I REMEMBER YOU...and you...and you...and you...and you...and you...and you...too....

Albert Vetere Lannon

© Copyright 2019 by Albert Vetere Lannon

Fading Tombstone Rose blossoms at Wild Heart Ranch – Spring, 2019

As I struggle with incurable multiple myeloma, chemo-for-life, and the other afflictions of living into my 80s, I reflect on others in those eight decades who have passed on before me, many forgotten now except by their families. These are people, and places, who had some impact on me, who sometimes changed my life, those who really mattered even though they may never have known it. I often could not acknowledge their contributions; indeed, during my drinking days I cast a lot of them out of my life when they got too close to the fraudulent Real Me.

But now, sober over 30 years, I have a chance to relate what happened, to set the record right, to express my gratitude, and to introduce you to some extraordinary people. I’m not including immediate family or most of the extended family, except when necessary to set context. I’m doing it alphabetically, without ranking, although some played a bigger role in shaping me than others.

Context: I was born into a communist family; Dad, second-generation Italian American and a former seaman, was a full-time Communist Party official in charge of maritime work. His loyalty was less to Marxism-Leninism or the CPUSA than it was to the Soviet Union, where he, the seaman trying to drink himself to death, had been treated with respect. Mom came from Finnish stock; her immigrant father, a radical unionist, worked at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore and had been a copper miner during a failed IWW strike at Butte, Montana, years before. Aiti and Isa spoke little English, but raised their children in radical circles like the Red Sports International, where Mom won awards.

I have a sister six years younger, Karen, who has made her life and family in The Netherlands, and whom I am grateful to have a good and loving relationship today after the early years of resentment. I married three times, divorced twice, with two children, my estranged daughter Deirdre, and my loving son Erik. That I have a good relationship with Erik today is testament to my recovery from alcoholism and Erik’s huge capacity to forgive and forget, and to love. I have three grandsons, Danny, Justin and Hart.

I was a rebellious, fearful and angry child and, like Dad, often tried to be redder than red, eventually moving on from the harsh realities of True Believer politics. I quit high school to go to work (cleaning rat cages!) and became a committed unionist, devoted to my class roots, and believe that any self-appointed vanguard is just another boss. I had a 21-year career in the West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union, as organizer and Washington, DC, representative, and then as elected business agent and president of Warehouse Local 6. I lost that career and my marriage of 33 years with Elaine to alcoholism, hit bottom and sobered up in 1988, and became a labor studies teacher. I married another sober alcoholic, Mary, and that lasted ten years, with many wonderful times together until I had to move on.

Sober, I obtained my high school GED and began taking classes at San Francisco State University, knocking off a quick BA in Labor Studies (1991) and then another BA in Interdisciplinary Creative Arts (1993). I added a Masters in History in 1997 as backup to the always-threatened Labor Studies programs I taught for, at SF State and City College, and as tenured half-time department chair at Oakland’s Laney College. I retired in 2001 and moved to Tucson, having always loved the desert.

On an earlier archaeology project I met Kaitlin Meadows when both of us were married to other people and we became good friends. When the day came that we were single, romance blossomed and we pooled resources and live on a Sonoran Desert acre-and-one-quarter in a double-wide manufactured home. We call it Wild Heart Ranch and Kait has made the back half an oasis for wild things to make their home. She is a retired nurse, and a poet and artist who teaches creativity to her tribe of mostly-older women at Kaitlin’s Creative Cottage in town. With her at Wild Heart Ranch is where I hope to spend the last days of my life.

Here goes:

Amazonia: During the 1990s Mary and I did a lot of traveling, including a visit to the Galapagos Islands and then deep into the Ecuadorian Amazon. It was off-season and we “camped” in the jungle out of La Selva Lodge. Standing in the jungle, I felt that if I stayed in one place for an hour, it would take me and have me forever. Lemon ants protecting a small tree’s turf, jaguar tracks, piranhas, howler monkeys screeching in the canopy, caimen on the hunt at dusk, macaws perching on shoulders, 100-pound rodents climbing out of the river to pee so not to attract parasites -- my intellectual belief that “it’s all connected” was made gut-real there.

Norman Ambrosini: In the mid-1970s I was based in Salinas, California, working for the International Longshore & Warehouse Union’s Local 6, servicing several plants and trying to organize new ones. One of the factories was Nestlé Chocolate, where there was a lot of distrust and apathy fostered by the Swiss-based World’s Largest Food Company. We succeeded in several efforts to call the company to account and as a result, the lab employees joined the union. Skip Ambrosini became their Shop Steward, and he and I became after-hours drinking buddies, often at his home over the hill in Carmel Valley. He had a son, Tom, who did a wonderful caricature of me on one of my annual hikes to fast and detox.

Fred Andrews: Fred was the Local 6 Steward at Heath Ceramics, a Sausalito company owned by two sort-of left-wing autocrats. The workers, many of them still living the hippie lifestyle, chose the union to temper Brian and Edith’s outbursts, and it seemed to be working. I was assigned to service the facility, and it was a good fit. Fred worked well together with me, and the job became a little pleasanter for the employees. Fred owned a little old house in the heart of the Mill Valley redwoods, refusing to sell as multi-million-dollar “country” mansions rose around him. He bicycled to work, and was a truly gentle soul, often using the threat of me and my confrontational ways to extract concessions from the owners.

Marie Burke: I had a crush on my older cousin Marie Avellino from the time I was seven years old. We were living in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in a big Vetere Family house with the Avellinos just a few blocks away. Then we moved back to New York City, and we all grew up, and I missed most of Marie’s life, her kids, her abusive first husband, until, remarried to Mike Burke, they set up housekeeping in Victorville, California. That was on the road to some of my hike/detox desert destinations and I visited often. Marie had had a stroke and was pretty much housebound, with younger husband Mike taking wonderful care of her, and later of her disabled sister Kathy as well, cooking and cleaning – made difficult by Marie’s huge collection of porcelain figures covering just about every surface. The Vetere Family, and Marie exemplified it, extended unconditional love to all family members without reservation. You might not see someone for 20 years and it will be like you were hugging yesterday.

