarettes in 1982, when our daughter was born. I don't know if I ever smoked a Lucky Strike, but it seemed funny. And, of course, we never had guns of any kind.

My wife, Marcie, went off like a Roman Candle. "Matthew! How can you say that in front of your daughter? Tell her you were just kidding!"

Instead, I told Mira about a guy I used to know who always kept his pack of Lucky Strikes wrapped up in the sleeve of his T-shirt. I tried to pantomime his very cool, Lucky Strike strut. And as for the handgun... Oh you know.

The three ladies all left to go play more shopping. I did not. When they came in at the end of the day, Marcie's mother apologized once again, and, once again, asked what I wanted for Christmas. Because my answer was so well received earlier in the day, I tried it again. We spent the evening in uncomfortable silences. I found a deck of playing cards and showed Mira how I would carry my Luckies, tucked into the sleeve of my shirt, if I was ever so lucky to get them. This did nothing to break through the silence, but I thought I was pretty funny. 

Gift exchange came and went, but there were no cigarettes or gun. I sort of forgot the whole issue, and our silence was eventually broken during the 9 hour drive home. Back to normal, more or less. A few days later, I was working at my computer in the basement. I didn't actually hear Marcie come downstairs, but she was standing behind me when I opened an e-mail from Pat. Of course it was a photo of a handgun-- a Baretta 9mm Automatic, if I remember. I chortled; she yelled.

"If you stop this, I'll buy you that damn guitar you keep moping about!" I just laughed and promised to stop sending gun pin-ups. She, on the other hand, was already in motion. She contacted Elderly Instruments, same shop where she found the Dove and I found my brief Lucille. She asked if they happened to have any used, Santa Cruz Model H guitars. They had two, and she asked them to choose between them. Three days later, when I walked in the front door, there was a large shipping box from Elderly Instruments. No guns have been mentioned since that day. No carton of cigarettes either. And she still loves me.

Nonetheless, you probably know my guitar's name now. Or maybe I'm the one who is Lucky.

 

 

 

 

 


Jonathan Swift Revisited

by Matt Olson


After the fun of a very violent early childhood, I became a transient pacifist. I learned the fundamentals of nonviolent resistance, and I relished the opportunity to tell anyone, anywhere,  about how some cop or other beat the hell out of me, just for the sport of it. The 60's were particularly fun in that way. Opportunities were plentiful.

It was during that time that I developed the strange delusion that there was something deeply wrong about the Death Penalty (DP) and our penal system in general. I am sorry. I was wrong. I turned into the wind and came about to a better course as a result of years with the Liberal Arts. Check out this bit of Liberal Arts learning.

In 1729, a satirist named Jonathan Swift-- probably as good as John Stewart or Conan O'Brien-- published (anonymously) an essay that is these days called "A Modest Proposal." The official title is actually "A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland  from Being a Burden on their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick [sp}."

Here is the Proposal gist: Little kids can't be put to work until they are about 6 years old, and you can't sell them as slaves or servants until they are 12. There are just too many street urchins, especially Catholic ones, around. The solution is that poor people sell their babies and younger kids. A financial drain becomes a source of revenue. The rich and wealthy buy these kids--actually their meat,  and eat them. Swift wrote

"I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout."

 Win Win. Everybody's happy, and American influence is sweeping the planet. Swift must have been a hoot at lunch or out for beers after work. How could a man with such common sense be called a "satirist?"

Here's the deal almost 4 centuries later: The USA keeps more people in prison than does any other nation on the planet. It's a fact in the land of the free and home of the scared. We have more personal weapons and incarcerated lifers than we ever hoped for, even in our fears late, late at night. This system will bankrupt the USA long before Social Security runs out.  Long before these fuckers figure out that Medicare for Everybody is right. Long before we join the other sane nations. We ought to figure this out soon--might have to. The other nations that do what we do, especially via the DP, are the nations we condemn and call "evil." Check it out.

So here is my plan: Let's kill them now. This isn't a Swiftian Modest Proposal, in part because hardened criminals are probably too old and tough to eat. My motives are not exactly Swiftian. On the other hand, we can make money on the proposition, save the taxpayer, do some public good, and develop both useful products and commercial space. Please hear me out.

First, there's the financial part. Long-term prisoners cost you and me around $40 K each year per prisoner. Remember, we have more of them than any other nation. Lifers cost more because they get old and need medical care. DeathRow inmates drive the costs through the roof because of all their whiney appeals. This adds up a bit. Billions and Billions each year. We can do better. First, we could write a law that allows one appeal. One. Easy solution, and I don't even have a degree in Law.

