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November 03, 2005

Dirty hippies

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, my mother worked as an administrative assistant in the Buffalo office of Senator Jacob Javits, who was one of that currently extinct species known as the "Liberal Republican." She did a variety of tasks, such as answering and tallying constituent feedback and such.

Her workplace was ten or so two stories up in the Thaddeus Dulski Federal Building, a brutalist and appropriately named edifice. From the suite of offices she worked in, she still had a good view of Downtown: City Hall, the Marine Midland Bank tower, the monument to William McKinley in the middle of Niagara Square.

But one day her boss - a haughty woman whose name I have forgotten - stood by the window looking down at the foot of the building, instead of out at the landscape. She clucked in disgust at a handful of peace activists there, who were demonstrating against some new menace or other. Draft registration had recently been revived in those days. The US was facing down Iran, and - in Afghanistan - the Soviet Union. New weapons systems were being proposed. A dirty, murderous proxy war was ramping up in Central America. The demonstrators might have had any - or all - of those topics in mind when they assembled. It was a long time ago. Who remembers these details?

Rita's boss watched the demonstrators, carrying signs and marching in a circle ten or so two floors down. She complained about the demonstrators' apparent lack of gainful employment. Ten o'clock on a weekday! She complained about their uselessness, their lack of priorities, their misguidedness, their insufficient patriotism.

"And just look at that one!" she said, pointing at a painfully thin, scruffy peach-fuzz-bearded hippie with dirty-blonde hair hanging down to the small of his back. He carried a sign, shivering into his worn Army fatigue overcoat. "My God, he looks like he hasn't bathed in a month!"

This would be a better story had my mother turned to her boss and spoken. "No," she might have said, "he showered this morning. I had to pick his towel up off the bathroom floor!" But she didn't say anything. She just watched me walking in the cold with my friends Andy and Berna and Steve, and a few folks from the Western New York Peace Center's phone tree. Afterward we dirty hippies walked to Gleason's for coffee.

Posted by Chris Clarke at November 3, 2005 11:34 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Nice story, Chris, and well told.

I often look down at the misguided protestors against one thing or another outside my building. I appreciate your reminding me that one of them may be my son one day.

Posted by: carpundit at November 3, 2005 12:58 PM
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I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the image of you as a skinny guy with a peach-fuzz beard and hair down the middle of your back. Not to mention as someone who leaves his towels on the floor.

Posted by: nina at November 3, 2005 01:31 PM
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If it weren't for Becky he'd STILL be leaving his towel on the bathroom floor.

Posted by: craig at November 3, 2005 06:18 PM
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Credit where due: Elissa* did some of that reeducation as well.

Also, leaving the towel on the bathroom floor only works if you have an abundant supply of clean towels. Once the magical elves decided not to do my laundry, I started carefully hanging my towel on the rod so that I might use it more than once.

*Not the same Elissa who commented from Australia. Simmer down, y'all.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 3, 2005 07:26 PM
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---mmm I suppose another option could have been to leave the towel to fester----but for how long could yr mum have done this?takes skill-

Posted by: Joan at November 4, 2005 01:25 AM
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Hi Chris, still reading your blog (still would love to hear from you. I'm assuming you can get my email address from your blog backend?). I forgot you had a gf named Elissa for a while too....

Anyhow, I can attest that Chris was once a thin undernourished hippy. (I was a much thinner than now, but chubby hippy). We lived in a shared house with about 9 hippies, yippies, co-op types, mainly living off food credit from barter and odd jobs here and there. 6 loaves of day-old bread for $1, and rent was $50/month. Swiss chard 5 night per week in summer. But I think instead of dinner we started referring to the meal as "gruel", perhaps sounded a bit more like "cruel". Those were some times....

Posted by: elissa at November 4, 2005 05:38 AM
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"magical elf" -- i like that job title better than "mooooommmm!" [as uttered in a peremptory tone by a teen who finds no clean towels in the bathroom].

Posted by: kathy a at November 4, 2005 06:24 AM
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A couple of corrections, or additions: My office was on the 2nd floor, so it was very easy to see you guys. The woman was haughty, & obnoxious, & also an alcoholic - drank her breakfast every day. You really did get a shower & shampoo that morning.

Are you forgetting the lunch hour I spent with you guys sitting on the steps of the Main Post Office near City Hall protesting the draft? I was WITH you guys - it just wouldn't have meant anything to my "boss" who was hardly ever at work.

Posted by: Rita Xavier at November 4, 2005 10:39 AM
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There is a tinge of sadness in this story and comment thread. That someone could have once been "a dirty hippie" and now moved on to some "better" human condition, seems to cater to the conformity of those that were, and are, haughty and obnoxious. I was reminded of this in Vegas last week, at the 40th anniversary of the Acid Tests, where so relatively few of us pre-'67 (when LSD was legal years) hippies, still embodying the ethos and freak flags (for the most part--hard to keep hair on your head when you are 60+) of their early days, were having to share space and time with so many of the post modern versions--all clean and spiffy in their most expensive-high-fashion threads, showering 3x a day, dancing to so much techno-rave-house-trance-ambient ?? And as if that wasn't enough, Paris Hilton comes out with a new fashion line featuring some "unfortunately well done" tie dye fabrics. AAaaaaaarrrrrrrrrggggggg!

Posted by: spyder at November 5, 2005 12:41 PM
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I am still trying to determine what causes I support. Although, really, I am finding that learning what I don't support is coming more easily at this point in my life. I like dirty hippies, and I know I don't like hateful people. Anyhow, your post got me to thinking about protesters, and I wrote a blog post in respose, because I didn't want to clutter up your comments sections too heavily. Thanks for keeping us thinking.

Posted by: Kim at November 8, 2005 04:01 PM
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=v= The 21st Century version of "dirty hippies" are "crusties." Part of a whole dumpster-based aesthetic.

Posted by: Jym at November 21, 2005 11:49 AM
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