Love, Peace & All that Stuff
It was Abbie Hoffman's voice on the radio which alarmed Kart Dixon, nearly making him mis-shift the gears as he pulled his car from the curb. He looked down at the digital read-out, the blue display showed the number of an odd, upper-end station he never listened to, and did not remember tuning in. Nor had Hoffman's rhetoric changed in the twenty years since his Sixties Yippies had invaded Chicago. Anti-this corporation and that government. It was the kind of thing Dixon had once believed as true: Love, Peace and Brotherhood.
But the face which shimmered back from the rear view mirror had aged, looking more like a photograph of Dixon's father, age lines around the mouth and eyes. Times had changed; only Abbie Hoffman had not. He jabbed to another station. No, not that mellow station. He still couldn't handle his father's taste. Rock & Roll was better for midtown traffic anyway, kept him from screaming too much at the other drivers. He liked the mindless banter of its DJs. It kept him from thinking.
Then, Lennon's voice sounded out of the speaker, only it wasn't a song Dixon could recall and he had heard them all. Was Lennon's ghost back in the studio five years after his death? Or had he faked it the way Morrison was said to have. There was something unnerving in hearing it the slight echo. Maybe there were clues in his albums the way there were for McCartney.
But Dixon remembered. John was the walrus, not Paul. John had been the one most frightened about coming to America in `64. He feared he was going to be shot the way Kennedy had been.
The announcer came on, attributing the song to Julian Lennon, not John.
Dixon stopped the car at the corner, his hands shaking on the wheel, staring down at the radio as if it would explain further. Who on earth was Julian?
The answer hit him slowly as the radio blared old Beatles music; Paul McCartney's tribute to John Lennon's son-- the forgotten child from the forgotten marriage. Before Yoko. Dixon couldn't remember the wife's name. Too much talk of Yoko over the years. But the voice had been John's as was the style.
Car horns blared from behind him urging him to move. Rush hour madness. He looked down at himself and realized he was dressed in a business suit, a stiff-white collar around his neck like a noose. What the hell was he doing here like this? Again, the horns blared and a yellow cab twisted around his unmoving car like a shark, its driver waving a fist as it passed.
Dixon tuned the radio back to the other station, zeroing in on Abbie's voice. Only this time, it was Jerry Rubin speaking. The shock went deeper. Were they all here now, haunting him out of the speaker grill, rising up from obscurity like so many forgotten ghosts?
Rubin was mumbling something about Yuppies. A new term for a new generation, Rubin said. Dixon turned the car into a vacant stretch of yellow curb. He turned off the engine. A cop car pulled up beside him, the officer on the passenger side rolling down his window. Dixon did not, but recognized the face of authority which demanded he move. How he'd hated that look as boy, always finding himself on the wrong side of their anger.
He shrugged and pulled the car back into traffic. A cab screeched to a stop, driver cursing.
"Why don't you look where the hell you're going, Mack!"
Dixon's car stalled.
He was going crazy. Hoffman's voice returned. Both voices rose and fell against each other, preaching different philosophies. Rubin seemed to support some new society based on business and communication. Hoffman resisted.
Dixon restarted the car, confused as to where he was supposed to go. He seemed to remember something about a business meeting down in Soho. But he couldn't face those people now. He decided to drive home call in sick from there. His mind kept flashing with scenes of the past. The Columbia uprisings. The brutality of Chicago. He remembered sitting in a cell with freaks nursing his wounded head, telling him everything would be all right after the revolution, feeding him pot as a cure-all. It had helped with the horrors of rushing police, but not the pain.
But he was different now. He wasn't the kind of being Rubin described as a Yuppie-- and yet, he wasn't the selfless being Hoffman described. He was a cog in the machine of business, coming and going from work like a robot.
Both Hoffman and Rubin vanished as the car sank into the midtown tunnel. When he saw light again, the usual pap of modern rock & roll had returned. He stared at the accumulation of factories along either side of the highway. They hadn't been there sixteen years earlier when he, Hoffman, Rudd and ten thousand other crazy kids protested at Columbia.
Jimi Hendrix ghostly guitar cut through the haze and with the memory of Dixon's father shouting down the basement stairs for him to "turn that shit off!" The music was the same, and yet it sounded foreign. The Stones follow Hendrix a few miles later. John Lennon. Jimi Hendrix. Brian Jones. Mama Cass. Janis Joplin. It was like reading an obituary looking for old friends the way the old men did at the morning coffee shop.
These people had predicted the future, telling Baby Boomers what a bummer it was to grow old. "Hope I die before I grow old," the Who once sang. Dixon hadn't.
He turned the car off at his exit, the rows of houses rising around him like a picket fence, part of the endlessly mass-produced suburbs of which he'd become a part.
"Rows of houses that are all the same, and no one seems to care..." sang the Monkees, drawing his eyes down the radio again, then back up to the porches and windows and doors stamped out with the same mold, differentiated by one or two car garages and occasional children's swings.
God! It was all coming back to him now, the marriage and the promise of children he'd made to his wife, telling her the minute they had twenty thousand in the bank they would begin a family. He had at least three times in cash already, but not a child in sight. More in money markets, IRAs, stocks & bonds. Somehow, he just wasn't ready. Something was missing. The money hinted of a success of sorts. He would be V.P. of his stock firm by the end of the year. But it seemed inappropriate to spoil all that with kids.
Or was it the population problem which stopped him. Not the disaster predicted but the one which had occurred. Everywhere there seemed to be crowds. Crowds on the roads. Crowds in the supermarkets. Crowds at the unemployment office or behind the `help wanted' signs. Everywhere Dixon looked people seemed to be bubbling up, competing with him for existence. Even the suburbs which had seemed so roomy a decade ago, now took on the wall to wall air of Woodstock Nation.
He pulled the car recklessly into the driveway, just missing the rear bumper to his wife's Mercedes. Out he leaped, leaving his car door open as he called his wife's name. His hand trembled on the door knob as he shoved this open, too. The smell of cooking rose from the lower level.
"It that you, Kart?" his wife chirped from below. "I thought you said you had a business meeting?" She appeared at the bottom of the short steps, a small, compact woman with dark blond hair and green eyes. She squinted when she saw him. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. The words wouldn't come out of him. He simply stared at the full length image of himself revealed by the hallway mirror-- a grey-suited figure that could easily have passed for his father, balding a bit, though the hair still bore the suggestion it had once been long. But overall it was exactly the portrait of Wall Street Dixon had laughed at in `68, those little men who hid behind newspaper curtains on the subway, full of opinions rather than life, passing judgment on the dirty and disreputable souls around them-- as if stock dealing had any bearing on reality or qualified them as masters of wisdom.
How had Dixon gotten this way? Where had he gone wrong?
"Kart?" his wife said, her voice uncertain as she climbed a step or two towards him. "Do you feel all right?"
He looked at her and shook his head. "I don't understand how this happened," he said.
"This." He waved his hand towards the rooms. But she didn't follow the gesture, frowning more deeply.
"Something has happened. Were you in an accident?"
"Accident?" he mumbled. "No, more like a transformation-- Do we own this house?"
His wife's eyes widened. But he hardly noticed his gaze off into the mirror again as if he could step through it, aware of the heat generated by his clothing. He tore the jacket off and dropped it on the floor at his feet. Then he climbed the short steps towards the bedroom, leaving his tie, shirt, shoes and pants in a trail behind him.
