Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why Friday the 13th? Well as most triskaidekaphobics. might tell you, "It's a scary day man. You know like black cats and all that." Truth be known, it was scarier than you might want to imagine. The term Tres... (it's too long a word to type twice), is Greek and of modern coinage (20th century), however, the superstitions attached to the number 13 are purely Roman. That's not entirely true, either, since the source of most Roman superstition were Etruscan in origin. The Etruscans left almost no written history of their culture, what is left for us is to divine comes from the Romans. Why 13? It's the result of the confusion for when, and on which days, business could be transacted (Fastus), and those days for when business was officially and religiously proscribed (Nefastus). It was important to know because debts and interest were due on the Idus (Etruscan for middle or division of the lunar month...full moon). Originally, the Idus, or Ides, (calculating from the earliest traditional calendar) was the middle of the lunar month, i.e., the 15th. The 15th was neither Fastus or Nefastus, it was "Nefastus Feriae Publicae" that is, there were no legal or assembly meetings, but debts had to be paid nonetheless. The problem for debtors was that there were several adjustments to the calendar before the Julian adjustment, c. 45 B.C. (A.U.C. 711), In the fifth century B.C., Numa lengthened the year and added two months. He, also, changed the Idus to the 13th, for those months which had been given 31 days: March Martius), May (Maius), July (Quintilis) and October (although leaving the monthly numerical designations that had existed with the previous calendar of ten months). For the remaining eight months, the Idus remained as it had traditionally been on the 15th. So, for eight months out of the year, debts were due on the 13th, but there was another problem, the religious holidays remained the same and the 13th was a dies Endotercisus, which meant that there was no work in the morning or evening: business could only be transacted during mid day. For a debtor, it was important to have paid up your debts on that day. The consequences of not fulfilling your pecuniary obligation were too horrendous to contemplate. The penalties included, being shackled, sold into slavery, having your property confiscated and, most hideous: being bound to a stake while your credtors carved off pieces of your flesh and limbs (called "Parting") until they balanced a scale in the amount of the monetary unit one owed.. Hence the expression, "Taking one's pound of flesh." If all this has confused you, you should understand that for the Romans it was, equally, confusing: however, for the debtor the consequences were too unthinkable to slip up on the date. Our current superstition is a mix of the Roman anxiety over due debts and the Christian belief that Christ was crucified on a Friday. For the Romans, dies Veneris (Friday), was a particularly fortunate and propitious day unless, of course the Idus (13th or 15th) fell on that day. Actually, there is almost as much reason to shudder at the thought of Friday the 15th as the 13th The most famous historical and literary reference to the Idus comes to us from Plutarch, who cites two meetings between Julius Caesar and the astrologer, Spurinna. In the morning Spurinna warned Caesar that the Idus (15 March 44), was not a propitious day for him and was fraught with danger. However, should he manage to get through the day all the signs were good for him. At first, Caesar listened to him, but then he was convinced by friends to go to the Pompey theater, where the Senate was meeting in the temple of Venus. On his way to his rendezvous with destiny, he again met up with Spurinna. Caesar then told the astrologer "The Ides of March are come." Spurinna answered, "Yes, they are come, but they are not past." Shakespeare gave us the line, "Beware the Ides of March." and, in the same play, another immortal line, "Et tu Brute," and even further, when Anthony is stirring up the mob; pointing to the wounds on Caesar's body and referring to a wound that he indicated came from "Caesar's Angel," Marcus Brutus, "This was the most unkindest cut of all." Why the "unkindest cut"? Because Shakespeare had obviously read Appian and had known that Marcus Brutus was Caesar's bastard son. Poor Brutus, he couldn't take all the ribbing and jokes about his paternity so he decided to show everyone that he was really one of the guys. True! Speaking of "Swan Songs"....., I did mention Swan Songs in here, didn't I? Oh well, why Swan Song? I know because I cheated, I read Plato's "Phaedo," Socrates discussing his approaching death makes a comparison between himself and a swan: "Because when these birds feel that the time has come for them to die, they sing more loudly and sweetly than they have ever sung in their lives before, for joy that they are going into the presence of the god whose servants they are (Apollo)". ....."I believe that swans belonging as they do to Apollo, have prophetic powers and sing because they know the good things that await them in the unseen world: and are happier on that day than they have ever been before." Now, knowing that, don't you just feel miserable? For those J alumni who were also Columbia undergraduates and were around during the days of Moon Dog, NROTC marches, the old Westend Bar, Archie Roberts (now Dr. Roberts), Grayson Kirk and a few other people, places and things of that era, I wonder do any of you remember Barnard Religion Professor, Theodore Gaster? If you happen to remember what his bent was, then, you know who to blame for this stuff that seems to continually pours out of me Szia , From Budapest LP (05.13.05)

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Fox And The Hedgehog

THE FOX AND THE HEDGEHOG: A Discourse on Liberties and Deaths, versus "Serving in A Rack." A Musing on Staying Alive.

"The Fox knows many things; the Hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Hesiod, according to the 20th Century philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, said that there are two concepts of liberty, one complicated, the other simple. The former, which Berlin termed "Negative," begins with deep roots, emerges into the light with a hardened trunk, branches out in every direction, sends off twigs that eventually sprout countless leaves. The leaves are expendable,: they die, they fall, become compost and are forgotten. Such a leaf was Pfc. Luis A. Perez.

Perez died in August '04, in Fallujah, Iraq from injuries sustained when his truck was destroyed by an I.E.D. Perez came from a small upstate New York Hamlet, near Lake Ontario, close to Fort Drum. He was in Iraq as a member of the Army Reserves (223d Transportation Co., Norristown, PA) He was 19-years-old.

Perez left a young wife and a family that loved him. That year, he missed the Labor Day weekend, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, Easter, his 20th Birthday, the July Fourth weekend, and, now, the cycle will go on forever.

We were namesakes. We lived close by, but we weren't related, at least I don't think so in any way other than we were brother human beings. So, what's my beef? There have been 4000+ other combat deaths, in Iraq, since, then president, George le Fou, a member in good standing of the Laccopluti, declared War and Victory almost a year and a half ago. He is only a 1/4000th part of the catastrophe. Like the others, he was a hero in death, but had he planned on being a hero before he was killed? That's a stretch. When one plans to be a hero, they join the active Army's Infantry, Armor and Artillery corps. They volunteer to go Airborne. Volunteer again to go to Ranger School, and then volunteer once more for the Special Forces, Delta Team...the Daisey Chain and the Grave (The last six words were lifted from Alan Ginsberg's "Howl").

My point? I don't think, at 19, he had any intention of being a dead hero which is not meant to disparage his contribution to the war effort or on a greater level to America. At 19, a young man is thinking about his future, a job, college, girls and girls and, then, the right girl. One enlists in the reserves to serve the Country, get a little extra pocket cash, respect from the community in which he lives and money for college. I don't think that he expected to die.

We, my family of Perezes, have been an Army family since the first World War. I've often stated it, but I don't mind repeating it, my father was a real "V" for Valor hero. I was in the Army, too, heh heh. Like I said my Dad was a bona fide hero and while, geneticists will tell you, that kind of stuff skips a generation, cynicism, we all know is an acquired trait.

"I serve the Lord of Battle and the Muses too;
for I recognize the beauty of their gift."(Ibid)

Many a day (and night) I got to hear him-- and others-- relate their war experiences, while I sat on the footrail under the bars of countless VFW saloons, wiping off the beer from my head that spilled over. So, I can attest to his courage and valor. One footnote: in the town square of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, there is a statute commemorating one of my granduncles for his service in World War I. Seeing as the U.S. Congress had just passed the "Jones Act" in 1917, making Puerto Ricans U.S. Citizens, therefore eligible to fight in all U.S. Wars, he must have felt strongly about the need of stopping young Kaiser Wilhelm II. It boggles the imagination.

One of my sons served in the Army Reserves, neatly, between Persian Gulf Lunacy I and Persian Gulf Lunacy II.. There was no war going on, so, for the both of us, there was no problem. Had there been a war, however, there would have been a lot of tension. Skipping to Canada would have been out of the question. Neither of us likes the cold. Eh? Most importantly, we believe in the inviolability and sacredness of the "Contract." Further, neither of us could ever reconcile the thought of desertion, maybe a little late for Reveille because of too much Revelry the night before, but never desertion. Fortunately, I never had to come up with an alternative Patriotic Plan.

It's odd how that word "Patriot" comes up a lot these days. Before 9/11 and our not-too-well thought out reaction, Patriots were those guys that huddled together for warmth from 1776 -to- 1783. More recently, and I like the name application a lot better, it's the name of a football team from Foxsboro.

Okay, I'll say it once more: Pfc Luis A. Perez died in Falluja, August 2004, and I don't think he should have. Because of that, I will always feel a little guilty when I eat a piece of apple pie, drink a fine Bordeaux or kiss my kids.

"No one in the city honors the dead or even
mentions them. Alive we prefer to court the living.
Nothing good can be said for being dead." (Ibid)

A Few Thoughts about "SERVING "IN A RACK!"

The second concept of liberty, which Berlin called "Positive" is simple and goes directly to the core of what is historically inevitable, albeit, the truth..

I have been thinking about sedition, recently. Don't get me wrong, I'm not planning to be seditious: I love my country and its people too much for that. It's true that, sometimes, I become very exasperated with my countrymen, especially when they behave like children who, after having been warned not to lean out of an open window for the 50th time, do it, again, anyway.

I hate dragging out old horses like the Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana, who warned all of us that if we do not learn from the mistakes in history, "We are doomed to repeat its failures."

My mind has been wandering toward the Espionage and Sedition Act of 2001. Scratch that. I meant "Patriot" Act of 2001. Old Woody Wilson would have mused that an Espionage and Sedition Act by any other name smells as pungent as cow manure in the July noon-day sun. I searched around: he didn't say it. So, I Wood-y.

Had I been around in 1912, I would have voted for Teddy Roosevelt, hands down. He was a man who understood the nuances of Realpolitik and a staunch conservationist who gave the Nation the National Park System.

The problem with the Espionage and Sedition Acts (1917) for me, however, is that they essentially eviscerated the First Amendment. One could receive 20 years for saying, writing (woops), or printing anything "disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive" about the American form of government, the Constitution or the armed forces.

The producer who made the film, "The Spirit of Seventy-six," received a ten-year sentence because his film risked stirring sentiment against the British.

It was against the law to say that war went against the teachings of Christ. (The Administration and the Congress of 2001 missed this one... or, did they?) I may be in trouble there, too. I have to go back and reread the Act.

When September 11th happened, I was in Europe. I learned almost simultaneously with the rest of the country what had just occurred. First, from the internet page of the NYT that seemed like a faux version of itself, then, from the Poughkeepsie Journal which was not subject to the same power and communications outages. It was surreal. I can not claim to have suffered more of a psychological blow than other New Yorkers (Americans), but from my window on West 12th Street, as I am wont to tell people, I watched, daily, as the towers were being built. My son, his mother and I would bike down to the building site and check it out, up close. When finished, we used to go up to the top, regularly, and scan the horizon. It was all a very personal experience for me as a denizen of Greenwich Village and as a New Yorker. So, I took it very personally, when a bunch of psychopathic zealots took them down.

My reaction was similar to most other Americans: anger and rage, and what follows, a desire for revenge. I wanted those responsible for the misdeeds of September 11th, dead and buried-- not just once, but 3,000 times for as many of us who perished that day. That feeling remained until the Twits started coming out of the cellar waving the flag. It was a signal for me that it was a good time to tredwater and think

I am old enough to have remembered when the two American destroyers, the Maddox and the Turner Joy were reported to have been attacked by the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2nd and 4th, 1964. I was enraged by the thought that peaceful American sailors at sea, going about their regular duties, would be attacked by a sneaky foe. It smelled of Pearl Harbor all over again. By August 7th, however, while the U.S. Senate was falling over itself to rush out the "Gulf of Tonkin" Resolution (98-2), I was already having misgivings. I began asking myself what kind of fanatical superpower, which I knew the government of North Vietnam was not, would attack two American warships with err, gun boats? Something was beginning to smell rotten and, as we learned much later, what was stewing in the noon-day-sun, was not the truth.

That patriotic rush of 7 August 1964, absurd as it now seems, led to over 55,000 American servicemen and women losing their lives and another 250,000 becoming casualties in what became the longest military conflict in which America had been involved, YET!. There are many "YETS" in our lives as a friend used to tell me. Further, there are twits in the George W. Bush administration who have already called this war on terror whereever it might sprout its ugly head, the "Long War."

I take all the lies that flowed out of the White House from 1964 through 1975, very personally. For me, it was an outright breech of faith.

So, in the Fall of 2001, when our elected leaders became indistinguishable from the ever present and always reactionary, people's militia types, and wrapped themselves in the flag while holding aloft the cross, I reached for my Boswell's, "Life of Samuel Johnson." Now, there was a man who had no problem defining his mother tongue nor expressing himself in it. "Patriotism is that last refuge of a scoundrel,." said Johnson. Boswell goes on to explain that Johnson did not mean, a real and generous love of country, "but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest." (April 7, 1775)

As I peruse my notes of September 11th and the weeks and months that followed, I found one letter that I wrote to my former faculty colleagues at an upstate New York college, an institution as liberal as any one might find any where in the U.S.

In that letter, I invoked the specter of Vietnam. I suggested that if we went into Afghanistan, we should send in the gun wackos, lunatics, homicidal maniacs and other social miscreants who would never be missed. Failing that, we should hire one of the Mafia's. The Colombian and the Russian Mafia seem to know how to get the job done. Further, I suggested that our heroic President should distinguish himself by leading the "Corps of the Wild."

"At least," I argued, "it would spare the flower of our youth from the vagaries of an adult world caught up in its own self-interest" I said that, "I had come to one unalterable belief: that there is no such thing as a "Just" or "Unjust" war, ... just war. It follows, then, that trained killers, not politicians should lead, plan and execute wars." It was obvious to me even then, that to follow the Russian failed example and try to bomb the bad guys to Hell wasn't going to work. I likened it to hitting mercury with a hammer.

You can not imagine the level of vituperation in the responses I received. I was so taken aback that I, probably wrongly, stopped writing to them. I was accused of: being intellectually deficient, mentally looped, an Arab lover, having sexual disorientation problems, anti-God, anti-Christ, unchristian, unpatriotic, speaking to the voices in the corners of my ceiling (Now, that one was right on the mark. My problem has always been, however, that the voices never seem to want to speak back to me).

I was crushed... for a second or two. But, I have always known not to put too much faith in Liberals, or anyone frozen in that dialectical inter-esse of the two sides of the coin, because they can never make a decision.In this group I include pensioners and especially, the Beemer set. Both of htese groups are caught in their invested self-interest. But what shook me for a while was that the common folks, those who drive Chevys, Fords and VWs were just as much caught up in the war fever. "My God," I thought to myself, "it's like Vietnam never happened."

Josef Goebbels was a being, who I understand plied his craft in Europe during the 1930's and 40's. It is Goebbels who is quoted as having said, "If you tell the people a lie long enough, they will eventually come to believe it." Enough said.

But, how many times do we have to be told the same lie before we realize it's a lie?
Recently, an article in a local New York daily, reported that over 5,000 American men (presumably women, too) who were over 50-years-old, were serving in the military theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan. Of that number, more than 50 had been killed. Of those, one was, 59, a few years younger than I.

I tried to put myself in his boots.

All I can tell you is that once the temperature climbs higher than 95 degrees, no power on Earth would make me move off my rack by the window, where the only thing approximating a breeze in my billet could be felt. In Iraq, where the temperature hovers around 115 degrees in the summer, war goes on as usual. Men and women in Tee shirts (bras), fatigues and bullet proof vests walk, work, wait to kill or be killed.

Maybe it is my age, or just my natural insubordinate nature, in either case, had I been serving in Iraq and my Commanding officer had told me to get up, I would have said, "Sir, until the temperature cools down, here, and in Washington, I'm staying in my bunk. Remember, Sir, They, too, serve who lie In A Rack and wait.'

"Some Thracian is waving the shield I reluctantly left by a Bush, a flawless piece.
So what? I saved myself. Forget the shield. I will get another, no worse." (Ibid)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Screaming From The Pyre, Chapter I. An Airport Interview:

Saturday was one of those perfect summer days, in Budapest, when one could easily reach down and touch a rock without having to reflect on its philosophical quiddity: a rock is a rock, the sun is hot and the train is late because it's Saturday.

But reality, philosophy and human nature can, sometimes, find a way to intrude into one's life on the most laid-back of days. There are things that happen that make one wonder if life is really a lottery or, is someone actually tinkering around with all those numbers, permutations and combinations of infinite possibilities? In one tick of the second hand, I was thrust from a state of relaxed randomness into that murky world of metaphysics.

Still musing and a little disturbed about what I had just, recently, seen, I stepped back onto Andrassy Street. There, the third day of unseasonable 90 degree temperatures was beginning to take its toll: forcing me to slow down, stop; take a drink from my bottle of water. Through the window of the travel agency office, I saw something on the wall that caught my attention. Still reflecting on what I had just seen, my eyes slowly turned to a woman seated at a desk negotiating with a travel agent. Seated next to her was a teenage boy, who, from his body language, I took to be her son. I was about to continue on my way, when I was struck by the boy's mode of dress. I began to wonder how many people in Budapest, Prague or Paris had ever given thought about where this popular fashion among the world's youth, now popular with teenagers and young adults originated. They walk with their jeans hanging down, exposing what was once, euphemistically, called "the plumbers crease," and basketball shoes, with the laces left untied, loose baggy Tee shirts often worn backwards and inside out and a red or blue bandana wrapped around the top of the head.

I began to chuckle to myself because I knew where the style which has now evolved into haute couture among teenagers worldwide, had its genesis, and I was sure that no one within 5,000 miles could even make the wildest guess to its origin. Some of us who were not already adults 30-to-35 years ago might incorrectly assume that the style, at one point called "grunge" came from Seattle, as a mode of dress that wannabe skateboarders, lacking the requisite emblematic recklessness and fondness for injury, could don to walk around "posing" as skateboarders, perhaps even having a skateboard to cruise on from school-to pizza shop-to home. But, that would be wrong. I've mentioned this because, recently, I had time to reflect on all this as I stood in a small locked room at New York's JFK, holding the front of my pants with one hand so they wouldn't fall down below my waist... or worse, while shuffling around in shoes whose laces had been removed.

I wasn't feeling at all stylish, however. I knew that it was from similar situations that the style, albeit, grunge, first made its debut. It came from Brooklyn: the deepest and most remote parts of Brooklyn where the term "gentrification" is still an alien concept, at best, meaning to get dressed up to go out on Saturday night. It began when John was arrested for knocking down some poor old lady and snatching her purse containing the few dollars left from her welfare check after paying off the local grocer who told her the sum she owed from the ledger he keeps (for his eyes only) under the counter: paying him first insures that she will eat for the next few weeks even if the price of her purchases amounts to usury.

For that old woman and others like her, paying off the local bodegero on time maintains her good credit rating and the privilege to purchase more goods at twice the price of a supermarket. Or, it might have begun with Jose, who was mistakenly arrested for the crime because, to the frightened old lady, Jose looked like John. In Brooklyn, there were and continue to be many Johns and Joses whose stories begin with their arrests. In the holding cell, there are, also: Willes, Rafas, Miguels, Malcolms, Jorges, Ephraims and, Bad Dogs whose real names are Roger (they take on street name like Bad Dog for self protection), and perhaps 10 or 20 other young men, all standing up. Because there is no room to sit, they stand, holding their pants so they don't fall down: standing in "Converse" high tops (white in the summer, black in the winter), minus their laces. Later, "Tims" or Timberlains would alternate with the basketball shoes as a fashion statement in winter. (One side effect of this switch in fashion was that many non-ethnic types would stop buying Timberlains for fear of loosing them at knife point in a lonely subway car Brooklyn, which has the distinction of having the highest murder rate in the City.)

