April 22, 2003

Groovin in Chi, an account of the 1968 Convention, by terry southern.


Six p.m. Rendezvous of our hard-hitting little press team-Jean Jack Genet, Willy Bill Burroughs, and yours truly as anchor man, trying to lend a modicum of stability to the group. Also on hand, Esky editor young John Berendt-his job: straighten these weirdos, and K.F.S. ("Keep Flying Speed!"). We met in the queer little Downstairs Lounge, one of several bars in our hotel, the Chicago-Sheraton, and John Berendt was quick to charge us with our respective assignments: "You Jean Jack Genet, on the alert for all manner of criminality and perversion in high places! You, Big Bill Burroughs, let your keen and experienced eye discern any sign of sense derangement through the use of drugs by these delegates, the nominees, and officials of every station! Now then, you, T. Southern, on double alert for all manner of absurdity at this convention!"

Thus charged, we drank steadily for the next two hours before going to visit grand guy Dave Dellinger, head of National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam and one of the chief coordinators for the planned demonstrations. Before our meeting, I thought this so-called Dellinger must necessarily be some kind of old-fool-person, a kind of leftover leftist from another era who didn't know where it was at right now, just a compulsive organizer ... maybe even a monstro-commie-spade-fag. But no, a groove and gas he proved to be.
Suddenly Mister John Jack Genet, knowing no English at all, demanded of our ace trans (Richard Dick Seaver, of Evergreen-Grove fame) if Hugh Hefner was a fag.

Well, really. I mean I'm no prude myself, but when some weird frog starts blasting the Hef, that's when I begin to get a bit uptight. Unfortunately I had nothing at the moment to get up on, much less tight, so I simply lay back, and sort of dropped out, so to speak. Dellinger, of course, knew nothing about Hef sex, nor could (I warrant) care less. In any case the subject was soon dropped in favor of more serious matters-namely where we could find Allen Ginsberg. Allen, it developed, was staying at the Lincoln Hotel, just opposite the park itself; so with Dick Seaver at the wheel, we zoomed across town, toward the very heart of the action, for it was now ten minutes till curfewville, eleven p.m. And quite apparent it was, too, when we reached the scene, the baby-blue police already massed in rows of three... nightsticks and Mace at the ready, also gas masks, smoke grenades, and riot guns, a weird sight I can tell you. They lined the sidewalk bordering the park, which was completely dark, except for two or three bonfires glowing in the distance. In the midst of the police formation was a huge armored van, on top of which were several banks of large searchlights; in front of the still dark lights stood three men, the ones on either side holding riot guns, the kind used to fire tear-gas shells, while the man between them made announcements over a gigantic bullhorn:

"This is a final warning. Clear the park. Disperse. You have five minutes to disperse. You have five minutes to get out of this park!"

About then we spotted big Ed Sanders, of Fug and E.V.0. fame, threading his way along the periphery of monstro-fuzz before knifing into the darkness.

"Where's that loony fruit Al Ginsberg?!?" I shouted, rushing to overtake him. Fortunately, just before lowering the boom on me, Ed recognized the remark for the clever and good-natured jibe it was. "He's doing his thing," he said, pointing, "over by that fire."

We all started walking in that direction. As our eyes became accustomed to the dark, and in the eerie light of the approaching fires, we could now make out figures and faces where before it had been an empty blackness. It is difficult to estimate the number of persons there, but they were everywhere, probably more than two thousand, milling around, seemingly about half of them moving toward the street to get out of the park, the other half just wandering uncertainly in the half-light.

We found Allen, seated in the center of a group of fifty or so, doing his thing, which in this case was the "Om," leading the others in chanting the word "Om" with varying intonation, pitch, and volume. Sanders explained that at eleven o'clock a rumor that the police were moving in had caused panic and started a general and chaotic flight. Ginsberg however had restored calm by gathering these people around him and doing his Om thing. Now they appeared to be serenity itself, while behind us the bullhorn droned on: "Final warning. The Officers are moving in in five minutes. Anyone in the park will be arrested." We sat down with the others, and joined the Oming, which especially delighted Genet; we stayed there for maybe half an hour, while the circle grew steadily larger, and the "final warnings" were repeated. It was now nearing midnight. Burroughs looked at his watch, and with that unerring awareness of which he is capable, muttered, "They're coming." At that instant, the banks of searchlights blazed up on the armored van which was already moving toward us. Fanned out on each side of the van were about a thousand police.


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