Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Last Stand Hill Monument, Montana, May 1990

by G. Jack Urso

“Last Stand Hill Monument, Montana,” by G. Jack Urso, (May 1990).

                         

Friday, September 9, 2022

Rabbit in the Early Morning at the Little Bighorn National Battlefield Cemetery

by G. Jack Urso 

"Rabbit in the Early Morning at the Little Bighorn National Battlefield Cemetery,"
by G. Jack Urso (May 1990). Click for larger image.


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Wide Montana Skies Over the Little Bighorn

by G. Jack Urso 

“Little Bighorn — The Struggle Continues,” by James Mishibinijima.

history

swirling like water around rocks

tombstones scattered like the pale

white seeds of a withered dandelion

blown over the Earth

 

weeds that grow over graves

steal life from the planet

yet blossom still

Last Stand Hill, photographed by G. Jack Urso (May 1990).
Click for larger image.
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Saturday, August 6, 2022

With Apologies to Pastor Martin Niemöller

by G. Jack Urso 

First, they restricted abortion, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they outlawed abortion, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they arrested doctors, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they arrested nurses, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they arrested women who had an abortion, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they forced minors and rape and incest victims to carry their pregnancies to term, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they arrested people who transported women out of state to get an abortion, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they restricted access to contraceptives and Plan B and Ru-486 pills, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they arrested people who provided Plan B and Ru-486 pills to women, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they arrested people and sued media companies who provided instructions on where to go to get an abortion, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.

Then, they came to ask me if I thought any of this was right, and I did not speak out because I am Pro-Life.
 

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Tuesday, August 2, 2022

“If You Want Peace, Prepare for War”: The Logical Paradox

by G. Jack Urso 


Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (aka Vegetius), the late fourth century AD Roman, in his book Epitoma Rei Militaris gave posterity his immortal maxim: "Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum" — “If you want peace, prepare for war."
 
However, what if the premise is a nation that actually wants to engage in war just because they are bad guys, like Hitler or Stalin? What is the solution for nations who want to go to war? Prepare for war, obviously.
 
So, “If you want peace, prepare for war" is true, but also “If you want war, prepare for war" is true.
 
Given that peace and war are two entirely different diametrically opposed states of being, how can the solution for achieving both be the same, “prepare for war,” and be valid?
 
They can’t.
 
When the solution for a desired outcome to two opposing situations is the same solution it suggests a predisposition towards the proposed solution, in this case war, rather than a line of honest intellectual inquiry. For example, consider these two statements: “If you want summer, prepare for winter” and “If you want winter, prepare for winter.” It really seems like someone is just really into winter more than cares about preparing us for the seasons. Before buying, one should look at who is selling you the goods, and invariably those saying “If you want peace, prepare for war" seldom are anti-war peace advocates.
 
Technically, these sorts of if/then statements are a logical fallacy called "Affirming the Consequent," where the opposite of a true conditional statement is also asserted to be true. For example, if we can agree that that "If you want war, [then] prepare for war" is a true conditional statement, and the opposite of the qualifier war is peace, then the resulting statement, "If you want peace, [then] prepare for war," is a logical fallacy and consequently an invalid statement. 
 
An additional step to test the logic is to invert the statement. For example, consider the statement, "If you want to eat, you have to sit down at the table." If we invert it to, "You have to sit down at the table if you want to eat," the statement still makes sense.
 
However, that same test fails when applied to "If you want peace, prepare for war." When inverted, the statement "If you want war, prepare for peace," makes no sense. Either way we look at it, the original statement is a non sequitur.
 
Vegetius' statement is further complicated by, as previously noted, his comparison of two entirely different states of being, war and peace. For a comparison to be valid, the items being compared must be in the same set. One can compare apples to oranges, but not apples to post-Spinozan non-Hegelian eschatology. If that sounds ridiculous, it is. For a comparison to be valid, they must be in the same set. So, war can be compared to police actions, and peace can be compared to friendly relations, but comparing war and peace in the same statement becomes logically problematic because they are not in the same set.
 
Civilization has long held Vegetius' statement as a truth, and indeed it does seem true. To defend ourselves, we must be able to fight, i.e. to wage war. On a personal level, this means learning self-defense. On a national scale, that means having the capacity to field modern armies. So, the conclusion is that if we want to be able to deter others from making war on us, and remain at peace, we must be able to go to war. It seems like an entirely logical conclusion based on what we know of human nature.
 
Except that five thousand years of recorded human history establishes that it apparently does not seem to work very well. History is replete with wars between well-armed, militarily strong nations. Even during the vaunted “Pax Romana” Rome was constantly at war expanding its borders. “Pax Romana” only meant that there were none of the civil wars that plagued the Romans in the past. War was simply exported to the borders and against people they considered less civilized. Much as it continues to do so today between the East and West. Smaller proxy nations at the bleeding border regions between political spheres of influence are usually where the wars take place. Poorer nations suffer while the richer nations sit comfortably in the safety of their hubris, marveling at how effective is the truth, “If you want peace, prepare for war."
 
It should be noted that there are many such maxims, “truisms” if you will, throughout history about war and peace, some that support Vegetius and some that do not, but taken together, they reveal our moral ambiguity not as much about our capacity for war, but rather the lack of our capacity for peace. Some of the more well-known ones include:
 
“The sword itself incites to violence.” — Homer
 
“A bad peace is even worse than war.” — Tacitus
 
"There was never a good war, or a bad peace." — Benjamin Franklin
 
“Wars are not paid for in wartime. The bill comes later.” — Benjamin Franklin
 
“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” — Robert E. Lee
 
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” — Albert Einstein
 
Vegetius’ maxim is all well and good when we fought with bows, spears, and swords, but now we have over seven billion people, weapons that can shoot thousands of rounds of minute, and bombs that can incinerate the entire planet. Suddenly, Vegetius’ advice seems more suicidal than a well-intentioned, peacenik, feel-good vibe.
 
For twenty-five years as a defense information consultant, I have tracked weapon sales and transfers and one thing I have learned is that wherever weapons go, war inevitably follows, not peace. The paradox of our existence is that while we want peace, war is inherent to our nature. We need not surrender to it, but we aren't moving beyond it by associating the ability to make war it as a precondition for peace. 
 
It should be noted, that Vegetius had no military experience, was not a politician, and his work has been criticized for its inconsistences. He also wrote the lesser known Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, which is about veterinary medicine.
 
I hope it was more successful.  


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Sunday, July 17, 2022

Green Grass and Rainbows: The Murder of Doreen Gaul, November 1969

by G. Jack Urso 

Fig. 1. 570 Myrtle Avenue. The childhood home of Doreen Gaul
(July 2022, author's collection).
This is 570 Myrtle Ave., Albany, NY (fig. 1, above), the family home of Doreen Gaul who left in June 1969 for Los Angeles to study Scientology. She never returned home and her murder has remained unsolved. Although it is sometimes linked to the Manson Family or the Zodiac Killer, there is no evidence for either.
 
