By Michael G. Glab
— Thirty-five —
Anna frets about going to hell in the morning. In the afternoon, Anthony walks into it.
The lawn in front of the Grant Park Bandshell is packed; ten thousand people or more are here. It’s MOBE’s biggest event of the week. Dellinger’s speaking. So are Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Jerry Rubin, and Tom Hayden. Convention delegates staying at the Hilton would be able to see the crowd here easily, only none of them is standing at his window, gazing to the southeast. They’re all at the Amphitheater this afternoon fighting over a proposed peace plank. Young McCarthy and McGovern delegates are clamoring for the party to make an official statement that the war is wrong and will be wound down just as soon as Hubert Humphrey takes office.
William S. Burroughs In The Bandshell
The old line delegates, the big city bosses and cigar-chomping, flatulent, carnivore, rye on the rocks, cow-town Chamber of Commerce pasty-faced Michelin Men would rather spend the night at a goddamned MC5 gig than vote for the peace plank, what the fuck ever MC5 is. They have a lot more in common with George Wallace and good old “First Strike” Curtis LeMay than they do with Clean Gene and McGovern. And they would much rather — happily much rather — head over to the Crystal Pistol to catch a good strip show than sit in a subterranean coffeehouse and listen to that queer Ginsberg read his poetry bullshit. There’s a lot more of them than young peaceniks and before anyone knows it, the peace plank is rejected.
The news of the defeat filters through the crowd in Grant Park, thanks to the few who’ve carried transistor radios with them, and now some are suggesting the whole ten thousand of them start marching over to the Amphitheater and show those phony democrats — small d — what The People want…, no…, what The People demand, man!
In fact, the crowd begins to stir, like attendees at a family picnic gathering up their blankets and baskets before the big thunderstorm hits. And the whole ten thousand of them might indeed have walked the four and half miles to the Amphitheater where they would have ringed the convention hall, only this four acre tract of lakefront park is itself ringed by hundreds of Chicago cops in full riot gear and, behind them, hundreds of National Guardsmen standing at arms, cradling their M-14s with fixed bayonets and full magazines.
The cops are ready. Earlier, they’d handed out flyers warning the the hordes streaming over the Illinois Central overpasses not to march anywhere after the rally for they lack the permits to do so. But, man, why do we need a permit, a worthless piece of paper, when the lives of innocent Vietnamese children are at stake? Not to mention our own skins, should our college deferments ever fall through.
So the Gang of Ten Thousand mills about — dancing, wiggling bees in a hive manufacturing not honey but rage. And the cops match their choler. Anthony, at the perimeter of the throng, takes a few tentative steps toward Michigan Avenue. When he gets within five feet of the line of blue-helmeted cops, one of them snarls, “Step the fuck back, you communist prick.”
Acutely aware of the healing gash in his scalp and eager not to suffer another, Anthony shrinks back into the crowd, certain that the thousands will provide him a cushion of safety against the cyclone of nightsticks about to be unleashed. Deeper and deeper he goes, nauseated, dizzy, at moments feeling as though he’ll pass out in the heat and humidity. Anthony stumbles through the mass of people for what seems an hour until he reaches the edge of the bandshell where a flagpole provides him a spot to lean.
But a couple of guys elbow him out of the way and shinny up the pole. They detach the fluttering American flag. A few hundred yards away, the sky-blue-helmeted line sees Old Glory coming down and summon all the will they possess not to charge into the mass of long-haired, unwashed communist pricks and break some heads.
Oh, what a lark, what a riot — in the haha sense — this taking down of the American flag, this symbol of the imperial war machine, this pennant of racism, this standard of corporate greed. The guys shinny down the pole and are greeted as triumphantly as returning Vietnam veterans are not. They are the heroes of the day, men of courage and ingenuity, willing to do valiant battle against red, white, and blue streamers whipping in the wind. Anthony summons the energy to slap them on the back.
Anthony sees a kid skulking around the welcoming party, his shirt bulging with some package or item — who knows what the hell he’s hiding. The kid, of course, looks familiar.
Anthony thinks, through his fog, Oh Christ, you’ve got to be kidding.
Next thing Anthony knows, the kid starts shinnying up the flagpole and when he reaches its apex, he pulls out the mystery package and unfurls it. It is deep red and blue, yes, a flag, with a little yellow star in the middle. Aha, Anthony thinks, the Vietcong flag. He recalls Monday afternoon at the General Logan statue. He knows what can happen when the blue-helmeted-line sees that VC flag. Anthony unconsciously caresses the bandage over the rip in his scalp. Oh shit, man, he thinks, don’t do it. Don’t do it.
But the kid can’t read Anthony’s thoughts so he proceeds to clip the Vietcong flag to the halyard. He rappels himself down the flagpole, hardly even reaching the Earth before the blue-helmeted line tears into the crowd.
Like a scene from a Godzilla movie depicting the evacuation of Tokyo, the ten thousand move en masse, twenty thousand churning legs, in the direction opposite the charge of the blue-helmeted line, the east. A determined group of club-carrying avengers of the flag can run faster than a much larger mob of hippies and pacifists. The cops catch up to the crowd, chop-chop, and the swinging begins. Clunk, clunk, clunk.
Longhaired kids drop like bowling pins. Even Rennie Davis takes a pounding, so much so that he’s left motionless and unconscious on the Grant Park lawn as the wave of Chicago cops passes over him.
Rennie Davis, Unconscious
Anthony runs as fast as he can, considering the 23 stitches in his head, and the several thousand-body traffic jam in front of him. He turns to look back at the advancing police line and sees it churning toward him, spewing fucks and cocksuckers and grunts and flying spittle. He also sees that kid, the Vietcong flag hanger, swallowed up by the blue-helmeted line.
Anthony, his brain still running some moments behind real time, forgets what he knows about the kid. He feels a brief pang of sympathy for him. Those cops might kill the poor son of a bitch.
Just as the Vietcong flag hanger is grabbed by a half dozen cops and swallowed up by them, not for swift, brutal retribution, but enveloped for safety, Anthony blinks his eyes against the late afternoon sun and the tear gas and recognizes for the second time in minutes Jimmie Finnin. The Jungle Man is patted on the back, slapped on the back, and pushed back to the west, toward safety, his work for today is complete.
And the dust storm raised by the charge of the nightstick brigade comes nearer.
At this very moment, Anna picks up the phone and dials the number of Big Al’s Meats. The receptionist answers.
Anna says, “Can I speak to Al Dudek, please?”
Anna waits thirty seconds or so for Al to come on the line. It feels more like a year.
“Hello, Anna? What’s wrong?” Al says.
“It’s time, Daddy. The pains are five minutes apart.”
“I’ll be right over.”
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.