David Castro: Poet, junkie, revolutionary, thief, ex-con, lover, fugitive, explorer, best friend – I have written extensively about Dave, who was shot and killed by allegedly crooked undercover Drug Enforcement Agents in San Francisco in April, 1979. The story was that Dave, a heroin addict, was dealing confiscated cocaine for the DEA agents and skimming, so they set him up and blew him away. What I learned from my years of friendship and subsequent research is that we never really know someone, that there are many facets to all of us and we rarely see them all. My records requests to the DEA and San Francisco Police Department have, after months, still not been answered.

Marian Cuca: Marian died of polio in 1953 when she was 14 years old at the left-wing Camp Wyandot upstate New York. I worked as the campcraft counselor there the following summer. We met from time-to-time in left-wing youth circles and at Hootenanny concerts, but were never close. Her parents published her diary in 1956, and I was touched by her mention of me and my aspirations as a poet: At our club meeting Albie read a poem he wrote about the spring. There was one part in it where he states that animals get excited in the spring. We were all in hysteria. He’s really a great kid. It was my best review ever.

Joe Duran: I worked as an apprentice painter when I was 18 at the Parkchester Apartments in the Bronx. Joe was, as I recall, of Native American descent, and was the Hudson Painting and Decorating Company’s sole paint mixer. He had been in the leftist movement but had left it, and I was still at that time, with my father just out of prison, a True Believer. We argued, but Joe never attacked me, never wrote me off as hopeless. When I married he gave me a handbook on paint mixing, inscribing it “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It took me a while to realize how right he was.

Keith Eickman: Keith was probably the most important person in my 21-year career as a union official, and after. Advisor, protector, surrogate father when needed, and friend, he advanced me from angry young activist to seasoned leader. Keith had been a communist, but was expelled during one of the party’s regular purges for “white chauvinism.” His crime: disagreeing at a union meeting with his best friend, Leroy King, who was black. He survived that, successfully ran for Business Agent and then Secretary-Treasurer and President of Local 6, and, with Leroy King, successfully supported me as his successor to lead the local during the challenging Reaganomics era. Never coming down on me for things he considered out-of-line, like tossing a condom on the negotiating table and telling an employer, “If you’re going to screw us, at least practice safe sex,” he preferred gentle persuasion.

Keith was a true working class intellectual, with wide interests and a fascinating parade of local people invited to dinners at his house at the very top of Castro Street, often inviting me. That house had the last dirt road in San Francisco.. Through some quirk in local law that dirt road exempted him from some tax liability. He served for years on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, doling out tickets to Forty-Niner’s football games as a perk. When I left my second marriage, Keith opened up his home to me and I lived there for months before retiring to Tucson.

Nina Eickman: Nina was Keith’s wife of many years, but never lived in his shadow. A teacher and an awesome poet, she and Keith complemented each other. They had two children, Kent and Robin. It took a toll when Robin died of cancer at about age 50, and later Nina was also struck with a terminal malignancy. I recall preparing an eight-course Italian dinner for them during her illness, but the soup was too spicy for Nina, undergoing chemotherapy. Nina decided to make a final exit at the time of her choice, and with her loving husband’s help and support, did so. That profoundly impressed me and I am a believer in that right of choice. My ideal would be that at a certain age, maybe 75, or with a terminal diagnosis, people are automatically issued a prescription for a “peaceful exit pill” that they can use, or not.

Gerhardt & Hilde Eisler: Our East 12th Street apartment in Manhattan occupied the entire second floor, and Mom and Dad rented out a room to help cover the rent. That room, later to become my bedroom and snake den, was rented to a German couple, the Eislers, for several years. Moscow-trained Gerhardt was alleged to be the “number one Red Agent” by the media and had served as the Communist International’s official representative to both the Chinese and U.S. Communist Parties in the 1930s, leading purges. While Hilde was something of an aloof clothes buff with more fancy duds than the room’s sole closet could hold, Gerhardt always had smiles and cookies for Karen and I. Gerhardt was arrested and convicted of several Red-based immigration violations and on the eve of imprisonment stowed away on a Polish ship, the Batory, ending up in East Germany to run the state’s radio network. Hilde was deported and joined her husband, working as editor of Das Magazin, a popular monthly of news, fiction and photos. Das Magazin published my first short stories and somehow found a way to pay me modestly despite The Berlin Wall and the Cold War.

I was a rank-and-file Overseas Delegate for the ILWU in 1965; Leo Labinsky from Canada, Shoji Okazaki, on his first trip away from Hawaii, and I were supposed to go to the People’s Republic of China to observe and report on workers and their unions, but ILWU President Harry Bridges wrote a column in the union paper critical of the Chinese CP and the invitation was withdrawn. We went to England and Wales instead, and for a little over $100 I added trips to Berlin, Prague, Paris and New York. Shoji travelled with me and then went completely around the world. We thought we would stay in East Berlin, but some big convocation was on and there were no rooms so we lugged our bags back through Checkpoint Charlie and found a room. We did visit with Gerhardt, still smiling and happy. He gave us some currency, advising us to spend it before crossing back, and I bought, for some dumb reason, a zither that I never learned how to play. That, and a bottle of wine.

David Gans: I met Dave when Elaine and I first moved from New York to San Francisco in 1960. He was a college pre-med student, and we ran in similar left-wing youth circles. We, along with Erik and Lois Weber, became fast friends, sharing wine and music, staying up late at night drinking tequila to listen to new music like John Lewis’s European Windows, jazz with an orchestra, and then the Gil Evans/Miles Davis amazing Sketches of Spain. Dave married several times, the first to a young woman, Shirley, whom I had a secret crush on but who committed suicide by jumping out of a high window. He became a doctor and treated my daughter after a bicycle accident while an intern at San Francisco General.

