After heaving my Thorazine and Stelazine from the dock of the Bronx marina into the bay, Dorr offered me a joint. He was glad that I cast away bourgeois psychiatry, finally putting the Chicago suburb behind me. He lit up with Maria, his girlfriend, in the apartment above her father's workshop. High, we listened to a WBAI radio report about Bobby Seale, Black Panther Party co-founder, jailed in New Haven on trumped up charges.
I refused chemical straight jacketing, preferring life in the nearby trailer beneath a cavernous boat hangar with Kate, a stewardess. Kate and Maria were good friends, meeting in Mexico. Now, away on a transatlantic flight, Kate once told me in Mexico I was wistful, sympathy I'd like to cultivate more with her. Regretful longing: I could do that. But consummating the feat, it might be too daring for a more-than-neurotic ex-mental hospital patient.
Maria's father, Werner, an oncologist, employed a technician to develop a non-quack-cancer-curing device in the tool shop beneath us. Werner had been a doctor serving in the Luffwaffe during WWII, but renounced Germany's past, becoming a fervent supporter of the Panthers ( weren't we all ). He appeared intermittently, air-punching a power fist, saying, "Right On!" A recycled German immigrant. Like Werner, I distanced myself, breaking off ties with my suburban heritage.
Smoking pot on a large foam mattress before Radio Havana broadcast on Maria's short wave radio, she gave me permission to phone my shrink in Chicagoland.
"I'm stoned on pot and don't need your pharmaceuticals anymore."
"No patient has successfully rebelled against me," he said. "You'll have a breakdown now."
"I wanna break you down. I'm with people who want subjugation to end. History's on my side."
"You're just a liberal Democrat wanting peaceful change, not a revolutionary or hippie."
"I'm tired of the Thorazine shuffle."
"Better than falling face first and destabilizing your life for good."
When he said I'd end up in Bellevue Hospital, I replied, "To liberate the patients like revolutionaries opening up the Bastille." I hung up.
Radio Havana reported in educated English stunning losses of American troops in Vietnam. The newscaster talked about "fragging," how grunts flung grenades at gung-ho officers who got them shot up one too many times. "Frag their motherfuckin' asses," Maria said, as we fomented revolution between the first and second J.
"By any means necessary," said Dorr and rolled the doobie.
After the news, I devoured peanut butter, its niacin bringing me down, then chugged Tropicana orange juice. We debated whether the corporation which owned Tropicana and supplied vitamin C to U.S. soldiers in Southeast Asia committed a war crime. A unanimous verdict: guilty. I downed the OJ anyway.
Maria hugged me and Dorr asked whether I'd like to share their bed that night.
"Che didn't die with a woman in his arms, did he?" I responded, begging the question.
I walked to the trailer and slept on the couch. I hadn't seen Kate since I flew to the States from the Mexico City Airport in '68.
A few days later, Kate breezed into the boatyard, riding in a car with three older men. They were in fine repartee, Kate laughing along with the three guys as she grabbed a suitcase, waving them goodbye. I was too formal at the trailer door, greeting her as a head of state might a foreign dignitary. She brushed past me since I was a tight-lipped diplomat. She changed into jeans and shirt in her bedroom.
She talked about Berlin, where she just got a legal abortion, how Europeans suffered two wars and knew more about life than Americans ever would. I loved how she sneered and ridiculed America. "Pissoir-Yankee-Go-Die, Americana," she said, "land of bilk and money."
Her blonde Nebraska face, eyes smart and fierce, bored through everything, myself included, and could penetrate the hardest Superman-green kryptonite. Coming from a suburb, with obligatory Sunday TV dinners and meds for my head, that damn factory I worked for, my inability to follow simple instructions, botching the easy task of placing bread pans in neat rows—Kate obliterated that. Drawn to her wit and sarcasm, her scowl and sweet talk, I enjoyed her sharp denunciations of enemies of the Revolution.
Upstairs, Maria hugged her, welcoming her back. Kate talked about a married pilot who enjoyed having overseas' trysts. "Ye hypocrites and vipers," Kate said. "When will hubbies stop fooling around with the servant girls." Her sarcasm delighted Maria, who laughed until her eyes watered. Maria's parents both had affairs.
I picked up Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man, a book Kate gave me. We drank coffee Maria made, listened to WBAI play traditional African music, and then focused on me, what should be done with my new life untethered from parental and psychiatric shackles. Dorr left a Trotskyist newspaper on the desk. I thumbed through some articles. Maria suggested I work for that paper, but Kate said I should help organize whites and form an alliance with the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican revolutionary group in East Harlem.
"I'll see how detoxification works out first," I said, organizing out of my league. "Not detox, I mean denazification. Everything's political." I sounded so knowledgeable.
"I've dated all races. What's your excuse, honey?"
Dorr studied for a PhD in cultural anthropology, taking courses on Marxism at a Manhattan school, and Maria took pre-med classes. Kate's layovers allowed limited activities, an occasional movie or maybe an off-off Broadway play in the Village. She loved reading about societies in revolt, from the Reformation to the French Revolution to Haitians throwing off slavery to Rosa Luxemburg's abortive revolution in Berlin to the Cuban Revolution. "Death and revolution, how well they make splendid coffins," she remarked.
Getting animated in mind and body was a terrible task, so I stuck around the shop, chatting with the machinist. Most people found their niche, but I always flubbed that basic question of my uncle's. "Well, Ron, what will you do when you grow up and work?" That question had plagued me for life.
In Mexico one afternoon, after tripping on Dexmyl Spansules for two days, opening each capsule and pouring granules in my mouth, I crashed on the cement floor of Maria's small house shared with Dorr on a hacienda. I wouldn't take barbiturates and get addicted, so I plunged headfirst into tremors and loss of self. Dorr asked Lenin's question:
"What is to be done?"
"Waiting for the right job offer," I said. I smoked a joint and it helped my head.
Cold earthquakes shook my mind, and I sobbed. Melodrama couldn't get much worse.
"You can always walk down the road to Guatemala and join the guerrillas," Dorr said matter-of-factly.
"How would I survive?"
"The peasants would feed you and put you up." Gratefully, Kate appeared, reminding Dorr about death squads in Central America run by the CIA. She saved my butt; I was so vulnerable that I would have taken Dorr's advice.
This Bronx life suited me. Removed from the neighborhood, though a black man was found dead near the marina, this being an Italian zone, I felt no threats. I was a Wasp and considered myself immune from mob hits or CIA ones.
We reached a consensus: I'd take the IRT from Pelham Bay to the Village and start doing volunteer work for Liberation magazine. Instead, I walked from Grand Central Station to Times Square. The quest for pornographic movies occupied my time. I felt like hunters Nimrod and Artemis, entering an adult bookstore. I wandered through testosterone-haunted bookstores on 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, seeking hardcore photos unavailable in my life so far, magazines wrapped in clear plastic.