Shortly after midnight on November 22, 1969, Gaul, 19, was found murdered along with fellow Scientologist James Sharp, 15, in an alley behind 1138 Magnolia Blvd., Los Angeles. Both had been whipped with what likely was a chain and stabbed approximately fifty times each. There were so many stab wounds police first thought they had been killed with a shotgun. Due to two reports of a woman’s screams linked to the crime, police report that the bodies were likely killed nearby before being dumped in the alley. Additionally, Gaul was raped.
 
Some online accounts attributed to The New York Post state that the victims had their right eyes either slashed or removed. These details do not appear in police reports, though I have not found a copy of the autopsy report to confirm. Given the horrific number of stab wounds to the upper part of the body, if the eyes were damaged it was likely random and not ritualistic, as some conspiracy theories allege.

Fig. 2. Doreen Gaul’s photo from the Albany Knickerbocker News, Nov. 24, 1969.
Having been born in 1964 and grown up in the neighborhood around 570 Myrtle Avenue, Albany, NY, I heard that there was a victim of the Manson Family murders who had lived nearby, or maybe it was a Manson Family member, or a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, or was it a victim of the Zodiac Killer? The tale constantly changed. The rumors always came up at parties or on the schoolyard during recess. No one knew exactly where she lived. When asked about it, our parents only gave vague answers. Between Vietnam, Watergate, inflation, racial strife, the energy crises, and their own divorces, what happened in California in the 1960s with a bunch of hippies was best left in California in the 1960s and that was the end of it for all they cared.
 
Yet, a murder did happen. It took place in Los Angeles and the victim’s journey there from Albany encapsulates the dark side of the countercultural journey of the 1960s. It had nothing to do with the Manson Family or the Zodiac Killer. It was just another tragic, random murder, yet somehow Gaul does intersect with a lot of threads in the 1960s and in a way exemplifies the stereotypical flower child seeking peace and love in the City of Angels. In trying to sort fact from myth over the span of some fifty-three years has left me with a few answers, lots of questions, and a horrible tragedy that just got worse with every layer I explored.
 
According to sources, Gaul, known as a devout Catholic in high school by her friends, graduated in 1968 from the Vincentian Institute, about three blocks away from her home. An article on Gaul’s murder in The Knickerbocker News, Mon., Nov. 24, 1969 (“L.A. Hunts Albany Girl’s Murderer”), includes unattributed direct quotes describing Gaul “as ‘talented and intense’ and ‘an intelligent kid with emotional problems.’” 
 
Frankly, every kid who turned hippie in the 1960s was probably described this way, so I’m disinclined to give it much credence, but, according to reports, Gaul’s father wasn’t surprised at his daughter’s switch from Catholicism to Scientology, describing her in accounts at the time as a “. . . good kid, but an emotional kid. She was always looking for green grass and rainbows.” Gaul’s father, it was also reported, claimed she had become disenchanted with Scientology and was planning to return home, though her final days seem to indicate otherwise.

Fig. 3. Photos of Doreen Gaul (Finagrave.com).

The Manson Family Connection
 
Doreen Gaul was one of thousands of teenagers who migrated to California, with or without their parent’s permission in the 1960s. Spurred on by the “Summer of Love” in 1967, and media representations in film, TV, and publications, California, and San Francisco and Los Angeles in particular, became the Mecca for the Counterculture. Indeed, many Mansion Family members fit that profile.
 
Gaul was described as wearing the “hippie clothing” reportedly favored by female Scientologists, as well as a lot of teenagers of the era. It was the uniform du jour. At the time, Gaul lived in a converted mansion owned by Scientology and James Sharp (see fig. 7, below) lived nearby in another Scientology-related boarding house. The 15-year-old son of a well-off businessman from St. Louis, MO, Sharp, described by his father as “very intelligent,” was given permission to go to Los Angeles to study Scientology. He arrived in June 1969, the same month as Gaul.

As previously noted, the bodies of Doreen Gaul and James Sharp were found shortly after midnight on Nov. 22, 1969, in the alley behind 1138 Magnolia Avenue, Los Angeles (see figs. 4-6). According to police reports and the Knickerbocker News, Gaul's body was found nude wearing love beads with a peace sign. Both had been stabbed over fifty times each and Gaul was determined to have been raped.

Fig. 4. 1138 Magnolia Ave., Los Angeles (Apartments.com).
The relationship between the two is unknown, though some reports suggest Sharp was going to “audit” Gaul that evening. “Auditing” is something of pseudo-psychological process using a device called an “E-Meter” (electropsychometer) which does absolutely nothing except measure electrodermal activity. What qualified a 15-year-old to conduct an audit, I don’t know. There is not much information on Sharp or whether he was even enrolled in high school at the time. 

Fig. 5. The alley behind 1138 Magnolia, where the bodies were found,
at the time of the murders in 1969 (Crimedoor.com).
Police reports indicate that Bruce Davis of the Manson Family lived in the same Scientology boarding house as Gaul in L.A, at 1032 South Bonnie Brae Blvd., and suggested he had dated her, though Davis denied even knowing her. Granted, not a great source, but I’m not sure when Davis would have even found the time. Gaul had only moved into the South Bonnie Brae location, dubbed “Thetan Manor” by Scientologists, on Nov. 18, 1969, just four days before her murder. She previously lived at the Navarro Apartments at 915 South Alvarado (which was not linked to Scientology), according to the police report, which also noted Gaul had a boyfriend named Peter Harbour at the time, who was investigated and cleared of the crime. Notably, Davis was on the run after the alleged “suicide” of John Philip Haught, aka "Zero,” November 5, 1969, during which he was present, and unlikely to return to where he could be recognized and reported to police.

Fig. 6. The alley behind 1138 Magnolia, April 2022 (Google Maps).
Davis worked at Scientology headquarters in London from November 1968 to April 1969 when he was fired for his drug use and returned back to the United States; nevertheless, they continued to allow him to live in the organization’s housing. Additionally, Not only was the Spring through the Fall 1969 a busy time for the Manson Family with multiple murders taking place, but Davis applied for a driver’s license on June 30, 1969, under the name Jack Paul McMillan, using the Spahn Ranch as the address, and was involved in the murder of ranch hand Shorty Shea on August 26, 1969, after which he went to the Barker Ranch in Death Valley with other Manson Family members until Oct. 12, 1969, when they were arrested during a police raid.
 
