Other characters referred to in the essay:
Happy Pig: The brand name of the fetal pigs dissected in Biology classes at Fresno State.
The President: Sometimes Nixon, but usually Frederic Ness ("Fred"), president of the college.
Hershey: Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, aka "General Chocolateballs," head of the Selective Servitude System (the draft board).
Bob Mezey: An English professor at Fresno State who was fired by President Ness for openly stating that marijuana was less harmful than television. (Hey, the truth hurts.)
IN THE BEGINNING
Fourscore and seven years ago a pack of shiftless honkies brought forth some sort of miscarriage undreamed of by bird or beast, and eventually it capsized. The end.
I woke up; I looked down at the pan in my hands: had I been panning fool's gold in the San Joaquin Valley these two and a half years? Was that all I had to show for all that time?
Now that it's over I play it back: with mindless machine precision, every morning I passed onto these fields of wisdom. Square buildings, sullen and penal, surrounded by perfect rows of empty cars: it all passed before my dreaming eyes. The campus swarmed with fiercely bright, youthful faces, flying like bees back to a distant hive with their nectar of facts, fantasies, events and ideas.
The students: they puzzle out the riddles posed by their teachers.
The teachers: they riddle the students.
The students: they rush from class to class, their faces swollen with mysterious mosaics of facts, each independent and airtight and totally unrelated to the others, their arms heavy with books and papers, purchased and displayed, the students studying their entrails for a key to the riddle; the foetus, object of study in Biology class, grey in the Happy Pig baggie containing millions of years of perhaps unbearable wisdom, invisible and ignored.
The President: a well-meaning man of letters, perpetually trying to learn the true meaning of Higher Education from the High Priests of Agribusiness, in order to apply their proposals to the faculty and the students.
The teachers: they try to puzzle out the disintegration of their lives, all they hold near dissolving into moments of golden terror behind students' eyes. They cover up by expelling their aggressions and sharpening their egos on students subject to their rule.
Touch a wall. Is it still as flat, as smooth, as permanent and unchanging as in days gone by? That much has gone out of our lives. Watch the wall sag away in the gutters, or crumble, or explode, or writhe into faces, or quake with nuclear heat and the death shriek of official voices.
The people: scared. Panic-stricken because they can't trust anything: their machines, their President, their systems, their children...
They believe education must be God-fearing and moral, the transmission intact of a set of right-wing values inherited from Walt Disney Productions.
The students: they don't. I have often asked myself "What do the students want?" The answer: they want to be left alone. For they have been hounded all these years by parents and narcs, teachers and Presidents, hydrogen bombs and Hershey. Who can they trust? No one. When his mother found the stuff in the boy's pocket, she picked up the phone and turned him in to the police.
The government: it loves its citizens so much it has decided to put them to death, a few at a time.
Obey the law and you have nothing to worry about (killed in action or living inaction, what's the difference?). Five professors glide downtown in a prurient rhythm, their fingers magic dowsers pointing down to faces on police photos. "This student is in my class; this is his name." The heritage of higher education in California.
And on and on it goes, a lonely celebration of systems.
The chairman of a department: I like to relax by reading confidential files from the President's office; I enjoy being familiar with the private lives of the faculty. I even hire private dicks to tail them home after hours. It makes me feel more secure.
Some might consider me equally irresponsible for having publicly eaten my draft card. But I did it for a reason; in this insane world, hunger is a most vivid reality, while the cynical and corrupt and incredibly expensive fantasies of military conscription and missile races and endless genocidal wars are most unreal. The draft card was not a real entity to me; I refused to accept its reality. It must be good for something, I figured, maybe it's to eat...
Though most people are too engrossed in their headlong rush toward the Certificate of Nirvana. I look at my students, my heart secretly rushing out to them, wanting to cry "Awake! Look! Love! Be!" Instead I lecture, mostly automatically; my words automatically go down in notebooks, a worthless record of a madman's inaudible cries.
The police: they would like to move in and clean things up, but they content themselves with joint intelligence missions with the FBI. You'd never guess this campus, your old alma mater, exists under a state of martial law, would you? Just check the provisions of the Mumford Act if you doubt it. Count the number of cops on campus. Read about the absolute powers vested in the administration, the courts, the government, the police. Welcome home, to Fresno Police State College.
