COLUMN: UNAUTHORIZED CONJURELLA
Housemates With Naomi Schechter, Ph.d, Activist-Psychologist
With "Psychologists for Social Responsibility"
By T. Casey Brennan
This is a sequel to CONJURELLA
Copyright T. Casey Brennan
Within, there lurked the memory.
But this was 1970. This was T. Casey Brennan at age 22, on a bus bound for Ann Arbor, fledgling comic book writer for the Warren Publishing Company titles, CREEPY, EERIE, and VAMPIRELLA, hell-bent on making his presence known to Ann Arbor's now infamous campus left.
This was 1970: it would be a Tetragrammatonic 26 years before I would write the legend of CONJURELLA, posted on the Internet initially by Anathema Research of Austin, Texas in 1996, then picked up repeatedly and posted and reposted, with and without authorization, by a wide variety of Netizens, intent on linking it to their own respective interests and causes. Twenty-six years before CONJURELLA would link our family to the JFK assassination as our alleged cousin, Howard Leslie Brennan, with his testimony before the Warren Commission, never could.
This was 1970: I hated the Vietnam war, hated the draft, loved the peace movement, loved the peace demonstrators and the love-ins, loved the beads and the beards and the flower children. But I feared the psychedelic drugs, and I feared the Communists; maybe, just maybe, I even feared the "Communist conspiracy" I had been told so much about, since boyhood. This was 1970: it had been a scant three years since I had resigned, after a little over a year, from the Port Huron, Michigan chapter of the John Birch Society (I had a membership card; was it Chapter 308? - I don't remember anymore), headed by local right-wing dentist, E. James Shay. I had joined in late 1965, at the invitation of Thaddeus B. Vance, who, like my late father, sat on the St. Clair County Board of Education. My parents were William James Brennan and paperback book author Alice Brennan, both Michigan school board officials and tax opponents. My late mother had begun this process when, in the early 1950s, she took the position of Secretary (and CEO) of the Swamp School District, Kenockee Township School District #4, one of the last K-8, kindergarten through eighth grade, school districts in the state. Soon, my late father had a similar position of authority on the St. Clair County Board of Education, and the two of them set off hand in hand to keep property taxes down, and the one-room little red schoolhouses open for as long as the voters would put up with it. Inevitably, they attracted the attention of the 1950s ultra-right in that regard, and soon we were all deluged with pamphlets from prolific McCarthyites coast to coast.
I had begun school in kindergarten at Swamp School in September of 1953, at age 5. But, I suppose, partly because I could already read and write, and partly because my mother was her boss, my teacher, Miss Nolan, advanced me at once to the first grade, still at the age of 5. Hence, I entered high school at the tender age of 13. The Swamp School was a one-room building on a gravel road, technically in Emmett, Michigan. Traditionally, our high-school students, after graduating from the eighth grade, attended school in neighbouring Yale, Michigan. But by the time 1961 had rolled around, and I had graduated grade school, the Yale high school district was demanding that we annex before they would take our high school students. For that, the Swamp School would be closed, taxes would go sky high, and our children would henceforth attend grade school in Yale. My parents would have none of it, and clearly, they were in a political position to make deals. So, deals they made. It was arranged that a local farm couple, Jim and Mary O'Neill, would drive the handful of high-school students that the Swamp School produced each year, north on M-19, through Yale, to Peck High School in Sanilac County, later to become infamous as the home of convicted Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh.
Before long, the 13 year old high school version of T. Casey Brennan was developing his own independent personality and interests, sort of, and those interests included comic book collecting, and disseminating right-wing propaganda for the host of ultraconservative groups which had expressed support for my parents positions as property tax foes.
