MY TWO PROGRESSIVE BOOKS – MY SMALL PROGRESSIVE GIFT TO THE WORLD
I was born at a very young age to a woman I had never been properly introduced to (even though I’m told I was rather a constant companion to her for a number of months prior to my actual arrival – go figure). That was the beginning of the confusion that this life presented to me and which became the two following Progressive books.
I was born in an Army hospital in New Jersey (that is now closed due to massive asbestos hazards in the walls and floors that existed from the time of its construction – again, go figure) but was almost immediately moved to be raised in my grandparent’s home in the Bible Belt city of Wichita, Kansas. Sometime later my father decided to take his leave of the family or was given his walking papers after my brother was born, depending on the version and story teller. I was the second of three live-born children (a few miscarriages along the way, I’m told).
My arrival was not welcome by my older sister, who enjoyed the attention of being an only child, and my younger brother who came along 14 months later and was, as I was repeatedly told, much cuter and smarter than I (and I still can’t argue forcefully against either statement even 16 years after his death). My father, or at least the fellow who had been away in the Army in Alaska for 15 months prior to my birth but was forced to sign my birth certificate by his CO, didn’t precisely welcome me with open arms, either. In this rather awkward atmosphere, this tiny progressive gift to mankind grew up.
Now, Kansas in the 1950s and early 60s wasn’t all that different from how it is now. Bible thumping and patriotism was the favorite sport and many often said, without a trace of irony, “God and Country! But not always in that order!” I was taught the bible in public school and learned about Darwin and evolution and many other things by accident and then told to STFU if I asked about them. We had to participate in religious plays in school on Christmas and Easter and dressed up like Pilgrims and shot other kids dressed up as Indians and then sat down to our paper cutout turkey feasts on Thanksgiving. I knew there were such things as Catholics and Jews but that was about it for the religions of the world for me. I knew about blacks, too, but only that they weren’t “real humans” so I didn’t have much contact there, either.
All this time, hidden away on purpose, in our little school libraries were progressive books full of wisdom and new worlds and progressive gifts the likes of which I never imagined. I stumbled across a few but I was always told that I was “too young” to be reading those things and that when I was an “adult” I would be able to understand that they were mostly lies written by people headed to hell.
But the names of those books, Fahrenheit 451 and Siddhartha and Jefferson’s Bible, stayed in my tiny brain waiting for me to “grow up” enough to go find the books for myself. And what books they were! What worlds they opened for me! The world, I discovered without knowing the right words for it, was a progressive gift just waiting for me to unwrap it.
Well, as life will do, things changed. I got a little older, went to a Catholic boys school because I was “too stupid” for public school, learned a bunch of superstitious lies, was told some rather sordid tales about my family by my family, and I guess my mother tired of answering my 12 year old questions about these events. It came to pass that Mom decided that the tales should rather have remained in the far recesses of family history and my questions were beyond her ability to continue to make up answers that I knew weren’t true. She decided t0 move the entire small clan from Wichita to Los Angeles. That was the beginning of what I came to know was my personal Progressive gift from the universe.
CULTURE SHOCK AS A PROGRESSIVE GIFT
We arrived in LA in 1963. I was stunned. Not just at the place because I knew that Kansas was not going to be like California. That was a given. What amazed me was that some of the people my own age were actually thinking and talking about things I had spent my life being told to ignore. Hell, I met my very first Hippies and they were not the Satan loving, anti-Americans I had been told to expect. Granted, these Hippie folks were talking about things like the war in Vietnam, wherever that was, and about Communism, whatever the hell that was, but they were talking about these things with such earnestness that I felt suddenly at home outside my home. They were also talking about how the government was corrupt and that we had been taught lies as children and that there were more that just the Christian way to discover and speak of god.
It took about a year but I eventually realized that I had nothing in common with the people I shared a house with and who had never grown past that low, Kansas attitude about things. So, one day while everyone was arguing about something and I was about to be determined to be the cause of the argument once again, I just went, grabbed my coat, said I was going for a walk, went to the curb, stuck out my thumb and didn’t really look back.
THE BEGINNING OF MY SECOND LIFE
Granted, this was the early 60s and there were more than a few of us out there traveling by foot and thumb and backpack so I kind of blended in. What I started out on was a journey to find a family that was happy, a mythical family that I soon learned existed only in Mayberry and at the Petrei’s house but that all families were strange and uncomfortable in their own, unique ways. So, pretty soon it just became traveling for the sake of movement.
I tried to come home a few times and each time felt like my absence might have helped them grow but everything always fell back into the same old angry habits and off I’d go. I would work a little, travel a little, live with various families here and there a little and get in a lot of trouble everywhere. Being a dirty, long haired kid without a family or money was always, especially in the South, a quick ticket to a few weeks in jail. That was cool, of course, because it meant 3 meals a day and a bed and time to read and think and, well, even the occasional redneck who would beat me up to feel important or the old guys who wanted to just feel me up could be ignored.
All during this time I had kept a small journal and just scraps of paper on which I wrote down thoughts that wandered through my mind. All were of extreme importance to a teenager all alone in the 60s and, I have found, continue to have meaning even though the meaning may have changed a bit as my life unfolded and changed in ways I never thought possible. I lost almost everything I owned at one time or another in my long life but I always seemed to have those scraps or paper and small journals somewhere safe. Ain’t happenstance amazing?
