Friday, December 3, 2010

Chapter Thirty: "Peace March, My Foot!"

It rained so often through late September and early October that our tents were wet almost all the time.  Mildew started to take hold.  Marchers used silver duct tape to patch up the tiny holes in the floor.  Evan's looked like the celestial sphere.  Much as we loved them, our treasured dome homes were not going to last forever.  Collectively, we ignored the fact that everything—tents, clothing, shoes, the gear trucks, and probably we, too—smelled damp and musty.

How do you spell precipitation?  "P-e-n-n-s-y-l-v-a-n-i-a"
We adapted and equipped ourselves for the rain.  I bought a pair of men’s galoshes—okay, rubbers, but I didn’t like to call them by that name—and slipped them on over my Nike Airs.  They were an excellent solution: lightweight, completely waterproof, perfectly trim, and, when not in use—seldom in the Keystone State—compact for storage in my green crate. 
Nights grew cooler and restorative sleep, more elusive.  Even in a sleeping bag rated to minus twenty, my body leaked warmth at night.  Common advice was to sleep without any clothes on at all, which I tried once even though I didn’t like the feel of slimy polyester against my skin, and besides, whenever I slept naked, I had those naked-in-public dreams.  In any case, sleeping naked proved no warmer.  Instead, I slept in long johns, socks, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a woolen hat.  I also layered my down vest and my woolen sweater between me and the sleeping pad.  With all that, I was still cold.  Relief came when the zipper on Alfred’s sleeping bag broke.  He bought a new bag and gave me the old one to use as a blanket, bless him, and that kept me warm.
          I wasn't the only one who was starting to feel the wear and tear of the journey.  The work coordinators started to crack down on who could board the Workers’ Shuttle.  Fatigue was setting in, and many marchers were tempted to hitch a ride.  At all-camp meetings and in The Great Peace March News, there was a constant drumbeat: everyone out on the road and keep walking.  As we passed through Harrisburg, I half-jokingly offered an enticement to my friends: If we just turn south down Interstate 70, I said, we'd be in Washington in about two weeks.  But there were no takers for my ditch-the-peace-march plan.  Anyway, I had to agree with them that walking into New York City promised to be pretty amazing, and the Big Apple was only about ten days away.  As the one-month mark approached, emotions about the end of the Great Peace March started to percolate.  I was not overly sentimental, but I sensed that after our continental crossing, the trip down the East Coast would seem to go quickly.  A lot could happen in one month on the peace march, but the end was drawing near.

Portrait: Peace March Family
October 14th.  We awoke to a light rain.  It was Georgia’s birthday.  I brought her breakfast in bed and sang, “Happy Birthday,” not the traditional dirge but the upbeat number composed by Tina Liza Jones.  I gave her an earring as a gift—just a token, really—and apologized for not being able to provide better weather for her special day.  Before the march departed, someone called for an early morning town meeting.  We gathered, wondering what was up.  A marcher proposed that we come up with an all-camp response to the failed Iceland mini-summit.  There were high emotions among those who spoke.  People were fuming at Ronald “Ray-gun” and his Star Wars missile defense program.  We all knew it was a ridiculous notion that any system could hold back twenty thousand nuclear missiles.  To protest Reagan’s failure to negotiate a drawdown, many marchers wanted to fly the American flag upside-down.  I thought it was a knee-jerk reaction that would do more harm than good.  It would alienate us from the local public and send a message that we were generally anti-American.  People might think we’d flown the flag upside-down all the way from Los Angeles.  Where would that get us?  Others expressed the same opinion, but the majority was adamant, so we flew the flag upside down.
The walk was an eleven-miler to Penn State University near Reading.  The upside-down flag didn’t seem to draw us any more flak than usual.  On campus, I had a hot shower at last.  The previous two showers had been coldwater, and in the interim I had set a personal record I didn’t wish to break: six days without a shower; or was it eight?  I’d lost count.  A few minutes of warm water and soap transformed my body, mind and spirit.  I was elated, and, despite my Magilla Gorilla legs and underarms and my terrible, self-inflicted haircut, I felt beautiful.  I dressed in fresh, clean clothes and wandered across the PSU campus to the college library, a light-filled, modern building with a bright orange interior.  Oh, to be fresh and clean and browsing through books.  
An hour of library research uncovered a few more facts about the Children’s Crusade.  I wanted to find out how, if all the children perished or were sold into slavery, we knew anything at all about their fate.  The record was scant, but from what I could piece together, Europe heard nothing more from the child Crusaders until some eighteen years later when a priest appeared in France out of nowhere with an amazing story.  He claimed to have survived, along with several hundred children, on a merchant ship that landed in North Africa.  The children, he said, had been sold into households in Cairo and eastward as far as Baghdad.  Somehow, the priest had escaped, and, like the lame boy in Robert Browning’s poem, had returned to tell the tale.  The priest then disappeared into obscurity.  How his story was recorded or by whom, I couldn’t ascertain.  I returned to camp with a head full of questions. 
As the days got shorter and mornings, colder, I stayed curled in my sleeping bag until daylight hit the side of my tent.  The fear of missing breakfast usually got me moving.  I had observed that the big oatmeal pot was always last to be taken away for washing at the end of breakfast.  Luckily, I loved oatmeal.  Even though breakfast was technically over, I could still get a bowlful with milk and raisins.  I scanned the camp for anyone else perambulating at a leisurely pace, usually Evan, semi-comatose before coffee, checked the map posted on the little turquoise Info-Com trailer, and hit the road.  At the end of the day’s walk, I was famished.  I headed straight to the kitchen where loaves of sliced whole grain bread and a bucket of peanut butter were always available.  I hastily concocted a thick peanut butter sandwich and wolfed it down.  Two hours later, I’d eat a full dinner.  I had put on, I guessed, about ten pounds of solid weight.