As previously noted, Davis went on the run after Haught’s death on Nov. 5, 1969. Davis’ whereabouts on the night of the murders of Gaul and Sharp, November 22, 1969, are unknown; however, Ed Sanders, author of the excellent Manson Family chronicle The Family, reports Davis was back in England by November 23, 1969, and an Interpol report dated May 23, 1970, says London police reported Davis had returned “more recently,” though the date of arrival is not reported. This means Davis was likely out of the country at the time the murders were taking place. 
 
If Davis had met Gaul, it would have had to been in June 1969, after her arrival and before the family moved to Barker Ranch; however, while possible, the odds are unlikely. Gaul was not living in Thetan Manor at the time, Further, given Davis’ activities in July and August, an opportunity for contact between the two seems further unlikely. The only other opportunity Davis would have had to dated her would have been between mid-October and early November, after the Barker Ranch raid (during which he was imprisoned for a short time) and before the death of Haught.  
 
Consequently, while many conspiratorial reports have Bruce Davis living in the same Scientology residence as Gaul on South Bonnie Brae Blvd., it was likely not during the time she lived there, Nov. 18-Nov. 21, 1969. While remotely possible as a casual hookup typical of the “Free Love” era, there is no evidence of a relationship between Davis and Gaul. It is all speculation based upon coincidence.
 
Speaking of coincidences, my research also identified a Bruce Davis who lives on a Bonnie Brae Lane in Colorado Springs, CO, at the time of this writing.
 
Weird, huh?

Fig. 7. James Sharp. 
Davis was busy with a lot of Manson Family crimes the summer of 1969 and had a harem of Manson Family girls at his disposal as Charlie’s right-hand man. While he was involved in the murders of Gary Hinman and Shorty Shea, Davis was not known to have personally participated in the actual killing, so such a violent double murder would not have been Davis' usual modus operandi. Consequently, I’m disinclined to believe a relationship between Davis and Gaul existed except as accidental residents in the same boarding house, and they may not have even lived there at the same time.
 
Police reports indicate the murder of Gaul and Sharp required two assailants, so, if it was Davis, he would have needed help. Conspiracy theories suggest this would be someone from the Manson Family, but in over sixty years since the murder not one family member, many of whom have since become repentant of their past, has implicated themselves or Davis or anyone else in the murders.
 
Theories of Davis’ involvement led to questions of Scientology involvement, but as easy as it is to lay the blame on a secretive cult-like organization, it must be dismissed as baseless. Absolutely no evidence exists. Of course, anything is possible, but not everything is probable, including Bruce Davis’ alleged involvement as well as that of the Zodiac Killer.
 
The Zodiac Killer Suspected
 
The same measure applied to claims the Manson Family was involved also applies to claims that Gaul was a victim of the Zodiac Killer, which can only be regarded as a wild conspiracy theory. The manner of death was not the Zodiac’s usual M.O. The theory is largely built on a letter attributed to the Zodiac Killer and postmarked August 1, 1973, from Albany, NY, and which was mailed to the Albany Times Union claiming a murder would take place on August 10 during a shift change at Albany Medical Center (it did not). The connection with Gaul is based upon the fact that 570 Myrtle Avenue is about a block and a half away from Albany Medical Center.
 
The connection between Gaul and the Zodiac Killer was pushed by author Bill Nelson in his book Manson: Behind the Scenes (1997) who included what he claimed was a “missing Zodiac letter” allegedly discovered with Doreen Gaul’s possessions, though it is not mentioned in police reports or other contemporaneous accounts. For various reasons, including that the Zodiac Killer never sent letters to his victims, I believe the letter is a forgery and Nelson fell for a hoax. Despite his Secret Service past, Nelson was an obsessive, fringe personality and the book itself is rife with conspiracy theories, misspellings, typographical errors, and fabrications. The publisher is “PenPower Publications,” which bills itself as a marketing firm, so the book seems more like a vanity press project.
 
Police reports also indicate that evidence suggests that at least two individuals were involved in the murders of Gaul and Sharp. This eliminates the Zodiac Killer, who worked alone, as a possible suspect.
 
Tragedy upon Tragedy
 
The deeper one goes down the rabbit hole of research, the more of Gaul's tragedy unfolds. The LAPD reported that on Sept. 10. 1969, Gaul informed the police that she had been raped by "two male Negros" while hitchhiking, but "refused to make a crime report." Officers also reported Gaul "appeared high and had needle marks on her arms." I’m a bit incredulous about this latter claim implying intravenous drug use. After more than fifty years, there is no way to confirm it. Her behavior could have been shock from the rape and even if she had needle marks it does not necessarily mean she was high at the time, an addict, or that her story was not credible. Still though, while the accusation seems almost spurious, we have to allow that the police, who saw this on a daily basis, had some experience in the matter.
 
Despite that incident, however, Gaul's tendency to hitchhike didn't abate as eyewitness reports indicate that she and Sharp were hitchhiking the night they were murdered.
 
Like so many young people at the time, Gaul was an idealistic young adult seeking wider horizons. At that age, most of us do. Whether Gaul was involved in intravenous drug use, as the one police report suggests, is unknown, but she was certainly involved with a mind-controlling cult, and despite reports of her disenchantment with Scientology she remained interested enough in it to have been audited the very night of her murder by the person who was murdered along with her.
 
Eyewitness reports indicate Doreen Gaul was walking barefoot the night she was murdered, a not uncommon practice for countercultural youth at the time. With her quest for philosophical truth, her long blond hair, hippie fashions — including the love beads with a peace symbol that were still around her neck when her body was found, according to police reports and the Knickerbocker News — Gaul seems to embody the idealism, innocence, and tragedy of a generation. Indeed, her fate seems to have unfolded exactly like an episode of Dragnet, complete with Jack Webb’s monotone staccato voice warning viewers about the dangers in the City of Angels. The Doors’ song “L.A. Woman,” about the murder of a “lucky little lady in the City of Light” could have been written about Gaul.
 
“This is the End, Beautiful Friend, This is the End”
 
Though I was only four during the summer of 1969, I have many memories. While Doreen Gaul was heading to Los Angeles that June, the events of my essay “In Absentia” began to play out. In July, I watched the Moon landing on TV during our vacation in Wildwood. In August, my long-haired hippie cousin Jan turned up in mud-splattered jeans right after Woodstock, about ninety minutes south of Albany. Also, that August, after the Tate-LaBianca murders, I went around at night to make sure all our doors were locked, terrified the same might happen here. I was also anxiously awaiting the start of kindergarten that fall with the sense that my life was really about to begin. Meanwhile, Gaul’s was coming to an end.
 
Having grown up about three blocks away from her, I know the area around Doreen Gaul’s house well. Our phone numbers shared the same 489-prefix exchange. Though I am younger by some fourteen years, having just turned five when she was murdered, we would have gone to the same stores and parks. From her home, the Playdium Bowling Alley with its glorious glass-brick facade and large neon sign along with the A&P supermarket were about a block and a half away. Ridgefield Park is two blocks away. The Little League fields at Woodlawn Park are three blocks away and the same distance in another direction is the Calvert Vaux and Fredrick Olmsted-designed Washington Park. I would often cut across Myrtle and past Gaul’s house when walking to Washington Park.
 
