On a fine summer afternoon, my friend Eva and I were reminiscing about our younger days, and somehow wandered onto the subject of our past run-ins with Authority.
After hearing some of her adventures, I shared some of my own past personal experiences with the authorities from my somewhat colorful past. I did not share with her the recollections about humorous incidences and the related consequences which stretched from childhood to the present day. These innumerable harmless and minor adventures dealt with matters such as (too many) traffic violations or even escapades with my various weapons. Other events were touched on – misunderstandings with both media and law; disagreements with a Lutheran Bishop, the Catholic Church, Jewish Synagogues in my youth. In my early womanhood. I was involved in heated environmental protests, international police and spy networks, NASA, public heckling of soapbox speakers, union activism, the condom wars, and two serious threats of deportation.
Even being a chronic runaway in my teens – who was always caught by the police – was not dangerous. Actually those events seem humorous to me now when viewed from the viewpoint of the decades.
What I did share with Eva were about a half dozen serious run-ins with various national and international law enforcement agencies, which, quite simply and consistently, put me in danger of physical harm, prosecution, possible imprisonment, and even deportation. Suffice it to say, I was always totally exonerated. Eva was somewhat taken aback by my graver adventures, and asked many questions. Suffice it to say, because of her incredible insight, she clearly and directly saw through the motives of friends and others who were indifferent to the mischief our relationships brought to me. Several times, these people deliberately put me in harm’s way to save their own skins.
She seriously cautioned me against writing about these happenings, saying such serious business was not entertaining.
Eva, you are so right, I mused.
Upon reflection, however, one serious episode I underwent had its own ironic humor, even though the ensuing confrontation with Authority remains in my records to this day with both the FBI and the US Postal Service.
During the Eisenhower Administration, some of his cabinet members were not renowned for their ability to keep unseemly comments from the attention of the media and the Congress. The star of the show, to speak, was Ezra Taft Benson, Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture. Benson hated all minorities, independent women, unions, the underprivileged, the handicapped, the poor, or anyone who did not live up to his standards of what he thought of as true Americans. He ranted about anyone who was unemployed. Benson said that such a person was worse than lazy and deserved to be treated accordingly. After all these years, I forgot his exact words during one speech in 1956 or so in which he compared the unemployed to “lazy dogs” and explained the difference between “a good bird dog” and the lazy ones. The road to success, he said was with the working dogs, and was proud of being a member of the Bird Dog Society.
I was furious and wrote what I thought to the President, as well as my congressional representatives. Before my personal letters arrived, the media exploded about his remarks. So, Benson was mildly reprimanded by Eisenhower and both chambers of Congress. I believe the Senate vote of censure was 67-22. He wasn’t fired, mind you; however, he did curb his mouth a bit after the brouhaha.
After the censure vote, I gleefully sent out postcards to eight or so friends throughout the nation. At the time, my affectation was turquoise ink in my fountain pen. Very carefully, I addressed each postcard in neat, large letters and added the sarcastic title, Bird Dog Society under each recipient’s name. In large block letters, the back of the postcard read, quite simply: 67-22. Serves the dirty son of a bitch right! Then I signed my name. Of course, being well-educated, I had put my return address after the name.
One friend, then attending the University of Michigan, never received her card, so I sent her another in an envelope. We figured the house-mother in her dorm had simply destroyed it because of the language.
Well, not quite.
Soon afterwards, I got married and moved from Long Beach, NY to New York City.
About six weeks after the postcards were sent, my mother answered the doorbell and stared at two stern gentlemen, standing there and flashing their badges. Without any introduction, they demanded to know if I lived there. You must realize that my mother’s courage and outspokenness had enabled her to survive arrest in Vienna, Austria, when she defied the Gestapo in 1938. It never occurred to her to fear Authority in the Land of the Free.
She screamed at them, “This is America,” then slammed and locked the door in their faces. Unfazed, they pounded on the door, as my mother screamed uncontrollably at them. They soon called the local police. Eventually, the chief of police, a friend of the family, arrived. He reasoned with her until she finally opened the door and let the officers enter.
The two men were US Postal Inspectors. They showed their identification cards and explained I had used son of a bitch; words the US Post Office considered to be pornography! It was written on a postcard that was mailed out, and they were there to arrest me and take me to prison.
Mom, who had known nothing about the postcards, hysterically called me at work and put the inspectors on the phone. After listening to them, I agreed to come to my parents’ home and talk with them. I was told I faced certain jail time.
Two hours later, I arrived, but I was angry beyond reason. They were parked in a car in front of the house, and the chief of police was parked facing them. He waved cheerily to me. Then, seeing the look on my face, he jumped out, caught my elbow, and hissed quietly, “Just shut up and listen until they’re done. Your mother is agitated.”
Well, all right. I swallowed my anger, and we all walked in together. After the introductions, my mother and the chief were told to leave. They sat in the chief’s car.
The inspectors explained pornographic language on the back of an open postcard was a felony. I was told if a child or a person of faith had seen the postcard, the language would cause irreparable damage. “If you send pornography, it must be in first class mail, but we still have right to open it and arrest you without a warrant. The house-mother at the college turned it in to us. She was concerned the morals of the students would be compromised.”
We began to talk, and, realizing the seriousness of this situation, I began crying as I explained I had no idea of the enormity of my crime. The men became less stern and decided to show me mercy. Mom and the police chief were called in to witness.
As they dictated the words I had to write a detailed statement of apology about writing pornography and putting the innocent at risk. Then I promised in writing I would never again commit such a heinous crime.
They took my picture as a mug shot, then fingerprinted me. As soon as they were finished, my mother slapped me. Hard.
As they were leaving, one agent asked me what sporting event score I was so angry about. He assumed I was referring to a basketball game with a final score of 67-22.
I told them about Benson’s remarks and my reaction.
They looked at each other and could barely control their amusement.
“Don’t ever run for office,” said one as they left. “This incident will be used against you. People will prove you are an admitted pornographer.”
Son of a gun.