It takes industrial-strength tranquilizer
M. Licht, "Industrial-Strength Tranquilizer," sung by The Austin Lounge Lizards on Highway Café of the Damned, 1988
Property may be theft, as Proudhon so trenchantly put it, but it's a rare anarchist who'd deny that yours is even less righteous than mine. Trouser pockets, however, as Don the Tailor asserted, ruin the line of pants, and formal handbags are a trifle de trop at demonstrations. Diligently pursuing the art of eternal compromise, Annie slipped her car key off the ring, buried the rest in her purse under the passenger seat, safely out of sight of anyone who might be tempted to relieve her of the burden of ownership, locked the doors and checked the hatchback. If she eased the key down into her jeans pocket, with a single folded double sawbuck just in case, you could hardly tell it was there.
The black flag with the encircled scarlet A was indeed flying as she walked towards the crowd but it was by no means alone. 'NO BLOOD FOR OIL' read the nearest, eight foot of sheet strung between broomsticks or something, as was the 'BRING THE ...' banner just being unfurled. Another had a huge, stylized marijuana leaf and the slogan 'LEGALIZE HEMP' which seemed more than mildly irrelevant, if unobjectionable on principle (but wait, let me tell you about substituting hemp for petroleum products ... did you know George Washington ... you can use hemp cloth for polyesters ... and then there's medical marijuana ... would you sign the initiative ...). Clearly the prettiest was one with a hand-painted quarter-arc four-color rainbow on light blue, curving around the single word 'PEACE' in white. Others were approaching the assembly was running a little late, to no one's surprise except perhaps the protestees but who knew what they thought and Annie could see the women of wilpf, including the dean of the protesting contingent, a veteran of the original suffragist crusades who had campaigned against World War I and saw no reason to stop now.
Largest, proudest and most elaborate was the famous 'WAGE PEACE' banner of the Bill Motto Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, proudly borne by anti-warriors who had earned their stripes in Vietnam or Korea or Normandy or the Philippines or even in Flanders field and returned to campaign against ever making those mistakes again. The national VFW, generally a rabidly pro-militarist bunch despite the shabby treatment their members were used to after demobilization, tried and failed to fling the Santa Cruz radicals out for making a fuss about Central American interventionism; but the pacifist kooks held ranks and won in court. Their membership overlapped with Vietnam Veterans Against the War and other activist groups, and they could absolutely be relied upon to witness against the spilling of uniformed blood. Well, sometimes they had to be asked: they knew, and so did every anti-war activist in town, just how much moral authority they brought to the gig, especially of course to a gig like this one, and they didn't like being taken for granted any more than anyone else ever does. The local press, who knew the cast of characters well, never tired of using them for visuals, and wouldn't consider it an official rally unless they showed.
Not that being official was entirely desirable, you understand, but certain rituals must be performed.
Annie was surprised by the number of people, over a hundred she guessed without much confidence, and equally surprised by how many she vaguely recognized and how few names she knew. Evidently the Tuesday rehearsal, at which everyone had been tickled pink when fifty people showed the circle had grown so wide you practically had to shout across it had not been the half of it. On closer inspection, many of the vague recognitions dissolved into prototypes, none the less reassuring for all that but slightly more effort to start a conversation with, and some of the names were skirting the bounds of memory, but the guy unrolling the nearest banner, now revealed as 'BRING THE TROOPS HOME ALIVE', she knew. He was Eric, the graybeard she had seen up on campus announcing the action in the first place. He didn't talk a lot at the meetings but people seemed to defer to him and he seemed to get things done; he made reports and she remembered he had agreed to get banners together. Annie suspected he only came to the meetings to be tactful. Anyway, he wasn't a young trickster, which made him, for her, easier to approach, and he seemed to be looking around like he wanted someone to help, so she went up to him.
"Hi," she said brightly, "Can I help?"
"Oh, hi," he replied from behind his shades. Annie thought she could see through to his eyeballs, but he was not quite catching her eye. Perhaps he was peering at her pineal. "Could you hold that a minute?"
