Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I prefer this poem to Geithner's puerile effort. It's far from perfect, but has its moments, such as this immortal couplet:
Stand -- you've been sitting much too long.

There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong.

Also, this phrase, which once again demonstrates the fundamental equivalence of poetry and economics:


I remember playing this recording over and over during the late Sixties and for much of the Seventies as well. It helped me focus. Until I realized the Seventies had given up on us. Nostalgia had taken the place of Revolution:

A Memoir
It is the spring of 1970. Shortly after Kent State. Brandstaff and I are visiting in the apartment of some friends of hers, just off campus. The campus itself is in turmoil. A student strike has essentially closed down the University and things have gone from bad to worse. In response to God knows what sort of reports from administrators, the local police have just arrived on campus, armed with shotguns. We’re sitting around in the living room, a group of maybe six or seven students, getting comfortable, someone passes around a joint, there’s beer, we’re talking, about the strike, about future plans. Someone turns on the radio and suddenly we’re getting the student station, broadcasting live from the Music Building I know so well, providing us with a blow by blow description of what’s going on around them.

The Music Building. Where I’ve been spending most if not just about all my time for the last three years. Where, during the early days of the strike I actually attempted to commit sabotage, outraged at the fact that classes were still being given while a war was raging in Vietnam, while black people were still second class citizens, while the University had too cozy a relationship with the capitalists of the business community, while students were being encouraged to compete with one another rather than cooperate, while certain words were still taboo on radio and television and the faculty was more absorbed in giving its little quizzies and examies than actually attempting to educate its students regarding the realities of today’s world. I had entered the building after dark, with a key to one of the main classrooms, intending to jam a window open by bending one of the metal rods attached to the frame. Since it was the dead of winter, that window would have let in too much cold air (this is Buffalo!) and classes would have to be canceled, at least till repairs could be made, which, knowing how slow all bureaucratic procedures were in that place, would unquestionably have taken weeks.

As I entered the building I heard some pounding sounds. What they could mean I had no idea. I looked around but saw no one, so I just kept on walking through the corridors. When I arrived at the classroom, however, I discovered I didn’t need a key. Someone had been there ahead of me. The door was ajar, its lock broken. I entered carefully. Looked to the left. Looked to the right. No one there. I looked again. The stereo system was kept in a large wooden cart in a corner of the room and the top was routinely locked when it wasn’t in use. Now the top was open, and the stereo equipment, amplifier, turntable, cassette deck, was gone! All of it. I couldn’t believe it. Someone had entered just before me, but with a very different, far less “noble” purpose in mind. That must have been the pounding I heard, this person was breaking into the classroom, stealing the stereo equipment I regularly used as a teaching assistant. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or upset. That was equipment I needed to teach my classes! But its absence would definitely make it harder to conduct classes during the strike. Right on!

I smiled, and scratched my head. How very weird. I had a job to do, though, so I turned toward the bank of windows on the far wall, chose one and got to work. But the metal rod would not budge. No matter how hard I tried, that piece of metal which had looked so flimsy, retained its original shape, just absolutely and completely resisting all my strenuous efforts. Totally annoyed with myself, I couldn’t believe I’d been so stupid as to attempt this without some tools, preferably a crowbar or sledgehammer. Then I began to get a bit nervous. Suppose someone entered the building and found me in there, where I was not supposed to be at that hour, in a broken-into room with all that equipment missing. I quietly left.

The radio broadcast is getting more and more interesting and also upsetting. Fights are breaking out between some of the more radical activists and the police. Billy clubs are being wielded and there are confused reports that possibly some shots are being fired. All in real time! On our very own campus, very close to where we are at that very moment sitting by now on the floor, inhaling equal measures of pot smoke and paranoia.

The pot in my lungs mingles in my mind with the acrid, burning smell of Pepper Gas. The last few months have not been easy for any of us. As on many campuses all over the country, the State University of New York at Buffalo has been a center for protests of all kinds, from small individual gestures (however futile — see above) to full scale riots. The biggest protest started on Main Street, opposite the main campus, a huge parade, basically. It then proceeded, peacefully enough at first, toward the center of town. At some point, things began to get out of control. Some students I didn’t recognize suddenly grabbed stones and began breaking storefront windows. The protest leaders struggled to maintain calm, but soon others were joining in. Police in riot gear appeared out of nowhere and suddenly we began to hear popping sounds as canisters of pepper gas struck the ground and exploded. Suddenly enveloped in a cloud of gas, I just started running for the sidewalk. Others were challenging the police, calling them “pigs,” throwing stones at them, confronting them head on, shoving them.

I’d heard a lot about “tear gas” and was not particularly alarmed. It made you cough, I supposed, made you uncomfortable, just a bit uncomfortable, that was all. But this stuff was scary. It burned, just got into your lungs and burned and you couldn’t catch your breath. It felt like permanent damage was being done to my lungs, I was coughing too much and the feeling was not going away as I ran into the clear.

