Long before A Thousand Bridges was published in hardcover by Walker Books NYC, I wrote a novel about The Revolution in America during the Vietnam war.

     I started writing it in 1970 while hitchhiking home from the National Students Association National Conference at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I had been a field representative for the NSA traveling and speaking on educational reform at most major colleges in the West.

     I had been, earlier that day, kicked out of The Revolution by a panel of NSA leaders after helping create a guerilla theater-style event to give those leaders a chance to see what it was like 'on the streets and campuses' instead of in their headquarters in Washington D.C.

     They were not happy with us. One panelist said, "Using guerilla theater was a good idea but you should've informed us first."

     Then they wouldn't have looked so bad.

     So, hitchhiking down from Minnesota to Florida with my guitar and backpack, I began creating this novel. I've title it Gideon 1969.

     Fifty years ago.

     I finished writing this novel in 1972 and have decided not to revise it anymore than updating some dates in the preface. It's a madness I still remember and may not translate over time.

     I'll be publishing it a couple of chapters at a time.

     I hope you enjoy it and I'll use your input to decide whether to continue.

     50 years is a long time. I'm getting old and impatient.

Thanks,

     Michael McKinney

GIDEON 1969

 

 

Dedicated to the students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rise up, children, rise up.

 

“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education--and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.”

— Ivan Illich

 

    Ivan Illich published his Deschooling Society in 1971. I had met him a year earlier in St. Paul Minnesota.

     My friend Bert and I were sitting in a steady light rain at our table outside the ELF bus on the Macalester College campus. It was August, 1970, and we had just been kicked out of ‘The Revolution’ by a panel of leaders from the National Students Association (still stinging from its recent exposure as a CIA front until 1967).

     We had been kicked out of The Revolution for fomenting a guerilla act at the NSA Plenary Session the night before, mixing members of the ELF bus with some of the Merry Pranksters, a group associated with Ken Kesey. I had met Kesey earlier in May of that year at the very first Earth Day in Eugene, Oregon.

     Those of us who had been on the road, on campuses and in college towns such as Berkeley, California, during that tumultuous Spring had had our fill of rioting, of tear gas and clubbings and watching protesters being beaten down by waves of police officers on horses and on foot.

     The leaders of the NSA, as are most of the ‘leaders’ of the world, were from the ‘upper crust’ - notoriously well-tended in their world of education and politics and had never been ‘on the streets’. So, we decided to show them what that felt like to those of us who’d been immersed in it.

     At the NSA Plenary Session at Macalester College, where hundreds of young students sat at tables festooned with state names and placards, the leadership was shouting their ‘Get out in the streets and kill a pig’ rhetoric, though they had no idea what changes adrenalin and violence made in human behavior. A handful of us had worked out a short program on street violence and played it out at that Plenary Session.

     One of our members had gone to a local thrift store earlier in the day and bought a blue suit, white shirt and tie. He began our skit by commandeering a microphone from one of the tables, where he began shouting Right-Wing babble at the podium. Within seconds the leaders began shouting back. The hundreds of students rose to their feet in outrage. They shook their fists and screamed at him. At that moment two more members of our little troupe ran up and tackled him, pulling him to the floor for his safety.

     Then, another of our people turned off all the lights in the auditorium, where another manned the single spotlight from above and began scanning the room with its bright light. The rest of us ran through the room pointing fingers and saying (never shouting) “Bang.”

     In less than five minutes there was absolute pandemonium in the auditorium with students running from the room, hiding under tables and getting into fights with other students. At that point we turned the lights back on and left the room.

     A Mister Sunshine Cartoon had been playing along a side wall during the event.

     The next morning we were called into the office of NSA leadership where we were reprimanded and kicked out of the NSA and the ‘Movement’. It didn’t help that they also discovered that, though they’d hired me the year before at the University of New Mexico campus to join the road team on the ELF bus, they’d never asked which college I’d attended. When I told them that morning that I barely made it out of high school and went from there straight into boot camp in 1966 they were horrified.

