Friday, September 08, 2006



The short career of the white Aunt Jemima


EDITOR'S NOTE: This article first appeared in Cavalier Magazine, September 1977. Cavalier was a popular "skin mag" of that era. The author's first draft was returned with instructions to liven it up in a certain way. Much of what is reported here actually happened. Today's reprint in The Cool Justice Report follows a review of the recent book by Paul Bass and Douglas Rae, "Murder In The Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale And The Redemption Of A Killer."

I was working for a gun factory in the late sixties. The Black Panther Movement was going strong. Not too many had been murdered. The shooting hadn't really started. The company, Winchester-Western, was on strike. I was bored and restless, getting drunk every night, and letting my good looks go to hell. My wife had left. Gone to Oregon to become a Merry Prankster. Whenever a woman leaves, even if you're glad to see her go, she always leaves a little, dark, empty space inside. I had to find something to get out of that dark, empty space.

There was a coffeehouse on State Street, called Bread & Roses. Maybe you remember the Wobblies mantra from the history books: "Give us bread, but give us roses too." Well, the strike was into its ninth week. It was going to be hard enough to get Winchester-Western to part with some of its bread, so you might as well forget about getting roses. Bread & Roses was giving away coffee and sandwiches to the strikers. They were nice people, for Commies. In fact, they were down-right congenial, and I began to hang around there until I forgot about the strike.

B & R was a hang-out for New Haven's radicals. Yale's S.D.S. met there regularly. They were rich kids in search of a cause to prove their independence from mom's and dad's check book. The New Haven Women's Society For Political Change would congregate, to argue about who was a fem and who was a dike. The People's Party came in often. They were white supporters of the Black Panther Party, but couldn't become Panthers because of the color line. Once in awhile, a genuine Black Panther would appear, but that was rare. Panthers weren't into hanging around anywhere.

One rainy New Haven October afternoon I was sitting in B & R, drinking coffee after free coffee. I had picket duty at the gun factory, but the weather was terrible, so I started talking to two women at a nearby table, and the next thinG I knew I was standing in the rain, outside Big Buy Super Market, handing out leaflets that spoke out against the racist policies of the city administration.

I didn't know if the administration was made up of racists, or care. New Haven has been controlled by one party for more than twenty years. As far as I was concerned, the mayor's men were crooks, cut-throats, gangsters, and guttersnipes, but I didn't know if they were racists. Whenever the mayor faced a close election he'd send a sound truck into black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods, playing Ray Charles and unidentifiable Spanish music through fuzzy loud speakers. Now and then someone inside the truck would talk into a microphone, but the sound was so terrible you couldn't tell if he was saying something good or bad about the mayor's opponent, or whether the man inside the truck was speaking English or Spanish.

As I said, I didn't know if the city was run by racists. It seemed that it was being run by the Marx Brothers, but I didn't care. All I knew was that it was raining, and the women I was leafleting with were prettier than the machine operators on the picked line. One of the two women was very sweet and very distant. Her husband was a doctor. She was having an affair with a Panther. It was the white thing to do. The other woman was Bronx, Jewish Princess, too motherly, but I was having a hard time and could overlook a few shortcomings.

This woman was something. We'll call her Madeline. She was one of the leaders of the New Haven Woman's Society For Political Change, and in the People's Party as well. She was a writer and an editor, and she was publishing lots of articles on the current political scene/struggle. If you're standing outside, it's a scene. If you're inside, it's a struggle.

Her husband was a Professor of History, at Yale; a rich brat who kept Madeline knee-deep in luxurious clothes and cars. The Cad. He was all for the movement, but his busy schedule wouldn't permit him to attend meetings, picket super markets, or march down Chapel Street, changing, "Free Our Brothers, Free Our Sisters." That would have been crazy. He was already free.

It was difficult for me to figure out what they were protesting. They weren't going to give up their cosmopolitan existence, come hell or high water. They were willing to talk revolution, but that's as far as it went. What a person says or thinks isn't nearly as important as what he does. Everything else is a scam. Later, I learned that Madeline was protesting her husband's sexual exploration of two killer dikes from the W.S.F.P.C.; a protest that would bring Madeline and me into sweet, short-lived harmony.

Some time passed. Promotions in the People's Party were hard to come by. I was still leafleter, second class. Madeline invited me to a People's Party Committee meeting. Like the New Haven Board of Alderman meetings, the People's Party Committee meetings were drawn-out, smoke-filled, bullshit sessions, during which noting you didn't already know got said. I began counting ceiling tiles. There were 864 of them. Twenty-four across, and thirty-six down.

