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Solars Milt Montague
The Anti-Zuk Quentin Poulsen
Knoxville-Summer-1968 John Richmond
men, in their teen age years have an innate need to congregate together for
mutual support and/or competitive sports for reinforcement of their burgeoning
egos. [Could this be the pack mentality we inherited from our
prehistoric cro-magnon ancestors ? or that they inherited from their more
primitive forebears ?] If there were just a few boys, they could
play basketball or stickball, more would lead to baseball and still more led to
the ultimate, baseball teams, but that required a park or at least an empty
Stickball seems to have been born in Brooklyn, parented by the Great Depression of 1929-33 and the city streets. All you needed was a handball, [a real Spaulding ball was a big deal] and a bat [the broken stick of a mop or broom]. The city gutters provided the playing field, parked cars were the first and third bases. Manhole covers, in the middle of the gutters, were second base and home plate. Traffic frequently interrupted the game, but was tolerated good-naturedly like the weather and school. When they were not playing ball many hours were spent just hanging out together in groups at the local school yard, after school or the candy store [every corner had its candy store]. The favorite topics of conversation were the Brooklyn Dodgers [baseball team] managed by the vociferous and belligerent Leo Durocher and the City College basketball team led by Nat Holman ..... and girls. [These enclaves were strictly male.]
The group that Milt hung out with were mostly about sixteen to eighteen years old and attended high school. Milt was one of the younger and taller boys. There were about half a dozen or so “regulars” and another six to eight that showed up sporadically. The boys admired the colorful shiny satin jackets worn by basketball players [aptly called basketball jackets] and discussed joining together and buying team jackets. They all subscribed to that concept. After many hours of discussion they chose the name, “Solars sac”. [“solars” was Milt’s brain child as he was heavily into astronomy]. The sac stood for social athletic club. [They all agreed the jackets would impress the girls]. The colors were royal blue satin with yellow sleeves. The club name was in yellow script across the back. In a few weeks the jackets arrived and the peacocks paraded around their neighborhoods in full regalia [only after school].
At about that time the concept of cellar clubs was born. The cellar club arose as if from out of nowhere as did the famous Tree That Grew In Brooklyn and like Topsy it just grew and grew. The soil in Brooklyn seemed most propitious for its nourishment and proliferation. The secondary motivation for the rise of the cellar club was GIRLS. [This often was the primary consideration.]
In those days the minimum wage was 40 cents an hour, as the nation was slowly recovering from the Great Depression. Gas stations were offering six gallons of gas for $1.00, cokes were 5 cents and cigarettes went for 15 cents a pack. The boys would chip in to buy some pretzels or potato chips and some cokes on the weekends and the club was an inexpensive place to bring your date to dance and socialize with your contemporaries.
The Background; Brooklyn was composed of many different areas. Private homes were more or less in the affluent sections. Families of more modest means rented apartments and lived in multi-family homes ranging in size from two to forty units. Milt lived with his parents and three sisters in a four room apartment, in a building that had four apartments. There were many such residences in Brooklyn. The owner usually lived on the premises and was often miserly about supplying enough heat for the building. Milt remembered...... one cold winter day, his mother sent him to the landlord’s apartment to request more heat. The owner opened the door wearing a heavy coat sweater and replied,
“More heat ? Who needs more heat ? There is plenty of heat.”
The Problem; apartments were small and crowded [there were other siblings] and there was no room to hang out with friends. This was a major problem for adolescent teenagers stumbling into adulthood.
The Solution; many buildings had storage space in the basement with an entrance onto the street, often unused. Groups of young men formed together to rent these spaces for a modest monthly fee, clean them up, furnish them minimally and create
a place where they could hang out together.
