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Friday, October 5, 2012

Seeking the Romance of Life

A recent trip back to California, where I spent the middle half of my life (the part between the Seattle bookends)  and other smaller events have made me reflective of past events and places.  My brothers and I stopped in Santa Cruz, briefly, where I had lived for years, and stopped by a nightclub I had spent time in, the Catalyst, and asked the bartender the current status of local things.

I found out Club Zayante in the Santa Cruz Mountain had closed.  When I got home I researched the Club, which was once of the hottest nightclubs in Central California to learn what happened.  I found out the club had closed for financial reasons then burned down. But what I learned about the owner, Tom Louagie intrigued me. He had come out from the east coast on a romantic quest, to find the Cannery Row he had read in Steinbeck. He had the idea of moving there and living a literary dream from the past.  He didn't know that that Cannery Row had died when the sardine schools left. He moved up the coast a little to Santa Cruz county, bought a bar and did live music.  Later he opened Club Zayante and had a run with one of the most interesting music  clubs on the West Coast, in the redwoods under the canopy of stars, near the San Francisco music scene, with a community radio station broadcast greats like Clifton Chenier live from his club.  He looked for someone else's romance, which had  been dispelled, then created his own.

Like all of us, my life has involved a quest for available means of survival, but it has also simultaneously followed the quest for romance in life, the dictates of conscience and the desire to help others. the interaction of those four things has shaped my life down circuitous paths. My roads less traveled came through plenty to romance, but  like Tom I always found my own romance more interesting than someone else's.  But life is change, so yesterdays romance needs to be replaced.  To have a love affair with life, it has to always be new.

When I was a child I saw on television the bravery of civil rights demonstrators.   When I was fourteen and newly arrived in California I read of the students in the Berkeley Free speech movement resisting  the system. Mario Savio, one of their leaders said
“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"
And in my high school years I sought to replicate that in my growing participation in the anti-Vietnam War movement.  At the age of sixteen I made up my mind that I would apply for Conscientious Objector status from the Selective Service system  and that if I was denied I would resist the draft and refuse induction even if it meant going to federal prisonThe pangs of conscience telling me the war was wrong coincided with a romantic quest to resist the evil of the system. 
When I turned eighteen my request for "C.O." status was denied.  Had it been approved I would have been required to perform two years of civilian alternative service in a non-profit, a hospital, a school, an anti-poverty program, or something of that sort. Some of my friends in the local anti-war movement formed a Summerhill type free school, so I started volunteering there as if my request had been approved.  Then I set fire to my draft cards and folded the ashes into a letter to the local draft board that said, "To Whom it May Concern, Somehow my draft card caught fire.  Here are the remains." I then failed to show up at my scheduled induction.  I fin ished my two years at the school as a personal debt to my country and humanity.  Unlike a lot of other young men who resisted I was lucky and the system ground to a halt and never processed me for arrest. That was the point for us of course, to grind it to a halt.  That was the romance of a quest for peace and for justice. 
My point here is that there is no romance without risk.  Romance for some is falling in love, for others climbing a mountain.  Keep seeking it. 


  1. Lovely, Joseph. Thanks for sending me the link. My own 'romance' with life has taken me to the Green Mountains of Vermont where, unemployed by choice, I will take a few months to write a new fantasy novel. Lots of risky stuff, but not feeling it so much. I just drove 2400 miles from Santa Fe to Vermont and loved every minute of it. A grand adventure, life. All my best, Kate Langton (summer of 2011 in Seattle)

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