been in Detroit for two months and hadn’t gotten drunk even
once. I didn’t even want to drink—there was too much
going on. Beyond that, The Prez and most of the people in the TLE
[Trans-Love Energies, a commune established by activist John Sinclair
and artist Gary Grimshaw] commune didn’t drink, or at least
not excessively like my old crew in Traverse City. My new friends
felt they were engaged in a great creation. The old culture was
dying, eaten away from the inside by its own contradictions and
the lies it could no longer sustain. A generation of dynamic young
people were redefining the world in their own terms, creating a
new culture and value system. The result was a political earthquake,
the aftershocks of which are still being felt a generation or more
I believed that part of building the new involved rejecting and
destroying the old. I came to see alcohol as the drug of choice
of the old culture, an acceptable custom in a dying lifestyle. I
wanted nothing to do with it. I had arrived in Detroit in the waning
days of The Artists Workshop, which was being transformed by a younger
generation of visionaries. Of the two Workshop storefronts, street
people had claimed one. The other was in better repair, and its
door still locked. The mimeograph machine and reams of paper stolen
from Wayne State University were stored there, as were all the books
and posters produced by the Workshop. A sculptor and several painters
still worked there from time to time, but overall, the light was
I was getting rather pissed off at Lobsinger and his band of Breakthrough
brown shirts who were firebombing the offices below us and throwing
beer bottles and rocks through our second-story windows on a regular
basis. I felt that if we got to know our neighbors perhaps we could
count on them if things got sticky.
I mentioned to Sinclair that I thought we should do a Sweep-In,
a general clean-up of the neighborhood. We could get the whole neighborhood
out to clean up the alleys, sweep the streets, and talk to each
other. We might even put speakers in the windows, get some groceries
and have a party. Sinclair thought it was a good idea; encouraged,
I went ahead and organized it.
Once a week, the Detroit Free Press, the more liberal of Detroit’s
two daily newspapers, ran a column on the front page called Action
Line! It was a consumer advocate sort of thing; they would cut through
governmental red tape and overcome obstacles for people who could
get no satisfaction through regular channels when dealing with large
corporations or institutions. They would intercede for the little
guy. They would also perform good deeds for families in dire need—like
the little girl who wanted to see Mickey Mouse just once before
she died of leukemia.
I wrote to Action Line! and told them of our plan to have a neighborhood
Sweep-In. We needed some brooms and shovels; we needed water and
trash containers. Within a couple of weeks, they printed my request
and reported they had made the following arrangements: Public Works
would provide a garbage truck, the Fire Department would put a “reducer”
on two hydrants and provide 400 feet of garden hose, and Acme Brush
and Broom would provide 100 brooms and detergent. I made the necessary
calls and set everything up. The Sweep-In would take place Saturday,
I went banging on doors in the neighborhood, talking up the Sweep-In.
The Chicanos, who lived next door to us, on Warren, didn’t
speak English. I said “Fiesta! Fiesta!” several times
and pantomimed sweeping. They gave me an odd look and were polite
though noncommittal. The poor whites next door to them—skinny,
southern Appalachian folks with red necks and white ribbed chests—didn’t
know if they would be around or not, though a passel of kids said
they would show up. Several black families on the block showed interest
but would wait until Saturday to decide. Two blocks down, near Trumbull,
Wayne Kramer, lead guitarist and driving force in the MC5, had a
room in a house with a handful of other hippies. There were always
a bunch of musicians hanging around whose participation I could
Down the service drive from our place was the Castle. A three-story
monstrosity, the Castle was half-block long and made of cut stone
with four turrets overlooking the Service Drive and the John Lodge
Expressway. It was full of a parent’s worst nightmares: out-of-work
musicians, poets who heard voices, co-ed cuties, dime bag reefer
dealers, speed freaks and stone junkies. I could count on their
participation as well. Of course the staff and volunteers at the
Mobe and Fifth Estate would be at least somewhat eager participants.
With the Sweep-In on Saturday, Emil and I decided to pick up the
brooms on Friday morning. Emil was a filmmaker who lived at Trans-Love.