"Kart!" his wife shouted. "You come back here."
But he had already stripped himself completely and stood before the closet when appeared at the door from the hall.
"What's going on with you, Kart?" she asked, her voice pleading. "Why are you acting like this?"
He paused in his search and peered at her. Her face showed signs of age, little cracks around her eyes and mouth.
"I don't know exactly, but something's changed."
He grabbed down the boxes from the top of the shelf. He couldn't throw the things out-- it wasn't like him to discard memories.
"What are you looking for?" she asked. "Maybe I can help?" Panic had crept into her voice. Her eyes were watery and afraid.
"I'll find them, thank you," he said, brushing passed her back into the hall. He drew down the creaky ladder to the attic, it unfolded before him like an uncrooked finger.
"What on earth do you think you'll find up there?" she asked.
"You'll see," he said and rose, flicking on the low watt bulb when he got to the top. A whole other world appeared. The various years of their lives packed away in cardboard boxes. He emptied the nearest box. Christmas decorations from the previous decade fell out at his bare feet. He shoved them aside and reached for a second box. This produced his wife's wedding dress, frills and lace now yellowed from the previous summer's leaky roof. He tossed this aside as well as his wife's brave head appeared behind him at the attic door.
"Kart, please, come downstairs and let me call Doctor Swensen."
"I don't need Doctor Swensen," Dixon said, still routing through the boxes. "Besides he's your doctor, remember? You were having all those nightmares about atomic war."
"I don't care whose doctor he is, Kart. I just want you to come downstairs. At least you can lie down for a while."
By then, however, Dixon had found the box he was looking for and reverently removed the contents. His wife saw them, too, and bit her lip.
"What do you want with those old rags?" she asked, watching with horror as he pulled the jeans on over his naked legs. The holes at the knees and crotch had been patched and repatched so many times that it looked more like a quilt than a pair of pants. They just barely fit around his waste, though he'd not gained weight since those days. They seemed to have belonged to another person altogether. Yet with a little stretching and squeezing, he pushed himself into them and the shirt. Many of the gold rhinestone that had graced the Nehru shirt were missing, bit it still fit. He remembered thinking how much like a priest he had felt his first time putting it on, the collar open at the Adam’s apple.
"Kart! You take off those silly things right this minute!" his wife yelled, as if discovering the nature of his illness for the first time.
He grinned at her.
Ecstasy consumed him, which even this squealing stranger could do little to dissipate. He had completed his journey. His former self filled in his clothing, re-forming itself within the ancient fabric. He removed his argyle socks and put on the ragged sneakers, giving himself yet one more forgotten pleasure: that of flesh against canvas. At the bottom of the box, beads rolled around from a string he had once worn. He found an ankh there, as well, and slipped this string over his head and around his neck, letting the ancient Egyptian symbol rest evenly on his chest.
"Yes," he thought, "I am complete again. I'm just the way I was before."
His wife, staring at him with her eyes now wide open in shock, began to cry. "That's it, Kart. I'm calling the doctor right now."
She vanished back down the stairs, the thump of her footsteps like the back beat of a marching band drum, more noise than music.
"It is just the way it was," he said aloud, his voice suddenly growing stronger, sounding deeper than it had in a long time, full of the conviction he had felt as a kid, when he had something left to believe in, an anti-war effort to support. For the first time in a long time, he felt strong again, and vital, and important.
Dixon needed to stand up straight, but the rafters of the attic ceiling kept him bent. The heat here, stifled him as well, and combined with the attic dust, caused him to cough.
It was as if he was crouching in a coffin unable to breathe properly, as if his whole life since his youth had been contained within such a coffin, but only now did he realize.
He needed to get out into the fresh air again, to breathe free air again, to feel as he felt back then, that no barriers or bounds restricted him from achieving what he wanted.
Slowly, feeling his way with his feet, he backed down the ladder to the bedroom, his wife's voice screeching into the telephone beside the bed.
"He's flipped, doctor. I mean he's really flipped...."
The house was a jungle to him, filled with strange things that should have meant something to him, but no longer did, material things that he and she had collected in their material years, clocks and paintings and statuettes, religious things whose miracles had kept him from seeing how cruel all this really was.
Dixon needed to find his family again, the ones who occupied the parks and danced in the streets, the ones who shouted "Love" and "Peace" at each other over the sound of police bull horns.
"I'm going out," he said softly, in the direction of his wife as he passed through the hall, just as if he was sneaking out of his father's house again from when he was a boy.
Only something was missing.
Why -- the music, of course!
Music had formed the soundtrack to all those earlier years, providing the theme for a growing age, the words speaking out of self-sacrifice and hope, of peace and love, sex and drugs.
When he reached the first floor again, he stopped at the stereo in the living room, fished through the cabinet of records and cds until he found the Sony Walkman. Beside this was a collection of tapes, some of them relatively new. He rejected any that came out later than 1970s, and thrust those he wanted into his pockets: Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles, Satanic Majesty's Request by the Stones. Some Big Brother, Momma's and Papas. Some Doors, Otis Redding. Many of the artists had died in the intervening years. Some were merely now walking dead.
Dixon could still hear his wife's jabbering voice upstairs, growing more and more frantic. He wondered if he should invite her along. This life style was destroying her as much as him, this need for a new car yearly, and fine clothing, and a fancy house. This need to possess things controlled them as much as the fascist government ever could. They had forgotten all the good things: the air, the water, the trees. These treasures should have meant more than air-conditioning, a swimming pool and an annual Christmas decoration. In the past, he had fought for the privilege to enjoy nature, but had somehow lost them in the transition, finding only the dead landscape of asphalt and concrete over which he needed a Sports Utility Vehicle to travel. When he was young, he had preferred to walk. Now, the world seemed dead, killed by people like Nixon and Reagan, killed by his own need to possess.
Dixon listened to his wife, imagining her clutching the telephone receiver, imagined her look of terror.
"No," he thought. "She'd never come with me. She's still too attached to everything. She would want definite assurances about the future."
Dixon didn't know how to tell her it was the future he was trying to save, his own future, her future, the future of the planet.
He ran down the few short steps to the front door, looking and feeling like a thief, pausing briefly at the door, fearing to leave her, knowing she must have meant something to him at one time.
She seemed too much like the house, too full of possessions, and even though she sometimes spent Saturday mornings playing the old records on the stereo, she had ceased to understand their meaning.
No, he thought, she means nothing to me now.
Dixon yanked open the door and pushed out into the real world. He bulging-bellied neighbor, Fred, mowed the lawn, the whine of the electric machine growing as it hit spots of higher grass. The fat man's cigar fell out of his mouth when he saw Dixon.
"Kart Dixon?" Fred said. "Is that really you? What are you up to? This is too early in the year for Halloween."
"Peace," Dixon said and held up two fingers spread in what has since the Sixties become a universal symbol for peace.
Then he took off again, not in the car. He could hardly travel by such a vehicle now, and in fact, hardly recognized it as something he might have owned any time in his life.
"It must belong to some rich conservative bastard," he thought, "Some fool who liked to squander gasoline, someone who loves himself more than his fellow man."
Even if he had wanted to drive, he had left the keys in the house with his old clothing, and passed the still open car door as if he expected someone or something to lure him inside.
He had no money either, and laughed, thinking how this was how it ought to be, how he had started, broke and free.
Dixon, instead, staggered down the roadway, grinning at the world he found around him, happy for the first time in as long as he could recall.
