Saturday, September 10, 2016
Stop Continuing To Let The Military Sneak Into The High Schools-Down With JROTC And Military Recruiter Access
Workers Vanguard No. 1094
26 August 2016
For the Right of Gay Marriage...and Divorce!
Marriage and the Capitalist State
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 824, 16 April 2004.
"Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.
"On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.
"The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital."
—Communist Manifesto (1848)
Until the welcome day capitalism does vanish, the monogamous family remains the legally enforced social model, at least in Western societies, for the organization of private life in its most intimate aspects: love, sex, bearing and raising children. It is the central social institution oppressing women; anti-gay bigotry flows from the need to punish any "deviations" from this patriarchal structure. Why anyone not under social pressure or economic duress would voluntarily enter the bonds of matrimony is, of course, one of life's mysteries. Nonetheless, it appears that these days the only people who actually want to get married are the only ones President Bush wants to stop: gays and lesbians.
Absolutely, they ought to have the right to marry. And just as absolutely, we socialists fight for a society in which no one needs to be forced into a legal straitjacket in order to get medical benefits, visitation rights, custody of children, immigration rights, or any of the many privileges this capitalist society grants to those, and only those, who are embedded in the traditional "one man on one woman for life" legal mold.
Controversy over "gay marriage" has roiled the U.S. since last November, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that permitting only "civil unions" for gay couples was unconstitutional, thus establishing the right to gay marriage in Massachusetts. In February the San Francisco mayor ordered same-sex marriage licenses issued, and 4,037 gay and lesbian couples from 46 states and eight countries got hitched before ceremonies were ordered halted on March 11. The Green Party mayor of New Paltz, New York, jumped into the fray, officiating at 25 same-sex marriages. When he was barred by court order from continuing, two local Unitarian ministers took over, only to have criminal charges filed against them by the Ulster County D.A. for solemnizing "unlicensed marriages" in March.
In 1996, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act which pronounced, "the word ‘marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." With unholy glee, Christian fundamentalists of all sorts are now pushing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning states from recognizing gay marriage (39 states already refuse to countenance it). Others warn direly that the floodgates of unspeakable immorality are now open. Polygamy is the least of it; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting from last year's Supreme Court decision overturning Texas sodomy laws, claimed that decision could abolish bans not only on same-sex marriage, but also "adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity."
President Bush, supporting the anti-gay constitutional amendment, intoned: "The union of a man and a woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith," complaining that "After...millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization." Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal, beady profit-making eye on the bottom line, featured a piece on "Cashing In on Gay Marriage" (March 11), while vendors presented "Loveland," a "Same-Sex Wedding Expo" at New York's Jacob Javits convention center.
All this sudden churning of the crazed, hypocritical witches' brew that passes for American political discourse these days, especially on questions involving sex, certainly has its darkly humorous and bizarre side. Partly that's because the messy reality most people actually live in bears little resemblance to the rigid official portraits of Christian moral rectitude this government claims as models of social behavior. But the deeper social issues involved are deadly serious, ranging from the most intimate personal questions to broad areas of responsibility for raising new generations, and how to care for others, whether family, friends or lovers; in short, how "private life" in its entirety is defined and organized.
Workers Must Fight for Democratic Rights for Gays!
Apocalyptic predictions of the end of civilization if gays are allowed to marry are obviously hysterical fantasies; at the same time, gay marriage in itself will not end the often deadly prejudice and pain gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people encounter every day in this homophobic, anti-sex society. But that pain makes it even more important to fight for every possible democratic right, every form of social and political equality that can be wrested from this society.
It is a vital task of the workers revolutionary vanguard to fight for full democratic rights for gays—including, today, marriage rights—and to fight to win the working class to this cause. The Spartacist League has done this since its inception. As Lenin pointed out in his 1902 work What Is To Be Done?:
"Working class consciousness cannot be genuinely political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected....Why is it that the Russian workers as yet display so little revolutionary activity in connection with the brutal way in which the police maltreat the people, in connection with the persecution of the religious sects, with the flogging of the peasantry, with the outrageous censorship, with the torture of soldiers, with the persecution of the most innocent cultural enterprises, etc.?... We must blame ourselves for being unable as yet to organize a sufficiently wide, striking and rapid exposure of these despicable outrages. When we do that (and we must and can do it), the most backward worker will understand, or will feel, that the students and religious sects, the muzhiks and the authors are being abused and outraged by the very same dark forces that are oppressing and crushing him at every step of his life."
Here in the United States, one of the most politically backward "advanced" capitalist countries on earth, saddled with a huge burden of puritanism and religious fundamentalism to boot, there is a lot of backwardness on the gay question.
Even among black workers, historically among the most militant in the proletariat and in general those with the fewest illusions in the "good nature" of this rotten capitalist social order, there is a significant amount of anti-gay prejudice. Much of it is pushed by conservative forces in the black church, although even the black churches are deeply split on this question. As we wrote in our article, "For the Right to Gay Marriage!": "In its extreme, one gets the phenomenon of a black Baptist minister, the Rev. Gregory Daniels, who declared, ‘If the K.K.K. opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them' (New York Times, 1 March). He might saddle up, but it will be a short ride—the first target of this motley collection of nativist, anti-labor fascists is black people" (WV No. 821, 5 March).