The awkwardness of their dress was a result of by-the-book police standard operating procedures. However, not giving these young men back their belts and laces when they are released for lack of evidence, etc., was a result of pure calculated meanness. So, back to the block shuffled: John, Jose, Willy, Rafa, Miguel, Malcom, Jorge, Ephraim and Roger (who calls himself Bad Dog for self protection) each one holding his pants up with one hand while at the same time walking with a swagger and a mean look on the face to minimize the effect of appearing as a potential victim. Think for a moment: running -- and running fast, is a basic mode of survival in the neighborhood; no one can run very fast without laces in their shoes while at the same time holding up their pants. Instead, they swagger with a streetwise insouciance. The looks on their faces' convey a message, "That's right, I just got out of the joint where they beat me to the point of death and, I still wouldn't confess to the murder, so they had to let me go. But, you know I did it and if you **** with me, I'll do the same thing to you!"

Imagine the powerful effect it had on the neighborhood youths seeing these guys returning to the street after their encounters with the authorities, especially, on the affect of young men with books in their hands on their way to school. "Man, that guy is bad to the bone!" The next day, the subway and City buses are full of young men holding books with one hand while holding their pants--minus a belt--with the other, slogging in laceless Converse high tops. (Later, the laces would return, albeit untied, because of the simple exigency of walking without stepping out of one's shoes.) They sported a mean face that said, "That's right, I did it, and if you are not cool, you are going to find out how bad I really am!" It didn't take long for non ethnic types from the City and its environs to have co-opted and cloned the look, but with an added touch. "That's right; you see the cast on my right arm and on my left wrist? Well, not they, nor the bandage on my skull, are going to stop me from competing, this Saturday, at the skateboarding tournament in Scarsdale."

I can think of some pretty strange things when I am under stress, and, as odd as it may seem, those were my thoughts as I sat in the "interview" room in JFK as I waited for my "official" hosts. Maybe it was the heat in the room or, maybe, it was the similarity of the interview room with the one I had seen earlier that summer, on Andrassy St. It was hot. The street and the buildings were radiating heat. I remember that I had a reason to come into town early that morning before going to my appointment at the travel agency. My friend, Ali, had suggested that I go and visit Budapest's newest museum, The 'House of Terrors'. It had once been the headquarters of the Hungarian Communist Party's secret police and security apparatus, the ÁVH (Állam Védelmi Hatòság).

Now, it had been reopened for public view as a reminder for those whose memories needed it. There, all the tools of interrogation were displayed: "Diving Boards," upon which prisoners were strapped then held submerged until they thought they were about to drown, then brought out to face further questions. If the answers were not acceptable to the interviewers, the poor soul would be submerged, again and again. There were implements that were used to administer electric shock, chairs were prisoners were bound in painful positions and then held there for hours, or even days; windowless cells no bigger than a closet where there wasn't enough space to sit much less lie down. Some cells resembled shower stalls complete with a shower head and metal rings in the wall which held the chains connected to the handcuffs of interviewees who, shackled from behind, had their arms raised up into unimaginable and excruciatingly painful position.

On the walls were photographs of the hooded interviewers. They were called "Pufajkas," so-called because when they came to get their victim at their home, whether late at night or in the early morning hours, they came in black Russian Ladas or Volgas, and wore heavy woolen surplus Russian Army World War II overcoats-- Pufkajka. All of these instruments of pain and torture had one purpose: to elicit a confession. More often than not, the interviewee had no hint of what the charges against him/her were. The Pufajkas may have gotten a tip from one of his or her neighbors that had reported that s/he was listening to banned western radio broadcasts. Or, a tip may have come from a disgruntled student and card-carrying Party member ruing over a poor grade, that such and such professor had made anti-Soviet remarks in class. Perhaps, the offender had failed to show up at a political rally, a sure sign of bourgeois and counter revolutionary sympathies. The truth of the charges never mattered. The only thing that mattered once you were in the hands of the secret police was the confession.

I didn't stay long in the House of Terrors, even though inside it was cool. My body was thankful for the few minutes of respite from the sun, but my mind preferred the heat to what it was being asked to contemplate. It didn't matter that I would be early for my appointment, I had to leave. Anyway, I understood what Ali had meant for me to understand. The message was clear. There was no need to stay any longer.

Thinking back, I started to get a feeling that things weren't right a few minutes after my plane took off from Budapest. As soon as the "Fasten Seat Belts" sign went out, I remember getting up and making my way to the toilet, nearly stumbling over the woman and her young daughter who were seated next to me as I squeezed myself toward the aisle. However, when I returned, instead of the woman and her daughter, two young men, one white the other, not, were sitting in the two seats next to mine.

Instinct took over immediately; I began to assess the situation at light speed. They wore similar suits, one black the other, not, which one might associate with someone making less than $50 thousand a year and they shared the same bad taste in ties. I knew immediately that I was in trouble, when I asked the young man next to me if he was going to New York City, and he drawled, "Yes suh!" That's when I looked down at their feet and right above their well polished Class A's, I noticed a similar bulge above both of their inside left ankles. I blinked hard and decided to forego the 12 hours of non stop movies, choosing, instead, to read my pocket size copy of the U.S. Constitution which I have always carried like a trusted companion in anticipation of just this type of occasion.

I did it for show: to look like I was occupied in thought. In truth, I didn't need it since, long ago, I had committed it to memory. However, I realized that if I sat back and closed my eyes and began moving my lips, I might have found myself in restraints. "Better," I thought, "to pretend that I was reading." The flight went by uneventfully. Every now and then, I noticed that the young man on the aisle seat would covertly nod to the young woman sitting in the same row seat across the aisle. She was dressed as if she had gone to the same school as the young men seated next to me... and probably had. Otherwise, I ate well not knowing when I would be able to eat again and abstained from any drinks containing alcohol. I had this awful feeling which told me that I was going to need a clear head. At Kennedy, I lost sight of my three traveling companions for a few minutes as I wended my way to the baggage retrieval section.

I had almost convinced myself, that I had been fretting for naught and that all was well with the world. But, as my eyes focused on the luggage rolling in, my companions suddenly reappeared. Each of the two young men grabbed one of my arms and warned me to keep my hands in my pockets and to come with them. They must have assumed in advance that I wasn't carrying any weapons because of all the security which now surrounds each airline flight. They announced that they were Special Agents from the Department of Homeland Security. "Special Agents," I thought, "a few years ago they would have said that they were U.S. Marshals or FBI, Now it's Special Agents, Homeland Security." The woman, whom I had previously surmised was with them, asked me for my baggage claim ticket and told me that she would retrieve it and bring it to me. All around, there were the sounds of "Ooohs, and Aaaws...” coming from my fellow passengers; with looks that were not disguised, but clearly showed that they already believed that I was guilty for whatever I was being detained. Plainly, some sneered as if they wanted me dead as payment for 9/11. I was beginning to feel a little nauseated, my knees felt weak and I needed to go to the bathroom.

I was taken to a small office deep within the airport complex and after being asked a few clipped and routine questions:

"Is your name Luis Quelle? Are you an American citizen? Where are you coming from? Why have you been gone so long? Have you been to the Middle East?"

I was searched, had my belt and shoelaces removed and asked to empty my pockets and place all my papers, personal possessions and valuables into a manila envelope which I noticed had my name already typed on it. "That's good ol' American efficiency," I mused to myself as I was escorted into a small adjacent "Interview" room where I was told to wait. Just before being led into the room, I turned around and asked the man at the desk if I wasn't entitled to one phone call.

"Phone call?" he said, "You have no right to a phone call because you are not under arrest." He paused for a moment, and said, "yet!" Looking at the three Special Agents, he smiled, and said to me, "Would you like us to put you under arrest?"

"No, no," I responded, looking at my own diminished presence, but feeling a little reassured that I had not been arrested "yet!"

The room was no larger than a large bathroom, which, incidentally, had a toilet in the corner with no seat. There were four chairs: three on one side of a small desk and one on the other side, which I presumed was to be mine, all of which were bolted to the ground. There was a mirror, which I assumed served a greater purpose than my vanity, and three very bright lights, one on the ceiling and two fixed on the wall. "They're watching me," I said to myself, "but why? What did I do?" I sat down and, for the next 45 minutes to an hour, tried to make a situational assessment of my predicament. I knew that whatever was going on could easily get out of hand and I thought it imperative to quickly reach an assize with the Homeland Security people. As hard as I tried, I couldn't come up with any reason--not even an outstanding traffic ticket--which might have initiated this type of action. I started to think that, mirror or no mirror, I was going to have to relieve myself soon, when the door suddenly burst open. In walked three very big men and one, from the obvious physical characteristics, I assumed to be a woman, all wearing balaclava ski masks.

Instantly, my bladder gave way and I humiliated myself. They wore badges but displayed no paper ID. "We are Special Agents from Homeland Security," said the afreet who was obviously in charge. "Again," I said to myself. "We need to ask you some questions," he continued. I surmised by the sound of his voice and the girth of his belly that he was nearer to my age than the others who appeared to be knuckledragging-gym-rats.

Looking at me through his mask, he indicated with his hand that I should take the single chair on the opposite side of the desk. That's when he noticed the pool on the floor between my feet. He turned and smiled at the other three indicating with his head to the source of my embarrassment. They chuckled and he sarcastically asked whether I still needed to go the bathroom. "No," I reassured him, "not any more." "Afreets," I said to myself, using a term that I had recently learned from my friend, Ali.

I slumped down into the chair, overwhelmed for the moment by the Kafkaesque situation in which I had found myself coupled with a sense of supreme mortification. Then, the questions began and a new feeling started to take hold: fear! The masked creature, who was obviously in command sat down across from me leaving the other three standing. As soon as he began to speak, I recognized that he spoke with the same north Bronx accent in which the Irish boys with whom I had gone to school as a child spoke. I found it strangely familiar and I wanted to ask him if he had gone to Fordham Prep or Cardinal Spelman, but realized that this was neither the time nor the place for that kind of chit chat. I could smell the foul fragrance of cigarette smoke on his breath and on his clothes which immediately gave me a sense of intellectual superiority. I tried but failed to avert his glare by looking at the papers he had placed on the table between us.

Q. "Is this your passport?"

A. "Yes sir."

Q. "Are you an American citizen?"

A. "Yes sir."

Q. "Is your real name, Luis Quelle?"

A. "Yes sir."

Q. "Where were you born?"

A. "Err, why the Bronx, sir."

Q. "Where does your mother live?"

A. "Right here in the City, sir."

Q. "How long has she lived New York City?"

A. "Almost 80 years sir"

Q. "What's your profession?"

Finally, he had come to a question that I had to think about. Did he want to know what I had done for the longest period of my life, that is, college professor? Or, what I had been doing for the last five years that would be radio host and writer. I thought to myself that it would be better not to go least not right away. I decided on a compromise.

A. "Cultural Philosopher," I said, in my most professorial intonation.

Q. "Cultural what?" sneered my hooded interviewer.

A. "Phil.." I was about to say philosopher, but he cut me off. It was clear to me that he was not at all pleased with my answer.

"Don't give us any of that crap." he said, throwing a yellow legal pad and a pen at me. "Write down the names of ten people in the United States who can verify your existence, but before I could think of one name, he shrieked, "How many times, in the last five years, have you been in Pakistan and Afghanistan?" Then, in an even more threatening tone, "How many times have you met Osama Bin Ladin?"

I gasped, flabbergasted. For a moment, I lost my voice, but he continued, "Are you an operative for Al Qaeda?"

"Al Qaeda?" I choked, indignantly, and began to rise up from my chair. Immediately, the two male masked-knuckledragers standing behind my interviewer stepped forward in my direction, confirming what I had already suspected was their purpose. I quickly sat back down and they stepped back.

At that point, the interviewer motioned to the woman who unzipped a leather carrying case exposing a hypodermic needle. "Don't forget for one second," he shouted, "with whom you are dealing with here. We are the United States Government."

I thought that I was about to become sick. "How can you do this," I asked, "Haven't you heard of the Constitution?" I said reaching into my shirt pocket for my portable version of the U.S. Constitution and immediately realizing that it was the first thing they had taken away from me when I walked into the office.

"Haven't you heard of the Patriot Act?" the interviewer responded.

Irked by his dismissal of the protections guaranteed to me by the Constitution, I blurted out, "Well, haven't you heard of the ACLU?"

My tormentor remained silent for a few seconds. Then, first looking back at his three colleagues, he turned to me and said, "Haven't you heard of Guantanamo Bay?" That last remark brought smiles to the others. All I could think about was that I wasn't going to pee on myself again no matter what else happened. There was a short pause, designed, I believe, for me to absorb the full impact of his last statement, he then continued his questioning:”

Why did you move to Hungary in September 2000?"

I began to manufacture a story in my mind, but thought better of it, no matter how it sounded to them; the truth would be the best thing to say. "Because," I began, "I knew that J.R., I mean Bush was going to be elected president."

"That's your answer, because J.R., I mean President Bush was going to be elected president?" He said scornfully.

"Yes sir. You see, I lived through the Nixon and Agnew prevarications and illegal activities, not to mention their sinister assaults on our Constitutional liberties and their use of the government's law enforcement arm to illegally break into people's homes, fabricate charges and incarcerate hundreds--if not thousands--of people on specious and trumped up charges. I endured it even as young college students peacefully demonstrating against a war-too-long were shot down by federalized troops. Those two guys really frightened me. Fortunately for the country, their criminality was exposed and they were forced to resign in disgrace. Ford and Carter gave us a breather. It seemed to me that rational men and women had prevailed."

"What does this all have to do with moving to Hungary?" interrupted my interviewer gruffly.

"I'm getting to it, sir," I said, feeling that momentum was on my side. "Then came Reagan, an actor from Hollywood, who used lines from his old movie roles when speaking to the Nation. I thought that calling the former Soviet Union, an 'Evil Empire' was a good jab even though he took the phrase from the original Star Wars movie. But, when he went on and came up with the Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbing it Star Wars, I thought that he had gone absolutely bananas."

I could tell that that no one in the room liked a word I was saying, but the adrenaline was beginning to pump and I was on a roll. I took a deep breath, "However, when the Iran/Contra corruption was exposed and this louche character, Oliver North, was set up to take the responsibility and, then, only receiving a slap on a limp wrist at that, for his malefactions. It was just too much to bear." I had hoped that Clinton would be good medicine for the country. In fact, economically, under him, the country did better than it had in 50 years. The deficit was gone; there was a budget surplus and tax cuts. Everybody, it seemed drove an SUV. The country appeared to be doing great...."

My interviewer quickly cut me off, "Yeah, what about Jennifer Flowers, with a 'G' and the pizza delivery girl slash intern?"

"I thought that you would bring that up," I said matter-of-factly, "I mean, who cares? Isn't his sex life a private matter? He and the pizza -intern were both over 21. Shouldn't his wife have been the one to have made what ever moral or legal judgment that needed to be made?" If I had been he, I would have been more afraid of dealing with her than a bunch of politicians

"'Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were as yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as a leprosy,
The Night-mare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.’ I didn't say that, Coleridge did," I said.


"Coleridge, the British Romantic poet.”

"We’re not here to listen to that crap," my interviewer snapped back, "We want to know what you were doing in Hungary, specifically, on your radio program?"

For a moment, I was caught off guard, "My program," I asked, "You want to know about my program? What is it about my program which interests you? I know that I received a lot of flak from the embassy, but they never indicated that I had gone over the line."

My interviewer, looked at the sheaf of papers he was holding and asked, "Have you ever done illegal drugs?"

"Like what," I asked, a little dumfounded by the question.

"Like marijuana," he responded, staring me straight in the eye.

"Marijuana?" I repeated out loud; thinking to myself, that all this couldn't be about a little grass. "If I ever huffed a little pot," I said, "I quit long before J.R. admitted he stopped snorting cocaine." I was mad and beginning to feel that for better or for worse, I needed to take control of the interview.

"J.R.?" he said.

"That's right, J.R." I replied.

"You mean President George W. Bush," he snapped. The sweat was beginning to show through his balaclava.

"Exactly," I exalted, "It's better that you said it than I."

My interviewer looked at his three colleagues as though he was looking for reassurance and then proceeded to ask, "Are you a Communist?"

"Communist?" I exclaimed, "There are no more communists, they are all dead," adding, "Communism is dead!"

"No they are not," he shrieked, raising his voice a full octave, " They are all hiding out as Secular,...Secular Humanists," he said, stumbling on his words.

"I know all about that theory. I even wrote a piece about it not-too-long ago." That's when I began to get an uneasy feeling. "What's this really all about?" I asked halfway expecting in which direction the interview was headed.

Disregarding my question, my tormentor shot back, "Do you have an email account with al-Jazereeh?" his mouth still half opened as if he had just spoken a sinister incantation.

"Yes sir, I do." I replied. I felt sure now where we were going. So, I decided to stay calm and feign surprise when the time came, "And, what's wrong with that? I said as naively as I could.

"What's wrong with that? My inquisitor shrieked. “In the first place they are Islamic Communists who reject American Christian principles of fair play and good taste. And, second, it's the same thing as consorting with the enemy. It's UNPATRIOTIC." he roared.

But, I didn't let him finish. Quietly, I said, "No it isn't. It's no worse than reading the New York Post or Daily News."

"Those papers are American," he said noticeably angry, while at the same time trying to cover the exposed portion of his copy of The Post under the file folder, manila envelope and legal pads he had laid out on the desk

"Well, so is al-Jazereeh," I said triumphantly. Everybody in the world, except those people living in the USA, knows that it is a Saudi sponsored project funded and operated by the CIA and the Brit's MI6. Check it out. All I have been doing is accessing an Anglo/American news source. What's wrong with that?"

For a moment no one said a word. He looked as his colleagues and then looked at me sneering, "Oh yeah, wise guy, why did J.R., I mean President Bush want to bomb it?"

"You're right." I said excitedly, eager to get my point in, "He didn't know!" It took his Brit sidekick, Tony Blair, to remind him that he would be blowing up their joint covert venture.

"Wouldn't it be better," opined Tony, "if we just sold it off?"

"And that," I said triumphantly, "is where it stands now."

My tormentor looked at me intensely and then glanced at his cohorts searching for some sign; receiving none, he stated flatly, "We'll check it out and get back to you on that." There followed a moment of awkward silence in which I realized we were reaching a defining moment. My ancient Cold War warrior, continued to stare at me through his balaclava.

"What a strange world this has become," I thought to myself, "we ate our enemy of 50 years, the Soviet Union, and now we look and act exactly the way we used to portray it."

His hand reached inside the manila folder he had on the desk with my other papers. "What's this?" he asked, throwing a book down on the table in front of me. I recognized it immediately, and realized that they had gone through my luggage

"It's the Koran,the Muslim holy book" I answered, adding with undisguised indignation, "My Koran!"

"Yours?" He drawled.

"Yes, mine," I responded a little more respectfully, realizing that I was in a situation which required caution and some explaining, "It was a Bon Voyage gift from a friend." My mind flew back to that hot Saturday afternoon in Keleti Station, Budapest. I had been waiting anxiously for my friend to arrive before the train departed. My watch showed that the train was already five minutes behind its scheduled departure time when I spied my friend, Ali, running down the platform.

"Assalaam Alaikum," he said greeting me, as he struggled to catch his breath.

"Wa Alaikum Salaam," I responded.

"Thank goodness for the Hungarian Railway system," chuckled Ali as we climbed on board. A few minutes later, we were on our way.

"For goodness sake," I said, "Take off that jacket, it's really hot and you're sweating."

Ali, assented, removing his jacket and baseball cap. "I thought I was going to miss the train. I ran through the whole station." he said, still breathless.

His choice of outerwear struck me as a bit odd for the warm weather we were having, but knowing Ali to be a little eccentric and coming from North Africa where they have a different concept of what is hot, I didn't. I searched the faces of the other passengers wondering if anyone thought his appearance a bit odd. No one seemed to notice. To their credit, Hungarians rarely make a point of one's individual eccentricities.

Ali is a Palestinian student at a university south of Budapest close to where I live.
We had often seen each other on the train or waiting on the platform. Sometimes, I had been with my wife and son. On other occasions, he had been accompanied by his wife and daughter. One day, after several months, we began to chat, and after a short interval, we begun to look forward to our weekly commuter rides where we engaged in friendly repartee ranging from religion to politics.