Happy? That was a queer term, too, of course. He had nothing, so naturally he was happy, nothing to worry about, nothing to possess him.
He was no longer like the fools who lived in the houses he passed, men and women who had to guard everything they owned from some real or imagined thief, because each had elevated him or herself to some new status other people could not or would not achieve, each new "thing" a sign of success, when really each "thing" was little more than a new link in a personal chain, growing longer and heavier, carrying the illusion of importance.
Down the street, Dixon passed the leeches who fed off the residents, the small shop owners whose expensive services made it easy for each household not to have to travel too far or spend too much time searching out lesser-priced services, the convenience stores, cleaners, bakery, liquor store, all part of a vast social and economic conspiracy to keep these residents enslaved.
Dixon had done business in one of these stores every day for year, spending money he had earned in Manhattan, only to have them pick his pocket when he got home. He hardly recognized the stores now, or the faces that stared out the windows at him as he passed.
A strange excitement filled him.
"Mr. Dixon?" the woman from the cable company called from her doorway. "Is something wrong?"
"Peace -- and Love," he shouted, her face falling into a shocked and horrified expression before she fled deeper into the protection of her store, staring after him as he continued on, his rambling journey drawing the stares of her store staff and that of the other stores, many of the second floor real estate office workers peering down at him through cracks in their blinds.
Dixon laughed at them all, then crossed the street, making no secret of his delight. He wanted them to notice him now the way he had wanted his parents, teachers and police to notice his long hair when he was young, as if his rebellion had no point without their reaction.
But he was not immune to them. He could see their distaste on their faces, and felt a flush a shame run through him, like an overdose of niacin.
"Perhaps it's only the greed getting flushed out of my system," he thought as he went on. "All those people live with the idea that they are important, getting everything they want, never having to wait or work too hard. I've seen them on the check out lines when they have to wait. They're the ones who gripe most about being inconvenienced, threatening to talk to the manager if some poor clerk doesn't move faster or show the proper respect. God! How could I live in a world with such people?"
Dixon didn't need them. He had his patched jeans and his music. Brian Jones' guitar blasted in each ear, calling up ancient rock from the dead. When that tape ended, he stuck another tape in the walkman, trading stone for the Beatles, as "Back in the USSR" roared into his head.
"You don't know how lucky you are, boy, back in the ...."
Dixon sang the song out loud to the tape recording, people on the street stepping aside as he passed.
"It's just like the old days," he thought, "these same kind of people staring at my hair. Most of them didn't like me then because I was so outspoken against the war, so full of slogans, bad-mouthing LBJ, Nixon, Big Corporations, and those macho bastard boys who bragged in high school that they were going to go over to Vietnam and kill themselves some gooks. Now, everybody's so humble pie when it comes to those veterans, always crying how hard they had it, how we spit on them when they came back, how we called them baby-killers. No one talks much about what they did over their, how they got as high as we did, how they slaughtered villages, shooting men, women and children, a regular campaign of slaughter shown on the TV every night."
Dixon stopped for the traffic light and watched traffic as it slowed, each driver in each car staring at him.
"Maybe they don't like the buttons on my shirt," he thought, glancing down at the assortment of out-of-date messages pinned to his chest, each saying something few of these urban professionals believed in an era of welfare reform and escalating property values, where people preferred to invest in the stock market rather than in world peace.
Dixon gave them all the peace sign as viciously as he might have the finger, deliberately trying to provoke them into responding. He waved both arms when they did not, as if he needed to wake them all up, but couldn't do it short of dropping a bomb. He had once reveled in the joy of shocking adults, making them take notice of what the next generation would look like, deliberately, self-consciously impoverishing himself with rags and ratty hair to mock the wealth his parents and others so desperately worked to achieve.
"It's turned out all wrong," he thought, staring at the parade of cars, at the BMWs and Mercedes and Lincolns. "We've become our parents, only more so. We want more than they ever did. It isn't enough for us to want a house or a good job, we want status, too. We want the world to think of each of us as profoundly important, when very few of us are."
Dixon shuddered, sagging a little as the weight of the realization came down upon his shoulders, as he stared out now as shocked at the children of the hippies as his parents were of him, so clean cut and vicious in their pursuit of wealth, driving over anyone and anything that got in their way to the top.
These children of the Woodstock Nation killed not with machine guns, but with their indifference and superiority, making New York worse than Saigon ever was.
The walk sign flickered on, and he started across the street, only to stop short in the middle, his thoughts racing now:
"We've always rubbed their noses in things," he thought, a memory of the song "My Generation" competing with the voice of the Beatles playing over his Walkman headset. "Why can't I do the same thing now, make people see the muddy reality of the world, drag them out of their sports utility vehicle unreality to see how the world really operates?"
It was one of those flashes of brilliance he used to get all the time when high as a youth, but could never translate into action once he came down, as if visions he saw while under the influence of pot or LSD, ran on a different computer program from the one needed for daily life, refusing to integrate no matter how much he struggled.
But he was not high now, at least, not on any drug he had ever taken before, and if he acted quickly enough, he might just be able to make other people see what he saw and understand the complexity of his vision.
He glanced towards one of the stores behind him and squinted to read the clock in its window.
If he hurried, he could still meet his boss and the business meeting in SOHO, and confront his clients with the era of their ways, telling them as he had told so many others when he was younger how it was more important to give than receive, and how evil they had acted under the influence of Capitalism.
He turned back, thinking to get his car, then stopped again.
"No!" he thought. "That won't do! I can't act like a capitalist if I want to convince them to change. In 1968, I would have hitched into Manhattan, and that's what I'll do now."
So he turned instead towards the ramp that led up to the BQE, where the hurried traffic whipped by him, the wind of their passing stirring his thin hair and old clothing, as awesome in its fury now as it was when he was young.
Dixon stuck his thumb out.
The glaring faces behind the speeding windshields looked the same now as they did then, short-haired men in business suits rushing towards prearrangement meetings that would make them fortunes, their brows folded forward as if peering not at the road but at that vision of wealth, each mind rehearsing secret business spells that would convince their clients to give in.
Those who managed to shake themselves from these enchantments to notice Dixon, pretended like they didn't see him, or glared at him with a similar outrage as to their fathers and grandfathers from a generation earlier, suspicious of his motives for standing on the side of the road as he was, some suddenly clutching at their steering wheels as if convinced he had the power to reach into their speeding vehicles and mug them, or possibly steal from them their vision of wealth.
A few of the drivers glared at Dixon the way the rednecks used to, and even dressed like the rednecks of the past, in pickup trucks and big wheeled off road vehicles. But these young men, despite the backward turned baseball hats, were merely imitations of the rednecks who once shouted insults at Dixon, telling him to get a dress, or drop dead. These boys these days drove undented vehicles, whose polish was still warm from the car wash, the seats as posh and comfortable as moving living rooms.
These boys struggled not to look at all, pretending as if Dixon did not exit, as if his life depended upon their lack of attention; if ignored, he would case to exist, and perhaps -- in their minds -- did not.
For the most part, people did not see him, and their vehicles roared by, sending dust and debris over him as he stood, the sounds of the 1960s humming in his headphones: too much Beatle music, too much Stones, too many of the rock stars dead: Hendrix, Lennon, Joplin, Jones, Redding, Morrison.
