Absolutely Nothing

I was born as WWII was ending. One of my first social memories was when my parents and I were in the car on Burbank Blvd. in North Hollywood. Announcements came over the radio that the Korean War was officially ended. I could see and feel my parents’ happiness.

When I was about ten, my friends and I were playing war in a large vacant lot near our house. The lot had been a strawberry farm, made vacant when the Japanese owner was carted off to an internment camps. It stayed vacant for about 15 years.

Of course 10,000 Japanese were rounded up primarily from the West Coast.  They were put on trains and trucks and dumped into some very cold areas.  The men often had to build their own houses (some barracks were there) and folks had to grow they own vegetables.  After the war they were on their own.  Some very rich and politicians confiscated their homes and farms and got very richer.

In the late Fifties my father and I were at the Valley Plaza mall. CORE was picketing there, in solidarity with the sit-ins taking place in the South, and my Dad joined the line. I was proud. Later I would join in many local solidarity actions, while demonstrators in the south were being attacked and murdered.

The memory of a junior high school teacher in the late Fifties, who railed against US involvement in a civil war in Vietnam, stayed with me in the early Sixties as US aggression there escalated. Later, millions of South East Asians had been killed and wounded by US air strikes and ground wars.  The killing expanded to Central and South America, throughout much of the Seventies.

The US war machine continues into the third millennium its slaughter in the Middle East, begun in the Eighties and Nineties, in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, making a few very rich and powerful, while the rest of the world suffers greatly.

In the June 23 Sunday Los Angeles Times, edition, the second page is dedicated to the 1967 Century Plaza anti-war demonstration and riot. Written by Robin Abcarian

I was there, walking in front of the March. As we arrived at the Hotel where President Johnson was, I urged folks to stop and have a rally, instead of marching back to the park. The Progressive Labor Party formed a line. Close to 20,000 folks were there. Except for loud anti-war chanting, the gathering was peaceful. But the cops attacked us with billy clubs and more. I was in a group that got pushed into a construction site, and getting hit by the police. I got down to Pico and found myself between two rows of cops who started to beat people, One guy sat down and got the crap beat out of him. As I was surrounded by cops, a car came though the crowd, driven by a girlfriend, Lynn Halmi. I hopped into her car, just in time to save myself from getting the crap beat out of me. Ah memories.

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Chaparral Fireland, occasional contributing writer and regular editor and proofreader for Change-Links, responds to John’s column:

I was almost seven months old when the US joined the war in Europe. One of my earliest, most vivid memories was VJ day, four years later.

My family had a home in Studio City, and on this hot August day we were all hanging out around the pool. Suddenly, some family friends burst into the backyard to where we were, shouting, “The war is over! The war is over!”

This was far more interesting than anything I’d ever experienced; for I’d never seen grownups burst into or out of anywhere. On top of that, they all were hugging and kissing. Laughing and crying. Real hugs and kisses. Real laughter and tears. Also grownup “firsts” for these then innocent eyes. My interest escalated into profound curiosity.

Quietly, I left the pool, walked to the small intersection a few houses away and — despite the prohibition against my doing so — crossed the street alone and continued walking. All the while the pavement burned my feet while the sun dried my damp hair and bottom. All the while, the noise of honking horns became louder and more continuous.

When I got to the major intersection cars were parked at all angles in the street, people pouring from them and from houses and apartments, this time, a sea of grownups embracing, kissing, laughing and weeping. All of it real. Urgent. Immediate. And — in the cognition and language of a four year old child — I observed and declared the following:

Perhaps it’s true that I’ll grow up, someday. But I’ll never put my exuberance, my laughter and my tears so far away that it takes some huge event, like the end of a war, to shake them loose.

When I returned to the pool, no one had noticed my absence. Just as — throughout history — appallingly few grownups notice the sly transition from seemingly benign times to the open persecution of designated undesirables, absurd legislation and draconian reprisals replacing the quaint concepts of honor, transparency and fair play.

And, despite my resolve, only a few years later my own tears were tinged with terror and grief, as well as an abysmal sense of hollow isolation, when I participated in my first “drop drill,” and learned about the horrifying atomic weapon resulting in that so-called “victory” over Japan that my parents had so joyously celebrated. [Note: This is a good place to cut, if needed]

I attended the protest rally at Century City in 1967. President Johnson was hosting a $1,000 a plate dinner while about half a dozen soldiers stood on the balcony outside the banquet hall, their automatic weapons trained on the crowd the entire time.

Early on, I approached a couple of cops who were part of a large formation of officers in riot gear, batons in hand, blocking peoples’ passage through a wide line. I said to them that we’d come in peace, and hoped we could all coexist without any violence that day. Amazingly, they tipped their riot helmets at me and passed me through the line. Despite that, the long day ended with bloodied faces and cracked skulls.

During the late eighties I was close friends with an American-Japanese woman. Her eighth birthday was August 8, 1945, the same day as the bombing of Hiroshima, which she’d witnessed from the doorway of her village home. From that day onward, she was unable to celebrate her birthday.

In 1988 several of her friends threw her a party. We were about a dozen women sharing hunky videos, pizza and ice cream, applying our knowledge of herbal, chakra and meridian healing with one another as well as our laughter and tears (both real!). Later, she and I sat under the midnight sky atop Mulholland in her hot tub, sharing memories of our lives, losses and miracles.

I lost touch with her shortly after she phoned me a year or two later to say that she was returning to Yosemite, where her parents’ thriving apple orchard had been before they were interned, and their property stolen by Yankee carpetbaggers. Was she returning to reclaim her ancestral heritage? Or to start a new life near her son and his family who already lived there? Whatever it was, I failed to notice the sly transition that carried this precious friend away from me, and out of my life.



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