The football coach: I have never liked niggers.
The Black students: The end, motherfucker.
And what can WE learn from THEM? How we are all niggers, if only to ourselves.
Why did they go and ring the fire alarms, anyway? Were they trying to tell us something?
Fresno State College is only a stage setting for a media-mad society. Today's line-up: bad niggers armed with baseball bats, plainclothes eunuchs fingering their telephoto lenses, stampeding, white-eyed students shielding their hearts with their books, frantic faculty with their goatees, their professional expressions and humorless expertise, their nig-ties and tenure (welcome to orgasm death), and the heavy and ominous essence of the police,with honest-no-mistake-about-it guns: the curtain is rising on Act III, the bloody one. The President of the College appears right center, on campus for the first time in three years (his schedule keeps him pretty busy); he smiles gamely and blinks, wondering what it's all about.
For him, a different role: a smoothie of the first water, head p.r. man, glad-handing moneyraiser and master of words as pleasing and succulent as whipped shit.
But try not to be so dumb, Fred, for you should know what it's all about. For it was you that told the Lions Club "The students are troubled by a war they can't understand" implying quite obviously they wouldn't even peep if they could just understand. They won't stand still for that act, Fred. Not any more.
Not that I understand the intricate mysteries of National Corporate Policy. For that matter, there are lots of things I don't understand: money, tax laws, the weather, the Academic Senate. My own solutions for the problems that pie in the face us would be most drastic:
1) Line up the President, the Pope, the Party Secretary, the Chairman, all the leaders and dictators of the planet, and herd them through a Beverly Hills-sized swimming pool full of acid, dipping them in it the way you dip sheep for ticks.
2) Bring in several hundred thousand tons of dirt, and bury all the ugly, deadening buildings of Fresno State College (and, for that matter, the rest of Western Civilization, which is collapsing of its own weight anyway). We'll hold classes outdoors.
3) Take all the military establishments of the world, set them up on the moon, and let them cream one another to their heart's content. Survivors of this adventure can apply once more for membership in the human race, after suitable rehabilitation (see #1).
4) Reorder all systems immediately, in favor of people, not profit or production. Dismantle the machines and the systems which are actually invisible machines (law, government, social control); examine those which do not contribute to a way of harmony with nature and one another, and discard them, before we wipe our race from the world.
HOW TO BE A PROFESSOR
Down to more specific notions. After long study and prayer, I have decided that the only way to survive very long in this league is to join up with one of three species: nazis, cowards, or zombies.
If you're a nazi you're home free. It's all going your way, or so it would seem: lawn ordure all day long. Your inside dope tells you how things really are, Bub, you know what you would do if you were in charge, Sister: clamp down on ungrateful students who think they know what's best for them, stomp the anarchist batallions of outside agitators hiding under every bush, the verbal weapons of professor and administrator magically transmuted into the steel ones of those who educate best and most relevantly how society functions: there is the promise of official terror for deviation and the gratification of its postponement for obedience. "All you need is fear."
Make no mistake about it: the familiar essence of fear, together with its twin sister greed, is at the heart of the System.
And if you are a coward, as I have been, there is more conflict, more confusion, but at the end of each plastic rainbow there is a check, a promotion, or some more subtle reward for looking the other way. You may hurt, you may agonize, you may be ashamed; but above all rude human turmoil, there stands one goal, sharp and immutable, which you forever fix your sight upon: anything to keep your job. Wouldn't you? After all, how would your mortgage feel if it all slipped away? How would the smiling jackals at the credit union and the bloodshot eyes of the neighbors regard you then? And slowly and slyly are you molded, till every polysyllabic word portentously uttered on the stage of Shaw'N'Cedar will be doctored by that reality. Who can you trust? Certainly not yourself.
If you choose to join the somber ranks of the zombies you learn to keep your eyes tightly shut, your mouth hermetically sealed, your mind shut down and ideologically antiseptic except for that section required to lecture upon and research Biochemical Influences of Dryden on Medieval Central Transylvanian Chicken Dreams. You stay in motion just enough so they won't bury you, just enough to reach for the checks and hack out the articles and turn in the grades (the students too, if you're asked); you'll get along.