So my pile of special things included pamphlets from the John Birch Society (as headed by Robert Welch), the Cinema Educational Guild (by Myron Fagan, who claimed credit for providing the Dies Committee with the names of Hollywood Communists, though popular history would later, inaccurately, assign this role to Senator Joe McCarthy, who only investigated alleged Communists in government, not Hollywood), the Conservative Society of America (from Kent and Phoebe Courtney), the Christian Crusade (from Billy James Hargis, smeared in the 1980s as a homosexual lover to some of his followers, though inexplicably, I am told he has no recollection that these charges were ever made against him), the 20th Century Reformation Hour (from Carl McIntyre, who, much to my chagrin, became an establishment-sanctioned spokesman for the pro-Vietnam hawks during the Nixon Administration), and the Christian Anticommunism Crusade (from Dr. Fred G. Schwartz, whose New Orleans office shared a building with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee)... with early prototypes of comic book fanzines such as ALTER-EGO, THE COMIC READER, THE KOMIX, and THE ROCKET'S BLAST-COMICOLLECTOR.
Still, I had resisted actual membership in these right-wing groups until my graduation from Peck High School in 1965. Then, in the fall of that year, at the invitation of St. Clair County Board of Education member Thaddeus B. Vance, I attended an introductory meeting of the Birchers at something called The Round Building, on Pine Grove Avenue, in Port Huron, Michigan. A man named Robert Lowry, who held the office of Coordinator with the John Birch Society, briefed us on our responsibilities as Birchers-to-be. I joined, and stayed until 1967. And it was with this background, I proceeded, at the invitation of Larry B., of 30 Hayden Hall, East Quad Residential College, to meet with him, his cronies, and the now semi-famous Naomi Schechter, Ph.d, now, in the year 2000, with the activist group, PSYCHOLOGISTS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY. In thirty years, I would set down the plans for an unauthorized article on Naomi. But not yet. This was 1970.
I had met Larry B. in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, shortly after my twenty-second birthday, at a campground, with my parents. Actually, my dad had met him first. My dad had attended school at the University of Michigan in the 1920s, but never graduated. Though he had no sympathy for the campus left, he had, I suppose, a sense of nostalgia about Ann Arbor, as most ex-Ann Arborites do.
Larry B. had introduced himself to my dad as an Ann Arborite, and that, to my dad, had been sufficient to offset the stigma of the campus activism which Larry advocated. Larry told stories of Baba Ram Das, the White Panther Party, the Students for a Democratic Society, and one of his teachers, Naomi Schechter, closely associated, he said, with the campus left, and then working on her Ph.d thesis. And he invited me to come to Ann Arbor, to stay in East Quad.
So this was 1970: this was T. Casey Brennan, now on a bus bound for Ann Arbor, intent on imposing his invited, but unwanted, presence on Ann Arbor's campus left.
The day before I left, I had watched the movie WOODSTOCK, at Port Huron's Family Theatre on Military Street. I was prepared. These campus left guys were great, I decided.
I had taken the bus from Port Huron to Detroit, and changed buses in Detroit for Ann Arbor. I have a beard now, anathema in my ancestral home of Avoca, Michigan, and I am glad to be in Detroit, where I won't be hassled for having it. From the bus, I flash the peace sign to a black cab driver. He returns it. I'm part of the movement, man.
Larry B. has advised me to disembark at the Michigan Union, a scheduled stop of the Greyhound on which I ride. Had I seen the Greyhound Station on Huron Street first, with it's standard clientele of drunks and beggars, I may have received a different impression of Ann Arbor. I was later to work at the Huron Street Greyhound station, from November 1973 till March 1974, when I moved here, as had been my intent, even then. The Greyhound Station had been managed, in those days, by Red Simpson. He had two sons, John and George. George, they said, had disappeared for about a year, and returned, with a sex change operation, as "Gail" Simpson. The bus drivers had been mortified, always referring to Gail as "He... she... it" in the course of a conversation.