A pickup truck stopped, dented in places and patched in others, but clean and free of any sign of use for work, as if the blond-haired in the football jersey behind the wheel had inherited the vehicle from a father or uncle who had actually earned his way into suburbia via the trades, and now, having made money, did not need the vehicle any more, donating it to the macho cause of a boy whose personal wealth could not yet achieve a more modern and polished version, without scars. A faded Reagan/Bush campaign sticker still showed on the front bumper. The boy reached over and swung open the passenger side door.
"How far you going?" the boy asked, traffic slowing around them as the other drivers looked for some sign of accident and blood.
"Into Manhattan," Dixon. "You going that far?"
"Sure am," the boy said. "But I'll have to let you off uptown. I'm heading into Jersey VIA the George Washington Bridge."
"Uptown's fine," Dixon said and hoisted himself up into the cab.
The smell of stale cigarette smoke infused the cab air, not marijuana, and this disappointed Dixon. In the old days when he had hitched, people shared a joint with him as well as a ride, like a non-Christian communities among those who traveled along the roads, and even when he didn't partake, he got high just breathing in the air.
But the boy differed from those he knew in the past in other ways, wearing his hair short and his clothing clean and neat, his future on Wall Street flickering his eyes like a neon sign. For a moment, the boy eyed Dixon and frowned, too young apparently to be suspicious about the older man's clothing.
"You going to a costume party or something?" the boy asked.
"Not exactly," Dixon said, easing aside the pile of "Soldier of Fortune" magazines so that he could sit, the covers filled will the horror of war he had protested so hard to stop. The boy shrugged and pulled the pickup truck back into traffic, the rattle of metal on metal the same as it was in the past, where "going on the road" meant as specific physical confrontation, flesh against the elements, metal and rubber against asphalt and concrete.
"You read these magazines?" Dixon asked, picking up one of the slick-covered war mongering issues the way he might a dirty diaper, with the tips of his fingers.
"Sure," the boy said with a grin. "They tell you all about the great new equipment America's making."
"Equipment that kills people," Dixon pointed out, as he dropped the magazine back into the pile.
"Only terrorists," the boy said.
Was that the new campaign being waged in Washington. In his own day, the word was "commie."
Dixon sat back and let the rough ride rock him a little, clutching his walkman tight to his chest. The boy, once started, became an open flood gate full of bragging, telling Dixon about how easily people could die in modern times where lasers guided weapons into the most vulnerable spots of a human anatomy, or heat seeking devises routed out the enemy from the thickest of cover.
"We go to war again, it won't be like Vietnam," the boy said. "No one's gonna hide from our guys by hiding in no woods."
Dixon said nothing, but tried to block the flow of outrages from seeping too deeply into his head, failing enough to feel vulnerable himself.
He stared out the window as the truck advanced upon Manhattan, wondering at how many secret eyes watched his movement.
"Can they track me down even now?" he wondered, gaining a new respect for all those poor souls he once thought as paranoid, that early 1960s crowd that wrapped themselves in tin foil to avoid detection by the CIA. "Those fools were not as wrong as we believed."
"Suppose the government institutes the draft and you have to go into service?" Dixon asked, remembering how many of the loudest pro-war talkers in his era became silent when the draft called them up.
"They already have a draft," the boy said.
"What? Really? When did that happen?"
The boy shrugged. "A few years back," the boy said. "They made it so that if you didn't register, you couldn't get a college loan."
"The bastards!" Dixon hissed, seeing how insidious the government had become, cutting off from the Left its ready made army of protesters.
"But I couldn't wait for no draft," the boy went on. "I've already signed myself up. I'm headed into the Marines the minute I graduate high school. That way the government will pay part of my college when I get out."
The boy left Dixon off near the ramp that led down into the streets above Harlem, cars whizzing passed as the oddly dressed man made his way down, cars full of people similar to the boy, who did not know or care about the historic place over which they traveled, or had come to fear its distinction without justification.
This part of Manhattan had always intrigued Dixon when young, and its reputation had drawn him uptown along with all the other young hopeful whites who wanted to help make a difference in the world. As he weaved through the narrow back streets and onto the more brightly lighted ones moving cross town, Dixon was struck with the odd sense of change here, the struggle between old, dignified buildings that had crumbled into ruins, and the newly constructed buildings designed not for the people who lived here, but for those people who wanted to move into this part of the city, despite its reputation. More white faces appeared on the street than ever before, well-dressed people who came and went from the newer buildings through metal gated doorways where small red lights flashed as their alarms systems activated.
Many of these new faces had the look of professionals or professors, men and women spilling over from the medical center slightly downtown on the east side, or the university on the west, buying up blocks for condo development no one locally could afford to occupy, building small enclaves of protected turf as the poor, black faces moved passed on the sidewalk with the same slow progress as they had all their lives.
Dixon stared in disbelief, as if the boy had driven him, not across the East River but across the Pacific, and he now stood in the streets of some Asian Third World capital, where wealthy colonials had set up their personal estates to lord over the natives.
Was this what Saigon looked like when the French occupied Indochina, Dixon wondered?
No one could totally erase the signs of violence, as Dixon passed windows and cars riddled with bullet holes, part of some "free fire zone" that might erupt again at any minute. He passed Chinese take out stores where clerks sat huddled behind walls of bullet proof glass. He passed bars where doors were thrust open and naked women danced on small stages, the smell of sweat and booze oozing out into the street like poison gas.
Finally, Dixon reached the subway, easing himself down the dark stairs, shuffling aside the shards of shattered glass with the tip of his sneakers, the space smelling like a public toilet, with the stain of fresh and stale urination marking the walls, a smell mingling with that of wine and vomit.
He retched in sympathy, squinting to make out what lay in each shadow since someone had broken many of the lights. Down below, he found men and women huddled along the walls as the passage opened onto the platform, a space illuminated by the string of lights above the rails on the other side of floor to ceiling gates. On this side, the token booth glowed, the face of the clerk distorted by thick glass.
"One token," Dixon said as he eased up to the window.
"That'll be 90 cents," the clerk said coldly, either blind to or ignoring Dixon's appearance.
"Ninety cents?" Dixon said, patting his pockets for money he had left at home, wondering just when the fairs had risen so high. How could anyone afford to spend a dollar each way, when many hardly earned enough for food on minimum wage? He had ridden for 15 cents in 1968, now, less than 20 years later, the price had doubled then tripled on that.
"Well, buddy?" the annoyed clerk asked, finally squinting to make out Dixon's face on the far side of the glass. "You got the money or what?"
Dixon thought he might panhandle the money on the street above, if he could make any of those wealthy whites feel guilty enough, but never in time to make the meeting downtown.
Beyond the turnstiles, the train squealed to a stop, sparks flashing from around the wheels as if riding in on a sea of blue flashing flame. Suddenly, inspiration struck Dixon, from a game he and his friends had played in the subways as boys.
A prank then than none of them had taken too seriously, but now provided him with needed transportation. In an instant, he was over the turnstile in a rush of arms and legs, limbs leaping in a way he hadn't believed them capable of, not nimble, but limber enough to clear the metal bar that kept him from his train. He grinned at himself in the distorted metal reflection on the side of the train.
"Just like the old days," he thought smugly, then heard someone shout.
Dixon glanced over his shoulder to find a cop advancing on him, then froze, one full stride from the open door of the still unmoving train.
The transit cop clattered through the access gate, night-stick and pistol belt barely narrow enough to make the transition, his face as hard as the cops Dixon had confronted in similar places and similar situation twenty some off years earlier, as if the cop thought him guilty of some crime much more serious than jumping a fare.