"I brought you a present," he said, excitedly, and handed me an exquisitely wrapped package. "I have been thinking about what to give you as a Bon Voyage present, and settled on this," he said, while I eagerly sought to unwrap my gift without destroying the delicate wrapping paper.

"You are still planning on going back to the States, my friend?" he asked in a way which indicated to me that he already knew the answer to his own question.

"The Koran," I exclaimed not disguising my pleasure at receiving such a beautiful gift.

"Look at the inscription," he said, smiling broadly. "It's in Arabic, can you read it?"

I looked at the separate piece of engraved illustrated Arabic stationary, tucked behind the cover so as not to desecrate the Koran. "Yes, I can," I replied looking at the beautifully rendered calligraphic script.

"WELL?" The voice of my interviewer instantly shocked me back to the present

"Well, what?" I asked, hoping that the tone of my voice was not too offensive.

"Well, why do you have it? Are you a Muslim?" He sneered.

"No, I'm not," I answered straightforwardly and with no hesitation. "It was a present from a friend, so that I could go on practicing my Arabic while at the same time learn a little more about his beliefs during my stay in the States," I said, hoping that I had answered the question to his satisfaction.

”So, what's this?", he said throwing Ali's note on the table. I had totally forgotten about it.

"It's a personal note and a little prayer in Arabic," I said, torn between feeling frightened about the fact that it was in Arabic because I knew what that meant to him and a sense of pride because I could read it.

"Read it," he roared.

"In Arabic or English?" I asked trying to be humble at the same time not trying to show the fear I was experiencing.

"Both," he commanded.

"Okay," I said, "But I have to warn you that it won't be perfect."

"Read it," he said, beginning to show, what I presumed to be genuine impatience.

"To Luis," it begins, "Remember, for Islam and the rest of the world, it began in the Year of the Elephant. Your friend, Ali."

"The Year of the what?' Growled my interviewer who I imagined, had a red face under his black mask: a result, I concluded from high blood pressure from the cigarettes and the feint scent of whisky I could smell on his breath.

"The year of the Elephant is an allusion to the year of the birth of the prophet Mohammad. The prayer is called the 'Shahadah,' and all Muslims repeat it five times a day," I said, and began reading it aloud as if it were just any old verse I had found in a magazine, but within a few lines, it began to sound like a prayer.

"ALLAH AKBAR, I guess that you don't need to know Arabic to know that it means, 'God is Great.' And, 'La Illah ha illa Allah! Means, There is no God but Allah. The source of all that is good. The well-spring of a Muslim's faith for which he sheds his blood. La Ilah ha illa Allah! The One, the True, the Great, To Muslims the guiding star, The ruler of their fate. La Ilah ha illa Allah! To Thee we humbly cry. When Allah Akbar strikes thy ear, Oh! To our prayer reply. La Ilah ha illa Allah! This call we daily raise, "Salaam aliekoum, waramat Allah! To Thee we give the praise. That's it," I stated matter-of-factly.
My interviewer stared at me me for what seemed an eternity, then, at the hooded woman who, had sat down on the chair to the left of him. She nodded affirmatively, by which I surmised she understood Arabic and had read the note previous to coming into the room.

"And do you believe this crap?" he snapped, "It's a lot of anti-Christian unpatriotic horse manure."

I was beginning not to be able to disguise my disgust for this man and the entire affair, but I knew that it would be dangerous for me if I became aggressive. I answered hesitantly. "Well, I believe that there is only one God, and that we give It different names." I was a little surprised that he hadn't reacted to my use of the pronoun "It," for the Deity. Maybe he hadn't heard it? I was about to elaborate on my belief system further, when he interrupted me by slamming his fist down on the desk for emphasis, and asked me the question that I knew all along was coming.

"What's your connection to Jose Padilla?"

The words slid from his mouth like an oily piece of fish, half of which his teeth had not been quite able to properly grasp and was still hanging from the lips. "Jose Padilla?".....I asked, as I tried, but was unable to feign a response. A light had gone on in my head and I knew that all this had been about Jose Padilla.

"Jose Padilla," he repeated, "Jose Padilla the terrorist!"

"Yes, I know who you mean. " I said choosing my intonation carefully, "The fellow that was convicted in Miami, not-too-long-ago, for alleged acts of terrorism. I have no connection to him," I said, "other than we are both Puerto Rican. I know what you are getting at, though," I added. "But seriously, other than he is an American citizen of Puerto Rican heritage, I have no connection to him."

My interviewer quickly went to the next question which I had already assumed was coming, "Why did you represent him on your radio program as an innocent person being victimized by an over zealous political witch hunt?"


"I said all that. Gee?" I choked disingenuously. Then, taking in a deep breath, began, "What I said was, that from the moment he was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare airport, he has been denied his Constitutional rights and, because of that fact, there is no way to tell whether he is really guilty or innocent of anything because he had been kept incognito deep in some U.S. Naval dungeon."

"Brig," my interviewer interjected, forcefully, "Brig, not dungeon."

"Err, that's what I meant," I hastened to agree because I did not want to stop. I felt comfortable with the subject because I have often had to explain my position on this topic on several different occasions and could feel a sense of momentum coming on. "You see, sir, I realize that I am an imperfect messenger, but it's my belief that when one of us loses his Constitutional protections, we all have lost them. And, just because some C- graduate of a New Haven college and member of the Laccopluti." defines patriotism, with an ersatz Texas drawl, as synonymous with being a Born-again Christian, I have to disagree."

"Lako-Plu-Tee?" My interviewer interjected. "What kind of word is that?" I knew that I would get that response. I had used the word to change the rhythm of the interview and to give myself a breather.

"It's Greek," I said, "It means someone who's found his riches in a well. It's a long story. It's like 'JR' who put up $25,000 as an investment on a baseball team and then a couple years later, got back $2.5 million. I'm not opposed to the concept. I've been looking around for a similar investment." Seeing that I wasn't going to be interrupted, I continued on. "There are plenty of things I don't like, and, if I had my druthers, would call unpatriotic. On top of the list would be a ban on membership, or association, with any organization that has as its core a phenomenological reflection on experiences (Erlebnis) of events that predate 1877."

This time, he didn't take the bait. "Why?" I continued, "Because, anything that happened before then no longer properly defines what it means to be an American today." Then, looking directly at the hooded woman with the syringe seated across the desk from me, I said. "The only woman I know of in American history that wore a hood before 1877, was Mary Stuart and she was hanged with that hood after losing her Constitutional protections during a period of national paranoia while the nation's leaders cynically played to the emotions of the citizenry instead of their sense of reason.

"But, getting back to Jose Padilla, the issue is really simple. If I am held in some CIA Black site; subjected to the methods sanctioned by J.R. and his alter egos: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Vice President Haliburton Cheney and what was that other guys name? Oh yeah, Rumsfeld: to wit, cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody, I could be coerced to confess to any crime no matter how heinous. Further, I don't do well in isolation. I calculated that it would take no more than 30 days of isolation in some CIA "salt pit" to get me to fess-up to being the other "Shooter" in Dallas.

"That time frame changes to five days when I am treated to the 'Frequent Flyer' technique and denied sleep. However, the entire calculus changes when pain is introduced: then, I would confess to anything within minutes. There is no need to use standard interrogation tactics like: 'Fear Up,' 'Pride and Ego Down,' or 'Futility' with me. It's not that I am a coward: it's just that I'm not stupid. If someone is willing to use a little pain to get me to admit to something (I was speaking to my tormentors, directly), they are just as willing and determined to use a lot more pain, later. Why prolong the inevitable? I confess: It was I behind the grassy knoll! Err, how many shots did I fire?"

I wasn't sure that I should have said that, because confessing to anything in front of those people might have constituted probable cause. However, they said nothing, and I warned myself to watch my exuberance and choice of words in the future.

"The government's credibility has been so damaged in its case against Padilla and the other alleged Al Qaeda terrorists, albeit, those being held in Guantanam, or, in some Black sites scattered around Europe: Thailand, Afghanistan, the Middle East or, on US Naval ships floating around the Indian Ocean and, who knows where else in the rest of the world, that I can't believe anything that he, or they, might have confessed to.

"Nor, can I believe any evidence supposedly garnered from the other so-called detainees --no matter how much I might want to. Even the most ardent Republican has to agree that, especially, in the Padilla case, We, the People of the United States, have lost the opportunity to send that Brooklyn-born-convicted murderer-Arab-loving-Puerto Rican to prison for the rest of his life, or better..., to stand in front of a firing squad. We could do it any way, of course, but we wouldn't feel that good about it, because we's always know that we really hadn't learned the whole truth!"

Finally, I could feel that I was in my groove. I could tell that they were listening.

"Has anyone ever considered that the Government's case was nothing more than a red herring and that Padilla is innocent? The thought may sound crazy after the entire hullabaloo surrounding his arrest at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. But, haven't you wondered why the government, after finally charging him with a crime, chose a weak conspiracy charge rather than the original allegation for which he was unceremoniously deprived of his rights: to wit, planning to explode a radiological bomb, a so-called 'dirty bomb'?"

I stopped speaking because they hadn't stopped me first. I asked myself if I had said anything that could be used against me. "Boy," I thought, "I wish I had a lawyer." Seeing that they weren't going to ask me another question and uncomfortable with the silence, I continued. "Anyway, under our system of government aren't we supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court; the so-called 'War on Terror' notwithstanding?"

"Further, this thing in Iraq, is it still a war? I thought that JR had declared victory years ago. Now, I read that he will not pull out the troops from Iraq until we have total victory which he calculates to be some time in the next presidency, or maybe even longer. I recall that his former defense secretary began calling it the 'Long War.' By then, we will have lost 5,000+ American young men and women, and for what? meanwhile, the original war--the forgotten war--the War in Afghanistan is beginning to heat up again. Is there a plan to end it all?

“I'll tell you this, the day we pull out of Iraq, it will be Iran who will declare victory. All we have done in all these years is to waste hundreds of billions of dollars, lose thousands of American lives and who knows how many lives of innocent civilians. 'Collateral damage’ is what I think they call. In the end, all we have accomplished is to have gotten rid of Iran's main enemy and given her a new puppet state ally, Iraq. So, what's has this been really all about? Could all this have been about the price of oil?”

Still nothing: I began to ask myself if I was talking myself into a deep cell on an island somewhere. But I had my rhythm, call it psychological rebound; I felt elated and had to keep going.

"None of us could stand up to the torture to which Padilla and his alleged cohorts have been subjected. We would all have confessed. Courageous and Enlightened thinkers during the height of the witchcraft persecutions of the Middle Ages pointed out that confessions acquired through torture were worthless." I had a fleeting thought, that this must be the way it felt to defend a client before the Supreme Court, but I checked my hubris, reminding myself that lawyers generally don't have to hold their pants up and usually have laces in their shoes while arguing a case before the Court. However, I couldn't stop. I had a few more thoughts I needed to express.

"The administration's legal position vis-à-vis illegal incarceration and torture, smells like it was taken from the pages of Sprenger and Kramer's medieval tome 'Malleus Maleficarum,' which supplied the legal framework and logic for pursuing 100,000 powerless and unfortunate individuals--mostly women; burning or crucifying them for the relief and entertainment of the local folk, who were happy that it wasn't they screaming from the pyre.

"Perhaps, Shrilly Jackson's insight was more prophesy than literature and Padilla had simply won the lottery." I stopped. I was nearly exhausted and a feeling of dread began to tug at me. My interviewer hadn't uttered a word in 10 minutes. Perhaps he was tired? More likely, he had already made up his mind. I looked around at all four of them trying to imagine what they looked like under their masks.

The woman with the syringe looked over to my interviewer and said that she had some questions to ask me. He nodded affirmatively, and she turned directly toward me. While I was still caught off guard by her soft honeyed voice: a voice, I told myself, I could easily yearn to hear again...over lunch...on a pillow...? Then in a stern prosecutorial tone which quickly broke the spell, she asked. "Mr. Quelle do you consider yourself a Christian?"

The question was totally unexpected. I thought of responding with my usual glib retort when asked that question, that is, "Yes I am. I'm a Bad Catholic." But, realizing the perilousness of my situation, I decided to forego humor and answered firmly and straightforwardly, "Yes."

It was only then, as our eyes locked onto each others', that I noticed that one of her eyes was blue, the other green. In my confused and nearly exhausted state, all I could think of was to which eye should I play? If her first question stunned me, her second sent me reeling.

"Are you born again in the Blood of the Lamb?"

"Blood of the Lamb," I repeated to myself, seeking some form of relevance to her words and what was going on around me. "Does she mean Charles Lamb?" I asked myself, looking at her Green eye in the hope of a further hint: nothing. I dismissed that notion because I remembered that Lamb's essay was about a pig. I turned my focus to her blue eye but, even there, I couldn't discern a soupçon of sympathy nor a hint of where I was supposed to be headed. All I could come up with was a story told by the philosopher, Strabo, which on the Ides of March 44, before going off to meet his fate, Caesar had met with an augur. Upon examining the entrails of the sacrificial lamb, the prophet had found that the slaughtered creature had no heart... a very inauspicious omen for a 56-years-old man looking forward to retirement and a pension.

One could easily suppose, that at the same time the lamb would have said, "And this," looking down at his eviscerated abdomen, "This was the most unkindest cut of all."

I must have faded out for a second, because the next thing I recall is her asking me if I was alright. I nodded affirmatively. It was then that I noticed that the hooded knucledragging-hulk, standing to the right of my interviewer, had a bright orange bundle under his arm which, occasionally, he would pass from one side of his body to the other. I hadn't paid much attention to it before, however, now I realized what it was: an official U.S. Government prison jump suit, which set my adrenaline flowing again, jerking me up from my swound. I realized that I had better pay more attention to what was going on. It was beginning to get unbearably hot in the room.

Returning to her soft voice after realizing that I was not responding she said, "What I mean is: Are you a Born-again Christian?"

My heart leapt, I knew that she would be happy with my answer. I nearly shouted out, "Yes! Yes I am! I am a Born-again Christian!"

Well, that seemed to change the entire atmosphere in the room. She and the supervising interviewer stood up and huddled with the other hooded brutes. I could see that they were unsure of what to do next. Meanwhile, I began reflecting on my recent visit to Zaragoza, Spain, formerly, Cesarauguta, after C. Augustus, the home town to one of my progenitors. As it happens, I was digging around the archives of the Basilica, 'Nuestra Senora del Pilar', for family records that would help in achieving my goal of obtaining dual Spanish and American citizenship. Outside, the kind priest who had been helping me, noticed that I was shivering in the 90 degree heat as we stood in the plaza facing the Basilica.

"Before they built the Basilica in the middle of the 17th Century," he said, this had been the spot where they burned witches and heretics. You might be feeling something for those poor lost souls."

It was an epiphany: a thunderbolt. Family lore on my father's side, tells of one, if not several, of my ancestors, to have met their fates trussed to a stake above flaming faggots. I knew, immediately, that I was the reincarnated essence of one of those former Quelles. I felt very comfortable telling my inquisitor, that "yes" I was a Born-again Christian. I had just, jesuitly, omitted the fact, that I was also a Born-again Heretic.

The heat had now become oppressive, and, as I have often stated, I don't do well under torture. I was prepared to confess to anything when the female voice said, "Are you planning a trip?"

I became confused, not so much by her question as much as by the fact that she said it in perfect Hungarian: "Utazni készül?" I repeated.

Then, in a slower voice in heavily accented English, she restated her question: "Are you planning a trip to the States?"
It was the word "States," that probably brought me around. I looked directly into the smiling and hoodless face of the woman posing the question. It was the travel agent. The grungy boy and his mother were slowly walking down the street, and now she was turning her attention to me.

She was amusing herself by looking at my trousers which had become soaked from the water bottle which I had stowed in my shoulder bag but had neglected to fasten tightly. Either from experience or intuition, she had made me out for American.

"Are you planning a trip back to the States?" she asked again. I looked up at the sun, which was directly overhead, then, down at my pants and the pool of water between my legs flowing in a stream toward the curb. I looked back through the glass of the travel office, and there, prominently displayed on the facing wall was the poster that had originally caught my attention. It was a huge panorama photograph of the New York City skyline which had to have been taken before September 11th, 2001.

There they were: tall, proud; radiating a majestic insolence and for some, evidently, a little too much arrogance...the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. At the bottom of the poster, in bold letters was the legend, "WELCOME TO AMERICA!".

I turned to face her and, in a low voice, answered, "No, I don't think so..... not for a while, anyway."
Szia, From Budapest

Screaming From the Pyre, Chapter II. Bring The Fruit

"BRING THE FRUIT" © 2006, A personal history of the Young Lords Party during the years, 1970-71
By Luis Perez

These vignettes are seven of 10, written more than 30 years ago on yellow legal pads which I had been carrying around in my chest of "Unfinished Business" ever since. I tried to keep the rough hewn style in which they were originally composed to be faithful to the emotion and energy in which they were written so many years ago. As I leafed through the wrinkled pages of the MS, I felt a little like a voyeur peeking into someone else's memories, and, at times, it made me feel uncomfortable.

I said that there were 10 essays. The others I found too personal and problematic to be reproduced and made an editorial decision that those essays not see the light of day, and so, except for the memories of a few people, I have thwarted the historical record: Let sleeping dogs lie (sic)," I say, "in what ever manner they ultimately chose."

Why then, did I finally decide to let these old cats out of the bag? For one reason to which I have already alluded, the pages of the MS were beginning to deteriorate from having been buried in bundled boxes, carried and thumbed through nigh 30 years. But, the real reason, other than seeing them published, hither or yon ("yon," at this time, is America), or scripted out for a Foxy Television series, is the need in me to continue to maintain an historical record, albeit, slightly edited.

I ended "Bring The Fruit," with the same phrase that I had ended it with 30 years ago, "Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre." It does no real harm to say, Long Live Independent Puerto Rico, as long as it is said by the heart. At least, it keeps me out of a Federal Prison. ¿Entiendes?


Chapter Index.
i. Swim Like A Fish
ii. They Say That Freedom is a Constant Struggle.
iii. I Hugged Him until He Died
iv. Madison Avenue Chic
v. Sometimes It's Hard To Say, "Good Bye."
vi. Never Underestimate the Power of MD Plates
vii. Son of a Preacher Man


No sooner had the train doors closed behind me that I came face to face with two men, father and son, whom I had known from my days living in the Buda Var (Buda Castle). I remembered them as musicians who performed for the loose change that falls from the hands of diffident tourists.

The father, who plays the violin, is about my age, but looks a lot older. The son, who is 30 years younger than I, and looks my age, accompanies his father on guitar. While the father is a virtuoso performer, the son, on whom he keeps a very tight leash, is a strummer of chords. What marked them off from everyone else in the coach and occasioned this missive, is that they are Gypsy, "Roma," if you are looking for political correctness.

The first Gypsies with whom I had ever come in contact were children selling flowers on the touristy street of New York City. If you didn't buy a flower, he or she would follow you down the block, unleashing a string of imprecations on your head, the heads of your children-- born or unborn-- and any other person who has had the misfortune to be related to you. However, if you bought a flower, two seconds later, you would be surrounded by a mob of gypsy children, who saw you as a proven mark and would harangue you in a cacophonous chorus, audible from Flushing to Foxboro, to buy their flowers, too.

Then, there were the storefront fortuneteller's salons. For ten or twenty dollars, depending on what the fortuneteller believed was your limit, you could hear what you wanted to hear or believe: inexpensive reassurance if that is what one needs. Later, I would learn from friends on the NYPD, that behind the curtains that separate the female fortune teller and her ubiquitous young female companion were the men of the family. Theirs is a dual function: the first, to protect their women from the not unusual overzealous solicitations from young men; believing, if ten dollars bought a fortune ten more would buy somehing else. Secondly, they serve as a reliable conduit of quick cash for merchandise, no questions asked, from desperate people coming off the street looking to quickly sell "their" jewelry, car radios, VCRs and color TVs.

In the States, Gypsy culture is rather knew and an urban phenomenon. However, in Europe where Gypsy culture has long been established, it is pervasive, perceived as intrusive and mistrusted. The nature of Gypsy or Roma society is transient. They wander through nations but only pay allegiance to their own kingdom on wheels. For certain, there are different types of classes; castes would be a better descriptive term, structured very similarly to the caste system in India (not E-GPY-T where they once were believed to have originated) from whence they sprang.