When the meeting ended Madeline asked if I'd give her a ride home. Her husband was angry with her and had taken away her grey Mercedes. I told her that my Rambler wouldn't start, and I had borrowed a friend's bicycle. It was a great ride home. She sat on the handle bars, her wound ass not more than six inches from my nose.

We zig-zagged up Whitney Avenue, trying to stay on our side of the road. We laughed like idiots. We got to my place and she stayed the night. Before she got undressed she sat on the edge of my narrow bed and told me she didn't like oral sex, and that she was interested in "straight sex."

She stood up and started to undress. She was white and hard, like alabaster. And like alabaster, she was cold. As soon as she removed her street people uniform of jeans and work shirt she jumped into my bed. I couldn't believe it. There it was. A human body in my bed. Naked and ripe for plunder. I felt like Cortes, Pizzaro, Michelangelo rubbing his hands together in front of a yet unchipped piece of marble.

I undressed, lit a candle, turned off the light, and pulled in next to her. She was cold. I pulled the covers tight around her, and she started to feel better. As soon as I sensed that she was relaxed I started massaging her neck and shoulder muscles. She laid back and started to talk about the Party, the struggle, the war, and her husband. I let her talk. I had nothing to say. I never talk when my mouth is full, especially when it's full of left breast. She talked about the Breakfast Program, about the phone being tapped, about Bobby Seale coming to town, and about her husband. I couldn't hear what she was saying. By then I was too far under the covers. She was talking about the Winchester strike, when she opened her thighs to my tongue. She asked me how the picket line was going, and I nodded up and down. She forgot about the picket line and opened her thighs wider. She smelled and tasted strange. Like cinnamon. I couldn't figure it out. It didn't taste like the rest of her. She sensed that I was started to drift, so she grabbed my hair and pushed my face into her arched dew-drop-in.

"Don't stop! Oh, Michael, don't stop!" I wondered who the hell Michael was. Maybe her husband. She tightened her grip on my hair. Then she started bouncing her ass down and up, up and down as though the bed was a hot stove. I thought my nose was going to break from crashing against her pelvic bone. I couldn't breathe. All I could smell was cinnamon. Then the dam broke. She hissed and swore, pulled my hair.

"You motherfucker, oh you sweet motherfucker," and then it was over. I came up for air. She hugged me, congratulated me, then said, "Fuck me." And I did.

I have seen movies of rodeo champ Jim Shoulders riding broncos, but he never would have lasted ten seconds on Madeline. She went crazy, biting my lips, calling me a son of a bitch, and grinding her hips into me as though she had a rubber backbone. My balls swung like a pawnbroker's sign in a hurricane.

I lay beside her. She lit a cigarette. Didn't talk. Took a few puffs, then crushed the cigarette out. Started kissing me, moving down my body. When she got to my penis she kissed it once, then slid up beside me, "I'd love to satisfy you….I mean with my mouth, but I think it's a sexist act." I watched the candlelight dancing on the ceiling. As soon as Madeline went to sleep, I went into the bathroom. Too bad she didn't enjoy oral sex. It would've been safer. That was the night she got pregnant, but we wouldn't find that out for another seven weeks.

Meanwhile I kept getting myself in deeper with the Party. Somehow, I got talked into working with the Panther Breakfast Program, which meant that I'd have to get up at 5:30 every morning, meet Madeline, and a couple of Panthers at six, then drive over to the Pillar of God Church, near the corner of Division Street and Winchester Avenue, which was just a few blocks from where I was supposed to be picketing. We'd get breakfast started, turn the grills on, mix batter for pancakes, line up the chairs. The kids were due in at seven and we had to feed them and get them on their way to school as fast as we could. While Madeline and a few of the Panthers washed the dishes and restacked the chairs. I'd go off to the factory to put in a brief appearance in the picket line.

I became the Breakfast Program's pancake flipper. No one could pour out a circle of batter, flip it, and have it come up golden-brown the way I could. No slop, no pancakes hanging from the ceiling and very few falling onto the floor. I'd just put those in with the other pancakes and nobody ever knew the difference.

The breakfast program was a beautiful idea. Make sure kids get a healthy meal. Get them started each day with bacon, sausage, and hotcakes, and they'd have the energy to get through another boring day at school. Kids would file in, blurry-eyed and still chalky with sleep. I'd be at the grill, flipping pancakes and stacking them onto plates. The place was a mad house for an hour, then suddenly, it was all over.