It was only 90 cents, and yet the cop reached for his stick as if to administer punishment right then and there.
And still Dixon could not move, watching the horrible scene unfold before him like something he was not yet apart of, and was not apart of until the stick cracked across his shoulders sending through him a spasm of erupting pain.
It was the pain that awoke the most vivid memories in Dixon, cutting through the blubber of more gentle memories of that time, making the music and the costume seem almost irrelevant.
He remembered Columbia in April, 1968, followed by Chicago, the following August.
He remembered that ugly cold April day when he had found himself suddenly lying on his back in an Upper West Side gutter, both hands holding the ribs he was sure that cop had broken, the shattered splinters of bone seeking places in his flesh from which to escape.
On some rainy days, he still felt the ache, and still sucked in air with particular and singular care.
This time, however, he had seen the blow coming, turning just enough for the stick to strike his shoulder, not his head, and he was quick enough to duck under the next blow when it came so that the cop missed him altogether.
It was only for 90 cents!
"Son of a bitch!" the cop shouted and swung for a third time straight at Dixon's face.
Dixon ducked again, then ran.
Behind him, the cop shouted: "Hey bum! Get back here! You think this is some kind of homeless shelter?"
The pain brought back the anger and gave energy to his legs. He had forgotten the look of hate on the faces of the cops when they came after him back then, a look at showed on this cop's face, frustrated and enraged, stirred up inside the cop and other straights by some inner conflict Dixon only now understood, having lived in their shoes for the last twenty years, rage inspired by their own entrapment, making cops and hard hats and other members of the establishment seek to destroy what they could not have, kill anything that moved too freely.
No wandering bug could escape their hate.
Why had he realized sooner? Had he fallen asleep?
Suddenly, all the faces he had grown up with and worked with and spent his daily life with, flowed in his memory, like modern aged images of faces he had seen on the streets as a kid, all of them now looking like their fathers, looking like the stiff-necked business men they had mocked on Wall Street: frustrated, caught up in the machine, convinced happiness was one more point up on the DOW.
Why couldn't he have seen it coming? The clues were there. When record companies and clothing manufacturers began to exploit his children revolution, taking full advantage of every trend, making sure that each young hippie wore the right designer shirt and the right brand of sandal.
It made him sick to think of how he had fallen for the propaganda even back then, when he had believed the real enemy was much too stupid to ever devour him, thinking that the military drumbeat was the only thing he needed to fear.
The lyrics from 1966 flowed back into his head: "Marching soldiers from the sky, fearless men who jump and die..."
How he and his friends had mocked those words, and yet now, he and they cringed when confronted with memories of their protest:
"Why did you spit on the soldiers when they came home?" people ask him and his generation now. "Don't you have any respect for anything?"
And instead of spitting in the faces of these critics, telling them that soldiers of any ilk are dangerous, and that the military a deluded, distorted and destructive answer to more simple problems, he and his friends hung their heads in shame, claiming they were wrong.
Dixon wasn't wrong. Those soldiers had killed people, many of them women and children. Those soldiers had marched to the war drums that had dropped millions of tons of bombs on a people who wanted only their own freedom, leaving a landscape of crippled people who still struggled to overcome that war.
If each soldier had refused to fight, there would have been no war. That was the point. That was the reason Dixon and his friends had spat. It was the reason Dixon should have kept on spitting, refusing to accept the change of heart.
His legs, too old for this kind of pursuit, folded under him as he ran. He had made the mistake in his confusion of running along the train rather than into it, and now the doors were shuddering closed with him on the outside.
Dixon leaped, his shoulders catching on the rubber edges of the doors as they shuddered closed, he squeezing through as the jaws shut. The cop's baton struck the window leaving a circle of cracks as the train began to move, the cop shouting for the conductor to sop, his voice lost along the rising clatter of wheels. The cop ran along side the train glaring at Dixon through the window.
"You ain't gonna get away with this, punk!" the cop shouted again, until the end of the platform forced him to halt and the train slipped into the darkness of the tunnel.
Around Dixon faces peered over the tops of unfolded newspapers, curious and alarmed business people, women with their children huddled in a mass of shopping bags. They wanted to know what was going on and what Dixon had done to inspire such behavior by the police.
"It's nothing, folks," he wanted to say, "Just a bit of police brutality."
But he knew they would not believe him, he saw that much in their eyes. The only one who seemed to approve was a black man seated somewhat down the car and across from him, a man who gave him a toothless grin.
"Hey man, you're good. That freakin' pig's sitting back there hot as a match," the black man said. "That'll teach the motherfucker to mess with the homeless."
The word sank through Dixon haze like a stone.
The cop had said something on that order, too. Was that what people mistook him for? Couldn't any of them see that he belonged to an upper white middle class society and that he chose to dress this way out of protest? Or were the cops so used to hitting people who looked down and out that they didn't see a distinction, homeless, hippie, what difference was there?
He touched his shoulder where the cop had struck, and cringed from the pain.
"That cop hit me," he said.
Dixon's fingers probed the shoulder for broken bones, but found only a tender spot suggesting the flesh had taken most of the blow.
"You're lucky that they only hit you," the black man said. "They killed that boy, Michael Stuart."
"Killed?" Dixon said, images of Chicago flowing back into his head, along with the photograph of that kneeling girl two years later on the campus of Kent State.
"You'd better get off at the next stop," the black man continued. "They're gonna be looking for you. They don't like no homeless people wandering around in their trains. No siree, they don't."
"I'm not homeless," Dixon said indignantly and stood, moving on through the door at the end of the car despite the sign warning him not to open it while the train was moving, then through the next car and the next until he found a car near the rear that largely vacant. He collapsed into one of the seats and stared blankly as his own reflection in the window, that willowy, aging sad older man who looked silly, not arrogant, the way many of the older men from the 60s did who tried to adopt the new movement's dress and life style.
His eyes, however, showed a deep despair.
His tape stopped. He fumbled through his pockets for another cassette: Doors, Beatles, Stones, Mommas & Poppas, Moody Blues.
What were they doing with this lot? None of them had died.
Dixon shoved that cassette back into his pocket and took up the Monterey Pop Festival type instead, the ghostly voices entering his head, crying for a time that didn't exist any more, and for life styles and ethics that were now unpopular.
The cop entered the car at the next stop, a dark uniform pushing through the doors with the crowd at 59th Street, his gaze searching through the faces in the car, one passenger at a time. Each passenger lowering his eyes. Only Dixon stared back.
"YOU!" the cop shouted. "You're the one!"
Word obviously had gotten around. Dixon leaped to his feet and ran through the door to the next car, as the doors to the platform closed again and the train began to jerk under his feet.
"Stop!" the cop shouted.
Dixon laughed as he shoved through the wall-to-wall people, until he reached the door on the far side and plunged through that, echoes and sparks greeting him in the gap between the cars, flashing like someone's black and white home movie, whole generations passing around him in the dark.
He hurried though the next car and saw ahead that he didn't have many more cars to go before he reached the front of the train.
Again the cop shouted, but with a tone that said the cop knew Dixon could no longer escape, seeing the front of the train as Dixon had, as the end of their game.
Up front, only the black window showed the oncoming tunnel, the single headlight piercing that darkness as the train slithered through the holes dug a hundred years earlier, the ribs and internal organs of Manhattan glimpsed one moment at a time, only to have that nearly perpetual darkness end in a rush of lights as the express train reached Grand Central Station.