Dave went into private practice in Los Angeles, with a secret room where he treated radicals on the run without charge. Dave popped a lot of pills, smoked a lot of dope, and was often a bit manic. Once while driving me someplace in LA, we came upon a scene of carnage where a driver had crashed into a line of movie-goers. Without hesitation Dave stopped the car, got out and rushed to treat the most severely wounded before emergency crews arrived. He ended up married to Tara and practicing in Arcata, where I visited a few times. He never lost his capacity for outrage at politicians, and stockpiled drug samples to give away free to those in need.

Lou Goldblatt: Lou was Secretary-Treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, with Harry Bridges as President, for 34 years. A young intellectual attracted to the workers’ movements of the 1930s, Lou provided much of the union’s creative thinking while Harry had the ability to move the masses. They were a brilliant team, but fell out in later years, diminishing both of them. They would sometimes take deliberately opposing positions just to piss each other off. While Harry remained close to the Soviet Union’s brand of communism, Lou would find merit in a critical Chinese position. Not exactly union business.

Lou was responsible for Saint Francis Square, a low-to-moderate integrated cooperative apartment complex in San Francisco’s Western Addition whose seed money came from longshore pension funds. Elaine and I lived there with our two children, as did Leroy King and many other union members. Another idea Lou had came when Kaiser Permanente, in his opinion, went off the tracks in its approach to medical care. Lou’s plan was a state-wide network of union-built and union-run clinics for union members. It attracted a lot of interest, but ultimately the unions were too tied to Kaiser or to insurance companies to actually work to make it happen.

Charles (Brother) Hackett: Brother Hackett, his preferred moniker, was a Local 6 member and a working class intellectual who sort of adopted me, watched out for me, advised me, and defended me from union critics, asking nothing for himself. He often volunteered to work in the Local 6 basement sorting old papers and organizing the chaotic record of the union’s history. He fancied himself somewhere on the left, and was quite hurt when his request for his FBI files turned up empty.

Carl Herrmann: I met Carl soon after moving to New York’s East 12th Street when I was 11. He was five years older, attending Stuyvesant High School. I had learned that I could get attention, even if negative, by catching and keeping snakes, so I bragged, “I’ve got a black racer.” Carl responded, “I’ve got a baby boa constrictor.” A baby boa! This was someone I needed to know! Carl became a serious herpetologist and I followed in his shadow, imitating his mustache (when I could), his pipe- and wooden-tipped cigar-smoking, his corduroy jacket, his reading of Freud and Jung, his love of jazz, going to Stuyvesant, everything I could. Carl introduced me and my teen-age blood brother Johnny-Boy DeMaria to snake-hunting in the Ramapo Mountains and the South Jersey Pine Barrens.

For Johnny-Boy and I it was an escape from the fears of our daily lives, Johnny from his alcoholic and abusive father, the last ice man on the Lower East Side; me from my communist father and his comrades’ arrest, indictment, trial, conviction and imprisonment for violating the Smith Act, “conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the U.S. Government by force and violence.” They were consumed with the Red Scare, with little time for me, and I feared and resented the government for doing that to us, and Dad for putting us in that position.

Carl was our surrogate big brother, and at age 13 I accompanied him and another neighbor boy on a snake-hunt to Okatee, South Carolina. Long story short: In addition to dodging a Ku Klux Klan lynching while trying to hitch-hike home with duffel bags full of reptiles, we had captured an 8’6” Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake -- close to the record -- that earned Carl a job at the Staten Island Zoo Reptile House. I spent my 13th summer there as a volunteer, after Dad’s arrest, cleaning cages and killing mice for the Thursday big feed. Carl amassed what had to be the largest private reptile collection in the city in the warm basement of his mother’s rooming house, including things that should never have been there – rattlers, cobras, kraits, mambas.

I kept a small collection in my room across the street, admonished by Mom to not have anything venomous, but they stayed out and never knew about the Southern Copperhead or baby Prairie Rattler Carl gave me. And things got away. Our block was a frequent item in the newspaper when one (harmless, thank goodness!) escaped snake or another showed up at a breakfast table. Carl had a big open-top packing crate with several Gila Monsters and their also-venomous cousins, Mexican Beaded Lizards, under a UV lamp. One of the beaded lizards disappeared. Several months later Carl, Johnny-Boy and I were walking down 12th Street and saw a small crowd by a police car. We investigated. The beaded lizard had turned up in a second-floor apartment across the street. Carl told the police it was an escaped baby alligator, and got it back.

I don’t remember what precipitated my break with Carl Herrmann, but I had a way of pushing people out of my life if they got too close, and Carl had gotten closer than anyone. He was also growing up, with girlfriends, trips with zoo curator Karl Kauffeld, adult stuff. So I didn’t know until years later that he had married, had four children, ran a reptile-centered pet business, and died at 39 of a blood cancer that might have been the same thing I have. I know that, in sobriety, I made an effort to track people down as part of the amends process and posted something about Carl on a genealogy website. I received a letter from his youngest son asking for memories. Carl died when the son was just four, so he really had few of his own. I recorded about 45 minutes of stories, and filled the other side of the tape with Stan Kenton’s music, the first jazz Carl introduced me to. I was thrilled to make my amends this way.

Homeland: When I retired I received a large final paycheck I was not expecting, and I thought, I can be prudent, or I can go to Africa and visit Oldupai Gorge, homeland of the human race. Kenya and Tanzania were amazing on a photo camping safari, charismatic megafauna closeup everywhere, but it was elephants that captured my heart. Big, bold, unlikely, improbable, elephants of all sizes, trunks and tusks and log-legs and flappy ears; elephants grazing, elephants pooping – 177 pounds per day – elephants swiveling to trumpet a warning that we were Too Close. Yeah, pachyderms push my pulse.