On the top of the Gypsy caste system are the intellectuals and legitimate business people, below them are the musicians and artisans, further down are the construction and other physical laborers and below them are the harvesters. That is, this caste looks upon any object of worth that is not well guarded as something that can be rightfully, harvested. It is this peculiar caste trait that causes many Roma to be incarcerated, loathed, feared, shunned and ultimately, persecuted. Although it is widely known that it is only the bottom castes which are involved in the "harvesting," the result is that all Roma are painted with the same brush.

I was aware of all this when I stepped up into that train a few days ago, but I was unprepared for what was to follow.

The two, father and son, greeted my family and me. They were genuinely happy to see us. It had been more than a year since we had seen them last. We carried on an animated conversation as the train sped toward our destination. Then, at one point, I looked up and canvassed the coach: I was taken aback with what I was seeing. Everyone in the train was looking at us. Even little old ladies at the other end of the train were twisting their neck's and bodies' to see what was going on. The one common thread was that they were all staring at us, wide-eyed, in undisguised hatred. Apparently, we had crossed some sort of cultural divide and we were being perceived as some form of ethnic or national traitors. I looked down at my Gypsy friends and noticed that they seemed to be immune to what was going on, they just kept talking and smiling.

I wanted to shout out, "You people have it all wrong, these are not the Gypsies you hate, these are musicians; they have a sense of aesthetics and are hardworking people!" But, the next thing that came into my mind was the thought: "These are not the Puerto Ricans you think they are. These are educated SPICS; they send their kids to Ivy League schools. They own homes!" Absurdity gave way to hate and I could feel it beginning to percolate inside of me. "You Eastern European Bastards," I thought to myself, "you like to hate? Well I can hate better than all of you. You have no idea at the amount of hatred that I have stored up inside of me......! The train coming to a stop brought me back to reality and my family.

To get off the train, we had to push and shove people aside before the doors closed. We waved at our friends as the train roared off and they waved back, still smiling. I recalled having been THERE before. And, as if my memory wasn't enough, the NYT had been carrying reports of a murder trial in Neshoba County, Miss., of a former KKK man who was convicted of the murders of three young Civil Rights workers during the summer of 1964.

The following seven pieces are in a catalogue entitled, "Bring The Fruit." The title is from Dante's "Inferno," and is an invitation to murder (fratricide). The events described are factual and historical. I've omitted some things because I still have not come to grips with my feelings as they relate to the subject matter. Just be aware, except for a few name changes, it is all true and occurred in the manner in which I have described them.


"The purpose of the whole, and of this portion is to remove those who are living in this life from the state of wretchedness and to lead them to the state of blessedness." Dante Alighieri

Continuing, I. say:

"Let No Harm Come To The State," (Senatus Consultum Ultimum), began the legislative formula used by the Roman Senate during those periods of the Republic, when it seemed that Rome, itself, was in imminent danger. It suspended its own legislative prerogatives and authority, ceding all political power to one man, an agreed upon 'Dictator,' whose word was law: to pursue any course, use any means he deemed necessary without seeking consultation from the Senate, in order to preserve Rome, including the summary execution of its own citizens.

New York City during the late 1960's and early 70's, witnessed a period of social and political unrest on a scale that had not been seen in America in nearly a century. This is not to imply that other cities: Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Kent, Ohio, to name a few, hadn't experienced similar social spasms and political disruptions: they had. However, the media beyond any realistic or sober assessment instantly blew up what ever happened in New York City, because of its indisputable international status.

This was the era that gave birth to the radicalism of a political phenomenon called the "New Left." Broadly, the term applied to an assortment of sectarian organizations embracing: disaffected students, antiwar protesters, social, environmental and ethnic activists on one end, to a motley crew of artists, rock 'n rollers and drug imbued anarchists with no particular belief other than the enjoyment of chaos and disorder on the other end of the spectrum. Although they shared resources and a certain quiddity, coming together on several unifying issues (their common opposition to the Vietnam War, to name one), they had distinctly different social agendas.

One thing, however, that they all held in common was their willingness to threaten society with the specter of an urban revolution.

Two Way Mirrors:
At its inception, the New Left Movement was characteristically American in nature. Over the course of a few years, however, many of these organizations came under the political influence of foreign entities; eventually, receiving both financial resources and political direction from outside the borders of the United States. The perception that a Maoist style revolution led by "Red" China was in the making, led to unprecedented coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement. Subsequent Washington administrations gave political lip service to these fears, giving these agencies a carte blanche to do what ever was necessary to meet the threat.

There was a feeling on the Left that one governmental agency or another was always watching them. As it turned out, those suspicions had some validity to them: documents entitled, COINTELPRO, pilfered out of the FBI branch office in Media, Pa., in 1971, and signed off by, then, FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, revealed the existence of an ongoing domestic covert operation with the purpose of instilling exactly that sense of paranoia within the New Left movement.

Further, it was widely believed by the left wing cognoscenti that the traditional Communist Party (CP) had been infiltrated by the FBI since as early as the 1930's, and that most of its finances and half of its membership was working for the FBI. Ironically, this inherited suspicion hardened into a belief that the CP was a de facto covert arm of the government, itself, and, hence, an organization to be shunned. Fantasy had emerged early on as a hallmark of the New Left.

By the middle of the 1960's, the doctrinal rift between Moscow and Mao Tse-Dong's (or, Zedong's) Chinese regime split the Left around the globe. One either supported the pragmatic regime in Moscow or the Marxist-Leninist forces led by Beijing. The New Left, suspecting the choices of their liberal parents, gravitated toward the Maoist model that seemed to be under siege both by Moscow and Washington. Sporting red and silver Mao buttons was de rigueur for New Left radicals. From Europe to the United States, these young radicals were espousing a world revolution along the lines of Maoist China.

The threat of an urban revolution was not their only common thread. They shared the same heroes: Che Guevara, George Jackson, Ho Chi Minh, China's Chairman Mao and Yassir Arafat. They read the same literary figures, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Francis Fanon, George Jackson, Frederick Nietzsche, Marx (Karl not Groucho, although many would have agreed that Groucho Marx was a cultural hero. Go figure). Notably, few had ever read Frederich Engels or even indicated that they knew who he was. For the most part, few understood any left wing political theory; however, many did a good job of faking it. Of course, that didn't hold true for every group. Organizations like the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), made a strict point that their cadre had to study Marx. But, they were the exception, and no one trusted them, anyway, since they sprang as a body from the traditionalist Communist Party.

The following stories concern one organization with whom I had been associated. Because of the incestuous nature of the New Left umbrella, several other organizations which interacted with it will also be mentioned.

Were it not for all the pain, violence, and suffering and, in many instances, death, these stories and the individuals involved, without much imagination, could certainly have been the subjects of a modern social satire or political spoof: even a farce. As it turned out, it was more often tragic.

Some of the names of individuals within the organization, have been altered to protect a few people for whom I continue to hold in respect and, just as importantly, to protect myself from litigation from individuals who have, since, achieved positions of prominence based on their past talent to create mayhem, incite mischief and manipulate others: in particular, the press.

One note: None of their efforts would have succeeded in New York City, had it not been that the City had a liberal and compassionate mayor at that time, John V. Lindsay. He was known to have bent over backwards-- perhaps, too far-- to placate social groups that were routinely threatening to turn the city into an urban battlefield. Thereto, the efforts of this group, and others like it, would have come to naught, hadn't the press, seeking news elsewhere other than the mournful copy coming from Vietnam, mythologized them.

They were called the Young Lords, one of many so-called New Left groups that included the Weatherman, formerly members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a mélange of white radical college students and college dropouts that emerged from the bloody confrontations with the police in the late 60's, They were angry at America's military involvement in Vietnam, at the same time feeling more than a little bit guilty about their own comfortable social and economic situation in society.

The Black Panther Party was a black ghetto militia with a social revolution on their minds and who, also, voiced opposition to the Vietnam War for slightly different reasons than their white counterparts. They viewed the War as another example of America's continuing exploitation of Black People against other people of color, arguing that poor Blacks were disproportionately serving in front line combat units.

The White Panthers were a blue-collar ensemble mimicking similar rhetoric as the Weatherman; however, they lacked both the resources and sophistication of their more well to do white cousins. They shared the same agenda as the Black Panthers except that their constituency were poor urban whites. Because they sprang from the working class, they soon ran into the paradox of trying to raise hell while trying to raise a family; eventually opting to return to the assembly lines than to blowing up the factories which allowed them to put food on their families' tables. They were around for two years, and then, they were gone.

The Gray Panthers sought to represent Senior Citizens, seeking more benefits while simultaneously espousing their opposition to the Vietnam War.

On the West Coast, organizations like Los Siete and La Raza were Chicano organizations focusing on the working and living conditions of the Mexican migrant worker. They shared the same social and political New Left agenda; however, once the Vietnam War ended and unions representing migrant farm workers were legitimized, they soon dwindled and disappeared.

The American Indian Movement (AIM) was (probably, still is) a militant organization of Native Americans seeking a redress of grievances and a new settlement involving land and economic resources from the government not only for those Native Americans living on reservations, but for those who, for one reason or an other, were living off protected tribal lands. There were a score of smaller groups sharing the same Weltanschauung scattered around the country but, because they existed in small urban areas, they received less attention from the media.

The Young Lords patterned themselves in image and rhetoric along the lines of both the Black Panthers and the Weatherman, with one noticeable exception: while their rhetoric was littered with calls for violent action against the establishment, extreme violence was mainly focused internally. Their rallying cry was the romantically appealing call within the Puerto Rican community for the independence of Puerto Rico. "Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre!"

All of the organizations, with the exception of the PLP, disappeared around the same time, the early 70's. To its credit, one reason that the revolutionary fervor fizzled out has to do with the government's willingness to address and ameliorate some of the social issues and to conclude the war in Vietnam. However, when the carrot failed, there was the stick: the willingness to use the law and its extensive apparatus to aggressively enforce it.

With the end of the Vietnam War many of those who had swelled the ranks of the "Peace and Flower Generation," seemed to grow up at the same time and began thinking about college and careers. The Young Lords, alone, accounted for three future doctors, a similar amount of lawyers, journalist and social workers. Many others who didn't get the message in time went to prison or died in bloody confrontation with the authorities. The fabric of what remained of the New Left, while torn, was further rent by the almost universal use by the rank and file of drugs like LSD, marijuana and, especially, cocaine.

My responsibility within the Young Lords focused on finances. I knew exactly how much money the organization had, how it generated the money and how it was spent. Money was always scarce, but how it was used proved to be even more problematic.

The contradictions between the lifestyle of the Party elite and its membership were palatable. Cadre ate food out of cans and slept in "dormitories" which were really no more than hovels in abandoned buildings. When Party members needed to travel, they were encouraged to jump the turnstile in the subways rather than to pay the transit fare. Yet, the leadership of the Young Lords lived in relatively well-appointed apartments in upscale neighborhood (for security purposes, of course), took taxis or private vehicles where ever they went, ate well and were always in possession of copious amounts of drugs, particularly, cocaine.

Even in those days, cocaine was an expensive habit. Where did all those drugs come from? Within the Young Lords, there was only one prominent source a "Movement dilettante," a woman whose loyalties to any cause were suspect, but who, nonetheless, had managed to work her way up quickly through the ranks to the Central Committee of the Young Lords. How did she get into a position of leadership? The question begs answering. She wasn't Puerto Rican and couldn't speak Spanish and within her supposed purview of responsibility, Finance, she did absolutely nothing of value that I could recall and, for a time, I was her chief lieutenant.

Her main asset and function, as far as I could ascertain, was her reliability as a drug connection for several influential individuals on the CC. The drugs were free to those members. How she came by them, who was supplying them and why were they supplied gratis just to the leadership are still perplexing mysteries. The cheap and easy access to drugs and their wholesale use within the New Left, for better or for worse, was, in my judgment, the main reasons for the nearly simultaneous disappearance of these groups.

A few words about Puerto Rican street gangs: The first Puerto Rican street gang in Manhattan's El Barrio was called The Turbans. It had been founded in the early 1930's, ostensibly, according to former alumni--including my own father, to protect Puerto Rican women from the verbal imprecations or physical abuse coming from the energetic Italian boys who were their neighborhood rivals. Whether that is true or not is of no great import, here. One might accept that there is a kernel of truth in it without changing the calculus. However, by the beginning of the 1940's, the Turbans ceased to exist, its members having either joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) or similar government make-work organizations designed to get America out of the Depression: or, since it was wartime, like many young Puerto Rican men, joined the Army. Still others simply grew up, got married, made babies and began paying taxes.

The Seminole Dragons succeeded the Turbans, and were, themselves, suceeded in the 1950’s by the Comanche Dragons and Viceroys. While young boys all over America were in the Boy Scouts, their counterparts in Eastville (the original name of the neighborhood before it was called East Harlem) were in street gangs. There, they learned loyalty, pain endurance, sharing of wealth, the manufacture and use of firearms and, most importantly, how to keep a secret.

Having said all that, it wouldn't surprise the reader that, when I heard of a Puerto Rican street gang which had become a political entity, it would get my attention. I had read a small article in Time Magazine about the Young Lords, while lying on a beach in Oahu, in January 1970.

Each Young Lord had his or her own particular reason for joining the Party. Some had been homeless from childhood, having fled homes dominated by alcoholic or drug-addicted parents: others had been orphans for most of their young lives; they joined to be part of a family. More than a few were rehabilitating addicts or ex convicts trying to find a meaningful purpose to their lives. One or two had attended college. There were, of course, those who came with a secret agenda.

All organizations like the Young Lords had their political dilettantes, who moved from group to group to be in the middle of the action. For sure, there were those who felt a strong political commitment to do something to change the living conditions of his/her people. In a small way, I could define myself as embodying some or all of those characteristics, but I knew that in some way I was different from the rest. I had come as an observer witness history.

i. Swim like a Fish:

General Meetings for all members of the Young Lords were held at each branch office on Wednesday nights. All full members and LIT.s (Lords in Training) were required to attend General Meeting. The agenda usually consisted of hearing the pronouncements from the Central Committee, discussion about the ongoing day-to-day business of the Party, which included the induction of new members and announcements related to rank elevation.

The meetings dragged on for three hours. After the business part of the meeting, there followed an hour of political indoctrination, during which the fine points of Marxist-Leninism were analyzed. The textbook was Mao's "Little Red Book," from which the cadre was taught the Central Committee's interpretation of Mao's one paragraph revolutionary insights. The meetings were carried on in English, the language of communication. The major problem was that the majority of the cadres were young people off the street, most of whom, were high school dropouts with poor reading and analytical skills in English -- or in any other language for that matter.

Party members were shown the "wisdom" of Mao as it applied to their political lives. One of Mao's sayings, in particular, addressed the problem of eluding the authorities when being sought for a political act (all acts criminal or otherwise, were considered political) which had prison -- or worse -- as a consequence.

Said Mao, when you have a need to escape from the authorities, "Swim like a fish." Translated: hide among the masses of the people. I used to reflect on that one. Unless the Revolution was successful, and I had already concluded that there was no possibility of that ever happening, time would eventually run out and the police would find whom they were seeking. "Swim like a fish," I used to muse, "until the fisherman's net falls down and snares the whole school of fish, and you are dragged up along with them." Cadre mouthed slogans without understanding what they meant. The absolute rejection of reality during those sessions, although amusing on one level appalled me: often simply leaving me frightened by its innate absurdity.

The meetings ended with a period of "Criticism-Self criticism," when Party members, including those on Central Staff and the CC, were expected to criticize the job performance of anyone in the Party, without fearing retribution. In theory, one could criticize CC members, but that was a rare occasion. It was pretty well understood that anyone criticizing a member of the CC would soon find himself subject to intense scrutiny by the Party's internal security apparatus. The main focus of Self-criticism as was the majority of the criticism revolved around ego. It was a period of purgation and mortification. All members were expected to be self-critical.

For some members, this was a moment of exquisite psychological release, for others, a moment of cynical evasion. I put myself in the later category. During these periods of mea culpas, the senior staff would scrutinize each member for loyalty, but, more importantly, for their level of expected obedience. Furthermore, spies, undercover agents and police informers were not expected to remain disguised during the process of self-criticism and would unwittingly reveal themselves.

Many loyal members, who lacked the basic political sophistication to understand what this process meant, were mistakenly labeled agents. Often, this meant a severe beating and an ignominious expulsion from the Party. Someone purged from a New Left organization for being politically "unhealthy" would find few friends within that community

Above the general body were two other tiers of authority: the Central Staff (CS), a tight core group of loyal cadre, made up of "Captains" from each of the five ministries: Defense, Finance, Information, Education and Health. CS meetings were held on the street or in coffee shops to avoid the bugs (in this case, listening devices), that everyone assumed were planted in each office.

Central Staff had the responsibility of organizing the cadre to carry out decisions made by the CC; otherwise, they sold newspapers to earn food money along with everyone else.

The leaders of the Party formed the Central Committee (CC). They held meetings in secret at the apartment of the Chairman of the CC. No doubt that there were as many covert listening devices in his apartment as there were in any of the offices. However, I soon came to believe that the most efficient covert listening device was the Chairman, himself. It was either in his presence or in his apartment the decisions were made--or, instigated by him--involving criminal acts. Further, it was in those meetings that it was determined how to punish suspected spies and politically incorrect Party members.

To want to leave the Party was politically incorrect. Any member expressing a desire to leave the Party immediately became subject to "People's Justice," the execution, thereof, being the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense. Punishment could involve simple intimidation in the form of a severe beating or something much worse. Evidence against the offender was often scant or nonexistent usually consisting of an unsupported accusation by an unnamed accuser. "Revolutionary, or People's Justice," could never be criticized. That would have been a sure sign that you, too, were politically incorrect.

Casey Jones was not on the Central Committee, but...
The CC was made up of the Chairman and the five ministers: Piojo, originally, the Party's education minister, was a louche figure unable to look at anyone directly. He succeeded the popular and charismatic, Dante, the Party's first chairman, Where Dante had the insouciance of a natural leader, Piojo hid behind a mask of arrogance that barely disguised his not-so-secret ambition to be the Party's Chairman: to that end, he had worked relentlessly, albeit, in the shadows waiting for his opportunity. He was gaunt and walked with his shoulders stooped. Although he enjoyed provoking violence, he eschewed it when it involved himself, personally. Before his involvement with the Young Lords, he had been involved with SDS during the period of campus turbulence of the late 60's, although no one knew exactly what role, if any, he had played.

For reasons still not clear, perhaps because of his college and radical connections, he quickly rose to become the unquestioned political theoretician: and final arbiter of what was politically correct. To challenge Piojo on any decision, question his interpretation of political doctrine or analysis, often meant an uncomfortable expulsion from the Party.

Ladilla was the most doctrinaire member of the Party and dressed as if she had gotten her style of dress from a 1919 Bolshevik fashion magazine. Ostensibly, her duties had to do with community health issues. She had been a nurses aid and, presumably, that qualified her to be the Minister of Health on the Central Committee. Later, she took control of the Party's internal security apparatus with the responsibility of investigating the backgrounds of the Party cadre and rooting out government spies and informers. She was Piojo's live in companion, and it was obvious to all that she wanted nothing less, than to be the Party Chairperson.

Later, she would be denounced and purged as a Trotskyite (What ever that meant at the time). However, as long as she was Piojo's bedmate, her position was secure and her pronouncements carried the force of law.

Together, Piojo and Ladilla grew to become a powerful clique within the Party and the Central Committee: to oppose one was to oppose both and meant political suicide. They were able to take control of the Party's goon squad, which was nominally under the control of the Party's defense minister portending what was to come.

Fernando, the Minister of Defense; was the one member of the CC who could have been truly described as an honest and a passionate "Socialist" Revolutionary. He was a quiet young man who believed in the ethic of hard work, exuding a revolutionary zeal that Party cadre saw as pure and admirable. The secret and hidden arsenal of weapons, which the Party had amassed, was under his charge. Only a few members of the Party, besides the CC, knew where the cache was hidden. As far as I can recall, it was one of the few secrets within the Party that remained a secret.