Dixon squeezed out the side doors before they had completed their shuddering cycle, his breath now coming so hard his chest ached. The pain of the broken ribs of his past catching up with him, mingling with the throb from his recently wounded shoulder.
They were really one pain now, palpitating someplace deep down inside of him as he worked his way into the glittering hall above the train station and out into its massive marble cathedral, the glow its lights, the enormity of its ceiling and the echoes of its crowds swelling up inside his head like a drug.
He had never quite gotten over the awe of such places as these, and nearly stopped to stare as he had his first time -- that time, a younger, more foolish version of himself, turning around and around as if something might escape his attention if he didn't take it all in at once, something might vanish then that he would later regret losing.
Indeed, much had, after the city had renovated the old stone mistress, leaving out the wooden benches and the easy access to the hall from 42nd Street, Lexington Avenue and Madison Avenue. Now, the place had become a mall, full of secret passages designed to keep people from getting out too soon before they had a chance to make a purchase.
This change confused Dixon, making him feel like a rat caught in a vaguely familiar maze, a maze to which he once knew the route, but which the masters of reality had altered.
Dixon had come to his part of the station with the thought of losing his pursuer, and now found that he was in danger of losing himself.
He stared around at the arcade full of glitter and lights, franchises for this national food chain and another, replacing the old food vendors with their carts he so fondly recalled, and glitzy glass enclosed stores selling cigars, pipes and cappuccino along with their newspapers, rather than the green metal-sided booths where girly magazines hung above racks of candy with newspapers strewn at knee level with their glaring headlines.
Where were the old men now, he wondered? The ones who used to come in here to escape the cold. If they had removed the wooden benches, then these men had no home. Many had lived their whole adult lives under this roof, breathing this air. Where had they gone? Were they dead?
Dixon suddenly felt acutely obvious in the middle of the suit jackets and pants suits, the clatter of high heals echoing in his head along with his rock and roll.
"A cop could spot me anywhere in this place," he thought, and then glanced around for escape, locating himself from the markers on the walls rather than the now non-existent landmarks.
To the left were the doors to Lexington Avenue. He headed that way, his aching legs pumping as hard as his heart to get free of this place, before some of the odd spell that had transformed it, transformed him again, turning him back into the older, more miserable if better dressed Cinderella his wife so pleadingly loved.
Outside on the street, Dixon felt more at ease as the crowds closed in around him, a mixture of people, some in business suits, but many more dressed more humanely, in jackets and boots, with knit army-style hats, cigars stuck in the corners of their mouths, not pipes, the smell of alcohol or hot dogs or knishes swirling in the air.
At a break in the movement, Dixon stopped and leaned against a wall, sucking some of that air into his aching lungs. He had not exerted himself so much for a very long time, and for the first time, felt his age. The throbbing of his ribs and his shoulder had now grown so that his whole body seemed to throb in one large pain.
Lexington Avenue had changed nearly as much as Grand Central Station, and he stared down at the string of stores, struggling to recognize any from those days when he had wandered here. Some of the older stores remained, but many of the places he remember had vanished or turned into something as glittering as what was inside the station, tinted glass displaying clothing or art or furniture that seemed designed by space aliens, so full of curves and points, part of some other world concept of how human beings ought to live and dress.
The neon world Dixon remembered struggled to compete, flashing signs with letters missing, each selling services like shoe repair or hair cuts that seemed out of fashion. The Chock-full of Nuts restaurant where Dixon used to get his morning coffee had vanished completely, as had half the block.
The Mercury Messenger Service office on East 44th Street, the second floor of a walk up, had become a tower of green glass, no sign of the old and young men in ragged clothing that used to work with him there.
Other icons, of course, remained, such as the glinting silver-topped Texaco building, sometimes called the Chrysler building. It seemed as amazing to Dixon now as it had his first time looking up at it, he as impressed with it as most tourists were, his gaze drawn higher and higher, story after story until reaching its silver pinnacle. He felt his mouth open to gawk, then, in the corner of his eye, caught another cop staring at him.
This cop, however, looked bored and annoyed, and seemed not to connect Dixon with any other situation.
"You wanna keep moving, buddy," the cop growled.
But the man wasn't a cop at all, but a man dressed up like one, wearing a badge that looked vaguely like the badges New York City cops wore, only in the place of a gun holster at his belt, was a holster for a walkie talkie, and on his shoulder where a patch for the NYPD should have been was a patch saying "Acme Security."
But the growling, muzzled police dog at the security guard's side more than made up for the man's lack of a gun, the beast clearly only barely held back by its leash, growling at Dixon as if looking for an excuse to rip his throat out.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Dixon asked, suddenly very weary of people trying to push him around. "This is a public sidewalk. I can stand here if I want."
"Not on THIS side walk, buddy," the artificial cop said with an odd grin saying he would enjoy letting the dog loose if Dixon caused trouble. "The people in THIS building don't want THEIR sidewalk cluttered up with bums like you."
"I AM NOT A BUM!" Dixon shouted.
"Oh, I'm sor-ry," the guard said mockingly. "I forgot. People call you `homeless' now-a-days."
The guard's grin vanished.
"Well," he continued. "I don't give a damn what people call you. I just don't want you bringing your troubles around here. People in THIS building spend a lot of money to live here and pay a lot in taxes to the city to not have panhandlers bugging them. You get my drift?"
"I'm not bothering anybody," Dixon said. "I'm just minding my own business."
"Well mind it someplace else."
"You can't be serious."
The guard stirred up a growl out of the dog. "I said move it, buddy."
Dixon sighed then staggered on in the direction of his SOHO appointment.
The trip took him much longer than he would have thought. Dixon hadn't traveled on foot for a long time, and had lost the crispness of step he and his friends had had when they had hoofed it everywhere from the top of Central Park to Battery Park City. People tended to be rude, too, now, playing a constant came of "up-one-man-ship" on the sidewalk as they traveled up or down or across town, as if they had to get to a particular spot before he did, as if their lives depended upon it.
Dixon found people bumping into him or shoving him out of the way, smart-alect street punks to men in business suits. He found traffic worse, too, with many more cabs jockeying for position at each traffic light, not quite stopped, revving their engines, daring an unsuspecting victim to step out in front of them before the light changed.
Again, the change in the city struck him, changes he had only glimpsed during his daily commute, but now, slowed down by his long walk, he saw new buildings and new stores where old had stood before, glittering commercials for Broadway plays and movies pinned to each bus stop and each vacant space on a wall. Nail salons and beauty parlors had replaced book stores, Vendor stalls selling tourist crap replacing stores that had once sold quality products.
By the time he reached SOHO and the restaurant where his business meeting was to take place, Dixon felt unbearably weary, not just from the walk, but from the sights and sounds of the world that had appeared in the place of the one he knew, evil, angry, greedy people replacing the generation of peace and love.
What happened? Where did all the good people go? And why hadn't he seen them leaving?
The restaurant was dimly lit, unusual for the South of Houston establishments which seemed to favor in vogue gaudiness to ambiance, this place outlined with a few blue and white lamps rather than the flashing, electric strobes of the more artistic places on the same block. This was the kind of place to which "power people" flocked, established Wall Street brokers’ intent upon impressing their clients with their seriousness rather than their ability to hop on a trend.
