Last weekend’s anti-war rallies provided a montage for a writer who saw the protests from an alternative point of view
I woke up in the morning feeling like a 12-point buck; tall, strong, fearless and cloven-hoofed, qualities needed for my day of fighting the power and smashing the system.
It was the day of the anti-war demonstration at the state Capitol, my first protest. I did an extra set of jumping jacks to get my heart thudding and my blood mobilized. I cursed the dogs for not having opposable thumbs and having coffee ready. I downed a cup of big black that instantly cauterized my tongue into scar tissue.
I felt oddly adrenalized, alert and ready. To counter that, I ate some nameless pink-orange oval pills from Mexico that a houseguest had left. She’d confided in me, cryptically, that “they would do the trick.” I ate three of them, leaving only 17 to get me through this assignment.
I went out into the garage to find some bottles and greasy rags, a couple of basic ingredients for the concoction that a slightly sociopathic and generally disliked bartender named Molotov developed during the waxing days of the Russian Revolution. I already had five gallons of high-octane that was left over from an ill-advised Christmas-tree-burning party that sent flames up to the utility lines in the backyard. Underneath boxes of yellowed Grit magazines were cases of empty grape Fanta bottles. “Perfect,” I muttered to myself, gripping one around the neck—16 ounces, and even a child could wrap his wee mitts around one of these potent libations. Envisioning cops flanked on either side by National Guard troops with the latest in light artillery traipsing over the manicured lawns and pristine gardens of Capitol Park, I loaded 24 empties into a crate and hauled them out to the car. I would leave the Black Hawk helicopters armed with their 50-mm rounds to the seasoned pros. I was ready. I was born ready.
Larry Dalton (SN&R photog and my partner in crime for the day) and I found a convenient parking spot right on the grounds of Capitol Park, revving the engine as we approached bewildered couples with strollers, the elderly offering pigeon welfare and assorted protesters crossing our path.
We locked and loaded and made our way toward the distant hubbub of collective cheers. As we rounded the corner, we both took note of a line of anxious-faced people snaking a half a city block in length.
“Must be something good,” Dalton drawled. “Wonder what it is.”
At that very instant, we both realized what the draw was. It was the Porta-Potty line, and it became one of the day’s running gags.
“They probably misheard and thought there was a piss rally going on down here,” I offered as an explanation as we walked away, cracking up and being sucked into the churning riptide of signs and bodies.
Now a word from our sponsor …
Did you check out that blimp advertising a certain make of ugly but semi-popular U.S. automobile that was loitering like a thug in an alleyway up in the wild, gray yonder?
Did any of the rest of you feel like a big, dumb, drunk bully was hanging out at your party just waiting to get into a fight and ruin it? Those sneaky capitalists will resort to anything to get their message out. Did anyone else kinda secretly wish that it was struck by lightning? My question was: Would the lightning explode it like a bomb or just pop a hole in the blimp and send it plummeting to the ground? Oh, the humanity …
A non-scientific analysis of the crowd
29 percent—Leonard Cohen fans
17 percent—the lonely
13 percent—people who had “Impeach Bush,” “No Blood for Oil” and “No War in Iraq” T-shirts from the first time around and decided to finally get their money’s worth out of them
12 percent—sweet, innocent children whose parents dragged them there and promised to take them to see Daredevil afterward if they behaved themselves
10 percent—the cannabis-challenged, hoping to run into some “tight bros” to score from
10 percent—the addicted- to-face-painting faction
8 percent—elderly citizens taking a casual stroll through the park who became disoriented in a sea of people
5 percent—hippies with puppies on ropes
4 percent—angry, hirsute, patchouli- drenched women breastfeeding sickly children in Guatemalan hemp diapers just to make a point
3 percent—musicians who thought it might make them look more sensitive and might aid them in scamming on some hot peace chicks
2 percent—attending for the frottage
1 percent—disappointed “piss rally” attendees
1 percent—people who couldn’t get enough of the hypnotic, lulling beat of drum circles
1 percent—“The man”
Must stay awake … clowns might eat me
“My name’s Brino, and I’m a clown for peace!” he yelled over the throng of whoops and hollers.
My only thought: Ahhhhhhhhh! A clown! His motif was best described as the “Emmett Kelly-beaten-by-a-mob” look. The requisite red foam nose. The splotchy white face revealing hints of flesh underneath. The threadbare threads. An ill-fitting hat. A bit festive for an event that’s a last-ditch effort for these people to get a deadly serious message across. Didn’t he have some child’s psyche to scar for life?
“We’re humanitarian clowns. We travel around with Dr. Patch Adams, and we do political activism,” Brino said. “You can look us up at worldpeaceclowns.org.”