I take another long, hard toke on my joint, remembering the terror of that day as I pull the smoke deep into my lungs. That evening there’d been a huge gathering in the student union for a performance of a group I’d never heard of before, a “radical” band from Detroit, the “Motor City Five,” or MC5. Everyone was already keyed up and the band was taking them onto another level of urgency and anger. I don’t think I could make out more than a dozen of the words they sang that whole time, but the message came through very clear. Something had to be done, something extreme, something cruel and even unthinkable. And it had to be done “now”! What that thing was was not at all clear, but the students were being whipped into a frenzy, totally “with” the band, which was getting louder by the minute, to the point of screaming. I half expected someone to suddenly shout “Sieg Heil!,” it was that kind of feeling, the political sublime, where anything is possible and nothing seems to matter but the taking of some sort of action, what political philosophers call “praxis.” Finally, at the climax of what seemed an endless building of tension, the whole group “spontaneously” poured out of the hall and onto the campus grounds, headed for the ROTC building. At which point I decided to go my own way, walking back alone across the campus, down to Main Street and toward my apartment.

By now we are all seated on the floor. The radio report continues as I pass the joint to Brandstaff. We are both listening intently, totally absorbed in the scene being narrated by a remarkably resourceful and daring team of student reporters. In the distance, we are told, by the edge of the Student Union, smoke can be seen. Probably more pepper gas. A group of people, probably students, rushes past, just under the station window. After a moment, two policemen follow, in hot pursuit. Loud bursts, explosions, gun shots or possibly firecrackers emanate from the speakers of Brandstaff’s friend, a “Hi Fi” addict with one of those “fantastic” systems that make everything sound like you’re right there in the middle. We all wince. I glance out the window to see what’s going on, but all is calm in our neck of the woods. The radio reporters are becoming more and more nervous, their voices trembling as they continue to describe the scene around them, which is sounding more and more like a hallucination.

Suddenly I feel a strong Marijuana rush, a welcome breath of euphoria, which temporarily disconnects me from the apartment, Brandstaff, our friends, and the radio. Coming down from this momentary high, I gradually become aware that something has changed. I am no longer hearing frantic reports of a student strike spiraling out of control, a campus turned upside down with fear and rage, the radio is broadcasting something else entirely. I am hearing a song, a song from long long ago. I listen. We all listen, spellbound:

Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper "I love you"
Birds singing in the sycamore tree
Dream a little dream of me.

Nothing in the entire evening has been quite as strange as the experience of hearing this gentle song. We all just sit quietly and listen, spellbound, not quite believing what is happening. “What is this,” I’m thinking, “what’s going on, am I tripping?”

Say "nightie night" and kiss me
Just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me
While I'm alone and blue as can be
Dream a little dream of me.

This old favorite from the Fifties, or is it the Forties, has us in its spell. “Mama Cass,” someone is saying. “Mama Cass.” The “Mamas and the Papas.” What? “This is their latest release, yeah, hmmm.” “The Mamas and the Papas”? What’s going on here? They never sing this kind of music. Where’s the beat? This isn’t rock, it’s old, why are they playing it, all they ever play on this station is hard rock. But you know, it’s kinda nice, kinda relaxing.

Sweet dreams till sun-beams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams what ever they be
Dream a little dream of me.

Something is rising, some kind of weight is being lifted from my innermost being, my jaw is going slack, I am relaxing. Brandstaff nuzzles quietly against me, her head is on my shoulder, her hair brushing against my cheek. I slide my hand along her waist and down her thigh, letting it rest on her knee, holding her close. We are drifting into a kind of reverie, “reverie,” yes that’s the word, a word I’d almost forgotten. Tears are in our eyes, we are all affected by this moment.

I think to myself: “This is it. This is the future, this is what the Seventies is going to be. Because we just can’t take any more, it’s too much, we can’t handle it. Nostalgia, retreat into the past. And why not? It feels SO good to just not have to be angry and upset, to listen to this beautiful song and just go with it, be peaceful. We thought we were going to change the world, but maybe we can’t. Maybe the future is not going to be more of the same, more demonstrations, strikes, riots, maybe we are not going to be able to make the world a better place by fixing it, maybe what will happen is that everyone will just go back to how they were and deal with problems by ignoring them. Nostalgia. How sweet the sound. Dream a little dream of what the past is supposed to have been like, sidewalks, front porches, roller skates, bicycles, watering the lawn, Dad reading the paper, Mom preparing dinner with some Apple Pie for dessert.
The evening is over. The radio is off. We stumble to our feet, bewildered. I take Brandstaff by the hand and we open the door and leave and then we just walk and walk, aimlessly into the night.

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