Having moved everything I owned east to Philly the previous August, now I was faced with hauling everything back to Chicago the following May. Through a few quick conversations with a close friend living on the north side of the Loop, I made plans to move in with him and see what life in the real city was like.
So I had to figure out what to bring with me on that first trip in the car. What would I need to make it through a month or so before closing up the Paoli place? I’d already paid my rent through June to take the pressure off the situation. My plan was to travel out to Chicago, plug into the living space there, and then fly back east to get a U-Haul and empty out the third-floor apartment at 18 Paoli Pike.
In mid-May I’d gone for a walk in an area woods and brought home a Jack-In-The-Pulpit. It sat and stared at me during the back and forth travels as I packed. The little “jack” inside the plant always fascinated me, such a penile little character, typically bright green in color with a purple tip. With that striped shroud over its head, the plant looks like a quasi-religious figure or a shady character, depending on one’s mood. My mood at the time was somewhere between those two “jacks.”
One last look
To complicate matters on the day I was about to leave, as my car was all packed up and I was carrying down my gym bag with running shoes and gear stuffed to the brim, I looked out the second story window to find a vision lying on a beach towel just outside the back door. It was the landlord’s beautiful daughter. That’s not a joke
I’d seen her entering the front of the house a few times. She was quite beautiful. And while she looked fit in her jeans and a sweatshirt, there was nothing in her appearance to prepare me for the sight I now beheld. She lay on her back in the sun, with the outline of her body highlighted by the summer sun, and in stunning detail. I stood there on the steps a few minutes wondering if I should go out the door. I neither wanted to disturb her or acknowledge the fact that I’d been perving her from above. But what was worse? Me leaning to scope her out from a hidden window, or going out to load up my car and saying goodbye in one fell swoop?
That moment felt like some sort of final temptation during my time back east. I decided to head back up to my apartment and gather my wits, hoping perhaps that she’d pack up and leave. Part of me still wondering if this was some godly delivery of my lusty soul. Or what if she’d chosen that site on purpose? Who knew? Who ever knows? I did know from talking with her parents that she had a boyfriend. Yet I’d also recently, and quite profoundly, learned that it didn’t seem to matter to some women what their relationship situation seemingly dictated.
Ten minutes later, I decided the right thing to do was pack up and leave. As I walked down the stairs, she was picking up her towel and tossing on a coverup. I also noticed that she glanced up at the second story window before leaving.
I headed out the door and almost bumped into her. “Oahh, hey…” I said while locking the door behind me. “I’m moving today.”
“Yes, I heard,” she replied, and said, “Good luck!” Then she walked around the side of the house. I snagged a peak at her behind and felt that familiar twinge of wonder and regret.
May of 1983 was a strange month marked by emphatic conclusions and raw realizations. On the 11th of May, I drove alone to the Villanova track to run a fast interval workout of 6 X 440 at 64-66 seconds. Don Paige was again being interviewed on the far side of the track. I envied the seeming assurance and level of talent he represented. He looked so professional and contained. It felt like his world was simpler and far more secure than mine. But who really knew? After the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, athletes like Paige were effectively “canceled.” His first and real chance for a gold medal vanished thanks to the United States’ choice to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I couldn’t help thinking about that every time I saw him.
As a 24-year-old young man, I was actively trying to make sense of how things like that, the “big picture,” as it were, actually worked. I pondered how my personal instincts fit with the actions of the country where I lived. I felt bad for the athletes that did not get to compete at the Moscow Games. I tried to imagine what it was like to be a world-class American athlete and be told to stay home. To some degree, I understood the work it took to perform at that level. For many, the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. All that training for a single shot at glory. For men like Frank Shorter in ’72 and ’76, it made a world of difference. For others, not so much. But for the American athletes in 1980, no chance at all. How frustrating.
Yet I also thought that Carter was genuinely trying to do the right thing. He also had an Iran hostage crisis on his hands, and was stuck with the American policy of supporting the Shah of Iran, whose power was granted and supported by a coup conducted by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. So he wasn’t protecting some innocent action by our country. We’d interfered and injected our aims on a nation that was fighting back. And they had that right, did they not? So they took hostages, and got our attention.