He was a funny guy with a full, bushy beard and black, rather stringy
hair that hung to his shoulders. He wore short-sleeved, cotton,
buffalo plaid shirts tucked into Wrangler jeans hitched up high
in the crotch and held up with a leather belt a foot too long, so
that the end would pass through the buckle and dangle like a subway
strap from his cinched waist. He could also get this look about
him: With his hand to his chin and his fingers rubbing his nose,
mustache and beard, he would appear bewildered and bemused as if
the occasion required special, concentrated thought.
Emil had a ‘64 VW bus, the stereotypical hippie van, we drove
over to the East Side, off Jefferson, where we found Acme Broom
and Brush down by the river in an old waterfront warehouse. Damn!
A hundred brooms is a lot of brooms. They had them boxed. House
brooms were five to a box. Push brooms, three to a box with the
handles unscrewed. The boxes were 4 feet long and 6 inches high.
They took up the whole back of the van with several boxes tied on
top. Acme Broom and Brush also donated a hundred pounds of heavy-duty
concentrated cleaning detergent so we could actually scrub the streets.
We signed the bill of lading and split.
We returned to TLE and removed the boxes from the top of the van
but left the rest inside since we would be using them the next day.
I was excited as I went to sleep with the windows open to the midnight
breeze and the city slowing down; all was peaceful.
The next morning I saw Werbe, one of the Fifth Estate editors, on
the sidewalk outside the paper’s offices. “Did you hear
about the riots over on 12th and Clairmount?” he asked. I
hadn’t, so we went inside the paper’s office to listen
to the radio and watch the TV they had set up.
Overnight, 73 black folks had been arrested by the Detroit police
at a blind pig (an after-hours, unlicensed bar, often located in
a private home). The police, employing their usual thuggish ways,
had raised the ire of the crowd that had gathered to witness the
mass arrest. Someone threw a wine bottle, then another one. Shots
rang out. The cops took up defensive positions and called for backup.
More cops arrived to a rain of bottles and bricks. Tear gas was
fired, round after round. People in the neighborhood heard the shots
and smelled the tear gas; sirens screeched through the night.
The Tactical Mobil Units or TMUs, of the Detroit police were a new
division, expertly trained and highly mobile with all white cars.
They were a high-profile force, specialized in rapid response which
guaranteed quick results, the predecessors to today’s SWAT
There were a thousand people or more in the street by the time the
TMUs arrived like Cossacks on horseback, trying to push the crowd
back. But it was too late. The crowd had power. With bricks and
bottles and the occasional pop of pistol shot, they forced the TMUs
to turn tail and run.
The morning papers had the complete story with pictures. The local
TV stations were interrupting regular scheduled programming to cover
the ruckus, which was still in progress. The Detroit police, they
were reporting, had lost control of the northwest side. Throughout
southeast Michigan, police and sheriff departments were being mobilized.
We could see several columns of smoke rising to the northwest, just
15 blocks away. The Sweep-In was off, supplanted by the current
crisis, which was a lot more interesting.
By now more people were out and about; word was spreading. Around
noon Emil and I decided to take a drive over to 12th and Clairmount,
where the riots started, and check things out for ourselves. We
hopped in the VW and made our way up Trumbull to Clairmount. A lot
of people were on the streets. Cars full of black kids tooted horns,
while riders leaned out of car windows to holler encouragement and
thrust fists in the air. Groups were gathering in front of barbershops,
liquor stores and barbeque joints and returning salutes to passing
carloads of revelers.
We turned on Clairmount and the whole scene changed. Bumper-to-bumper
traffic crawled along at a snail’s pace and cars parked on
both sides of the street left barely enough room for traffic. Clairmount
is a residential street of WWII vintage, with brown brick houses
and big front porches. Large oaks and maples shade the street and
the postage stamp lawns. Each porch, house after house, was filled
with whole families of black folks: grandma in the rocker, mom keeping
an eye on things while getting lemonade for neighbor ladies, children
riding tricycles on the narrow sidewalk that led to the street,
staying close. Dad and some of his buddies from the plant, it seemed,
were sucking down a few cold Stroh’s, the beer of choice for
loyal Detroiters. House after house, block after block, it was like
this. Occasionally knots of teenagers could be seen strolling up
There was no music here; just the sullen stares of the homeowners,
their lives, homes, and families in jeopardy from the fires that
raged through businesses just down the block, to say nothing of
the all-white police forces of occupation stationed in their neighborhood.