While I never attended her alma mater, the Vincentian Institute, I voted there and would often walk the halls of the former high school when my mother moved in after it was converted into senior living apartments. Big Dom’s (then Walt Subs, which I’ve written about before in “The Rise and Fall of Big Dom’s Subs”) was across the street. We grew up walking on the same streets, going to the same places, eating the same food, and looking at the same skies, if just a few years apart.
 
Myrtle Avenue has changed little in the fifty-three years since Gaul lived there. Based on the erosion, the cracked and worn sidewalks date back at least to the years she was alive. These are the sidewalks where she skipped rope and played hopscotch and walked to school and went door-to-door on Halloween dressed–up as any number of monsters of the night. These are the sidewalks where awkward confirmation, prom, and graduation photos were taken and now lay on a mantle somewhere or in boxes in the back of someone’s closet, slowly fading away.

Fig. 8. Rare photos of Doreen Gaul (ancestry.co.uk).
The narrow driveway shared with the neighbor next door, the window of her bedroom where she looked out into the night sky dreaming of a future that would always be out of her reach, it all remains much as it was the last time Doreen Gaul stood on these streets.
 
Yet, in a horrific twist of fate, Gaul is destined to be a historical footnote remembered for the unfortunate tragedy that ended her life and not for the “green grass and rainbows” that she and so many of her fellow teens went looking for in LA in 1969.
 
In Memoriam

1969 may have been the last year of the 1960s, but the cultural zeitgeist of the Sixties really didn't end until 1973 with the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, the end of the draft, and the passage of Roe v. Wade. Combined with the simple fact that the hippies were getting older, settling down, and raising families, the countercultural movement lost steam.
 
While my fascination with this case may seem a little odd, as an historian of some small measure (it was one of two major subjects studied for my master’s degree in Liberal Studies), I look at it as a case to be studied, much the same way as I did with the JFK assassination (The Assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald”) and The Battle of the Big Horn (“The Mystery of the Little Bighorn Battlefield”), events I have written about before and whose locations I visited to gain a better understanding of the case. Though I admit, my interest in murder cases is also due in part both to my work in prisons as an educator and having lived next to the Genesee River Killer, Arthur Shawcross (“Arthur John Shawcross: The Monster on Alexander Street”), who I have also written about before.
 
As a point of history, the murder of Doreen Gaul is at the nexus of a storm of generational change. In many regards, her life mirrors the experiences of millions of young people who broke free from their parent’s traditions to explore new belief systems and embrace the “hippie lifestyle.” I’m sure there are many aging Baby Boomers, who can read of Gaul’s life and relate to some aspect of it. By investigating this case, one can learn about the many competing forces involved in making the 60s what they were — a decade of great social upheaval.
 
Yet despite all that, as is often the case with high-profile murder cases, the victims get overlooked. It’s understandable. The sociopaths who murdered them make for more interesting reading, yet the victim’s themselves get overlooked to the point they almost become irrelevant. Anyone who was ever 19 and looking for broader vistas can relate to Doreen Gaul. I can, as when I took off to Rochester after graduating college to look for work and ended up the next-door neighbor of serial killer Arthur Shawcross.
 
And there, but for the grace of God, go I.

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Addendum I — Research Notes
 
A visit to the Albany Public Library Main Branch and a search through their microfilm files, brought me an article about the murder in the Albany Knickerbocker News Mon., Nov. 24, 1969 (“L.A. Hunts Albany Girl’s Murderer”). The article notes Gaul was “clad only in multicolored Indian beads and peace symbol.”
 
Gaul had been noted as having attended a "parochial school" in all the online articles about the murder, but the actual school name was never reported. The Knickerbocker News confirmed my suspicions that she was a 1968 graduate of Vincentian Institute. The article also noted Gaul had been active at the Scientology Center at 510 Second Avenue in nearby Troy, NY (see fig. 9, below).

Fig. 9. 510 2nd. Ave. Troy, NY. Home of the local Scientology Center in 1969
(July 2022, author’s collection).
The Knickerbocker News article further states that Gaul was the eldest of eight siblings, a fact usually omitted by her online biographers. Being familiar with the layout of homes like the one at 570 Myrtle (see fig. 1, above), variations of which are ubiquitous in Albany, at best they come one bath and three bedrooms, but records at Zillow.com indicate there are two baths and five bedrooms. A quick look at the back of the house revealed a two-story addition that dominates most of the small backyard. At some point, modifications were made to the 1,447 square foot home built in 1911, presumably in time for the growing Gaul family. Given the crowded conditions at home and that Southern California was the Mecca of the counterculture, as well as Scientology, I understand why Doreen tried to find her own space all the way in L.A. 
 
According to the Albany City Directories, Doreen’s parents, William and Rosalie, are listed living together at 570 Myrtle in 1969, but by 1971 she is listed as the sole occupying homeowner. The homeowners’ employment is also listed in the directories. In 1969, William Gail is listed as a “rptr” (reporter) and in 1971 as an “eng” (this could be "electronic news gathering" or "engineer”). In 1972, Rosalie Gaul is listed as the sole homeowner and William is no longer listed; however, no employment is listed for her. The next year, 1973, Rosalie is listed as being employed at the Aetna Insurance Agency. She does not appear in the 1974 directory. A later obituary about Doreen’s brother, Kevin, indicates the father remarried at some point.
 
As I walked down Myrtle, away from the house, a large black Pit Bull accompanied by a small, but equally ferocious black and tan Chihuahua came running out at me snarling and barking wildly. I paused. I didn't dare make a sudden move for fear of the large dog attacking me. A woman appeared out of nowhere to retrieve them. I don't believe in the supernatural, but this couldn't have been more well-timed, or badly timed, depending on how one looks at it.
 
Prior to 1969, Rosalie Gaul was a married housewife with a houseful of kids. Then, in a couple of years, evidence suggests she became a single mother who had to reenter the workforce and sell the family home. In some ways, it mirrors my mother’s own experiences with her divorce, which I cover in several stories in The Norwood Avenue Chronicles. In the 1960s and 1970s, as the divorce rates went up, legions of women reentered the workforce. It was so common it became a stereotype used in movies, TV shows, and songs of the era. Rosalie Gaul died in 1992 at age 61. She is buried in St, Agnes Cemetery not far from her daughter, but in a different plot.
 
The Knickerbocker News article also states that Doreen was involved with the American Saint Hill (ASH) “sect” of Scientology. ASH is a center for higher level training within Scientology and not a separate organization or cult, as some conspiracy theories infer.
 
