Free Speech and the End of the World

map Free Speech and the End of the World

by Douglas Lain

Published in Issue No. 54 ~ November, 2001

Mario Savio is dead at the age of fifty-three. Winded while moving his
furniture into his new home in San Francisco, he sat down at the
kitchen table and had a massive coronary.

His wife told us at the funeral that he had seemed embarrassed by his
weakness as he watched his colleagues and friends carry his bed, desk,
and bookcases up a flight of stairs and into the two bedroom
apartment. He was embarrassed, winded, and then he was dead.

I have relied on my psychic power for more than forty years, but
Mario’s death caught me off guard. I didn’t see it coming.


I can see the future. I predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall, the
Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, the Reagan era, and so on.

Listen:

I can read the present like a text, deconstruct each moment for clues
about the future. It’s a trick any soothsayer might use, like reading
entrails or palms. I can strip away the surface meaning of a billboard
or a telephone conversation and see the implied promise underneath.
Birds flying in strange formations and cracks in a sidewalk are the
outlines of photographs for tomorrow’s newspapers.

This power of mine often feels like a curse. My world is constantly
coming apart at the seams. Visions come on like anxiety attacks: my
heart pounds in my chest, sweat breaks out across my scalp. My arms
and legs become light, almost hollow, and everything I touch feels
like paper.

The worst part is that these vision don’t help me do anything. I can’t
win the lottery, or at least I’m no more likely to win the lottery
than anyone else. I can’t read minds, bend spoons, read tarot cards,
or help you with your love life.

I can see the future, but I can’t control it. I know what’s going to
happen next, but I can’t change a thing. The information I get is
useless.

For instance, I know how the world will end.


Justine called me last week.

“How did they get him?” I asked her when she told me Mario was dead.

“They didn’t get him, Noah. He had a heart attack. Nobody got him.”

I was in the darkroom, developing pictures of the Rose Festival for
the “Living” section of The Portland Oregonian. I looked down
into the tub of chemicals, watched an image of a Ferris Wheel appear.

“I want you to come out for the funeral,” she said. Her voice was
cold, her breathing even. “We need to see you.”

“Who’s we?”

“Us, we, the FSM.”

The FSM. The Free Speech Movement.

In 1964, on the University of California’s Berkeley campus, Mario
Savio had been a student dissident. He was our leader. Mario Savio
helped fight for free speech, for the right to teach civil
disobedience and to set up tables for civil rights groups. He was
responsible, along with Jack Weinberg, Michael Rossman, Justine
Favors, and about 6,000 others, for starting what is now known as the
’60s.

I looked down into the tub of chemicals. This time a fun house
appeared. The fun house was old, vandalized, falling apart. It was
called “America Rocks.” Cartoon caricatures of Janis Joplin and Jimi
Hendrix adorned the entrance. Their images had faded, and someone had
blacked out most of their teeth.

“The FSM is ancient history. That’s all over.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Justine said. “The FSM is dead…this time it
really is. But come anyway. Please?”

“I’ll be there,” I told her.

In my apartment, I wrangle with the old cardboard box that’s buried,
half crushed, in the back of my bedroom closet. I pull the box free
from the clutter and carry it to my futon bed. Inside are the
photographs.

The first is a clipping from an old newspaper. It’s one of my first
published photos: a black and white 35 mm print of four uniformed
police officers surrounded by a mob of curious students. The officers
clutch an angry young man, who is limp in their hands.

The young man is Jack Weinberg. He was arrested in front of Sproul
Hall for refusing to abandon the CORE (Congress for Racial Equality)
table. He was busted because he wouldn’t abandon his first amendment
rights despite the new regulations passed down from the University.

Here’s what happened:

The owners of San Francisco’s hotels and coffee shops were tired of
being picketed for their racist hiring practices. They insisted that
the University do something about the Reds that had infiltrated the
campus. Bowing to their demands, University President Clark Kerr
banned political speech from Berkeley’s campus.