Then the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and Carter faced tough choices all around. But the Soviets paid the price long-term, wallowing around in a country that refuses to be tamed.
Who thought that forty years later, it would be the United States invading Afghanistan? Yet that’s essentially what happened under Republican President George W. Bush and VP Dick Cheney. It led to America’s longest-ever occupation of another country.
And worse, those two ideological jackoffs sent us into Iraq as well. All based on lies about weapons of mass destruction and conflating Iraq’s supposed association 9/11 attacks. The Bush regime aggressively propagandized its plans under the so-called War On Terror. They were aided in this gaslighting doctrine by the likes of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the Right Wing media. Even Howard Stern fell for their schtick at first, then recanted.
The right-wing echo chamber led the cheerleading as the Bush cabal embarked on their own massive terror trip, first bombing innocent Iraq citizens and then conducting torture in the same cells once used by Saddam Hussein to cause misery on his own citizens. They scooped up supposed terrorists and shipped them off to the Neverland of Guantanamo. Some of them are still there. In real-time, there were Black Ops and mercenaries working in both countries, and around the globe, where supposed “bad guys” were shipped to be brutalized under the dictates of PsyOps teams. The debate over whether waterboarding was torture dominated the airwaves. The terminally vindictive Dick Cheney insisted it wasn’t. Sane people understood that it was. This was America’s mental illness on full display.
No moral equivalency
I regretted what Carter had done to our athletes by keeping them home from the Moscow Olympic games. But forty years later, I absolutely hated what Bush and Cheney did to our military personnel by sending them on perverse dual missions and multiple tours of duty in war without focus, and without end. Carter admittedly damaged the lives of our athletes by calling for the boycott. He denied them the opportunity to capitalize on their life’s work.
But Bush and Cheney sent thousands of military personnel to die while others returned home permanently maimed and/or psychologically devastated as a direct result of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive force. The sick fact is that both wars served as a coverup for the fact that Bush and Cheney ignored legitimate intelligence that a terrorist attack was likely on American soil. Instead, they cynically used the 9/11 tragedy to foment their own brand of arrogant evil on the world at large.
The roots of all that force-driven doctrine date back to the arrogant rule of one Ronald Reagan, who was President in 1983 when my political views were first being tested by the realities of the world. I never liked Reagan or his British counterpart, Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher.
A country crossed
As a seemingly (supposedly) naive young man in 1983, I was already absolutely suspicious of the dismissively hardline nature of conservative ideology at work during the first three years of the Reagan Revolution. My Chicago friends and I branded the growing faction of young conservatives that we met “Reagan Youth” for their disturbing conformist instincts and Ayn Rand politics. I also never bought the claim that Reagan was the Great Communicator. I found him banal, superficial, and ideologically dangerous. I cared not for his jingoistic speeches or his enormously specious statement that “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.”
My response? “Then resign, asshole. Don’t inflict your shit on us.”
As an ardent birder and environmentalist, I also despised Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, who famously (dismissively) stated: “When the last tree falls, Jesus will return.”
He also whined when asked to resign, taking the position that he was being persecuted not for the corruption in which he’d clearly engaged with the HUD, but because of his religious beliefs. His brand of denial and deflection was bad enough. But that tactic of defense by conflation of religion with country fueled similar backcountry militants running the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion. We’re still dealing that crap in America to this day: people with self-serving claims to land and rights they do not technically even own. Yet these brutes are all too happy forcing their beliefs over the interests, and rights, of the nation as a whole. That holds true for the Second Amendment as well. There are now more guns than people in the United States of America.
The entire Reagan cabal felt like the first breaths of fascism at work in America. It ran in a straight line from Ronnie through the Newt Gingrich era to the vacuous Tea Party and on to the Bush camp and the Make America Great Again demagoguery of Donald Trump. Despite all sorts of denial from GOP sycophants, that’s the real story of the conservative Right in America. It ultimately led to an insurrection against the United State government on January 6, 2020. Donald Trump and his Big Fat Lie about the 2020 election were responsible. But what did we expect? Like James Watt, losers never accept the real reasons why they lost their position in life, or got caught red-handed. They make excuses, often while claiming that God is truly on their side. It’s the woulda-coulda-shoulda realm of political hacks and golf cheats (which Trump surely is) and other people in the grips of cognitive dissonance and habitual forms of sociopathy.