Finding photos was challenging. Invariably, the only photo of Gaul posted with the various postings online about the case, is the grainy image from the Knickerbocker News article in microfilm. Having checked out the original microfilm article, even the grain patterns on the image are similar, so that seems to be where that photo originates.
 
Other images I came across include two photos (see fig. 3, above) at Findagrave.com, a website owned by Ancestry.com for people to gather information on the graves of family members, and a useful tool for finding the burial places of noted, or not so noted, historic individuals. I haven't seen these photographs elsewhere on the Internet, and the resolution is much better than the Knickerbocker News photo. The origin of these photos is unknown, but they appear to be school-related, so perhaps a yearbook or some similar type of publication.

Taking a shot to see what I could find on genealogy sites, a visit to ancestry.co.uk turned up the most touching photos (see fig. 7, above), those of Gaul at a party and the almost too quintessentially American photo of a girl pinning a carnation on her prom date in what one presumes is the living room of the Gaul home on Myrtle Ave. (based on a comparison of the front windows of the home in fig. 1 with the ones inside the room in fig. 7). It makes the human tragedy all too heartbreakingly real.  
 
Addendum II — Grave Concerns
 
The Knickerbocker News reported on Nov. 24, 1969, that funeral services for Doreen Gaul were to be held Wednesday, Nov. 26, 1969, 9:30 am, at Magin & Keegan Funeral Home, Albany, followed by a service at St. Vincent de Paul’s Church at 10 am. 
 
According to Albany Diocesan records for St. Agnes Cemetery, Menands, NY, Doreen Gaul was interned on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 1969; four days after her murder and one day before Thanksgiving. Records indicate that in addition to Gaul’s mother and a brother, a child who was stillborn or died shortly after birth is buried there as well, though the name is not on the stone.
Fig. 10. The Gaul family headstone at St. Agnes Cemetery. The late afternoon sun's rays on the marker were not planned, but it was poignantly timely (July 2022, author's collection).
Gaul herself is not buried in the family plot. Internment records available online (www.intement.net) indicate that the family headstone is in lot 45, grave 218N2 (fig 10) and Doreen Gaul is buried in the same lot but at grave 255S2. St. Agnes Cemetery has about 30,000 known graves and is navigable by a labyrinthine maze of narrow, poorly kept roads. I knew what Doreen’s grave number was, so I thought I could find it by running the names of the people in lot 45 to see where her grave could be located. Well, it was not as easy as I hoped. 
 
I spent an hour at the site and of the approximately thirty names I ran through the database I only got four hits. Four hits out of thirty in a completely random search is a pretty poor rate of return. For most of these people, unless you were at the large and sprawling cemetery and happened to accidently come across their graves, there is no record of them being buried there except perhaps for some equally deeply buried obituary. 
 
It took me two visits to the cemetery to locate the Gaul family tombstone and another one to find Doreen Gaul’s grave. It is located 30-40 yards South/Southwest of the Gaul family headstone, to the left as one looks at the front of the marker (see fig. 11). The approximate location is in the back of the cemetery in a section as far away from the entrance as possible.
 
The grave is unmarked.

Fig. 11. The approximate location of Doreen Gaul’s unmarked grave (255S2) is somewhere between the marker for DEVINE on the far left (259N2) and LEGLER, on the far right (249S2), in either the back or foreground (July 2022, author’s collection).

Doreen Marie Gaul
May 16, 1950 — Nov. 22, 1969

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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Forced Rhyme

by G. Jack Urso 

“Silhouetted Crow,” Linnea Mallette (public domain).

There, a bird sits on my lawn.

Eats some worms and sings a song.
 
Takes a poop, and then is gone.
 
If it was from Indonesia and anthropomorphized for the purposes of this poem it would wear a sarong.
  
Fin
 
(That’s French, so you know this is a classy poem.)
 
●             ●             ● 
 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Participation Grade

by G. Jack Urso 

If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. — Epictetus, Greek Philosopher.

Photograph of a fake highway sign by Michigan Technological University students in 1984. 
Also applies to Houghton, NY (copyright John Marchesi).

Houghton College is in the middle of nowhere, and you have to bring your own nowhere.
 
When I attended Houghton College in the 1980s, the small, isolated Conservative Evangelical college community in Alleghany County had an insular provincialism that provided a sort of safe haven from the world for religiously indoctrinated youth experiencing their first real freedoms as adults, myself included. There were few computers, poor radio reception, poor TV reception, and no cable TV. Students were required to sign “the Pledge,” a contractual agreement that said the student would not dance, drink, do drugs, have sex (at least get caught), go to chapel, etc. Going to the movies on Sunday was also verboten, but things really loosened up in 1983 when they began letting students use playing cards.
 
Suddenly, Perkins
 
We told him about how our land was stolen and our people were dying. . . . He shook our hands and said “Endeavor to persevere.” We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavor to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union. — Lone Watie, The Outlaw Josey Wales.
 
Professor Rich Perkins, a sociology professor, was bothered by a recent op-ed I wrote in my weekly column, “Pandora’s Box,” in the Oct. 9, 1987, issue of The Houghton Star titled “War and Peace” which addressed the question of whether Christians should serve in the military. A hypothetical situation regarding an invasion of the United States by the Soviet Union was proposed in an exercise in values clarification. I asked, what should be the Christian’s response? 
 
“Would I kill to liberate? . . . No, I would not. Christ, if you recall, was born in an occupied land. . . . Christ did nothing to further the zealots' cause.”
 
I identified as a pacifist and stated that I thought, based on the New Testament, Christians should not serve in the military. My opinion was that unlike personal self-defense, joining the military is proactively seeking out the opportunity either to kill or to support the killing machine. While it may be true that there are no atheists in foxholes, there is no God either. War is an act entirely of our own creation. We own war — not God nor the devil. So, military service, even under an occupation, seemed to me to be incongruent with the teachings and life experience of Jesus.
 
Professor Perkins, who served in the army during the Vietnam War (I believe as a lieutenant), and being a man of faith, took umbrage at my assertions. As a draft-era veteran, he didn’t have much of a choice except get an academic or medical deferment, dodge it, or serve. In response, rather than writing a letter to the college newspaper to bitch about me, as dozens did that year, Perkins instead choose to approach me in line at Big Al’s while I was waiting on an order of wings.
 
I knew of Perkins, everyone did. He was one of the most well-liked professors on campus, but I don’t recall ever having spoken to him before, let alone taken a class. So, I wasn’t a student of his, I didn’t live in his commune (more on that later), and I didn’t mention him in my column, so I wasn’t sure why he felt he needed to approach me.
 
He seemed a bit hesitant. I could tell this was a sensitive issue for him. Perkins must have seen his share of combat in the war, maybe lost some comrades, and my column probably kicked up some old dust. He briefly explained the moral quandary of his generation and ended with a plaintive, “Well, that’s all I wanted to say.”
 
