Fame Is Being A Good Person
— There’s really is no other way to look at it. So why do so many hero-worship for the wrong reasons?
I noticed lots of folks replied “God.” But I’ve gotta’ hunch they only said “God” ‘cause they knew He, She or They held a perpetual knack for always peepin’ over their shoulders.
My first thought was:
Why even try to answer such a question? Usually, I just skip over online stuff like this. Then I thought:
Why not see what such a list would be like and who’d be on it. I once made a list of women where kissing became touching and so forth, why not list those who were famous and held influence over me, and why.
So here’s my article.
Generally, I’ve never been a hero-worshiper or name-dropper. Even though in varying realities I’ve met several famous people, I’ve never much made a big deal of it. But I can also attest I’ve certainly met more than my fair share of celluloid hero types. I might even be one — lol!
Here’s what I came out from this project.
I’ll start with the very famous journalist I.F. Stone, and his wife. I met them in their home just outside Washington DC. He had a fascinating chess set and I coaxed my way into getting a game going with him. But we didn’t get more than a few moves into the game before our talk turned intensely on politics, what with the war and the peace movement.
The project I was working on when I met I.F. Stone was as heavy as anything can get. At the time I was an integral member of the GI Resistance Movement and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. While on active duty I started up an anti-war newspaper at Fort Devens called The Morning Report which led to the creation of The Common Sense Bookstore, essentially a coffeehouse. When successfully discharged as a conscientious objector I continued working at the bookstore as the war raged on.
Through the coincidence of national and international GI coffeehouses communicating with each other I discovered a large pattern of our soldiers were disappearing under what was called TDY status (temporary duty assignment). Also, there were reports of planes, ships and equipment on the move. This meant the soldiers were carried on the books as being present in one place but in reality they had been transferred into the war zone.
I realized Richard Nixon was secretly re-escalating the Vietnam War and I was one of the very few people who knew. I even had documentation to prove, plotters at Hickham AFB had targeted Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor for a resumption of bombing. I knew tens of thousands of people were gonna get slaughtered! It was a tough reality to carry, and tears greeted me during my quiet moments.
Izzy Stone helped both with media and congressional connections. He put me in touch with some great contacts. My purpose, my role, was to try and get Congress to block Nixon from expanding the war. He also put me in touch with the great folksinger Phil Ochs (R.I.P.) who also helped. In DC, it’s like being on a never-ending trail of finding somebody who knows somebody who knows the person who can help you. Of course, this works best when money is not involved!
I had a couple opportunities to hang out with Ochs in a Georgetown pub — those were creative moments. He talked about songs he had written, and why he wrote them. He also listened in awe about the work I was doing, our projects what active duty soldiers were experiencing from the effects of the war. We both agreed it was they and the veterans who helped the most, who put the most on the line, to end the immoral Vietnam War.
During this time, I met a parade of heavy government people. Each of them seemed shocked that a young guy like me was carrying a briefcase in possession of some of the most sensitive information in the nation. I’d often get winks and subtle acknowledgements my info was true. But nearly all of them — except for Senator Mike Gravel — threw their hands into the air and sashayed, “there’s nothing I can do.” Gravel at least tried. He directed his military attaché to set up a meeting with me and Senator Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee so I could present my documentation.
But it was too late. My mission ended in failure while I was in the sitting room adjacent to where the committee was meeting in executive session. While waiting to present my case an aide entered the chambers with an early edition of The Evening Star. It showed a headline that read: Four Russian Ships Sunk at Haiphong. This made my meeting with the committee moot. With the sadness of tears, I returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Also during a 1972 anti-Vietnam War protest I was one of 200 people arrested for forming a wedge to try and gain access into the Pentagon. While arrested I got to meet and hang out with Dave Dellinger of The Chicago Seven. He was one of the leaders of our March On The Pentagon, sponsored by The People’s Coalition for Peace & Justice.
Over many years, I’ve talked with and corresponded with a couple dozen well-known journalists; a couple dozen US senators and members of Congress, a few governors, a whole lotta mayors and even presidential candidates.
In the 1988 campaign I traveled with Jesse Jackson all over the back woods of New Hampshire, up to the paper mills of Jay, Maine and through the bowels of eastern Massachusetts cities . As a state representative I endorsed Jesse for president. In his 1984 campaign, I was his typist and drove in the last car of the motorcade. So not only have I heard dozens of his speeches, I typed many of them. Unquestionably, Jackson was one of America’s greatest all-time orators.