"Sure," she responded obediently, and reached for the top of a pole. It was surprisingly difficult to control and she quickly grabbed it with both hands. At the other end was Luke, the old bald guy who'd also been at all the meetings. He seemed to be trying to hold his end straight and lean himself forward to proofread the front at the same time, which was a crucial confusion of rôles. Annie had to brace herself to keep her end up.
"Sorry," claimed the other, truthfully as if that were all that mattered, "I was ... shouldn't we have, you know, wind holes?"
Annie was baffled for a minute, and didn't even know that was a pun. Eric was lost in contemplation. Luke looked frustrated at playing flagpole.
"You know," he offered with smothering helpfulness, "Shouldn't we cut little bits out so that the air can flow through and we won't get sort of blown about like a sailboat?"
"Grhmmph," acknowledged Eric and moved back a step, bumping into a passer-by and apologizing almost under his breath. He stroked his goatee like some rive gauche dauber and pulled a Swiss Army knife out of his pocket. "I was just," he began to explain and paused, sighing, before regaining the strength to continue. "Just trying to figure out where to put them without getting in the way of the letters."
"Ah," said Luke supportively. That's giving him credit for intent; it came across as infuriatingly intrusive. Annie wondered what next. She stood silent.
"Hmm," admitted Eric.
It looked like things would work out but Annie was beginning to wonder what she was doing with the old dogs. Wasn't it time for a new trick? She smiled blandly. Luke stood, subdued. Eric ripped into the sheet, cutting two sides each of half a dozen triangles, so they flapped in the breeze. He stepped back to inspect and he saw that it was good. He nodded his approval at his handiwork.
"I don't know ..." Luke started, "That is, my back ...I probably ..."
He looked around for help. The crowd was coagulating into columns and generally preparing to march. The vets were assuming their place at the head of the column and various people were organizing around them. Reunion clusters were being herded into line. Shape and purpose were beginning to emerge. Luke looked concerned.
Eric folded up the knife and slid it into his vest pocket. Evidently it didn't feel right there, so he took it out and put it in his right pants pocket, and then shifted it over to the left side. That was satisfactory. He nodded.
"Here," he offered.
Luke turned over the pole with obvious relief and ostentatiously examined the banner from a short distance.
"It looks great," he said. "Nice job." He saw his wife waving at him and vanished to join her.
"Hmm, thanks, er, Ann," ventured Eric with a twist of question for flavor.
"Annie," she prompted.
"Yeah, Annie, thanks." He nodded and might actually have been looking straight at her, though eight feet was just too far to tell. "You OK with this?"
"Sure." It was good to have something to do. She didn't mind being seen, well, actually she rather fancied the idea, someone might take a picture, and she didn't have anyone in particular to rush off and talk with, and besides the banner gave her a good rôle to play, and we all need a good rôle when we are not quite sure what we are doing.
They stood there for a moment and then Eric called over to a young skinny guy with longish blond hair and a psychedelic tie-dyed T-shirt who was walking past.
"Hey, Eric, how's it going?"
"Good, good. Listen, could you ...?"
"Hey, no problem." They swapped positions. Eric turned to head off to whatever was next on his agenda and then recalled the amenities.
"Uh, this is Annie, um, Bobby, right, see you in a minute." And vanished up towards the front.
"Cool." Bobby had an engaging laugh. "Hi, Annie."
"Well," ventured Annie, who had actually thought about the subject, "Maybe if you go first, the people in cars will be able to see it. I mean, if we're going to be on the right-hand sidewalk, right? Going round three sides of the block, that's the idea, yeah?"
"Hey, good thinking. OK. Yell if I go too fast."
It was a little like learning to move in a three-legged race but they got it done. Annie found herself skipping to get in step, which seemed to stop the thing from bobbing up and down so much, but the wind-holes worked and they soon got it right. They took a place near the back of the column, which stretched out in an impressively long crocodile half-way up the street, all on the sidewalk nice and legal. Eric came striding back, in the roadway inspecting and favored them with a grunt of approval. A cop car drove by very slowly but otherwise unobtrusively. There was a uniformed policeman up at the corner and someone listening to him and nodding as the column took the hard right on 41st Avenue. No one else was watching.
There seemed to be a vacuum of attention but at least they were trying to fill it.
Oh well, thought Annie, here we go.