The only thing I didn't like about the breakfast program was the political raps the Panthers gave the kids every morning. Just give them their breakfast and let them eat in peace. But no, the Party pledge had to be recited, then one of the Panthers, who had studied Eldridge Cleaver's inflections from one of his LP's, started to read from the Black Panther News how the pigs were offing Panthers because we were living in a racist society. Which is the truth. Racism spills over from all sides, and racists come in all colors.

"Let the kids alone," I told one of the Panthers. "You said you'd give them breakfast, so let it go at that." Casco, the cadre puppet sent from Panther headquarters, in Oakland, told me he had to give the kids a Panther rap every morning because when they got to school they'd be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He thought he was balancing things out, but I though he was confusing the kids. Give them breakfast, and let them figure things out for themselves. They would anyway.

Getting the food for the Breakfast Program was a trip in itself. Several Panthers would walk into small, neighborhood grocery stores, and they'd tell the owners who they were. "We are here to free the people from the oppressive white racist government." Sometimes the shop owners were white guys, and sometimes they were black, but the reaction would be the same.

"Black Panthers, huh? Well, just take whatever you need to feed the kids. Yes sir, anything at all. I respect what you're doing. Here, let me help you. I can't tell you what your feeding the kids means to all of us. Just help yourself. And please, don't wreck my store." The whole neighborhood, whites and blacks alike, were scared. The mafia couldn't have done it any better. Nobody said no.

Everything impossible was starting to happen and quicken. Madeline and I were still grunting to fulfillment, but her husband had found out. No more money for awhile, at least not until she had seen the mindlessness of her frenzies and had returned to him. When she found out she was pregnant, she came to my place with the news. She had a dazed, dreamy look, and I took the news like a man. I smiled, toke her hand, while inside my head a scream asking, "Why Me?" bounced around like a ping-pong ball on an abandoned video screen. It wasn't good news.

We went to bed and made a disgusting racket. We could hear my landlady talking with smaller voices down the hall. Madeline was breathing heavily in my ear, so I couldn't make out what they were saying. Madeline climbed on top of me, tongue down my throat. Our bodies made unromantic sounds. We left the room in a shambles. We were exultant. I immediately suggested that we find a place together. Madeline's thought were loftier. She would move into the Panther cadre on Spring Street. She would give the baby to the revolution. The child's name would be Eden, and would never know who his or her parents were. At the cadre, Eden would have twelve parents instead of a mere two. I didn't protest. Nine months is a long time. A lot was going to happen.

Madeline moved in with the Panthers and I stayed at my place. We'd still get together and make love, and this managed to irk some of the Panthers. They felt that I should live with them, or have nothing to do with a member of their cadre. Actually, I would have moved in with them, but they were very dull. Either they'd listen to Eldridge Cleaver records, smoked dope only when they read Chairman Mao, or they'd crouch down in front of the windows and imagine that every passing car and each pedestrian was a pig spying on them. They were very nutty people, which isn't so bad, but they were captives in a narrowing world which they had created. The truth is, the cops weren't interested in them; not yet anyway.

One crisp November morning Madeline came over to warn me about the Panthers. There were getting bored, so they decided to take issue with my relationship with Madeline. They had called a meeting to deal with us. They accused Madeline and me of allowing our emotions to cloud our dedication to the cause. They said we were undercutting their morale. They were going to give me an ultimatum; either I move into the cadre, or I stop seeing Madeline.

I understood where they were coming from. Madeline was a woman, and they weren't able to score because I was in the way. If I moved into the cadre they'd have me under their thumbs. Squish! I had seen them operate, and it wasn't very pretty. The cadre was once the apartment of a doctor and his wife. He was just out of Yale Medical School and doing residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The woman's name was Kathleen. Blue eyes and honey hair. She got into the People's Party, then decided to open her house up to the Panthers. Her husband was furious, but when it came to saying no, he had sawdust for brains. It would cost him. Kathleen told her husband that the blacks had been used as slaves for four hundred years and the whites had to start paying them back for all those years of abuse. The four hundred years of slavery guilt trip makes about as much sense as being born in sin because Adam and Eve performed original sex in the Garden of Eden.

Liberals can't enjoy anything without feeling guilty. They can't eat banana splits with a clear conscience. It's as though God can forgive pleasure as long as they feel guilt. Life must have been going great for Kathleen, so naturally, she had to fuck it up. Two Panthers moved in. Everything for the cause. Anything to relieve four hundred yeas of guilt. Eventually, Kathleen started sleeping with one of the Panthers. It was inevitable. Anything for the movement.

