A Memoir of 1968
The dusty road had held us all day long. Huge trucks belching choking fumes had raced past us, barely missing our outstretched thumbs by inches it seemed. Sometimes they blared their industrial strength horns at us, scaring us, pushing us away from the road edge. There had been very few cars, and those mostly tiny SEATs already filled with farmers and dogs and kids, and certainly not looking to pick up two hippies dirt-encrusted from too much unsuccessful hitchhiking.
I guess we managed to walk three or four miles that day, in the blazing sun, just south of Valencia. We had expected better luck (“Gibraltar by evening!” had been our war cry as we emerged from a night in a roadside culvert) and had not prepared for such a long long day trudging through heat and dust and flies. We were exhausted, and more, we were dehydrated, the half dozen blood oranges we had each consumed notwithstanding.
Ahead of us we could see the outskirts of a village, and a village meant a cafe and Coca-Cola and even iced water, perhaps. It was one of those days when we knew we were willing to spend a few of our remaining pesetas. We stumbled forward, the dust scuffing beneath our feet, coughing. We must have looked liked ancient mummies straight from the desert as we finally collapsed into the two canvas chairs set out under the tin-roofed patio of a tiny cafe. I can only imagine the thoughts that were flowing through the old man’s head as he took our order for two Cokes.
We had been sitting for some minutes before we realized that an old radio was scratching its way through the late afternoon heaviness. And it may have been a minute or so more before we understood that it was speaking to us in English. American Forces Radio, probably from Germany. “…And as the crowds begin to gather from all across Memphis, we remind our listeners that President Johnson will speak to the nation this evening, on this day when Dr Martin Luther King has been shot and killed on his hotel balcony…”
The Cokes, glistening as the ice melted down the sides of the bottles, stood unremembered as our tears washed black gullies across our cheeks.
Boffo Properties and the Kettle Friendship Society have used at least three PR companies to try to manufacture consent for their proposal to build a massive tower complex on Commercial Drive. Those companies don’t come cheap. Can you imagine how much more useful that incredible waste of money could have been had it been spent on actual services for those suffering with mental illness?
The efforts of all these companies have resolved into KettleBoffo’s latest slogan that says, in effect, if you don’t support our tower you are opposed to “inclusive community”. What on earth does that mean?
The KettleBoffo project includes up to 200 market-priced condos and “up to” 30 supportive housing units for Kettle clients. Expensive condos are everywhere in this city, and so we can discount any thought that “inclusive” refers to those. That leaves only one other possible meaning: their “inclusive community” slogan is simply a rewrite of the old canard that opposition to Boffo’s massive for-profit tower is the same as rejection of mental health housing in Grandview.
This lie — for that is what it is in plain language — completely ignores the fact that this community has steadily supported the Kettle and its work for the last forty years. More importantly, perhaps, it also seeks to hide the fact that there is already a considerable amount of mental health housing in Grandview through organizations such as Coast Mental Health — housing that has been organized and operated without any of the controversy that has surrounded the KettleBoffo tower project.
The organized opposition to the Boffo Tower has made it clear — over and over again — that they support the Kettle’s expansion with 30 supportive housing units. Moreover, they have worked hard to suggest alternative financing mechanisms that would allow the Kettle to expand without being in thrall to a for-profit developer.
The community has made it clear they do not want a massive high-rise on the Drive. It is about time we told the Kettle and Boffo that we want money spent on mental health services not on propaganda for a big lie.
This is Dylan Thomas reading his own poem — “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” — about the death of his father.
Not only is this a profound poem about life and death, but much of its strength comes from the villanelle form, a form that is notoriously hard to write well but which suits this piece down to the ground.