New Civilization News: Pete    
 Pete10 comments
picture21 Jun 2007 @ 23:37, by Paul Quintanilla

At this juncture in the Age of Bush (six years down, two to go) the gap between those who still believe and those who at least doubt has become so wide that any serious debate would require a return to rock hard fundamentals. And the fundamental facts and truths are so deeply buried beneath heaped-on piles of rhetoric the thought of going back to those seminal beginning can be mind boggling. Not after all this time. For a giant earth mover would be required to expose the actual story beneath all the heaped up rhetorical fallacies, six years now into the Age of Bush.

And Condoleezza Rice has promised us her memoirs. Will Lewis Carroll be her literary guide and mentor?

So I have opted out of the debate. I am tired. It is useless to speak to those who will not hear. Adults who believe children’s stories in the same manner as children. And who can even become violent if you disagree with them. Who will only insult you for your concern and pains.

To paraphrase Count Dracula: “Listen to the creatures of the night. How sweetly they sing.” I am, of course, referring to nighttime talk radio. The nightly chorus of the far right. (That far right, by the way, which is attempting to instal itself as the American mainstream.)

To think that the vast American night is crowded with these disembodied specters freely circulating about through the airwaves. That the peaceful moon shines upon such a dark and noisy and crowded commotion: a valpurgis of Halloween fright masks and witches costumes. “The horror, the horror,” Kurtz tells us in “Heart of Darkness.” All of this occupying the vast, serene moonfilled American night.

Now the far right, always attacking those of us on the “loony left,” bemoans the national failure to fully grasp the perils of “Islamo fascism.” They shrilly warn us that if “we don’t fight them there we will have to fight them here.” That Iraq is our “ground zero on the war on terrorism.” That there can never be “a substitute for victory.” And that we will be at war with this fanatic, pervasive enemy for perhaps a hundred years.

Who has the energy to debate this? How does one rebut those who willingly, doggedly, accept lurid fantasies and lies? At this late date?

I once knew a middle aged merchant seaman (way back in the late sixties) who originally came from Alabama. Pete had a crewcut and weighed perhaps three hundred pounds. He was literally as round as he was tall. A segregationist, a white man whose intellectual life was devoted to propagating the inferiority of blacks, he often insisted upon the necessity of “propaganda” as a basic tool to advance his cause. When I attempted to argue that “propaganda” is a manipulation of truth, if not out and out lies, he would smugly stare at me and insist that public opinion needed shaping, and that propaganda was the proper tool.

“But Pete,” I would cry out. “Propaganda is discredited. It’s the tool dictators use. Hitler and Stalin. Anyone who wants to lie. Are you sure that is the right word you want to use? How about persuasion? Reason?”

He stuck to his guns and there would be no swaying him. No more so than his attitudes about black people and segregation could be changed. He was set on it.

And on many a day or night (we both lived then in a cheap hotel in San Francisco’s Chinatown: a place filled with merchant seamen from all over the Pacific and Chinese dishwashers.) we argued over this in the hotel’s dayroom (when it was empty, of course. We wouldn't bother those watching TV.) Over black people, segregation, civil rights, American history, politics, the issues of the day. And though I was convinced my arguments were right, sensible, pressing, obvious to any open and fare mind, he wouldn’t budge. He remained a devout segregationist and racist. And, yes, in a manner which was almost PC I would bludgeon him at times with the “R” word. As if the word itself were so potent and powerful that it would sweep aside any argument for segregation. But it bounced right off him. He simply became bored with my using it. And finally turned it against me: accusing me of being trite, PC, an educated fool. Or a well meaning liberal, skirting close to Communism, who didn’t understand the realities.

We would go out drinking together, hitting the Chinatown and North Beach bars. Once he took me to dinner in a well-known Beatnik Italian restaurant where he amazed me by eating raw spaghetti: nothing on it, not even butter or cheese. But he paid the bill and the debate continued. He also bought me many drinks. There was nothing we saw eye to eye on. It was a most stiff and peculiar relationship.

Pete would often call talk radio shows and I would sometimes hear him. His high pitched familiar voice, espousing his racist opinions. The talk host treating him like a kook. But Pete would get his message across, and when I saw him later on would gleefully explain his triumph. Listening, I hadn’t realized there was so much cunning in his call. That he had achieved so much. I tended to side with the host.

No, it is impossible to get around certain opinions and attitudes. And my own liberal bones tell me not to become too self-sure or complacent. Arrogant. On any issue or subject. But can one ever be excessively self-sure when rebutting such racists and far rightwing attitudes?

I would say yes. And perhaps my great frustration with Pete sometimes took me over the line. And my vehemence could provoke the sympathies of other lodgers in the hotel, who occasionally came to Pete’s side. The noble poor indeed! This cheap hotel in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown was no hotbed of leftist revolutionary sentiments. Among the Chinese there there were both Maoists and Chang Ki-Sheckists. The white merchant seamen tended to be right, far right. Pete was not the only racist in that hotel. One of the Chinese dishwashers looked down on whites almost as much as he looked down on blacks. (Though he and I were often quite friendly with each other.) And as for the Filipinos, Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders who roomed there politics were rarely discussed. They kept quiet and stayed away from the whites. I suspect they thought we were all crazy.