Setting up the table was itself an act of civil disobedience. Even
when the cops arrived Jack wouldn’t stop talking. He refused to leave
the steps of Sproul Hall.

“I want to tell you about this knowledge factory. It seems that
certain products are not coming out to standard specifications –
a few
students are getting through who are still human!” Jack shouted.

The police pushed through the crowd, reached out for him, and Jack
went limp. His head drooped between his shoulders, and the cops
couldn’t drag him away fast enough.

“Sit down!” someone yelled to the crowd. “Sit down!”

We did, hundreds of us all at once. We sat down in unison. That is,
everyone sat down except for me. I pointed my camera toward where the
police were taking Jack and saw what their plan was. Instead of
dragging him into Sproul Hall they were going to put him in a police
car.

I rushed past the cops and sat behind their car as they threw Jack
into the back seat.

“Sit down!” I yelled.

“Sit down! Sit down!”

There were hundreds of us in front of the car and hundreds behind it
and hundreds of us all around. Six, maybe seven hundred outraged
students were blocking the cops’ escape.

We stopped them. We captured a police car.

I pointed my camera and took one picture after another.

Savio was the first to jump on the police car roof and address the
crowd. The cops tried to grab him, but he skirted out of reach, and
then took off his shoes so that he stood atop the hood in his socked
feet. That seemed to appease them.

I don’t remember what he said, and nobody thought to record it or
write it down. But I can remember that he said something about
standing up for your rights, about being alive instead of a dead
machine. This was the moment when Savio started making history. He
jumped on top of the police car, gave a speech, and then stepped down
as another student took the stage.

Student after student stood on top of the cop car.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m for free speech,” I shouted. “We’re doing the
right thing, and we’re going to win. But…” I stalled, stared down at
my socked feet, and then out at the crowd of students and faculty.
“When I look around this plaza I see destruction…I see blood. The
government…” But this was not the direction I wanted to go in.

“This plaza will be gassed and students shot. Maybe not exactly here,
and maybe not right away, but it will happen, eventually…somewhere.”
I glanced over toward Mario, tried to read his facial expression, but
he wasn’t really listening. “What we’re starting is big, bigger than
we know. If we don’t stop and think things through, if we don’t
anticipate what people in government, in business, in television, in
advertising, in the suburbs, in the churches, in the military, in the
coast guard, in the future…” I stopped, lost my place, and stepped
down.

I cleared the way for the next student.


I took the train to Mario’s funeral. The Portland Amtrak Station was
airy, old, and, despite its high ceilings and ornate roof, not too
impressive. A small station for an insignificant city.

Justine would meet me when I reached San Francisco, and from there we
would drive into Berkeley and watch the new Administration dedicate
the Sproul Hall steps to Mario. Then it was back to the city for lunch
and the funeral.

We were going to put the Free Speech Movement into the ground.


I was a virgin when I met Justine. We met during the police car
sit-in, and I lost my virginity exactly three days later, a mere
twenty-four hours after the sit-in ended. Mario told the protesters to
disperse, he’d worked something out with Kerr.

By Thanksgiving of ’64 Justine and I were more than used to doing it.


I find the next set of photos in an envelope tucked in an old
magazine. Bookmarking an article from 1965 on the FSM, the envelope is
fat with pictures. After I break the seal I remember why I segregated
these photos from the others.

Justine is lying on her back, naked except for a feather pillow that
she has modestly placed over her torso. Her bare legs are spread wide,
her feet dangling off the sides of the bed and out of the frame. Her
mouth is an open smile, and my hand can be seen in the far right
corner. I am holding out a clump of grapes –
a food we will later be
forced to abandon.

Justine is naked except for a black arm band which she has wrapped
around her waist. This time she is standing at attention, looking
directly at the camera and scowling.

I am fully dressed, and Justine is sprawled in my lap. Again she is
naked. Her face is turned away from the camera. She is staring at me,
trying to catch my eye. I am sitting, Indian style, by the foot of the
bed and feigning interest in Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital.”

I am naked with my back toward the camera. I am sitting on the side of
the bed and reaching for a cigarette.