All of you sensitive types and sociology majors should be up, out of your chairs!  You should be making awful gestures and accusing me of some kind of racism or racial insensitivity. Last check, 41% of DeathRow inmates are men (mostly) and women who are from racial minorities. There is clearly a systemic racism in this process. It is residual evil. I do not disagree.The better news is that 59% of the people we want to kill are White! Lots are horrible White Trash or terrifying socio/psychopaths. Half empty or half full? Come on! 

We're not in the business of killing first-time offenders or people who merely evaded their IRS obligations here. We want the death row gang, three-strike losers, and inmates who are just plain awful, all about killing or maiming other inmates. Sure, there will be some mistakes at first, but all good plans get adjusted later. That's how science goes.

The other thing we keep in mind, and the data say so, is that these awful predators tend to pillage their own neighborhoods. If African American criminals did crimes in a Bright White Suburb, they might get noticed. Same the other way. If we purge the system of long timers, we do a favor to their neighborhoods. Of course race permeates everything in the USA. This plan can't be construed as racist because local residents, businesses, and neighborhoods benefit from the harvest. More money to keep, spend, and invest in our safer neighborhoods. This is the economic stimulus that could help. Quick-draw your data to show otherwise.

The second part is the problem with actualizing the DP. The drugs used for lethal injection are expensive, and they seem to be in short supply these days. Cheap, replacement death drugs have left a trail of horrible suffering--stuff that makes public Saudi beheadings look merciful.  Electric chairs are misbehaving and setting people on fire. Thank goodness there is no state death penalty statute that prescribes drowning. In March 2015, Utah re-introduced the firing squad as death penalty, partly because of the death drug problem. The lovely, tolerant people in that state may have solved the problem. 

Here is the idea: We don't have to hire firing squads. There are millions of NRA members and other gun enthusiasts who dream of shooting a felon. I know, I know. The dream is that you blow away a midnight intruder who might do terrible things to your spouse, your children, and your pets. On the other hand, what if one could buy a lottery ticket in a special lottery, where the winner gets to hunt and kill Charles Manson or that Boston Marathon bomber guy, or some other famous felon? Isn't that almost better than than the deviant fantasy about the home intruder where, in the end, you shoot one of your own kids who was up looking for something in the fridge? 

This is a money maker. We taxpayers don't even have to buy bullets. They have plenty. The real enthusiasts will bid hundreds and thousands of dollars to stalk and shoot high profile criminals. I'm sure we can set up some kind of Ted Nugent hunting compound where we turn the inmate loose and he or she can hide in the bushes temporarily. Of course, as in Nugent's manly hunting adventures, there is a big fence all round so that the prey can never really get away. Eventually, even the worst hunter will be able to herd Charles Manson or the Boston guy into a fenced corner and get off some successful shots.

The third part is a beauty. Some long years ago, a company called Milorganite was born. Mil is for Milwaukee... the organite is for human poop. The founders had a scheme for turning human sewage into fertilizer, and it has been a monster success. Seems to me that if this company can turn human shit into a useful product, they or a comparable company can turn shit humans into a useful product too. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that they might  be processed into a product that we can use for snacks or body wash or something like that. But fertilizer? Why not? At least we won't have the problem of disposing of the criminal bodies that get hunted and shot by  patriotic sportsmen. Better yet, rotten people who have tormented and tortured their neighbors will finally contribute something to the community. 

Finally, as the criminal community is gradually eliminated, we'll have some empty spaces. Some of those former prisons may just become tourist attractions. Alcatraz prison closed decades ago, yet people still pay between $30 and $100 to go out to the island and look at the empty prison. Of course, not every prison is as fun as Alcatraz. Some can be converted to strip mall space, artist lofts, and the like. Better yet, the industry on the rise is Eldercare. Lots of former prison space could turn into Senior Assisted Living overnight. No renovation needed. No updates necessary.

 


F'ing Donny

by Matt Olson


Donny was my uncle. My mother's side.  Very strange dude. In my earliest memories, he was an insane story-teller. I was perhaps 7 years old when he arrived at our house in Gallup; and he, my mother, and I left for what was a long drive to Albuquerque. My father was somewhere, but not there.

Uncle Don took it upon himself to entertain me, given that car radios did not work much in those days and that we had 3 or 4 hours of drive ahead of us. Somehow, he roped me into the world of Roger. I fell for it and asked who Roger was, and he began spinning a tale about a fellow who had a pointy head-- no hair up there. He did have hair fringe-- front, back and over the ears. No hair on his pointy top. He was short--maybe only 5 feet tall. Roger also had a speech impediment. Donny delighted in talking like Roger. Like Donny, Roger's last name was Nylund. Roger, of course, said "Hewwo, ny mame id Roner Nynan." This was huge for a kid my age. I fell out completely, breathlessly, with stomach cramps because I was laughing so hard. Like most 7 year old kids,  I was not sensitive to the conditions of others. As I was rolling around on the floor of the backseat (no seatbelts in those days), I asked my mother why she had never told me about Roger, but she never really answered. Some kind of remark about how Roger was just a special friend of Don's.