I was surprised by the number of white couples, with children in
the back of their station wagons, who had obviously come from the
suburbs to tour 12th and Clairmount. In fact, more than half of
the cars contained white folks, which made me uneasy. Suddenly I
was ashamed as we found ourselves in a traffic backup with gawkers
and rubberneckers, who were apparently insensitive to the lives
and suffering of these people. As we eased down Clairmount toward
12th, we began to see more cops in heavy riot gear: black jumpsuits
and boots, dull black helmets and face shields, carrying carbines
and pump shotguns and wearing ammo harnesses across their chests.
Their tear gas canisters clanked together as they marched in formation.
For a block before 12th, there were no civilian cars parked on the
street. Police armored vehicles, TMUs, “black and whites,”
sheriffs’ cars from surrounding counties and various paddy
wagons and command vehicles took all available space, narrowing
the street to a pinch point. For the last half of the block, traffic
was directed between a gauntlet of cops, badges taped over with
black tape so the number couldn’t be read. They poked their
guns and their white porcine faces through the windows of cars with
black occupants to snarl and ask where they lived and their destination.
The whites, of course, were just waved through.
As we neared the corner of 12th, Emil got “that look”
on his face. His hand went to his chin as he fiddled with his mustache
and beard, his lips were pursed as he breathed noisily through his
nose. His head listed just seven degrees left, his jaw tilted five
clicks past horizontal as he stared through the bug encrusted window
of the off-white-over-aquamarine VW bus. At 12th, the cops had the
intersection blocked; we had to go left or right. With our side
windows slid open we had spoken to dozens of cops as we passed through
the gauntlet. They all told us to get the hell out of there, and
if they saw us again today they’d arrest us. We inched along.
Just as we got to the corner and were turning left, we were stopped.
Several cops approached the bus. Sticking his head in and looking
around, one of them asked me, “What’s in the bag under
your feet?” Another cop asked Emil, “What’s in
all those boxes?”
“Soap,” I answered.
“Brooms.” Emil said.
“Hey captain! Check this out,” one of the cops called
They made us pull over. Cops surrounded us. Ordered from the bus,
they made us lie face down on the pavement. One cop stood on my
wrist: “So I know where you are.”
A whole squad attacked the bus. They pulled out the boxes, tore
them open and emptied the brooms onto the street. They tore up the
floor mats and looked in the ashtray and engine compartment. The
captain was focused on the hundred pounds of detergent, discussing
it intently with several other officers. Meanwhile the large crowd
of black citizens gathered at the corner began getting agitated.
“Hey look! They got the hippies!” I could hear people
yell. “Hey hippies! Black Power!” someone else shouted.
The crowd was picking up energy, I could feel it.
“Hey hippies! Free Love!” someone bellowed.
The captain came over to us, his gold shield and insignia on his
helmet peeking out from behind the black tape. “Show some
ID, boys. You’re in big trouble,” he said.
We handed over our IDs and Emil got that look again.
“You boys are going to be charged with possession of explosive-making
materials,” the captain continued.
Emil snapped out of it and began talking real fast ”We’re
students at Wayne; we live on Prentiss. We just came by to see what
was going on,” he lied.
Then I spoke up, “The brooms and detergent were to be used
to clean up our neighborhood today.”
Just then I remembered the bill of lading, “We have a receipt
for this stuff,” I said. The captain had one of his men escort
me to the bus and after some looking, I found the receipt amid the
refuse on the floor of the front seat.
Just then a bottle crashed in the middle of the intersection. People
started chanting, “Black Power! Black Power.” The crowd
had grown larger.
The captain looked at my paper—another bottle smashed somewhere
close. “Load up your shit and get out of here—if anything
comes up, we have your names.”
Blam! A block up 12th, the cops were shooting tear gas. Blam! Another
one. The captain and his squad rushed off. Blam! Another one. All
the cops were on edge, standing spread-legged, guns at the ready,
watching the rooftops.
Emil and I were left with 75 brooms scattered around the street;
the cops kept the detergent. Quickly I started picking up brooms
and throwing them in the bus. Emil got that look for a moment, put
his hands on his hips, and then hollered at the cops, “Hey!
Who’s gonna clean up this mess?”
