Sunday, March 4, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 10: The Viet Nam Summer of Love, 1967

Chapter 10: The Viet Nam Summer of Love, 1967 (vi)

Ted had spent early June with friends out in Berkeley and had let his hair grow long for awhile out there. Then he had returned to the Upper West Side for the rest of the summer in order to be a group counselor in Columbia’s white paternalistic “Double Discovery” program. In late July, I dropped by Ted’s dorm room in Furnald Hall to talk about his apartment hunt, and to turn on with him.

After starting the fan in his dorm window—to reduce the accumulation of smoke in the room—and filling up his pipe with some marijuana, Ted passed the pipe to me. We then each took turns holding a match over the pipe, as the other inhaled. Folk music and folk-rock music provided our background musical atmosphere.

After talking about the “adjust to a repressive society” politics of the psychiatric clinic I was working at, discussing Ted’s attempt to expose his “Double Discovery” group of high school students to the writings of Malcolm X, and exchanging thoughts about the organizational problems Viet Nam Summer organizers were having on the Upper West Side, Ted suddenly asked with a smile: “Have you heard the new Beatles’ album?”

“No. I still don’t like the Beatles too much. They’re boring, compared to trying to analyze Dylan lyrics,” I answered.

Ted laughed and replied: “That’s what I used to think, too. But the Beatles seem hipper in their new album.”

Ted then took the record out of the album jacket, lifted off the turntable the folk record that had been playing, and put on the turntable the new Beatles record. A few seconds later, for the first time, I heard the song lyrics:

“It was twenty years ago, today.
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…”

We kept smoking in the dorm room, as the record continued to play. Our time sense became distorted, as each 3 minutes of record time felt like 15 minutes. We were both giggling a lot by the time the song that began “I read the news today, oh boy” on the second side started. Laughing, Ted pointed out the skillful way the Beatles used sound effects to prolong the “I’d love to turn you on” phrase in the song.

I asked Ted if he had decided yet what he was going to do after his scheduled Spring 1968 graduation.

“I might go to grad school in London,” he answered with a shrug.

“Aren’t you tired of being in school?” I replied.

Ted shrugged again. “My mother wants me to go to grad school. And I think I could get a good recommendation from Professor Silver,” he said.

Columbia Professor of Sociology Silver was Ted’s favorite professor during his junior year. Ted then felt Silver was quite deep intellectually and quite decent, personally. In part, because of his admiration for Silver, Ted had decided to shift his academic major from mathematics to sociology. “Professor Silver has no family and seems like a lonely guy. But he really seems dedicated to his students. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with him in his office. And I feel very attracted to him, in a platonic way,” Ted had said earlier in the year.

Ted then asked me if I knew what I wanted to do after I graduated.

“Avoid the draft. Then go to Appalachia and organize poor whites for awhile. Then move someplace else and organize people there. I want to live in different cities in the U.S. after college for a few years. Not just live in one place and be stuck in just one job for 40 years, like my father. I want to work at many different kinds of jobs during my life,” I replied.

“You have post-scarcity consciousness. If we can make a revolution and gain control of the technology, people won’t be trapped in one city and in one career for their whole lives,” Ted said with a smile.

After awhile, Ted and I started to talk about Teddy.

“You know, I love Teddy a lot. But I think he’s stopped growing politically and intellectually,” Ted suddenly said.

I was surprised at this comment. I hadn’t yet noticed any particular change for the worse in Teddy, politically or intellectually.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“He doesn’t seem to want to think too deeply about political questions or read political books anymore. When I try to talk strategically with him, he just seems content to answer by rhetorically repeating some quotation he’s memorized from Mao or Che Guevara or Ho Chi Minh,” Ted answered.

“I haven’t noticed that. But he’s still a good speaker and has that great, warm personality. Everybody seems to like him,” I replied.

Ted laughed and retorted. “I know he’s a great talker. And, like I said, I still love him. But do you know? Teddy doesn’t know how to write a coherent leaflet. He can speak. But if he tries writing anything, it contains a lot of grammatical and spelling errors, and a lot of confused politics. Unless I write the leaflets myself this fall, the chapter will be in trouble.”

I laughed.

Ted also first mentioned to me at this time that he had fallen in love with a recent Barnard graduate named Trude. “She’s also a counselor in the Double Discovery program,” Ted noted.

After Ted introduced me to Trude later in the summer, Trude and I both thought it coincidental that when Trude was a senior at Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis, I had been a sophomore there. In her senior year at Broad Ripple, Trude had been the yearbook editor and very active in high school journalism affairs. In New York City, by the time she had graduated from Barnard, Trude had become popular with leftist Columbia men because of her sweet personality, her gentleness, her intellectual seriousness and her increased surface beauty. She now dressed more bohemian than she had dressed in Indianapolis, wore blue jeans and let her long brown hair hang down.

Ted also indicated in this Furnald Hall dorm room discussion that he felt the African-American rebellions of the summer meant that the mass of African-American people had outgrown Martin Luther King’s pacifist political line and were moving in the direction Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and SNCC had predicted people would move. “I’ve been doing a 15-minute political commentary show for WKCR this summer, explaining why the Black rebellions are justified,” Ted said.

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