When I introduced legislation in the NH House of Representatives to study drug legalization in 1989, the well-known writer and lecturer Jack Herer, author of the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, came to testify at the hearings. He brought with him a band of West Coast Merry Pranksters who caravanned all throughout the state highlighting the importance of my legislation. Herer and I were interviewed on Boston AM-talk radio shows. The overall energy blossomed to a point where I later ran for Congress calling for drug legalization.
Not winning my bid for Congress freed me from politicians and enabled me to return to Cambridge where I became a Harvard Square street musician — a step up! Who knows who I met while doing this. To me, then, everybody was famous!
In the early ’90s, for the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, I directed a drug legalization conference at the Harvard Law School. Not only did the law school co-sponsor it, but so also did Harvard’s Medical School, The Boston Ethical Society and the grassroots pro-marijuana lobby group Mass Cann, organizers of decades of annual hemp freedom rallies on the Boston Common.
I landed the US drug czar Lee Brown as the keynote speaker. I had some interesting conversations with him and managed to pull off a few chip shots for my side of the argument. Also a keynote was Emmy Award Actor Michael Moriarty. He was quite the character and we had some interesting communications.
A speaker I really enjoyed meeting from this conference was the famous police detective and drug legalization advocate Ralph Salerno. He helped break up the French Connection, of which a famous movie was made. Man, did he have stories to tell!
Famous academics I’ve met include Howard Zinn, Thomas Szasz, Donald Land and William Scrimshaw and others I can’t even remember as I once had a freelance transcription business in Harvard Square. I also got to meet the famous author Robert Parker who wrote a detective series of books with Metro Boston as background. His writing became inspiration for ABC’s well-known Spencer For Hire television series.
Robert would often be seen pouring down a Guinness or few at the Plough & Stars pub in Cambridge, along with other notables like John Lincoln Wright of the Beacon Street Union or Mark Sandman of Morphine. Although the bar has changed in recent years, many famous people still can be seen either hiding or displaying their Guinness at the Plough! When the Plough closed they’d squeeze out Last Call into next door pub called The People’s Republik (formerly Drumlins). Some would stretch down to The Cantab for Little Joe Cooke.
Of course, nearly everybody hero worships players of The Big Leagues. I even have a reasonably good baseball card collection, but I’m not hard-boned about it. I get cards in small-time auctions or try to find deals here and there in order to pass them on to my heirs. I collect more for the joy of building a quality collection, rather than for flipping cards into sale and profiteering.
I once organized a really big sports event that was full of famous people. It was called All Ages Day and it featured Johnny Bucyk, Terry O’Reilly, Tom Fergus, Doug Keans and lesser known Bruins. It all happened when my friend who worked at the WHEB radio station said he had a connection to get the Bruins. I said, “Great, let’s pull an event together: You get the Bruins and I’ll organize the town!”
With radio announcements, posters and leaflets, raffle prizes organized and a huge banner hanging over the main street everybody knew the Bruins were coming to Portsmouth. But I discovered three days before the event my friend’s connection had slipped through the cracks: We had no Bruins! What a predicament … talk about a wantin’ to wiggle with nowhere to go!
So I looked at my friend and said, “why not!” I grabbed the telephone and dialed directory assistance. I asked for the Boston Garden. I dialed the number and generically asked for the public affairs official who represented the Boston Bruins. Lo and behold, within a minute, I was talking directly to the great National Hall of Fame hockey player, Johnny Bucyk.
I had to quickly get over my “wow, I’m actually talking to you” moment, and said: Johnny, I hate to break this to you, but I’ve got a serious public relations problem for The Bruins. I explained how my friend had a connection that unbeknownst to me had fallen through at the last minute. I explained I had organized the entire Seacoast New Hampshire community into expecting The Bruins would show up for a softball game in three days. I described the below paragraph to him.
All Ages Day was conceived: The Big Bad Boston Bruins would come to Portsmouth, NH and play a team consisting of nursing home residents, any regular people who wanted to play and lots of little leaguers. But the game was gonna be rigged so any time an All Ager got called out by an umpire, a young kid would run onto the field with a cream pie and clobber the ump. The Bruins would lose!
I think he was a bit taken back by ‘the Bruins would lose’ part, but he told me he absolutely loved the concept, he thought the plan was fantastic and he wanted to try and pull it off for us. Naturally, he also explained it was short notice. To that, I replied, “Johnny, all I can do is gulp, and profusely apologize.” He replied, “Things happen. Don’t worry about it.” He asked who my friend’s connection was. It turned out it was a legit connection but there was simply a breakdown of communication.