I would. And Brino had political aspirations, according to a button he was wearing. “Brino for mayor,” it read. Not sure how those mimes are voting these days, being a silent minority, but heck, I’d vote for Brino. And please, add your own politician-as-clown joke right … here.
But it got me thinking. Perhaps Brino and his colorful compatriots might be even more effective if they were clowns for war. How frightening would that scenario be for whatever enemy they were sent against? Battalions of Bozos coming over the hill with the latest in hand-to-hand combat weaponry, exaggerated grins and orange hair jutting out, as they laughed maniacally and wasted everything in sight. Five hundred of them could fit in one tank. Could there be anything more psychologically devastating to an enemy than to be soundly rousted by clowns?
Brino was a good guy, a clown’s clown as it were, who would be appalled at this suggestion. He would say that clowns are here to spread some joy in this world, not to hurt people.
Not the one in my dreams, Brino.
Finest responses to the chanted question, “What do we want?”
“Down with acid!”
“More duct tape!”
From the mouths of babes
I told Dalton that we needed the perspective of children, a naive worldview and naked emotions that might be refreshing and untainted by the duress of having been through this once or twice or several times before.
The first candidate was a toddler being carted around in a stroller. Mom seemed pleased that her precious one was chosen for such an illustrious moment. After a bit of idle banter, I asked the question, “What would you want to tell President Bush?” Simple enough. I stuck the tape recorder by the child’s mouth to capture every cute bubble and babble.
Big mistake. He resembled a possum caught in the headlights who was ready to meet his maker. His mom cooed supportively, and he let fly.
“Glushoooo jajajajajaj booobooooda,” he gurgled.
“He claps when his mama claps,” said Mom, by way of an apology. “Talk about innocent.” I shot Dalton the same look he was sending my way: This drooler’s a time waster; let’s split.
We set our radars on a pre-teen, a 10-year-old named Annie Dick, resplendent with peace signs on her face, the same symbol she was painting on a public art area. Her dad was giving plaudits by the bucket loads as she drew. I asked her the same question.
“Annie, if there was anything that you could say to President Bush right now, what would it be?”
She swallowed hard, looked me straight in the eyes, smiled her Sunday finest and breathlessly said, “We shouldn’t go to war because there are children in Iraq that are gonna get killed for no good reason.”
It was so matter-of-fact and well-spoken and had such conviction that it threw me off, and I lost my train of thought. I looked at Dalton, and he was laughing at me and with Annie.
I regained whatever composure I had. “Do you think that President Bush cares about what all these people are here for today?”
“Uh, I hope he will. It will hurt a lot of people in Iraq, and a lot of people that used to look up to us are afraid of us.”
“What did you write on this board, Annie?”
“Peace, not war.” It was simple and to the point. That it came from this child, who seemed very much aware of what was going on, was powerful because she wasn’t concerned about homeland security. She just cared about all the kids, just like her, painting, laughing, being a kid. And because those children live in a place with a leader our president doesn’t like, they might not be alive a year from now. And each night, when she goes to sleep, until the grown-up madness has ended, Annie will wish those children are safe in their beds, too.
Kill for peace
The following are an honest-to-Satan sampling of signs of various peace groups that were seen at the rallies both in Sacramento and in San Francisco.
Tango for Peace
Poker Pals for Peace
Baguettes not Bombs
Old Fat Women for Peace
Geeks for Peace
Another Dog for Peace
Brazilian Bikini Waxers for Peace
Goths for Peace
Triplets for Peace
The Amazing Melting Man came down with a nasty stomach flu, so the Justice League of America sent me instead
The drugs loved me, and they loved my body. They ran rampant through my system like kids on sugar, and the effects were a precise combination of: (1) feeling like fuzzy pink slippers, hand-sewn by an elderly Laotian seamstress, in the void where my frontal lobe was; (2) being absolutely sure that my given birth name was Blanket and; (3) the total inability to differentiate between the three basic forms of matter. In other words, I felt great. And when those three factors all simultaneously converged and peaked, that’s when I met O-Boy.
It’s a long story, so I won’t go into it, but one of my basic rules of life is to avoid guys wearing capes. But somehow they hone in on me like frat boys to a drunken cheerleader. And, as if some kind of karmic proof of this bad juju I endlessly carry was needed, as if my word wasn’t enough, there stood, from out of the great nowhere, not three feet from me, O-Boy. I was staggered and stopped on a yen. I called Dalton over for snaps and possibly backup.
O-Boy was decked out in this fab combo that was half Evil Knievel and half Fred Sanford with a goddamned cape. Being both bravely curious and curiously brave, I prodded him gingerly. He said he was a superhero—and who was I to argue?—there to spread the love.