You can doubt me if you like, but my big picture thoughts about Reagan and politics and the state of the American economy (and experiment) all crossed my brain while driving cross country from Paoli to Chicago in late May of 1983. After all, I was out of a job and needed to look for one in Chicago. The economy was rolling around under the weight of trickle-down economics, and Reaganites were chortling at the thought that he was busting unions and welcoming globalization as the future of our economy. The same people cheering Reagan in the 80s are now voting for Trump in the 2000s. They want to Make America Great Again never considering who destroyed their lot in the first place. And they expect a rich Daddy’s Boy whose own University was busted for fraud to fix their situation? It’s so laughable, yet it is so painfully evident that the selfishness endemic to the fearfully prejudiced and fearful is motivated by an attitude of victimhood. Trump promised to give them what they want, and like spoiled little children at a birthday party, they don’t want to give up what they claim for themselves. I
,I’d felt the first genuine surge of disgust with America back in the early 1980s. It had been fueled by the murder of JFK in 1963 when I was five, followed by the slaughter of his brother RFK, and finally the sniper shot that wiped out Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the late 1960s. I sensed that there was a certain segment to society drive by hate and fear that would never play fair. In some respects, that jealous and selfish strain of psychology also killed John Lennon. And look at the guy that shot President Ronald Reagan. He’s now on YouTube trying to sell his music and start his own record label. As if he never did anything wrong in his life.
This is what’s wrong with America. The most selfish people on earth love to claim that they’re advocates of “personal responsibility” according to conservative doctrine. In fact, what they advocate is personal selfishness, and the right to even persecute others if it fits their religion, their politics, or their gun collection. They gaslight the world by complaining about “political correctness” and “cancel culture,” all while ignoring the fact that religions like Christianity have been “canceling” entire cultures and races of people for two thousand years. So when evangelicals claim that America is a “Christian nation,” they unwittingly confess the fact that their religion was used to justify slavery, racial inequality, suppression of women, persecution of gay people, and engaging in wars of choice to bring about Armageddon in the Middle East.
Yes, I understood the conflicted nature of conservative ideology way back when. It has pained me to watch this country succumb to its influence, even to the point of refusing to impeach a corrupt President and excusing a direct attack on our own system of government. I knew it back then, and a big part of me wanted to bring it all to light. So I planned to use my open schedule to continue writing a book about the misperceptions and conflicted judgment in this world. I’d purchased an IBM Selectric from a used typewriter shop in Philly, and that was one of the items I carried with me back to Chicago in late May of 1983.
“I didn’t even know what city I was in…”
I stopped in Ohio to spend a night out on the town with my younger brother and his girlfriend. We went out for beers and I made time with a cute townie at the bar, but wound up too drunk to deal with her. I wound up slurring my speech and aching to go home, I was so tired. My brother laughed at me and said, “God threw you one, and you blew it.”
The next day I drove to Illinois and spent the first night “back in town” at the apartment of two female friends from Van Kampen. My girlfriend Linda was out of town, as were my parents, so I crashed at their place near Route 38 and the I-355 extension. I woke up the next morning hardly knowing what city I was in. The girls were running around half-dressed getting ready for work, so I kept my glasses off despite a strong desire to see what was going on. I lay there thinking how weird it was that they were going to work at the company that I’d only recently left. And why? Because I didn’t somehow fit in? Or because the leadership of my department led us down the wrong path? I had no real answers to that. In any case, I was on the outs. Frankly, I’d been jacked around a bit by the entire Philadelphia experiment. So while I wasn’t perfect at the job, neither was I totally at fault. Perhaps I should have seen that as a bit of foreshadowing.
All I knew is that I turned the severance check I’d been given into $7000 in Travelers Cheques, and planned to use that money to get by until I figured out what came next in life. At least I wasn’t totally broke. I still had to get all my belongings moved back from Paoli to my friend’s apartment in Chicago. So I got back together with Linda, spent a few days re-orienting myself to Illinois, and planned the next move. Everything was fluid, including my money.