I was a little confused. I did not mention Vietnam. I proposed a hypothetical regarding a Red Dawn-type scenario where we get invaded, not where we do the invading (as in Vietnam), but apparently the discussion of the morality of the faithful participating in the war machine struck a nerve. I muttered, “Um . . . OK. Whatever,” and took my order and left. I had a couple other words in mind, but I felt it better to err on the side of respect.
 
It was a rare moment of restraint for my younger self.
 
It probably struck Perkins as though I was being arrogant and didn’t give a damn, which actually was sort of true. Nevertheless, it was obviously a sensitive issue for him. Typically, impromptu public debates accomplish little more than just exercise egos. Besides, I wasn’t interested in debating, proselytizing, or changing anyone’s mind. I just wanted to have my say, I had my say, and if that bugs you, that’s on you. Let me eat my wings.
 
The Communards 

If any man despises me, that’s his problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt. — Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor.

Perkins was in charge of one of two “communal” off-campus houses, one for women and one for men. I use “communal” in quotes because it wasn’t really a commune; it was more of a cooperative living experiment. The residents were generally all like-minded liberal Evangelical Christians, though a few conservatives may have been included to balance things out. Nevertheless, it was largely liberal in orientation. Though to be clear, a liberal Evangelical Christian in the 1980s would probably be considered a moderate conservative today.
 
The emphasis of the community, if I recall correctly, was on building consensus among the residents with house activities, group meetings, group hugs, and fundraising for the Saul Alinsky Scholarship Fund.
 
I’m only joking about one of those, of course.
 
Unlike other on- and off-campus housing, where you got a place if there was a vacancy, admittance at the commune was selective, like a fraternity or sorority. Students had to apply for admittance and were voted on by the other residents. I believe this required either a majority or unanimous vote, but either way this struck many as not as egalitarian as the commune’s values laid claim to.
 
Due to the collective nature and liberal politics, the residents were sometimes referred to as “communards,” more so after the eponymous 1980s’ band than the members of the 1871 Paris Commune, though it kind of worked both ways. Despite my liberal beliefs, I was more of a “Christo-Anarchist,” which actually is a word. I did not invent it. I only discovered it years later, though I admit it probably is a good thing I did not find my “label” back then. Christo—Anarchism is a rejection of hierarchical authoritarian structures, both state and religious, with an emphasis on the Sermon of the Mount for its core principals. At the time, that pretty much defined my worldview. Like a malignant mutation, we spring up spontaneously at random, produced by the very system we criticize.
 
Interestingly, my biggest conflicts on campus were not with the conservative Christians, who, apart from some passive-aggressive behavior and letters to The Houghton Star, generally ignored me, viewing me with little more regard than they would a feces-throwing monkey at a circus sideshow. Rather, my conflicts were often with the liberal Christians who thought my antics were counterproductive, unChrist-like, and downright rude, which actually was the point, if I had one at all. Anyone looking for a method to my madness, I quote Minimalist composer John Cage, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.”
 
In some ways, the campus conservatives and the communards were two sides of the same coin, both embracing hierarchical authoritarian structures with value systems they thought were inherently superior the other’s. My belief was simply, “A pox on both your houses.” Consequently, despite sharing liberal beliefs, my anarchism often found me ideologically at odds not only with the campus conservatives, but also sometimes with the communards, and occasionally with Prof. Perkins himself.
 
Anarchy in the Alleghenies 
 
Your boos mean nothing. I’ve seen what makes you cheer.                                                         — Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty. 
 
I previously have discussed my antics as I blew through my college career in “A Liberal in the Land of Canaan,” “Blond Jesus: The Holy Hitchhiker,” “Jesus Drive Stick,” “Integrity is a Four-Letter Word,”  and “Year of the Dog.” Such modest efforts included grabbing the mike after a couple sets with the campus cover band “The Pledge” in the chapel for an impromptu protest against the Selective Service, or sitting down during the National Anthem during a basketball game, or testing a rich, new-found convert’s claim he no longer cared about material goods by taking his Mazda RX-7 for a transmission-grinding joyride. 
 
I ended up with my previously mentioned column, “Pandora’s Box” through a bit of subterfuge. The editor of The Houghton Star was elected through a popular vote. After the winner for my senior year had been announced, some supporters told me they stuffed the ballot boxes in his favor. Actually, they told me about it while we were smoking weed in the laundromat in town. Their candidate, a communard, never worked for the paper, while the “loser” had worked tirelessly the past three years. Usually, I wouldn’t have cared, but it rankled my sense of fair play. Also, all they had was dirt weed.
 
I “casually” informed a friend on the student senate about my encounter. To his credit, he kept the pot-smoking part out of it when he told the dean. However, before that happened, I extracted a promise from the loser that if I could get a new election, and she won, she would have to give me my own column. She thought I was nuts, but shook on it and kept her promise when she won the reelection. This probably didn’t endear me much to Perkins or the commune, but right is right, though I did obviously use it to my advantage. The title of my first column was “God is Dead.”


Along with a couple other classmates, we started a band called "China Blue," for which we would write and play all our own pretentious music. We liked the name because it had an artsy-fartsy, New Wave ring to it that would appeal to the avant-garde on campus, but primarily because it was the name of a prostitute played by Kathleen Turner in the film Crimes of Passion (1984) and we got some kind of vicarious pleasure seeing the name publicized in various forms on campus.

 
Performing in the campus center in all my New Wave glory (1986).

I helped set up the first chapter of Amnesty International on campus, and served as co-president, though all credit goes to my friend Mark for proposing it, getting it going, and doing the heavy lifting. Among the news we’d get from Amnesty International were reports of weapon sales and transfers, like landmines. In addition to solidifying my pacifism, this sparked an interest in the arms industry which eventually led me to a 25-plus year career as a freelance defense consultant specializing in tracking weapon development, deployments, and sales.
 
In 1985, Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, and the author of the influential book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity (1979), appeared on the Buffalo Suburban Campus of the college with a panel of Buffalo-area pastors for a lecture about the new challenges for the church in the 1980s. Sider’s book was must-reading and given his reputation on the cutting edge of social issues as a Christian, I thought it curious that he did not mention HIV/AIDS or homosexuality at all in his lecture. It was 1985 and it was the hot topic of the day, but not a word on it from Sider. So, during the Q&A I asked them, and Sider specifically, what the church was doing to reach out and minister to this group of people. It was a cheap trick because I knew the church wasn’t doing squat, but I was curious to see how he would answer it.  
 