One afternoon I was at the cadre, Kathleen's husband came home and found his wife in bed with one of the Panthers. Her husband took his glasses off. I thought there was going to be a fight. I moved between the Panther and the Doc. I didn't want her old man to get killed. He looked too much like Woody Allen. The only way they would have been able to pick him up off the floor was with a blotter. But he had guts. He told the Panther to get his black ass the fuck out of his house, and the Panther called him a racist, a lumpkin, and a white lackey.

Kathleen told her husband, and I heard this with my own two attentive ears, "You'd better not come into our bedroom again, because you won't like what you see." I could imagine lots of things he wouldn't like to see, each one crappier than the next. Everything for the movement. Her husband didn't even bother to pack his bags; he just left.

Less than two months later, when Kathleen learned that she was pregnant she went to her husband for, of all things, an abortion. Abortions were illegal in Connecticut, so it was a choice of going to her husband, or to one of the mustard bath, coat-hanger butchers in Bridgeport. He looked at his wife for a moment, then he punched her right in the nose, ruining her pretty face for months. I never saw, or heard from either of them again.

The Panthers were leaning on me. They knew I didn't take them seriously. The truth is, I envied them. What a racket! Free food. Free houses. Free women. They had their rules, but those rules weren't mine. They permitted dope smoking only when reading Mao. I tried reading him, but the print's too small. The Panthers wanted me off the streets before dark, unless I was on my way to a political meeting. I was never off the streets before dark. I grew up in the city and I've always lived for the night when it's going to cost something terrible to exist.

One night, while I was parking my Rambler in front of the cadre, a bullet came through the window on the driver's side and went out the window on the passenger's side. Both windows became opaque spider webs with bullet holes for centers. I sat there a moment watching the street light refract in the shattered glass. I got out of the car, looked around, but I couldn't see another soul on the street. I went upstairs, into the cadre.

I knocked on the hall door. When Madeline opened it she started at me, then pulled me inside. I was stunned. The idea that someone had just tried to kill me was starting to sink in. The shot had been heard from inside the cadre. Some of the Panthers, fantasizing headlines, had pulled their guns from their hiding places and had declared that the pigs had, at last, surrounded the cadre, and were coming to get them.

While they skidded from window to window, spouting Eldridge Cleaver and Huey P. Newton, I walked into kitchen to find a comfortable chair. I felt cold. My fingertips were numb. Madeline came over and demanded to know what had happened. It was her new way of showing concern. I told her that I was parking my car. I turned my head to see how much room I had behind me when the windows on both sides of me shattered. I rubbed my hands together to get the circulation going.

Casco put his snub-nose, Cobra Colt .38 in his belt and demanded to know what I was doing out on the street after dark. He shouted in a cadence, "Not only do you risk your own life, but you are jeopardizing the safety of the cadre." He yelled some more until he felt better, than he called a meeting for the following night. He said, "You be sure to be there." I nodded okay, just so he'd leave me alone while I tried to figure out what had just happened, and why.

Madeline made a pot of Peking tea and we slept together, but my spirit wasn't in it. Even at the breakfast program the next morning, the flip had gone out of my wrist. I kept thinking, "Who'd want to kill me? Casco? Madeline's husband? My Merry Prankster wife? Some kid who didn't like pancakes?" I never did find out who fired at me. It cost me $84.59, plus tax, to get the windows fixed.

The next night a couple of Panthers picked me up at my place. About 8:30. they were pleasant enough, offered me some herb. We went for a long ride. You see, they couldn't drive directly to the cadre. They had to back-track, zig-zag, circle blocks and weave in and out of traffic so the police wouldn't suspect they were Black Panthers on their way to a cadre meeting. By the time we got to the cadre I could barely walk. There was something in the smoke that I'd never had before, or since. Suddenly, I started getting paranoid. I even began suspecting my two good buddies who had gotten me loaded in the back seat. What were they setting me up for?

We walked up several flights of stairs, then we went into the apartment. There was hardly any light. Blue smoke was rising above lampshades. I knew everyone was being good and reading Chairman Mao.

As soon as my eyes got used to the smoky dark I could see members of the cadre, some S.D.S.'ers, and members from the People's Party Committee. They were stern, sitting in an open circle. The opening in the circle was for me. Casco told me to sit down, and I was handed one of those nice, red plastic covered books with the Chairman's profile imprinted on the cover.

