Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Summer Of '67

The Summer of 1967, an army buddy and I took over the 2nd floor of an old duplex in Galveston and spent a lot of time arguing politics versus culture. He was a Marcusian and argued that politics shaped culture. I argued culture shaped politics.

It was the summer of the Six-Day War, and our favorite cartoon showed the aftermath of a collision between an Arab and an Israeli tank, the Arabs holding their hands in the air, the Jews holding their necks.

I read the Koran that summer, and I was impressed by the idea of houris.

I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Sitting by the pool one afternoon, I suddenly understood what a function was and lost my fear of mathematics forever.

My friend hung out at the beach all day while I programmed computers at an insurance company. After work every day, I'd drop a deck of punch cards off at the computer room, and the operators would run my latest Keynesian model for me on the IBM 7080. The models always blew up. I never got the accelerator and the multiplier right.

My friend relieved me of the burden of paying the note on my '65 Baracuda by totaling it on the boulevard one afternoon. He had just come back from the Monterey Jazz festival. The richest man in town sent him out there with some banker's wife, probably as a joke.

My friend ended up inheriting a department store in Basel and slowly disappearing, like that big cat. I wonder what he's doing sometimes, but never enough to try to find out.

The banker's wife ended up finding Jesus under the sink in the bathroom of a cheap motel in Laredo one night. She was crouched in the corner, desperate for help, and it was Jesus or the big cockroach that had just crawled out from under the sink. She hated roaches.

I still think it's about culture. About education in all its forms. If I don't know what a credit default swap is, never saw a play or an opera, never read a real book, don't know what a function is, never read any history, how can I believe I know enough to pick the people who are going to run my country?

And I'm not arguing for government by the elite.

15 comments:

Tom Manoff said...

Only Billy Glad could bring a real French sense of ennui to Galveston, Texas circa 1967. Dreamy but fully focused on the bond between life and culture and the stuff from which culture and its sense of self and wisdom are formed.

I figure that only you, Decidere and I would know what those punch cards were.

Malcolm. The Six -day War. So familiar, so distant. You made me sad, Billy

quinn the eskimo said...

My vote's with you, Billy - culture. Spent my 4th year eating Habermas' "Legitimation Crisis." Impenetrable stuff, no enjoyment compared to the others who came before. Did an essay arguing that, based on H's own argument, his beloved "Legitimation Crisis" was in fact based on a Motivation Crisis, which was embedded in culture, not politics. My Prof hated this, but I had him dead to rights.

My old Thesis Supervisor (a great, and very conservative man) told me a story about Habermas. How he went to the beach with colleagues at some conference. Then stood, waist-deep in the water and waves, disputing with someone for his entire time there.

Which confirmed my view that the utter joylessness which was devouring political theory had to be escaped. So, I applied to take English Literature (in England by now.)

The Head of English turned me down. He had exactly the same name as my eldest step-brother, and was his spitting image. One of his quotes began with, "You Americans...."

So I had to go back into Political Theory and Economics. Guess he figured it was safer keeping the Philistines marginalized running the Government, rather than risk them messing about in Literature.

gasket said...

Culture.

But if I had witnessed the rise of Nazism, I too might believe it was the other way around.

Is this a version of something you've posted before, Billy? It's familiar, but this version is precise, honed. Sharp.

GirlFromTheBronx said...

Billy, I'm wonder after reading this, how did you know that the banker's wife saw Jesus or roaches under the sink? Were you there perchance? Say it isn't so.

Tom Manoff said...

Gasket, I have that sense sometimes too with Billy's writing when it's about Galveston. Not the content but the feeling. I always dig (do people still use "dig" other than my generation?) his Galveston tales. Wherever he ended up, that's his original home. Thankfully he rescued Galveston from "Glenn the Haircut" crooner's
mention of the word in some terrible song I did not dig in the slightest.

Billy Glad said...

It's fiction, girl. I conflated her version of how she came to Jesus with my reply that if you were that desperate to turn your life over to someone it could have been a cockroach, crawling out from under the sink, just as easily as Jesus.

Billy Glad said...

That's interesting, Tom. When I was mulling over my favorite PBS moments, I forgot Glen Campbell, singing with the Boston Pops in a tribute to Jimmy Webb.

Tom Manoff said...

Man, you are making scary waves in the world's delicate ethos. Who can ever forget:

"It took so long to bake it, it took so long to make it, I'll never see that recipe
aga ....a.......i....n.

GirlFromTheBronx said...

OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

quinn the eskimo said...

So you programmed computers at an (unnamed) insurance company Billy? Just "Keynesian models," was it? No chance a guy could've built a real slow-burning bug into the system?

I wonder how you'd do that. Probably turn the accelerator down real low, but then when it reached a certain point, you'd make the multiplier suddenly....

Ummm, I probably don't need to know more. I only ever went to the guy's blog for coffee, officer.

Billy Glad said...

Well, you know, back in those days all the long term memory was tape. When you ate up the RAM with a model the CPU just dumped. And the operators would have to deal with it. But they never did more than give me an amused shake of the head, although what I was doing was way outside company policy. My experience has been that operators are generally cool, no matter what they operate.

When I was in grad school in Communications, the chair of my department was also on the Computer Science faculty, and he wanted to take the data from the campus newspaper and run it through a voice sythesizer so people could call in a listen to the headlines and summaries of the stories over the phone. He gave the project to me, along with a little Data General microcomputer and a voice synthesizer the speech lab was using to work with kids. Two things happened. First was, much to his dismay and disgust, I started writing a voice synthesizer from scratch instead of finding one and integrating it. Second was, I spent some time trying to find just the right thing for my creature to say first. Something meaningful. I finally settled on the first lines of The Lute In The Attic by Patchen, and while I was setting up the connection between the micro-computer and the synthesizer, one of the techs in the speech lab came over and said this is cool and typed something into the synthesizer and it started saying Bullshit over and over.

quinn the eskimo said...

Jesus, Billy, I'm embarrassed. Didn't know Patchen at all. Just read the Lute. Apples, and the 7 fat ducks going round and round. Wow.

Loving it.

Billy Glad said...

You poets and musicians are special people. I gave up on poetry a long time ago, because I could never figure out exactly what it was or how you were supposed to do it. When I was in high school, I wrote long, romantic poems in iambic pentameter. The only person encouraged me was my best friend's mother. Her husband was a drunk. I had fantasies of running off with her to Mexico. I lost her when I dated my best friend's girl behind his back and he found out about it. Layed for me outside a dance one night and started throwing punches. I kept tying him up and saying I'm not going to fight you, man, and he kept saying good and throwing flurries of punches that I'd step inside of and hold on. Finally, he got tired or broke a nuckle maybe. Next morning my head had bumps on it from the couple of punches he managed to land. Later on, when I was working in a political job, he was on his way to amassing a huge fortune and he called me up one night and said let's have a drink. I said I can't imagine what somebody like me would have to say to somebody like you. I told myself it was about politics. But I know it was about that girl.

quinn the eskimo said...

Based on that story, my understanding of the relationship between Women and Culture is even less clear than ever. One woman becomes your Muse, the other leads to a bust-up & the end of poetry.

I'd take a shot at placing Hillary C in that schema, but this probably isn't the right place. Somehow, I imagine hearing the lot of you saying, "Good," and then me checking my face the next morning.

Decidere said...

Somehow I could understand this meltdown stuff if someone could just say, "oh, it's all about a girl. Then somehow I'd understand the motivations. But to be some pink piggish prick on TV with no amusing way to spend the hard-stolen money just escapes the human element for me.