Monday, May 21, 2012

50th Reunion Essay

In 2010, our Exeter Class of 1960 had its fiftieth reunion. Hard to believe all those teenagers had turned into retirees. In connection with the reunion report, I submitted a piece about our classmate Charlie, some excerpts from which follow:

I met Charlie at Exeter and got to know him well at Harvard. We roomed together sophomore year, and his parents welcomed me into their home in New York. He was one of the most genuinely nice, brightest, and most talented people I ever knew. He was also one of the most curious, which may ultimately have led to his demise. In 1973 Charlie was a 31-year-old writer and filmmaker, who had the great misfortune to stumble upon evidence that the American government, in the waning days of the Nixon-Kissinger regime, was involved in the overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government of Chile.

Somebody decided that Charlie had to be killed. A few days after the coup that brought the military dictatorship of Pinochet to power, Charlie was dragged from his house by soldiers, taken to the soccer stadium where thousands of political prisoners were being held, and executed.

The following poem was found among Charlie’s things in Santiago by his father, Ed Horman, who later gave it to me. From the appearance of the manuscript, Charlie had not yet put it into final form when he was murdered in September 1973. It’s called “Brain Bust at David’s.” It is published here with the permission of Joyce Horman:

Brain Bust at David’s  (Santiago, July)
[copyright Joyce Horman]

In those days,
you could get 10 years or more
for holding brains.
More than a pound, and
they had you for dealing.
We used to talk about it:
what we would do,
if they ever came.
Could you swallow your brains in time?
Could you throw them out
the window?
would there be men out back,
behind the garbage cans,
waiting for the brains
to come
whistling through the air,
all smeared with fingerprints?
Could they
pin your brains on you, for sure?
In court?
That is, if they
weren’t actually in
your possession at the time–
ex cerebro, as they say in
the law books?
or was it best to just
play dumb?
Unmistakable. The dogs
whining and snuffling in the hall.
Mumble of voices. They had us cold.
David ran for the back room.
“Stall them,” he shrieked.
They were beating on the door
with leather gloves.
In a moment the door
would go.
In the back room, David
was prying his skull open
with a screwdriver. Only
seconds to spare. “Give me
a hand with this,” he said.
I gave the screwdriver a shot
with my hammer. “That should
do it,” I told him.
As they tore the
door off its hinges, we flushed
the brain into Sheepshead Bay.
“Well,” said David, as his eyes
went out
“I guess we fooled em
this time.”
The Brain Squad
had the dogs on short, thick
steel chains. They made small
jokes as they went through the
closet and frisked us down:
“Penny for your thoughts!”
they said
“What’s on your mind?”
“He looks like a wise guy!”
They found David
in the back room
his legs
sprawled, and a long drool
coming out his mouth.
They put the light in his eyes.
They knew it was his place.
They had a few questions for him.
“What’s 2 X 2?” they grilled him.
“Who’s President?”
“Where’s China?”
“What’s the score?”
David looked at them and
blinked - - -
He answered: ! ! !
They knocked him around for a while,
They didn’t book him.

At Exeter, Charlie was the President of The Pendulum, our literary magazine, and many of us remember him as a promising writer. After Harvard, he worked for a time at the educational TV station in New York, and later for a documentary film company in Seattle. He worked on a number of thought provoking films, including Huelga!, a documentary on Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and Napalm, about an anti-Vietnam War protest in Redwood City, California, which was directed by his friend and filmmaking mentor, Don Lenzer. Napalm won the grand prize at the Cracow Film Festival. (“For what that’s worth,” I can hear Charlie say.)

Just recently Joyce shared with me some letters Charlie had written to Lenzer. The first is from January 1971:
“. . . even when I didn’t see much of you, you spent a lot of time in my head, advising, explaining, countermanding and indicting. That’s happened to some of the people I’ve known, that even when I haven’t seen them for long periods of time, they take up a kind of residence in my skull. Dave Nelson, whom you met a few times, has been there since high school. I haven’t seen him for a year or so but he’s there all the time–ironic, witty, insisting just with a glance that almost everything I do is bullshit. Reminding me that all there is that matters at all is the relations between one or two or three people and to get as much of that as I can before it all goes back to dust. . . .”

From November 1972:
“I’ve been totally unable so far to find some one to write for from down here; but I’ve gotten fascinated in a line of research. I’ve been reading the trial transcripts and talking to people about the Viaux case–an attempted coup against Allende when he was first elected before he took office, in which the head of the army was murdered. The details of the case are incredible. Very much like Z in the kinds of people involved. Small fascist groups, the sons of the rich, the generals, even Christian Democrats. For now I’m happy reading about it, but later, if I keep finding out interesting stuff, I may do a long, long piece on it almost novelistically getting into the details of their meetings and network.”

Later in the last winter of Charlie’s life:
“I’ve been thinking about coming back to the States, maybe in May. Probably by taking a crash one-week bus trip to Quito and flying to Panama. Then hitching to the states or flying to Miami depending on funds and energy. I have friends I’d love to see again in Mexico which might swing the balance to hitch hiking; but also eager to actually get back for a visit at least to the East, see my parents, you, other friends in New York. . . . Revolution is a great spectator sport, but there are limits on how much a gringo can get in on it. A few have; but for most, including me, there are definite barriers of culture, language, and being associated through birth with the enemy (even though people try to get into an internationalist mood, it still persists). I’m also just ready to see the States again. See what’s happening. Catch the late show. That mood may shift; but as of now, I’m planning to come back in a few months. . . .”

Rest in peace, Chaz.

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