In contrast to this myopic anti-gay prejudice is the compassion so many black people feel because they know firsthand the torment and danger of oppression and discrimination. A Massachusetts State Senator from Roxbury put it well: "I know the pain of being less than equal, and I cannot and will not impose that status on anyone else. I was but one generation removed from an existence in slavery. I could not in good conscience ever vote to send anyone to that place from which my family fled." Others can't see that an injury to one is an injury to all, and so in a backhanded way end up in the camp of the racist anti-gay bigots. Black columnist Adrian Walker, writing in the Boston Globe (12 February), quoted one clergyman: "Think about Emmett Till, the Scottsboro Boys, and those police dogs in Birmingham—and then tell me they've faced what we've faced. This has nothing to do with civil rights." This reflects in part the pernicious influence of Democratic Party "constituency" politics, where one sector of the oppressed is pitted against another in the scramble for aid from a state which defends capitalist rule.
Of course there are many, and qualitative, differences between black oppression and gay oppression in this society. Racism is the bedrock of American capitalism, the great fault line in American politics since the founding of the nation on the backs of black slaves. The ruling class consciously manipulates racism to weaken the proletariat. The fight for black freedom will be central to the proletarian revolution in the U.S. For that revolution to succeed, the working class, including its strategic black component, must understand its historic task is to abolish class society in order to open the road to human freedom for everyone. And that most certainly includes gays—and everyone else who, however self-defined, rebels against the straitjacket social roles imposed by the capitalist ruling class.
Further, violence against gays, lesbians and, increasingly, transgendered people is a deadly constant on America's mean streets and in the repressive holding pens known as public schools. The grisly 1998 murder in Laramie of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay Wyoming student who was kidnapped, beaten, burnt and then left tied to a fence to die, shocked the nation. Though accurate statistics are almost impossible to come by, given that many victims don't come forward because they rightly fear more harassment from cops, school authorities or parents, and because official statistics don't always accurately list "hate crimes," there are still well over 1,000 reported cases a year of violence, sometimes fatal, against gays and lesbians and others deemed sexually "deviant."
A recent Internet search uncovered an article from the Arizona Tucson Citizen (23 February) titled "Gays, Jews Top Targets of Hate Crimes Here," which described the June 2002 beating to death of 24-year-old Philip Walsted, who was gay. It was a hate crime, according to police. In January of this year another gay man was found lying on the street, badly beaten, near a gay bar in Tucson, while a gay University of Arizona student was stabbed in 2000. That's just a few stories from one city. According to the Winter 2003 Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, there were 27 murders of transgendered people in a 21-month period (2002-2003) in the United States. The point of these few examples is not to "prove" that any social group is more or less hurt than any other, but to indicate that moral regimentation is part of what keeps this unjust society running the way it does.
It was a good thing that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy statutes in its 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling, because it explicitly overturned the Court's infamously reactionary 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick that upheld states' anti-sodomy laws. That decision castigated gays with statements like "proscriptions against sodomy have ancient roots." Chief Justice Warren Burger practically called for a holy war against homosexuals, writing approvingly in his concurrence that "Blackstone described ‘the infamous crime against nature' as an offense of ‘deeper malignity' than rape, a heinous act ‘the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature,' and ‘a crime not fit to be named'." This is the legal language that gives cover to gay-bashing.
Gays still don't have full civil rights: they aren't allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military, for example. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group, in the ten years since Democratic president Bill Clinton adopted the infamous "don't ask, don't tell" policy, around 10,000 service members have been discharged for being openly gay. As we stated when that policy was raised: "Open gays and lesbians have just as much right as anyone else to participate in the armed forces," while raising the classic Marxist slogan of "Not one man, not one penny" for the military ("Gays in the Military," WV No. 569, 12 February 1993). This is the tradition of militant Marxism in opposition to imperialist war. At the same time, the military is a microcosm of society as a whole, and so we fight against racist atrocities and discrimination in the armed forces just as we do in the rest of society. The fight to integrate black soldiers fully into the armed forces toward the end of World War II created a potentially powerful base for struggles for black emancipation—and in fact black civil rights activists also fought for homosexual rights in the armed forces then.
Government and Social Control of Women
Many people still would argue, gays should have democratic rights, but why marriage? The capitalist politicians running for president are all dancing around the pretty meaningless "civil union" cop-out, basically catering to religious reactionaries with votes. But isn't marriage in some sense "special," more private, more "sacred" somehow? Not at all. Monogamous marriage is a creation of society, not god (since there isn't one), and it has been used historically as a means of reactionary social control by the ruling class.
We advocate effective consent in all sexual relations and think that what any combination of individuals do in bed is nobody's business but the participants themselves, as long as it's consensual. While defending the right to gay marriage, we also argue that the "marriage mania" represents a fundamentally conservative thrust by the well-to-do petty-bourgeois gay milieu. It's a far cry from "free love" and the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 to today's marriage ceremonies, PTA meetings and Democratic and Republican Party fund-raisers. In the quest for bourgeois "respectability," gay pride day organizers have viciously banned NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association) from their marches (thereby fueling the "anti-pedophilia" hysteria which targets all gays) and welcomed contingents of gay cops who spend a good part of their time busting "sex offenders."
Nonetheless, by analogy to our position on the armed forces, we oppose excluding any category of people from access to the privileges and benefits such institutions offer in this society. At the same time, in the course of fighting for these rights, we seek to convince activists that to really resolve women's and gay oppression it is necessary to create a socialist society, in which the current functions of the bourgeois family are socialized: communal childcare; communal kitchens; free, quality health care; and in all ways freeing women from the burden of child rearing and household slavery.
A look at the history of monogamous marriage in the United States reveals its use as a tool of governmental control. A valuable book on this subject, Nancy F. Cott's Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Harvard University Press, 2000), states: "The structure of marriage...facilitates the government's grasp on the populace.... In the form of the law and state enforcement, the public sets the terms of marriage, says who can and cannot marry, who can officiate, what obligations and rights the agreement involves, whether it can be ended and if so, why and how." The following history is largely drawn from that book; quotations from other sources are noted.
One of the book's central themes is how entire categories of people, especially those deemed "inferior," were denied the legal right to marry in many states. This included, most notoriously, black slaves, who of course had no rights whatsoever. And for decades after the Civil War, blacks and Asians were banned from marrying whites. Additionally, as Cott writes, "Prohibiting divergent marriages has been as important in public policy as sustaining the chosen model." Thus polygamous Mormons and Native Americans were forbidden to practice their own forms of "marriage," while attempts at utopian communes made in the years before the Civil War came under massive assault following the North's victory and the consolidation of the American nation under the strengthening grip of industrial capitalism.
In America from the beginning, marriage, though infused with Christian doctrine, was a matter of governmental control, not primarily a religious institution, because the U.S. was established on the formal basis of separation of church and state. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, marriage itself, based on older common law, was seen as "a form of governance.... A man's headship of a family, his taking the responsibility for dependent wife and children, qualified him to be a participating member of a state.... Under the common law, a woman was absorbed into her husband's legal and economic persona upon marrying, and her husband gained the civic presence she lost." This concept in fact continued right up through the 20th century, and was really only dealt a decisive blow, in terms of public civil rights at least, with women getting the right to vote nationally in 1920. However, Congress determined in 1922 that a wife would lose her citizenship if she married a foreigner and stayed in his country for two years; other grounds for female loss of citizenship included marriage to an Asian, a polygamist—or an anarchist!
Within the strict confines of the marriage relationship, male supremacy remained largely intact. Cott describes three U.S. Supreme Court cases, in 1904, 1908 and 1911, all of which essentially upheld the husband's right to control of his wife's body. The 1904 case determined a husband's right to collect "damages" from his wife's lover in a case of adultery, even asserting that the husband's right to "exclusive" sexual intercourse was "a right of the highest kind, upon...which the whole social order rests" (rhetorical excess, to be sure; were this literally true, civilization would have collapsed long ago). The 1908 case justified Congress's ban on bringing women to the U.S. for an "immoral purpose," thus keeping out a man and his mistress and upholding the government's authority to legislate monogamy and punish women who transgressed. The 1911 case involved a woman's attempt to sue her husband for assault and battery. The Supreme Court refused to interfere between man and wife, rejecting the "radical and far-reaching" belief that a wife could sue her husband for injuries "as though they were strangers," and that it was "better to draw the curtain, shut out the public gaze," as an earlier North Carolina court decision put it, on the prerogatives of male brutality within the family circle. It took massive social upheaval and a wave of New Left-derived feminist activism in the 1970s to finally breach what was in fact the husband's right to rape his wife; only in 1984 did a New York court finally overturn that state's marital rape exemption, then followed by others.
Native Americans, Blacks, Asians, Immigrants: Forced or Banned Marriages
The creation of the American nation rested on the backs of black slaves— and on the virtual obliteration of the native Indian population of tribal hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists—resulting in the creation of a bourgeois democracy for white, male property owners. How much more we could have learned about the early history of our species from these indigenous peoples, relentlessly slaughtered and driven onto "reservations," is a question American Marxists must feel keenly. Friedrich Engels' work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), was after all inspired by American anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan's pioneering research into the family patterns of North American tribes. It was this research, in good part, that led to the Marxist understanding that in fact human beings have lived "for millennia" in non-patriarchal relationships, in tribal, matrilineal societies in which women were not enslaved within the straitjacket of monogamous marriage, in which children were the responsibility of both men and women. Monogamous marriage is a social invention brought to North America by the colonizers, along with their diseases, their "sacred family" and their slaves.
So the Native American population, when not simply killed, was offered an "enlightened" choice by their overseers: rot on the reservation or give up your "heathen" ways. As Cott puts it, "Most groups—notably the Iroquois, who dominated the eastern part of North America—did not make the nuclear family so fundamental an economic and psychological unit as Protestants did, nor did they generally recognize private property as such.... The federal government consistently encouraged or forced Indians to adopt Christian-model monogamy as the sine qua non of civilization and morality." In some cases it was considered that Indians could be "civilized" by converting to Christianity, and marriage of an Indian woman to a white male was tolerated, though in some dozen states marriages between Indians and whites were declared non-valid. The 1887 Dawes Act stole Indians' communal land and undermined their tribal way of life, assigning male family "last names" to Indians (against native cultural tradition), and establishing "individual property-ownership, and further subverted native American women's roles as agriculturists by presuming the Indian male should be the landowner and farmer." Cott writes: "Like ex-slaves and ex-polygamists, Indians were required by the federal government to adopt monogamy as ‘the law of social life' to become citizens."
On the other hand, for black slaves in America, legal marriage was out of the question, though slaveholders did encourage childbearing to reproduce and expand the slave population, especially after 1808 when importation of slaves was banned. "Concubinage, which is voluntary on the part of the slaves, and permissive on that of the master…in reality, is the relation, to which these people have ever been practically restricted," wrote the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1838. Thus the fight for the right to marriage, as an assertion of the right to control one's own body and make a free contract with another human being, was seen as an important aspect of the fight for black freedom.
As it is with just about everything else in America, racism is deeply intertwined with marriage law. Attempts to keep the "white race" "unmixed" were a unique feature of the American colonies since their inception (with the peculiar result that people of all different skin tones and ancestral background are automatically considered "black" if there is even a hint of a black ancestor somewhere). Ever since the inception of monogamous marriage and the family, from ancient times on, laws against intermarriage between different classes aimed to preserve ruling-class privileges. Spain in 1776 had such laws, as did the British imperialists in Ireland in the 14th century, for example. But America uniquely developed the illogic of racism, due to its slaveholding history, to such an extent that even after the victorious Civil War that freed the slaves, many states still banned black-white marriage; in Mississippi the penalty was life imprisonment. The miscegenation law was not repealed in Alabama until 2000!
The relationship between slavery and women's subordinate position in marriage was widely noted and utilized by those on both sides of the issues. Southern evangelical Protestant ministers, who published more than half of pre-Civil War pro-slavery tracts, regularly quoted the Bible; a typical claim was that god "included slavery as an organizing element in that family order which lies at the very foundation of Church and State." On the other side, those among the anti- slavery abolitionists and early women's rights advocates who shared the liberal ideals of individual freedom and the view that "self-ownership" was a natural right, saw that both slaves and married women lacked this basic right. As Lucy Stone put it, "Marriage is to woman a state of slavery. It takes from her the right to her own property, and makes her submissive in all things to her husband."
Following the Civil War, successive stages of immigration fed the fires of growing industrialization in the U.S. Here too the government's marriage policies were aimed at social control. Chinese immigrants on the West Coast, who first came in the gold rush, were in demand for mining and railroad-building, but when the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, an explosion of anti-Chinese racism was unleashed. The first federal step to restrict immigration, the Page Act of 1875, was aimed at Asian women, who were supposedly all prostitutes, and required "the U.S. consul to make sure that any immigrant debarking from an Asian country was not under contract for ‘lewd and immoral purposes'." By 1913 eight states had laws against whites marrying Japanese or Chinese people.
"Free Love" Utopias and Polygamy
In the stormy years leading up to the great social explosion that was the American Civil War, the last progressive gasp of the bourgeoisie (like the 1848 Revolutions in Europe) in North America, many experimental utopian socialist alternatives to monogamous marriage flowered. There were many "free love" communities established in the U.S., inspired by such utopian visionaries as Robert Owen, Claude Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, whose profound insight that the status of women is the decisive indicator of social progress inspired further Marxist theory on the subject. The New York Oneida community, founded in 1849 with a pamphlet called Slavery and Marriage: A Dialogue, did away with the exclusive pairing of couples, though within a rather formal structure. These groups, though ridiculed and condemned, were not by and large prosecuted before the Civil War, but afterward, when in the name of "consolidating" the nation, a crackdown on most forms of "social deviation" began.
One interesting—and still contemporary—group stands out in all this: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, one of whose founding tenets is the right of men to polygamy, or multiple marriage to many women at once. Right-wingers today throw up their hands in horror at gay marriage, breathlessly bemoaning that polygamy will be next. Well, guess what, it's already here, and has been for over a hundred years, out in Utah and other Western states, where an estimated 30,000 old-style Mormons still practice the sect's early preaching, though the "official" church formally renounced it a long time ago. We believe the Mormons have the right to be left alone, to practice their religion and live their private lives however they see fit. Our position for the right of gay marriage, like the right of Mormons to practice polygamy, stems from our opposition to government interference with the rights of individuals to effect whatever consensual arrangements they wish. We pointed out that American Mormons, including the women, essentially freely choose their practice, unlike in countries without bourgeois revolutions, where women are still little more than property of their patriarchal masters and where polygamous social systems must be relentlessly opposed. As we wrote in "Free Tom Green! Mormon Polygamists: Leave Them Alone!" (WV No. 764, 14 September 2001), defending a man convicted of felony bigamy charges:
"The family structure—whether monogamous or polygamous—necessarily oppresses women. However, not everybody understands the source of their oppression, and people do all sorts of things that are undoubtedly bad for them that the state still has no business throwing them in prison for. As Marxists we understand that the family serves a real social purpose and cannot simply be ‘abolished,' even in a workers state, but must be replaced with alternate social institutions."
Women's Liberation, Individual Freedoms and the Fight for Socialism
So, as radical columnist Alexander Cockburn put it, "Why rejoice when state and church extend their grip, which is what marriage is all about" ("Sidestep on Freedom's Path," CounterPunch, 20/21 March). Cockburn quotes early ACT UP activist Jim Eigo on the question: "Why are current mainstream gay organizations working to strike a bargain with straight society that will make some queers less equal than others?... Marriage has no more place in efforts to achieve equality than slavery or the divine right of kings. At this juncture in history, wouldn't it make more sense for us to try to figure out how to relieve heterosexuals of the outdated shackles of matrimony?"
It certainly would. And it is the modern Marxist movement which has figured out how to break those shackles, through abolishing the system of private property in the means of production, thus abolishing the need for the bourgeois family structure to pass on such private wealth. As Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the 1917 Russian Revolution, wrote in response to the magazine Liberty (14 January 1933) which asked, "Is Bolshevism deliberately destroying the family?":
"If one understands by ‘family' a compulsory union based on the marriage contract, the blessing of the church, property rights, and the single passport, then Bolshevism has destroyed this policed family from the roots up.
"If one understands by ‘family' the unbounded domination of parents over children, and absence of legal rights for the wife, then Bolshevism has, unfortunately, not yet completely destroyed this carryover of society's old barbarism.
"If one understands by ‘family' ideal monogamy—not in the legal but in the actual sense—then the Bolsheviks could not destroy what never was nor is on earth, barring fortunate exceptions."
Damn It-Leonard Peltier Must Not Die In Jail-President Obama Pardon Leonard Peltier-Sign The Petition
Please sign Friends of Leonard Pelletier and the ILPDC's petition to grant executive clemency to Leonard Pelletier of the American Indian Movement who has unconscionably locked up by the U.S. federal government since 1975.
From The Pen Of Bart Webber
Now that Josie was no longer running the day to day operations of the small social services consulting firm she had established back in the late 1970s in Cambridge in conjunction with her Sociology teaching job at Tufts University after she had finally wormed her way through to her doctorate at Boston University she had time think back about those man problems, the ones that caused her eternal grief in the end. So to keep things straight in her head as she tried to reassemble her past she would keep a little diary, no, not a diary so much as a series of notes when she decided to write everything down which she had always been most comfortable doing when anything bothered her. She had initially made a list in no particular order of her “men,” some of them anyway, and why they had slipped away (or why she pushed them away in some cases including that latest one, Bradley, which had acted as a catalyst for the whole exploration). When she looked over the list she noticed that she neglected to put her two husbands on the list which she chuckled to herself at. That seemed about right, seemed to be some kind of poetic justice as she decided to keep the list as she had created it in the moment and throw the husbands in her notes as their existences had some part in the story.
Staring at that list of names though Josie Davis had to admit, had to finally admit, that she never had much luck with men, never had much luck at all as she sat there in her bedroom cleaning out the stuff he had left behind, that last he, the stuff that certainly would have tied him down as he fled the scene, literally fled the scene with no good-byes and no sorrows either. But that he will get his moment of glory later and need not detain us right here. Right her being the hard thought that it was not as though Josie had started out life with man trouble, certainly in high school and a little in big amorphous college at Wisconsin she had had her pick of good guys, guys who brought gifts, guys who didn’t mind picking up the check although that trend was going out of fashion back in the 1960s even before women were expected, as part of their liberation, to pick up on occasion previously male-responsible dinner bills. Guys who made her laugh, guys who provided her with dope for a good time, guys who knew more than her in the sex department and were willing to teach her a thing or two. One Josie Davis, a quick learner that way, caught on fast, worked her way through a good segment of the Karma Sutra and enjoyed most of what she experienced except maybe that S&M stuff that she got a little too frisky with at one time or another. With those thoughts in mind she started writing her little notes on her iPad in the third person which she was also more comfortable with although she had spent years in therapy working through her own identity crises. Here is what she ahd to say:
After You’re Gone-An Interlude
Thoughts of bright blue-eyed blonde and sexy Jeff though got Josie all melancholy, got her distracted about all the relationship disasters that happened after she graduated from Madison in 1968. That start-up with Jeff seemed so simple a way to show a man she understood things, understood things were changing, understood that not everybody, not every man had the same breaks she had received from doting if uncomprehending parents (and received aid for a long time after most men who were expected to pay their way while she was working on her equally eternal doctorate). It seemed that once she left Madison, left the bucolic campus life where the hardest task seemed to stay focused on graduating with a high enough GPA to get into that increasingly necessary set of advanced degree programs to avoid some clerical job in some rustic Department of Social Services or worse, the humiliation of waitressing with its sloppy drunks and leering looks the male hunters in the eternal male-female dance that ruled her life (ruled it since that first time she had sex in high school with Manny and liked it, liked it enough to have periodic erotic dreams where she got herself into some strange sexual situations when study, work or some project took her too long away from mankind but that was something that she was working out, eternally working out with her own psychologist) always turned out to be less than they looked like, a lot less when it came right down to it.
She knew she had never been a great beauty although guys who wanted to get next to her would flower her with such praise, knew though that what one guy, Max, sweet old Max from Sociology 201 class, she wondered where he was now all these years later having dropped out of school to go “find himself” after sophomore year and had not been heard from since, someone said Mexico the last anybody heard of his doings, called her “fetching,” meaning that her brand of prettiness, smarts and pleasing personality meant that she would not have to spent too many lonely nights by some midnight telephone. And whatever else she never had to sit by that dreaded midnight phone that even someone as popular as Frida, or better Dora Denny who was a social butterfly at Hunter had to deal with on occasion.
What she had going for her whether that fetching business was anything but bluster or the latest line of male “come on” which Max usually picked up very quickly was nice straight long dark brown hair which in those days, slave to fashion that she was, slave to folkie fashion after the “queen” of female folk singers Joan Baez got on the cover of Time and sent every girl with short hair or long to the dorm ironing board to emulate her (because every folkie guy would swoon uncontrollably when pretty straight long-haired girls passed by she had noticed in the coffeehouses). She had a pleasing body which when she usually felt comfortable with since she did not worry about the other fashion statement of the day razor thinness like ones you would see in all the fashion magazines which still were the way that young women caught the latest fashion statements whether they followed them or not, that Josie figured out where she belonged in the universe before the days when women’s liberation said “fuck all that.” More intriguingly, and guys would comment on the subject, one of her soft brown eyes was just ever so slightly cross-eyed and so she appeared like some exotic flower especially after a day at the beach when her brownish skin turned dark brown.
But her run of luck, maybe her fetching looks, maybe that slightly cross-eyed look turned evil-looking outside of campus life, something happened, seemed to sour out of the friendly confines of some campus, soured when she came to Boston to make her mark in the world, the world of sociology, really in the end social psychology, where she would begin her advanced degree programs, including a nice stipend after her first year’s Master’s program as an intern (along with the inevitable family treasury back in Manhattan supplementing that nice stipend, nice as far as academic stipends went, which would not pay for extras like clothes, trips home and away, and that car that she just absolutely needed to get to her clinical sites). Still after all these years not able to figure it out she returned to her list, her wistful list.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life, Maybe
You would be surprised, or might have been surprised if you were a certain age (funny expression that Josie’s mother had repeatedly used to cover up her age, or the ages of her friends, into a mishmash of just indeterminate mature women and now she was using that same expression to cover up her age, weren’t we supposed to have gotten over that in the enlightened 1960s when truth will out ruled the roads), at the kind of talk that you would find in girls’ lav, locker rooms, at female table, or on the ubiquitous phone, the telephone now the cellphone, about men, about sex and about what women would tell each other that would never cross over to the ears of men, even if they were with them for fifty years. Josie was thinking of the various times when just like the long straight black hair craze which Joan Baez started and which everybody who could was emulating making iron companies rich in the process, when peasant blouses were the height of fashion having sex with certain categories of men was a craze among some young women once they started to have sexual relations (called “going steady” in high school, “going out with” in college and “one night stands” in the post-graduate world).
In high school for Josie (and her friend Frida as well) it had started with just Jewish boys but that soon became wearisome when they had more neuroses that she did, came from that same stinking brown world that she came from (brown eyes, brown skin, brown hair, brown, brown). So the fad after that was to snag a Washington Square folk-singer (at least that was what Frida and the JAPs at Hunter College High were experimenting with), a rough-edged, raggedy muffin blue-eyed WASP was the goal (and she had got her wish, Frida too and some JAPs did too if the Monday morning girls’ lav rumors had any truth). What Josie didn’t know until much later, and Frida had heard the same from some guy she had gone out with, was those WASP folksingers were learning their three chord songs to snag pretty Jewish girls when they got tired of Muffy and Buffy WASP this and that out in the suburbs. Heard that Jewish girls were “easy” too so there.
Later in college, at Madison during the height of the civil rights movement, and a little after, it was black men, the blacker the better to check to see if it was true about their manhood size, their penises, and just to do it as a flavor of the month kind of thing. That “little after” part stopped things between black men and white women when black nationalism, the Panthers swept the imaginations of students but they also called on the “brothers” to be fruitful with their black sisters and keep the black nation alive and well and not go after honky women (which didn’t stop many of the brothers, brothers at Madison she knew from personal experience, from bedding white women, “easy” Jewish girls or blonder than blonde Swedish girls it did not matter- on the QT). There might have been other flavors of the month but between WASP folk-singers and black men she kept herself as busy in bed as she wanted.
But she was always willing in her dreams to explore further and when she arrived in Boston, a city that she thought was all Irish from what her parents had told her trying to dissuade her from going among the Irish Catholic heathens who still in their hearts believed that Jews had killed their Christ, their Messiah, she had thoughts of trying one out. Not the city-bred ones she had had enough of those black-hearts and drunks at Madison and in New York where some of the girls at Hunter had these awful red-faced snaggle-toothed Irish boyfriends who liked to swear and drink without end as young as they were. When she got into Boston by the early 1970s the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bravos were making noise over in Derry and other hotspots in the North (not Londonderry, not if you didn’t want an argument, a serious argument about British imperialism and naming thing their way in a foreign country not their own, male or female) and some under British ban were heading to Boston in exile, to lick their wounds or to raise funds for the “struggle.” And so her new flavor of the month, although if she had known what the end would be like she would have hunkered down with some poor Wasp folk-singer around Harvard Square or nice Jewish boy from Long Island like her mother always wanted for her.
So take Jack Donovan (please do), an Irishman who had only been in the country for a few months when she, curious about the night life in Boston ran into him at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge a favorite watering hole for the ex-pat Irish fleeing the turmoils in the old country. She, a Jewish girl from Manhattan via Hunter College High School, had fled that overwhelmingly sad city for Madison and now Boston, had been intrigued by his accent and by his winsome manner and although she knew nothing about his Irish heritage having been immersed in finding her own Jewish identity of late she had decided to take the ride, decided to see where things would lead. And for a while they were great, a few months of going out several nights a week to the Plough or some other Cambridge bar, lots of laughs and lots of singing, good times and pretty good sex.
Then the other shoe kind of dropped which Josie, the queen of social psychology and so supposed to know something of human nature in the raw should have seen it coming, Jack lost his job down at the docks where he had been an alternate (a B-man he called it as opposed to an A “steady” man who still had work) but there had been plenty of work which suddenly dried up and he began to drink more heavily, lost his small shabby room where he had to share a common bathroom on Beacon Hill and moved in with her. Got more morose as he could not find work, working class job work since he had left Cork without a high school diploma. Then the beatings started, at first just a belt to the shoulder or someplace soft and hidden but it hurt and she thought it was just his frustrations at not having a job and basically living off a woman although he never articulated the matter that way.
Then he belted her in the eye and she had had to stay in the apartment for a few days while the swelling went down and she was embarrassed when she went back to work and her girlfriends quizzed her about the residue black and blue around her eye and of course she lied, lied and said she had hit her eye on the eternal door. Said to herself that he hadn’t meant it, hadn’t been himself and for that one forlorn minute asked herself what would she do without him, how before the drink caught up with him, maybe his whole life caught up with him, he had loved her so. One night in a rage, loaded to the gills, smelling of vomit and whiskey he pummeled her which required her to go the hospital where she had to make a report, a police report, and while she did not want to be the reason Jack went to jail (and would later be deported after building a criminal record) she had no choice, she did not want to go on that way, for love or not. She was sour on men for a long time after that, was going to see her psychologist more often than once a week because after Jack lost his grip on her she was totally immersed in finding out why she had taken the beatings, why she had not left him high and dry after that first hard “meant it” punch toher shoulder that hurt for several days.
Down In The Dumps
After Jack, after Stan, Josie was shy around men for a while, wouldn’t you be if you had previously been a punching bag for gone losers, didn’t want to get involved playing the percentages of winding up with another wrong “gee” (an expression she had picked up from Stan who was addicted not only to sister cocaine but to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler 1930s hard-boiled detectives who did not see the irony of his own being a wrong gee when she mentioned that hard fact to him after the first time he swatted her), hell, had been afraid to get involved with almost anybody after the Jack black eye incidents, that on top of Stan’s abuse too, his made worse by the drugs which laid him low just when she was beginning to believe in men again, believe in Stan who knew so much about the blues that the words about doing his honey wrong must have sunk in to his brain, but she like a lot of women needed intimate relations with a man and so one day her friend Susie from the clinic where she worked introduced her to a guy whom Susie had known back in college at New York University, Jeff Goldman, whom Josie hit it off with right away. (Susie one of the voices she listened to when deciding that Jack would wind up a bum and who knows what would have happened to her if she had stayed with him any longer that she had and later that Stan’s drug habits were social psych 101 evidence that she needed to ditch him).
Both Jeff and Josie had cultural (a serious taste for art, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism in particular), ethnic (both had been raised secular Jews, vanilla American assimilated Jews, who once the Holocaust, Shoah, began to be a topic for fit conversation rather than awful denial or something by their parents’ generation to be put aside and left unspoken were among those who wanted to know some Jewish history, know the shtetl, know Yiddish, know that Eastern European Jewish culture that their grandparents had fled in the dead of night from, fled from the ever present pogroms) and musical interests in common (he had tried out as a folk-singer in New Jersey, out in a Tenafly folk venue where they had “open mic” nights and later helped run a coffeehouse off McDougall Street while he was in college and we already know Josie’s long resume as an aficionado).
Jeff had told her from the beginning that he lived on Long Island and so would only be able to see her when he came to Boston on business (he ran a small accounting firm looking to get bigger, to expand into the Boston market where a lot of small high-tech geeks he called them and she knew what he meant needed stable financial help before they went belly-up no matter how cutting edge their ideas were, he told her where he could then see her more often was the hook he had used this time), or when he decided to take her on some whirlwind weekend in some secluded resort where they would have a great time. And they did going to places like the Bahamas when she mentioned to Jeff that she could use some sunshine one winter day, down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras on another jaunt, several romantic trips to San Francisco just to see the Golden Gate Bridge and eat some clams. Shorter trips closer to home too. Nice times, nice times indeed.
She slowly really did think that she was onto a guy who would treat her right, 100% right. Then the other shoe dropped, again. Jeff started making excuses for why he couldn’t see her, said he had business in Chicago, was making deals that required his serious time just then. She wondered a little about that since he had been so gung-ho about making a splash in the Boston market to be with her but she let it slide. When he called from Chicago or Los Angeles Josie would hear muted voices in the background and at first did not think anything of it but after three consecutive brush-off weekends she started to think he was having an affair with another woman and that she had better head for cover. She did not know how right she was when Jeff did finally come by to see her and after they had made love she and he had fallen asleep she fished through his wallet and found a photograph of his wife and two children smiling in front of their large Long Island home. Adieu, Jeff.
During Josie’s studies at Boston University as part of her doctoral program she had worked as a cross-discipline, multi-campus experiment for the summer at Harvard University for the famous Doctor Samuel Potter, academically famous anyway, who was the king hell king of the latest trends in sociology. The idea was to put the latest findings of empirical research in social psychology to the test, you know, stuff like if you put twenty people unknown to each other and who did not know each other’s individual profiles and personalities would you replicate the social divisions in existing society over time; whether there was an innate social desire to create an ordered world out of an anonymous mass. Josie’s input was to create the theoretical social psychological model that would support either conclusion. Exciting stuff at least in the world of academia, although life would have sorted the thing out easier and with no need to pile up more paper on the ocean of that material which already was afloat on such subjects.
Potter’s claim to fame on this whole project was that he had actually been granted a government subsidy from the Department of Defense back in the 1950s to do an experiment based on the negative conclusion of that premise, that people would create a new class society, and was continuing to subsidize his work while Josie was an intern(the source of the grants unknown to Josie whose anti-war views may have made her take some second thoughts about helping out the war machine then still very much involved with burning or otherwise trying to send the small country of Vietnam back to the Stone Age). The good Professor had been using the sparsely drawn conclusions from his work to lure ever fawning students to his studies since and had been filling up every possible academic journal which would publish him with his statistics despite the fact that about ten subsequent studies had showed his so-called definitive results were at best inconclusive.
Professor Potter had never paid much attention to Josie since her field was social psychology a field that despite this joint experiment he had determined was so much hot air and since he was bedding Susie, another intern, Josie’s closest friend in Boston then and was preoccupied with that hellion (Susie’s term about herself confessed one drunken night when she and Josie were both in the dumps after Josie had ditched Stan and she had made a play for Josie who was just too shattered to response to any sexual advances, male or female, then although later they did have a short fling but both decided that they needed a man, at least for their beds) until either he broke it off or Susie sensing that he was smoking way to much dope, doing too many lines of cocaine the new drug of choice among hipsters around Cambridge saw the writing on the wall. Whichever reason was correct, or if they were both correct, Professor Potter then honed in on Josie. (Later Susie confided to Josie that it was because the dope was making him a lousy lover and she began seeing an old boyfriend again who could deal with her urges, her hellion urges.)
Now in the world of academia this honing in process is something of an art form and here is how it worked, maybe still does even with almost forty years of women’s liberation to cut through the bullshit. Let’s just confine the observations to male professors, the vast majority on most faculties then, and high gloss professors like Potter worked the thing to a science. Professor Potter would personally interview and load up his intern staff with women, a little easier to do since sociology and social psychology acted as a magnet for young women wishing to make a name for themselves in academia or research. Of course the women he picked would be the kind that would be so excited to be working with the Professor Potter whom they had been required to read about in their 101 textbooks that he could have a field day with whomever he wanted and if nothing happened just move on. Or there might but a woman like Susie who had taken dead aim at the Professor figuring that for a few romps in the hay she could move up in the pecking order more quickly. Susie admitted as much to Josie when they first met and almost from day one she was on the good Professor’s trail. It didn’t hurt that he was pretty good looking and soft-spoken as well.
Josie was betwixt and between about the Professor, Sam as he insisted she call him since as he put it in that pseudo-democratic way some men in authority have, they were colleagues not professor and intern, not in his offices, because she really was ready to be off men for a while, wanted to get that dissertation she was about half way through done but he began to make it clear that she had better pay attention to him if she wanted any kind of career in the profession. This in the days before such behavior against female subordinates was strictly off-limits, and even then if Josie or any young woman had pressed the issue, and not every woman would, she would have had said professor in front of a very big carpet complete with rack, and maybe a noose. So she dabbled with the good professor, took his threats seriously until one day after she had not seen him for a week Susie called and told her on the QT that Professor Potter had flipped out on some hell-bent mixture of dope and hubris and had been checked into posh McClean’s Hospital in Belmont until further notice.
Josie’s reaction, after all that had happened to her, was that she felt sorry for him, hoped things worked out. They didn’t as the family held him in seclusion for a number of years afterward and Josie was not quite sure what had become of him except that he was no longer the king hell king of the latest trends in sociology, especially after it came out that the experiment that he had initiated in the 1950s had been compromised since about half the subjects, gathered through a university-wide ad, had known each other a question that the good Professor had not bothered to ask about in his interviews and only came out because one of the subjects was in McClean’s with Potter and spilled the beans in the patient’s lounge and some sharp-witted young doctor overheard the conversation.
A half a dozen years later now safely in the profession, now with the designation name doctor in front of her name and after having at most had a few dates with men after the litany of failures, of dead-beats and the cruel, nothing substantial, noting that ever worked out past a few dinners and concerts, nothing that would have led anywhere she met the human dynamo, Peter Grogan. A financier he called himself when she had met him at Jack’s where she occasionally stopped for a solo bar stool drink before heading home after a busy and trying day setting up the first group of contracts for consulting work with some local universities and colleges as a reward for that doctor designation that she hoped would finally pay off after abandoning first love, English lit and second love sociology. It had been a while since she would go to Jack’s with a date, or fellow workers to see what new small stage acts were working out their routines before heading to bigger venues, or bust since the demise of an active and larger enough folk scene to make it worthwhile for the ownership of Jack’s, Jack himself to book such acts. That dynamo part was right since he swept her off of her feet with the force of his personality.
Half Irish wit, half smooth operator, half, wait a minute that is too many half, so part guy who knew two thousand facts about lots of things, and a little about her bailiwick social psychology although that would only come out later after he was long gone. That was Peter Grogan in a nutshell. He did not come on strong though, was rather tentative about asking if the seat next to hers was open, it was and so were half the seats at the bar so there was a little mischief brewing in her when she said yes. Maybe it was just her time to get back in the ring but she fell hard for him like some drunken sailor pining for some faraway hometown girl. That took a while though since that is where the Peter smooth part came in. He hooked her by being the very soul of modesty, she had had to when they time came nudge him into her bed (she wasn’t aware until later that his preoccupations were not about sex but about other things and so bedding her was presumably far down on his list-smooth though on its face since Josie had decidedly given up on rushing to bed with every guy who did not seem going in the sheets like a mass murderer).
Here ’s where things went awry though after several months, after he had hooked her good, Peter kept insisting that he could set her up with a nice institute, a place where she could do all the research she wanted. Naturally a person, a woman with limited personal resources looking to break from the parental financial stranglehold which they held over her like a sword would listen attentively to such an offer, an offer which dovetailed with her dreams. Here’s the come on though, although having very little experience with serious con men she was not wise to that world when he said he just needed some dough to tide him over on a deal and could she lend him some few thousands to close the deal and then they would be as he said “in the clover.”
She, the fool, took his words as good coin and lent the bum the dough even though it would take a serious chunk out of her cash reserves. And lent more money a couple more times until her account and stocks (given by her father to be saved for a rainy day) were almost depleted. Even then he had flim-flammed her enough that she was not suspicious when that deal that was supposed to be a piece of cake to close kept keeping more, rather than less, complicated. Then while she was away at a two week conference/retreat in San Francisco she let Peter use her place while she was gone, for a business deal he said which couldn’t be concluded at his office, or his home. When she came back from Frisco the whole place had been denuded of every saleable item, and to boot Peter had tried to sell the condo she owned to some poor snook who gave him a $5000 down payment. When they caught up with Peter in Rhode Island it turned out the only financing he was doing was financing various losing horses at local race tracks with whoever’s money he could grab (well over a quarter million dollars at least that was the total from those who were not too embarrassed to keep quiet about their loses).
Yeah, Josie sighed as she bundled up Peter’s debris, a few clothes, a couple of books, some utensils, to be thrown away in the garbage with her love, she had crumbled up a thousand man thoughts over her life to find one truth-a good man is hard to find, very hard to find.