The miles rolled by, and I learned how Roger tried to eat an ice cream cone but smacked himself in the forehead with it. More hilarity as Donny mimicked how Roger licked the ice cream as it melted down his face and cheeks. I heard about the time that Roger managed, despite his speech problem, and after a long dialogue with a waitress,  to order a " Moot Meer Fnote" and then pour it in his lap.  After a few hours, Uncle Don's Roger stories dried up, but kids that age are awfully annoying. He switched into stories about real members of the family, which were equally hilarious but somehow a little scary. 

Did I forget to mention? Donny was a Catholic Franciscan Priest.

Not long after planting Roger in my brain,  he was off to Paraguay to manage some parish in the jungle. He was already fluent in Spanish, so whoever was in charge figured that he could hold his own. Most of his parishoners, however, were native Guarani, and lots of them didn't speak Spanish. He became fluent in Guarani in a few weeks, and he even menaced the local Cura who invoked against the Holy Roman Church. This was his first mistake, perhaps: The language gift was on record. He learned some other native dialects, met some unshady folks who dealt in stolen goods, bought a huge Macaw to be his guard-dog, and put in maybe five jungle years. 

He came back to Los Angeles, and the next time I saw him, he was in some LA hospital (actually a single bed in a double room) after a heart attack. Maybe I was 11 or 12. He looked awfully pale. He had the oxygen thing in his nose and a couple of IV drips going. His mood was good, despite the recent event. At some point during the visit, a nurse came in, and there were intro's all round. She told us that they were trying to figure out the problem, but were really not sure what was going on. The problem? It appears that, every morning since Donny was hospitalized, the empty bed in his room was ruffled, as if someone had slept there. All that Donny could tell them was that there was a short man named Roger, bald on top, fringe all round, who slept there. Unky Don had lots of hospital staff looking for a vagrant with a speech impediment and a small dog who was his constant companion. Roger's dog was named Roger, as well, and he apparently barked funny.

Time goes by. I didn't see him much during the in-betweens. Next time I am accurate about hanging with him, I was in my first year of college. I was at UW Madison in pre-med, but that was a doomed venture. I blame my sanity and The War. I flew to see my parents, now relocated to California, for the holidays, and we drove down to LA to see more family. My folks wound up leaving me with Donny at the parish in Compton, CA. They took off to have a vacation. No... no molestation from any of the priests that I met. And gangsters were just being born.

What there was, was plenty of weird behavior. I stayed in a guest room at the rectory, and I ate when the Maid served food. First night, we were dining--just the two of us-- when the doorbell rang. His words were " I hope it's not another fucking Mexican." Curiously, in 1969 Compton, it was. I could never see him in the same way again. Donny carried a version of the bad gene, and even as a priest, he let it out for a walk now and then. Either Thursday or Friday night that week, Donny informed me that we were going out to Malibu for an overnight... He and I and three other priests. I rode on the back of his Harley, and we met the three other priests on their Harleys at a double-wide on the beach near Point Mugu. We played poker and drank Bourbon. I was 18. I didn't pass out, and I didn't barf in the Pacific. Not a single priest touched me. They were very interested in hippie girls, however. Needed lots of detailed information.

The night before my parents re-appeared and hauled me back to the safety of the Bay Area, Donny and I got into one. He was talking about how he told fortunes and could see the future and how he could do all this great bullshit that had nothing to do with being a priest. At some point, I scoffed and baited him and dared him to tell my fortune. He went to a closet and retrieved a black, velvet bag. In the bag was his crystal ball, of course. He removed it, polished it, peered into it for about a minute, and said "You will never finish premed; you will never be a doctor. You will be a teacher and writer, and you will actually make money writing." I blew up. Had a real tantrum. I swore an oath that I would never be a high school English teacher. At least I was right about that one. I worry about the rest. All of it.