“What’s your superpower?”
“I have the power of chalance, which is the opposite of nonchalance. You may not find it in the dictionary, but it’s my superpower. I’m just trying to be present and maintain awareness that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, so we have to have love for the people who are on our side here as well as for the people across the street.”
Those people across the street
It was getting bad. I just wanted to climb inside a malamute or some other husky-type dog and take a small nap, but every animal I approached sensed my feral desperation and heavy musk and ran off yelping. I caught about a second-and-a-half snooze while falling, before being rudely awakened by a passing Volare station wagon with faded wood paneling bleating its horn while the people across the street yelped and yahooed. One of them held a sign that said “Free Iraq.”
“Jesus Christo,” I hollered to no one in particular, picking myself off the ground. “Free Iraq? Aren’t those the same people who, not more than a decade ago, made that big stink about President Willy?
“Dalton, let’s go!” I said. As we cut across L Street, cars were exercising their right to be loud, blaring at both sides. It was nearly as noxiously numbing as the drum circle with that pear-shaped girl who flopped and flailed about, like a hippie Riverdance combined with the hip sounds of recycling day.
There Dalton and I stood with about 25 demonstrators and a CNN news Betty. The counter-protesters didn’t seem to have the beady little eyes and gutting knives I’d imagined they would. But they didn’t have any babes either. The peace side was a venerable babe warehouse. There were handsome guys and beautiful women at every turn of the head, of all races and persuasions, en masse. But across the street … let’s just say the most attractive pro-Bush woman there could be considered uh, maybe “matronly.” Not “homely.” That would be too demeaning. “Plain Jane” would work, but it doesn’t denote age or weight well. A slender “dumpy,” and we’ll split the diff. Done.
So, my whole life had come to this. Loaded to the gill and speaking to a group of patriots on a street corner in downtown Sacramento while being filmed by CNN and jeered at by a vocal soirée of hundreds a mere spitting distance away. All of this and praying to Shazam that I was being coherent, lest the Marine-looking guy punch me in the face really hard for being any combination of weirdo-liberal-media-loser, causing me to fall into traffic, be very seriously injured and barely survive on the critical list for 38 years of excruciating agony. But, at the drop of a green beret, I was capable of unleashing a torrent of hellfire to be cast from the heavens to dispense the maddening crowd before me—thank you very much, Mr. Molotov. Well, providing the protesters would let me saunter back to my vehicle to assemble a few; come back; light them; and then throw bombs of hot, exploding petroleum byproducts and flying shards of glass at them.
Actually, there was no need. Everyone was quite pleasant and well-spoken and seemed to believe firmly in what they were doing with as much strength and conviction as the masses that out numbered them at least 500 to 1. Today, these were the 25 people in Sacramento with the biggest balls or ovaries. There were no drum circles or face painters. No fish-and-chips vendors. No Porta-Potty. Only the very occasional smile and a shitload of tenacity.
The man who I thought was going to leave me a helpless vegetable was Ben Kazinec, an ex-GI who looked to be in his late 20s, and he was as articulate as anyone to whom I had spoken. He said he was 100 percent behind the government and what was going on.
“I would die for this country,” he paused, as dramatic as from a deathbed confession scene by Laurence Olivier. “I love this country.”
But the most interesting blab I had over there was with a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group. He supported the war and believed it had nothing to do with oil or freeing the Iraqi people. “I think it’s about protecting the people of the United States of America. … It’s funny, but I was wondering where all these people [across the street] were a couple of years ago when Clinton was bombing all the people in Bosnia and Kosovo?”
“What about joining the military? That’s not an option for you,” I said, as he shifted his weight and fidgeted.
“Oh, you mean being gay and all? Well … nothing’s perfect, obviously. I think it’s an error. I think it’s a mistake. If you look at Israel, they’re pretty conservative, and they allow gays to serve.”
“So, you would if you could?” I asked him as I tried to wave off 17 tiny silver helicopters, each piloted by maniacally evil human-robot hybrids made completely out of the dander, effluvia and other bodily fluids that George W. carelessly leaves puddles of on and around his big white house. They’re driving the crafts at such an accelerated speed that the actual rate is theoretical in their nonstop quests to slice my eye à la Luis Buñuel with the back blades of their choppers. Stupid paranoid delusional side-effects. Ah, got one. Black Hawk down.
“Most definitely,” the gay Republican replied with zest. And gusto. He went on to talk about the roles of the conscientious objectors and women during wartime as not being alternatives for him. He had political savvy and was sharp as a tack.