Perico was the Minister of Information. His responsibilities included the weekly preparation of the Turban's weekly newspaper, Palante, of which he was the editor-in-chief. Although tall, he had a soft physical build, and shared Piojo's aversion to personal physical violence. Like Dante, he had a charismatic personality and a gift for oratory. But, what he excelled in best was in creating publicity stunts for New York's City's tabloids which had a voracious appetite for sensational and some times outrageous stories. As a consequence of his labors, the Party was often in the public's eyes and, a few times during that period, even managed to bring the Young Lords to national attention.

Perico had no steady partner, rather he opted for the "Flavor of the Week," selecting a new female from members as they joined the Party, while, at the same time disposing of his current love interest without regard to her emotional attachment. This, more often than not, led to the loss of another Party member. He was quietly criticized for the "bourgeois" manner in which he conducted his personal life; however, he was never challenged openly or at membership meetings. Anyone daring to comment on his social proclivities risked more than just ostracism: they put themselves in physical peril. Like the rest of the CC, he was immune to criticism.

Benito was the Minister of Education. He was, 16, and a high school dropout. For a time, he was "Minister without portfolio" with responsibility over maintaining a list of membership and, many thought, of ferreting out spies. He had an easygoing demeanor, usually displaying a broad smile, but when the smile was gone, it was a sure sign to the Party cadre of some impending action. Translated, that meant a confrontation with the police or some form of street violence. Perhaps, because of his youth, he had no known love interest, preferring to socialize with cadre in the 'dormitories'.

Lora was the Minister of Finance. She was my boss and, at the time, rumored to be a heavy cocaine user. The fact that Lora didn't speak Spanish was never problematic. She was African American and the only member of CC who was not Puerto Rican. Lora came to the Party through her connections with the Black Panthers and a related group, "The Committee to free the Panther 21," (jailed Black activists being held on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder).

She lived down the hall from my apartment and had been a friend of Affini Shakur, in whose apartment I then lived. Sometimes, we would meet in her apartment, other times in mine, to plan so-called fund raising "offensives." The Party's day-to-day operation expenses came from the sale of Palante.

For reasons never fully stated or understood, she did not have to conform to Party discipline.

Since I was in the middle of the cash flow, I, like the members of the CC, traveled by cab (for security purposes, of course) and ate in restaurants, while cadre members often were left to eat beans out of cans in one of the Party's kitchens. The most obvious and outrageous displays of Lora's corruption concerned the amount of cocaine that she always had in her possession. Except for Benito and Fernando, the other members of CC frequently appeared under the influence of cocaine, talking endlessly and incoherently about unrelated topics.

Five years later, following a Freedom of Information suit filed by Eldridge Cleaver, the former Black Panther Minister of Information, Lora was "outted" (in modern parlance), as a Special Employee (S.E.), or contract employee, for a Virginia based government intelligence agency. Much of the file had been blacked out, but enough remained revealing that while Cleaver was living in comfortable exile in Algeria, this U.S. intelligence agency had been able to keep tabs on his activities through the presence of their contractor, who was acting as his traveling companion. Lora's name was blacked out, but it vividly described her and her activities. Soon after, she quietly disappeared. The last anyone heard about her, she was working in the Washington, DC area.

"Thing done have an end."
The worst case of corruption, however, did not involve drugs or the diversion of communal funds, but involved guns, a planned multiple murder and me. Although I was one of the lucky cadre who had his own Party apartment, it was still a Party apartment. At any time, as had happened on several occasions, Party members who needed a place to sleep, simply came through the window.

That was the way I was first introduced to Julio Roldan, who soon, was destined to a form of Revolutionary martyrdom, he just came into the apartment through the fire escape window. When asked why he hadn't taken the step of knocking on the door, his answer and almost anything he said, thereafter, was incomprehensible. Because, he was the cousin of a trusted Party member, his credentials were solid. Anyway, it was almost Party standard operating procedure, to recruit his type.

First kill, then Swim:
Piojo, during his early days in the Party, had had a relationship with a woman, Rita, who had been in the Party from its inception. For reasons which were never quite clear to the rank and file, they had separated and she left the Party; taking her Mercedes Benz with her. Perhaps, it had to do with Piojo's new relationship with Ladilla? In any case, that was routine for the male elites. What happened next was anything but routine.

When Rita found out that Piojo was "relating" to Ladilla, she became irate, appearing, shortly thereafter, at the Madison Avenue office accompanied by several male friends. She was looking for Piojo. Hearing her voice coming from the front of the office, he scuttled down into the basement to hide. The desk cadre and a few other Lords held Rita and company in the front. There were some loud words and an altercation ensued. During the commotion, Piojo's life was threatened. Rather then have the truth revealed that it was a romantic confrontation between ex-lovers, it was quickly described as a political act, and she and her friends, were given the code name, Alpha 67, immediately conjuring up in the minds of the cadre, the reactionary anti-Castro Miami based Cuban émigré organization, Alpha 66.

Party members were called to a hastily organized general meeting and warned not to let Rita and her friends into the office. It was one of those rare times that I could sense, even among the most committed of cadre that something was not quite right about the explanation being given. Yet, everyone agreed that the it would not be right to have the Chairman beaten up even though, from a street perspective, he might have deserved it. Love and betrayal were concepts easy for all to understand. For the time being, most cadre were willing to overlook the political contradictions. One could sense, however, that the drama marked a breech in trust between cadre and the Central Committee creating a wedge between the two entities. Had this been the only such incident, the entire episode might have been forgotten, but more would follow.

The following day when I returned to my apartment, I discovered two shotguns wrapped in a blanket placed in a corner of the kitchen. Instinct told me not to touch them. However, curiosity got the best of me and I examined them There was no way to know if they had been used in a criminal act, and I took care not to get my fingerprints on them. They were 12 gauge pump shotguns, and were fully loaded. Satisfied, I quickly wrapped them up again and put them back where I found them. A voice in my head kept telling me to get them out of the apartment as fast as possible. I was beginning to wonder if I was being set up.

I was about to go to the office to ask if anyone knew anything about them, when I heard a knock on the door. My heart leapt to my throat. I hadn't been expecting anyone, but, in one of those rare instances, was relieved to hear the voice of Grosero one of the four Party enforcers which included, Vlado, Manolin and Canalla. The Party was fond of using them to drive their point across during certain situations.

At 350 pounds, Grosero was the most sadistic and fearsome of the four enforcers. His most frightening aspect was his absolute lack of even the smallest shred of intelligence. His eyes, squeezed between layers of fat on a swollen face, peered out with an inescapable malevolence. Everyone knew that he relished hurting people. His specialty involved stomping on top of people with his size 13 combat boots.

Vlado was the most clean cut and soft spoken and, perhaps because of that, was suspected by some as being an undercover police officer. However, he was strong and carried out beat up assignments with honors.

Manny was a combination Puerto Rican, Jew and African-American. Like several others in the Party, he had a problem with reality and would often be seen talking to the walls. It became an obsession with him to fight any lone police officer he might encounter. He always got the worst of it, however, but he reveled in recounting the experience. I wasn't the only person that didn't think that Manny had both oars in the water, but his physical prowess was useful to the ministry of defense.

Years later, I ran into him in an upstate spa accompanied by his mother. He was combed and clean-shaven, and, according to his mother, had been working for the New York City Transit Corporation as a track repairman. I thought to myself, "Deep in those tunnels was probably a good place for him." Then, his mother whispered to me, as if I had just asked her about his transformation, "He's on medication, now," she said.

The fourth member of the goon squad was Canalla. He had been acquitted in Detroit for murdering a policeman. If you asked him if he had really killed the police officer, he would quickly respond, "No," then smile. The smile said something else. He always carried a gun and his assignments were never discussed in front of other cadre. The last anyone heard about him, he had been confined in a New York State prison serving a 20-year sentence for selling a kilo of cocaine to an undercover police officer.

When I opened the door, Grosero and Vlado quickly came into the apartment. "Did you find them?" asked Grosero, going straight to the shotguns, removing their covers and picking them up. He, too, always carried a pistol, although one could only wonder why he would need it. In the apartment, Grosero waved the loaded shotgun around. He wasn't trying to threaten me (well, maybe slightly, that was his trademark humor); it was simply that he had never learned the lesson that loaded guns do go off, accidentally. A few years later, I heard that he was working for a loan shark in the Bronx as a "collector."

To my relief, he finally, came to the reasons for the shotguns. The shotguns, I was told, were to be used against Rita and her friends if they came to the office, again. He didn't mention them by name. He called them Alpha 67. "You mean I should kill them?" I asked. "Kill them all," came Grossero's matter of fact reply. "What do I do then and where do I go?" I asked, disbelieving what my ears had just heard. Grosero looked at me as if he were puzzled that I didn't already know the answer to his question? "Why, swim like a fish," he said, "disappear into the community." It was at that very instant, that I knew that I had to get out of the YLP--and quickly.

Several weeks later, after the Alpha 67 experience had died down, the shotguns disappeared as mysteriously as they had appeared. Except for the first day, I had never been tempted to touch them again.

ii. They say that Freedom is a Constant Struggle:

I heard the news about the death of Ralph Featherstone during Morning Meeting in the Party's el Barrio office during the summer of 1970. The paper said that Featherstone had been killed by a car bomb, suggesting that he had actually been intended for SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) chairman, H. Rapp Brown. History flashed through my mind. I had known Ralph when he had been my project director at the Philadelphia, Freedom Project, in Neshoba County, Mississippi (Philadelphia is the county seat). I remember liking him from the beginning. Featherstone was a relaxed young man with a great sense of humor even in the face of danger; during that summer of 1964, in Mississippi, danger was everywhere.

On Sunday, June 21st, we had lost three of our colleagues: two New Yorkers, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, and a young black man from Neshoba County, James Chaney. We, immediately, suspected that they had run afoul of the Ku Klux Klan. Later, the FBI would confirm our worst fears that the three had been killed for their civil right's activities We knew that at any time we could expect the Klan, if they had a chance, to treat us similarly. That's the way it was in Mississippi during the summer of 1964.

There were two men who figured prominently in our lives that summer. One was Sheriff Lawrence Rainey. With his potbelly, suspenders, cowboy hat and nickel-plated pearl-handled 357 magnum, he epitomized a character out of a Tennessee Williams' play. To round out his image, there was the ubiquitous cigar stub that he was constantly rolling in his mouth. The other character, Cecil Price, was his sidekick and deputy. From his outward demeanor, he was a Sheriff Rainey in training. Years later, the FBI would uncover evidence linking the two with the deaths of the three civil rights workers.

Rainey and Price dogged us day and night, sometimes coming to the Freedom House, at the Charles Evers Hotel. (Charles Evers was the brother of civil rights martyr, Medgar Evers). Their spot questioning was always provocative and designed to illicit a hostile response. Featherstone always seemed to know how to handle them: he could speak that southern backwater black/white patois they both understood.

I recalled that night in August when our rotating lookouts on the roof noticed that a long line of pickup trucks had gone by --none of which bore license plates. This was particularly worrisome and the whole group of us went up to the roof to take a look at what was going on. From our vantage point, three stories up, we could see that the pickups were assembling two blocks away.

Quickly, Featherstone called our central office and headquarters in Jackson, to tell them that we were about to be hit. The worried voice at the other end of the line said that she would call the FBI. Since the disappearance of our three colleagues, the FBI had a temporary command center nearby which they were using in their investigation of the "missing" civil rights workers. I recall Featherstone making macabre jokes about what the Klan was going to do with us.

That summer in Mississippi there had been more than six bombings of so-called Freedom Houses. The 1964 Mississippi Summer Project was the product of a coordinated effort by four national civil rights groups to highlight the existing racial and social conditions in that state. The reaction by local segregationist groups to this "Freedom Summer" was violent to the extreme, and included murders, bombings and drive-by machine gun assaults by die-hard segregationists. C.O.F.O workers (Congress of Federated Organizations, the umbrella group running the summer project) lived every day trying to put the prospect of personal violence happening to them out of their minds. Even the national entertainment personalities that came down to Mississippi to entertain and lend support to the C.O.F.O. workers lived with that fear.

We could all have been killed dozen of times that summer. But, that August night in 1964, it sure looked as if we had bought the ticket. To our direct right, was the Booker T. Washington High School, a black school which, for some reason, nobody on the roof had bothered to survey... that is, until the first pickup turned on its lights and started coming in our direction.

One after the other, the pickup trucks would turn on their lights and start moving in our direction. Then, of a sudden, we saw cars turning on their lights in the parking lot of the Booker T. Washington High School. We could see that the parking lot was full of cars moving in a line in the direction from where the pickups were coming. Nobody knew who they were. The first reaction was that they were as threatening a menace as the pickups. Because our attention had been focused directly in front of us at the line of pickups, no one had noticed when the other cars had assembled.

The first clue, to identifying them, came when the first car on our right turned on flashing red lights and pulled over the first pickup. That sequence continued, one pickup, one red-lighted car. From our vantage position on the roof, we could see that the pickup drivers were having to show identification. Later, I learned that the cars on the right were FBI units. They were acting within their jurisdiction to interdict the pickups because the trucks were not bearing license plates and hence fell within their purview of finding stolen interstate vehicles. It worked! Without taking sides, the FBI was able to assert itself. Lawyers representing the Civil Rights workers told us later, that the FBI had received orders from Washington DC, "Let no more harm come to those civil rights workers in Neshoba County."

As this bizarre drama unfolded in front us, the group of us congregated on the roof of the Evers Hotel, watched in stunned silence. Featherstone was the most quiet and meditative. What does someone say to another when they both know that at that very moment they might have been dead, if not for timely intervention of the FBI? We shared a moment of intense reflection and went back down stairs to try and get some sleep or conjecture about what might have been.

Only a few of the Lord's had been part of the civil rights movement. None, except for myself had been in the South. The name Ralph Featherstone never meant much to the Lords' cadre. All they knew was that he was a victim of violence to Black leadership, but that was in D.C, and that was 200 miles, more or less, due south. They had no idea what was going on down there. His name and the bombing soon faded from everyone's memories, except for mine.

I remembered standing next to Ralph the day that we held a memorial service at the site of the Mt. Zion Baptist church, which had been burned to the ground by segregationist arsonists, on the night of Saturday, June 20th, the day before the three young men were killed. The three had come to investigate the burning and in the process were arrested by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price for a bogus traffic violation. They were released from custody, subsequently stopped again, and delivered to the KKK. The clan had tied them to trees and took turns beating them to death with tire chains. After all their bones had been smashed, they were shotgunned for good measure. Finally, they were buried under an earthen dam which was under construction.

Ministers stood on the rubble of the church; said prayers and lead the singing. That was followed by a speech by the younger brother of James Chaney, Ben Chaney, who harangued the audience, pointing a finger towards the perimeter of the church property where the ominous specters of the sheriff and his deputy could be plainly seen leaning against trees. Everyone became a little uncomfortable as Ben Chaney's tirade increased in vitriol, especially when he kept pointing his fingers at the sheriff and his deputy indicating that they were responsible for the murderer of his brother. I recall having a strong desire to get back to the relative safety of our redoubt in town.

You may have heard that Ben Chaney was accused in 1970, in the state of Virginia (for allegedly leading a band of black militants that attacked and killed white families in their homes while they were sleeping. During that period, there was a trendy and popular short novel: the Confessions of Nat Turner, which told the story of a slave uprising, led by Nat turner, in the 1850's. They, too, had killed white families in their sleep I had helped Ben get a scholarship to the Walden School, a Westside New York City prep school. Would things have been different for him if I had left him alone in Mississippi? I never wanted to know the end of Ben Chaney's story. The State of Virginia has a death penalty.

N.B. (Yesterday, 06-22.05, I learned that Ben Chaney was alive and had been interviewed by the media concerning the guilty verdict handed down in the Neshoba County case to one of the Klansmen involved in the murder of his brother, James Chaney.)

James Chaney's older sister, Lucille, was next, and what happened, then, left a lasting impact on my life. She first spoke eloquently about her brother, then, broke out a cappela in song.

I kept looking at Ralph to see if he felt uneasy. Reassured by his relaxed posture I listened to Lucille sing.

"They say that Freedom is a constant struggle.
They say that freedom is a constant struggle,
Oh, Lord we've struggled so long,
we must be free, we must be free.

"They say that Freedom is a constant crying.
They say that freedom is a constant crying,
Oh, Lord we've cried so long,
we must be free, we must be free."

"They say that Freedom is a constant dying.
They say that freedom is a constant dying,
Oh, Lord we've died so long,
we must be free, we must be free."

iii. I hugged him until he died.

Old Lincoln Hospital was a red brick artifact dating back to the Civil War. Other than that, I can't think of anything else to say about it good or otherwise, except that I was born there. That was my only encounter with Lincoln until I returned 27 years later, on the 14th of July 1970, as part of a potentially dangerous madcap publicity stunt designed by the Young Lords.

Succeeding City administrations had acknowledged, for years that Old Lincoln was a decrepit institution in a state of structural decay: however, as more than one generation of politicians debated the pros and cons of building a new hospital, old Lincoln, for residents of the South Bronx, constituted their only emergency medical facility. Ostensibly, the physical seizure of a defunct wing of the old brick structure was designed to bring to the attention of NYC residents the state of medical services available to South Bronx residents. In reality, the actual purpose for the takeover was to focus the public's attention on the Young Lords Party, in what had been an otherwise slow news month.

As always, the calculation involved some risk to members of the Party. The entire escapade would have come to naught had the City administrators decided to act quickly and forcefully, using aggressive police action to end the situation quickly. Fortunately for the YLP, the mayor of the city at the time was loath to resort to violence, preferring dialogue as a means to resolving conflicts with militant community groups. This knowledge, too, was part of the cynical calculation arrived at by the Young Lord's youthful leadership.

While I stood in the back of the windowless rented truck crammed with 50 other Young Lords ready for battle, the image of Kimberly Small came into my thoughts. Perhaps, I needed something to think about other than the fact that the back door was locked from the outside and the air had quickly become stale. Fifty very talkative and normally gregarious people now stood silent while the truck rumbled north from El Barrio towards the South Bronx.

Unless one had made a mental note when they climbed into the truck, there was no way to tell who was standing next to them. No one spoke: inside, stood 50 individuals with 50 private thoughts and a common fear of the immediate unknown. I needed a justification for the violence that was soon to come and remembered hugging Kimberly Small musing about where he and I fit into the Divine plan.

The year before, the YLP had seized on healthcare as an organizing issue. They mirrored the Black Panther Party in this respect: with lead poison screening drives (the paint in old East Harlem tenements was lead based, and when it was old, it flaked off; children would ingest it, because the lead in the paint tasted sweet to the tongue). Lead was known as a causative factor in neurological and mental problems in young children. The YLP tested the communities surrounding their offices for Tuberculosis, escorted the very ill to hospitals and used their offices as First Aid Stations for people who would not go to hospitals: junkies with abscesses, victims of street violence that didn't want to have to answer questions to the police and minor injuries of all kinds, especially the cuts and bruises of little children.

No one ever liked going to Lincoln's ER just to wait for hours to be seen and feel denigrated as human beings in the process. This simply added to the suspicion that they were being mistreated because of their race. Many people living in the South Bronx were unwilling to go to Lincoln for any but a life threatening emergency. As a result, many people who could have walked there one day, ended up being taken there by ambulance, the next

That was the rationale the Young Lords were using in this particular "offensive": the state of healthcare in the Puerto Rican community. Unlike other issues which had political overtones, healthcare--or the lack of it--was an issue that crossed all boundaries and impacted on everyone. They knew that they could depend on the people to rally around this action. As it turned out, they were right.

The truck stopped. We could hear voices talking outside. The truck made a maneuver and began to back up. Seconds after it halted, the rear door was flung open and everyone jumped out running in the direction to which they were being directed by members of the defense ministry who had arrived earlier and had been positioned strategically to show the way we were to go. I couldn't remember who kicked down the locked hospital door, but the sound of the crash energized us. It was the signal our bodies had been waiting for, there was an immediate adrenal surge. Rushing in, we immediately overpowered the two stunned unarmed security guards.