All the attention was focused up 12th Street. The cops that weren’t
running in that direction were in defensive positions, looking ever
so nervous. I threw a dozen or so brooms into the bus and told Emil,
“Let’s get the hell out of here!” We piled in,
and lickety-split, we were gone, leaving the rest of the brooms
and a pile of torn cardboard in the street. Out the back, I could
see folks from the neighborhood beginning to pick up the brooms.
I was near exploding with excitement as we drove away. Emil and
I laughed hysterically, slapping our knees and each other on the
back. We weren’t afraid of the crowd, just the cops.When we
returned to TLE, radio and TV were reporting that rioting had broken
out on the east side and that looting and arson was taking place
in isolated parts of the city.
Mayor [Jerome] Cavanaugh took to the airwaves to plead for calm
and reassure the public that everything was OK. He announced that
surrounding cities and counties had sent forces to Detroit and that
the Michigan State Police were in the process of being mobilized
and would be in the city by nightfall.
Later that afternoon, I found Sinclair in the Workshop at the mimeograph
machine printing up flyers. The headline read; THE FIRST ANNUAL
DETROIT LOOT-IN! Then in two-inch letters ”GET THE BIG STUFF!”
Grimshaw had drawn a cartoonlike graphic that showed hippies and
blacks carrying off TVs, couches and refrigerators.
Sinclair printed up about five hundred flyers and he and I took
off in the Opel. We drove down Woodward and Cass and some of the
cross-streets. Every time we saw a group of people gathered, I’d
toss out a handful of flyers, and we’d speed off. With our
work done, we returned to TLE to make ready for the expected Saturday
Our building had a flat roof with a 3-foot parapet three stories
off the ground. There was an access door to the roof in the ceiling
of the hallway. I ran an extension cord to the roof and brought
up a TV and radio and set them on the chimney. Emil had a pair of
field glasses; I took them to the roof too. I went to the Lebanese-owned
liquor store to get some snacks for the upcoming evening ruckus,
only to find the store closed by order of the mayor and chief of
police. When I returned, The Prez, several others and I climbed
to the roof and took up our positions.
By now you could see smoke and the pink under-glow of fire toward
the east side. The northwest quadrant was fully involved. Cops rode
four to a car with the windows down, rifles and shotguns sticking
out. Fire engines raced to and fro, the screech and scream of sirens
and horns and the acrid smoke of burning asphalt filled the evening
air like the groan and stench of hell.
When night came, it got scary. The mayor ordered a dusk-to-dawn
curfew. Gas stations were ordered to pump gas only into vehicles,
no containers. The only cars on the streets were cops driving slow,
lights out, long guns bristled from doors propped open with a foot
or a piece of wood wedged near the hinge. Cop cars moved in groups
of three, quietly. Every time we saw cops coming, we’d duck
down below the parapet, knowing we shouldn’t be up there at
a time like this.
This was exciting stuff. Nobody liked “the man” the
cops. Tonight, “the man” was getting his ass kicked.
We wanted to watch.
It was getting worse all the time, or better. Around the clock TV
and radio reportage kept our rooftop observation post well informed.
It was clear the fires were spreading, especially on the east side.
What before had seemed like a localized plume of smoke, now seemed
to stretch for ten miles to the north. On the northwest side, the
fires were spreading south, a wall of smoke 15 miles long could
be seen from our hippie “command center.”
Gunfire was sporadic; we’d hear single shots from small arms
fired by snipers, followed by outbursts of automatic fire that lasted
perhaps five minutes, followed by maybe thirty minutes of calm,
if you can call standing in the center of hurricane-fed inferno,
with sirens wailing and the streets full of smoke, “calm.”
Then we’d hear several single rounds from small arms again,
followed by bursts and the rat-a-tat-tat of the cops carbines and
heavier weapons, then calm again. We came to know the difference
between the automatic and semi-automatic fire of the police forces
and the single shot “crack” of the snipers.
On the 11:00 news, Michigan’s Governor, George Romney, begged
for calm and announced he was mobilizing the National Guard with
the first troops arriving the next afternoon. TV had footage of
black citizens, unaware of the curfew, being pulled from their cars.