And the children, everywhere the children: waving, shouting – Heyyyyyyyy – running, laughing, cheerful joyous children. There are 12 million AIDS-orphaned kids in Africa. I cheer for the elephants, and I cry for the children.

Kenny Hyde: When Elaine and I married at age 19, I asked Kenny to be my Best Man. Kenny, a big African American – Negro was the word then – was a friend, also of the left, and his presence would likely piss off some of my relatives who came to the wedding. That negative attention thing again. Kenny was happy to do it, so I was too. Elaine’s cousin Eileen took the Bridesmaid spot. We had also gone hunting together.

Once, for a one-day doe season upstate New York, we took the last bus to Wallkill and hitchhiked at midnight to what was still called Briehl’s Farm, a retreat for leftists with rooms for rent in a country setting. We didn’t have money for a room, but had dressed really warmly. We caught a lift with some night-poachers, and trudged down the dirt road to a meadow where we could watch for house lights going on in the morning. We huddled in the snow and Kenny suddenly muttered a curse and said, “We’re surrounded!” He was right. In the moonlight we could see perhaps a dozen curious skunks around us. We didn’t move, and eventually they faded away. There was a lot of shooting that morning, but neither of us scored, and Kenny came down with a bad toothache.

I lost touch with him when Elaine and I followed my folks to San Francisco in 1960, but tracked him down years later doing my amends work. Kenny and his wife were in North Carolina, retired and happy. I apologized for using him the way I felt I did at the wedding, but he replied that he was really proud of being my Best Man, that there was nothing to apologize for. He was a big man in many ways.

For me, growing up on the left brought some positive results along with the fear and anger. Karen and I were consciously raised without racial bias, and African American and Latino comrades routinely sat at our tables. But that, it seemed, did not apply across-the-board. Once, at a “gathering” – party was too frivolous a word for the perilous ‘50s – an argument began over using the “n” and other racist hate words. Richie Perry, white adopted son of Dad’s black codefendant Pettis Perry, stood up against a dozen middle class Washington Heights young lefties, and I joined him. To my amazement most of the young red diaper babies defended their use of the forbidden words, and the gathering broke up quickly. I know that Elaine, my Puerto Rican fiancé-to-be, was crushed, believing that the young left was a place of refuge from the everyday injuries of open racial prejudice she endured.

Philip Jenkins: Phil was a plant biologist at the University of Arizona, a big, shy, and retiring guy with a drinking problem. He attended the same meetings I did in Picture Rocks trying to get sober, and asked me to be his sponsor, to help him work through the 12 steps, and I agreed. He had a hard time, and secretly kept drinking, hiding it from me but only fooling himself. His wife kicked him out of their house, and his job forced him to retire, and he descended into what looked like alcoholic dementia. He never did complete the steps, but ended up in a string of assisted-living housing situations, evicted from several for fighting and other violations, before he died. I saw in Phil that alcoholism can bring worse things than death, inflicting untold pain on those who tried to love him.

Leroy King: On May 31, 1967, my St. Francis Square neighbor and ILWU International Rep Leroy King, ,visited our apartment at 9 p.m. Would I, he wanted to know, go to work for the union starting tomorrow? As an active union member and shop steward, I quickly agreed, even knowing that the warehouse master contract expired at midnight with a strike looming. My job would be to take care of a number of office worker contracts in units the ILWU had organized connected to Local 6 warehouses and factories. I would replace Dick Lynden, who had died some time earlier. The office workers had not even met yet to draft contract proposalsso it was on-the-job training with a vengeance, launching a 21-year career for me.

Leroy and his best friend, Keith Eickman, acted as my mentors and protectors when I sometimes did rather provocative things that angered the various left caucuses in the union. Both were ex-reds, and Leroy had been a seaman on the Booker T. Washington. Although not very verbally articulate, he had a capacity for organizing people, especially his African American brothers and sisters, and became a progressive force in San Francisco politics. He was bereft when his white wife and biggest supporter, Judy, died of cancer. I know that when I chose, after hitting my alcoholic bottom in 1988, not to run for re-election as Local 6 president, in effect conceding to the leftist’s choice, Jim Ryder, he was disappointed, believing that it was better to lose than to quit. We remained friends, however, and I’m glad I had a chance to visit on a trip to San Francisco before he died. He and Keith were tireless campaigners for me in my election contests, although in those days I did not know how to show them my gratitude.

Fanny Krall: Grandma Krall, Hungarian-born mother of Frank Pinter, husband to my mother’s sister Ellen and father of my Baltimore cousins Judy, Fran and Frank, lived to be over 100, taken care of by a son himself in his 80s. During World War 2 the Communist Party stationed Dad in Baltimore as the area rep and he was always under attack both from the government and from ousted former CP leaders. It was new territory for five-year-old me, more unknowns to fear, but Grandma Krall’s basement was always a place of refuge, complete with warm poppy seed rolls and a refrigerator full of Pepsi-Cola. She was a safe haven in a scary world, especially when my sister was born and it seemed that Dad did have time for kids...just not for me.

Bill Krause: As a union leader based in San Francisco, I understood the value and need for coalition-building, and in Bagdad-by-the-Bay, that meant reaching out to the Gay community. As a teenager I had adopted my father’s homophobic attitudes and committed some gay-bashing. My amends for that was to work with a local Lesbian-Gay Labor Alliance for one of the annual Gay Pride parades, losing my prejudice pretty quickly. People are people, and what they do in private is their business.

Bill Krause worked in the local office of Congressman Philip Burton and conceived a coalition-building plan I liked. Democratic Central Committee elections were coming up, and Bill wanted to run candidates for all the slots in all the districts, drawing from all the various constituencies to create a united coalition that could mount credible challenges to old-line business-as-usual Dems in the Reaganomics era of union-busting and gay-bashing. A hot-button issue in the Gay community was the closing of bathhouses, used as casual sex meets by many Gay men, due to the spread of AIDS. I was endorsed by Bill’s Harvey Milk Democratic Club, but faced questions at a meeting of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, headed by Hospital Workers President Sal Roselli. What was my position on the bathhouses? I said if closing bathhouses would prevent disease and dying, then they should be closed. I didn’t get their support, and lost the election, but that was secondary to the coalition-building we did. Bill later died of AIDS.