But look who we're really working for: fuck me dead if it's not Ronald Reagan on the Board of Trustees of the California State Colleges, a decaying closet queen working out his perilous fantasies on the poor, the black, the students. Lots of academic types, from Chancellor Dumke down, love it: the Governor is turning higher education in California into a paradise for coprophiliacs. "Umm, just love the flavor of that freedom with responsibility."
These men run the system on the basis of their need to satisfy a mammoth control addiction. Money, power, curriculum -- maximum force exerted to stamp out corrupt, cynical young people to fuel the factories of a corrupt, cynical America. Anything else, by definition, is treason.
Honesty and morality bear little weight with those obsessed with control: the American nightmare in action. Walk into a bank. Feel the thirty-five or forty atmospheres of pressure in the place, heavy metal minds making even the concrete and steel groan and buckle. Look at the faces, numb with dread and frozen into routine. Are we the prisoners of our affluence? The price of efficiency is obedience to machines.
One aspect of the control habit is the notion that somehow this bloody Republic with its purple mountain majesties is immortal, that it will somehow escape the fate of the shadowy empires that rest as memories in the mind. Preserve the notion that there will always be an America, strong and free, till three billion more years pass and the planet fades with cold. Defend that fantasy by any means possible: witness the vain and surrealist attempts to keep the body of Eisenhower alive as long as possible, spending a torrent of money and time pumping life into him until he had practically dissolved into a beating mass of protoplasm. But the Republic, like the General, must slip away: that, friends, is one of the house rules. Take your choice as to how it goes.
For all nations are doomed, for today the planet is in a state of litigation, with various sides bickering as to how to divide up the estate: we'll let you have Vietnam if you'll leave us alone in Berlin. Listed among the assets are the lives of billions; the jury decides the future of the race. But how much damages can the plaintiff demand?
Just this much: desperate but patriotic parents agreeing to give away their own children to an alien and distant government, in order that it may pursue another hundred years war (starting in 1939, with no end in sight): "We are going to take your sons away from you. We may use them a couple of years, or perhaps we'll have to write them off if the going gets tough. All we will promise is to fuck up their minds and futures, in the name of whatever strikes our fancy at the moment."
The parents say "Agreed. You're the government so you must know best."
But what if the government came and said "Sign over your new car to us right now" or "Move out of your house and give it to us to do with as we please, including total demolition if our alliances so dictate." Would the patriotic citizens and taxpayers give in and collaborate so freely and proudly? Of course they wouldn't: those things cost hard-earned money (while children are apparently expendable).
And then the elders wonder sadly why the young refuse to play along with the Vietnamese episode or criticize the military/labor/industrial/executive/congressional war trust.
Are you curious by nature? Here's a question to ask the draft board, the President, the College, the police, the courts, the media, the many institutions that rule and ruin: "How much meat do you need for your machine?"
"As many lives as it takes," snapped back the FBI agent, his tape-recorded automatically programmed response as smooth as his ducktails and his business suit. The two of them agreeing that our stake in Vietnam was worth whatever it took, mean pinched-up faces singing in chorus "We just want facts" from me: they get their fix on crime.
Lyndon Johnson: "We will do anything to defend Thailand." Anything, Clyde? What have you got? Two hundred million lives? A billion? How much do you want to up the ante, Clyde, how much meat do you need?
Melvin Laird: an incarnation of bad acid, telling us how we need to squander more wealth on the coming sky dance of the death machines.
Richard Nixon: talking about the danger of our becoming a third-rate power. Why not? This is a midget planet in a third- rate solar system, with a third-rate intelligence level and civilization, idly drifting in the backwaters of the galaxy.
But it's all we've got, so hold on honey. It took a lot of hard work and intelligence to build this planet (ask Darwin) and I for one will be damned if I'm going to help them tear it down or blow it up, in the name of some ten-cent ideology.
Think about it: if anybody ran a big corporation the way large governments of the world run their countries he would inspire a massive revolt among the stockholders, who would not only demand a meeting and vote him out (together with his cronies), but they would prosecute the crooked directors to the fullest extent of the law. I cannot imagine any board chairman trying to sell his company on a new industrial process or plant expansion with the kind of shitty arguments Nixon, Laird & Co. have advanced for the ABM, without an immediate revolt among top management. Unless, of course, they all had their fingers in the kitty the way the government does.