Within minutes, we had seized Lincoln Hospital, or rather, had seized an empty and unused portion of the hospital. The doors were quickly chained shut and we prepared for the inevitable assault that all of us expected was sure to come. Minutes later, I began to think about how I was going to get out of there. The Central Committee knew that I had no taste for jail. I had had my share of beatings and jailings, now it was someone else's turn. I had been arrested three times in the 60's: twice in New York City during Civil Rights' demonstrations and once in Montgomery, Alabama, during a sit-in in front the Montgomery City Jail.

I had been reassured that, when it came time to confront the police, I would be given a face saving mission that would get me out of the hospital. From the frantic pace in which events were unfolding, I wasn't sure that it would happen in time. Outside, we could hear the wailing of police sirens as one patrol car after another took positions opposite the "liberated" wing of the decaying structure. Outside the police activity made me anxious and I was sure that I wasn't going to get out in time. Through it all, I couldn't shake Kimberly's picture from my mind.

Lunch, in the dormitory above the Bronx office, that Saturday afternoon, consisted of beans sliced bread and orange soda. I watched as the other Young Lords greedily consumed their repast. No one complained about the meager offering. They just ate and laughed. Their lives had made them accustomed to simple rations. They were grateful to be eating. Each could recount days in their lives when there had not been anything to eat. Watching them hardened my resolve to be a part of their lives. When I returned to the office, the sky had become overcast adding to the grayness of the street and the buildings: even, the people looked like an impressionistic rendering in gray.

The office was full of people seeking some form of help. To the mother's with children, we would give a little money even if we knew that they were heroin addicts, on the possibility that some of it would find its way into the mouths and stomachs of their children. In the corner, a movement doctor and a personal friend, was treating a female addict. She had been shooting barbiturates which had caused huge red welts on her arms that were oozing pus. I made eye contact with my friend and proceeded to find things for people to do. I was in charge of the office that day and there were an unusual number of Young Lords and hanger-ons in the office. The office was short of petty cash, and I needed to send some of them out to raise food money by selling Palante. It was a good time to announce a paper-selling offensive. It had been a quiet day and felt that I could relax.

The police had formed a phalanx two deep. To their rear, I could see the specially trained riot police, the TPF (Tactical Police Force, the precursors to the Emergency Services Division), putting on their battle regalia. I felt a sense of urgency, the situation appeared to be getting out of hand. Suddenly, excited shouts rose up from the other end of the wing. "They're breaking down the door. They're trying to break in!" I was incredulous. How could they be coming in, when I could see the guys who were supposed to do the job still in the process of dressing up? Maybe it was a trick, I thought and the show outside was meant to divert our attention. I couldn't believe it, and instinctively, found myself running to where all the yelling was coming. "Damn it," I thought to myself, "Born in Lincoln Hospital, died in Lincoln Hospital." It was a thought that had been worming it's way to the forefront of my consciousness all morning.

The doors had held. A body pile of Young Lords was leaning against it. On the other side were a few hospital security guards who had made a halfhearted effort to make a forceful entry. The security guards were all either Black or Puerto Rican. They had probably been told to force an entry by some hospital administrator safe in an upstairs' office. The smiles on their faces revealed that they were happy that they had failed. You could tell by their relaxed demeanor that they knew that they had escaped a severe beating and, now, they could go home and let the police handle the situation. They could walk away knowing that they would not have to be patients in their own hospital. Perhaps, a few even sympathized with the Lords. We had, often heard positive sentiments from police officers during private conversations.

Adrenaline can give you a super high, we were triumphant and elated but, as fast as adrenaline comes, it goes. Soon, the mood began to turn gloomy. They had turned back five or six unarmed security guards, but outside waited 100+ hardcore big guys who liked their jobs. I knew that they, too, got an adrenaline rush from breaking down doors and getting physical with people and, for them, it was all legal.

At that point, Fernando came up to me and said the words that I had been waiting to hear. "You and Perico (The Party's Minister of Information), have to go now. You are his security." I understood that this was a face saving gesture for me from the CC. Perico was taller and younger than I. And, to some, it would have seemed a little ludicrous for me to be his security. On the other side, however, I had shown when the situation called for it, I was "down" and everyone knew that. No one questioned the assignment. The door was opened and we quietly slipped out of the hospital by an unattended door at the other end of the hospital. We were outside! We had made it! Immediately, I began to worry and feel sorry for all the Young Lords still inside. I knew that as soon as I got to the office, I would have to start calling lawyers and financial supporters to raise money for their bail.

We hadn't walked two blocks from the hospital, however, when we spotted an unmarked police car slowly passing us. It was obvious that they were curious about who we were and what we were doing. It could be argued that Perico and I were not brightest lights in the sky. We were still wearing the regalia of the urban guerilla: army field jackets, I was wearing combat boots, Perico was wearing white Converse "high tops," and, to make things worse, I was carrying a pair of nunchakas.. The police car came to a sudden halt and began backing up. Perico panicked, I had noticed that trait about him. "Run," he shouted. I didn't have to be told twice, Perico was already into a sprint. The police car began to accelerate in reverse. But where does one run in a district of the Bronx that was surrounded by closed auto parts businesses? If they were in the community, they could go into a building, climb to the roof, jump across a few more rooftops and come back down a fire escape on the other side of the block. But where was there to run here?

Perico's youth served him well. In a few seconds, he had already sprinted 50 feet ahead of me I immediately threw the nunchakas under a parked car and began running. The New York City Council had recently declared them a deadly weapon. Two more patrol cars rounded the corner. They had us boxed in. I felt a hard kick on my back and the next thing I knew I was sprawled on the sidewalk, with a policeman's pistol in my face, "Don't move," he said. I knew from experience not to move even when each officer that came by gave me the perfunctory kicks to my midsection.

"I saw him throw something over here," said one officer, retrieving my nunchakas, holding them up as if he had just won a prize. They dragged me up off the sidewalk and threw me against the wall, searched and handcuffed me; then, they pushed and dragged me to where Perico was standing, also in handcuffs. They hadn't hit him. "Why me?" I asked myself, then, I remembered the nunchakas. "F---ing sticks, they tuned me up for two sticks." We were placed into two individual patrol cars and taken to the 41st Precinct House where we were locked up in a holding cell. I was disgusted with life. Outside the cell several police officers were playing with my nunchakas. One of them swung them around and hit his own elbow and winced in pain It was the first humorous moment of the day.

"Hey, can you show me how to use them?" he said, teasingly, as he walked over to the cell pretending to be willing to hand them to me. He withdrew the offer with a laugh, but he had seen the rage in my eyes. I wasn't going to be trifled with, not even locked behind bars. Instinct had taken over. When I was a kid, I had been taught that if you are in jail, the guards are going to immediately show you who is in charge and will come into your cell in groups of twos and threes and beat the s--t out of you. They would do that several times until you got the picture. To neutralize that, the street teaching went, you start fighting with them right away: at one point, they stop (no one ever mentioned the other possibility; that is, that they don't). That's where my mind was when that officer approached me.

"Hey, you guys, your lawyer is here, said the sergeant in charge of the unit. "What did he do, fly?" remarked another. In walked a young man with a handle bar mustache and a cheery expression, he came over introduced himself to me. Perico already knew who he was. "My name is Jerry Rivers," he said, and shook my hand through the bars. Then, he told us that everything would be all right and to relax for a few minutes. All of a sudden I remembered my friends. I had been so concerned that day about myself that I had forgotten all about them. I asked him what was going on at the hospital, but he either didn't hear the question or didn't feel that he had to respond.

Perico and I were put into the back of a patrol car, a few minutes later, we were heading downtown to the Manhattan House of Detention, "The Tombs," as they are known by almost all New York City residents. Once on the Eastside highway, my mind began to drift, again. I watched the East River slowly gliding down to the harbor and from there to the ocean. The thought of what was awaiting us slowly gave way to that Saturday afternoon in the Bronx.

I heard the screeching of brakes and a bang from where I sat in the back of the office and began to walk to the front to see what happened. "A kid's been hit by a car," someone screamed into the office. I ran outside. Directly in front of me on the street lay the convulsing body of a tiny child. I rushed back into the office to call the doctor, but remembered that he had left more than an hour earlier. "Call an ambulance," I yelled out to no one in particular, and ran back to the street, again. Nobody was touching the boy. "Where's his mother?" I screamed to the crowd, trying to fight off panic. "Where's the driver?" I looked around first, for the mother, then, for the culpable individual. "He kept going," a voice shouted back. I wanted to ask if anyone had gotten the license plate number, but I was already down on the ground with the boy.

One look told me the end of the story. When I was just six-years-old, I had seen the body of a boy, not much older than the boy I was now holding, laying on the street. He had been hit by a mail truck and looked very much like the child now convulsing on the street pavement. I recalled that before my mother could pull me away; I had seen his blood and gray brain matter spilling onto the street. But, it was the eyes that were the most similar. They were dilated and glassy. Both had light purple foam issuing from their mouths.

I circled my arm under his head. "Everything is going to be all right," I whispered to him. Then, I lied. "Look your mother is here." It had been more than ten minutes, and I still couldn't hear the sound of an emergency vehicle or a police car. A few minutes later, there was the shrill sound of a woman's scream simultaneous with the wail of a siren It was difficult to discern the difference. I knew one was the mother, the other, the ambulance.

As the patrol car pulled into the back of the Tombs, humor entered the day, again. The senior police officer told his partner to, "Put your hat on, there may be reporters around." Perico looked at me, and for the first time that day, I could smile. We were finger printed and taken into a holding cell along with 30 other "criminals" most of whom, experience had taught me, where probably innocent, at least of the crimes for which they had been charged.

No one smiles in jail. There's nothing to smile about and street smarts says that those hapless souls who do, subsequently, find themselves being treated as "girls" with all the subsequent consequences. It was obvious that I was the angriest individual in the cell that day.

Someone got up and gave me his seat, a rare and precious thing in a cell where most of the others had to stand. Perico stood. He was feeling pumped up and began telling everybody about the Young Lords and the coming revolution. Some were impressed, most were not. I could see the others looking at me wondering what was going on in my mind. It was obvious to all that I didn't want to speak.

My ribs and back were still aching from the beating I had taken on the street and I wanted to give some of it back. The other detainees could read my face, and stayed away. Perico was still going on about the Revolution with a continuous stream of banal propaganda that seemed to ceaselessly pour out of his mouth without abatement. I recall wishing that he would give it a break. Fortunately, the guards called us out.

Last ones in, first ones out. I was a little startled. I had expected to be in there for a few days. We were taken before a judge, where our defense attorney and the prosecutor exchanged rehearsed lines, and the charges were, to my surprise, dropped. I looked at my lawyer to get a sense if it was true. His smile assured me that it was. Then I saw the face of Beatrice sitting in the court room. I was happy to see her, but a little confused to see her there. I thought that she was still in "liberated" Lincoln, and asked my attorney what was going on at Lincoln. There had been a negotiated settlement, he said, and that everyone walked out without any charges being brought against them.

"Just great," I thought, “the two people who were not supposed to be arrested, were, and the full contingent of Lords, who had expected to be arrested, were not.”

My lawyer, who, at the time called himself, Jerry Rivers, would go on to make several transformations in name and personality, eventually metamorphosizing into Geraldo Rivera. I remember that he told me that he would get my nunchakas back for me. I told him to keep them and walked out of the court with Beatrice who had been patiently waited for me. We walked out into the night. It had been a long day. She said that she needed to make a phone call to a friend. it was his birthday. "What day is it?' I asked. "July 14th, " she answered. "July 14th," I exclaimed, it's Bastille Day. We laughed for a moment. Everything had been too serious that day. I needed the laugh to decompress.

Several people were restraining the boys mother. She was wailing like a parent who knew that she had lost her child, and in the process, had lost her reason for being. The ambulance pulled up next to where I was crouched with the child still held tightly in my arms. I looked into his eyes, but they had already rolled back: the boy convulsed one last time. I thought I could feel the boy's soul pass through me as it began its journey. I hugged him until he died. We had trembled together. But, long after the EMT people had relieved me of his body, I continued to shake uncontrollably.

His name was Kimberly Small. He was four-years-old.

iv. Madison Avenue Chic: Or, When Dialectical Materialism Fails to Materialize.

Puerto Ricans, as a group, held a secret admiration for the Black Panther Party, because they had a bad-ass attitude, and that was something Puerto Ricans understood and admired in those days when being tough was often synonymous with survival. In 1969, a breech developed in the Black Panthers along ambiguous ideological lines, geography and a perception of differences in lifestyle. The result was the emergence of two distinct factions, a West Coast and an East Coast Branch. The East coast Panthers saw themselves as more "democratic," in their organizational structure and "purer" in their interpretation of Marxist-Leninism than the Oakland Panthers, which they viewed as a personality cult dominated by its three founding members :Party Chairman, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, the Panther Party Minister of Defense and Eldridge Cleaver, the Minister of Information and author of a best selling biography and social commentary, 'Soul on Ice'.

This ideological challenge to the authority of the Oakland group quickly led to verbal friction within the Panthers, each vying for sympathy and support from within the nationwide Black community for their respective positions. By the summer of 1970, the two groups had turned into two competing factions. In an organization predicated on predictable violence, it came as no surprise when the rhetorical salvos and verbal invectives fired back and forth from coast to coast, quickly became lead-hard, ultimately, leading to internecine violence.

The New York faction was led by a loose organization of street wise young men and women. It's most outspoken spokesperson, Affini Shakur, lived on the corner of 111th Street and Madison Avenue just around the corner from the Lords' office. She and 20 other New York Panthers were arrested for murder and conspiracy, evolving, with the help of the public media, into the notoriously infamous, "Panther 21," Since her apartment was now vacant, I moved in. The Young Lords, although closely allied and privately sympathetic with the "21" were careful not to offend the West Coast Panthers and avoided taking a position, at least publicly, for either group.

But, the reality was that many members of the Young Lords Party in New York had become personal friends of the, now jailed, "21." The Young Lords, in the jargon of the day, called themselves "Marxist-Leninist" as did the "21." The West coast faction was termed, "Trotskyite," by their Eastern counterparts, a label that seared the flesh of the California Panthers although few on either side knew or understood the ideological nuances involved.

The Young Lords, formed after the Panthers, evolved from a Chicago street gang, which, after having been politicized, called themselves, the Young Lords Organization. Although they had a social and political agenda similar to the Panthers, their primary rallying cry was for the independence of Puerto Rico. The Chicago Young Lords modeled themselves loosely after the Panthers. However, just as the two different factions within the Panthers had their ideological differences, so, too, did the Young Lords.

Soon after the founding of the New York City branch of the Young Lords Organization, it was taken over by a combination of college-educated and streetwise "Ricans." To emphasize its political focus they altered their name and became known as the Young Lords Party. While the parent group in Chicago continued to maintain its original community perspective and grassroots agenda, the New York Lords announced that it was arming itself in preparation for the "international armed revolutionary struggle."

The Madison Avenue branch of the YLP, was a store front between 111th and 112th Streets. The reception area faced the street and was divided from the back of the office by a curtain. The availability of chairs allowed it to become a lounge for Lords in Training and members of the community who simply wanted to talk and hang out. The walls of the YLP's offices: in the Bronx, El Barrio and the Lower East side were festooned with posters of Black Panther Party leaders, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seales and Eldridge Cleaver side by side with those of Cuban Revolutionary hero, Che Guevera, Chinese Communist Party leader, Mao Tse Dung and cultural posters of Puerto Rico. Only Party members were admitted past the curtain.

Those who were issued a purple Turban beret could walk past the first curtain to the back where there was more room and chairs to lounge and cool out with other Young Lords. Sometimes, there was food and beverages for the always-hungry cadre. Occasionally, a ranking Party member would come in from the street and for a time there would be animated conversation Then, everybody would get back to just hanging out discussing Party political propaganda.

The office had a cellar that was used as a combination shelter and emergency crisis center. No one was allowed to talk about any sensitive topic within the confines of the office for fear that they were being monitored. Those conversations took place on the street. As it turned out, those fears of being monitored turned out to be justified. One Saturday afternoon, a member of the Bronx office discovered he could hear what was going on in the Bronx office by tuning into the very low FM waves lengths on his portable radio a half block from the office.

The main activities of the front office were to disseminate Party propaganda, liaison with the community and to generate subsistence funds through the sale of the Party paper, "Palante." When the cadre sitting at the front desk determined that there were too many people hanging around he (or she) would send out people in groups of two, to sell Palante, at 25 cents a copy.

One particular Saturday afternoon, while I was performing the duties of front office cadre, we heard a report about two elder Puerto Rican men who, as was traditional for Puerto Rican men, were playing dominos on milk crates on the sidewalk of 110th Street. As the story was told, police stopped their game, and when the men objected they were physically roughed up. A quick meeting of the Party leadership determined that this was a fine issue for a street demonstration in front of the police precinct on 104th Street.

I was told to send as many available cadre and those returning from selling the newspaper to the demonstration as soon as they came in. From experience dating back to the early Civil Rights movement in New York City, then, later in Mississippi and Alabama, I had lost any taste for confrontational demonstrations which led to street violence with the police. The Central Committee knew that I had had my share of politicization through pain and was allowed to remain away from this type of event. I knew, too well, what was about to happen next.

As word kept coming back to the office that the tension level in front of the precinct between the police and the "community," was rising, the call came for more cadre. Anyone that walked into the door, was immediately sent to the site of the coming street action. Meanwhile, I busied myself preparing for the eventual situation when the office, itself, would become the focus of the coming event and possible police assault.

A young woman, I didn't recognize, walked in from selling papers. She gave me the money that she had collected and then asked if there was anything else she could do. Without much thought, I sent her to the site of the demonstration. A few minutes later, I began to have second thoughts about what I had just done. I didn't know the young woman, nor had I ever seen her before. However, she, trusting in my direction had gone off to be possibly injured or arrested. When the next "Full" Lord walked into the office, I asked him to take the desk and, then, hurriedly made my way to 104th Street. I was too late! By the time I had gotten within a block of the precinct, I saw a tidal wave of people, many of whom I recognized as Party members, running in my direction. I ran into the crowd searching for her face, but soon found myself dodging police batons Turning heel, I ran as fast as I could, retracing my steps to the office.

By the time I arrived at the office, it was full of adrenalized cadre, shouting and screaming, some with bloody injuries, while others continued to file in back of me. As I had imagined earlier, Madison Avenue was immediately sealed off and in quick order the office was cordoned off by a line of TPF (Tactical Police Officers) in riot gear. The injured were taken to the basement to have their wounds treated and bandaged. I searched everywhere for that face. I had sent hundreds of others to similar situations without the least bit of remorse... no matter what happened to them. Now, my conscience was beginning to catch up with me: I was worried for that girl and feeling more than just a little guilty.

When it appeared that the police had not received the command to raid the office, the more daring and foolhardy, left the office and stood outside in small groups. I followed them outside, looked around for a while, and determining that it was safe, walked around the corner. There, standing on the stoop of my apartment building, I scanned the rooftops that were now covered with police snipers.

A young cadre member, whose nom de guerre was "Pi" (I never did learn his real name), walked up and stood next to him. At one point, Pi nudged me and signaled for me to look up on the roof directly across from where we were standing. There, leaning on the ledge of the roof was a police sharpshooter who was not hiding the fact that he was aiming his rifle directly at us. I looked away and told Pi to do the same lest his staring provoke him to pull the trigger.

Realizing that it would not be safe to spend the night in the apartment which the police new had once been a Panthers' apartment and now belonged to me, I decided to make my way to the Westside to the home of a physician friend. As soon as it seemed that it was a propitious moment to go, I left. I knew in the excitement, chaos and aftermath of the melee, no one would miss my presence. Like soldiers after a battle, they would immerse themselves in their war stories. I ate, drank and slept better that night than my Party comrades, but my mind was still on the face I had left behind..

The following day, Sunday morning, the office was full of cadre with bandages and excited stories of further confrontations with the police the night before. They were in their glory. I had seen this before and wasn't impressed. I had survived a nearly fatal confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, in 1964; a mounted posse charge by deputized cowboys in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965, and always, after safe refuge had been found, came the stories. I looked around for her; upset that I didn't even know her name. I tried describing her to others, but no one remembered her. Just when I had almost given up, she walked through the door.