Saw him one more time during his tenure as a priest. My college girlfriend and I took a spring break during my senior year. It was my only, for real, college spring break, but there is no way to catch up now. We drove down to LA with an invitation from another uncle-- Don's younger brother Charles,  the baby of the family, and Chuck to only a few of us. In 1973, Chuck was outrageously gay and out. He died because of AIDS complications in first wave of AIDS deaths. He was my favorite uncle, perhaps because all the rest were so unpredictable. We had a great time with him.  I will always treasure that visit, but not the girlfriend. Chuck took us out to a restaurant on Sunset, where I had abalone. Best ever and nothing like that since. The day came, during the visit, when Chuck had some business, and Don was called to entertain us. When he arrived, we piled into my car, a 1972 AMC Gremlin (Fuck You Purple), and headed, with him at the wheel, for the Santa Monica pier area. Unc Don had recently been directed, by his Bishop, to dump his Harley and get a car. He figured that a nice little two-seat Porsche 914 was the car for him. When he hit 40 or 50 mph in first gear, I had to remind him that he was in my car--not his. This mostly pissed him off, but he did shift. On the way, he explained that we were going to visit my cousin Mike-- same Mikey from the Bad Gene story. Donny the priest explained that when Mikey came back from his 4 year absence in the Haight, his hair was down to his waist. Uncle Don found this so offensive that, in his words, he "put a curse" on him. Told him that if he didn't cut it off, it would ALL fall out. He laughed as he recalled (and Mike did not laugh when he confirmed) that a few days later, the hair began falling out in handfuls. It stopped when Mike went to an old fashioned barber and buzzed it down. I think I know how he did it, but both he and Mike are dead. All I have are one or two untestable hypotheses.

When we got to the pier, Don drove up very close to one of those horrible pier apartments that used to exist and probably still do. He hammered on the horn and got out of the car. He banged on the window of the apartment and screamed all sorts of outrageous gibberish and threats. "I know you are in there you little son-of-a-bitch! If you don't come out, I'm coming in." They didn't get along so well in those days, and I really wondered why we were doing this.  On the other hand, I was not in charge. Mikey never came out, and that was a good thing. If he was assaulted by our Unky Don in that state of mind, Mike might have hurt him badly if not worse. We left with Don in a huge sulking pout. I wonder how his mood would have changed if Mikey actually emerged from his shack. 

Not long after that incident in 1973, Don was done with the priesthood. He had been fooling around with a woman named Kathy, and the fooling got serious enough that they got married. I never actually met her, but what I know is interesting. They both had gifts for languages. Somehow their talents were noticed by the right people, and they were offered joint positions for an entity that Donny only referred to as "The Company." They moved to Washington, DC, where The Company kept headquarters, and I never saw him again, although the news kept coming in. My mother went to visit them; and by that time, Don and Kathy were living on some large farm-like setting outside of DC in Virginia. The Company must have paid well. She enjoyed the visit, but Uncle Don had a sideline business breeding wolves with German Shepards. The resulting guard dogs were bought as soon as they were bred, but my mother, usually a sucker for dogs, didn't like them.  She said they were beautiful, but they were always sneaking behind you and lurking there. 

Next big news I remember was that Don and Kathy got their first overseas assignment for The Company. Beruit Lebanon in 1983! Can you imagine? Lots of family were proud. I wasn't sure what to think. "I hope it's not another fucking Lebanese?" Yes, they were both fluent in Lebanese before they took the trip. 

And then there was the bombing of the US Embassy in Beruit. Somehow, both Donny and Kathy were in the embassy building when it blew. Apparently, The Company was doing bidness with the Embassy. They both survived. In a telephone conversation with Uncle Don, he described how he was up on th 3rd or 4th floor (I don't remember) of this office building. He was heading out of an office area toward a door to a hallway, carrying a bunch of documents that he was supposed to destroy (for The Company). Just as he reached for the door knob, he dropped the files he was carrying. 

When he bent over to pick them up, the building blew up. He was tossed away from the door. No bruises, no harm, no foul. He stood up and opened the door to the hallway--just to see what had happened. There was no there there. The entire piece of the building beyond the door was gone. Kathy was somewhere down below. Alive.

The Company sent them back to DC for language training. Next was Moscow, where, because of  6 weeks training, they were fluent in Russian.  Moscow stressed them out. Back to DC to learn Swahili. Off to Chad, Africa. Too many gunshot attempts and back to Washington. Somewhere in the timeline, I lost track. Last I knew, they were living in Virginia, near DC. They were about to sell it all and move back to California. They had no pensions. They had no retirement accounts. They died, hungry and sick,  on the roadside on their ways home. 

Despite all, in his last days, Donny was a corporate fascist. He never confessed that The Company was the CIA. He was an ugly person who defended the Death Penalty and Gun Rights and championed any Bigotry you can spot-- including that against  his own brother's proud Gay Life. 

This is what happens when you work half of your life for Church and the rest for the CIA. Choices have consequences.

I love my Uncle Chuck forever. My demented mother still thinks I am him, whenever she thinks I am anybody. My other two maternal uncles were Warren, who stole money from us, and Don. I'm not sure who wins the "worst" prize. I'm leaning but haven't decided yet. Soon. One time when we bailed Warren out of jail, he brought his pet monkey to our house. That tilts the scale a bit.