But rather than go after the big fish, the public has had to settle for me. They've gotten me out, and Bob Mezey, and some others of similar stripe. But it's far from over: there are auras of electric determination on this campus, intense and polar, and they are headed for a cataclysmic collision at a certain critical mass. And at that point, on her marks as always, the Governor will purse up his bitter, womanish lips and call out the troops once more, to shoot up some more students with shotgun education. And all the moral hermaphrodites among my liberal colleagues will turn tail and run for cover.
The increasing presense of the media is the signal for danger, hungry antennae drawn like insects by the presense or the promise of confrontation. The media: it's all done with magic. The cameraman and commentator create their fictitious little universe in the little dark box, and it flows out, wonderfully encapsulated and mutilated, to the living rooms of hungry viewers, sucking its radiant nectar as a draught of truth.
There is no reality: that's the important thing. Thus the eating of the draft card was an act of the Divinely Surreal, done in homage to this majestically lethal surrealistic theatre of Modern America. And my act was handled appropriately by the media, all of whom are great artisans of the craft.
THE AVERAGE ORDINARY JOE STUDENT
"What about you?" "I just want to get an education." Though I shall not be present among you to do my part, I can guarantee you, O Silent Majority, that you most certainly will. Though you might not live long enough to reap the benefits of your diligent training.
For there is great wisdom to be learned even from the holocaust of our everyday lives: Romney putting up his dukes with black power on Huntley/Brinkley.
Ex-Defense Secretary Clifford doing his Doublethink/Newspeak thing the next night: "Spy flights promote peace not war."
Oh the comedy; but how easily it tips over into tragedy. I laugh so hard I want to cry.
On campus violence: "No amnesty toward children" -- Barry Goldwater, Jr. on the TODAY show.
The chicanos: each grape trellis is a crucifix, and this campus is surrounded by legions of mute Christs. Witness it.
I pass the dreams the years of my life, performing the harvest of my face each morning, the sun leaking down through the smog, as I think about the sullen masks of the actors on the campus...
The meaty, no-necked black captain, plantation boss of the Induction Center: "I order you to return to Room 14 to complete your pre-induction examination." Outside a small band of friends huddles in the cold, waiting for me to emerge.
The skinny, fortyish white sergeant looked over to me, then flicked his glance back at the Captain, who began turning red under the black.
"I command you to return to Room 14."
"But I don't belong to you. You don't own me yet -- I am a civilian."
I wrote out my refusal in quadruplicate, Army style, and walked out a free man, bidding farewell to the definitely Negro Captain with "See you in Nuremburg!"
"Is that Byron Black?" The elderly lady at the typewriter, tending her machine lovingly. She cranks out death warrants for the innocent, the dumb and the brutal young men of the valley. Now she stared, horror-stricken, at me. "Is he really insane?"
Yes, in a way...
"What do these people want, anyway?" Faces turn away from the bullet-ridden black body of the fourteen-year-old peasant bleeding on the pavement paddies of Oakland.
"If the most Esteemed Senator will yield...": the United States Congress, a warehouse full of senile vegetables, pickled in alcohol and tranquilizers, just strong enough to lean forward and vote for General Motors and Standard Oil: these are the gentlemen I am to die to defend. I guess I have to be crazy not to want to.
The Fresno judge: he told two Resistors busted for grass that he'd drop charges if they'd join the Army. Doesn't that prove the system works? One has already gone in and been assigned to Vietnam duty -- I guess they figgered that's where he could best use his dope-smoking training.
"Violence never achieved anything." A joke on the lips of an American.
"What we need is more police." Sam Hayakawa, the man of letters. The scholar. The moderate. The semanticist.
"We had to destroy America to save it. We had to destroy the Earth to save it."
I cry as I laugh, and I laugh a lot these days.
"Is he really insane?"
Little old lady, you are Byron Black, and yes you are really insane.
Sundown on campus: the end of an era.
Goodbye to the Lost Continent of America.
"We had to destroy the human race to save it."
"No amnesty...National Guard...law...order..."
The stars are people, and they are very far apart.
High in the air, looking down at the cities and the fields of the Valley: I pass the years of my life among you, learning from you and teaching you. Remember my last words.
Look at me and look at you: yes I am insane. Now how do you justify your state of sanity?
If I am really insane, it's because I had to be, to get to be an Assistant Professor of Fresno State College for the Criminally Insane, mister.