Iris, Me and Evan
On our way to Allentown, I walked until lunch when the temperature started to drop and the sky threatened rain.  I had not taken my rain gear, so I thought it would be best to ride to the next site and work in the afternoon.  Even though I almost never opted to ride when it was my day to walk, I felt like a “march potato” sitting on the Workers’ Shuttle.  When we arrived at the parking lot in Allentown, I helped unload trucks, but it wasn’t my usual day, so it wasn’t my usual crew.  The loaders were pretty ticked off at the “march potatoes” and “scum bags” who had left their belongings, as usual, in a slimy, disheveled heap under the trucks in the morning.  When one of the “march potatoes” came to claim a “scum bag,” one of the loaders really laid into him, scolding him about his state of affairs. “Peace march, my foot,” she said, “You make me want to throw up!”  And she stomped off in a huff. 
In Allentown, our campsite was within sight of an amusement park and a restaurant for body builders called “Eat to Win.”  It was getting colder as the sun sank in the afternoon sky, so I put up my tent and crawled in to take a nap, hoping to preserve energy and stay warm.  I woke up a short while later and went to check my mail, and on the way back I was surprised to see my sister’s husband in the parking lot.  Raleigh had made arrangements to perform in camp that evening.  I was so pleased that the marchers would have a chance to hear him play.  It was Marcher-in-the-Home, and most of the camp had gone to warmer digs, but the hundred or so remaining marchers were in for some good entertainment.  As night fell, the temperature plummeted.  Marchers dragged their sleeping bags out of their tents and huddled together on the grass in front of the outdoor stage.  Somehow, Raleigh managed to keep his fingers warm enough to play his hammer dulcimer and banjo and guitar, and he got everyone singing along, thinking about the meaning of friendship with the Soviet people, and reflecting on the importance of the march.  The marchers loved his humorous political one-liners.  After the concert, I was thrilled when Raleigh invited me to stay at a nearby Holiday Inn.  It was freezing cold in camp, and at the hotel, I had the extravagances of a hot shower, a cold beer, a warm place to sleep, and even the unexpected pleasure of listening to my all-time favorite singer, Bonnie Raitt, on David Letterman.

Journal Entry - October 16, 1986
Raleigh one-liner: "If voting could change things, they'd make it illegal."