     So, in the light rain of the pre-dawn August morning at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, Bert and I sat at our table with stacks of ELF pamphlets and fliers lying in pools of water while we worked our way through a big bottle of cheap wine and contemplated our next move. We watched a stork of a man walk toward us in a drooping pinstripe suit at least one size larger than his frame. He carried a very old suitcase bound with a single leather strap and he was soaked to the skin. We asked if he’d like a drink of wine and he nodded, sat beside us and said, in a very thick Eastern European accent, “Have you seen a taxi?

     We said no and he shook his head, placed the suitcase on the wet sidewalk and helped us finish the bottle while he waited. Then he introduced himself as Ivan Illich, and said he’d been brought to the convention to present his radical discourse on modern education. He waved back toward the college and said, “Those people are crazy. They didn’t listen to a single thing I said. They only wanted to talk, not listen.”

     His taxi arrived and a very wet Ivan Illich stood, shook hands with us and invited us to come to his villa in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

     “Leave this,” he said. “Come stay with me in Cuernavaca!” Then he walked away. And that was the best advice we’d received in a long time.

     I began writing Gideon that same day as I hitchhiked back down to Florida. It was a stormy day in late August, 1970.

 

 

 

 GIDEON

 

 

 

     I talk a lot. I’m always telling crazy stories that no one believes. When I tell people I knew Gideon Holley, they smile. Everyone my age claims they knew him. It’s a little like Woodstock ‑ we were all there.

     Every year since 1969, a new story emerges about Gideon Holley and his two friends. Someone spots them in the Himalayas one year, the next they're seen on a sailboat in the South Seas, somewhere near Pago Pago. This year, for the Fiftieth Anniversary of that fateful year, Time and Newsweek both ran stories about Gideon, Sarah Ash and J. Hubbard. According to the article, the three fugitives sent a letter offering to give themselves up in return for leniency. I guess, now they’ve passed retirement age, they’re probably the last holdouts.

     In the year 2010, Rolling Stone magazine ran a series of thoughtful articles titled, Looking Back at the Sixties. Writer Nat Hentoff wrote in one installment, The two greatest counterculture hoaxes of the Sixties were 1) That Paul McCartney was dead and 2) That Gideon Holley was still alive.

 

     I spent four years wandering aimlessly through the late Sixties and early Seventies, creating problems then guiltlessly running away from them. I met Gideon Holley during that time. I was destined to run into Gideon more than once in 1969. I love that word. Destiny. It lets me believe I had no choice.

     The last time I saw Gideon was on a cold December night at a state park in Northern California. He had just escaped from a hospital in San Francisco where he’d been kept after almost dying in a shootout. I had tried to visit him there, but couldn’t get past the floor nurse or the cop at the door. The nurse was there to keep him from dying, and the cop was there to keep him from getting away.

     Gideon was hot property in San Francisco.

 

     Our meeting in the state park wasn’t planned. As strange as it seems, it’s not uncommon to run into someone you know time and again on the road. Ask anyone who’s done a lot of traveling. You may leave a friend in Macon, Georgia, only to meet him or her again on a tiny mountain road in Tonasket, Washington. You’ll say goodbye again in Washington and see that same person three months later at a farmer’s market in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I don’t understand it, but that’s the way it is.

     As Gideon shared my campfire and my food that night in the state park, he introduced me to his friends, Sarah Ash and J. Hubbard. They had, just hours before, helped Gideon escape from the hospital, and all three were exhausted. Gideon’s arm was in a cast because of a bullet wound, and he looked ill. They sat around the fire and talked for hours as I poured soup and listened. I’ve based a lot of this book on those conversations. I’ve taken a great deal of liberty in expanding the things they told me.

     “I met you a couple of weeks ago,” I said to Sarah Ash there at my campfire. I doubted she would remember. It was a minor conversation, and she had been tired but polite when I’d asked if Gideon would be okay.