Even in my addled state, I recalled that one phrase was parroted on both sides of the street: “I don’t want war.” Where the two sides start to split is in their trust in our government. That fission is increased when the government makes decisions that will undoubtedly lead to a massive loss of lives. One side says it is intolerable in this day and age to make war. The other says it is a necessary evil. But that side does admit it is evil.
Just then, a car shot three short, sharp horn blasts in support, and the crowd cheered. Goddamn it, I thought to myself. How’d I get here? Isn’t this Dealey Plaza? And who are those people on that grassy knoll staring at me? Dalton, we gotta roll. I think they’re on to us.
Confessing under bright lights
It was probably when I asked Jill Wagner (another SN&R photographer and unsuspecting victim)—or perhaps I just thought I asked her—what would happen if we hit the truck we were coming up on fast. (It was full of highly pressurized liquid nitrogen.) Poor Wagner. The living hell that I could not and would not have the ability to stop. I couldn’t stop. I had to get to the Embarcadero. Time was moo-la-la, paying the toll on this highway to hell.
My resistance to war was down. I was physically and mentally charred remains, and my mood on Sunday was between nihilistic and a complete blackened void of nothingness. I said a silent prayer to the saint of homemade munitions that on that day, when I would finally heave flaming, gasoline-filled pop bottles at the slightest provocation—from any authority figure, from the San Francisco Police Department to Miss Manners and her ilk—my primitive weapons would find their targets and that, in exchange, I would sacrifice an intelligent primate in lieu of my first-born.
We were going to San Francisco or Action Freak Party Central. We were going to the most radical, politically active metropolis on this big, brown marble. Me and my comrades in arms and hammers would tear down the system with our grubby paws, and then, when the day was done and capitalism had been reduced to a hot, steaming pile in the middle of Civic Center Plaza, I would make hot, animal love in the middle of Market Street with a pre-op trannie that vaguely resembled a young, well-endowed Bea Arthur.
But none of those good intentions of mine would come to fruition. I started to get the overwhelming sensation of having seen all of this before. Flashback after flashback, frame after frame, I was possessed by a cold, haunted feeling of recognition, of knowing what was going to happen next. Either I turned into an all-powerful and omnipotent being, or I was watching the same PBS special I had seen the day before.
Noticing that my powers of time travel and X-ray vision had not increased one whit, I presumed that the day was going to be just like the day before. This, too, was to be a peaceful demonstration: glugging babies in Gucci strollers; thousands of dogs with lower intestinal distresses (yet not a single member of felix domesticus); mohawked lads and laddies wearing their finest facial jewelry and rattiest Crass shirts; turtlenecked uber-dudes striking poses of furrowed-brow concern; hippies in utter denial about Jerry Garcia’s passing; every coffee shop employee and bike messenger in the 20-mile radius; wizened old weird beards holding signs that bore cryptic koans straight out of Finnegans Wake; a garden-variety stunt unicyclist in a hot-pink, lycra body suit; shabby J. Crew models dressing down in wrinkled eggshell-taupe linen pants and jacket combos to support those who have no dry cleaning, ad infinitum.
I confess. I had never been to one of these rallies before the one at the Capitol. I wanted revolution, and instead I got exercise, a handful of thoughtful quotes that I’ll carry in my breast pocket for a few decades to come and a Bush effigy doll as a souvenir. I didn’t know what to expect.
Desperate times call for desperate actions, and all these desperate people living all over this beautiful ticking time bomb came together and showed restraint and intelligence, a common interest and a sense of community. For those two days, those 48 hours, I felt part of something I never thought I would or would want to. I went into the protests as a completely hardened cynic, laughing to myself that the powers that be did not give a rat’s ass about such shows of opposition. And everyone I talked to knew that they would not change our policies. They had to do this for themselves, they said. They needed to be with people like themselves, and when these good-intention people come together as one, you cannot help but be overwhelmed.
To see a sea of you and me (mostly saner versions) more than 200,000 bodies strong melted the ice around that little lump of coal deep inside me. Like I said earlier, I went into this as a disparager, and I left San Francisco, uh, less of one.
Before we left for the Big Tomato, I gave a gentleman wearing a particularly pungent eau de urine all my empty bottles so he could cash them in for fortified wine and a nice hunk of Danish Bleu. I wiped the bird shit off the windshield with the torn shreds of the fuse and filled the tank up with the five gallons of petrol I had carted around for the previous 48 hours. Then, Wagner and I high-tailed it home. I had successfully disarmed myself and wasn’t a threat to anyone but myself anymore. And it felt good to do.
I wish I could go door to door and give each and every person a big jar of warm peace from deep inside me.
No, I insist.