The next day was a rest day in Allentown.  I went to breakfast with Raleigh and he talked about the political situation in Nicaragua.  I knew little about Nicaragua and mostly listened and asked questions.  After breakfast, Raleigh took off to his next gig, but before he left, he gave me a gift from my nephew, Ray: a fresh whole pineapple, my favorite of all fruits.  I played music all day with Joel, Evan, Bill, Georgia, and another marcher named Torry.  Six hours of music felt great.  With a little more practice, I thought, “Little White Line,” the new song I had finished, would sound pretty good.

Some keep the map in hand, and some stand by the wayside,
Some keep the candle burning for the traveler in the night.
I keep my eye on the land, canyon and countryside,
All along, along this journey long.
                        It’s a little white line, it’s a long white line, it’s a little white line
                        It’s a long way.  (2X)
Some come from far away, some are living nearby,
Some let the line between them disappear like the wind and sand;
I hold my caution to me; open up that line.           
Here I stand, here I stand, here I stand.
It’s a little white line, it’s a long white line, it’s a little white line
                        It’s a long way.  (4X)
Here I stand, here I stand, here I stand.
We are a mighty flood; We are a celebration (4X)
Here I stand, here I stand, here I stand.

(Click here to listen to "Little White Line.")

Saturday, October 18th was going to be a big day for two reasons.  First, it was Evan’s birthday.  Second, a marcher named Pat had organized a benefit talent show for the Great Peace March in Tarrytown, N.Y.  Several of our in-house “acts” were scheduled to perform, and Evan and I were on the program.  I woke up excited and nervous.  Tonight we would sing for a whole theater full of people.  It would be a great opportunity to bring our anti-nuclear message to a big crowd.  I couldn’t wait.  We sang and ate birthday cake at Evan’s tent.  After the march, in the afternoon, Georgia, Torry, Willa, Bill, the Birthday Boy and I all loaded into Bill’s van and headed for N.Y.  We got lost in New Jersey and passed the time singing in the back of the van while Bill figured out the route.  We were all a little punch drunk, spontaneously revising song lyrics.  Joel’s “Bird talk, bird talk, so much fun to me,” became, “Road kill, road kill, it’s all the same to me.”  When we started seeing signs for the Tappanzee Bridge, I sang a song my sister Cassie and I wrote called “The Monkey Can’t Meet His Maker Without a Ticket to the Promised Land” because it had a line in it that went, “He told me on the Tappanzee, salvation ain’t free for a chimpanzee; The monkey can’t meet his maker without a ticket to the promised land.’”  Poor Bill.  I think he stopped for directions in every gas station in New Jersey.  We watched a spectacular harvest moon rise like the Great Pumpkin above the wooded eastern hills.  Eight moons since White Oak.  One moon to go.
When we finally arrived at the Tarrytown Music Hall, a charming, old theater from the Vaudeville days, it was love at first sight.  The lights, the lobby, the red carpet, the old ticket booths all felt like home to me.  I had been involved in community theatre as a child, mainly because theatre was one of my mother’s passions.  I had played one of the King’s children, the one who peeks under Anna’s big hoop skirt, in The King and I.  My mother played Anna.  I loved the backstage scene: actors being sewn into costumes; women—and men—in heavy stage make-up; lines being rehearsed to the air; actors between scenes in a state of half-dress and not even minding.  Even as a child, I knew that this was a kind of playground for grown-ups.  As I got older, I assisted with make-up, transforming my neighbors and my friends’ parents into lovers and villains and chorus girls. 
Pat met us at the theater and took charge.  We went into the dressing room—not that we needed to put on any costumes or makeup; we were already decked out as peace marchers—to wait for the show to begin.  I wondered whether any famous actors had sat here long ago, murmuring lines into the mirror before the curtain call.  As usual, I had a little stage fright, but I chalked it up to excitement, and I was pretty sure it would disappear once I started to sing.   We went backstage and Pat came back to tell us that the “house” was still small and that we would wait a few minutes to allow more people to arrive.  We went backstage and peeked through the heavy curtain.  In a theatre of two or three hundred seats we had an audience of only about thirty people.  You know you have a small crowd when you can count them.  It wouldn’t be a big gala performance after all.  I swallowed my disappointment and put on an excited-to-be-here face and a good show.  Besides, we had to buoy Pat who had hoped to bring a message of nuclear disarmament to his hometown and was feeling pretty depressed by the turnout.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
 The range of styles and talent among the peace marchers was broad.  Rhoda and the peace march kids performed “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” as movingly as ever.  Everyone’s performance was heartfelt, and the audience couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.  They even called for an encore, and we gladly obliged them with “Big Yellow Taxi.”  Because there were so few of them and so few of us, the whole performance took on a casual “let’s-put-on-a-show” quality that made everyone feel at home.  On the way back to camp in the van we were elated, talking and singing at first, and then quiet as the adrenalin slowed and we all calmed down.  It had been a full day, and, for Evan, a memorable birthday. 
The following day we walked twenty-one miles to Anderson through lovely farm country in northern New Jersey.  I never knew New Jersey was so beautiful.  I’d only been on the New Jersey Turnpike and in the industrial area around Bayonne where my grandparents lived when I was a girl.  Whenever I stayed with them, I’d wake up in my grandparents’ house to an acrid stink that made me wonder why there was always a roof being tarred somewhere in the neighborhood.  It was years before I realized that the odor was actually coming from the nearby oil refineries.  I’d been to the New Jersey shore as a child but was too young to remember much except that I’d had a case of impetigo and wasn’t allowed to go into the swimming pool.  I had always heard people poking fun at New Jersey as smelly and polluted, and my limited experience had confirmed that view.  After all these years, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the “Garden State” had a sylvan side. 

