What an irony that my first published work has just been republished and will probably be my last. Back in January 1970 Timothy Leary spoke at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights and my poem Simon was published in the Village Voice. As some sort of committee member, my girlfriend Pat waited for an elevator next to him and whipped out the paper. Pointing at the page, “Hey, my boyfriend just had his poem published in the Voice, care to listen?” and she proceeded to read the ten-line poem as the elevator lowered them to earth.
When the doors swung open, Professor Leary answered, “Wow, far out!” True story.
Now 46 years later it gets published again as part of a poetry anthology on atheism and humanism. It was just lauded on the Huffington Post by best-selling author, Dan Arel.
...“In Filling the Void, editor Jonathan MS Pearce has compiled a collection of humanist and atheist poetry which brings a mix of voices on the subjects together like never before seen. “
I wrote Simon right after completing a social psych course with Prof. Phil Zimbardo at NYU. We'd studied William Golding's Lord of the Flies over a week. Many people were distressed by the work without knowing why. It's an allegory of Freudian psychoanalytic theory where each character represents an aspect of the human psyche. Piggy, Ralph and Jack were the super-ego, ego and id respectively. A remote, isolated island was a perfect setting to examine the human mind in a primitive state, under a microscope. Jack, mankind's primal instincts was the alpha male. He obeyed the “pleasure principle”and wasn't concerned a bit about the consequences of his behavior. We see these forces come to the fore in modern-day prisons. It shows how ingrained tribalism is embedded in our DNA. What Christians call “the devil” is nothing more than our evolutionary baggage. Many Freudian concepts have been discarded by modern science, the id being referred to more often as the R-Complex or Reptilian Factor. In the same way, the fear tactic is nothing more than an attempt by religious leaders to gain control of the masses. Even the concept of an eternal hell is a Christian idea as the ancient Greeks and Romans had no concept of eternal hell. Interestingly, the Hebrew word “Beelzebub” is translates to “Lord of the Flies.”
Pat submitted the poem to NYC disc jockey Roscoe and he read it on the radio with the Misss Luba Congolese Mass music as a backdrop. My friends and I were at a hippie pot party at the time and it was heavenly for me to listen to my own creation. It was like being resurrected.
Just a week earlier I answered the draft at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn and was pretty depressed about it. I couldn't just say, like we used to chant at the demonstrations, “Hell no, we won't go” It wasn't that easy. As Richard Dawkins explained in selfish gene theory I carried dove genes big time. Almost all the great writers warn us of the irrationality of revenge and violence. Nothing good ever comes from it. I just couldn't join an army that was dropping napalm on primitive villages on the other side of the world. My friend Bunky told me about the atrocity at Ben Suc in the remote Iron Triangle. No sense describing it here. The point is that I couldn't go even if I wanted to.
Four years of psychology did come in handy. I told the shrink who interviewed me, “Tell Uncle Sam, I'm sorry. I'd like to go to Viet Nam and be a good soldier, but I'm an anal compulsive, oral dependent and phallic narcissist—all three at once. I'm a drug addict, alcoholic, queer and an unpretentious, unrepentant, and unabashed BEDWETTER. Oh yeah, (I tried to remember some of the crazy neurotic symptoms I studied in clinical psych class) I'm a somnambulist kleptomaniac that likes to sneak around at night stealing male and female undergarments! I wouldn't be a good candidate for boot camp.”
The interviewer/psychiatrist was understanding, even pleasant—very professional. He filled out the appropriate paperwork and even wished me good-luck. The recruits, however, when I checked out for good, looked at me like I was a piece of shit that somehow skidded off the Verazono's Bridge and flew into their spick-and- barracks. Here they were counting the days 'til discharge, probably had friends that got maimed or killed and here this hippie was free to scoot back home to get high, eat take-out Chinese food and watch cartoons on TV. Trouble is the psychiatrist neglected to inform me that we weren't living democracy anymore, but in a plutocracy run by corporate bureaucrats and powerful, alpha-male businessmen with a myriad of conflicting agendas.
A theocracy like Iran is run in the interest of belief in God, but a corporate plutocracy is run by money. People are of little concern in either.
At the time, VP Spiro Agnew was being indicted for extortion, receiving bribes and tax evasion. The toupeed, necktie-tight, fork-up-his-ass hypocrite stole my idealism and belief in my country. He slapped me out of my American Dream. If you ever heard any of his pompous,grandiose speeches about patriotism, you'd know what I'm talking about. Do corrupt pols have any idea what there're doing to idealistic kids like me, to the world itself, to future generations of innocent people caught up in war? We're not stupid. How the hell does Mitch McConnell, for instance, come off earning 170 thousand a year and filing income tax for over eight million.
