"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, May 7, 2021

“He Made A Difference”–A Vanity Epitaph For A Life Spent Going In Circles

Bobby Newsome had been a slacker for much of his early life.  An indifferent student, fey classmate, lackadaisical son, and a young man content to muddle through.  He grew to adulthood at a time when America was questioning itself and the settled bourgeois life of the Fifties – suburbs, backyard barbecues, martinis, and baseball.  

There had to be more to life, young people said, and the counterculture was born.  Many critics laid the blame for the antisocial, anti-establishment movement on Dr. Spock and parental permissiveness.  Others blamed post-war plenty and the general ethos of ease and indulgence.  Still others blamed demographics.  The number of young adults in America as a proportion of the whole had never been greater, and whatever the cultural factors generating dissatisfaction with old norms, they went explosively viral in this new social swarm.

Image result for images fifties ads

Not everyone lived in communes and smoked dope, but enough did to make hippydom an American phenomenon.  Perhaps more importantly, youth became politically radicalized, and newly aware of and angry about the patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, and racism of their parents’ generation, they took to the streets.  

Everything was challenged, questioned, and confronted.  Everything about American society was oppressive, self-assured, elitist, and retrograde.  The Church was a religious-capitalist-monarchist empire.  Schools were vehicles for intellectual enslavement.  All institutions – Wall Street and their banking flacks, corporate America, and democratic politics – were corrupt to the core and should be torn down, destroyed, and replaced

It was a heady time for anyone younger than thirty, and Bobby loved every minute.  He was always somewhat of a timid lover, and despite the hectoring of friends who ridiculed him for his Petrarchan sexual idealism, his deference to women and his saintly respect for them, he was never a New Age Lothario.  He couldn’t just love the one he was with.  Sexual engagement had to have meaning; and so he was dunned out of the Bleecker Street crowd and moved uptown.

The Sixties revolution, however was about both personal freedom and social justice.  Hippies with no social conscience lived happily in the redwoods of Northern California and Oregon, while the Abbie Hoffmans and Mark Rudds took over college campuses, organized political demonstrations, and marched in Selma and Jackson.  Theirs was the serious side of the counterculture, and most of these urban radicals had nothing but contempt for self-indulgent, stoned, indifferent hippies.  

The time had come for the most radical, revolutionary movement the United States had ever seen, and anyone squirreled away in rags and rain in Humboldt County was simply irrelevant.

Image result for images abbie hoffman sitting in columbia u

Bobby Newsome had found his home.  He liked being on the same platform as girls, marching to the same drummer, flying the same flag, arm in arm in sexual solidarity.  There were no sticky sexual complications in this arrangement, no sorting out feelings for his mother or childhood princesses.  As far as the politics of the movement, he embraced them fully.  His prim and proper, well-disciplined, authoritarian upbringing suited him perfectly for the absolutism of the times.  

There were no grey areas in civil rights, women’s rights, or gay rights.  There was only right and wrong, and although many long nights were spent with windy debates about Marx, Engels, and Lenin, they always ended with the same universal conclusions.  America was the enemy of the people, and it and its institutions must be destroyed.

Image result for images naked hippie girls

Most Sixties radicals are today’s doctors, lawyers, and businessmen.  Youthful enthusiasm ipso facto has a very short shelf life, and while many if not most of those who charged the barricades remain unreconstructed liberals, they are moderate in their approach to political and social reform.  Yes, social and economic imbalances must be redressed, but with much more accommodation to compromise.

While many applaud the most renegade progressives in Congress, the years of Republican administrations and legislatures have given them some pause from their earlier liberal activism and absolute political certainty.  They vote Democratic, cheer Biden on, and nod at his redistributive policies and programs; but have already moved most of their investments to safer ground.

Bobby Newsome might have lost his youthful enthusiasm, but never his commitment, and over the decades was always on the progressive frontlines.  He parlayed his early support of unilateral nuclear disarmament, Martin Luther King, and Harvey Milk into a position within Black Lives Matter – one of the very few white men granted that opportunity.  

Of course the black radicals who were behind the movement wanted nothing to do with this old honky and even less to do with that complaisant, capitulating Uncle Tom King, but Bobby was useful on occasion especially when a white face on someone in deep and tight with the larger progressive movement showed its ‘diversity’.

Image result for BLM Logo. Size: 143 x 102. Source: www.ebay.com

Bobby was such an ingenue, such an innocent despite his years of activism that he actually believed he was needed, respected, and wanted by black people, and it was only when he was shown the door by a loud black woman, leader of the Cleveland caucus, that he came to his senses.

He, thanks to his wife who was President of the Northeastern University Feminist Alliance, attended all the women’s conferences and colloquies on both Coasts.  He found himself just as marginalized as with BLM. He never got the transgender thing, and as much as he prided himself on being on the forefront of gay rights, and as hard as he tried, he still found gay sex distasteful.  Worse still was the idea of physical gender alteration.  To be castrated, bored and channeled and turned into some freakish woman-thing was beyond his imagination.  

The women at the conferences saw this immediately, that this was a sexual pioneer on the outside, but an unregenerate male chauvinist on the inside.

Image result for Images tough transgender women

All of which left Bobby only the climate people who took in all comers, and race, gender, and ethnicity – while of course helpful as identity markers of solidarity – were not the first order of business. However Bobby felt superannuated, a believer in restricting big business and their exploitative ways, but enough of an economist to wince a bit at the thousands of lost jobs (despite the claims of increased soft energy employment) as pipelines are shut down, refineries shuttered, and oil rigs in the Gulf and the Arctic Shelf stopped drilling. He was unprepared for the complete radicalization of the climate change movement which had been transformed into an anti-capitalist juggernaut.

So at an age where most men were looking forward to retirement, Bobby wandered the streets, intellectually homeless, alienated, discharged, and rejected.  All of which made him reflect on his life as a die-hard liberal, committed progressive, and Utopian. 

What difference had it all made? Each of his contributions if looked at generously were part of a larger fabric or an evolutionary movement; but judged more harshly, he was headed to Boot Hill with very little to show for his deeply progressive life. 

The COVID pandemic had given him hope – here was an existential cause even more immediate than global warming.  The earth’s population could be decimated or, God forbid, cease to exist.  But hardly before it got started, it ended.  The US was headed for herd immunity and the dreaded mutations never amounted to much; so once again, Bobby was looking for work. 

Yes, he had been one of his community’s mask and social distancing enforcers, and yes he had been invited by CDC to lead a vaccine marketing strategy for the black population, but that too fizzled as the vaccines expanded in scope.

Bobby Newsome didn’t exactly run around in circles his whole life, but everything the gave heart and soul to either fizzled or was co-opted by ugliness.  Plus ca change was the only phrase that stuck in his head as he in forced retirement headed for his chaise longue in Boca Raton.  

It had been as good a merry-go-round as any, this progressive carousel, and a good living; but in the end just a circular one, of no real importance, of no lasting import or significance.  

The plaque on his door had been long removed, his name gone from the list of speakers at noteworthy conferences, and no notice was taken of him in any but his alumni magazine – notices that he himself had sent.

He was so concerned about his legacy which from his current vantage point seemed nil that he began to think about his epitaph, what he should put on his tombstone.  He finally decided on ‘He Made A Difference’, a vanity plate if there was ever was one because he had made as little difference as anyone, but someone might look at it with respect. “More than I ever got when I was alive”, he snorted to his wife as she got up for a refill.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.