I had a girlfriend here and there but most either tired of me quickly or I tired of being in that place quickly so off I’d go. Once I left I might write a few words but few ever wrote back and fewer still wanted me back. Somehow, though, with one of the more amazing girls I met (through my brother of all people finding her and her disabled girlfriend’s car broken down just feet from our home) I found a sort of attachment. Sadly, I had lied about my age since she was older and I wanted to appear more mature (yeah, and lying about my age was how I did that) and we were together for a few months on and off till she told me it was off. Since that was the story of my life with nearly everyone, I wasn’t surprised and didn’t ask too many questions.
What I didn’t know was that she had become pregnant and was vastly wise enough to realize she was too young to be a mother and I was the worst possible choice for a father and husband imaginable. So, she just sent me away and I left, writing a time or two but not trying to really learn anything about her life, just telling about mine.
UNEXPECTED GIFT TO ADD TO MY PROGRESSIVE GIFTS OF LIFE (A SIDE STORY)
I was blissfully unaware of any of this. It wasn’t until through an amazing phone call in 2010 to a place I once worked that I discovered that I was the biological father of an amazing, caring daughter that was placed in adoption by that same sweet girl a million lifetimes ago. It took 40 years for her to decide to seek me out and I was actually not that surprised by the call. I always wondered if my haphazard life had produced children and suddenly here she was. Not only did she turn out to be someone I would probably have liked to know anyway, she loves to blog and write books and such and also has autistic children – who woulda thunk it??????? Another of life’s stunning progressive gifts for me and it took 40 years to learn of her.
BEING ARRESTED IS A PROGRESSIVE GIFT (OR, BACK TO THE STORY)?
Anyway, the end result of all this travel and adventure was for me to find myself standing before a judge in a Los Angeles County Courtroom on a multitude of nonviolent but fairly serious offenses. The judge, I suppose, was having a good day and decided to give this tall, skinny, long haired hippie a choice that would affect his life forever. He told me that, since I just turned 18, I could go to prison for 2-3 years for my crimes OR (and it was big OR) I could try to find any branch of the service that would let me enlist for a minimum of 2 years and he would drop the charges and erase them from my records. Well, I’d already spent enough time in jails here and there fighting off toothless old fools that wanted me for reasons carnal and debased and I figured that prison would probably hold some folks I would not be able to fight off. That made the decision fairly easy. I agreed to his terms and was told to return to court in 90 days either with signed enlistment papers or ready to take the trip to prison; my choice. That was a progressive gift hidden like a rock in a sock that I wasn’t quite prepared to recognize.
Long story short, I couldn’t even volunteer for the draft since everyone wanted to join the branches of the military that didn’t directly entail killing and being killed (Navy and Air Force and Coast Guard and National Guard) and the Army wanted nothing to do with a kid about to go to prison and who had, as they say, no known last address. I finally wandered over to the U.S. Marine recruiter, held open the door preparing to leave, and told him he was my last chance to stay out of prison. He sat at his desk, looked at me for a few long seconds, brought out a few forms from a drawer, said “Sign these and we’ll talk.” and that’s how I became a Marine and, in his words, “perfect cannon fodder to protect the REAL Marines”. (cannon fodder – John Cannon – hahahahaha)
So, off to boot camp, then infantry training, then ground radar training (of which ZERO existed in Vietnam) and then, well “1, 2, 3, 4! What are we fighting for?”
Seriously, I won’t even begin to try to describe the hell over there. Just understand that in hell , there is pretty much the constant sound of screams and people bleed and leave body parts lying around and far too often those body parts belong to children and women and old people that had nothing to do with anything except to be at exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time in history. There is nothing good about war. No better purpose is ever served. No one wins. A few survive. Minds and souls are broken forever and in a couple years nobody cares or remembers. And it happens over and over in every generation. And it is never fought by the people that become obscenely wealthy at the expense of that hell. That is war in a paragraph.
COLLECTING MY THOUGHTS INTO A PROGRESSIVE BOOK
So, about a year ago I was going through some boxes that had been sent back from the Philippines (another long story that I think will have a very happy ending). I found all of these little scraps of paper and notebooks and thought I should finally just organize this into some form. Once I started I realized I also had a huge list of quotes from some of the most progressive minds in history residing on a web site I had written articles for over a nearly twenty year span called Another Perspective.
Over the next eight or nine months I created the first two books I have ever written and of which I am inordinately proud (in my humble, willfully opinionated way).
The first I put together was my collection of progressive quotes, which I titled and published through Amazon.com at Atheists, Agnostics, Progressive Minds: Busy Bacteria On A Speck Of Dust. That was the paperback type edition that remains available at that link. I then made it available, also through Amazon, for their Kindle Reader. Later on, I was made aware that some might like to read the books but that the Kindle was expensive and the books were either expensive, although I priced them as low as Amazon allowed, or people just didn’t have shelf space. Some research uncovered Smashwords, a great place where, after a couple weeks more work, I was able to load the books there and now you can download them for every reader on the market. Now you can read what I collected and found important and be as green and ecologically gratified as possible. 🙂
The second book, A Progressive Mind – Personal Reflections On Reality, which is the collection of my meager thoughts over nearly 50 years, I also first had printed in a hard copy form, or soft cover form to be more exact. Again, I published it first digitally in the Kindle Version available through Amazon.com and, later, through SmashWords so you can read my meager thoughts and know that not one tree died to bring it to you. 🙂
END OF THE PROGRESSIVE GIFT STORY
So, that’s it. That’s how it came to be that two books were born, created and published. That’s the story of my personal progressive books to the world came about.