Dixon stopped within a few paces of the front door to catch his breath. He had jogged the last few blocks, an act that made him realize once again how old he was. He had also kept to the shadows, darting from pool to pool of darkened space, afraid he might recognize someone on the street.
Over the journey downtown, a slow shame had come upon him that he had never felt as a boy, as all the years between then and now began to creep back up inside of him, whispering in his ear about how foolish he looked, how crazy he was behaving, and how he ought to go home before someone locked him up in an institution.
It had taken all his fortitude to continue on, to ignore that voice, to maintain that vision from his youth which had insisted upon upsetting the status quo. But now, when he came so close to the confrontation, he was not so certain.
Thomas Jefferson had once claimed America should have a revolution every ten years. But Dixon doubted whether the same people should be conducting that revolution, or were even capable of it, so entrenched by their own time were they.
On his way through Greenwich Village, he had passed old memorials of his original revolution: Electric Circus, Gem Spa, the Fillmore East, and in each case, none was what it once was. One a halfway house, another simply a magazine store, and the third a bank. Each seemed to have been surgically altered, as if the capitalism against which he had rebelled had learned how to remove those organs most vital to that generation's rebellion, and in removing them, caused the whole movement to die.
A new, more shocking rebellion had taken its place, but one whose values were nearly as alien at the participants, long hair traded into hair died into spiked hair of purple and orange, bell bottom pants and Nehru shirts traded for leather vests and studded boots, face paint traded for pieced noses and lips.
It was as if Dixon had stepped off Earth onto some world even Star Trek could not have imagined, something so full of horror, he had to search out landmarks from his own time here to make certain it was the same place.
The restaurant reassured him a little, since he had chosen it himself, and had come here because it seemed a good compromise in values, something simple and eloquent, that maintained some of what he had always seen as fundamental in himself, the small sign and wooden door reminding me of something he might have found in J.R.R. Tolkien's books, with pipe smoke in one corner and world-wise people talking about their travels before a fire. He liked the crimson curtains that decorated the old fashioned windows, and the candles that glowed out of red glass at each table.
Dixon eased into the door and breathed deeply the smell of the wood fire and the cooking, and sighed a little as if finally he had reached a place where he could rest.
"Hey!" a large man in an ill-fitting tuxedo shouted, the side shoulders barely contained by the suit, the hairy knuckles and grim face reminding Dixon of the imitation cop he had seen uptown, this one stepping out from behind a low counter where the reservation book was kept. "You don't think you're coming in here."
The man blocked Dixon's way into the dinning area to the right, leaving only the bar and the cloak room open on the left, and the door straight ahead marked "Employees Only."
"I've come to see someone," Dixon said, squinting at the man in the dim light, catching a glimpse only of the brutal angry features highlighted by the flickering candle flames.
"Yeah, I'll bet," the man grunted out a laugh. "Why don't you find some place else to grub a meal. We've got important people here."
"I'm not grubbing a meal," Dixon said. "I'm trying to tell you my boss is here with a client and that I was supposed to meet with them. I just got tied up."
"And I'm telling you, Mack," the man said very slowly as his wide face came nose to nose with Dixon's, "We don't want no trouble here."
Dixon let out a long sigh.
He was tired of people mistaking him for a homeless bum. He was a hippie, damn it! Why couldn't any of them see that? Why couldn't they understand that he had to strip himself of all those things that marked him as significant and wealthy, removing all the markers of status, so that he could make his point? He was a protestor, a mirror of what society was on the inside, he, in his ragged clothes, showing what lay beyond all the Brooks Brothers suits and inside the BMW cars.
The man pushed on Dixon's chest with the tips of his fingers. "I said: get out!"
Dixon sighed again, and then -- in a move that he might have made years ago at Columbia to get passed a policeman's barricade -- he ducked under the big man's meaty arms and rushed towards the dinning room, brushing passed the startled hostess who let out a gasp.
"Hey, you can't...." she said, but Dixon was already passed her, pursued almost instantly by the thudding step of the door thug, whose outstretched fingers itched inches from Dixon's neck. Only somehow, Dixon had gone the wrong way and found himself in the bar, not the dinning room, with startled nearly-drunken business men in loose ties strung out on stools along one side of the room, and business couples: bosses and secretaries, or various male and female mail clerks tucked into the darkness of cafe tables along the other. Each group stared in shock at Dixon, the smell of alcohol and cologne curling up around them, bringing back some image of Dixon's more recent past he would rather have forgotten.
It stopped him. It allowed the big man from the door to finally catch him, grab him by the neck, and begin hauling him back the way he'd come.
"All right, Mack," the man said "If you want to play rough, we'll play rough."
Just then, Dixon spotted his boss, not in the dinning room, but at one of the cafe tables, the bloated face looking as evil as Satan's in the upper glow of the candle light.
"Mr. Meyers!" he shouted as the door man dragged Dixon away.
"I said stop that, Mack," the door man said.
Meyer's bloated face glanced up, looking as puzzled and annoyed as the other patrons.
"It's me, Mr. Meyers, Dixon!"
Pain exploded from Dixon's jaw, then in his stomach, rocking him back, then folding him over.
It was worse than an electric shock. He couldn't speak. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't believe what was happening to him.
"Now, that'll teach you, Mack," the large man said, leaning over Dixon. "I don't like having to hit no homeless person, but you asked for it."
And with a shove, Dixon was back on the street, his mouth bleeding, his stomach tied in a single, painful knot. The man stood in the doorway behind him, wiping the blood from his knuckles.
"Why don't you go find some shelter, Mack, before someone calls the cops?"
Dixon struggled to straighten, but the pain kept him bent. He turned back towards the door, but the man had vanished and the door had closed, and the pain made Dixon hesitant to slip back in. If a mere restaurant clerk could do this to him, what would the cops do when they caught up with him?
But as Dixon shuffled down the sidewalk, he came to the window that looked in on his boss and client, neither of which had taken much more notice of the disturbance as they would have an argument on the street, looking a little surprised and indignant at it having happened in such a fine place as this, but beyond and above it, with no apparent personal connection to the people involved.
Dixon leaned against the wall, his impotent fists pressed against the glass. He wanted to smash it, and then scream some kind of obscenity at his boss and his client and the world they lived in, but he doubted whether either would ever recognize him, and if they did, understand what had made him so upset.
For now, no one noticed. No one cared. Life went on as usual.
"Kart?" his wife's voice called from behind him.
Dixon whirled around, catching sight of his wife just then exiting a cab in front of the restaurant, behind him, the white haired and wizened face of the family doctor, Old Doc Swensen.
The doctor peered at Dixon through thick round specs, his gaze full of alarm and concern.
"Now, calm down, Kart," the good doctor said. "We've come to help you."
"BULLSHIT!" Dixon screamed, still bent over like a hunch back, still feeling the ache of the blow.
The doctor let out a low gasp, then turned to Dixon's wife. "This looks serious, my dear. Why don't you see about calling the police from inside."
The word "police" rushed through Dixon like an amphetamine. He screamed: "NO!"
Then, he was off again, running down the street, an aimless panic that sent him into traffic and blaring horns, leaving him the victim of curses and waved fists as he weaved to the sidewalk on the far side.
He did not want to go uptown again. He did not want to see the ruins of everything he loved, the Peace and Love Stuff of 1968, now little more than fodder of nostalgia. He needed to find air and open space, things very limited in this part of town.
A block from the restaurant, he stared back, and saw that the Old Doc had waved down a cop car and was pointing in his direction.
