They Are Giants of Men

Ira S. Murfin

Giants of men, in many ways – tie-dyed and cowboy-hatted, gravel voiced. A light in the corner, a camera captures this meeting for a coming history – this summit of giants. Giants of men in their own contexts, here each alone. They roll big joints and, stoned together after the march, they are unassailable. Giants for the moment, their conspiracies undone by predictability and entropy, in retreat here they are of full proud size – a community of the denied, a collective of the slighted, the oppressed, the almost famous.  Hard to tell which is worse. They have lasted too long, these giants.

Dennis and Gatewood both came close to governors’ mansions; Steven, the deposed ruler of a fabled utopia, has learned to play hippie for the news crews, no one left to listen to his Monday Night Class – I have heard about the time my parents hitchhiked to The Farm to see him my whole life, this silly man before me; Steve, behind the camera, edits the porn mag for potheads – weed centerfolds, light on politics; Jack, the Emperor of Hemp, namesake of a marijuana strain, monitors his empire from a drywall chamber over Van Nuys. And Dana isn’t Abbie Hoffman, once Yippie got too old to be young, too famous to be renegade, he was what was left. This house, number 9 Bleeker Street, his sanctuary where he presides over men who assume themselves his betters, in a movement that rarely identifies any movement – the old guard of the youth party, these giants of men.

And Rob and I, the youth in the room – young and younger, we didn’t live through the time these giants cannot escape. Rob lived through heroin and punk – so far. I lived through high school. We are here for Dana, with Dana, due to Dana – in this room, I am Dana’s guy. We are, Rob and I. Or I am Rob’s guy and he is Dana’s.

The march rerouted by the city to the south, into the abandoned financial district on a Saturday, away from tourists and shoppers uptown, we retreat here to monitor evidence of our existence broadcast back from the outside world, make plans, mark this meeting of giants. Number 9 is the placeholder. Not quite a home, we are at home in it.  It is a retreat not from the movement, but into it, into the illusion of its unified and uninterrupted existence. It holds a history, a mythology – the distinction is unimportant here, among the Yippies – the underground nightclub they ran at number 10 in the 70’s, the bomb that blasted two cops out front, the time a madman served the flesh of a homeless woman as stew from a soup kitchen on the first floor.

Alice put out Yipster Times, then Overthrow, for years from the floor above before she had to quit to raise Dana’s son Brian. She’s been up there, bitter, ever since. Everyone who used to be hip in New York knows # 9, has been there, but not for a while. Before the revolution restarts a few years later in Seattle, with a different plan this time, men still sit giant at # 9 in smoke filled rooms, decide what’s best for everyone, with best intentions. Then head out for a big Italian dinner in that basement joint on the corner of 4th and 2nd Avenue.

This is the postmortem. Dana’s been at it so long he knows it by heart. The others come and go, a rare convergence this year to mark 30. The permit change, the reroute – one more loss is all, among many. They reminisce, argue, keep their distance from each other. Cautious about similarities, careful with allegiances. This is politics, in every sense. Inside it, I am invisible, and know this is a heritage, my privilege here – it is the only social life I have, this room, and I am uneasy even here. I watch and listen, say nothing, relish my inclusion, knowing I’ll write, or at least remember, it someday.

Just one stoned Sunday night before dinner. These giants of men, almost famous, almost powerful, sit together in the only room in the world where they might hope to be understood, the only context in which they are as great as they understand themselves to be. Here is home, here is the movement they remember and anticipate. The streets don’t matter, it’s been so long everyone knows what it looks like, a thousand hippies in the street. But no one knows this except them. And it will work, this planning, this preparation, this accumulation of experience. We’ll get them next time. We know it. How could it not, these giants of men together in the room?

And that is all, they are their own men, their own movements – a generation of American activists accustomed to burgers and baseball and rugged individualism, not vegan kitchens and collective decision-making. American male activists in every sense. They stand stoic and say goodbye for another year, or two, or ten. Back to Kentucky, to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, to Tennessee, to Atlanta, to Midtown. To their own constituencies of volunteers and true believers. Back to local strategies, to ballot propositions, hopeless political campaigns, small press publishing, Xeroxed handbills, protests outside the state capital. Back to alter, even slightly, the landscape of America and to gain for themselves a place in it worthy of their size. 


About Bret Schneider,

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