I walked up to her and formally introduced myself. She told me how she had become separated from the main body of the demonstration after the altercation and subsequent police charge. I had guessed that some Party members were encouraged to provoke the police by throwing bottles at them. This had been the case the day before. When one officer was hit in the face by a bottle: the others reacted. She told me that she had made her way home safely and, then, had gone off to the Bronx to the house of her boy friend. I smiled hoping that I had masked my disappointment then asked her if she needed a ride somewhere. She indicated that she would like a ride to the house of a friend on the West Side. A few minutes, later, we were on our way.

On the Westside of Manhattan, there was peace: an incongruous juxtaposition with the gloomy war time mindset of El Barrio, where littered streets still blazed with intentionally lighted trash fires. The Streets of the Barrio were nearly empty, particularly around the office. The Westside was alive and bustling oblivious to the troubles a few blocks east. We drove west under the same gray sky that covered both neighborhoods. The images of fire, smoke and spilled blood were left behind as a light rain began to fall. Soon, it would put out the fires and wash away the blood they had left behind on Madison Avenue.

v. Sometimes it's hard to say, "Good-bye!":

My mother had moved the family out of El Barrio during he summer of 1957, to take my sister and me out of an environment of poverty, suffering and early death. She had become particularly distressed that year because of the violent deaths of several young neighborhood children that were my age. She was even more worried because I had joined a street gang, the Comanche Dragons. For a child who had spent the first eight years of his life in boarding schools on Long Island and Harriman, NY, it seemed to her that, in one year, I had learned, too quickly, the ways of the street.

Thirteen years later, in the spring of 1970, I returned to El Barrio to see if I could do anything to alleviate the poverty, suffering and violence into which a new generation of Puerto Rican children had been born. Several weeks after the death of my father, in April, I joined a street gang metamorphosed into a political organization, the Young Lords Party. Six months later, I had seen enough poverty, suffering and violent death to last a lifetime and decided to leave the Young Lords. Leaving, I would find out, was not going to be an easy task. The Party frowned on early retirement. The process of saying "Good-bye" was difficult and, in many cases, fraught with danger involving physical as well as psychological punishment.

To keep members from leaving once the decision, by one of its cadre, to leave the Party had been made, the Young Lords first, employed peer pressure, if that didn't work, intimidation; failing that, violence. The process was used as a lesson in political education for the rest of the membership. Often, before an exiting member could leave he/she would first be subjected to a "People's Trial," where the "Bourgeois Lackey" and "Reactionary" offending member would be humiliated and psychologically eviscerated by his former companions.

The standard method of bringing someone before a "People's Court," involved a ruse.

It was called the "Bad Fruit," the departing member would be told that someone on the "Central Committee" wanted to try, one last time, to talk him/her out of leaving (actually, I never heard of this happening to a woman even though the Party publicly professed equality among the genders). In all cases, when the retiring member was brought into the office to meet the CC, he would pass through a darkened front office and enter the rear expecting to meet one person only to see the entire Party membership assembled. Shock and fear immediately replaced whatever expression had been on his face.

SHOCK, because it became immediately apparent that the communication system between former friends with whom he had partied, laughed and had shared experiences, had failed. It was obvious that everyone knew, but he, and no one had warned him. Suddenly, he realized that he was without friends and support. He was now among enemies and, from previous experience, he realized that his fate had been sealed before the trial.

FEAR, because he knew what was going to happen next. If he had turned around in an attempt to leave, he would have found his path blocked by the Party's four enforcers: Canalla, Vlado, Manolin and Grosero. It was Grosero who stood in the middle of the door… his 350 lb. mass filling the entire doorway. The sneer on his face told the whole story.

The trial was quick, however, everyone was encouraged to criticize their former colleague, especially his closest friends and acquaintances. Following the conviction of the former member on charges of "Crimes against the People," he would be taken outside onto the street where he would be assaulted and knocked to the ground. Then, it was Grosero's turn. His size 13 foot would repeatedly come down on every part of the crumpled and bleeding form writhing in pain on the sidewalk. Again and again,, his feet kicked and stomped finding every soft and vulnerable part of the body. Some times, he would be able to crush the ribcage: In all cases, it ended in an ambulance ride to the hospital.

No one ever filed a complaint. That they were alive was enough. No matter how many bones were broken, as long as they were still breathing, they knew that they had escaped. To tell the police what happened meant that the next encounter with a Party member would be with Canalla.

Canalla, was short with a slim build, a narrow face and serpent's eyes behind thick glasses: they never revealed what he was thinking. Everybody knew that behind that face there existed unfathomable evil. All Party members knew that he always carried a gun and had no inhibitions about using it. He was the Party's ultimate answer to "politically" problematic situations.

Those were the thoughts on my mind when I. made the decision to leave the Party. I was called "LP" and came to the Party with my own street gang reputation that was known to some of the older "Brothers" who had been members of the Dragons or one of its affiliated gangs. In any case, this impression was not lost on the Central Committee.

I had always defied protocol, even before becoming a full member, I went where I wanted to go, entered meetings that should have been closed to me without anyone ever raising so much as an eyebrow. Perhaps, the fact that I was an officer in the Finance Ministry explained it. No one questioned my taking taxis from office to office; instead, they would ask if they could get a ride with me. Because it was known that I always carried a lot of money, in the minds of the membership, it legitimized my use of taxis... In truth, I just hated to take subways.

To compound the situation, I wasn't leaving the Party alone; I was taking Beatrice with me. Beatrice was the Party's resident Spanish language expert and worked on the newspaper, Palante, as an English/Spanish translator and writer. She took enormous pride in her knowledge of the Spanish language and was, rightfully, proud of her expertise in both languages. She was, therefore, a very valuable asset to the Party. I knew that taking her with me was going to add, markedly, to the ire that just my leaving was going to generate. I steeled myself and waited for the proper moment. That moment came when I knew that all of the C.C. members were in the Central Office on Madison Avenue.

Knock knock, "Hello, we're leaving."
I walked in and interrupted the meeting to announce that the two of us were leaving the Party. The message was unexpected and, for a moment, left the CC members speechless. I recall looking at each of the CC members in the eyes challenging them to say what was on their minds. But, no one spoke, until the Party Chairman, Piojo said, "Okay, we'll talk to you later." At the door, I turned around and hurled a final challenge, "We will be staying in the apartment until we find another place."

The "apartment'" was a Party apartment and staying there, I quickly learned, although not unexpectedly, was going to be a little more complicated than I had planned. Two days later, several Party members just moved in. With privacy gone, I decided that it was time to leave and gave the apartment keys to the new tenants. I held no animosity toward them. They were still in the Party and were simply claiming what was theirs to use.

Beatrice and I took a cab to the Westside, to the apartment of a friend, who let us borrow his car which we, then drove deep into the bowels of Brooklyn to the house of a friend and Party member, Pedro.

Pedro and his wife had been Beatrice's and my best friends in the Party. He was an eccentric and budding playwright. His outward militancy disguised an enormous intelligence and sensitivity. He could laugh at the most absurd situation in life, all the while you could see him calculating how he would put it to his best advantage. He was a realist disguised as an idealist. That was our common bond. That day, he was already waiting for us. It was no surprise to him that I would show up at his door. We had spent many hours in animated repartee. In short, we were laughing buddies. But the person who answered the door wasn't laughing. True, he was excited and displayed some of the same characteristic theatrical facial gestures. But I could see that he was really worried. It was obvious that he wanted to tell me something and once inside, in his living room, he immediately blurted it out, "They're going to give you a People's trial." The room fell silent. I had challenged the CC, however, somehow, I felt that they would not have pushed the matter that far.

I looked at Beatrice. No one spoke much; for once laughter and humor were absent in Pedro's home. We sat in silence, occasionally one of us would get up and walk around, shake his head and sit back down. But, Pedro could not hold it in, "They are going to kick your ass, and not just yours, but hers, too."

That last comment threw me into a rage; not the kind of rage that would have had me screaming in anger, but a slow burning determined rage. Several times, Pedro asked what I was thinking. He knew me well enough to know that I wasn't going to lie down and accept the fate that was being planned for me in the Madison Avenue office. Gesturing to Beatrice to assure her that I would take care that nothing happened to her, I began to formulate a plan. It was close to midnight, when I had finally decided what was going to be my response: at the same time, I realized that Beatrice and I wouldn't be getting any sleep that night.

We drove to Manhattan's Lower East Side and went to the apartment of a friend, Roland, who was also a member of the Central Staff. He was easy going and fair in his dealings with everyone in general. We liked and respected each other. He was to be my messenger.

I had no inhibition about ringing his door after midnight. Young Lords, generally, kept late hours. Roland asked us to come upstairs. I responded by asking him to come down. What I wanted to tell him, wasn't meant to be overheard, by anyone else and I wasn't sure that he was alone.

On the sidewalk, Roland walked up and casually asked me how we were doing. Then, with out a break, he went on, "You are in big trouble: you know that?" I looked at him straight in the eye and said, "Roland I want to be left alone." Right away, I could see that I had gotten his attention. Then, I gave him the message that I wanted him to deliver to the Central Committee.

The Plan:
"Tell Piojo and Fernando, and everyone else, that I'm going uptown to buy metal." I paused a second to see if what I had just said, had sunk in. Then, I continued with the rest of the message. "Tell the CC that I know where they all sleep, and if they come near me or Beatrice, I will burn their houses down and shoot them as they come out onto the fire escape. Tell them!" I repeated, "I. mean it. Tell them, I'm not afraid of any of them and I'll kill them all." It was the only time that I have uttered those words in my life and, even now, they still frighten me because I think I meant them

I could see that Roland was struck speechless. His mouth fell open and his face took on an uncharacteristic expression of disbelief.. After recovering his composure, he tried to calm me down, saying things like, "it could all be worked out." As much as I trusted him, I knew that he was still in the Party and had to represent its interest. Several times he invited us up to his apartment to cool off. But cooling off was the last thing I wanted to do right then. "Tell them Roland!" I intoned with authority. "Tell them exactly, what I just told you. I'm going to kill them all if they come near either of us." It wasn't hard for Roland to believe me. He could see that I believed what I was saying.

Satisfied that Roland would carry the message to the CC, Beatrice and I got into the car and drove uptown and disappeared for a few days, allowing for the message to sink in.

The second part of the plan called for a face off and a bluff. I needed to do something that was unexpected and an overt challenge. That required returning to the Madison Avenue office, my former home office. When I walked in, the young woman at the desk nearly fainted, she was too speechless to tell me that I couldn't go into the back and when she had regained her composure, it was too late to stop me. I walked past the curtain wondering what code name the CC had given me. Inside, I recognized many of the cadre that were lounging around. No one moved. People I had known and treated like brothers and sisters, either lowered their eyes or met my stare with apprehension. No one spoke. They were either in shock or too afraid, perhaps they had heard that I was armed and looking for a confrontation. The room was silent as I circled the room. It had only been a few days since I had been in the office, but for some reason, it seemed darker and dingier. After I had satisfied myself that no one was willing to challenge me, I turned around threw my Lord's beret onto a chair and left.

Figs instead of Dates:
Beatrice and I stayed in the house of a friend whom the Party didn't know and waited for the other shoe to drop. We didn't have to wait long. A few days later, we heard on the radio how the Party had uncovered an agent in its midst. It was my friend, Caron, who had come into the Party about the same time as I. Maybe "friend," might not be the best description. He was more like a long term acquaintance. We had shared common experiences. Both of us had served in the military and had known each other in another political organization. Among all the Party members, he was one of the most intelligent and had the most cogent political understanding of Marx and the meaning of the term "Marxist-Leninism."

I knew Caron to be honest, a student of Puerto Rican history and a close second to Beatrice in his knowledge of the Spanish language. His problem was that he had an ego as big as his intellect, which may have aroused suspicion, if not envy, among some members of the CC. More than likely, it was Piojo, the YLP chairman, who saw him as a source of competition. The young cadre looked up to Caron as a knowledgeable mentor. Piojo didn't like competitors, especially those that were obviously more intelligent than he. While Caron could read, write and speak in fluent Spanish as well as English, Piojo didn't speak Spanish well, and his writing, whether it was English or Spanish, always had to be rewritten by Beatrice or some other Party member.

Caron, had become the sacrificial lamb. The YLP had decided to punish an offending member, but settled in destroying the political future of one of their own valuable cadre. I listened to the radio to hear if my name was mentioned: nothing! I was incredulous, "Why didn't they denounce me?" I asked Beatrice and my friends. It would have been logical to denounce me, too. Caron and I were seen as cut from the same cloth. It was at that point that I knew my message had worked.

"Why didn't they denounce me?" I exclaimed, now more relaxed and allowing a smile for the first time in two weeks. "Hell, I would have gone to the press and publicly admitted to being CIA." I was laughing, now, and could see that everyone was more at ease as a result. "I would have admitted it and said that I had learned the error of my ways. I would have made up an extensive history of being a spy, written a book and gotten rich." I was being hyperbolic, but deep inside my soul, I felt that there some truth to what I was thinking: offense, offense, never defense.

The Party had fried another fish and had gotten enormous amounts of publicity in the process. The next day, I called Pedro, to learn if he had heard anything about what the Party had planned for me. I could hear from his voice that he had returned to being the same old Pedro I had known before. He had no trouble speaking with me. I could discern that the weight was off of me and, consequently, because he was considered to be a friend of mine, off of him, too. Then, he dropped a bomb: "Ladilla would like to meet with you. She said that it could be somewhere public." I listened carefully, not to his words as much as to the tone of his speech. Pedro knew how to tell a story, however, to tweek out the truth, I had learned to rely on the tension in his larynx. I was a little puzzled, and told Pedro to tell Ladilla that I would think about it and would get back to her through him later.

Eyeballs and Heavy Metal:
Ladilla, the most doctrinaire member of the Party, dressed as if she had bought her clothes in a Bolshevik fashion shop. Ostensibly, her duties had to do with Community health issues, however, she had risen quickly within the Party's higherarchy while lying in Piojo's bed. Mysteriously, she had assumed responsibility for internal security which included investigating the backgrounds of the Party cadre and rooting out government spies and informers. The way I saw it, she had failed miserably at that task: since, in my mind, the biggest government informant in the party shared her bed. It was obvious to all that she was working her way up to being the Party Chairperson: what that meant for Piojo wasn't clear.

I discussed with Beatrice what all the possibilities might be: It could have been an elaborate trap? Something, however, told him that the Party could not stand another embarrassing situation after the Caron affair. "Let's do it," she said. "Tell her that we'll pick the place." I picked up the phone and asked Pedro to relay the message to Ladilla and would get back to him later the same day about where we could meet. A few hours later, I called Pedro back to tell him where we wanted the meeting to be. Pedro responded with his standard, "Be cool man."

We had chosen a Puerto Rican cafe, on 116th Street in the neighborhood of the Madison Avenue office, close to the Cosmo movie theater. It was a busy street and it would be difficult to do anything too outrageous without being noticed by many people and, although it was only a few blocks from the office, I knew that the Party didn't have a support network in that area. We arrived at the appointed time to find Ladilla already seated at a table: next to her, sat Grosero. The place was full of customers, which gave us some comfort. I sucked it up and put on my best street face an sat down across from Grosero. Beatrice sat across from Ladilla.

Grosro and I glared at each other as if we were children trying to see which one would blink first. Neither of us gave in. When the tea was served Grosero used his left hand to hold the cup, his right hand stayed under the table. I knew what Grosero wanted me to think. Mirroring his movements, I used my left hand for the tea and kept my right hand under the table. He knew what I wanted him to think. In fact, I was unarmed. The last thing I wanted was to be caught by the police carrying a gun. That would have meant immediate prison time and, while Grosero could rely on the Party to bail him out, I might have had some difficulty raising the bail bond.

The tension was broken when Ladilla spoke. She had a sheaf of papers and took a pen out, as if she was preparing to write, "How long have you known Caron?" She asked with the tone of a prosecuting attorney. I was completely caught off guard, "Is this what it's all about, Caron...?" I thought, never once taking my eyes off Grosero.

"What do you mean?" I asked, still not sure about what I had just heard. Ladilla repeated her question. The rest of the meeting was lost in a confused blur, I was too stunned by the change of events. We were there for more than an hour. Ladilla would ask a question, and I would answer evasively. Satisfied that she had gotten all that she was going to get from me, she stacked all her papers together into a neat package. Then, taking me off guard again, she asked the question that I dreaded answering. "Where are you guys living now?" I looked at Beatrice to make sure that she didn't answer. "Around," I answered. "We are living around." Ladilla smiled wryly, and got up to leave. I watched Grosero making a motion that implied that he was putting something into his belt. I mirrored his actions. Then, we parted.

Soon after, Beatrice and I left for California in a van which we had renovated to serve as a camper. For slightly more than a year, we lived in California's Russian River area north of San Francisco. However, since we both shared a desire to finish our studies, we returned to New York City and settled into a small Greenwich Village apartment on West 12th Street.

We took great care not to tell many people that we were back or where we were living, however, word travels quickly within certain communities. Still, I was surprised when the door bell rang one evening a few weeks after we had settled in. It was Canalla, one of the four Party enforcers. I told him to wait for a second, then quickly looked out of the window onto the street. Parked outside the front door was a red Volkswagen Beetle. The faces of the other three Party goons: Vlado and Manolin were easily discerned sitting in the back; in the front passenger seat, sat the unmistakable mass of Grosero.

I rang for Canalla to come up and asked Beatrice to go into the other room with the baby. As soon as Canalla walked in, I noticed that he was carrying his ubiquitous back pack in which, from experience, I knew he carried his S & W 9mm auto. I had been prepared for this eventuality: I had my own 9mm tucked in the belt in the back of my pants. I scrutinized his every move knowing in my heart that if he made the slightest move for his back pack, I'd have to kill him..., and not stop there either. In the front seat of that car downstairs was someone that would die that night, too. I was operating in another zone without emotion, without reason. I was fearless and crazed with anger. They had dared to trespass onto my territory knowing that I had my wife and child with me. I wasn't thinking of the consequences for me or for them

We made the perfunctory greetings and I motioned to Canalla, to sit down, all the while trying to calculate the time it would take me to run down to that car. Would they think that the gunshots came from Canalla's gun and, consequently, not be prepared for me? Canalla was about to start a conversation, but I cut him off. I realized that I had to take control of the situation. I took my pistol out and laid it in my hands, flat and sideways so that it wouldn't be immediately threatening. I had taken my measure of Canalla and I knew that I had to act first.. I gave him a moment to appreciate the situation never taking my eyes off of him and his back pack. Then I said, "Canalla, I don't want to be bothered by anybody. Do you understand?" I could tell by his face that he did. There was no further conversation.

He stood up, quickly, as if he had been in the house for hours, and now it was time to go. In reality, he had been there less than five minutes. He left as quickly as he came, perhaps, he said "Good-bye," I don't remember, I was in another world. Looking out the window I saw him get into the drivers side of the car, and, then, they were gone. I don't know how long I waited by the window before I was satisfied that they weren't coming back. As I began to decompress, I realized that I was still clutching the pistol next to my leg.

Tears were flowing down my face. not so much a result of the confrontation, but because I was beginning to realize what almost went down and that during the entire period, my wife and baby had been crouching quietly in the other room. The juxtaposition of love and hate had begun to overwhelm me. "Why is it," I kept asking myself,, "that sometimes it's so hard to say Good-bye?"

vi. Never Underestimate the Power of MD Plates

"I was envious of the Foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked."

Below 86th Street, Third Avenue was full of the usual Sunday evening bustle of traffic and pedestrians. As I guided my borrowed VW Beetle uptown, the contrast between the effervescence of Yorkville with what was going on in el Barrio, just a short distance away, made me reflect on the events of the preceding week. My thoughts momentarily turned away from the people laughing in the street to the people living in the brownstones and high rises lining Third Avenue who financially supported us, the Young Lords Party.