But this is 1970: I am not to see the Greyhound station yet, nor will I actually move to Ann Arbor for another three years. Just before the Michigan Union bus stop, I see Larry B. walking on the street. I wave to him, but he does not see me. So I proceed, on his direction, through Ann Arbor's tumultuous diag of 1970, bound for East Quad. The "Tent City" protest, in which protesters pitched pup tents on the diag, is in full swing. Soon, police will sweep it away, on the advice that a hepatitis carrier has spread disease throughout the community.
I arrive at 30 Hayden Hall, East Quadrangle Residential College, but Larry is not there. Soon he arrives, beaming. He is, he says, delighted that I have accepted his invitation.
His letters have told me much about the now semi-famous Naomi Schechter. A Jewish girl whose parents, he said, were both registered Communists; an activist, a psychology teacher, highly intelligent, but with severe acne. Some years later, she will undergo facial surgery to correct the problem.
He had made it clear in his letters that she wanted to meet me. I had envisioned a romance. Boys will be boys. I had envisioned myself, T. Casey Brennan, fledgling comic book writer for CREEPY and EERIE, with my own Joan Baez, whose parents were both registered Communists, leading the campus leftists to victory over the supporters of the Vietnam war, and my very recent, former friends, the John Birch Society. But that was not to be. Some time between August of 1970, when Larry B. had invited me to East Quad at the Upper Peninsula campground, and October 1970, when I actually made the journey, Larry had relayed the bad news: Naomi had taken on a live-in lover at her home on Ellsworth Road in Ypsilanti, where I was to stay, briefly, intermittently, with my stays at 30 Hayden Hall, East Quad. Larry described him as "a silk-screener named Joe". Joe had an Italian surname; I don't remember it. He was, as I recall, one of the early directors of Ozone House, a still existing Ann Arbor group which supplies teen-age runaways with food, clothing, and anti-drug pamphlets. Joe alleged that his uncle had been murdered by the Mafia. Larry alleged that Joe was one of the biggest drug dealers in Washtenaw County, but, he said, just marijuana and hashish.
Despite all that, Larry B., and his room-mate, Dave, determined that my stay at East Quad should include my first experience with that staple diet of campus demonstrators, marijuana.
So, that night at East Quad, I smoked marijuana for the first time.
I’d smoke some that night, and the following morning, then wander around the campus area of South University, determined that I have now incurred permanent brain damage from it. In addition to my comic scripts for CREEPY and EERIE, I have also written some short stories for a magazine called LISTEN, edited by Francis A. Soper and Twyla Schlotthauer. My checks say Narcotics Education, Inc., but it is really a vehicle of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C. They are anti-drug, anti-cigarettes, anti-meat-eating, anti-everything. Later, in the mid-1970s, when I am living at Xanadu Co-op on 1811 Washtenaw, marijuana salesmen will call them and tell them that I have been "caught" smoking marijuana (which they have sold me), as part of an on-going attempt by the campus left to sabotage my career. Undaunted, I write a pro-vegetarian story called "I Love Meat", a satire more derived from my VAMPIRELLA stories than anything else (see Warren Publishing's VAMPIRELLA magazines #s 5, 17-21, and 109, and Harris Comics VAMPIRELLA OF DRAKULON #1-3, reprinted in 1996, and the trade paperback, VAMPIRELLA: TRANSCENDING TIME & SPACE, co-authored with Steve Englehart). It's about a literal meat-vampire, a meat-addict: Soper rejects it, but it ends up published in 1977 issues of VEGETARIAN TIMES and a short-lived HIGH TIMES imitator called FLASH (no relation to the DC comic of the same name), in the latter case, accompanied by an illustration from legendary underground comic artist, Robert Williams. A quote from the story, beginning "Poor animals..." has now been picked up by vegetarian activists on the Internet world-wide... astute Net-searchers will find it posted widely on the Net and Usenet, listing me with the greatest philosophers of history. What's more, Soper later forgave me for being "caught" by the Xanadu marijuana peddlers, and published my publicity stunt essays about being an award winning comic book writer wanting to take smoking out of comic books in his early 1980s companion to LISTEN, a newsletter called SMOKE SIGNALS: the result being that the articles were entered into CONGRESSIONAL RECORD - SENATE, Sept. 28, 1982, Vol. 128, No. 131, page S12435, and commented upon in the U.N. World Health Organization magazine from Geneva, WORLD HEALTH, October 1983, page 30, and January-February 1986, page 9, issues; and THAT culminating in a Proclamation, dated December 22, 1989, carrying the Great Seal of the State of Arkansas, and the signatures of then-Governor Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State, designating January 1990 as T. CASEY BRENNAN MONTH in the State of Arkansas. All because of my association with Francis A. Soper, whom I then believed.