Middle-aged, middle-class blacks were shown being thrown to the
ground, kicked and cuffed, generally roughed up and carted off to
jail. Rumor had it that Tiger Stadium and the bathhouses on Belle
Isle were being used as temporary holding facilities since the police
lockups were all full. We stayed on the roof all night, taking speed
to keep us on our toes. The electronic media was reporting that
the police had given up and withdrawn from large areas on the northwest
side and the east side. ”No Man’s Land,” they
called it. “Liberated Territory,” I called it.
Sunday, the second full day of rioting, broke hot and humid. By
noon the temperature was in the 80s. The stench of burning plastic
and tarpaper hung heavily over the neighborhood. The National Guard
was yet to be seen. Sinclair and I twisted up some joints and went
out driving around in the Opel. The streets were all but empty,
with the cops busy at the scenes of looting and burning. We tore
up Woodward, blowing through stop signs, disregarding red lights.
In Highland Park we drove for miles in the wrong direction on the
empty one-way streets. Oh what a feeling! To be in a place where
absolutely no law was valid, where government had no control or
meaning. This, I realized, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Granted, it was brief and shallow, and came at a terrible cost in
life and property, but it was real, and I felt blessed to be a part
At Grand Boulevard we stopped at a corner while another group of
drivers cleared a barricade from the street. A car carrying four
black cats, all wearing black “doo rags” on their heads
pulled up next to us. It was common knowledge on the street that
Black Liberation Fighters wore “doo rags” in the “color
of the day” to identify themselves and avoid getting shot
by other snipers. I was mildly distressed as all four scowled at
us. Then the driver started hollering, “Hey! That’s
Sinclair, the king of the hippies!” referring to the handle
with which the local media had tagged Sinclair. The other cats all
chimed in, ”Cool man, ‘king of the hippies!’”
Sinclair laughed, gave the “V” for victory sign and
held a torpedo joint out the window. The cat in the passenger’s
seat leaned out, took the joint and said, “Right on brother—keep
your head down.” The barricade was removed and we sped off
and returned to Trans-Love.
I was upstairs, in our living quarters along with Sinclair, his
wife and baby, The Prez, and eight or so other commune members and
friends. From the sill of an open window I was sitting watching
troop carriers, military jeeps and heavy hardware drive up and down
the John Lodge. Suddenly, on the service drive on the northbound
side of the Lodge, I noticed six or more “black and whites”
moving at a high rate of speed. They squealed around the corner
onto Warren and sped across the bridge over the expressway toward
our place. At the corner they whipped onto our service drive and
screeched to a halt right below me. The first cop out of the car
pointed his shotgun at me and hollered, “Stay where you are!”
I jumped back and ran down the hall toward the door. Already I could
hear the heavy thud of boots on the stairs. I just got the security
chain latched when the door opened to the length of the chain. Instantly
a rifle barrel came through the crack and simultaneously a butt
of a rifle smashed the door at chain level sending splinters and
What seemed like twenty or more cops came rushing in, pointing guns
at people and knocking some to the floor. I was jacked against the
wall with a shotgun jammed under my chin so I was standing on my
tiptoes. By now other commune members came out of their cubicles
to see what the commotion was about. They were slammed to the floor
or held against the wall at gunpoint. Suddenly Sinclair was there
holding his infant daughter. “What the fuck are you motherfuckers
doing in my house?” he raged. “Shut the fuck up!”
the commanding officer snorted. “Get the fuck out of my house!”
Sinclair bellowed, his face red, eyes bulging.
I was much taller than God had intended, stretched as I was with
the shotgun under my chin. It was pressed so hard there that my
tongue was pushed against the roof of my mouth, causing me to salivate
and drool copious amounts of spittle out of each side of my mouth.
Sinclair screamed again, “Get the fuck out of my house.”
I remember wishing he would calm down; he is going to get us all
killed, I thought. “We had a report of a sniper on the roof,”
the commanding officer said. “There are no snipers on our
roof—get out! Get out!”
Other cops were snooping around, looking in closets and cubicles,
tearing tapestries and posters off the walls, flipping over mattresses
and generally behaving in a hoggish manner.
Sinclair wouldn’t let up. “Get the fuck out of my house!”
Then, in a burst of rage he shouted, “Go ahead and shoot me,
shoot me! I don’t want to live in a place where the cops can
bust your door down anytime they want. Shoot me! Here, shoot my
daughter, shoot Leni, shoot all of us. You’re the ones who
will have to answer for it.” On and on he raged.