Japanese Monks Keeping Tempo
Evan and I were talking our way through one of the towns along our route to Anderson when we were stopped in our tracks by something huge, enormously huge, rising up behind the office buildings in front of us.  It looked like a gigantic, grey wall; a huge, grey tidal wave about to crash over the town.  For a moment, I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing, and then, as it took shape, I realized it was something I had never seen before—a blimp slowly lifting off from the airport that lay just beyond the buildings.  We watched as it floated like a big, friendly, grey whale up into the sky and swam off toward the Atlantic. 
Evan spotted a fruit stand where the girls in charge gave us apples and fresh apple cider.  I was carrying the pineapple that Ray had sent me.  Deanna must have told him how much I loved pineapple, and I was thrilled to have it because we sure hadn’t seen any on the peace march.  I asked one of the girls at the fruit stand if she had a knife we could use to cut it up.  When she was done, we all stood around, the fruit stand girls included, talking and slurping sweet, juicy pineapple until it was all gone.  Nothing could have made me happier.  We cleaned up and thanked the girls and went on our way.  A little while later, much to his delight, Evan found that some local folks were serving coffee on their front porch, so we joined them and chatted with the neighbors and a few other marchers who trickled by.  It was a day of smooth, easy walking, friendly talks, and simple gifts from the community.  When individuals in a community were generous, it gave the impression that the whole community was that way, and I had the growing impression that most Americans were very much that way. 

Message to Washington: "We Like Peace and Friendship; We Don't Like War"
Grace appeared, driving up the road, a wonderful surprise.  She gave us a ride to a nearby retreat center where the owners had offered marchers free access to their facilities so we could take showers.  The woods along Stephensville Road were a world of magnificent fall colors and glinting, golden sunlight.  After we had showered and were feeling revived, Grace drove us out to our campsite in the countryside near Anderson.  The light and colors were indescribable.  Who would believe pink leaves?  A painter of such a scene would have been called a surrealist, but the scene was right there before our eyes.  The next day, too, began with a brilliant orange and pink sunrise that set the autumnal hills ablaze and illuminated our faded dome tents.  This was definitely the peace march I had signed up for. 
With my methodically planned layers and Alfred’s hand-me-down sleeping bag, I had stayed warm all night, but Grace said she was chilly even though her sleeping bag was rated to twenty degrees.  Since it was only for a couple of nights, she said, she could handle it; she’d be back in a warm bed tomorrow.  We laughed at her love of creature comforts and more so at the fact that I didn’t envy her.  It was a workday for Evan and me.  The gear was frosty.  When the trucks were loaded and locked, Grace drove us into Dover, New Jersey where we stopped at a café for breakfast and talk of the march.  Grace wanted a full report, and Evan and I enjoyed the opportunity to review events.  I outlined the information and Evan provided the dramatic interpretation. 