For the first time since his youth, Dixon ran in earnest, not just from some subway cop who wanted to beat him for beating the fair, but from everything that lay behind the cop, from the criminal justice system to the unfair system of economics, each element of his world, pinning him in, giving him a privileged place from which he could never escape, not without someone thinking him completely mad.
His sneakers squeaked on the sidewalk as he ran.
His head roared with images of Chicago and Columbia, 1968, or Kent State, 1970. He had survived the conflicts with the police on the streets the way Viet Vets claimed to have survived the Vietcong in the jungle, only now, Dixon was wildly afraid they would kill him this time.
Kill the last of the hippies! Make an example for future generations to avoid!
As he ran, he catalogued the pain he felt, the uncomfortable fit of the sneakers cutting at the sides of his feet, to the wounds he'd suffered in the restaurant and subway, his shoulder, stomach and face throbbing with each pound of his foot on the sidewalk. But even smaller pains nagged him, like the close cut of his pants that no longer quite fit him, cutting in private places that hurt him to the soul.
He was not that same person after all, though the biggest and deepest ache came as a wish to go back in time, to recapture that moment when a divided nation still clung to shreds of decency, when people argued in public over more than the purchase of some popular new toy during Christmas rush, trying to make the world safer, happier and better in their own time.
But it was a mistake now to believe that he could recapture any of it by merely putting on the clothing again, or adopting the old rituals. The magic was gone. Some important ingredient had vanished from the public consciousness over the previous twenty years.
"KART DIXON!" a bullhorn sounded, emitted from a police car now cruising down the street behind him.
Dixon darted right, through an alley way, stumbling over some fallen trash can in a clatter of metal that scared a feeding cat, who rose up in hiss and threat of exposed claws until Dixon passed. But it was Dixon who felt the cat's distress, and wished he had claws with which to strike back at the whole world, at his wife, at his boss, at the police who hounded him.
He struggled to yank off the Nehru shirt. The gold buttons popping off and falling behind him as he ran, but the shirt resisted being torn.
A siren replaced the screech of the cat, echoing in the alley behind him just as he reached the next street, one of those narrow, block long little better than an alleyway kind of streets from the days when New York City still had Irish Gangs and the Bowery was an entertainment capital full of dancing girls and phony promises of sex, this leading to a slighter wider street which marked the beginning of Chinatown, where the phone booths dressed up at pagodas and the tourists gawked at the strange habits of pigtailed men.
A group of well-dressed occidentals stopped abruptly at the sight of Dixon when he leaped out into the better lighted street, startled at first, then -- in their light, out on the town manner -- laughing at him as if he had been provided for by the local chamber of commerce to give them entertainment.
Their first shock had given Dixon the feel of 1968 when such looks had come routinely whenever he wandered out of Greenwich Village, the hateful, fearful look of strangers that evaporated into the take-nothing-too-seriously attitude of the 1980s.
"This isn't Halloween, fellah," one of the men said, inspiring the group to laugh even harder, the jewelry jingling, their plastic credit cards clicking in their impatient fingers like casino chips.
Dixon glared at them and hissed for them to go away, and when they still laughed, he plunged straight at them, scattering them as he rushed away to escape the police, getting some satisfaction from their vanishing laughter. It was Dixon laughing now. It was Dixon who held up one finger, not two, when he screamed the word: "PEACE."
Then, he darted around a corner colliding head on with an old Chinaman selling hand-crafted junk, the trinkets rolling to the gutter as the old man chattered out something in Chinese Dixon took for a curse. But Dixon was already rushing away, around another corner, then into another alley, and then into a zig zag pattern through that twisted part of the city, where he hoped to lose pursuit once and for all, finally getting himself lost in its web of streets.
No, not lost, but back to where he had started that morning, back into the world of dismal grey towers people around the world called "Wall Street."
This was the place where he had spent a great deal of his miserable life, learning the ins and outs of what his what his father had once called "honest greed," patting Dixon on the back for his "practical sensibility."
"The world isn't made for all that love and peace stuff," the older man had said. "If you don't get yours when you can, you won't get anything."
But Dixon had felt more than lost here during that time, just one more tiny stick figure against the backdrop of the World Trade Center towers, walking and talking like all the other stick figures who had some imagined purpose in this money-making scheme, he and they pushing paper and imagining they advanced some good cause, when they did not, making money for some corporate entity to which they would always be peons.
Now, at this time of night, there were no stick figures, only clumps of off-duty office workers reeling drunkenly from one bar to another, young men thinking they might spend the night with some young lady whom would not give them a second look under any other circumstance, living a momentary exchange between their ragged jog up the rungs of the corporate ladder, neither sex capable of anything but a superficial engagement.
Beyond them lay the vast waste land of empty grey canyons, the glow of midtown sparkling in the darkened windows like starlight. Dixon's footsteps and his heavy breathing seemed to echo around him as we walked. A few lights here and there in the upper floors of buildings near Rector Street or John Street indicated a handful of foolish but diligent office workers or a staff of cleaning people, nothing more. He might as well have been alone, as much a ghost as they were.
The only reality was his pain, his feet, his side, his shoulder, his mouth. He could still taste the blood from the punches he had received at the restaurant.
His head spun with too much exertion and he vaguely wondered if he might die here of a heart attack, alone, mistaken for one of the thousands of homeless who lived their lives under bridges or in alleyways, and whose deaths were marked with a simply "Joe Doe" on their death certificates.
He kept moving, passed the barriers that stood before the two huge towers and down the narrow streets where the tunnel surfaced and the cars spun their way uptown along the west side of the island, with the brick face of Battery City grinning across the Hudson River at Jersey City's Colgate clock. Then, he crossed into Battery Park, leaving the last vestiges of The Great White Way behind him.
The city had restored the park, cleaning up the bottles and the bums, the signs hung on the rail over the river advertising boat trips to Liberty Island, though no trips now were conducted on account of the renovations of the nearly century old lady. The city had an idea that they might dress her up in time for her 100th birthday.
He leaned forward against the rail, the cold metal sending chills through him, and he squinted at the old stone lady in the harbor.
A strange box-like construction stood around her, the scaffolds for the repair crews Dixon didn't immediately recognize. For a moment, he though someone had built a huge cage around her.
"Kart?" his wife whispered from edge of the trees behind him.
Dixon turned. Three police cars had pulled up onto the walkway and eased silently towards him, their lights dimmed. One stopped, several police officers piling out, wearing helmets and bullet proof vests, each carrying a rifle or shotgun. A police van appeared, and stopped, and out of it tumbled more police, these carrying shields and long poles with restraining straps attached.
"He's not THAT dangerous," Doc Swensen shouted, his bulky form appearing out of the darkness to settle next to Dixon's wife.
"Yeah, right," one of the cops snapped back. "Tell that to the judge. We'll handle things from here, Doc, once the nut wagon gets here from Belleview."
"I won't fight you," Dixon mumbled, his attention still caught on the box in the harbor, he knowing just how the old lady felt, caught up in a box of his own.
"Everything will be all right, Kart," his wife said, but made no move to come to him, her eyes full of pity and fear, as if she didn't believe her own words.
Then, the police advanced, grabbing a hold of the sinking Dixon before he fell to the ground.
"Poor fool," one of the cops said, as they eased him into the hands of the EMS people, who in turn slipped Dixon's arms into a straight jacket, and then put him in the back of the waiting ambulance for his long, long trip back to reality.