Now the draft board wanted me to go to boot camp to be isolated, deindividualized, scorned and humiliated and then graduate as a killing machine. For what? So Senators Mitch McConnell and Bob Melendez can fly to Europe on private jets and luxuriate in the world's finest resorts, hotels and restaurants? —so their wives could shop the Champs Elysees buying designer clothes and jewelry?
We weren't fighting for the ideals of Thomas Jefferson any more. We were fighting for the right of the ruling classes to live in luxury.
Nixon was the first president to resign in disgrace as a war criminal and common “crook” in that he authorized breaking into the Watergate Apartments like a sleazy cat burglar. The government and corporate state were in bed together and I was still a kid under the delusion that America was a democracy with visionary founding fathers, hard-working pioneers and immigrants, as well as a countryside of ineffable splendor. America was the greatest country in the world, notwithstanding my reluctance to use chemical weapons on primitive peasants. (If you don't believe napalm is a chemical weapon try getting some burning phosphorus on your skin.) Getting a 4F on my draft card meant banishment and being treated as an outcast the rest of my life. No corporation wound hire me and I was destined to a life of menial jobs. The case should have been closed. What was the sense of persecuting me and destroying an intellectual, idealistic, hard-working kid and his family as well? My mother was a widow, raised me working as a night-time cleaning lady and died with broken heart.. Seeing the bearded bedraggled hippie at her bedside she barely audibly murmured: “So this is what I worked and sacrificed for?” her dying words. There's a short story I wrote about the long-term effects of war and what it does to people. It's included in An Eclectic Mix, titled “Collateral Damage.”
A few days after marching out of Fort Hamilton, I was at a pot party with my friends listening to stuff like this. We'd just taken in Lord Buckley at the Village Vanguard the week before. Out of nowhere Roscoe, the popular DJ on WNEW. began reading Simon with Congolese Mass music as the backdrop. After depression and the psychological damage the draft had done to me, hearing my own poetic words over the radio was an epiphany, an intuitive perception of some great truth. Simon proclaimed that he wasn't dead but still residing in developmental stages in the recesses of the mind. Reason and rationality would some day triumph and our animal instincts and humanity would transcend, even undergo apotheosis, to spiritual realms. The great humanist and diarist Anne Frank expressed the same idea as she forgave her tormentors, the Nazis. Mankind was in adolescent states.
Forty-five years have gone by since then. Corporate criminals still rule but there seems to be a ray of hope, although I must admit it doesn't look good. That Americans could elect a moron like W. Bush still blows my mind—twice. Haven't we evolved since Nixon? Haven't we evolved since Nero exclaimed “Give them bread and circuses.” Speaking of corporate criminals the Invasion of Iraq is one of the most evil, sick and callous deeds in all human history. It cursed the entire Middle East with no view of lasting peace ever again. The entire world and our beautiful planet including its spectacular cargo of biodiversity is being destroyed for the sake of the luxury of oil company execs and greedy plutocrats.
In my first novel, Mirror Reversal, my heroine Cynthia, an evolutionary biology professor and psychologist attempts to explain why humans will go extinct. It won't be because of nuclear war, runaway technology or disease. Not running out of food or water, nor air fit enough to breath. If humans go extinct it will be because the working and ruling classes couldn't accept our Darwinian phylogeny, that humans evolved from fish and worms, without wincing in disgust. Simon would tell them to remember the childhood fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. When Beauty vanquished her inherent vanity, she kissed the scruffy beast realizing his goodness and he transfigured into the fulfillment of her dreams.
About then years ago, Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School sponsored a contest calling for essays on marijuana. Writing was never my thing but I decided to try and wrote “My Religious Experience” with references to Simon and my personal religion and philosophy which I call “Anti-supernaturalism”. It's still on the Lester's website after all these years. Lester wrote a beautiful intro.
There are, of course, instances where the laws of physics break down. These are called “singularities”: inside an atom, inside a black hole and the Big Bang itself. But these are far away in time and space and shouldn't concern us. Simon is still there if you care to read it. It's right after excerpts from Allan Ginsberg's “Howl.”
The essay is included also in kindle book Pot Stories and Humanist Essays if you care to explore the godless philosophy. To tell the truth, comic and social critic, the immortal Bill Hicks sums up the philosophy superbly in his routine “It's just a ride.” Simon would applaud, cheer and stand up with feisty fist pump, “RIGHT ON, BILL!” Bill refers to Simon as “the voice of inner reason.” It's free on Kindle and I guarantee it's the most entertainment and “food for thought” you can possibly buy with no money. The work also includes essays by my friend and collaborator, the renowned feminist writer, Barbara Walker.