Lucille Labrizzi: Cousin Lulu was the oldest of our many Vetere Clan cousins, with Marie next, and then me. Her mother, Elvira, was Caterina and Luigi Vetere’s first-born; Dad was the second. Oh – the names? Dad ran away from home at 16 and joined the Coast Guard. Caught as underage and returned to the father that beat him, when he next ran away he needed a new name, and took Lannon from a cowboy story he had read. Despite his running away and his politics, to the extended family Dad was always a Vetere, and always welcome. Aunt Elvi taught my Finnish mother, and many others, how to cook Italian, instilling in Mom a love of good cooking that she passed on to Karen and me.

Cousin Lulu was an attractive, at least in my eyes, working woman all her life who never married, never seemed to have time for romance. Her devotion to family was joyful and obvious, especially to her brother Louis’s kids and grandkids after his early death from testicular cancer. Actually, it was a bit of a family scandal that I, the first-born male, hadn’t been named after Grandpa Louie, so Elvi’s first son, next in line, got the name. Lulu was always there to help family in need, to babysit, house-sit, whatever needed doing. If she had any gripes she kept them to herself. When I visited New Jersey every few years for the annual Vetere Family Picnic her modest apartment was always available to me and we enjoyed each other’s company.

Lulu aged and became unable to care for herself, and cousins arranged for her to go into assisted living. We talked on the phone regularly and she always complained about the food, so I found GrubHub online and arranged for Italian food to be delivered to her once a month – lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, baked ziti, sausages, the works. She still saw “the kids” regularly and thrilled to their growth and intelligence. When she died in October, 2018, at 89 years old, that made me the oldest cousin, the Elder. Only 98-year-old Uncle Joe Vetere, the last of Dad’s 11 siblings, is older than me. And in 1987, after a visit to Grandpa Louie’s stark Calabrian home village of Zinga, I dropped my given middle name, Francis, and replaced it with Vetere. It’s mia famiglia.

Norman (Mick) Meader: Retired from the University of Arizona, Mick put his awesome research skills to work for the San Pedro River when state and federal planners wanted to run an interstate highway through the last free river in the state, a river that served as a corridor for jaguars, jaguarundies, ocelots and other charismatic megafauna coming north with climate change. He and I teamed up since the backup plan – still in motion – was to build it in the Avra Valley where I lived. His research and writing were hated by the developers, but they could never challenge his facts, and I, in my own research and writing, continue to use him as a role model on how to shine a light on the things the Establishment doesn’t want us to see.

Velia Millán: Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Elaine’s mother-to-be came to the states and married José – Joseph – Millan, a macho working man and a serious drinker. She put up with abuse to make a life for her daughter and son, Joe Jr., and blossomed when, in later years, she found the courage to strike out on her own. While Elaine may remember white-glove inspections of her room by her mother, I knew her as an endlessly kind and gentle woman, a sympathetic and supportive listener, whose heart was always joyful and full of unconditional love, a love I wasn’t able to give or receive until sobriety. I don’t often attend funerals or memorials, but did for Billy, reading a poem I wrote for her that began, She walked in beauty....

Joe Muzio: When I went on union staff and entered my first-ever contract negotiations in 1967, Joe was a Local 6 Business Agent, an old-timer considered to be not too bright and even a bit lazy. But when the San Francisco News Company refused to put its striking warehouse workers back on the job until the office contract was also settled, Joe came to my rescue. A three-week joint warehouse strike with the Teamsters was settled, and 25,000 workers back on the job—but not here. It was marathon, under-the-gun. deadline bargaining, my first, with Joe sitting in a corner and quietly, patiently, guiding me, letting me think I was calling the shots. We settled that night, the office workers ratified the agreement in the morning, and I had learned how to negotiate a union contract, thanks to Joe Muzio.

Dick Pabich: Dick was a tall, pale and willowy Gay man who ran local political campaigns, often working with Bill Krause. Having left my teen homophobia behind, I could really appreciate his intelligence and the work that he did...and his good looks. It was nothing sexual, I am as straight as they come, but I was, in fact, attracted to him. Go figure. Of course my changed attitudes towards Gays was noticed by union antagonists.

At an endorsements meeting of the San Francisco ILWU Joint Legislative Committee, ex-seaman and ex-red Dave Jenkins, our political fixer, recommended Terence “Kayo” Hallinan over incumbent Harry Britt for a Board of Supervisors district seat. Kayo’s father, attorney Vincent Hallinan, had a long history with the ILWU and it looked like people were happy to endorse his left-wing son. I objected. Britt was also an open lefty, the best labor vote on the Board, and a leader in the Gay community which we needed as allies. Dave muttered from the side, “Lannon must have got his (expletive) (deleted).” The ILWU made a joint endorsement, Britt was easily re-elected, and Dick Pabich later died of AIDS.

Bob Patterson: Bobby was the Bad Boy of Local 6, a light-skinned African American ex-boxer who still packed a punch with 300 pounds of alcoholic bloat. Having relatives in the union – his sister, Tillie Bertram, was the Local 6 office manager – gave him leeway to roam, but he had been fired from pretty much every job he had ever been dispatched to. Bobby survived with begging, borrowing and stealing, and selling his body to sex-hungry men in the South-of-Market area the union hiring hall was in. For some reason he latched on to me as a target early on, and I, curiously, felt a link between us, perhaps seeing in Bob that same “hole in the soul” I had, which we both tried to fill with alcohol. While I drank mostly red wine, Bob would knock down a bottle of Night Train Express in one big gulp, followed with a big belch.