Milt’s group agreed to join the parade and form their own club. They scoured the neighborhood seeking the best location. After a few days they found one that even had a bathroom. One of the boys knew the owner and convinced him that they [the prospective tenants] were not noisy or rowdy guys. Their new home badly needed a thorough cleaning. They all brought brooms and mops and other cleaning paraphernalia from their moms and made the space presentable over a weekend. Next step was furnishings. Milt inveigled his brother-in-law Julie, who was an electrician, to wire the basement for lights, while the other boys foraged the streets for discarded furniture that they could salvage. They all pressed their families for donations of still usable items that they [their families] were going to replace. There were several bequests, most notable were the record player and the radio.
The Solars sac was now ready for its opening bash. It was successful, many of the parents showed up [briefly]. The club was the only one in all of Brooklyn, where the girls were able to tell their parents that they were going there. And the parents approved!
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by Quentin Poulsen
glint of intrigue was evident in the large brown eyes on this occasion. Rather,
they brimmed with contempt, the dense black eyebrows forming a ‘V’ above
them. Middle-aged and athletic, attired in a khaki uniform, smoking a cigarette,
he was just as Bob remembered him. It could have been the day before that he’d
last sat in this office; the general’s portait and bright purple flag upon the
wall behind the captain.
“We gave you everything, Bob. You only had to play by the rules."
"All I wanted was to go home."
"You were promised your freedom - as soon as the conflict with Yenug was over."
"The conflict will 'never' be over. You had no intention of givin' me my freedom."
"Nonsense. You simply weren't patient."
"I've been a prisoner since the day I arrived here."
Fatsuma drew deeply on his cigarette and exhaled into the air, filling the room with smoke. “You broke the rules, Bob. So now you must pay the price. The most serious of your crimes, 'anti-Zukism,' is punishable by death."
"'Death?'" Bob stared desperately at the four walls around him, as though he might find some unexpected path to freedom. Of course, there was none. Like a scene from a nightmare, he was trapped in that stuffy little room, the purple-haired captain grinding a cigarette out in front of him. "No trial? Nothin?'"
A nicotine-stained smirk appeared on the captain's features. "Why, you're on trial as we speak. Your capture is being shown on television news all over the island. What was it you screamed? We're ‘all brainwashed . . .' He shook his head disapprovingly.
The captain called out something in Ladai and two young soldiers immediately entered the room; both in khaki uniform, tall and slim, their crewcut hair dyed purple. Seizing Bob by the arms, they hauled him out of the office, down the corridor and outside into the courtyard, where more soldiers were waiting. It was a cool, breezy day with no glimpse of the sky among the sombre clouds. The trees around the edge of the compound were dull and bare, entirely devoid of leaves. Bob wore only the baggy grey tracksuit and sandals they had provided him with the night before.
Captain Fatsuma approached, accompanied by two more soldiers carrying a large, steaming pot between them. It gave off a pungent odour reminiscent of a newly paved road. The pair holding Bob then peeled off his top, leaving him standing there in nothing but his pants and sandals. Then the pot was raised and its hot black contents poured over his shoulders, covering his torso, arms and thighs. He gasped aloud as the liquid burned him, searing his naked flesh, and was on the point of passing out when another soldier came toward him; this one carrying a bulky sack. He should have guessed: They were going to cover him with feathers.
"You have ridiculed our island." The captain told him, the nicotine smirk on his face again. "Now our people will have their chance to ridicule you."
The groan of a large engine came into earshot, accompanied by rattling metal. A moment later a dark green army truck pulled up in front of them, and Bob was pushed into the back. The soldiers climbed in with him, clucking like chickens and flapping their arms as the vehicle rumbled across the courtyard and out through the open gates.
“Shouldn’t have disrespected our customs, Incabay,” one snarled at him. “Look where it got ya!”
“This is how we deal with traitors on Yezuk!” added another.
Bob didn’t bother to ask where they were taking him. He wasn’t even sure where the military headquarters were located on the island, though it must have been quite some distance from the capital, for they kept on driving for at least an hour – the soldiers taunting him all the way. The tar on his body soon cooled, but he remained in considerable discomfort as it dried and contracted with his skin.
Finally there was a view of buildings beyond the rear exit, more and more of them, decrepit apartment blocks with multi-coloured washing hanging from the balconies. Ten or fifteen minutes later these gave way to shopping complexes and office blocks as they drew closer to the centre. When at last they stopped, Bob discovered they were just a short distance from the square. And there were hordes of people gathered on the sidewalks ahead, holding purple flags aloft and posters featuring General Saparatruma's image.
'Anti-Zuk! Anti-Zuk!' they began chanting as the soldiers dragged him down from the deck. 'Anti-Zuk! Anti-Zuk!' – their eyes full of hatred.
Camera crews and photographers circled around like wild dogs, and in his groggy state Bob could only gaze forlornly back at them, as hopeless as the cornered prey. And then, completing his amazement, Gonda herself appeared in front of him, attired in a heavy, fur-lined coat, microphone in hand.
"So why did you do it, Bob?"she asked him coldly. “Why did you disrespect our customs?”
“Gonda,” he croaked, his voice barely audible. “Yir all insane . . . “
She turned to her camera man and laughed. "Iled ma daub! Iled elkil nisek!”
Powerful hands slammed into his back, sending him careering forward, so that the photographers were forced to scramble aside. A sharp sting in his elbow. Then another in his thigh. Before long he was stinging all over. The crowd were throwing things at him; small, hard missiles. Some of it stuck to the tar and feathers he was covered in, and Bob saw that it was chicken feed.
'Anti-Zuk! Anti-Zuk!' the chanting continued. Then the grain-tossing ceased and some of the spectators emerged to prance before him, flapping their elbows and bobbing their heads theatrically; bringing laughter from the crowd.
The powerful hands drove him on, until at last he came to the square; the same square in which he'd witnessed soldiers firing live ammunition at unarmed protestors the first time he'd come here, nearly two months before. And now Bob saw what awaited him. In the middle of the square a platform had been erected, and upon it was an upright wooden frame with a slanted blade suspended from the top. So this was his fate, he realised with a shudder. This was how they were going to punish him.
Instinctively he baulked, but the soldiers hauled him up onto the platform regardless, then dragged him to the guillotine.
“Nothing can save you now, Incabay!” sneered one of them. “Better say your prayers . . . ”
In a few minutes it would all be over, he thought. At least it would be quick - and presumably painless. The crowd pressed forward to watch, waving their flags and posters. The photographers and camera crews were at the front, and once again Bob caught a glimpse of Gonda. Was this going to end up on the news? He wondered bitterly.
But his death was not to be quite so sudden as he had imagined, for just then the Prayer to Karpot boomed out, and Bob gazed up to see the purple-haired features of the High Priest Hamabar filling the giant screens atop the surrounding buildings. Another few minutes he would have to wait.
The crowd fell silent and everyone dropped to their knees. Bob alone remained standing, though the soldiers quickly pulled him down and held him there by the arms. The high priest rambled on, attired in a black robe, the purple flag and portrait of General Saparatruma upon the wall behind him. And so loud was his voice that no one noticed at first the deep rumbling in the sky that came from the west.
Whatever it was moved swiftly, and was soon directly above them, concealed by the clouds. The first bomb dropped into the street they had just come along; the second demolished the top few stories of one of the nearby buildings, sending its giant screen tumbling to the ground; the third landed on the edge of the square, killing many instantly, injuring and maiming countless more.
In the minutes that followed there was nothing but silence. The plane had gone, the giant screens were blank, and the square was full of human carnage. Then people began to groan and wail. A few started screaming wildly. Those with their limbs still in tact commenced running about like lunatics. Most of them made for the side-streets. Scarcely a few stayed to help the wounded.
Another deep rumble arose in the western sky, and within seconds all those who were able had deserted the square, leaving the victims where they lay. So stunned and amazed was Bob, it took him a moment to realise the soldiers had fled with them, leaving him there alone, kneeling in front of the guillotine.
As the rumble grew louder, he clambered down from the platform, relieved a corpse of its coat, and staggered toward the nearest side-street. Exactly where the next bombs fell he wasn’t sure, but the buildings around him shook with each explosion, windows shattered, alarms rang out and a pall of black smoke was soon to be seen sweeping across the city.
How ironic, thought Bob, that his reprieve should come in this manner. Undoubtedly he was the only one in the vicinity to have actually profited by the disaster. He was a free man once more, and need only survive these bombs to attempt his escape from the island.
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was summer, it was hot- it was nighttime- and it was when no Interstate
connected Knoxville with anyplace else. Nineteen sixty-eight was a time
when this East Tennessee city was still quiet and laid back. What this
meant was that there was very little to do and even fewer places to go.
This was the world that the four of them- Danny and Jill, Pat and Jack- found themselves contemplating.
They had just finished dinner- at Jack’s place- and they had pretty much exhausted subjects and topics like the possible candidates in the upcoming presidential election, the race riots and Vietnam.
The air was ripe with the need to do something, but aside from going down to the Strip or as a far cheaper alternative- the Smoky Mountain Market for a bunch of twenty-five cent hotdogs- none of them could think of anything. And, so, they sat there quietly trying to figure out- trying to think of- what they could do for a couple of hours in the heat at night.
Occasionally, they glanced at one another, hoping that one of them would break the silence and tell the others just exactly what they were going to do, but there was nothing forthcoming.
Of course, they all knew that the obvious “things to do” should go without mention due to various impracticalities. Going to the Smokies was the biggest and most obvious- “…it would take way too much time.” Lesser ones like heading up to Sharp’s Ridge- “…we’ve done that before”- or driving over to Island Home Park- “…to mindlessly watch the Tennessee River flow by”- generated no interest or enthusiasm whatsoever. Thus, the four of them continued to sit there- with blank yet searching minds- and desperately tried to come up with an idea so as to postpone what was beginning to loom- calling it a night.
It was Jack who spoke first. “Hey, I know of a spot out past West Knoxville where there’s a small beach up alongside the Clinch River.”
Pat was already shaking her head, in the negative just as Jack finished what he was saying.
“No, no,” she finally said, “I’ve been up there- it’s too dark- too creepy.
Jill spoke next. “Why don’t we go down to Lenoir City- to the dam- and see what it’s like at night?”
Pat thought it was a “safe” idea while Jack just sat there with a concentrated stare engulfing his obvious in-thought face, almost as if he hadn’t heard Jill at all.
Then, slowly and silently, a reminiscent smile began to spread across Danny’s face.
“I know what we can do,” he said when he could no longer contain the smile that turned into a grin.
“What’s that?” the other three asked in their own ways.
“It’s something,” Danny began, with an almost nostalgic bobbing of his head, “it’s something that we used to do in high school.”
Jack leaned forward on the table. “What is it?”
Danny shook his head. “No, I can’t tell you- it has to be a surprise.”
Come on,” Pat protested.
“Danny,” Jill pleaded, pleasingly.
“So, you know what we’re going to do but you won’t tell us?” Jack asked.
“You got it.”
“Ah, well, can you,” Jack continued, “can you tell us where it is?
“Sure- Oak Ridge.”
Jack was surprised.
“Oak Ridge?” he repeated. “There’s nothing going on in Oak Ridge.”
“Well, you’re probably right- no one has anything happening, but we can make something happen.”
Jack, Pat and Jill all sat back and released a collective, mildly frustrated sigh of near-to-resignation.
After a time, Jack stood up, picked up his empty plate and headed for the kitchen sink.
“And, I suppose, we’re not going to find out until we get there?”
Danny stood in kind with his plate.
“Jack,” he called toward the kitchen, “you know what I’ve always said- you’re almost as brilliant as I am- almost.”
Everyone laughed and the matter of what they were going to do was put on hold until they had finished cleaning up.
Then, when the last dish, glass and utensil had been washed and placed in the drying rack, they returned the living room.
“So,” Danny began, “are we ready to go?”
The other three all looked from one to the other with positive anticipation.
“I’m ready,” Jack offered.
“Me, too,” Jill added while Pat just nodded in the affirmative.
“Okay, the only thing we have to do is make a quick stop at Kroger for a couple of six-packs of Falstaff.”
“Are we going to a party or are we going to have a party?” Jill asked.
“Well, it’s more like something to do while we’re doing what we’re going to do,” Danny explained in a close-to-mysterious tone.
“In Oak Ridge?” Jack asked suspiciously.
“You’ll see,” Danny said understandably.
With that the four of them headed out of the apartment and down to Danny’s car.
The stop at the supermarket and the ride up to Oak Ridge took them just a little over forty-five minutes.
Once they arrived in Oak Ridge, proper, Danny negotiated the side streets and then the back roads as if he had lived there his entire life. A few minutes later, on a dark and unlit stretch of low grade blacktop, he slowed, turned off the lights and pulled the car off of the road and onto the gravel shoulder.
He put the car in “Park,” turned off the ignition and looked over, first, at Jack, and then at Pat and Jill.
“Well, here we are,” Danny said and exited the car.
The remaining three of them looked at each other, shrugged, and did the same.
“I suppose I should bring the beer?” Jack called rhetorically- emptily- to Danny as he watched him scout out a suitable spot on the embankment.
It took Danny less than a minute to find what he determined to be “just the right spot” some fifteen feet in front of the car, just off the loose gravel, in the grass.
“Come on,” Danny called, “let’s have a seat.”
“Is the grass wet?” Jill asked as she walked cautiously toward Danny.
“No,” Danny replied, “the dew hasn’t set in yet.”
Soon, they were sitting there, the two guys as the group’s bookends with Pat and Jill between them.
“Now, Jack,” Danny began in an almost master-of-ceremony-sort-of-way, “if you will open and pass all of us a beer, I will explain.”
Jack did as he was instructed, after which there was a shared moment of quietude as the four of them focused on the near and the far before them.
And, what they saw in the distance, was a large and obviously operational- functioning- building- replete with outdoor security lights- and emitting a low hum.
Just in front of them- maybe not more than twenty feet away and across a drainage ditch- was a chain-link fence- approximately twelve feet high, topped off with barbed wire.
“What is that place?” Pat asked, pointing at the building.
“It’s called the Gaseous Diffusion Plant,” Danny offered as an answer.
“What is that?” Jill asked. “What do they do there?”
“I have no idea,” Danny replied. “The only thing that I do know is that it’s part of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In some way- years back- they helped build the atomic bomb.”
Again, the four of them sat there- almost as if in a state of reflective and motionless homage to science and technology- before Jack spoke.
“So, is that it? We’re going to sit on the side of the road, drink beer and watch some plant in the dark? Is this what you did in high school for fun?”
“Yes and no,” he said and then picked up a piece of gravel from behind him, “watch,” he told them.
He threw the stone at the fence. When it hit, the fence sparked.
“See that?” Danny asked.
“Yeah, what was that?” Jack asked.
“Danny reached back, grabbed an handful of rocks and gave one to both Jill and Pat.
“The fence is electrified,” he told them, “that’s why it sparks.”
Jill shifted in the spot where she sat as she worked the rock so that it became more comfortable in her hand.
“This is really cool,” she said and exchanged an agreeing glance with Pat.
“Go ahead- both of you,” Danny told the girls encouragingly, “throw one.”
At first, they took turns throwing, but it didn’t take long for them to realize that the more stones that hit the fence the greater was the sparking effect. This led, first, to the simultaneous throwing of a single rock, and then, next, to throwing handfuls of them.
And, so, the four of them sat there on a dark summer night, drinking beer, pitching rocks at the electrified fence- occasionally talking- but mostly laughing and making more than the best, of the little they had to work with.
Finally, when the last of the beer was gone, they got up, climbed into the car and headed back to Knoxville. It was the middle of summer, the year was 1968- and it was hot.
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