Archive for July, 2017

Uprising, 50 Years Gone

July 22nd, 2017

I was sure I’d written here on the 1967 Plainfield, NJ, riots, a.k.a. rebellion or uprising. Apparently not. There are a few FB mentions in my feed and those of others from that place and time.

For reference, consider the bare-bones Wikipedia entry. Maybe a local pair’s recollection. There’s also Peter Dreier’s piece that appeared in The Nation. I as well as everyone I know from there disagree with his claims of racial animus, but hey…

A search will yield many links for that summer’s violence, also in Newark, Cambridge MD and beyond. There’s even a “Kerner Commission” report.

Truth be told, Plainfield was not a city many could have pegged for a race riot. Newark, sure; Low levels of integration and long-time hostility. Plainfield was well integrated (the high school of roughly 2000 students was half black). The races socialized during and after school. The sports teams were real teams and low personal conflict.

Maybe the housing concentration should have made the possibility more obvious. Many black families lived between Front Street and Seventh. When the trouble started, it was there, which became know as the riot zone. That’s where the stores that people looted and even burned were. It was where the National Guard went rampaging in surely unconstitutional searched for over 100 stolen semi-automatic rifles stolen nearby. They went into apartments of friends and ripped the rooms apart, terrifying and brutalizing the residents.

My family lived in low-rise apartments on the other side of the high school. Had it not been for my mother’s job, I might have been in the majority of local students with no real contact with the riots.

As it was though, Wanda Ball, my mother, was the exec at the Plainfield Red Cross Chapter. A small detail is that her offices were inside the riot zone. More to the point, it was her job to help  as needed. She also figured out how they could do that.

That’s how I met Milt Campbell. One of the country’s all-time great athletes, Olympic decathlon gold medalist (and national and state champion in numerous sports, including mine, swimming), he had left a racist America to play football in Canada and live in peace with his white wife. He returned to help his hometown when he learned of the trouble.

I had graduated a year before. That summer, I worked as a life guard and swimming instructor at a swim club in a tony suburb above Plainfield (Brookhill in Watchung). It was somewhere between Leave It To Beaver and Mad Men with the hausfrau and privilege.

I had been a Red Cross volunteer from long before I could object. I built parade floats, stuffed mailings, ran office machinery, taught first aid and swimming and on and on. My mother knew how to harness her two kids.

Come the riots, my sister was off in college, but I had most of my day free, minus a shift at the swim club. There was work to be done.

She set immediately to getting donations of milk, water, food, diapers and such trucked to the chapter. Inside the policed zone, most stores were closed or looted. Plus the residents were forbidden by Guard and cops to be on the streets. So, the Red Cross station wagons that normally ferried the infirm and elderly became supply vehicles.

I started showing up at the club with one of the white wagons and a white bump hat (known to those who don’t know as a hardhat, but they are plastic). The club moms were horrified. The guy who taught their kids lifesaving and swimming left the club and headed into danger each afternoon. Many offered to, really insisted without effect, that I sleep over instead.

 I had grown up with Wanda heading to fires and other emergencies to offer assistance as needed. This was more of the same to me.

I was surprised though to find the famous Milt Campbell standing in the chapter parking lot ready for duty.

It turns out that the janitor had been a well-known professional softball player when that was a thing before WWII.  So this elderly, slight guy teamed up with the gigantic Campbell, and the two former breaststrokers on the high school team, Joel Blumert and me.

It must have been conical to see Milt on the truck moving two or four four-gallon cartons of milk or water from inside a truck to the bed. I would take one or two and move them down to Joel, who in turn would pass one at a time along to the janitor, Cecil, to put into a station wagon. As I recall, with each hand-off, the cartons dipped lower. We filled the wagons though.

Then I’d drive while a couple of us delivered the essentials to those who needed them.

Milt, Joel and I shared coaching of a great human, Victor Liske. We spoke if his inspiration. In fact, if you’d like a moving tribute, click on Milt’s acceptance speech as NJ athlete of the century. It’s good stuff all the way. The parts about Coach Liske start around 13:20.

Back to Plainfield, much to the surprise of the Brookhill families, helping out did not cost me my life. I never even needed the bump hat.

 

 

Puerile Panty-philes

July 1st, 2017

What titillates boys and why does that carry over to men? A stereotype of fetishizing the mundane and inherently nonsexual was the scandal of glimpsing a woman’s ankle (invariably clothed in an opaque stocking) when her massive dress moved. We are not so advanced from there.

I think of:

  • A stairway in a student union
  • Japanese no-pan coffee shops
  • British rapture with glances at underpants as a woman leaves a car (and that culture’s fascination with sideboob)

It’s apt that we Americans bear the brunt of ridicule about our attitudes toward both bare breasts and adultery. The French in particular long long snorted in disdain that we should grow up. For example POTUS Clinton accepting fellatio in his office would not be of interest to a Parisian. Isn’t that what roués, especially powerful ones, do?

Brits too enjoying feeling superior to us in how we hide and even prosecute public breasts and nipples. Yet by regulation and self-censorship, their media pixelate all female and male sexually associated body parts.

British media also love images of celebrity women caught by paparazzi awkwardly exiting a limo. If they expose underpants, the Brits seem to pant. If they are without any cloth there, scandal…

Likewise, exhibitionist women appearing in a top that displays the side of a breast (no nipple exposed), are slut shamed in UK media. Sideboob is another Brit scandal.

Student Union Runway

In a culture shock during college at the University of South Carolina, I marveled at the fetish for women’s underwear. The most obvious instance was on the sweeping stairway that joined the lower level of the student union (with the student mailboxes and cafeteria) with the upper level (study lounges and club/student paper area.

Numerous louts staked out voyeur spots in chairs at the bottom, literally and in several ways figuratively. This was an era of panty girdles, pettipants and underpants, all under skirts. The young men expressed great joy at glances at the nylon and cotton, giggling all the while like kindergartners.

Their glimpse of what my grandmother’s generation called unmentionables was their scandal and thrill. Well, honestly though, for those of us from New York and New Jersey, we were like the French are with us. What was worthy of even noticing? No sexual parts, no contact… It was definitely where’s the beef?

In Osaka

One of my old hometowns, Osaka, was the birth city of no-pan kissa, starting in the 1980s. Yes, the Japanese men have long had a fascination with underwear. They buy them used, clean or otherwise. They are as puerile as the Carolina louts in trying to sneak glimpses.

The no-panty coffeeshops were a obvious next step. Unlike much of Japanese fetish culture, these shops lacked subtlety. The waitresses typically wore short skirts and were bare underneath. Moreover, many shops had mirrored floors for full-on voyeurism. A few even allowed touching the waitresses (as a prelude for a heavy tip, no doubt, but no intercourse or other serious sexual contact).

What the non-F?

For the majority not in those insular cultures, what is the thrill and justification for underwear worship? In such diverse times and places, what has so perverted boy-to-men thinking? Were mothers and sisters so protective of their undergarments that these took on mythic status?

Such shared fantasies and titillation clearly can be bonding experiences, much like rabid rooting for your school or region sports team. It’s what men do. Still from the outside, this fetish is not thrilling to most of us.

Instead, as Cole Porter wrote:

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking 
Was looked on as something shocking. 
But now, God knows, 
Anything goes.

I believe that to the underwear fetishist, what’s the thrill in that?