“Do you believe in God?” Justine asked me.

“That’s a bourgeois question.” I was on top of her, and I started
moving up and down, in and out. She grunted and wrapped her legs
around my waist.

“Do you believe in God?” she asked. She wasn’t even breathing hard,
but I kept moving, grunting and sweating.

“Ask me later.”

She laughed and moved with me.

After we finished, she was at it again.

“Do you believe in God?”

“No.”

“Just straight out ‘no’, not even ‘maybe’, not even ‘I don’t know’,
but a definite ‘no’.”

“That’s right,” I said. I sat on the edge of the bed, my back toward
her, and reached for a cigarette. I heard the familiar click of the
camera shutter. When I turned back to her she was giggling.

“Got you!”

“I thought we agreed there would be no nudes,” I said.

“But we’ve already broken that rule.”

“No nudes of me, I mean.”

“But you have a beautiful body!”

“You think so?”

She laughed again, really hard, and I blushed and took a deep drag off
my cigarette. She took the cigarette away from me, took a drag
herself, then handed it back.

“You want to know how I know that there isn’t a God?” I asked.

She nodded.

“You know how the Bible says that when the world ends Jesus will come
down again, and that the good people will go up into heaven and the
bad people will go to hell? You know, all that Judgment Day stuff?”

“Sure, but what does that have to do with it? I mean the Bible is just
one book, and…”

“Listen, the end of the world isn’t going to be like that. There won’t
be any savior coming down from heaven. I know that God doesn’t exist
because I’ve seen the end and he doesn’t show up at all.”

In the San Francisco train station there were so many people walking
around in straight lines. They were lining up to get tickets, to get
their baggage, to board their train, and all of them stood perfectly
erect and in order.

The buzzers in the station, the chirping speakers and announcements,
the hushed voices, none of them human, pressed down on me.

I sat on my bench and strangled the handle of my suitcase until my
hand was numb, until I couldn’t feel my fingers.

“Noah?” Justine asked. “Is that you?”


His wake wasn’t a party so much as a meeting. FSM’ers, civil rights
activists, Socialist Party members, and dozens of other leftists (both
new and old) gathered in Mario’s mostly empty apartment. They sat on
cardboard boxes and drank wine from paper cups. Mario’s wife served
celery sticks with dip and tried not to break down.

“He told me this would happen,” she said.

“He knew that his heart was weak?” Justine asks.

“Oh, yes. He was on medication for his heart and his blood pressure.”

“Then why did he try to carry the furniture?” Justine asks.

I hardly knew Mario. I took pictures, ran errands; Mario developed
strategies and made speeches. We barely spoke.

“I knew that the Black Panthers would be infiltrated by the FBI,” I
said.

“You did?” Barry Feinstein, one of Mario’s key men, was polite.

“Yes. I can see the future.”

“How did you know Savio?” Barry asked.

“At Berkeley, in ’64.”

“You were part of the FSM?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t remember you.”

“I went out with your wife. I was Justine’s boyfriend.”

“Oh, my God,” he said. “Noam right?”

“Noah.”

“Yeah. Right. I’m glad you could make it, Noah. Justine will be so
glad you’re here. Have you seen her yet?”


After the Thanksgiving holiday the University announced five student
leaders were being expelled; they had been charged with disruption
during the police car sit-in. Five students, Mario among them,
expelled for a crime hundreds of others had simultaneously committed.

Mario was angry. He stood before us and shouted out his speech:

“There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so
odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part; you can’t
even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the
gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, and you’ve got to make it
stop. And you’ve got to show the people who run it, the people who own
it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from
working at all!”

Mario paused; I took another picture.

“Now, no more talking. We’re going to march in singing ‘We Shall
Overcome’. Slowly; there are a lot of us. Up here to the left –
I
didn’t mean the pun.”

About 1,500 students occupied Sproul Hall. By the time it was over on
December 3rd, a thousand students would be in jail.