The lion's share of the YLP's income depended on social "benefit" functions given by wealthy and arty liberals. Often, this entailed a famous personage hosting a fund raising function in their well-appointed Eastside apartment. One or two Party members selected for this purpose would give a talk; usually a hyperbolic diatribe seasoned liberally with revolutionary cant targeting the socially guilty consciences of the hosts and invited guests. Then, there would be a short Q. and A. period followed by an hour or so of social mixing sometimes, degenerating into Bacchanalian revelry.

Although many of the street cadre confessed unease at these events, the college educated members were usually very relaxed. They weren't limited to Maoist jargon and could discuss art, music and philosophy while, simultaneously, scanning the guests for future personal contacts. For the liberals, it was an opportunity to come up close to Puerto Rican militants without fear. They, of course knew Puerto Ricans. They employed them in their businesses, although none would ever have been invited into their homes for a social occasion. Many had Spanish-American domestics in their homes, but during these events, they were noticeably absent. The woman of the house performed the serving functions.

Fashion, of a sort, lent some comic relief. Each group was as conscious as the other about making a fashion statement The hosts, bejeweled and perfumed, were draped in their trendy, casually chic, Bloomingdale's attire. In juxtaposition, the Young Lords were roughly dressed in their trendy revolutionary chic: casual combat boots and/or Converse basketball shoes (good for running away from the police, climbing fire escapes and running across rooftops), worn brown leather jackets or military field jackets were de rigueur, and, of course, purple berets, the sine qua non and official headgear of the YLP. Both groups were united in their choice of jeans, however, Levis.

Looking out of the window, as we crossed 86th Street, life seemed so normal. The movie theaters were lighted and people were going about their business as if what was happening just 24 blocks (a little more than a mile) to the north wasn't really happening at all. It was a contrast in the absurd. A few blocks further north, the traffic dropped off precipitously.

Occasionally, I would look over at Beatrice, the young woman sitting next to me in oversized clothes, borrowed just for this occasion. She appeared relaxed, I knew that she was confident in my driving and in control of the situation. We both took a deep breath when we passed a parked NYPD patrol car carelessly parked on the corner of one of the side streets: they had other concerns besides speeders and drunk drivers that night.

The sight of the patrol car made me look reflexively, at the back seat. There, the muzzle of an M 15 assault rifle was protruding out from underneath the borrowed fur coat which we had used to cover it. I asked Beatrice to adjust the coat. Then, the reoccurring thought came back: "What would I do if we were stopped?" All we were doing was transporting it, but the penalty, if we were caught with it, would have meant years in prison. It was a sobering thought.

From 96th onward, there was almost no traffic. The streets were deserted except for emergency vehicles and police cars. I knew that the MD plates on the car afforded us some protection. We had dressed hastily to appear like a doctor and his wife, on closer inspection we looked more like two children who had found a trunk of old cloths and had dressed up to look like our parents. I kept looking at Beatrice, criticizing myself for involving her in a hair-brained caper for a cause in which I no longer had faith, nor commitment. Several times the thought of turning around crossed my mind, but I was afraid that such a maneuver might have aroused suspicion in the eyes of the police and it was obvious to me that we could not pass close scrutiny. That gun was now master of our destiny, and I hated it.

I recalled the spectacle that took place the day before: It was street theater to the extreme: part funeral procession, part political demonstration organized by the YLP. Holding aloft the coffin containing the remains of their recently deceased comrade, Julio Roldan, the Party members and their followers wove through the streets of el Barrio chanting. "Murdered by the police!, Murdered," they chanted, "in jail." Julio had been arrested several days earlier for rioting and arson along with another Party member, Raul. They had been arrested and charged with setting fire to mountains of garbage that the Party had thrown into the street, ostensibly to highlight a community grievance of infrequent garbage collections.

The charges were made more serious because Raul had been caught in possession of a very large folding knife which, ironically, I had given him that very same day. I had bought it and carried it around for a few days because all the other "brothers" did the same. But, on that particular morning, I had decided that it was foolish to be walking around with a weapon that I never intended on using, and, which could only get me into trouble. So, I gave it to Raul. Julio was arrested because he couldn't keep his mouth shut and began hurling insults at the police. That was Julio.

Hell Without a Guide:
I had missed that entire "street action," (the police would call it a riot) organized by the CC and the defense ministry, having fallen asleep early that evening. I must have slept soundly, because the entire drama orchestrated by the Party took place not more than 100 feet from my apartment door. I remember, vaguely, musing to myself about how loud the nights sounds of East Harlem were as I fell asleep. The next day, I would recall having heard the cacophony of wailing sirens, people screaming, sundry gunshots, the crashing of bottles thrown off rooftops onto the street. I may even had gotten a whiff of smoke. "How strange," I had thought to myself, as I slid into a deep slumber, "that I had never before, taken notice of the sounds and smell of life in the Barrio at night."

The next day, shortly after learning of the arrests of Raul and Julio, news arrived that Julio had been found hanged in his cell. Immediately, the chorus rose up, "Assassination! Murder! Police Conspiracy! Perico, in characteristic fashion, seized on Julio's death as an opportunity to churn out propaganda for the people in the community. Demonstrations were hastily organized including confrontations with the police, who, uncharacteristically, were not accepting the challenges. Still, all day long the authorities keep building up their forces in place. These were the tough guys, the TPF (Tactical Police Force), as the Emergency Services Division was then known.

There was no doubt in my mind that Julio had, in fact, hanged himself. I, also, knew that most of the membership and, certainly, the CC knew it. too. One didn't have to be much of a cynic to know the truth: especially, if you had known Julio. He was not the type that could be incarcerated without having some kind of major psychological break. Perhaps, he didn't mean to go through with it and had meant to cause more mayhem while in jail, and had accidentally, and tragically, gone too far. In any case, from the point of view of the Party's Central Committee, it was a great moment to organize within the community.

For the next two days leading up to Julio's funeral, the chants, "Death to the Pig! Murders! Assassinos! No Justice no Peace! Lolita seguro los Yanquis dale duro!" (a reference to the jailed 1950's Puerto Rican militant imprisoned for her part in the attempted assassination of President Truman)reverberated off the walls and streets of the Barrio. On the day of the funeral, Julio's casket, draped with the Puerto Rican flag, was borne high as the funeral demonstration wove through the streets of Spanish Harlem.

The police cast wary eyes at those wearing the purple berets, emblematic of the Party members. They were looking for guns which they knew or, at least, suspected, the YLP had in their possession. They were carefully looking at any large bags, closed jackets or any thing that looked like it might conceal a weapon. Even nunchakas, the YLP's trade mark weapon of choice, were noticeably absent. The procession snaked through the streets finally ending up at the brick Baptist church on 110th Street and Lexington Avenue. The church had been the subject of many demonstrations before. The Party had once "Liberated" the church, in the jargon of the day, on the grounds that the church and its resources had not been sensitive enough to the needs of the community.

The church, already chastened by the constant propaganda barrage leveled at them by the Party, had meekly acceded to their demands, that is, that they be allowed to use it for Julio's funeral. I watched the police scrutinize Party members as they entered the building. The plain cloths police were obvious in their appearance and may have made up the majority of people standing outside the church Soon after entering the church, the charade quickly turned deadly earnest. The doors were closed and locked. The casket was brought up to the alter. Orders went out, that no one could leave. I sensed what was about to happen next. Fernando and the young members of his "defense ministry" surrounded the casket and opened it. There, covering the body were the weapons: rifles, shotguns, pistols; knives of every description for which the police had been seeking. I remember thinking to myself, "Julio would have really liked this."

As the defense people took up strategic positions by the windows, other Party members began assembling Molotov Cocktails and other explosive devices. Outside, I could hear the Party leaders addressing the crowd and announcing that they had "Liberated" the church, again, and began listing their demands, including an investigation into Julio's death and the prosecution of his "murderers."

There were other demands some so preposterous and outrageous that even Lenin would have winced. Party cadres ran around with loaded guns pointing them indiscriminately as they talked to their comrades in arms. "This is madness," I thought to himself. The average age of those young people in arms was 16. I knew that I had to get out of there. I was one of the few people in there that had served in the military, and that had taught me to have a healthy respect for weapons, loaded or unloaded, recalling that old maxim: "There's no such thing as an unloaded weapon."

Blind or with Eyes Sewn Tight:
They were so sure of their cause, so committed to their purpose. They were 16. There were not enough guns to go around, so suicide teams were formed. The strategy involved assigning teams to each gun. The scenario went this way: when the member in possession of the gun fell dead or wounded, the next one in line would pick up the gun until he fell and so on. It was ludicrous to the extreme. I began to panic, but then, I found my out. I had a friend, downtown, in Soho, that kept an M 15 rifle in his house for "protection." He was rich, arty and felt socially guilty. I knew that he would let me have the weapon, "for the struggle." I made my suggestion to the Central Committee and, as I had anticipated, it was quickly accepted. Out I went, the only person to leave the church property for the next week except for members of the CC.

But, now the question became how was I going to bring an assault rifle up from Soho into the Barrio, which by the end of the day had become an armed camp. The police had closed off streets and had thrown up a barricade in front of the church on Lexington Avenue. The "how," part was quickly solved. I had a friend doctor who was experiencing a political awakening. There were many such physicians in those days.

I recall the son of one such doctor, Ted Gold, the Columbia SDSer turned Weatherman, who had accidentally blown himself and three of his colleagues up in a West Village town house as they were attempting to fashion two bombs meant to be used at an Army officers dance at Fort Dix.

We had been acquaintances during the early 60's Civil Rights movement. I remember him as a high school boy with pimples on his face holding on to each word as I related my experiences in Mississippi and Alabama during 1964-65. Four years later, I met him at a political rally on New York City's upper Westside. He was totally transformed. He looked like someone sent over by central casting to play the part of a 1917 Bolshevik. The following year, he was dead. I wondered if the stories I told him had had a part in his political militancy. It's a question that nags me even to this day.

To make the trip uptown, I knew I needed to look like a normal person going about my business, however, I needed a partner and had no immediate qualms about asking Beatrice, to assist me. She was the only person I really trusted and was far more daring and courageous --even a little bit reckless-- than her body size might have indicated. Moreover, I knew that her courage was tempered by realism and good sense. She had indicated a desire to get out of the Party with me, but first, there was this one last thing to do even though so many things could go wrong.

Those were the thoughts weighing on me as I turned left onto 110th street. It looked like a battle zone right out of a World War II movie. All the street lights had been shot out and the street was ablaze with fires fueled by the ever present garbage piles that never seemed to grow any smaller. One car was still smoldering on the street blocking access to the church. I pulled up onto the sidewalk and raced up the block to the church coming to a stop next to a side door.

Party people were waiting for us, and with a heavy sigh of relief, the weapon still covered by the fur coat was quickly carried into the church. Inside, still milling around, Party member were talking to each other with a mixture of phrases laced with Marxist-Leninist pearls and Black Panther jargon: "Dialectical Struggle, People Power," and the over worn, "Death to the Pigs!" I saw children with guns casually prepared to die for a cause that they could not accurately describe, while their leaders, cynical young men and women hardly a generation older than they, assigning them to suicide missions.

Getting out of the church was easy. I said that I had to return the car and the Central Committee quickly assented as they ogled their new toy. Back in the car, I retraced my path downtown finally experiencing a sense of relief when I saw the people, lights and signs of a saner existence as the car crossed south on 86th Street.

Why didn't the police stop me either coming or leaving. It's a good question. My only response is that in those days, you could not under estimate the power of MD plates.

viii. Son of a Preacher Man:

Dante, the YLP's first chairman was the son of an evangelical minister. By the age of 19, he had become a charismatic figure in Manhattan's El Barrio as a self-styled poet in the pre-rap genre that had been popularized by the Black Harlem group, The Last Poets. His poetry, like his oratory, was influenced by his exposure to his father's evangelical ministry. Like most Puerto Ricans living on the edge of Black Harlem, he spoke with the same dialect as New York City African-Americans. Moreover, he was more versed in Black culture than most Puerto Ricans, for several reasons: first, he had grown up in Black Harlem; secondly, he was of African-American descent, therefore, in the eyes of Blacks, he was Black, because he had a Puerto Rican heritage, he was Puerto Rican, too.

The Young Lords was a natural forum for both his fiery rhetoric and his combative personality. If there was one individual within the YLP who was able to inspire New York City Puerto Rican youth, it was he. Beneath all the bravura and the revolutionary persona, there existed the soul of a compassionate and sentimental artist which only, occasionally, was evinced. The Party was a natural forum and outlet for his messianic message of revolution and Puerto Rican independence. Later, when he was deposed in a Stalinist-like purge, the Party lost its only real voice within the New York City Puerto Rican community. Almost immediately, the Party began to experience dwindling membership and its community base. The estrangement grew even wider as the Young Lords aggressively adopted an internationalist Marxist-Leninist agenda popular among the radical New Left groups of the late 60's and early 70's, unwelcome, however, within the Puerto Rican community.

It was a Tuesday evening in early August 1970, and for the past few days, a disquieting feeling had fallen over the Party membership. No one talked about it, but everyone could feel it. It was not at all like the excitement and anxiety they usually could detect before an offensive. It was a heavy and oppressive feeling. Members of the CC came and went, independently, without much conversation. There were no smiles on their faces, none of the usual glib remarks. Something was in the air: but what?

That evening, I had joined members of the editorial staff at the offices of the Liberated Guardian ("Liberated" because the papers staff,, which earlier, had been part of the more staid, "Old" Left, Guardian, had....err, liberated much of the equipment when they left), a radical New Left newspaper which shared a similar political mindset as the Young Lords and welcomed us to use their type setting equipment for assembling and laying out our own propaganda organ, Palante. Although I wrote regularly for the paper, I was not on the editorial staff: I was there because it was a slow night and enjoyed the energy that came with putting out a newspaper; furthermore, there was always something interesting to do.

At one point I noticed that Perico, who was the paper's editor-in-chief, besides being the YLP's Minister of Information, was no where to be found: it seemed odd. Everyone knew that he enjoyed the tension of putting out the paper. You might even say, he reveled in it. This was the first time, in recent memory, that he had absented himself. The consensus was that there was probably a secret CC meeting going on somewhere connected to the odd goings-on of the last few days.

The YLP encouraged an inward looking policy when it came to most social issues; particularly, personal relationships. Although, outwardly, the Party espoused an anti male-chauvinist political line, in reality the male dominated organization was "Macho" to the core. Machissmo was glorified as an essential element of our culture. Of course, the YLP had a different interpretation of the term than that which was being defined by other radical groups. Machissmo, to the Lords, equaled a father's care and support of his family; a willingness to stand up to injustice and, most importantly, courage in the face of adversity. For male members, it also meant that it was acceptable behavior to "check out" each new female member.

A rigid pecking order gave the single politically "correct" males first choice on any new female "Lords in Training" (LIT). For the female, it meant that her status within the Party was equal in importance to that of her male partner. The reverse was not true, however. Further, members who joined with an already existing relationship were pressured -as in any cult group- to bring him/her into the party or end the relationship.

Into this milieu, one late winter's day, in 1969, strode Cloe. She was college educated, had a pleasing and diminutive appearance, a beguiling smile and eyes that held out a promise of intimacy. Dante was transfixed. She was his within days; and was immediately elevated to a position of high status within the Party infrastructure. No sooner had she arrived that she was seen as one of the very important members of the Party. Just as quickly, she and Dante were married.

But, something changed the week before the night in question. Suddenly, Cloe had dropped her aloofness and began behaving as if she was one of the cadre. Quietly, people noted her unusual and outward friendliness toward them. She even took to dropping in on people in the evenings, something she had never done before. A few male cadre said that they were bewildered by her friendliness which, for some, was characterized as seductive. No one could understand why Dante's wife would be acting like that, and why, all of a sudden? It was another of those strange events that defined that week.

It was almost midnight when Perico showed up with Cloe. Again, nothing unusual, Cloe often contributed articles to the paper. Moreover, no one found it odd when Perico announced that he and Cloe were going up to the roof, ..."to talk."

About half an hour after their arrival, the phone rang. I picked up the receiver. It was Dante asking if I knew where Perico was. Without pausing to think, I said that he was on the roof with Cloe. Dante slammed the phone down: now..., that was unusual. I told the others what had happened and, then, went up to the roof looking for Perico to tell him that Dante was looking for him. At first, I couldn't find them, then however, I discerned their shapes in the shadows. "Perico," I called out, "Dante called; he wanted to talk to you."

"What did you tell him," he asked. Although I could detect an uncharacteristic tremor in the tone in his voice, I still thought nothing about it. I still hadn't put two and two together.

"I just told him that you were on the roof with Cloe." I replied, still, unaware of the meaning of what I had just said or done. Shortly, however, I would come to realize the full impact of my answer to Dante as the mystery surrounding the previous week began to unravel. At that moment, however, I just found the goings-on a little curious.

Perico and Cloe hurriedly descended the stairs to the editing room where the rest of the cadre was continuing to work. Perico picked up the phone and called someone. I could see, then, that he was breathing heavily and had lost his normal calm exterior. He turned around and told Beatrice, the assistant editor, to supervise the rest of the justifying and layout. He had to go to an emergency CC meeting. Then, he and Cloe left. I recall looking around at the rest of the production crew as if to ask, "Does anyone know what's going on?" The obvious had gone over our heads. Perico was a member of the CC and Cloe was Dante's wife and, as such, was beyond reproach. Further, we knew that Dante had eyes only for Cloe. We went back to work.

Sometime near dawn, with the paper almost ready to go to the printers, we received a phone call from Piojo. There was going to be a general membership meeting in a few hours and all cadre were required to attend. "Why Piojo," (CC member and heir presumptive to the Chairmanship), I wondered to myself. This type of call usually came from Dante or Fernando. That's when the dam burst and everyone began conjecturing about what was happening. Some people suggested that Cloe was going to be elevated to the CC, others, more politically sensitive, thought that a spy or agent had been discovered in their midst.

When we arrived at the Madison Avenue office, sometime after midnight, we met other cadre outside the locked office who were as bewildered as we as to the reason for the impromptu meeting. Shortly, Benito, a member of the CC without portfolio, came out and, in a strained but calm demeanor, told everyone to come inside. In the back room of the office, chairs had already been neatly arranged for the Party cadre. In front, in six chairs facing the membership, sat the members of the Central Committee. The meeting was short, bereft of the usual protocols that began most meetings. It was Benito who stood up and addressed the membership. The room fell silent. All eyes were on him. Dante was sunken into his chair; his head down.

Benito took a deep breath and began his statement. "There was an emergency meeting of the CC tonight as you all know by now. At this meeting, Dante announced his resignation from the Party." There were sighs and groans of disbelief. Some people dared to shout, "No, No." Benito continued, " and the CC has named Piojo as the new chairman." The room fell silent in amazement, a dejected Dante began to cry. Piojo looked serious at his revolutionary best. Ladilla, his squeeze and eminence grise, had a smile on her lips. Hers was the only smile in the room. Noticeably absent, was Cloe.

Benito waited a few seconds. "I have been named the new Minister of Education," he said, avoiding any trace in his voice that would have revealed the irony that a high school dropout was now in charge of education. Then, just as quickly the meeting ended. Outside people were still shaking their heads in disbelief. Many talked about leaving the Party, but said so quietly. It was evident that Dante was a much loved and revered figure, while Piojo was seen as a louche figure difficult to fathom and approach; by many, feared.

Benito joined the membership outside and as delicately as he could, told us that Dante had found out a few days earlier that Cloe and Perico had been having an affair. Everyone was aghast. What had happened to the principle of revolutionary loyalty? As revolutionaries, we understood the necessity to share a bed with another Party member if one needed to sleep, but that was all you did-- just sleep. We were soldiers. It was too much for anyone to comprehend that the Chairman's wife had been involved in an unfaithful relationship with another member of the CC, and, least of all, the one with the reputation as a womanizer. Cloe, on the other hand, had the reputation as a strong advocate of woman's rights and publicly had opposed the male-chauvinism of the YLP. It was too much to grasp in so short a period of time..

In fact, several Party members did quit that day. The Party continued to limp along for another year before its final transformation into some form of worker's organization headed by Piojo, then Ladilla. But it was on that night of the fateful phone call to the Liberated Guardian's editing room that had marked the end of the Young Lords Party (Marxist-Leninist)..
Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre!

From Budapest