When I returned from a three-year stint in Washington as the union’s lobbyist I brought my family to a Bay Area Local 6 picnic. Bob was there – free beer! – taking big gulps out of a can and tossing the half-full cans onto the roof of the rest rooms. He spotted me, yelling, There he is, the bureaucrat, come to mingle with the masses! I told him to kiss my ass – and he did! Deirdre and Erik looked on in wide-eyed amazement. Once Bob shared with me a “letter” he had written to a secret love. It was sensitive and sad beyond measure, and I turned it into a poem for a members’creative works edition of the Local 6 monthly newsletter I edited. And I read it to his sparsely-attended memorial at the Local 6 hall: You are like a flower opening up in the sunlight, a song drifting on the wind....

Prague, Czech Republic: A magic place I fell in love with when I extended my ticket as an ILWU Overseas Delegate in 1965. I was charmed by the old buildings, the deliberately overgrown park where lovers could meet, the palpable sense of history, and yes, the beers. Mostly it was the open people, the satires of their communist leaders in a show, a sense of emerging freedom that was the goal of “socialism with a human face.” When Soviet tanks suppressed that in 1968 it broke any emotional ties I may have still had to “the movement” I had been raised in.

Cynthia Prescott: A young woman in recovery, Cynthia and I attended some of the same support meetings in the Inner Sunset when Mary and I were first getting together. She was street-wise, tough, quick with a quip, and worked a good program. She reminded me of a younger me. Then she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and disappeared for a while. She came back to meetings wasted, almost unrecognizable, but still smart and savvy and quick with her sharp tongue. I liked her, just liked her, but the cancer soon took her.

Dwight Riggs: Dwight was one of the first people, along with his East Side neighbor Valerie Davison, that I hooked up with when I moved to Tucson in 2001. We shared interests in archaeology, hiking the desert, and joining the state’s site steward program with Kaitlin to monitor sites. Dwight was overweight and always carried a big pack, but never faltered on the trail, his white beard damp with sweat. Val, now in a nursing home with dementia, remembered all the best desert spots to visit, so we had many good times together. Dwight had a mentally disabled daughter in a facility that he paid for, trying to be the responsible father he wanted to be. He remarried, but that didn’t work out, and – seeing signs of his own mental deterioration – he bought a pistol, walked out his favorite trail, and killed himself. It took a year to find his body, but he left all his financial affairs, including his daughter’s care, in order, wanting not to bother anyone.

Sidney Roger: Sid was a blacklisted ex-red radio announcer whom the ILWU rescued by making him editor of the union’s newspaper, The Dispatcher. While his speaking voice was deep and flawless, his physical appearance was a bit gnomish, with a nervous tic that pulled the skin of his forehead back considerably. I remember one member declaring, Wow, look at that man think! Knowing that I was an aspiring writer, during an unemployed period Sid asked me to write the story on the upcoming Local 6 annual convention. I did, and brought it to him, and he spent the day teaching me Journalism 101 – and even paid me for it! Harry Bridges fired Sid while I was in Washington for some reason triggered by the union president’s increasing age and isolation. I wrote my objection to Harry, and turned out to be the only staff member to do so. There was no reply.

Marvin Rogoff: I met Marvin at a Washington fundraising dinner and we had an immediate argument as to whether or not a certain union head had the right to call himself a socialist. Marvin came from the non-communist left, worked now for the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, and had been on the educational staff of the Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. We ran into each other often, leafleting for the United Farmworkers’ grape boycott, on a support committee for murdered Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign, and in the newly-formed Washington Labor for Peace. Labor for Peace announced itself against the Vietnam War with a full-page ad in the Washington Post, topped with a photo of a US soldier’s haunted upper face and the words, A Rich Man’s War and a Poor Man’s Fight. The Post didn’t quite know how to handle it and insisted on listing the signers’ addresses with their names. That was no problem for me – my little office – but caused problems for quite a few signers who worked for AFL-CIO unions supporting the war. I know Marvin caught some flack.

That ad seemed to spark an upsurge in anti-war union activity, and our next project was a labor primer on the war, with resolutions adopted by various unions. That, in turn, led to calls to form a national Labor For Peace organization from peacenik senators George McGovern and Alan Cranston, and Marvin and I were called on to act as unpaid staff. We worked together for months, learning to respect and even admire each other. The AFL-CIO suffered a schism during this time, with the liberal United Auto Workers leaving the federation to join with the conservative Teamsters and a few other small unions in a short-lived Alliance for Labor Action. It became clear to us that the AFL-CIO was pressuring their members to stay away from us, and to tag the upcoming founding conference as a fringe ALA operation, not in the interests of the real labor movement.

Marvin and I agreed that we couldn’t let that happen, and we contacted UAW Secretary-Treasurer Emil Mazey to rescue the situation. Mazey came to the founding meeting and successfully converted it into an organizing committee for a national labor peace organization. That came a couple of years later, broader than anyone thought it could be, and – we would like to think – played a role in finally ending that disastrous conflict. Marvin and I remained close friends, taking pride in the work we did and finding that people of good will can, and must, work together without letting political labels get in the way.

Mario Savio: I only met him once, at the Eickman’s, but I will never forget his words from a 1964 rally at UC-Berkeley: There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels ... upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all !

In 1963 the Embarcadero Freeway was stopped when San Franciscans sat down in front of the bulldozers to keep Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury from being ruined. Later what had been built was torn down. Although I’ll be gone, I hope my Tucson friends and neighbors will take note when the bulldozers come to destroy our Avra Valley homeland for a new Interstate 11.