We all marched in singing. Joan Baez was right up front, miked and
strumming a guitar. Once inside we spread out, setting up camp on all
four floors.

In the photograph Justine looks like a beatnik; she’s dressed in black
and wearing an FSM arm band, and she is serving lunch, cold cut
sandwiches and Ritz crackers, to the hungry protesters. In the left
hand corner of the frame a kid in short sleeves is staring at his
bologna, maybe trying to figure out if his sandwich is for or against
the movement.


“I’m starving,” Justine said.

I picked up my sandwich and stared at it. I walked to the side of the
food table and set up my camera for the shot, placing it on top of a
banister.

“After we get arrested, will you marry me?” I asked her.

“Why? You need somebody to make your sandwiches?”

“I’m serious,” I told her. But I knew that she didn’t believe me. I
knew that she’d be dragged away by the police and that I wouldn’t be,
that she’d stay at Berkeley to get tear gassed and I’d head for a less
militant life in Portland. I knew that our love wouldn’t last because
I could read my bologna like a text. I stared at my sandwich, reading
it, and there was a click and a flash.


It was snowing in San Francisco.

Justine and I were in the Savio’s bedroom, standing next to a queen
size bed covered with leather jackets, trench coats, furs.

“I can’t take it anymore,” Justine told me.

“It’s difficult to face,” I said.

“What is?”

“I don’t know. What were you saying?” I asked, confused. I couldn’t
find my rain slicker in the pile.

“I’m talking about my whole life. I’m talking about my thirty year
marriage to Mr. Barry Feinstein, to Greenpeace, to the revolution and
the University,” Justine said and started unbuttoning her shirt.

“I never married,” I told her.

“Noah, I want to give up. I want to go back. Will you take me?”

We were fifty years old and we were on each other like kids in the
back room at a fraternity party.

“I can see the future,” I told her. “That’s why I never could start
anything.”

“I know. I know. That’s what I want,” she said. “Let’s not start
anything.”

“Justine.” I buried my face in her chest, felt the silk of her bra on
my cheeks. “Justine?”

“Do you still find me attractive?” she asked. “I have a personal
trainer.”

“Justine.”

“Let’s start over. Let’s not start at all.”

“You can’t believe me.”

“I do.”

“You shouldn’t believe me.” I bent her over the bed, pushed the coats
to the floor.

“Savio is dead,” Justine said.

“Oh, God.”


Next is a 35 mm color print, freshly developed. Barry and Justine are
sitting together on the Savios’ couch, the couch where Mario died. She
has her arm around Barry’s waist, she’s holding back tears. He’s
staring to the left, toward somebody out of the frame.

If you look closely you can see that her legs are bare underneath her
skirt, and there is a line of wetness dripping down.

My semen is dripping down Justine’s leg but she is looking at her
husband. She is looking at her husband and he is looking out of the
frame.

Back in Portland after the funeral I discovered that I couldn’t work.
I’d put the camera up to my eye, but I couldn’t focus. I left in
plenty of time to catch the opening of the blues festival, but I got
lost and ended up taking pictures of the airport. Then I spent the
rest of the day photographing supermarket scanners.

Canned conferences and spectacular pseudo-events tied my stomach in
knots, and when I went to the newly renovated zoo I came back with
rolls and rolls of empty cages, cardboard boxes, overflowing trash
cans.

I did nothing but take pictures of gas stations and dumpsters. I could
barely even speak. I just kept clicking away like a machine.


“Noah, where are the pictures I wanted for my city council piece?”
Chuck asked me.

“Council? City? Peace?”

“And where are the pictures from the Starlight parade?”

I pointed my camera at Chuck; took aim at his wristwatch.

Click.

“Look, I need the photos on my desk within the hour. Time is running
out,” Chuck said.

“You’re telling me about time running out? What a laugh riot. You’re
telling me?”

Chuck kept talking, his mouth moving up and down with precision. I
took a picture of my computer screen, and then started talking. I told
Chuck that we’re all dead already. That it was going to rain, and that
even the animals were made of silicon. I told him that there was
nothing left, no life raft or floating board to hold onto.