     “Oh, yes,” she said, her voice raspy in the cold air. “You came to the hospital. I remember you. You wanted to know about Gideon. You asked if there was anything you could do.”

     “Yes, that was me.” I felt important.

     Actually, I had seen her once before, at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. That moment in St. Paul was also the first time I met Gideon Holley, though he and Sarah weren’t together then.

     I’d stopped Gideon in a crowd to ask where I might get a co‑cola. He’d laughed.

     “Boy, I haven’t heard that in a long time,” he said to me. “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

     “No,” I’d said. “I’m from Florida.”

     “What part?” We discovered we were both from Florida, though from different parts of the state. There, we called every soft drink a co‑cola.

     I admit, I wasn’t very impressed with Gideon at the time. Of course, it could’ve been because he was with a beautiful girl who seemed very attached to him and I had a cheap guitar in a cheap case in my left hand and a worn‑out backpack in my right. I was wearing a clean shirt I had only moments before unrolled from my pack. Its wrinkles made it look like a relief map of the Rocky Mountains. The beautiful girl hanging onto Gideon’s arm only looked at me once. Her name was Carmen Woolsey. She didn’t seem very impressed with me, either.

 

Carmen Woolsey had taken Gideon to the Macalester Gym that day to watch a leading political speaker named Bob Rome give a speech on revolution. Sarah Ash was the opening act. She had been sent to speak at Macalester College by the Radical Speakers Bureau. The RSB was headquartered in Washington, D.C., just a few blocks away from the office of Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States.

     Sarah Ash stood five feet and seven inches tall. She had light, auburn hair that fell beneath her shoulder blades and floated in the slightest breeze like cornsilk. Her eyes were deep blue, the color of the clear, Caribbean Sea. Those eyes could go from bright to cloudy in seconds under fire. Sarah Ash was one of the few people in The Movement who could talk about social revolution as a long‑range plan. She could talk civil rights without getting lost in semantics and argue women’s rights without anger or apology.

 

     I was at Macalester College that day listening to a special program of political speeches because I had a ride promised me later that evening and I didn’t have money for a movie.

     Destiny.

     Sarah Ash was the opening speaker, and her cool logic was ignored by a crowd of wired‑up revolutionaries eager to hear Bob Rome, the celebrity from New York City. A pudgy man with a magnificent voice, Rome fired volley after volley of self‑righteous dogma at the students until they were on their feet, cheering. To be honest, so was I, though I don’t know why.

     One thing he said that has always stuck with me was, “Our place is not to ask why a Revolution, ours is to create a Revolution!” He really said that, honest‑to‑God‑cross‑my‑heart. Ours is not to reason why, from the radical left. I was there, sitting two rows behind Gideon Holley and Carmen Woolsey, though Gideon’s seat was empty. I may have been the only one in the whole screaming mob to see Sarah Ash stand and walk, head down, from the stage.

 

     When I talked to Sarah Ash at the hospital in San Francisco after Gideon had been wounded in the shootout, she looked even more defeated than she had looked that day she walked off the stage at Macalester College.

     Just before I’d arrived in San Francisco, Sarah Ash had finally been given permission to see Gideon, if she would submit to being searched first by a police woman. Gideon was being held by a presidentially appointed federal cop named Moranne. And Special Inspector Moranne was afraid Sarah might try to sneak a weapon in to Gideon.

     Inspector Moranne had been trailing Gideon across the country for quite some time and was sure he had enough on him to put him away forever. Moranne thought Gideon was a hard‑line revolutionary. The inspector had been assigned to follow Gideon Holley by Senator Everett Pillhauser himself. Senator Pillhauser was in charge of a secret branch of the federal government called the Bureau of Subversive Investigation. Pillhauser had personally picked the Inspector because Moranne had a reputation for “getting his man.”

     “Search away,” Sarah said to the Inspector that day in the hospital.