Jesus Christ! I thought, I wish he’d shut up; he’s going
to get us all blown away. Drool was beginning to puddle at my feet.
Then, just as suddenly as they came, they left.
A short time later we got a call informing us that Wayne “MC5”
Kramer had been arrested. His house on Warren had been raided and
he was carried away in chains. It seems he had aroused suspicion
by setting up a spotting scope in the big bay window of the second
floor master bedroom to keep tabs on the action.
I recall going with Sinclair to a lawyer’s office downtown.
The massive gothic police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien was surrounded
by troops in heavy armored vehicles with 30- and 50-caliber machine
guns mounted on tripods. We somehow got Kramer released and settled
in for the night’s action.
Between June and August of 1967 there were riots in more than 125
cities across America. Parts of Newark, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee,
Cambridge, Minneapolis and Detroit had gone up in flames. There
were 380,000 troops in Vietnam and though they told us America was
winning, the Pentagon reported that 5,008 Americans had died in
the war in 1966. Muhammad Ali was arrested for refusing induction
into the Army. The Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement
and Hippie culture were sweeping the country like wild fire. With
troops in Vietnam and Detroit, could the Empire survive?
Sunday night we stayed at the commune with all the lights out so
we wouldn’t be seen, but we kept the windows open to hear
the battle and watch the light show of tracers and flares. To the
east the entire horizon was shrouded in smoke; occasionally, bright
flashes would illuminate the underside of the smoke, like fireworks
on a cloudy night. To the west, the scene was the same, only closer.
The most vivid memory I have of that Sunday night is of the 50-calibers,
as they “thumped,” “thumped,” “thumped”
out rounds, every fourth one a “tracer” that looked
six feet long as they shot like falling stars across the eerie night
illuminating the smoke clouds and occasionally tumbling, end over
end, as if in slow motion.
Local news reported that municipal and state police forces, and
now the National Guard, were unable to maintain order or quell the
disturbance and had been driven from a 144-square-block area of
the east side with a similar retreat on the west side. President
Johnson appeared on TV to plead for calm and the “rule of
law” and announced that he was calling out the 101st Airborne,
which would arrive the next day, Monday. Mayor Cavanaugh, having
toured the riot-torn area said “the festival atmosphere”
Monday was hot again. I walked down the service drive a mile or
so to Grand River Avenue. Whole blocks of businesses were smoldering
ruins. Abandoned houses and many occupied dwellings were put to
the torch, or caught on fire as the conflagration spread. Police
and National Guard were stationed every hundred feet or so along
both sides of Grand River. Fire crews, guarded by troops crouched
behind fire engines, still battled flames up and down the avenue
as far as the eye could see.
On returning to Trans-Love, I found Sinclair and we walked the four
blocks over to Trumbull and Forest. We got there just as a crowd
had smashed the large windows of the A&P. I saw little black
girls in plastic sandals, shorts and tank tops helping grandmas
who had hitched up their print dresses, revealing stockings that
only went to the knee, and clamored through the broken windows—no
one used the doors. Sinclair and I joined the crowd inside. People
of all ages and several races were grabbing everything in sight:
canned goods, meat, bread, floor wax, packages of rubber bands and
tooth paste—it didn’t matter, they took it all. These
people who had been ripped-off, robbed, scammed, gouged and cheated
by A&P were taking back what was theirs. Like a thousand Robin
Hoods, they stole from the absentee landlords who had been stealing
from them for a lifetime. Sinclair found a 25-pound bag of dog food
for Pharaoh, the commune terrier, and split for home.
Across the street was a Ben Franklin five-and-dime. The 8-by-8-foot
windows had been smashed and neighborhood residents were flooding
the store. I went inside and looked around for something to take.
I noticed a “fish eye” mirror in the far corner, used
to monitor shoplifters. It was attached high on the wall, next to
the ceiling. I climbed up the shelves and ripped it right off the
wall, bracket and all.