The audience groaned and mumbled while the girl next to me covered her face and shrank down in her seat trying to hide from view. I wasn’t gay, but I knew a few of my classmates were, and I knew someone who died of AIDS. I listened carefully to what Sider said, and what he didn’t say. He fumbled about for a minute, but couldn’t come up with anything except that he heard a church in Philadelphia was “doing something.” Thanks Ron. I can see you were way ahead of the curve on this. It was clear this just wasn’t on the liberal Christian guru’s radar at the time. This was probably the point when my liberalism began to give way to anarchism. 
 
It was a loaded question of sorts because I knew one of the pastors on the panel excommunicated a man in his church over homosexuality. By the way, I am not dredging up an old grievance I never spoke about publicly at the time. I actually wrote about the incident in my column for The Houghton Star in 1987 (see image at left).
 
In 1987, along with another couple like-minded classmates, we campaigned for, and won, the leadership positions of the campus chapter of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), a nationwide organization founded by Sider and the usual stomping grounds for the communards. We had never worked with ESA before, but thought the group could widen its appeal, and apparently so did enough of the members. Afterwards, there was a bit of an exodus as some who supported the previous leadership left the group rather than work with us, but it clarified who was serious about the group's work.
 
The ESA picture in the 1988 Houghton College yearbook. I insisted that it be taken in front of the urinals in the campus center men’s room as a symbolic gesture.

Once, local Congressional Rep. Amo Houghton (related to the college’s founding family) invited a representative of the Contras, the U.S.-back rebel group, then involved in a war against the Communist Nicaraguan government with CIA assistance, to the college to speak in hopes of getting support of funding for his organization, The student senate president, and a resident of the commune, asked me to join him in aggressively questioning the Contra about his group and the Iran-Contra affair.
 
We attended both of the two Q&A sessions, sitting together in the packed rooms asking complex, multipart questions which challenged the Contra’s weak English language skills. It was a cheap trick to put the Contra at a disadvantage, but after trying an end-run around the Congress to fund a revolution the first time, they should have brought their A-game for the second attempt. The Secret Service eyed us suspiciously in the first session (the fact that the Black student senate president was a British citizen with an accent to match probably caught their attention). During the second session, the SS had enough and cut the hour-long meeting thirty minutes short. Amo Houghton later withdrew his support for funding the Contras.
 
Somehow, I managed to land a job working night security on campus. Frankly, I was as surprised as anyone else when they hired me. My job was to check that doors were locked, walk around campus looking for trouble, and let students into their dorms after curfew. This was great as I got to know every girl who stayed out late and also got to raid the leftovers in the cafeteria. After that, I would swing by the new guys’ dorm at about 1 am and roust a couple freshmen I knew to borrow their comic books and argue campus politics with them.

A cartoon from The Houghton Star about my nighttime exploits (1988, artist Dave Huth).

During my security guard shifts, I began leaving snarky, wiseass, anonymous comments on the bulletin board outside the campus center post office criticizing various religious beliefs. Those who disagreed began leaving responses and it was soon dubbed, “The Wittenberg Board.” After a couple months, the whole thing started to get out of control with decidedly unChrist-like anger in the responses growing in number each day. Satisfied I had accomplished my goal, I stopped, but the chaos continued without me.
 
I also ran afoul with some of the locals who understandably had nothing else better to do in a one-horse town where you had to bring your own horse and your own town. One night, a pick-up with a trio of townies saw me and began harassing me. This actually wasn’t my first encounter with Jughead, Gomer, and Goober, as I called them. Typically, they only had the courage for a passing insult, but tonight they seemed ready for something more.
 
After listening to their shit for a couple seconds, I did what any Sicilian would do knowing he was alone, outnumbered, and on foot — I gave them the finger and a defiant “FUCK YOU!” Notably, this was in front of the only church in town. Gunning the engine, they came after me, making a U-turn, crossing the medium, and driving over the sidewalk in pursuit. I took off down the street and managed to lose them in the trailer park, which, I have to admit, I was amazed when that actually worked. I banged on the nearby door of a bodybuilder friend for help who came out saying he always knew they’d come after me some day. He had a “talk” with the townies and I didn’t see them for the rest of the semester. This incident, and others like it, was reported in the college newspaper April 22, 1988 (see image above).
 
I could go on with other examples of my misspent youth, but something about the statute of limitations comes to mind.
 
Good times . . . Good times.
 
Professor Perkins’ Pernicious Pupil
 
Whatever happened to the American Dream? You’re looking at it. It came true. — Edward (The Comedian) Blake, The Watchmen (my senior yearbook quote).
 
The Spring of 1988 found me needing just one course to graduate, Intermediate Spanish II. Two years of a foreign language were required and as I had failed one semester and barely passed another, what should have taken me two years instead took three. It was one of those archaic liberal arts requirements and had absolutely nothing to do with my major, Broadcast Communications, or my minor, Literature. I did nothing with it. I cannot speak a word of it today. It was a complete and total waste of time and money that would have been better spent training me for my career.
 
But hey, can’t hold grudge, right?
 
After the events recounted in “Integrity is a Four-Letter Word,” instead of transferring to a college back home to take the course, I decided to stay and finish out Spanish with the instructor I knew and completely forget. Better the devil you know then the devil you don’t I figured.
 
For the other course, I decided to finally give Prof. Perkins a shot and take Social Stratification, a critical look at the interrelated dynamics of aspirations, class, and the economy.  The standard class size was about twenty-four students, and the class was full. Only some were Sociology majors. Others came from Business, Communications, Education, etc. Perkins had a rep on campus for being one of those professors you just “had” to take a course with, if just for the experience.
 
Both my classes were between 1 pm and 4 pm Monday through Friday. Since I can be a bit obsessive-compulsive in a slacker sort-of way, I spend every morning listening to the rock operas Tommy or Quadrophonic by The Who, and smoking a joint, often with another student hanging out between classes. As I lived in Jack House (named after a former coach, not me), an off-campus house whose houseparent was a single guy who worked in admissions and was away traveling most of the time. Consequently, with little supervision, it became pretty permissive regarding smoking pot and having girls over.
 
When out and about, I had my ever-present Walkman and usually one of the Violent Femmes’ tapes popped in and ready to go. The folk punk band’s anger and angst-ridden critiques of society always set me in the mood for discussions in class.

Label on the inside of books in the college library. A passive-aggressive way of saying, 
“Maybe you’ll go to hell for reading this book, maybe you won’t, but you decide what’s best.”
 
The Game of Class — Everyone Plays It, so Few Have It
 
Let me tell you about the rich. They are different than you and me. 
— F. Scott Fitzgerald (1926)

Yes, they have more money. — Ernest Hemingway (1936)

(Gilbert & Kahl, The American Class Structure, p. 84.)
 