I sat down, nodded and smiled hello, but nobody nodded or smiled back. Casco told me to read the sections on "Self-Discipline" and "Individualism" out loud. At the end of each paragraph I was supposed to stop and submit myself to questions based on what I'd just read. This was a terrible situation for me. I have trouble remembering parts of books I like. How was I going to remember the words of Mao, especially when I'd been smoking all the way here? The drug was starting to come on. My head was crushing in. My mouth was dry. Casco said, "Read."

I tried to read; maybe I'd be able to bluff my way through. Maybe not. I tried to answer their questions. "What is the individual worth at the sacrifice of the cadre?" "What power does the cadre have when one of its members lacks self-discipline?" They were tough questions. They didn't make any sense, especially when there was more of them, and only one of me. It was an inappropriate thought. I was thinking of my individualism again. Thinking of myself, and not showing any appreciation for those who had gathered here so that I might learn from them the meaning of life. Someone from the back of the room asked a question. I was so into my own thoughts that I didn't hear him. He asked it again. He asked it a third time.

While he was repeating his question, something occurred to me. I got up slowly. I looked around the room. It was filled with zombies. I couldn't recognize one face. I began to speak. I spoke slowly. Quietly. At first the words were practically inaudible. "I don't need any oppressor, whether he or she is white, pink, red, or black. Or yellow." I wasn't being funny, or brave. I expected to die. Maybe the person who shot at me last night was in the room. I didn't know.

I closed the book, tossed it on the rug, and started for the door. I couldn't do it. My feet had fallen asleep. I grabbed onto the door jamb and wiggled my toes inside my shoes. It was a very long few minutes. I looked around at the eyes looking up at me, then I walked out the door. I kept expecting someone to say, "He knows too much," but nobody said a word. I limped down the stairs and out into the night air. I heard a couple of voices shout down to me from an open window, but I didn't hear what they said. I didn't care. I took a leak in the alleyway. Then started walking the four miles home.

A few days later Madeline came over to tell me that she was moving back with her husband. He had forgiven everything and had ordered a new Mercedes for her. Well, that was it. She spoke very softly and she seemed to pronounce each letter separately. I think she wanted some reaction, but I wasn't in a good mood. I asked her if she would give me a ride downtown, and she said she would.

I didn't know how to be tactful, so I didn't say anything. Little pieces of shit were going through my head. I squeezed her hand. I grunted, but no words. I knew her smile would never go away, would always be in me like rust on the bottom of an old sink.

When we got to the car she started to cry, but what good are tears, ever? She cried all the way down Whitney Avenue, toward Yale. I was nervous. I hoped she could see well enough through her smudged, tinted, feminist glasses. I started fidgeting with a small white bag that was on the seat. I began to open it. Madeline stopped crying and went through a sudden personality transference. She shouted at me to put the bag down, "This instant!" and she swung wildly, trying to grab the paper bag out of my hand. She was furious. A cannon had gone off inside her, and I slid down in the seat to avoid her frantic swipes.

I opened the small white bag and looked inside. She screamed and tore the bag out of my hands. The car rolled onto the curb and narrowly missed a fat elm, before she swung the car back onto the street. The can of F.D.S. fell through the torn bag and bounced off the dashboard. As the car lurched from side to side the can fell to the floor and rolled under the front seat. She straightened the car out and I told her that I'd get the can out from under the seat, but she said, "Don't bother."

She was cold and remote, and the ride was long and silent. I asked her what she was going to do with her old Mercedes. We were riding in it and it seemed to run okay. A little blue smoke whenever Madeline accelerated, but noting serious. My car was falling apart. The only things that worked right were the two new windows. It was eight years old and it had a lot of mileage. Madeline's car was eight years old, too, but Mercedes engines are supposed to hold up better than Rambler's. Her car was starting to rust out, but not too badly. If I decided to go to the southwest before the winter set in, the Mercedes would be the better car to take.

Madeline became vocal again. She said she wanted $750 for her Mercedes. I told her that I'd have to think about it. There was a horrible distance between us and we didn't say anything to each other.

When we got to the Old Campus I asked to be let out. She maneuvered the car toward the curb. She scraped her right front tire against it. I knew this was goodbye. I thanked her for the ride and waved as she hit the accelerator. I watched until her car got lost in blue smoke and traffic, then I started walking. Wondering if it was worth it; $750 seemed like an awful lot for a heap like that.


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