Marcos Simonides: Greek-born Marcos was the chocolate mixer and Chief Steward at Nestlé when I arrived in Salinas in 1971. The union was not respected by the workers, having failed to budge The World’s Largest Food Company on most local issues. My job, with Marcos’s help, was to demonstrate that the union could take on the company and win concessions for the employees. And we did. I had worked on the Occupational Safety and Health Act in Washington, and knew that the threat of it scared employers even if the actual result was minimal. They didn’t know that yet. I was struck by the production line noise levels, and borrowed a sound meter and took readings – in many places way above the limit allowed by OSHA. I filed an official complaint and inspectors posted notices of violation in a dozen locations and the company had to start providing hearing protection. The workers took note: Nestlé could, at last, be held visibly accountable. Marcos and I plotted more campaigns.

A long-time woman employee collapsed on a noisy production line one day and was rushed to the hospital. When Dorothy was released two weeks later the company nurse insisted she see the company’s doctor before returning to work. That doctor said she could no longer work there and Dorothy, a single mom, needed her job. Marcos and I convinced the Local to take the case to a costly, but impartial, medical arbitration. In the lengthy and quite technical arbitration, the company doctor went so far as to say that Dorothy had been stepped on by a horse when she was nine and that was the cause of her collapse, not excessive noise nor line speed-up. We won, and Local 6 was solid with the workers now, and Marcos was happy, taking me out for an abalone dinner to celebrate.

Many of the younger male employees were returning Vietnam vets who now wore beards and mustaches and their hair long. The company didn’t like it, and invoked Food and Drug rules about hair contamination; those men would have to wear hair nets “just like the girls.” They did so without complaint. So the plant manager ordered his plant nurse to sew together gag-like face masks for those refusing to shave. They were uncomfortable, which was the manager’s intent. The FDA gave no help in solving the problem, but we discovered that the company’s largest plant, in Fulton, New York, used light mesh beard nets and they sent us samples. The employees said they’d do just fine.

The plant manager rejected them, so Marcos and I conceived of a first-ever Salinas job action, a lunchtime demonstration in front of the plant with signs proclaiming Food and Drug Rules, Yes – Nestlé Gag Rules, No! I would pretend ignorance and be called in to mediate, and we notified the press, hoping for photos. About a dozen men participated, with other employees in the lunchroom declaring, They’re gonna get fired! No one was, but the plant manager, despite his untenable position, held firm. I met him in the hallway one day and said, Look, off-the-record, why don’t you try the Fulton beard nets as an experiment, with the right to go back to the gags? It was like a light bulb went off over his head, and the issue was resolved, with faces, and beards, saved.

When I left union office Marcos presented me with a little plaque “in appreciation of his service to the membership.” I have a number of those kind of awards, but his is the only one that really matters.

Harry Siitonen: Harry, or Harri if he was talking to fellow Finns, was a retired printer living in Berkeley, an old socialist and writer, active in union and political affairs. He was working on an autobiography which supporters posted online as it came from him. When FinnFest, a moveable annual gathering of Finnish Americans and friends, was being held in Tucson in 2012, I organized several panel discussions and a trip to the Queen Copper Mine and to Bisbee’s local museum. In July, 1917, some 1200 striking miners, led by the anti-capitalist Industrial Workers of the World, were rounded up at gunpoint and “deported” in cattle cars to the New Mexico desert. Of the 35 ethnic groups working at the mine, Finns were the fourth largest group of deportees. I recruited Harry, a FinnFest regular, to come and talk about labor struggles, and we shared experiences and ideas and liked each other. That tour turned out to be the high point for many FinnFest participants whose relatives had once worked in Bisbee.

Irving Smith: Irving, never Irv, was an old and sober alcoholic living alone in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. We became friends at meetings of the Mission Fellowship, and I often gave him a lift home. He sold his home and moved to an assisted care facility in Florida, near a family member. When Kaitlin and I bought our double-wide in Picture Rocks we didn’t have much money to work with, and when I mentioned that in a phone conversation with Irving he said he had included me in his will, but could put the money up front. That bought the chain link fence protecting the residents and visitors in the back half of our acre-and-a-quarter oasis. Irv died after a fall, and I will never forget his selfless generosity.

Mayme Smith: The community Kaitlin and I live in, Picture Rocks, came to be because of Mayme. She was a realtor and when ranch lands went on sale in the 1970s, she borrowed and bought and resold to those who could not afford to buy homes in Tucson. Most of the houses in Picture Rocks are manufactured homes. To create an actual community, Mayme founded the Rancho del Conejo Community Water Co-op, providing pure well water to a square mile of over 300 families. I became active in the co-op and served at a sort of Chief Operating Officer for several years, helping to dig trenches when needed, and giving direction to a local Board of Directors. Mayme, facing her 90s, was still sharp and a valuable resource for me when questions came up. From very different worlds, our common cause brought us together with respect and with affection.

Richie Stein: Aka Richard Steinberg, son of Dad’s fellow Smith Act defendant Sid Stein, aka Sidney Steinberg. We ran together for awhile, often affecting hoodlum demeanor to offend our young comrades on the left. We shared that need for attention, even if negative. We fell out at Coney Island one summer day when he and several friends tried to de-pants me on the beach. I resisted, kicking, and chipped one of Richie’s teeth, and he was mad! He eventually got over it and when Elaine and I got together Richie and his Hungarian-born wife, Sonja, had dinner with us from time-to-time. After the 1956 Hungarian Revolt was put down by Soviet tanks, we argued. I, with Dad, had supported the Russian intervention against an obvious CIA plot, while Richie was declaring his independence from Soviet communism. Sonja still had relatives in Hungary and reported brutality, dismissed by me as US propaganda. The argument ended when we declared to each other that, if we had been there, we’d have been shooting at each other!

It took getting sober for me to realize that I owed Richie an amends for my verbal assault and political stupidity, and I tried tracking him down to find that he had passed on. I think I did locate Sonja, and sent an amends letter. There was no response, but the amends were for me; what the recipient does with them in none of my business.

