FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Military Madness Meets the Counterculture: a Personal Tale

Eugene and I share overlapping experiences. We both are scions of military families. My father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, Eugene’s was a Sergeant in the Air Force. We both attended the Department of Defense high school in Frankfurt, West Germany, (Frankfurt American High School FAHS), at the height of the cold war. I graduated from FAHS, while Eugene departed from Frankfurt abruptly and graduated elsewhere. Eugene is several years younger than I and our paths did not intersect, although he remembers me as a vague presence in his high school life. This is because Eugene befriended my younger brother James and hung out with him extensively.

Eugene and I were immersed in a military culture that was separate and distinct from the civilian world. This was compounded by our presence in a foreign country. We lived in military islands of Americanness surrounded by Europeans who did not share our culture or language. We lived in a society in which class hierarchy is not suppressed but is evident and all-pervasive. The military is divided between the officer corps (middle class) and the enlisted men (working class). Elites do not join the military, as there is no money in it. In our hyper-capitalist and hyper-materialist society, eliteness is defined by money. Only the rich are successful.

Both Eugene and I choose to consciously reject this rigid class hierarchy by latching on to the counterculture. When growing up, we were expected to mimic our parents and respect the rigid class divide of the military and not fraternize. As aspiring hippies, we rejected these assumed prejudices and freely associated with anyone and everyone we pleased, showing no interest in the military world around us. We succeeded in not only crossing and to some extent obliterating class barriers, while forming close ties with disparate people based on intense shared experiences.

Jiggling: a Gradual Release is a coming of age novel depicting Eugene’s struggle to find his own identity, grow into manhood, and make his independent way in the world. All of us must go through this process, but it is much more difficult for some than for others. Eugene’s struggle was defined by a series of undeserved negatives that placed unassailable obstacles in his path. In this regard, Jiggling reflects JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Like Vance, Eugene is a son of the South. A Florida native, Eugene shares Vance’s working class roots. This class identity takes on weighted meaning in the South, where class divides are more rigid and pronounced than elsewhere and class divides more difficult to overcome. Like Vance, Eugene did not arrive in this world with loads of privilege, but rather lots of negative baggage. Eugene amply documents that he is from the school of hard knocks, inheriting many negatives through the accident of birth.

Eugene’s nemesis throughout the book is the “dive bomber.” His story really starts taking off when his mother marries this character, the Air Force Sergeant, following her divorce from Eugene’s biological father. Eugene vividly describes his alcoholic stepfather, his many glaring faults, and the unending abuse the dive bomber dishes out. The dive bomber methodically denigrates Eugene, tearing down his self-esteem at precisely the point where Eugene is most vulnerable. Not only must Eugene cope with all the pain and embarrassment associated with adolescence in our culture, he must contend with a total lack of class privilege and unending torture and abuse dished out by the dive bomber.

The influence of Jack Kerouac is evident throughout the work. Like most of Jack’s output, Jiggling is a thinly disguised novelization and is almost totally autobiographical. As a novel, Eugene is free to take liberties, embellish and obfuscate. The reader will never be able to differentiate between the two. Jiggling is a work of art, not a dry narrative. However, Jiggling does not slavishly mirror Kerouac’s On the Road or Dharma Bums. These works deal with Jack’s post-Columbia adult life, when his personality is fully formed in most regards. Jiggling is primarily a work about adolescence, and is this regard, is closer to Kerouac’s Maggie Cassidy, one of Kerouac’s lesser-known novels that is hardly read today.

This is where the similarities end, however. Jack Kerouac grew up in one place within the confines of Lowell, Massachusetts. He had a sedentary existence, immersed in his French Canadian, and Roman Catholic culture. Kerouac’s Maggie Cassidy is therefore a bittersweet work about the loss of innocence, and regret for the loss of a first love. Eugene tries mightily to lose his innocence throughout much of the novel. He wants desperately to lose his virginity, but there is no bittersweet quality to Eugene’s experience of first love. Instead, it seems Eugene is doomed to experience repeated and seemingly permanent frustration. While he succeeds in losing his virginity, (in one of the most painful and embarrassing episodes in the book), and goes on to experience a rich series of sexual encounters, it is clear that Eugene is longing for the love his life was sorely lacking, and this always seems to elude him.