Grace and Me Tackling the NY Times Crossword Puzzle
We found our campsite, a baseball field in a city park, in time for the gear trucks to arrive.  I was surprised when Grace joined the team as we unloaded the truck.  Grace had countless strengths, but brute muscle power was not among them.  When we were done, she rubbed her shoulders, saying she might need some Ben Gay before the weekend was over.  I looked out over the sea tents and commented that she sure wasn’t going to find any around here.  We had left Ben Gay somewhere back in the desert.  We were beyond Ben Gay.  We had a good laugh about that. 
We set up our tents in the park and sat near them, basking in the autumn sun.  I thanked Grace for bringing the nice weather with her.  Evan made art with tent poles.  Evan was always building something out of found objects: salt shakers, toothpicks, drinking straws, driftwood, tent poles.  To him, the world was a big, open container of Lincoln Logs.  Grace was fluent in Spanish and spoke with a group of Hispanic kids who were having a look around camp.  I could understand only bits of the conversation, but their eyes widened when she said we had come all the way “de California.” 
Grace offered to take me out to dinner, so we found a local Chinese restaurant.  During dinner we talked about the indescribability of the peace march, the frustration and impatience that came with maintaining intense focus on one nearly impossible goal, the remarkable coincidences that occurred among the marchers, and Abraham Maslow’s concept of peak experiences.  Later that evening I noticed that if you lived outdoors all the time, going to bed in a sleeping bag on a bitter cold night didn’t seem all that bad; but if you spent three hours talking over cups of hot jasmine tea in a Chinese restaurant and then went outside to sleep, it seemed much colder.  Grace left before sunrise the morning, headed back to school in D.C.   
We had a twenty-one mile walk to Caldwell College in Caldwell, NJ, along roads crowded with cars.  We were just two days from the Big Apple and the completion of our cross-continental trek.  I walked and talked with Iris and tried not to be disgusted by the smog and traffic.  Unlike me, Iris was not thrilled about entering New York City.  The energy of the city was too much for her, she said, and the noise and pollution far outweighed the amenities.  After lunch, I walked with Danny and another marcher named Ellie, and we sang “Coats and Ties” in three-part harmony.  Danny came from a huge family of all boys, and he had enough energy for six people.  He was an avid reader and a critical thinker, and I welcomed the way he challenged my assumptions.  He also loved to sing.  It was usually Danny who started singing first, and he almost always asked if he sounded any good.  I thought he had a nice voice and a good ear for harmonizing, and I told him so, but he was never convinced.  Fortunately, his opinion never kept him from singing anyway.  With Ellie’s third harmony part, “Coats and Ties” finally sounded complete, just as I’d imagined it. 

Original Journal
At the college, Tom phoned his sister, who lived nearby.  Her husband picked us up and took us home to stay with the family for the night.  They and their five kids made for a boisterous household.  We had a big family dinner, after which I helped one of the boys with his homework, and then we all sat in the family room and watched the third game of the World Series.  The Sox got clobbered 7-1 by the Mets in a game with no spectacular plays.  Rachel and Greg were totally welcoming and easy to hang out with, just what I would have expected from Tom’s family.  It was comforting to hear the adults in the family refer to their mother as “Mommy.”  Whenever all her children called her on the same day, they said, their grandmother would exclaim, “My cup runneth over!”
At camp the next morning, I loaded the gear trucks and boarded the Workers’ Shuttle to Leonia.  On the complicated network of roads and highways close to New York City, we got lost six times.  I had nothing better to do than to look out the window and keep count.  One marcher talked non-stop in the back of the bus.  I didn’t think anyone could talk that much for that long and have absolutely nothing to say.  No one was listening to him, but we had no choice but to ignore his rambling opinions peppered with expletives.  Such was our coalition of humanity gathered to bring about a peaceful change.  
Eventually we found our site, a soccer field at a city park in Leonia with the highway running nearby.  Smog hid the sky.  Even the pink-red-orange-yellow autumn leaves looked dull.  We waited a long time for the gear truck to arrive.  Our truck drivers had to move along the same convoluted route we had taken.  At last they appeared, and we unloaded the gear in time to greet the main march with a round of applause.  Tomorrow: New York City.