The Ben Franklin was in an old, single story, brown brick building,
the kind I remembered from childhood. Inside, in the back of the
store, was a balcony, surrounded by a railing with balusters. Three
or four desks, presumably those of the bookkeepers and manager,
occupied the space. A group of cats were up there working on a large,
antique safe. Pretty soon they shouted out “Clear the building,
we‘re torchin‘ it!” People scattered. Thick black
smoke filled the store as orange tongues of flame began licking
the wall and moving across the ceiling. I took my mirror and cruised
home, holding it above my head like the championship silver tray
For the record, though I won’t bore the reader by repeating
the familiar details, the commune was raided again that Monday,
this time by the National Guard. I have a fuzzy recollection of
that raid: I recall looking out the window and seeing a jeep with
a 50-caliber mounted in the back that was pointing up at me, and
two or three other parked military vehicles on the street below.
The sound of many boots stomping up the stairs I will always remember.
The door was smashed from the raid the day before and I remember
the troops filing right in. “Of course there is no sniper
on the roof. We are pacifist hippies,” The Prez told them.
I don’t remember them leaving, but no one got killed or arrested,
so good riddance.
Later that day, while playing frisbee on the service drive, we noticed
fire trucks, police cars, and military vehicles two blocks down
on Forest. A couple of us walked down to see what was going on.
The 101st Airborne had arrived; rumor had it that they were just
back from Vietnam. At the corner of the service drive and Forest
sat an old house with a green sign declaring it a state historic
site and explaining that it had been the birthplace of Charles Lindbergh.
The sign was splattered with vandal’s paint. In white paint,
in foot-high letters across the front porch, someone had scrawled,
“LINDBERGH WAS A FASCIST!” Now that historic house was
in flames. A fire crew pumped water on the blaze while the 101st
watched their backs, M-16s and jeeps with mounted guns at the ready.
Since the battle in Detroit had begun, fire crews had been taking
rounds from snipers as they tried to bring the blazes under control.
After ten minutes or so, my friends left. I just sat on the curb,
watching the action.
A soldier, not as old as I was, walked over and stood above me.
“Didn’t I see you at another fire today?” he asked
in a Georgia drawl.
“Nope”, I answered, “this is the first fire I’ve
been to since this all started.”
“No . . . I think I saw you at another fire,” he said,
standing with legs spread above me.
“Nah,” I said, “I just live down there,”
pointing. Suddenly he ratcheted a round into the chamber of his
M-16. “I saw you at another fire today!” he hollered.
Jesus Christ no! I thought. Instinct drove me to get up and start
running straight down the sidewalk toward home. I could feel him
aiming at the middle of my back. I wondered if I’d feel the
bullet. Then I thought, I hope I don’t die in these pants.
They were full of holes from battery acid I’d spilled while
changing the battery in Sinclair’s Opel. The soldier never
shot; I made it home.
Sinclair, Leni, Grimshaw, Emil, The Prez and others had been talking
about leaving the city until this riot blew over. We needed someplace
to go. We couldn’t go to Cleveland where there were also riots
or threats of them. Chicago was the same. In fact, any large urban
area was under threat and most of our friends lived in big cities.
I suggested we head north to Traverse City and wait out the riots
in the sand and sun of Northern Michigan, which we did.
The last image I had of the riots was of three huge Army tanks charging
north up the southbound side of the Lodge at full throttle. Their
huge bulk was rocking to and fro as they sped along at nearly 50
m.p.h. Seeing vehicles traveling the wrong way on the expressway
was shock enough, but three tanks, each taking up a lane and a half
of the highway, was beyond anything I could have imagined.
from the Ottawa: The Story of the Journey Back is the dramatic
autobiography of Pun Plamondon. Plamondon was conceived and born
in state mental hospital to mixed-blood Native American parents
in 1945. He was raised by an adoptive family and went to Catholic
reform school at age 15. He has been a union organizer of migrant
farm workers, a bodyguard and security director for Bob Seger and
the Silver Bullet Band. In 1968, he co-founded the White Panther
Party in Detroit. In 1969, he was indicted for bombing clandestine
CIA offices in Ann Arbor, and he became a fugitive from the F.B.I.
when he fled to Algeria seeking political asylum. He was captured
upon return to the U.S. and spend 32 months in Federal prison, but
the trial revealed the use of illegal wiretaps by the government
and Plamondon was released.
He recovered from years of drug and alcohol abuse with the help
of an Ottawa holy man. He reconnected with the Ottawa Tribe, writing
radio features on Native American culture, helping found a theatrical
group, and working on archaeology digs in Michigan. He now lives
on a small farm in Michigan, where he builds fine furniture and