Because of his familial situation, Eugene spends much of his Frankfurt High School years sleeping on sofas at the homes of his friends, and on some occasions, roughing it in the park. I have firsthand experience of this phenomena. My high school friend Larry was kicked out of the house by Sergeant dad and lived by his wits all over Frankfurt and environs, while barely managing to escape arrest. I wonder how many children of this milieu and this era shared similar experiences. The military was masterful at presenting a positive and deceptive face to the world and covering up unpleasantness. Problematic children were often shipped back to the states, thus removing them and their problems from the picture.

The genius of Jiggling is that Eugene is not consumed by the negativity that envelopes him. He could easily have embraced anger and bitterness, but consciously refrains. He tries numerous coping mechanisms and cultivates a set of survival skills. Some work better than others. The LSD experiments are of little help, and when Eugene turns to a psychiatrist, it proves to be a lesson in futility. Eugene instead discovers his own unique way of dealing, namely an embrace of the basic absurdity life and the cultivation of an often self-deprecating wit. His healthy embrace of the absurd becomes an essential survival tool. He manages to find humor in the most grim of situations, and exhibit kindness even when he receives none in return.

Jiggling is Eugene’s first work. His manuscript has been an organic work that he nursed for 25 years and now like a mushroom emerging from the dark, is seeing the light of day. Eugene’s is a powerful story chock full of experiences. He consciously molds his life as a Kerouacian odyssey and fills it with sensation, positive and negative, but always powerful. The novel ends abruptly when Eugene’s short-lived Army enlistment comes to an end, and he finds himself on his own and at wit’s end yet again. The reader wants to know what will happen next. I eagerly await the next chapter in this saga. Like Kerouac, Eugene could spin his tale into a series of successive literary works. I want to see genuine development with each successive work. Eugene has provided me some narration regarding his subsequent adventures and I can assure you that his readers would not be disappointed.

I hope that Eugene’s sophomore work will show progress as his writing style develops. Eugene needs to learn another essential lesson from Kerouac, his literary mentor. This first try suffered from an abundance of editing and rewrites, which may actually have detracted from the essential spontaneity of the work. Kerouac believed in getting the story down on paper as quickly as possible and preserving its inherent truthfulness. Such an approach calls for the preservation of essential originality. Eugene’s literary voice needs to speak with as little alteration as possible. The first take is often the best take. It is like the blues bands that go into the studio and record their albums in one take with no overdubs.

Jon P. Dorschner, a native of Tucson,  currently teaches at the University of Arizona. His numerous publications include a two part “spiritual memoir,” In the Clear Light of Day.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
Thom Hartmann
How Billionaires Get Away With Their Big Con
REZA FIYOUZAT
Your 19th COVID Breakdown
Danny Sjursen
Undercover Patriots: Trump, Tulsa, and the Rise of Military Dissent
Charles McKelvey
The Limitations of the New Antiracist Movement
Binoy Kampmark
Netanyahu’s Annexation Drive
Joseph G. Ramsey
An Empire in Points
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset
Ramzy Baroud
On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed
Judith Deutsch
Handling Emergency: A Tale of Two Males
Michael Welton
Getting Back to Socialist Principles: Honneth’s Recipe
Dean Baker
Combating the Political Power of the Rich: Wealth Taxes and Seattle Election Vouchers
Jonah Raskin
Edward Sanders: Poetic Pacifist Up Next
Manuel García, Jr.
Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Vegetation After Emissions Shutoff “Now”
Heidi Peltier
The Camo Economy: How Military Contracting Hides Human Costs and Increases Inequality
Ron Jacobs
Strike!, Fifty Years and Counting
Ellen Taylor
The Dark Side of Science: Shooting Barred Owls as Scapegoats for the Ravages of Big Timber
Sarah Anderson
Shrink Wall Street to Guarantee Good Jobs
Graham Peebles
Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?
Zhivko Illeieff
Can We Escape Our Addiction to Social Media?
Clark T. Scott
The Democrat’s Normal Keeps Their (Supposed) Enemies Closer and Closer
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
In 2020 Elections: Will Real-Life “Fighting Dems” Prove Irresistible?
David Swanson
Mommy, Where Do Peace Activists Come From?
Christopher Brauchli
Trump the Orator
Gary Leupp
Columbus and the Beginning of the American Way of Life: A Message to Indoctrinate Our Children
John Stanton
Donald J. Trump, Stone Cold Racist
Nicky Reid
The Stonewall Blues (Still Dreaming of a Queer Nation)
Stephen Cooper
A Kingston Reasoning with Legendary Guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith (The Interview: Part 2)
Hugh Iglarsh
COVID-19’s Coming to Town
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail