Saturday, January 31, 2015

As The 100th Anniversary Of The First Year Of World War I (Remember The War To End All Wars) Continues ... Some Remembrances-Writers’ Corner  

In say 1912, 1913, hell, even the beginning of 1914, the first few months anyway, before the war clouds got a full head of steam in the summer they all profusely professed their unmitigated horror at the thought of war, thought of the old way of doing business in the world. Yes the artists of every school but the Cubist/Fauvists/Futurists and  Surrealists or those who would come to speak for those movements, those who saw the disjointedness of modern industrial society and put the pieces to paint, sculptors who put twisted pieces of metal juxtaposed to each other saw that building a mighty machine from which you had to run created many problems; writers of serious history books proving that, according to their Whiggish theory of progress,  humankind had moved beyond war as an instrument of policy and the diplomats and high and mighty would put the brakes on in time, not realizing that they were all squabbling cousins; writers of serious and not so serious novels drenched in platitudes and hidden gabezo love affairs put paid to that notion in their sweet nothing words that man and woman had too much to do, too much sex to harness to denigrate themselves by crying the warrior’s cry and by having half-virgin, neat trick, maidens strewing flowers on the bloodlust streets; musicians whose muse spoke of delicate tempos and sweet muted violin concertos, not the stress and strife of the tattoos of war marches with their tinny conceits; and poets, ah, those constricted poets who bleed the moon of its amber swearing, swearing on a stack of seven sealed bibles, that they would go to the hells before touching the hair of another man. They all professed loudly (and those few who did not profess, could not profess because they were happily getting their blood rising, kept their own consul until the summer), that come the war drums they would resist the siren call, would stick to their Whiggish, Futurist, Constructionist, Cubist worlds and blast the war-makers to hell in quotes, words, chords, clanged metal, and pretty pastels. They would stay the course.  

And then the war drums intensified, the people, their clients, patrons and buyers, cried out their lusts and they, they made of ordinary human clay as it turned out, poets, artists, sculptors, writers, serious and not, musicians went to the trenches to die deathless deaths in their thousands for, well, for humankind, of course, their always fate  ….            

Memoirs of an Infantry Officer
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Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (Sherston Trilogy #2)

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  609 ratings  ·  31 reviews
An irreverent look at British military leaders during WW1, written by the Hawthornden-Prize winning author.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 1st 1930 by Simon Publications (first published 1930)

You Can’t Go Home Again, Damn It, You Can’t- With Thomas Wolfe’s Novel In Mind

Larry Larkin wondered, wondered that night as 2012 turned into New Year’s Day 2013 why he had been fixated on that title from the long ago American novelist Thomas Wolfe and his damn book, You Can’t Go Home Again. Wondered too why over the previous five years, the five years since he initially tried to “go home, again” he had not realized the truth of that simple expression, had caused himself more grief that wisdom choking over every misstep in the effort. All of this wondering, aided perhaps by a few sips of white wine that he was sharing with his companion, Laura Hoppe, as the new year came in had been triggered by remembrances of the past year’s final (he hoped final) beating about the head over the matter when he had tried to attend his 50th anniversary high school class reunion of the Class of 1962 at Olde Saco High in the early fall at the Laurent Hotel , a place that back in the day had meant nothing but trouble including the location of his first marriage wedding reception. He had in the end wound traipsing with Laura into Big Sur canyons clear across the country on the weekend of the scheduled event. After churning it over in his head Larry thought, before the wine flowed too freely to his brain that he had better go back to the beginning, better go back to look how each step taken on that “go home, again ” trail had been fraught with portents of eventual failure. And that ebbing New Year’s Eve he at least knew that that road was now mercifully closed to him.        

Sure Larry knew, knew way before 2007 when he caught the “go home” bug that he could not go back to the time of his youth in Olde Saco when even when things were tough, tough meaning the constant war between he and his mother, Delores (nee LeBlanc, descended from a long line of French-Canadian peasants he guessed they would be called, fellahin a friend of his, Josh Breslin, trying to be smart called them, who came down from barren Quebec to look for work in the mills and never looked back), there were memories, maybe good memories, that sustained him in bad times.

So Larry did not believe that year he was going to go back to that “go home” but he did believe that he could at least settle on an “armed truce” with that past. A past which included a very long period of alienation and lost contact with his people back in Olde Saco, a period of no contact by his own finally frustrated choice. One day in the mid-1970s he just decided that he could no longer take the punishing contact with the family, that it was better all around to cut his losses  and so went his own way. But humankind is funny, or at least Larry thought it was funny that one day in 2007, one fateful day as it turned out, he had an intense hankering to settle with his past, find out what happened to his family, who was left and maybe try to reconnect. That one day was ordinary enough since what had triggered his hankering (his word) was the fact that he had had to return to Olde Saco to obtain a copy of his birth certificate in order to begin the retirement process from his job as a middle-level civil servant up in Augusta. So down to old town town hall Olde Saco he went. Of course since he had spent the time and energy to travel down there he knew that he would just had to stop off at Olde Saco Beach after he had completed his task.

As Larry once again began walking Olde Saco Beach from the Pine Point far end he thought this stretch of ocean front held many memories for a man who loved the sea, had declared at one time or another that his homeland was the sea, was the mother, snarly and holy vengeance one moment, tepidly ripple running to shore and gentle splashes the next, who never abandoned him, draw what conclusions you will from that. Mainly that cold early April day in 2007 he thought about how many times when he had had some “unresolvable” beef (unresolvable then although now, having gone through the same set of experiences with his own kids he chuckled over that word) he would walk the mile to the beach from his shack of a growing up house over on Atlantic Avenue and endlessly walk until he calmed himself down (later in high school where he was a track athlete he would run that distance but the brooding walking followed, followed as day to night). The beefs always over wants, wants of one or sort or another usually over him wanting something, clothes, date money, tickets to something, could have been anything, and she, Delores, pulling the hammer down with the definite “no.” His hard-working hard-pressed shadow figure father in the background backing her up, backing her up without question. Other times the beefs were of a more serious nature, trouble nature, trouble at school, trouble after school hanging around with his corner boys, mostly thieving Irish kids, trouble with the law, mostly small unarmed felonies, trouble, trouble as he squandered half his young life gnashing his teeth against grabbing those from hunger want. It had been a close thing, a very close thing, indeed that he had taken the judge’s, old Judge Matthews over in the Arundel District Court, choice of enlisting in the Army over time at Shawshank, seeing afterward what had happened to a few of his corner boys, Clipper Johnson, George Kelly and the late Jimmy Dubois, as they edged their own paths to the big house.         

No question, and here he was not giving into any false nostalgia, or at least he did not think that was but there had been some good times too, mostly early on, but still good times. Yeah, those trips to the beach with the family and the inevitable barbecues as his father gave his mother (and maybe himself) a break from cooking, her an indifferent cook at best harried by short father pay check money to feed five growing kids, he could still smell those smells now all charcoal and warmth. Those runs down to York Beach and the amusement park when he was fascinated by his first run-in with the corner boy pinball wizards who populated the arcades during the summer. Trips to Boston, trips to lots places in the area which made up, a little, for a nerve-wracking home life. Yeah, those early days held much promise before he came of age and the Delores wars started, started him out the door to hang around with the guys at Lebreque’s Drugstore (and later Jimmy Laurent’s bar where Jimmy did not ask questions about age but only the color of your money). So after walking the length of the beach for the umpteenth time in his life Larry got a small hankering. That hankering enlarged when he surreptiously drove pass the old growing up shack of a house on Atlantic Street and found that the house was no longer there but had been replaced by a high end three-unit condo complex. He did not bother to check to see if any unit belonged to Delores and Paul Larkin since no way could they have afforded such digs. Besides he was too afraid to go near the premises in that neighborhood in the unlikely case that some old neighbors might recognize him. Yeah, it was like that.               

Then one day a few week later, out of the blue, he began a Google search the old town newspaper, The Olde Saco Tribune, to see if any of his people other than the one outlaw older brother he was still in contact (and that relationship too had stormy no contact periods), William were still around. William then in assisted living quarters in Wells after a long career of petty armed robberies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire which produced a long career in various state penal institutions nixed any involvement in the search having his own dank memories and beefs. Yeah, he developed a hankering to see who was still around (including the extended family many of whom on his mother’s side had lived in the Olde Saco area after the huge migration out of the Quebec farms to work the mills and on his father’s side too, working the mills that is, including him). There the beauty of the Internet, even the now outdated capacities of the 2007 Internet came to the rescue. That search brought forth information from the on-line Obituary section that an uncle, Lawrence Larkin who he was named after, had died in 2005 after serving many years on the Kennebunk police force. That was his uncle, no question. More importantly, among those in attendance at the funeral was one Delores Larkin, although no mention was made of his father, Paul. Delores was listed as being from South Portland and so on a whim he checked on-line to see if a land-line telephone was listed in her name. Bingo, there was one listed under her name. Larry thought this whole exercise had been way too easy, he had been prepared to go to a detective agency if necessary and here without two hours he had located his mother.                

Then the real crush began. Should or should he not made the call to confirm that identity. Larry literally held his breathe for a moment and dialed. An older woman’s voice (his mother would have been in her late 80s by then) answered and he made his identity known. As he found out later from a sister his mother had thought that he (and that brother in Wells) were dead and so she had been confused, not sure who she was talking to and told him to call back later when his sisters Maureen and Cecelia would be home. A couple of hours later even before he had a chance to call back his sister Maureen called him (another virtue of modern communications technology-caller identification) and in no uncertain terms asked him what the hell he wanted after all these years. The conversation, which lasted about an hour, or he thought it seemed that long, provided information about his father’s death in the 1980s and the deaths of other close and extended family members, including his other brother Prescott in 2003.

Beyond the family information Maureen expressed bitterness that Larry who had been able-bodied, had after all made something of himself up in Augusta (after he provided his own life information to her), and who had no good reason not to have been in contact should trouble (her word) their mother now. She and Cecelia had spent the time since their father’s death providing for their mother’s welfare, including the previous several years her living with Maureen and her husband. When Larry expressed an interest in seeing his mother Maureen cut him off at the knees. She, they, left the situation like this. She and Cecelia would explain the situation to their mother and if she wanted to see him then they would think about giving their consent. They would contact him if they did so. The old “don’t call us, we’ll call you” brush-off gave Larry a knot in the pit of his stomach, and a feeling, the first of what would be a long line of such similar feelings, that he would not be able to “go home” again.                

And so it came to pass. In late 2007 he received a phone call from a cousin, Peter LeBlanc (or rather his companion Laura received a phone call because he was then down in Boston at a conference), telling him that his mother had passed away, had passed away a couple of days before in a Portland nursing home and that the funeral would be the following Saturday at Saint Anne in Olde Saco. (Peter had also used the Internet to find Larry since he too had been on the outs with his family, and with Maureen who refused to give him Larry’s telephone number. Hail Internet, for some things anyway.) Here was the hard part for Larry to take, he knew when neither Maureen nor Cecelia called back that time he would not get to see his mother alive but Peter made it clear that Maureen and the rest of the family under no circumstances wanted Larry or William at the funeral services. So the curse would extend to the grave, beyond the grave. Larry took that knowledge hard for a while, although he and William did visit the fresh grave of his mother (and the well-worn graves of their father and other brother) at the family plot in Scarborough and thought no more about it, or better, did no more, knew then he could not go that way home again.      

Truth. Larry, smart enough to know that chapter was over, closed, still had this empty spot, or as he told Laura, this world-historic need (he really does say stuff like that) to dust off, to salvage some part of the long ago past, to make sense of the shut-out that he had just faced and what that meant to him. That is when he got to thinking about his old close corner boy from back in the days, going back to elementary school times on Atlantic Street, Kenny Bradley. Funny one night in early 2008 when filled to the brim with melancholia he thought about those times when his mother who had worked at Mister Jiffy’s Donut Shoppe in Biddeford for a few years filling jelly donuts to help make ends meet when his father was having trouble finding work after the mills started closing down and heading south, or wherever they headed to get cheaper labor used to give Kenny a bagful of day-old donuts to take home when he came over to the house. Even in high school when all hell was breaking loose in Larry’s life and it was that close thing about a life of crime that drove the main wedge between him and his parents Delores Larkin could do no wrong in Kenny’s eyes based on that childhood kindness.

He had thought to himself that night that he had been thinking about Kenny for a while, about what had happened to him, where he was if he was alive, ever since he had received an invitation to attend his 40th anniversary class reunion since graduation from Olde Saco High. He had hemmed and hawed about going to the event before backing off but that invitation had been the first time he thought seriously about getting in touch, although like a lot of things in Larry’s life he let it slide until the finality of his mother’s death brought lots of stuff to the surface. He would find himself softly singing a verse from old 1960s folk minute singer Tom Paxton’s song, I Can’t Help But Wonder, a song they both had loved back then, “I’ve got a buddy from back home but he started out to roam and I hear he’s out by Frisco Bay…and I’m going out to see him some old day, ” since Frisco had been the last place they had run into each other after Kenny had gotten out of the Navy and decided that he would start fresh in the West like lots of their kindred had.          

And here is where modern communications technology came in again after Larry had been unsuccessful in finding out Kenny’s whereabouts through a member of that 40th anniversary reunion committee who had wound up as the secretary to the headmaster of Olde Saco High and privy to any information that might be easily accessible about him. He tried a straight Google search finding eventually that Kenny’s parents had both died and since he was an only child that kind of cut short some other possibilities. Along with the search for Kenny Larry was also in something of a memory writing mood putting together some small sketches remembered from his youth about high school dances, the lovers’ lane at Squaw Rock down at the isolated end of Pine Point, hanging out with corner boys, strange dating girls hassles, football rallies, all pretty much directed back to old high school days.

Frustrated Larry Googled Olde Saco High School Class of 1962 to see if he could get anything from that end. Eventually he got to a generic all-America, maybe all-world, although he never checked that far, commercial website which for a small fee would “connect” you with your class. Larry paid the freight and for his efforts found his class listed, and more importantly a list, a fairly current list of all the members from his class who had joined the site. And bingo once again there was the name Kenneth Bradley. The way this site worked is that you or whoever you were trying to contact needed to pay that damn fee to be able receive private e-mails and so Larry did pay and sent the e-mail with a short message to Kenny and a way to contact him. A couple of days later Kenny telephoned him from Boston where he was running his own contract painting company and doing quite well. They cut up old touches for a couple of hours agreeing to meet in Boston a week or so later when Larry would be in Boston for another of his endless conferences. They met at Joe’s American Café in the Back Bay and while they both had grown stouter, and had lost some hair, unlike many of Larry’s old acquaintances they easily recognized each other on meeting. They had a good night with good food, good drink (they had been notorious drinking partners even in high school which got them both into more than one of those “trouble trouble” situations that dotted Larry’s youth. The highlight was that Kenny had brought his very own copy of the Olde Saco Magnet, their high school yearbook, and had many a nostalgic laugh over this and that. Of course Larry had been so alienated upon graduation, as well as having a few grand larcency charges hanging over him which would be resolved only by his taking the Army part of old Judge Matthews Army or jail options, that  graduation night drunk as skunk he had thrown his copy in the Scarborough River and good riddance.             

Larry and Kenny had been from elementary school days until that last time Larry had seen Kenny in Frisco as close as two guys could be without being brothers. The had laughed when Kenny made a comment at Joe’s that they probably were the only heterosexual guys in the class (maybe the school or town even) who people wondered about whether they were gay (or to use the term used then in sublime ignorance, “fags”). That Boston night had been the highlight of their reunion although they met several times after that over the next several months for dinner, to watch sports which Kenny was still addicted to, and a couple of times Kenny had joined Larry and Laura at concerts (one a Bruce Springsteen concert down in New Haven) but the old comradeship seemed to be lost, lost like that closeness vanished in the bay out there in California. During this time Larry began grinding his teeth when Kenny would endlessly talk about his painting business, about the stock market that he dabbled in, graphic detail about his sexual conquests, more endless talk about sports and frankly stuff that Larry had either lost interest like sports or never cared to talk about and from his end would be reduced to bringing up some old time flame, caper or incident from high school days to fill the time. Larry sensed that maybe Kenny realized too that they had gone very far away on their separate ways, and after dinner one night in York Beach in early 2009 they had parted saying they would give each other a call soon to get together again. They never did and that “go home” episode passed into dust.            

Although Larry felt the Kenny connection drifting away he still was producing those small sketches about life, mostly high school life, in the old days in Olde Saco and placing them on the appropriate section of the class website. Several of them, especially about the local custom of searching for “submarines” from the backseats of ’57 Chevys at Olde Saco Beach at night (the reader can be presumed to be able to be figure that one out), the infamous grapevine that provided much needed intelligence about who or who was no “going steady”   centered in Monday morning before school talkfest, and the night life at the Olde Saco Drive-In and Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Main Street grabbed a great deal of comment and reply. Some of them so he heard later from a woman classmate who had read them at the time would become the talk of his class.

All done good-naturedly, all done with trying to fill some empty hole in him, and maybe them. Then the hammer fell. Misty Gordon, Class vice-president, head cheerleader, chair of the senior dance and prom committees, assistant editor of the school newspaper The Ocean’s Edge threw down a gauntlet, made a comment, very pointedly after  forty years later like she had been holding it in for that whole period of time to the effect that who did Larry think he was, a guy who got into nothing but trouble as everybody in town knew and tittered over and never did anything to help his class now wanted to  proclaim himself the quote “ bard of the class.” Now Larry knew this Misty, you could hardly avoid her and her well-publicized exploits in a small high school, vaguely but had never spoken two words to her and said so in his very public reply. But he also said that “yes” he was trying to be not THE bard but one and wrote a funny (some thought it funny in the comment section) sketch about how he  was perfect for the job, had all the qualifications of former ne’er-do-well, drunk, loner and non-participant so that some decades later he was qualified, over-qualified for the job. This created a firestorm for a while, a couple of months with the social butterflies, sports guys, and do-gooders siding with Misty and the misfits, nerds, loners, and outcasts giving Larry the nod. But he grew tired of an essentially useless argument with people he had not seen for many years and once again he had gotten that sinking feeling that this venture too was no way home and gave it up. For a while.                 

Larry let up, gave up trying to “go back home” for a while until near the end of 2011 with the 50th anniversary reunion the next fall (according to information that he searched on the Internet when he found the reunion committee had set up a private class website for the event) when seemingly undaunted despite the previous track record of failure he got some curious “mystical” sense that he could turn the tide this time. He made contact with the members of the committee on the website and offered to/asked to be on the committee. This is how the last indignity unfolded as told to an old classmate friend of his, Josh Breslin, one night who will at least tell it straight:       

“This is the way Larry Larkin, my old friend and classmate from up Olde Saco way, told me his sad story over several meetings at one or another of our favorite watering holes a short while back where he felt he had to get something off his chest about his latest love interest gone sour, his, as he called it, last indignity about “going home” to the old home town, or rather making peace with his past. Through his activity on our high school 50th anniversary reunion committee we had communicated and met each other several times recently and he had carried me along with his enthusiasm about the event. Got me interested in the old days, and possibly going to the reunion. And he in turn confided in me about this love problem, wanted me to write something up about it as a form of therapy for him or something. I am no expert on the issue of love, or maybe better having been married three times and having had numerous affairs and flings I am as clueless as he about how to deal with the subject. In any case here are my recollections of what he had to say on that sad whiskey-filled night:    

The last time Larry Larkin saw Merissa Pinot he was looking back at the headlights of her automobile veering off as dusk approached to go north on Route 133 just south of Amesbury along the New Hampshire border in the early spring of 2012.  He did not know that that glimpse would be the last, the last physical time he saw her, although given the all-out fight they had had earlier that evening including an enraged outburst by him he suspected as much. But like many things in this wicked old world of romantic relationships that would not be the last of it, although that indeed was the last physical time he saw her. There were some final shots, some last metaphysical kiss-offs before the real end. And so as Larry had muttered to himself at some point during the last not so metaphysical dust-up whether 16 or 68 years of age the romance game never gets easier. And so this story, or end of story.    

Let’s take a step back to figure out about the whys of that last headlight glance before we find out what happened after the subsequent fall and the last dust-up. Larry told me he had been thinking about his 50th class reunion at Olde Saco High since he had received an invitation to go to his 40th reunion back in 2002. At that time Larry had dismissed the invitation with much hubris because then he still thought that the bad luck that had followed him for much of his life had been caused by his growing up on “the wrong side of the tracks” in the old town. He told me, a number of times, that he had spent half a lifetime blaming that bad luck hometown affiliation on everything from acne to wormwood. 


Subsequently through some family-related deaths that took him back to the old town Larry had reconciled himself with his roots and had exhibited the first stirrings of a feeling that he might like to see some of his old classmates despite his dismal failure to connect with our old classmate and his best friend Kenny Bradley. In late 2012, around Thanksgiving he, at least marginally savvy on such user-friendly sites, created a Facebook  event page in order to see if anybody else on the planet knew of plans or was interested in making plans for a 50th reunion. One day, a few days after setting up the page, he got an inquiry asking what he knew about any upcoming plans.  He answered in a short note his own limited knowledge at the time of any such plans but that his intention in setting up the page had been to seek others to help out with organizing an event if nothing had been established as yet. In that reply he had forgotten to give his name. And that is how the “girl with the pale blue eyes,” Merissa Pinot, came into view.  

“Who are you?” asked Merissa returning his message, a name that Larry immediately remembered from his high school days although he did not know the woman personally. He shot back a blushed reply about being sorry for forgetting to include his name, gave it, and casually remarked that he had remembered from somewhere that she was a professor at a college in the Boston area. He asked if she was still there. She sent an immediate reply stating that no she was no longer there but that she had been and was still a professor at the University of New Hampshire, and had been for the previous twenty-five years. She also mentioned that, having access to her Ocean’s Edge, her class of 1962 yearbook, she had looked up his class photo, and said he was “very handsome.”


Naturally any guy from six to sixty would have to seriously consider anybody, any female in Larry’s case, who threw that unanticipated, unsolicited comment a man’s way especially since she sent her class photo back as well. That got them started on what would be a blizzard of e-mails over the next several weeks.  


Frankly, after the first few exchanges Larry had been more than a little intrigued with Merissa, intrigued enough to think about further discovery.  And as it turned out Merissa had been as well. They discovered they both had much in common academically, professionally, politically and personally. I won’t go into the specifics of those “things in common” because in looking over my notes from Larry that would take more time than necessary to make the point.

A point necessary to make though since it contributed to the fall  was Larry’s “relationship” status which he introduced to Merissa after that  initial blizzard of e-mails and phone calls. Here’s the gist of his response:


“…You know as well as I do that we both carry a lot of baggage, busted marriages, affairs, and so forth. On the other hand we are both old enough to have whatever level of friendship we want from just friends to an affair because we both as far as I know have no ties that would prohibit that, neither of us is married now. And even if we did in this day in age we could still have whatever relationship we wanted. As long as we both have our eyes open and know the score. That “know the score” part is what I want to talk about. It is nothing bad but it is a complication. And even if we decide to be just friends it is part of what is unfolding.

Up until a few weeks ago for the past ten years or so since the end of my last serious relationship I was just rolling along writing, doing legal work, doing politics, playing golf and all the rest. Doing all of that while living in the same house as the woman that was my last serious romantic relationship, Laura, who is still my closest woman friend. I have known her for over twenty- five years and about twenty years ago we bought this modest house in Bath together. As time went on though we had, as couples will, our problems until about ten years ago we decided that it wasn’t working. But we both wanted to keep the house and be friends. I won’t go into all of that now but you can ask me about it. So that is what we did. And there is nothing wrong with that people make such arrangements all the time….”


“…Then out of the blue you came along. You know how we “met” and all so I don’t need to go into that but what happened is that I was not sure where we were heading (at one point if anywhere) and so I made a point of keeping that “relationship” information to myself. Remember I made a point about just concentrating on us and not on other baggage stuff. Part of it obviously is that if we were not going anywhere then such information didn’t matter and if we were then that would just be an awkward situation that we would deal with. That is what a lot of my concern about expectations, the way we have met and all of that, has been about. I have told Laura about you in general terms (the only way to put it since we still have not met) and since this whole thing has been topsy-turvy that is where things stand right now.

If all of this seems like too much then so be it-but as for me I still say forward- if you don’t that is okay and we can work on some other way to be friends. I think we both strongly want to be friends and should be damn it if that is what we want. Later Larry ”         


A couple more cell-phone calls and another round of e-mails got this pair to setting up the meeting in person, having a “date” like some hormonally-driven teen-agers. (Larry could not remember who suggested the idea first but neither flinched at that possibility all he remembered was that he would finally have a date with an Olde Saco  High woman something that had eluded all through high school.) They both admitted to nervousness as they planned to meet in Portsmouth up in New Hampshire at a restaurant that she had selected (he was to be at a legal conference in Portland and that locale was the closest convenient city for both of them). Needless to say they hit it off remarkably well.

And Larry, with two divorces under his belt and that also untold number of liaisons, was also in his less lucid moments thinking along some just such lines as an affair with Merissa (who had also been divorced twice as well), maybe more. Except. Oh yeah, except here is where it got tricky, where Larry’s calculations sort of misfired. Larry was, as he learned as they went along, ah, still “married,” had been emotionally “married” for many years to Laura in his head although he was only beginning to realize that, although as mentioned in his e-mail to Merissa for a number of years past they had been living as “roommates.” Roommate meaning separate beds, mostly separate lives, and most definitely no sex. That hard little fact, that “marriage” fact, a fact that I kept mentioning to him as he got deeper into the human sink of Merissa. Naturally he would not listen at that point. 

That left Larry in a quandary. He knew, just like Merissa knew, that he desired her, wanted to have sex, make love to her. But he also knew that once that happened that a bridge would be crossed, or so that was his thinking at the time. Still Merissa was there, still he wanted her so one Friday afternoon he called her up out of the blue and told her to meet him at a hotel in Portsmouth. And that was their high point, the acme of their thing. That was also the point where Larry,  back-tracking, began to squirm a little both at what he had done, that bridge that he had crossed and that home he had left behind for a minute. The omens thereafter were not good, although he never spoke other than in general terms of those nights to me and I only knew that they had had sex from the notes he handed to me.     




But Merissa  was a fretter and a planner, not necessarily in that order so at some point between that Friday and their resumption of e-mail traffic the next day she, possessed of some dream future with Larry,  tried to find out more about Laura, about that “roommate” arrangement and what was to become of her. See Merissa had certain rules as we all more or less do in that she took pride in her serial monogamous relationships. She was with a man, and a man was with her, or no dice. Once she finished with a man that was that. She told Larry that in a set of e-mail exchanges on the subject. He in a little panic over her hard and fast position kept trying to calm her doubts, kept trying to pass over his longtime relationship as some platonic boy-scout trip, kept trying to keep his head above water with Merissa. That night, that restless Saturday night, he tossed and turned trying to mull things over in his head and came up empty. Came up with the only conclusion that made sense-end the flirtation and walk away. He, and this is characteristic of Larry, “wrote” the thing out in his head first and then at the crack of dawn gathered himself from his bed and went to the computer to compose an e-mail which he sent later that morning. Larry never gave Merissa a chance to respond since a few hours later, maybe two, he called her up and begged her to forget what he had written and that they should keep on going as best they could but that he planned to do right by her.


So they went along for a while, sometimes happy, sometimes on edge with all that future talk business in the background. Probably though the end started to crumble the month before the end when a few days after coming back from a fateful Washington trip together Merissa took a big spill, a serious fall at a pool in Portsmouth where she swam to get exercise, that broke her hip bone requiring surgery and their budding romance came to a crashing halt as she convalesced and Larry took on the unaccustomed role of care-giver- general. Not so much that incident itself since it was an accident but what it did to enforce her idleness which left her too much time to think about how she wanted him with her, wanted him to leave Laura, wanted to make those 208 plans (roughly) that Merissa spent her waking hours doing in order to have him come closer to her.


Not a meeting between them in that period went by without some variation of the on-going argument. Although there were some nice times, (one time he drove her to their Olde Saco the sites of their   youth homes both of which had been torn down since the old days and they had many laughs, and some sorrows, over that). Even when he had driven up in order to allow her to teach a seminar at UNH and then drove her the next day over to the Portsmouth General to get her cleared to be able to drive she/he/they argued over that same old, same old material.


The few days before the end had not been much better (really a few weeks Larry thought since that damn accident put her out of commission placed a damper on their affair as he became a care-giver and she a patient). The inevitable Merissa war cry of when was Larry going to leave his “wife,” when he was going to leave Laura, and what, get this, constructive steps he had taken to break with her had led to a series of arguments starting with the day that she was finally given the okay by the doctor in charge of her case at Portsmouth General to drive.

Naturally the e-mail and cell-phone traffic (actually the diminished traffic, significantly down from the days when they would sent blizzards of e-mails to each other when he thought about it later) reflected those unresolved tensions. She needed to spent that first week of liberation catching up on work, house, social chores and could only spare that next Thursday evening for them to get together and since she was going to be in the Salem (NH) area they decided to meet in Amesbury for dinner. Before that though Larry made what would be a mistake, a fatal mistake, of putting into writing some of his feelings about where they were at in their relationship. Thus he sent her an e-mail which was the final piece of evidence that things had gone drastically wrong.


They had a short acrimonious cell-phone exchange after she received that e-mail but again agreed to meet in Amesbury the next day to figure things out. That next evening things started well enough, after Merissa had ordered wine with her dinner. The net result of their discussions was that they would go on as friends for a while and see where that led. Of course to go beyond the friend stage Merissa gave no uncertain terms to the proposition that she could not go on, was “ashamed” to go on under the circumstances unless Larry got a place of his own, left Laura.


Merissa ordered another wine, unusual for her, and that must have given her courage to speak again of the e-mail. She said it read like a lawyer’s closing argument, that she had been hurt and that he was basically a bum of the month. He became incensed, yelled at her and threw money on the table for dinner and walked to the men’s room to fume. When he came back he tried to tell her his point of view but he was tired of arguing by then and just said “let it go for now.” They left, she put her hand in his arm as usual and he muttered that “they were in very bad place” as he walked her to her car. He looked at her shoes, the shoes she reminded him that she had worn in sunnier days down in Washington and he commented “that seems like a long time ago” as they arrived at her car. Rather than the usual kiss good-bye he yelled out “I’ll be in touch,” as he walked back to his own car.     

Since Merissa  was not good at directions (and the Google maps were helter-skelter on this one) Larry had consented to have her follow him out of Amesbury on Route 27 which she did until they got to the U.S. 495 South entrance. A couple of exits up she veered off onto Route 133 for home. As he shifted gears from fourth to fifth to push on up to speed in the U.S. 495 night after he saw her automobile veer off to the northern route home he breathed a sigh of relief, and of sadness. They never saw each other again.”

And the final nail, hopefully the final nail, had been driven into the idea that Larry Larkin could “go home” again. 



 Every January leftists honor three revolutionaries who died in that month, V.I. Lenin of Russia in 1924, Karl Liebknecht of Germany and Rosa Luxemburg of Poland in 1919 murdered after leading the defeated Spartacist uprising in Berlin. Lenin needs no special commendation.  I will make my political points about the heroic Karl Liebknecht and his parliamentary fight against the German war budget in World War I in this space tomorrow so I would like to make some points here about the life of Rosa Luxemburg. These comments come at a time when the question of a woman President is the buzz in the political atmosphere in the United States in the lead up to the upcoming 2016 elections. Rosa, who died almost a century ago, puts all such pretenders to so-called ‘progressive’ political leadership in the shade.   
The early Marxist movement, like virtually all progressive political movements in the past, was heavily dominated by men. I say this as a statement of fact and not as something that was necessarily intentional or good. It is only fairly late in the 20th century that the political emancipation of women, mainly through the granting of the vote earlier in the century, led to mass participation of women in politics as voters or politicians. Although, socialists, particularly revolutionary socialists, have placed the social, political and economic emancipation of women at the center of their various programs from the early days that fact had been honored more in the breech than the observance.

All of this is by way of saying that the political career of the physically frail but intellectually robust Rosa Luxemburg was all the more remarkable because she had the capacity to hold her own politically and theoretically with the male leadership of the international social democratic movement in the pre-World War I period. While the writings of the likes of then leading German Social Democratic theoretician Karl Kautsky are safely left in the basket Rosa’s writings today still retain a freshness, insightfulness and vigor that anti-imperialist militants can benefit from by reading. Her book Accumulation of Capital , whatever its shortfalls alone would place her in the select company of important Marxist thinkers.
But Rosa Luxemburg was more than a Marxist thinker. She was also deeply involved in the daily political struggles pushing for left-wing solutions. Yes, the more bureaucratic types, comfortable in their party and trade union niches, hated her for it (and she, in turn, hated them) but she fought hard for her positions on an anti-class collaborationist, anti-militarist and anti-imperialist left-wing of the International of the social democratic movement throughout this period. And she did this not merely as an adjunct leader of a women’s section of a social democratic party but as a fully established leader of left-wing men and women, as a fully socialist leader. One of the interesting facts about her life is how little she wrote on the women question as a separate issue from the broader socialist question of the emancipation of women. Militant leftist, socialist and feminist women today take note.

One of the easy ways for leftists, particularly later leftists influenced by Stalinist ideology, to denigrate the importance of Rosa Luxemburg’s thought and theoretical contributions to Marxism was to write her off as too soft on the question of the necessity of a hard vanguard revolutionary organization to lead the socialist revolution. Underpinning that theme was the accusation that she relied too much on the spontaneous upsurge of the masses as a corrective to the lack of hard organization or the impediments that  reformist socialist elements threw up to derail the revolutionary process. A close examination of her own organization, The Socialist Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, shows that this was not the case; this was a small replica of a Bolshevik-type organization. That organization, moreover, made several important political blocs with the Bolsheviks in the aftermath of the defeat of the Russian revolution of 1905. Yes, there were political differences between the organizations, particularly over the critical question for both the Polish and Russian parties of the correct approach to the right of national self-determination, but the need for a hard organization does not appear to be one of them.

Furthermore, no less a stalwart Bolshevik revolutionary than Leon Trotsky, writing in her defense in the 1930’s, dismissed charges of Rosa’s supposed ‘spontaneous uprising’ fetish as so much hot air. Her tragic fate, murdered with the complicity of her former Social Democratic comrades, after the defeated Spartacist uprising in Berlin in 1919 (at the same time as her comrade, Karl Liebknecht), had causes related to the smallness of the group, its  political immaturity and indecisiveness than in its spontaneousness. If one is to accuse Rosa Luxemburg of any political mistake it is in not pulling the Spartacist group out of Kautsky’s Independent Social Democrats (itself a split from the main Social Democratic party during the war, over the war issue) sooner than late 1918. However, as the future history of the communist movement would painfully demonstrate revolutionaries have to take advantage of the revolutionary opportunities that come their way, even if not the most opportune or of their own making.
All of the above controversies aside, let me be clear, Rosa Luxemburg did not then need nor does she now need a certificate of revolutionary good conduct from today’s leftists, from any  reader of this space or from this writer. For her revolutionary opposition to World War I when it counted, at a time when many supposed socialists had capitulated to their respective ruling classes including her comrades in the German Social Democratic Party, she holds a place of honor. Today, as we face the endless wars of imperialist intervention in the Middle East and elsewhere in Iraq we could use a few more Rosas, and a few less tepid, timid parliamentary opponents.  For this revolutionary opposition she went to jail like her comrade Karl Liebknecht. For revolutionaries it goes with the territory. And in jail she wrote, she always wrote, about the fight against the ongoing imperialist war (especially in the Junius pamphlets about the need for a Third International).  Yes, Rosa was at her post then. And she died at her post later in the Spartacist fight doing her internationalist duty trying to lead the German socialist revolution the success of which would have  gone a long way to saving the Russian Revolution. This is a woman leader I could follow who, moreover, places today’s bourgeois women parliamentary politicians in the shade. As the political atmosphere gets heated up over the next couple years, remember what a real fighting revolutionary woman politician looked like. Remember Rosa Luxemburg, the Rose of the Revolution.      

As The 100th Anniversary Of The First Year Of World War I (Remember The War To End All Wars) Continues... Some Remembrances-Clara Zetkin 1914-The Duty of Working Women in War-Time

The events leading up to World War I from the massive military armament of almost all the capitalist and imperialist parties in Europe and elsewhere in order to stake their claims to their unimpeded share of the world’s resources to the supposedly eternal pledges not honored by most of the Social-Democrats and other militant leftist formations representing the historic interest of the international working-class to stop those parties in their tracks at the approach of war were decisive for 20th century history. Also decisive although shrouded in obscurity early in the war in exile was the soon to be towering figure of one Vladimir Lenin (a necessary nom de guerre in hell broth days of the Czar’s Okhrana ready to send one and all to the Siberian frosts and that moniker business not a bad idea in today’s NSA-driven frenzy to know all, to peep at all), leader of the small Russian Bolshevik Party ( a Social-Democratic Party in name anyway adhering to the Second International although not for long), architect of the theory of the “vanguard party” building off of many revolutionary experience in Russia and Europe in the 19th century), and author of an important, important to the future communist world perspective, study on the tendencies of world imperialism, the ending of the age of progressive capitalism, and the hard fact that it was a drag on the possibilities of human progress and needed to be replaced by the establishment of the socialist order. But that is the wave of the future as the sinkhole trenches of Europe are already a death trap for the flower of the European youth.  

The ability to inflict industrial-sized slaughter and mayhem on a massive scale first portended toward the end of the American Civil War once the Northern industrial might tipped the scales their way almost could not be avoided in the early 20th century once the armaments race got serious, and the technology seemed to grow exponentially with each new turn in the war machine. The land war, the war carried out by the “grunts,” by the “cannon fodder” of many nations was only the tip of the iceberg and probably except for the increased cannon-power and rapidity of the machine-guns would be carried out by the norms of the last war. However the race for naval supremacy, or the race to take a big kink out of British supremacy, went on unimpeded as Germany tried to break-out into the Atlantic world and even Japan, Jesus, Japan tried to gain a big hold in the Asia seas.

The deeply disturbing submarine warfare wreaking havoc on commerce on the seas, the use of armed aircraft and other such technological innovations of war only added to the frenzy. We can hundred years ahead, look back and see where talk of “stabs in the back” by the losers and ultimately an armistice rather than decisive victory on the blood-drenched fields of Europe would lead to more blood-letting but it was not clear, or nobody was talking about it much, or, better, doing much about calling a halt before they began among all those “civilized” nations who went into the abyss in July of 1914. Sadly the list of those who would not do anything, anything concrete, besides paper manifestos issued at international conferences, included the great bulk of the official European labor movement which in theory was committed to stopping the madness.

A few voices, voices like Karl Liebknecht (who against the party majority bloc voting scheme finally voted against the Kaiser’s war budget, went to the streets to get rousing anti-war speeches listened to in the workers’ districts, lost his parliamentary immunity and wound up honorably in the Kaiser’s  prisons) and Rosa Luxemburg ( the rose of the revolution also honorably prison bound) in Germany, Lenin and Trotsky in Russia (both exiled at the outbreak of war and just in time), some anti-war anarchists like Monette in France and here in America Big Bill Haywood (who eventually would controversially flee to Russia to avoid jail for his opposition to American entry into war) and the stalwart Eugene V. Debs (who also went to jail, “club fed” and ran for president in 1920 out of his jail cell),  were raised and one hundred years later those voices have a place of honor in this space.

Those voices, many of them in exile, or in the deportations centers, were being clamped down as well as the various imperialist governments began closing their doors to political refugees when they were committed to clapping down on their own anti-war citizens. As we have seen in our own times, most recently in America in the period before the “shock and awe” of the decimation of Iraq in 2002 and early 2003 the government, most governments, are able to build a war frenzy out of whole cloth. At those times, and in my lifetime the period after 9/11 when we tried in vain to stop the Afghan war in its tracks is illustrative, to be a vocal anti-warrior is a dicey business. A time to keep your head down a little, to speak softly and wait for the fever to subside and to be ready to begin the anti-war fight another day. So imagine in 1914 when every nationality in Europe felt its prerogatives threatened how the fevered masses, including the beguiled working-classes bred on peace talk without substance, would not listen to the calls against the slaughter. Yes, one hundred years later is not too long or too late to honor those ardent anti-war voices as the mass mobilizations began in the countdown to war, began four years of bloody trenches and death.                   

Over the next period as we continue the long night of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and beyond I will under this headline post various documents, manifestos and cultural expressions from that time in order to give a sense of what the lead up to that war looked like, the struggle against its outbreak before, the forlorn struggle during and the massive struggles after it in order to create a newer world out of the shambles of the battlefields.     

Clara Zetkin 1914

The Duty of Working Women in War-Time

Source: Zetkin “The Duty of Working Women in War-Time,” Justice, 19th November 1914, p.2. A stirring call in time of war;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The New York “Vorwärts” the weekly edition of the “Neu Yorker Volkszeitung,” publishes an article on this subject from the pen of our esteemed comrade Clara Zetkin, of which the following is a summary The desire of the international proletariat for peace has shown itself powerless to prevent the world war. As cannon balls roll over weak blades of grass, which but yesterday waved gently in the breeze, crushing them to the earth, so the forces of Imperialism, driven on by capitalism, have swept over the proletarian peace demonstrations and hopes. The world is now aflame. A war is raging such as has never been known before ....
Was it necessary?
Workers Towards Socialism.
Martial-law makes it impossible for us to seek an answer. We are face to face with the fact that the driving forces of capitalism have burst the bounds of peaceful development. The consequences are incalculable, for whatever the changes may be which the war brings about on the map of Europe, it is certain that it will not be fought to the end without having the most tremendous effect on the economics of the nations, and on the world’s market. It is just this consideration which demands that the working class should become, in increased measure, the conscious bearers of the historic process of development towards the higher social order of Socialism.
It were unworthy of Socialist women to watch these historic events with folded hands, which from their To-day are preparing the To-morrow. The times call them to great tasks, the fulfilment of which requires all the devotion, enthusiasm and self-sacrifice which flows from the “eternal feminine” of their nature and their conviction.
War and Hunger.
The twin-sister of war is hunger. Its shrivelled, merciless hand knocks at the door of each family whose breadwinner is in the field .... Unemployment, too, spreads more quickly than any pestilence; anxiety, hunger, sickness, child-mortality follow in its wake. What will the winter bring? That, question is on millions of lips ....
Here we have the wide field where the Socialist women can fight battles, which are at the same time battles for their rights as human beings. The moment demands their whole strength. And so the Socialist women are working peacefully alongside of the bourgeois nationalist “Women’s Service,” and. also with its representatives on communal bodies, without however joining its organisation, which would be a drag upon them in their work. Our comrade Frau Zietz has recently written an article pointing out the necessity of such activity and the lines of demarcation by which it must be guided in each instance.
The Help of Women Essential.
If the municipalities are in earnest in their desire to stem the terrible tide of approaching misery, they cannot do without the help of our women comrades’ day. For they bring to the relief work knowledge and schooling obtained in the Socialist Party and the trade unions, as well as the practical experience which they have gained as proletarians. They know how to find the way to those proud and sensitive sufferers in garret and cellar who do not apply for relief, and they can find the sympathetic word that will loosen their tongues. They have the quick penetrating eye to see where and in what way help is needed. More than anyone else they can “open their mouth for the dumb and for the cause of all that are forsaken.” No alms; help and work as a social duty, that is the demand put convincingly by them to all public bodies. And our women must moreover seek to awaken the Socialist spirit, the proletarian class solidarity, in those they are helping; for let it be remembered that all the loving help and relief are in themselves incapable of shaking the foundations of capitalist society.
Maintain our Organisation
The war has thinned the ranks of our political and economic organisations. It is for the women to see that the loosened threads are not entirely sundered. When we speak of preserving the organisations, we mean, above all, the spirit which dwells therein. One of the most important methods of preserving this spirit is by the circulation of our Press, which, above all the turmoil of battle and the heaps of ruins, must keep the banner of International Socialism waving aloft unstained.
The Hardening Effect of War.
International Socialism! Do not the words sound like a mockery? In the days when the representatives of the proletariat should have been assembled in Vienna for the covenant of peace and freedom of the peoples, tens of thousands of the sons of the people were drawing their last breath on the battlefields, tens of thousands more were lying groaning in the field. hospitals, and that death and those wounds had been dealt by a brother-hand. Hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, irrespective of what country’s uniform they wear, are declaring with clenched teeth: “We do not wish to, we must. The rights and independence of our fatherland are menaced.” War has its own logic, its own laws and standards. It creates an atmosphere which indeed calls forth heroism, but which on the other hand, whether the fighters would or no, often rouses the beast that slumbers in the sub-consciousness of man. Letters from the front prove the hardening of the soul and the senses to the horrors of battle, a hardening which in many cases develops into brutality and bestiality. The papers relate the most horrible atrocities which citizens beyond the German boundaries are said to have perpetrated, in the name of patriotism, against the invading German soldiers; yes, even against the wounded and those who are caring for them. Even if the descriptions of these deeds are enormously exaggerated, as we believe they are, there is still more than enough of barbarity.
“Avenging” “Outrages.”
But do our ears deceive us? Similar barbarities are to “avenge” these misdeeds. That is what we read in part of the bourgeois Press. For every German maliciously shot, a village burnt down. The “Berliner Neueste Nachrichten” goes further and demands “ the clearance of occupied districts of all inhabitants .... Everyone seen in civil dress in the banned districts 24 hours after the expulsion order should be shot as a “spy.” Hand in hand with the advocacy of barbarism goes, of course, detraction of foreign peoples, whose friendship Germany but yesterday was striving to gain, and the belittling of their contributions to the upward march of humanity. It is as though all the standards were broken by which right and justice used to be measured in the life of nations, all the weights falsified with which the value of national things was weighed. Far away indeed seems the world-wide ideal of proletarian solidarity, the brotherhood of the peoples. Is it possible that the war extinguishes not only human lives, but human goals?
All Peoples have Contributed to Civilisation.
No, a thousand times no. Let us not allow the working masses to forget that the war has been caused by world-wide economic and political complications, and not by ugly and despicable personal qualities in the peoples with which Germany is fighting. Let us have the courage, when we hear the invectives against “perfidious Albion,” the “degenerate French,” the “barbaric Russians,” etc., to reply by pointing out the ineradicable riches contributed by these peoples to human development, and how they have assisted the fruition of German civilisation. The Germans, who have themselves contributed so much towards the international treasury of civilisation, ought to be able to exercise justice and veracity in judging other peoples. Let us point out that all peoples have the same right to independence and autonomy for the preservation of which the Germans are struggling ....
We Socialist women hear the voices which in this time of blood and iron still speak softly, painfully, and yet consolingly, of the future. Let us be their interpreters to our children. Let us preserve them from the harsh brazen sound of the ideas which fill the streets to-day, in which cheap pride-of-race stifles humanity. In our children must grow up the security that this most frightful of all wars shall be the last. The blood of the killed and wounded must not be a stream to divide that which unites the present distress and the future hope. It must be as a cement which shall bind fast for all time

The “Gleichheit” Suppressed

“The ‘Gleichheit’ Suppressed,” Justice, 17th Dec. 1914, (anon) p.1.

“Humanité” publishes a report from a Swiss correspondent that the journal “Gleichheit,” published at Stuttgart and edited by our well-known comrade, Clara Zetkin, has been suppressed, and her “Appeal to Socialist Women” confiscated. This action of the Würtemburg Government follows upon the speech delivered on Sunday, December 6, at a Party meeting at Stuttgart. She strongly attacked the attitude of the majority of the Social-Democratic Reichstag Section. At the conclusion of her speech the local Executive of the Party and about thirty delegates left the hall, leaving nearly a hundred delegates present. These delegates passed a resolution congratulating Karl Liebknecht on voting against the further war credits in the Reichstag.
The number of the “Gleichheit” for November 27 contained a stirring article by Clara Zetkin entitled “An Appeal to the Socialist Women of all Countries.” In it she wrote: “The longer the war continues, the more are the masks torn down that have deceived so many people. It is presenting itself in all its naked ugliness as a war of capitalist conquest and world domination.” She makes a passionate appeal to the Socialist women of all countries to preserve the old Social-Democratic ideal and not to permit themselves to be carried away by the pervading Chauvinism. She saysIf men must kill, it is we women who must fight for life. If men remain silent, it is our duty to speak out.”
A certain number of copies of the “Gleichheit” were sent across the Swiss frontier before the issue was confiscated.