As fate would have it, Johnny Buyck was known as “The Chief.” He came through. He showed up with a half-dozen actual Bruins and some minor-level hockey players. The game was on. I said, “Johnny, what can I do that would be special for you guys? You need anything?” He said “all we want are two cases of Budweiser pounders. That’ll do it. Our sponsors will take care of the rest.”
Not many folks can say “I bought two cases of beer for a Hall of Famer.” But I can!
So it all happened. The folks were bused in from the local nursing home, little leaguers came in droves with parents. The stands were full, there were picnic blankets, balloons, the smell of hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries and onion rings. It all held the air of a game on with everyone festive and wearing a smile. Genuine fun for all ages — a special kind of day!
As predicted, the mighty Bruins never stood a chance. Worse, for them, the kids who were running onto field with pies meant for umpires instead targeted the jolly and playful Bruins. Even worse, honey bees aimed for the whipped cream and the Bruins were getting stung left and right. When the second inning finished they came rushing off the field. Johnny approached, cautioned me about the bees. He said, “We’ll still let you win, but: No more pies!”
That was a quite a day with some well-loved famous people. A tip of my hat to Johnny and his Bruins! They fit right in with the motto of my softball team which played for the local nursing home: For The Folks!
A few years later I met and talked with Bobby Orr at a Ted Williams Store promotion event at Chestnut Hills. I got to chat with him and he signed a Happy Birthday autograph for my father on the famous photo of him horizontal after scoring the winning goal. That was a very nice moment.
My next famous sports person was Rosie Black of The Queen & Her Court, the world-famous softball pitcher. When she performed in my community I was a local sports correspondent and also a player in the local league. When I faced her at the plate I was hellbent on sending a line drive base hit into right field. I even held a vision for doing this.
But when I swung at her first pitch, laughter broke out everywhere as I clobbered the crowd-pleasing madcap grapefruit painted to look like a softball. No more ball … splatter everywhere, all over me, the catcher the umpire and home plate. In my shocked reaction, while keeping my smile I quipped, “Why me? I was gonna get a hit!” She smiled back, then smirked, and said, “Next batter!”
I trudged out of the batter’s box pretending all was well, but, silently, I was complaining to myself, “Damn! I got the damn grapefruit!” I really wanted to get a base hit off the Queen and I had convinced myself it was going to happen before I stepped into the batter’s box. So it goes!
Along the way in life, I’ve also connected with famous musicians like Willie Nelson, Bo Diddley, Roger McGuinn, Bonnie Raitt, Leonid Bernstein, Adrian Barber, Jamie Brockett, Nina Simone, Peter Wolf, Little Joe Cook, Tom Scholz and many of the greater Boston musicians.
But of my many famous moments, I think the one I most enjoyed the most was when I got to board the original Greenpeace ship, The Rainbow Warrior, when it docked in Portsmouth, NH in support of The Clamshell Alliance anti-nuclear group. Meeting her courageous crew, eating in the galley and hearing their stories was very moving.
[As a side note, Rest In Peace to NH Democratic House Minority Leader Renny Cushing, a founder of The Clamshell, who passed away this past week.]
Oh, yeah, one more famous and rare moment. It was 1979 and I didn’t get to meet him or shake his hand, but I did get to see some fairly close-up images of The Pope when he visited The Boston Commons. My two friends and I intellectually had challenged each other. So we ate some LSD, went to see The Pope and debated religion all day long. It was a big moment in our lives.
This especially became so when The Pope’s attendants began serving the Eucharist, a giant production in and of itself. As this was happening, the darkened skies exploded, then opened with torrents of rain challenging everyone wearing their Sunday best. But it seemed like we three were immune and dry, probably from having eaten the acid. It seemed pagan-like, almost as though we were in a black and white Ingmar Bergman film.
The Famous One I’ll Meet Next
I guess, finally, given my age and quality of my health, next on my list of famous people to meet, will be the always present but ever elusive God who, over the years, has peeped over my shoulders showered me with kindness and mighty fine forms of karma.
On balance, I’ve never harmed anyone. I’ve lived a gifted, charmed-like life where tragic scenes of horror and pain have thankfully always eluded me. I attribute this good fortune to my lifelong pursuit of staying down there with the small folk, being committed to the kind of people who actually are not famous, those who live in the struggles of day-to-day while doing their best to maintain a smile and a cohesion of and for family.
I think the irony of it all is the best fame of all is no fame at all. Thoughts of a simple existence both cherished and nourished with each of us living in the spirit of the other. In the end, I guess it’s best to only let God worry about fame!