Still looking at this picture. The guy with the intense expression and Buddy Holly glasses is me, Christopher Newton. I’m playing the Spanish guitar Don Auclair gave me because he felt bad about sleeping with my ex-girlfriend before she was an ex. Today it’s sitting in my daughter’s closet gathering dust but with every molecule in its cracked sounding board and warped neck still charged with power.
My current girlfriend Linda Lovely – she’s sitting behind me. Linda at 20 is a true innocent heart in her own way, but not very happy today – she just found out she’s going to have a beautiful baby who has given both of us joy ever since – but it’s a bit unexpected, and she’s not used to the idea.
The soulful intellectual pondering my kazoo is Joe Pratt, subject of a lost short story Joe Pratt at Stinson Beach. The hair in the foreground belongs to Solveig Otvos, nee’ Rimkeit, and as good a friend as I ever had. We are sitting in Golden Gate Park’s Rose Garden on a foggy day in the summer of 1962, four friends and a nameless photographer.
Linda and I are still tight and see each other several times a year. Joe wandered off into another life as friends of our youth tend to do. Perhaps he became a wandering kazooist. Solveig followed a spiritual path, Subud, and changed her name to Ruth. We lost touch as I got deeper into it and she climbed further out. She’s the one I miss most — sensitive, loyal, able to see bullshit for what it was and laugh it away. And that sexy Spanish/Latvian accent!
We’d all met through the San Francisco State Student Peace Union. It’s hard to remember now just how imminent the end of the world seemed in those Cold War years. But it just absolutely freaked my generation (this was a couple of years before Viet Nam). Russia and the US were playing a galactic game of poker called brinkmanship and the whole world could explode in cosmic fury at any time. Hey – we were young. We didn’t want to die in flaming fission because one player called the other’s bluff. Would you?
The Peace Movement at San Francisco State coalesced around the immediate issue of atmospheric testing of H-Bombs, which had started up again in 1961, the year I transferred to State. The Air Force was exploding them in the Nevada desert to learn how to kill more people and the fallout was drifting across the desert into California and eastward into Utah. The breeze was full of a radioactive substance call Strontium-90 that was getting into mother’s milk among other places. (Where is this stuff today? Has it decayed by now?)
And it made me mad. That was my politics. Still pretty much is, I’m afraid. It was just one more, but the worst example yet, of an adult world I wanted no part of running amok and preparing to cremate the world to make it safe for freedom or something. But to me and Joe and Solveig it was just cold death leering at us in an unpleasant way.
The FBI thought we were all working for Nikita Khrushchev, or else Communist dupes. The best thinking of the era had decided that Communists were like demons and had supernatural powers over the minds of all young people who didn’t prefer nuclear destruction.
I’m not saying the Commies weren’t trying to use us to their strategic advantage – but I had met members of the San Francisco Communist party and they were tired, worn-out. Their time has passed. In our snotty youth we thought them laughable and knew nothing of their struggles in the hunger-wracked Thirties.
There was a song we used to sing at demonstrations. The chorus ran “Just like a tree, standing by the water, we shall not be moved” and we would make up the first line. The head local Commie was a guy named Archie Brown, and we used to sing “Archie is our leader; we shall not be moved” just to bug the FBI guys who were usually wandering harrumph with little cameras at the demonstrations.
For Joe and Solveig and Don Auclair and my ex-girlfriend Carmen at least this was not a political issue – demonstrating was an existential fist in the face of our imminent demise. Maybe there was nothing we could do to stop it – but we weren’t going to go peacefully. To the barricades!