Chuck didn’t hear me.

“If the photos aren’t on my desk in an hour I’m going to bring this up
with Perry.”

I aimed and took a shot and then aimed again.

Click, click, click, click, click, click…


I make two piles of photographs. On my left there is the small pile of
black and white pictures that I took during the Free Speech Movement,
and to my right there is a pile of advertisements that I’ve clipped
from magazines and newspapers.

My hands are trembling as I flip through the photographs, and when I
hold each one up to the light the images start to move.

A young woman, her legs long and sleek, is trying on a pair of Doc
Martens boots. She is dressed in a mid-length gray skirt with a split
and a billowing blouse. The caption underneath the frame reads:

“Even executives have a rebellious side. Famous Footwear knows what
freedom means. Doc Martens priced at $65.76 through Sunday.”

In the next photograph a portly police officer is confused amidst a
crowd of grasping students. He is pushed up, passed back and forth
overhead. The caption underneath the picture reads:

“Berkeley’s Officer Phil Mower, trying to lock Sproul Hall’s front
doors, loses his boots to demonstrators.”

In the next picture the fists held up in solidarity are grasping
tacos. Wilted lettuce slithers inside cornmeal shells. The caption
underneath the frame reads:

“Only 99 cents at Taco Bell.”

How does the world end? All of the sci-fi endings, the dystopias and
nightmares –
they’ll all come true.

The temperature will rise. The oceans will die. The food supply will
dwindle. AIDS, Ebola, and genetically engineered diseases will sweep
across the globe. There will be war, plague, famine, and death. And
nobody will notice. It will read like just another headline. By the
time the world ends, it won’t matter, we’ll already feel dead.

I feel dead.

I feel dead, and Timothy Leary really is dead. Abbie Hoffman is dead.
Mario Savio is dead.

And Justine –
Justine Favors will commit suicide on her sixtieth
birthday. She’ll swallow one too many sleeping pills with her nightly
scotch and soda.

I can’t tell you exactly how the world will end, but I can see it,
smell it –
everywhere.

The end of the world smells like a copier machine.


There are two possible futures here, the FSM photographs on one side
and these brightly colored slogans, these machine images, on the
other. I still can’t pick between them.

Back then she loved me, that’s what I can’t help thinking about. She
loved me, but I was too caught up in the future to hold onto her. I
knew she and her radical friends would lose.

I’ve reached the final FSM photograph. After this there will be only
laundry detergents, beers, and brand new Mazda Sedans.

Mario Savio is on stage, standing behind a podium; behind him stands
President Kerr, Chancellor Strong, and two police officers. One of the
police officers is reaching toward Mario’s throat, grabbing his tie.


After Christmas vacation the Administration held a massive meeting at
the Greek theater. It was a desperate effort to squelch the dissent,
the outrage and resolve, that had rampaged through the campus since
the police car sit-in.

President Kerr spoke first. He described the difference between a
thoughtful protest and simpleminded sloganeering. Then Chancellor
Strong claimed that agitators on campus wanted conflict merely for the
sake of conflict. At this Mario stood up to speak.

He stood from his bleacher seat and walked slowly toward the stage.

“Let him speak,” a student shouted. It became a chant.

“Let him speak. Let him speak. Let him speak…”

Mario kept walking, steadily but slowly, up the stairs onto the stage,
and then to the center. He stepped up to the podium and opened his
mouth.

A hand fell on his shoulder, then reached around to grab his tie.
Another cop grabbed his feet, and a third police officer arrived to
clear the way. They dragged Mario from the stage.

In front of the whole community the Administration showed its face.

The cops dragged Mario away; he was limp in their arms.

I look closely at the photograph, and I can see his face clearly.

Savio smiled.

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Douglas Lain lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Miriam, son Benjamin, and daughter Emma. His fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Amazing Stories, and Winedark Sea. He also has fiction due out in Century Magazine and Strange Horizons. More information about Mr. Lain can be found at http://www.douglaslain.f2s.com.