For one of our final papers in Perkin’s class that semester, we were to write an analysis of our participation in a game in that mimics the dynamics of moving between economic classes. I forget what the name of it was, so let’s just call it The Game of Class. Perkins reserved space in the smaller auditorium where communications classes or the theater group met. Three large tables were set up. Perkins, standing behind the podium, explained the rules of the game. I may be foggy on some of the details, but the general thrust of the game is as follows.
 
Each of the three main economic classes would be represented by wooden blocks in the shape of a yellow triangle for the upper class, a green square for the middle class, and a red circle for the lower class. The goal of the game is to move through the classes, from lower to upper. Each class required a certain number of blocks to get in. I forget the cost, but let’s say it was one red circle to get into the lower class, two green squares for the middle class, and three yellow triangles for the upper class.
 
To start, as I recall, everyone was given the same number of blocks, but a random selection. So, some might be “born” in the upper class without having really done anything to get there. Staying there, however, was another matter, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
 
There were two sessions of play, the negotiation session and the committee session. The first was the negotiation session during which one could barter and trade to get more blocks. Someone might trade you three red circles for one yellow triangle, but the exchange rate wasn’t fixed. It differed from person to person and changed as the number of members in each class rose and fell. Sometimes, the availability of blocks to trade diminished as players held on to them for their own advancement, or to stop others from advancing. One could barter anything, not just blocks, such as promises of voting support during the committee sessions and conspiring to get someone kicked out of a leadership position in the group. Anything and everything were on the table. This might go on for five minutes.
 
After the negotiation session there was the committee session. In committee, the members of each class could make rules voted on in proper democratic parliamentary procedure. A president and other officers could be voted on. A constitution of sorts for each group was made up and voted on as well. This might go on for ten minutes.
 
Then, in the very next session everything from the previous session could be overturned as new members join and old members change alliances.  A coup d'état could take place and the old order overthrown and a new constitution written. It quickly became apparent that little could get done as the dominant personalities jockeyed for position and influence. I don’t recall if one could get voted out of a group, but people could lose their blocks and go down a class, conspire to isolate a player, refuse to barter with them, and essentially prevent them from obtaining influence in their group.
 
After a couple rounds, it became apparent is that a cycle of negotiation and barter and committee meetings soon became not just the focus, but the whole point of the game — to create a self-sustaining perpetual motion machine of pointlessness. That actually probably was the point, but I also observed that there was a lot of backstabbing and lying and hurt feelings taking place.
 
It reminded me about having been required to play the game Diplomacy in Dean Massey’s Western Civilization class as a freshman. Diplomacy is a bit like the game Risk, but set in Europe during World War I. To move, players have to write orders and get the support of allies, so influence, not luck, is how the game is played. One nation is not strong enough to win on its own, but only one nation can win the game. As with Prof. Perkins' Game of Class, there is a negotiation session during which allied players coordinate their moves to defeat other players; however, it is just a matter of time before someone backstabs you. I remember how all the games dissolved into arguments, hurt feelings, and occasionally tears. 
 
As it turned out, Dean Massey had never played the game. Considering all the melodrama, I wonder how he would have done. Likewise, I wondered how Perkins might do if he had to play his own game. Well, even feces-throwing monkeys at the circus get tired of being objects of other people’s entertainment and I just about had enough of being a lab rat, so I sat down.
 
I picked a spot in the middle of the room strategically located between the three tables and sat on the floor. Everyone would have to walk around me or over me, acknowledge me or ignore me, but they would have to deal with me. I thought about putting on my headphones and listening to the Violent Femmes, but concluded that would be more disrespectful than just sitting down in the middle of everyone’s way. I didn’t have to go full asshole. Half asshole would do just fine.
 
An anonymous ad
in the college newspaper.
Prof. Perkins gave me a look from his perch behind the podium. It was the “Oh God, what is he going to do now?” look I had become acquainted with. I did a sit-down protest at a basketball game when I sat down during the National Anthem (see “A Liberal in the Land of Canaan”), so I was pulling out an old trick. As I learned, when used at the right time, passive, non-violent, non-action can be very, very provocative.
 
The other students tried to ignore me at first. Some had a few terse comments about me messing things up. Some asked me why I was doing it. I simply answered, “I don’t wanna.” Expecting some extended anarchist diatribe from me, this frustrated them even further.
 
I sat there alone for a session or two until a couple students joined me. Then, after another session, a few more joined us. At this point, I probably did shout some Marxist slogans, primarily Groucho ("I refuse to join any club that would have me for a member"), and tossed in a “Viva la Revolution!” with my fist in the air just for good measure. That was probably the only phrase in Spanish after three years I could remember, though I probably picked it up from a Speedy Gonzalez cartoon.

 A snapshot of my personality and politics not long after graduation on WQBK-1300 AM. 
I may have mellowed out a bit since then.

Towards the end, about half the class joined me. The students who continued to play were spread across the now-sparsely occupied tables. With fewer participants, the last couple rounds were essentially lame duck sessions and the game slowly ground to a halt. Then, the bell rang and class was over.
 
As everyone meandered their way out the door, I got up off the floor, grabbed my books, and snapped on my headphones. Prof. Perkins leaned his long, lanky arms over the lectern and gave me a look that was both exasperated and amused, but mostly exasperated.
 
“This won’t affect my participation grade will it?” I asked rhetorically as I walked by and turned on the Violent Femmes without waiting for an answer. 
 
En Passant
 
“The only way to win is not to play.” War Games (1983)
 
In my paper, regarding my analysis of the game and the social class structure, I concluded by quoting from the film War Games (1983), “The only way to win is not to play.” This has continued to embody my attitude towards class and social stratification, though I’m not quite sure that was the lesson intended by the game.
 
I still have my textbooks from the class, The American Class Structure, by Dennis Gilbert and Joseph A. Kahl, and the classic Ain’t No Making It, by Jay MacLeod. I have read them periodically over the past 34 years. Admittedly, I was not much of a student and my face lost among the thousands of students Perkins taught in his lifetime, but I doubt many of them kept the books or reread them.

My textbooks for Social Stratification, Spring 1988.
Looking at our past is often through rose-colored glasses. As is the case with trips down memory lane, I am recalling events through my own singular perspective, which may be different than some of my old classmates’ recollections. I have certainly mellowed over the years and am no longer the thin, scruffy, long-haired neo-hippie I was so many years ago, though largely my opinions haven’t changed.
 
I know it sounds like I have been critical of Prof. Perkins, but he gave me space in class to be me and explore my ideas. An old classmate recently reminded me how my debates with Perkins would take up most of the class. It made me remember how patient he must have been. Every once in a while, I get a student all fired up who wants to spend the entire class debating their idea du jour, much like I used to do. I always remember Prof. Perkins, take a breath, let them speak, and then explain why I’m right.
 
Maybe I didn’t change all that much after all, but I like to think that would have pleased him.
 
Richard B. Perkins, 1943-2022.