So I sit with a girl I just met, by a campus building in Ann Arbor, the second day of my trip, and tell her she must never smoke marijuana. It causes permanent brain damage, I tell her. Amusedly, she agrees, and promises. I go on to say, I may contact LISTEN magazine, and see if they can arrange some kind of speaking tour. Or, maybe, I'm thinking, the John Birchers, but I don't tell her that.
That part is secret, must be, cannot be told in my quest to woo the campus left of Ann Arbor.
Soon, we meet Naomi and Joe. I am to stay there for a few days, as per our agreement. The house is on Ellsworth Road, Ypsilanti.
Joe produces two forms of hashish, Pakistani and Nepalese, he says. Naomi says they are afraid to smoke the Nepalese hashish: "It's too intense," she says. Later, Joe takes me to his silk screen shop, which he owns. I think it's called The Silk Screen Shop. He tells me that the form of printing called silk-screening produces, not just t-shirts with cartoons on them, but also the illustrations that graced 1970-style pin-ball machines.
Naomi is then working on her Ph.d. thesis. She gives me a battery of tests, for practice, she says, including the standard Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test, as well as something she has invented, using the Rider deck of Tarot cards, as designed by Arthur Edward Waite, much preferred by hippies of that era. Interestingly, in a classic anachronism, the early 1970s television program KUNG FU, starring David Carradine as a pseudo-Chinese Shaolin priest, used the Rider deck in an episode set in the 1860s, wielded by his guest-star father, one-time Dracula portrayer, John Carradine, in spite of the fact that the Rider deck was not produced until the 1920s.
I ask Naomi about the police, "the pligs, myan", as we called them then.
"They don't come out here unless we call them," she says.
I take Naomi's tests, then smoke the Nepalese hash that she has recommended against. I have a dream about a world covered with green foliage, with men with green helmets walking about in it, then go outside, thinking I am going to throw up. Joe comes out, offering sympathy, but in a moment, I am okay.
I take a ride with Naomi in her jalopy. As we pull out of driveways, I watch, repeatedly, for oncoming traffic. Naomi spots me doing this, and curses me.
"I thought men were supposed to help girls drive!" I say.
"Well," Naomi says, "You've been improperly trained."
I meet Naomi's friends.
One is a man named Tom. He says he owns a health food something-or-other on Liberty Street. He has fluffy curly hair, but no moustache or beard. Joe has a moustache.
One day, we wake up and Tom is annoyed by buzzing flies sticking to the fly paper in Naomi's living room. He applies his lit cigarette lighter.
"Better that they die that way, than slowly," Tom says.
Another is a traveller from England, a man with his long hair in a bun, like the old ladies I had known in my boyhood in Avoca, Michigan.
He tries to be friendly, but I see him as one of those members of the Communist conspiracy the John Birchers have told me about. He tells me of his efforts to organize the cockneys in England, but, he says, he is thwarted. He says they admire the upper-class English accent.
Naomi takes me aside later and says: "We don't know what he does. He may kill people."
Another is a pretty girl who brings a box of slides, which she presents to me and Joe. She says, "There is a picture of me in there..."
"Well," she says, "I don't know..." Then she giggles some more.