     I had never met Gideon’s former college roommate, J. Hubbard, and I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for it. He would’ve seemed out of place anywhere, not because of his physical appearance, which was totally bland, but because of his eyes. I know it sounds trite to say this, but J. Hubbard’s eyes were like long‑burning coals.

     It was as if someone had made a photo collage by cutting out the eyes of Albert Einstein and pasting them to the cartoon face of Charlie Brown. When J. Hubbard spoke he made me nervous. When he didn’t speak it was even worse. His stare came out of the dark beyond the fire like a beacon that night in the state park as I listened to Gideon Holley and watched Sarah Ash.

     J. Hubbard stood five feet and three inches in leather wingtips and looked like a child, except for his eyes. In the mysterious ways of friendship he and Gideon were locked together. The things that made me shiver caused Gideon to slap himself and laugh out loud.

     I still think of J. Hubbard sitting on a log in the icy night, breathing steam as firelight bounced his shadow around the small clearing.

     To anyone else these are just stories. To me, they bring back sharp, clear pictures of a time of instinctive insanity; a time that has since been so examined, cleaned and retouched that I don’t recognize it when I read about it. I sit up late to watch a PBS special about The Sixties, and feel no connection to the times. To hear it re‑told, we were so consciously moral, so united and so committed. Memories are a strange thing. What I remember is chaos, and a desperation that created friends in an instant; a lifetime of love in an evening. I remember Gideon, but probably not the same way others do. So, I guess it really makes no difference if anyone believes my stories. Some of them are lies, anyhow.

     Sometimes people listen and say, “Haha. You should write a book.”  They’re very polite, bless them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t even listen.

 

     The meeting in that state park was my strongest memory, but I had seen Gideon once again, earlier, for a brief moment, in November 1969. We wound up in San Jose, California at the same time. He was holding a series of seminars on radical politics and I was there to attend a dome building workshop. I was writing an article on domes for the L.A. Free Press. Had I known I would be writing a book about him someday, I’m sure I could’ve thought of something monumental to say to Gideon. As it was, I said, “Find any co‑colas yet?”

     He looked at me for a second, then grinned. “Hey, buddy.”

     “Hey, Gideon,” I said, hoping people were noticing me.

     “Man,” he said, “you get around.”

     “You, too.”

 

     The main attraction at the dome building workshop in San Jose was Buckminster Fuller. Mr. Fuller was an old, bald man with eyes like fourth‑of‑July sparklers. He talked for nearly two hours and was much too intelligent to be a match for anyone there. One idiot even asked Mr. Fuller what role geodesic domes would play in the Revolution. Mr. Fuller only smiled. The idiot’s name was Gordon Cotton.

     Gordon Cotton was the president of Students in Defense of the Third World at Macalester College. He was twenty‑two and he was white. He had used SDTW funds to fly out to San Jose just to appear with Gideon for his interview with Rolling Stone, though he got no mention in the magazine.

     Gordon Cotton’s father, Grady, was vice‑president of Kellogg’s Exploratory and Experimental Foods Division in Battle Creek, Michigan. Grady had been in the same high school with Gerald Ford, a man who was later to become the first non‑elected President of the United States. It was his destiny. At the time Gordon Cotton asked Buckminster Fuller that stupid question, however, Mr. Ford was only a congressman.

     Mr. Fuller smiled. He invited us to come closer and see his models of geodesic domes. He said everything from the planet Earth to our scrotums was geodesic in structure. He told us there was no single point of stress to a geodesic dome and it only took one‑tenth as much heat to warm a dome, compared to a conventional home. I left that lecture knowing, no matter what else happened, I would someday settle down and build my own geodesic dome with solar heat and wind‑powered generators.

     I now live in Wewahitchka, Florida, a tiny town on the bend of the Florida Panhandle. I work for the power company and live in a trailer and tell crazy stories that no one believes.

 

 

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