Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxviii)

While walking further west on either Fordham Road or Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx toward Upper Manhattan, on a pleasant summer weekday in mid-July 1971, I decided to sit down on a bench in the middle of either a small playground or some vest-pocket-size park of some trees near a sidewalk corner. Still not knowing where my rent for August 1971 was going to come from, I was in the middle of contemplating what survival options were still open to me—now that I had been denied welfare benefits and still seemed unable to earn any money as some kind of freelance writer for a muckraking left-wing publication like Ramparts magazine—when two young white working-class guys with short hair approached me in a cautious way. They both looked culturally straight and to be in their late teens or early 20s.

It turned out that the two young white working-class guys had both been drafted into the U.S. Army and had just deserted from the U.S. military while being subjected to basic training. And since I still looked like a bearded, long-haired, anti-war hippie in mid-July 1971, they correctly assumed that I would let them crash that night in my hippie pad.

Being fresh from escaping from a U.S. Army atmosphere which they felt to be totalitarian, the two deserters—both of whom were now dressed in civilian clothes—spent much of their time imitating the way the drill sergeant from whom they had recently escaped had barked bullying orders at them, as walked the few miles across either Fordham Road or Kingsbridge Road towards my Bronx slum apartment in the Belmont neighborhood.

“Lombardino! Clean the latrine! Lombardino! Remake your bed!, etc., etc.” the deserter who apparently went by that name repeated in a satirical mimicking way and an imitation Southern regional accent. Both the deserters laughed a lot, as we approached my apartment and they recounted to me their stories about the horrors and the absurdities of U.S. Army life, like two people who were overjoyed because they had finally been released from a prison.

Spending the evening drinking beer and conversing with each other in my apartment, we all seemed to agree that the militaristic set-up in U.S. society in the early 1970s was pretty much insane. And that, for the two deserters, going to Canada now seemed to make the most sense; rather then either returning to their army base and risk being either thrown into a stockade or eventually sent to the infantry front-line in “Nam by the super-authoritarian U.S. military brass whose military discipline each of them now rejected as absurd—especially now that they were out of their military uniforms and back among the real world of U.S. civilian life again.

So I gave them the address and phone number of one of the anti-war draft/GI counseling groups in Manhattan that I thought might provide them with some leads as to how to escape to Canada most easily. And when they left my apartment early the next morning they indicated that they would probably stop by at the anti-war GI/draft counseling group’s office before quickly heading back to their parents’ home, in order to visit their parents for a few days and gather up some more of their civilian clothes before the U.S. Army concluded that the two youths had gone AWOL and began hunting for them at their parents’ house. In addition, getting some money quickly from their parents was going to probably be necessary by the two deserters for them to be successful in escaping to Canada. Although I was nearly completely out of money myself by mid-July 1971, I gave the two deserters a $10 bill (in early 1970s money) so that they could at least buy a commuter train ticket which would move each of them closer to the white working-class suburban homes of their parents.