She leaves. Joe and I light joints, and set to work, examining the box of a thousand slides, one by one, looking for the implied nude picture of the girl who has just left. One by one, we examine each boring vacation slide, shake our heads, and move on. It just isn't there. We have been tricked.
I meet Larry B's friends.
Larry takes me to the Halfway Inn, in East Quad. He points out a student with a picture of a clenched fist on the back of his denim jacket.
Larry B. says, "Casey, you see that guy? He was arrested at a demonstration for throwing a rock at a cop. And he didn't do it!"
Larry also points out an East Quad drug dealer called Strike.
"Strike's a prick," says Larry B., "Strike works directly under Joe."
Later, Strike, a student with longish hair, a beard, and a furtive look, tells me in a hallway: "Everybody here is out to get me."
And, through Strike, I have had my first glimpse of the apolitical vendettas of Ann Arbor's campus left, so intent on victimizing their own.
Later, Naomi tells me she may not complete her Ph.d thesis. I embark on a campaign of persuasion, conceiving various approaches for talking her into it.
It will be, she says, if she finishes it, a treatise on the Tarot cards and psychology. Following repeated phone calls along this line, I finally conceive of this:
"Maybe girls shouldn't have Ph.d's," I say.
"That does it," she says, "I'm going to do it."
And she did. And now she is a semi-famous activist
with Psychologists for Social Responsibility, following in the footsteps of her registered Communist parents; her friend Larry B. (and his hero, Baba Ram Das); her friend Tom, who sold health food and burned flies with his lighter; her friend with his hair in bun who may have killed people; and her boyfriend Joe, who ran a silk-screen shop and Ozone House, and whose uncle was killed by the Mafia.
This was the memory that lurked within:
Before Naomi, Joe, and Larry B. giving me marijuana and hashish in 1970, there had been J.H. Earnshaw giving me LSD in the late 1950s. We had met him through David Ferrie, who died during the Garrison investigation. Menacingly, Earnshaw had claimed association with the CIA's illegal MK-ULTRA experimentation program, begun in 1953, and investigated by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, before a Senate Committee, in 1977. My dad's interests had included not merely school taxes and right-wing politics, but also hypnosis, which was Earnshaw's specialty. Earnshaw, an Osteopathic physician in Port Hope, Michigan, reportedly died in 1984, though he continued to be listed in the American Osteopathic Association Yearbook long after that. On November 22, 1963, Earnshaw and David Ferrie kidnapped me from the Yale, Michigan airport, with the assistance of my late father, and forced me to initiate the firing from the Texas School Book Depository Building in Dallas. That was what I wrote about in "Conjurella". Lee was innocent. I was not.
And this was the last memory of Naomi, not the LAST memory, but the memory that lingered, the way the memory of my single shot in Dallas, before I collapsed, before David Ferrie assumed command of the weapon and resumed firing, could not.
Naomi shows me a crystal by her window that creates flickering lights and colours. It hangs by the couch on which I sleep; I do not sleep with her, the presence of Joe has seen to that. But in the morning on that day, whatever day it was, Naomi comes to awaken me.
She stands over me in the flickering light of the crystal, as the effect of the Nepalese hash lingers on in my unaccustomed brain.
I watch as she tosses her head, leans from side to side, and strikes poses in the window light of morning.
In my fear of Nepalese hashish and Communist conspirators, in my apprehension of the vendetta against Strike, and the man with his hair in a bun, and Joe whose uncle was killed by the Mafia, and her Communist parents, I have almost forgotten how pretty she is. But now, her long curly hair glistens in the morning light, in the light of the crystal, and she fans it out like a veil, as she weaves and tosses.
"NAOMI!" I say, with awe. And I need say no more. She knows.
"That will last a long time," she says.
And it did.
T. Casey Brennan is an established writer and has extensive knowledge about the death of U.S. President John F. Kennedy
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