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Waiting for the Last War to End

 

It was a particularly rainy day for the Pacific Northwest, even for February. Instead of the normal heavy mist that one thought of in the same way one thinks of the muzak in a shopping mall, the rain on this day was heavy and unrelenting. Indeed, it was even a topic of conversation-which rain rarely ever was in this land of the temperate rainforest.

Consequently, Hali and I were keeping close to the center of the gazebo in Olympia’s Sylvester Park in order to stay dry. Most of our leaflets and newspapers were still in the plastic bags we stored them in and nobody had come to visit us in the two hours we had been sitting there. So Hali and I shared hitchhiking stories and tales of chemically-fueled experiences that had taken us to other realms. Then Tommy showed up.

“Hey, y’all,” he said. “What’s up? I’m fuckin’ wet as a goddam baby fresh out of her mama’s womb.” He used his cane to climb up the bandstand stairs and get out of the weather. Once he was at the top, he sat down on a bench we had retrieved from the park for the day and begin to use his handkerchief to dry his face.

Tommy was a vet who had lost some use of his leg in Vietnam when he was hit by shrapnel. After recuperating from his wound in a California hospital he had returned to his mother’s house somewhere in the American south and went to college. That had lasted for a year or two before he got the urge to travel. Once he hit the road that was it.

He was sold on the life of the vagabond. Like many of his fellow road warriors, he liked to drink. Unlike many of them, though, he was a quiet and peaceful drinker. He had begun coming to the antiwar demonstrations the previous October, holding a sign he had drawn himself. Until the big protest on January 15th, he was usually the only African-American man in the crowd. Today, he was drinking his favorite-peach brandy. Once he settled in on the bench, he cracked his bottle and offered Hali and I a nip. I took advantage of the offer.

“So what do you guys have lined up next?” he asked. Tommy hated meetings so he counted on us for updates about the coalition.

Hali began, “We’re gonna’ hold a silent funeral procession from here to the Capitol in a week or so. Once we get to the Capitol grounds we’re gonna’ hold a mock funeral for all those killed in this stupid war.”

“I’m there.” He replied. “Anything I can do to help? Like draw some signs or something?” His artwork, while primitive, was powerful and direct. He handed me the bottle again. I took a longer swallow this time around. It was getting pretty fuckin’ cold sitting in the rain.

“Man, it’s freezing.” I said. Hali moved closer and shared the blanket she was using to keep warm with me.

“You want some, Tommy?” she asked.

“No man. I’m cool. This coat I got at the shelter is plenty warm. Thanks anyhow.” He pulled his pocket radio out of the small daypack he always carried. “Let me find out what the weatherman is saying. Maybe we gonna’ get some snow.”

Tommy turned on the radio and searched for a station. He stopped on one of the rock stations from Seattle that happened to be playing “Give Peace A Chance.”

“Wow. I’m surprised to hear that on commercial radio.” remarked Hali. “The dj’s boss must be away.” The airwaves were full of nationalistic nonsense ever since the war had begun and the audience was eating it up. Tommy took another nip and the radio began playing “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. As the song reached the second chorus, I noticed the rain had stopped.

“I’m gonna’ go,” I said. “It’s not raining and I need to go to work in a couple hours. See y’all.” Hali gave me a kiss on the cheek and Tommy shook my hand. I ran towards the bus stop at the corner of the park. Before the rain began again, the bus came and I got on.

The war continued. Hali, Tommy and others from our antiwar group continued our protest.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

 

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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