Christine Tamblyn: When I sobered up, my union career over, I went to the hiring hall and was dispatched to – of all places – Hiram Walker Liquors. But there was another sober alcoholic there, Sonny, and we supported each other. When the company announced it would be closing in a year, I knew it was time for a change. I obtained my high school GED and decided to go to school full-time. I had guest-taught some Labor Studies classes for the programs at S.F. City and State, and proposed a new class to the small Laney College program in Oakland. They liked it and I would have enough night classes between the three schools to live on while attending S.F. State University full-time. But two weeks before the semester began I received an urgent call from Laney’s Chancellor: the Dept. Chair, half-time Labor Studies and half-time Business, had some kind of breakdown and was out for the season. Could I step in? Of course, I said, launching a new twelve-year career as a labor educator.

I knocked off a quick BA in Labor Studies at State in 1991 – heck, I was already teaching the classes – mostly by writing papers in lieu of attending labor studies classes, and then decided to get educated about things I had never had the time to follow up on. I applied for the Interdisciplinary Creative Arts Program. At my interview the director asked what my final project would be? I had no idea, but said I could write, and I took decent photographs. Maybe words on pictures, he said, and let me in. And that began my real education, led by performance artist Christine Tamblyn with assistance from visual artist Lynn Hershman. Short and dumpy, with wild red hair, Christine encouraged us, gave advice, pointed new directions, and showed herself to be the major creative force she was.

My final project in 1993 was a one-show-only History of the American Labor Movement, Part One, with actors, projected videos, mock work on stage, a protest against speedup, a police raid, and, finally, enough noise to drive people out of the auditorium where colleagues waited with flyers on current labor disputes in the Bay Area. It was a success, Christine gave me an “A” and a hug, and I had a second college diploma. And a calling I never knew before as a performance poet. Christine was dead of cancer five years later.

In Tucson I immediately found a niche, the Exodus Open Mic at the Hazy Dayz Café south of the university campus. Organized and hosted by Dov Diamond, the Wednesday night coffee house-poetry scene attracted students, but that soon changed, and older poets were coming and we were friendly, resulting in our own performance group organized by André (The FunKtional Addix) Gavino, Paris Moves. Meanwhile I remained long-distance friends with Kaitlin and her husband, and decided to make a trip there just to see them, not en route to somewhere else. A date was set, but when I arrived Kait was not there. The story was that as a hospice nurse, she was with clients, and there was no telling when or if she’d be home soon. So Dean and I and Kait’s first husband, Alan, gabbed and toured, and I went home without knowing that she had moved out of the marriage and was living in a mobile home park down Banner Grade from Julian.

Once home, I emailed both Kaitlin and Dean to say, okay, now it’s your turn to come to Tucson. I never heard from Dean ever again, but Kaitlin responded and we set a date. I took her to Hazy Dayz for a performance piece I had prepared called the Christine Tamblyn Memorial Lecture, modeled on a video Christine had shown us as students of a lecture she once did, shedding her clothes as she talked. Dov joined the conspiracy, did the set-up, and my topic was how poetry can strip things down to naked truths. I undressed as I spoke, the oldest person in the room, and I called it a success afterward for the applause the students gave me. Re-dressed and leaving with Kaitlin, without thinking I reached out and took her hand, and that was the moment when friendship began moving towards something more. Thank you, Christine Tamblyn, for more than you’ll ever know.

Peggy Terry: Born in 1922, Peggy was a poor white Appalachian mother from Kentucky, a World War 2 Rosie the Riveter, caught up in the movements of the 1960s, and an immediate hit with student leftists trying to identify with the working class. Joining Women for Peace in Chicago, and overcoming the casual southern racism of her youth, Peggy ended up running for Vice-President on the Peace and Freedom Party’s first ticket with Eldridge Cleaver in 1968. I met her soon afterward during the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, before federal troops razed Resurrection City on the Mall. I had been in touch with her son in Chicago, poet and activist Doug Youngblood.

Students for a Democratic Society, in an effort to link up with the working class, had formed JOIN (Jobs or Income Now) Community Union. It was such a success that the poor whites asked the students to leave so they could run it themselves, soon joining as the Young Patriots with the Black Panthers and the Puerto Rican Young Lords in the first Rainbow Coalition. That appealed to me, working class folks taking over for themselves. Doug and I shared poems and stories, and meeting Peggy was high on my personal agenda. Neither of us being trapped in sectarian vanguard politics, we soon became friends.

Peggy had a set pitch in her speeches that echoed my own, and my union’s outlook, and I used it often. At a rally, holding up an open-fingered hand, she, or I, would say: We -- white, black, brown, yellow, men, women, straight, gay, young, old – we are like the fingers of a hand, and each of us alone can be twisted, can be bent and broken. Then we would make a clenched fist, the leftist workers’ salute, declaring, But when we come together we are a mighty fist. In unity we have strength!

Don Wilson: Don was a smart guy with several doctoral degrees working at the University of Arizona. But he had a drinking problem, tried the meetings, but was too smart for that simple program. His wife kicked him out and he was living in a second house they owned south of the Avra Valley. She called me, saying no one had heard from Don for several days. I said I was heading out that way the next day for an errand and I’d check if she gave me directions. It was a Tucson summer day when I got to the house and found Don dead in the front yard surrounded by empty beer and iced tea cans. Wearing only silk boxer shorts, his body was burnt and bloated by the intense August sun. I called the Sheriff’s Department and a deputy came to take over. I gave him what information I had and left. They would notify his widow.

It was a painful and all-too-graphic reminder of what I had heard, and dismissed as hyperbole at early recovery meetings, that alcoholism is a fatal disease. It’s not always liver failure or OD on the death certificate. One member of our little Picture Rocks recovery group, Gary, blew his brains out after shooting and wounding his estranged wife. I am one of the lucky ones, so facing incurable cancer in my 80s, well, the last three decades have brought me gifts beyond measure and I am, and will be, forever grateful. R.I.P. my friends, and know you are not forgotten. Thank you all for what you gave me. Thank you.

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