I was awakened, politically speaking, by the visage of Richard Nixon glowering at me from the big tv in the den in my parent’s house on the southwest side of Chicago. I hated him on sight-his venal corruption was so clear to see, even to a six-year-old, in 1967.
Started paying attention, as best a six-year-old can, to GREAT EVENTS. I understood about Nam and cottoned on to the divide between North and South, and to some of the reasons why.
I was horrified. Man’s inhumanity to man, and all that.
We were a Catholic family. My dad’s side was slavic, my mom’s Quebecois. We attended church, and I attended Sunday School. By the time the Nixon administration began, we were studying the sacrifice of Isaac, and that was causing a great upheaval inside me. Previously unthinkable thoughts began to bubble up in my brain.
I went to the Monsignor, who was frequently present on the church steps after mass, and queried him about my doubts. He was completely unable to quell my misgivings. He was in fact scornful, and I have never forgiven the man for that reaction.
It was as if I had no right to free thought, in his mind, because of my years. I turned away from the church. Subsequent visits to the inside of the place (and there were a great many of them) left me physically ill. I puked on the kneeler more than once. Faith had become indigestible.
At eight, I was at odds with both church and state, and couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I refused to be confirmed in the faith, and became at odds with my extended family as well. I was officially a weirdo.
In school, I was normally put out in the hall, because I was disruptive. They weren’t teaching me anything. I was barred from jumping grades because the faculty felt I was too immature (I was really tiny) and socially maladjusted to stand the change, and there were no other advanced programs, at Louis Pasteur school, that I could get into.
I read comics voraciously, after tearing through all of the study guides. I was allowed inside to take tests, which I finished long before anyone else and took to decorating. Spaceships and spies adorned those sheets, and the teachers used that as an excuse to lower my grades.
Comics and Star Trek led to science fiction and horror. The Archer branch of the Chicago Public Library had Arkham House and Dangerous Visions. And books by people like Gay Talese and Allen Drury, politically-oriented tomes that I also enjoyed hugely. I officially became atheist shortly after reading Lovecraft. How could I not? But I couldn’t tell anyone…not then, not there.
I got kicked out of that school that year, more or less because I completed an assignment to create a crossword puzzle by including only ‘four-letter’ words. I also stole my files from the principal’s office and gave them to my dad.
My reward was being placed in a Catholic school. Good old St. Turibius, at which place I was already a pariah. Not among the kids…yet. But among the personnel, except for Ms. Dino, the Filipino social studies teacher, under whose tutelage I discovered an admiration for the ‘American experiment’.
Spent most of my time in Mother Superior’s office, or in the hall, reading books. It took three years for me to get kicked out, for heaving a desk at Sister Celine Marie, who cracked me on the knuckles with a yardstick for questioning her wisdom, and for daily fist-fighting with Mark Lancaster, who was a vocal Nixon proponent…and almost a foot taller than I was. I was for McGovern, naturally.
Celine Marie also encouraged people to bully me. I should have followed up after the desk hit her. Mark and his friend Jeff Cannon caught me and kicked my ass good, the day the revelation about Eagleton surfaced. Broke my nose and probably a few ribs. When the janitor broke the thing up, I had just hit Jeff upside the head with the porcelain from the top of the toilet tank.
There was blood everywhere. It was great.
The only time I have been as happy as when I was walking home from that place in mid-May was when I left Signature Insurance behind forever in 1986. Both walks had that sense of freedom and having done the right thing, and turned out in much the same way.
Everyone was pissed at me.
We white-flighted out to the western ‘burbs when my asshole uncle, who had begun defaulting on his mortgage because of shifty deals he made in the lumber business, demanded his half of the money for the house we lived in.
My files arrived ahead of me. And the city was WAY different from the suburbs. I was still light-years ahead of anyone else intellectually, but I was four-foot something tall, with glasses, and had only recently outgrown orthopedic shoes.
I lived through two years of junior high somehow, with the experience being capped by getting kicked out again…I was allowed to graduate after taking a battery of intelligence and psychological tests that proved what I already knew. Grade school ended for me in March 1974. By mid-May, I was watching the Watergate hearings for entertainment, unable to tear myself away from the awful spectacle, afraid for what that all meant to the body politic…It was no surprise when Reagan happened. The things he and they did were no accident, amplifying as they did Conservative advances made by the Nixon administration, and we’ve never really recovered from those depradations, let alone the profound national anomie that has suffused this country in the wake of Watergate and VietNam.
Trump is no accident either. I can only hope that the rage he used to fuel his ascendancy is turned fully and properly against him and his cohort, and that they receive their just desserts and are discredited and deposed.
But I foresee violence.