This all took place in the late sixties, when I was still quite rootless. I had accidentally blundered into San Francisco in the spring of 1967 and fell in love with the place right then and there. The hotel was only a block or two from North Beach, where I did most of my drinking and socializing at that time. The pot pouri of bohos (including some Hells Angels who had fallen from their bikes a few times too many) was not all that political. (Politics were over in Berkeley) and most of my drinking companions were far more interested in poetry. Though not hippies ourselves we were easily their fellow travelers. And we sometimes visited the Haight. Some of my drinking companions were longtime Beats. And San Francisco in the late sixties and early seventies was an extremely exciting place. You could even live there then without much money. And my small room in that picturesque and seedy hotel was ideal for me. Clean, quiet, and close to the action.

I doubt Pete is still alive. He was already middle aged when I was in my twenties. I see him today as merely a unique phenomenon: he was Pete. A physically round, skin-headed white southern racist in his entity. He always wore plane well pressed chino pants and a spotless white cotton tee shirt. Is this attitude, on my part, too simple? Undoubtedly. But there was no more changing him than there would be changing the vivid outlines of the moon’s face at night. In a way I took advantage of Pete: numerous free drinks and a few free meals. And perhaps that is shameful. But I was truly quite curious about him. I wasn’t merely mooching, but had a deep desire to learn.

I can’t remember what finally caused our falling out. Forty years is forty years and I haven’t thought about him that often over all this time. I suspect he was right though: that the hypocrisy of my deep condescension eventually showed itself. For I openly sneered and looked down upon him. And his manner toward me became aloof and cool, morally superior. The hotel undoubtedly sided with him. I may even have felt somewhat troubled and ashamed. For he had bought me many drinks.

Was I right in my contempt? Was his lofty moral disdain well placed? Was there too much booze, an absence of wisdom, clarity, and direction in this peculiar relationship? Was I merely revealing the ignorant recklessness of my youthful age? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But no one was truly harmed by this odd relationship. Though you may have a different idea?


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24 Jun 2007 @ 23:02 by quinty : On my
email this afternoon I received a brief note from a roomer, so long ago, in that Chinatown hotel. Mike D., who had a hippie beard back then and was a pioneer computer programmer. Who has since made a mint in Silicon Valley. He tells me Pete died, many years ago, in a home down south. He was an able bodied seaman, union member, and remained a devout segregationist until the end of his life. Believing in his dream.

It's too bad, isn't it, that romantic dreams, about the Old South, whatever, can so often be cruel. And that so many of us can't go beyond our own narrow aspirations and needs and understand the common rights of others. If we enjoyed this trait in a more widespread manner perhaps there would be far less suffering in the world. Iraq is another good example.  



25 Jun 2007 @ 13:05 by jerryvest : Thanks for sharing a bit of your past
with us, Quinty. Like they say, 'those were the days'--that is, the 60's. It seems to me that we have much more to protest today than we did then, but perhaps all of our past returns as 'unfinished business' or seeing that changing the far right is impossible--hatred and prejudice are deeper and more entrenched than hypnosis. Yes, I agree, understanding and appreciating the rights of others would make life much more fulfilling. Perhaps if everyone opened their minds and hearts we could make some progress toward being free.  


25 Jun 2007 @ 15:47 by jazzolog : Sticking To His Guns
I seem to attract Viet Nam vets and lady Pentecostals. The Pentecostals are easier to deal with. In fact one decided she would save me of an afternoon, and for a moment I really got the whole sex thing with the deal. I suppose if religion hadn't been involved, I just would have accepted the seduction and been done with it. With most, I've enjoyed talking politics and have found (and continuously maintained through this whole awful period) these folks have much in common with liberals. I'll never forget a social studies teacher who was aching to vote for Al Gore, but abortion wouldn't let her. Abortion is the tough one. More recently I've been gently in argument with a middle school science teacher who's a creationist. Also very difficult, never mind the dinosaurs on Noah's ark. (The new creationist museum down around Cincinnati has cavekids playing with dinosaurs, so apparently they're asserting things even more. The Flintstones probably helped this new grasp of reality.)

The vets run a tight ship. These are guys who really learned guns in the Marines...or whatever. They hunted before, but they never slept with their guns until the Corps taught them. I have a friend who likes target practice on stuff a mile or 2 away. I can't conceive of it, but he enjoys the challenge. He collects knives...member of the Knife of the Month club. As much time as we spend on the computer catching up with current events, these guys shop online for guns and trucks. Politically, they range from somewhat reasonable to downright sadistic. I must confess I've had to spar with some very low blows at one guy. He even makes fun of littering laws, never mind anything that might help a child of misfortune. Katrina? Hey! they lived there, they knew what might happen. He's carved out his little niche in the American dream, and by God he'll blast his shotgun at anyone he deems a challenger. Shoot first, ask questions whenever. One guy suspected somebody was stealing the money he left in his mailbox for the newspaper carrier. He got his gun, staked out the box one afternoon, and when a car paused there, he filled it full of holes.

After a quarter century of training in militaristic, "free" trade thinking (never mind the working class jobs that have been shipped to the Philippines) it will take something truly revelatory to change these minds. Citizenship is dead, long live Wal-Mart!  



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