“I’m an American! I Know My Rights!”

In the Time of COVID. Day 47

May 4, 2020

“I’m an American! I know My Rights!”

The ongoing divisiveness between individualism and the common good continues to roil the American population. People on both sides of the debate are suffering. One side demands a haircut now! The other is either letting house mates have a go at barbering or they are letting their freak flags fly. This brings to mind an incident and it’s ramifications that I experienced many years ago. The Oaxaca State police encircled the Zocalo in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca. They threw a dragnet.

I once had a fascinating history professor named Dan Krieger. He proclaimed that history could be taught through an examination of hair styles. He showed a slide of Moe Howard of the Three Stooges. Moe had a bowl cut. But then he showed slides of English “Round Heads”. We in the US, know them as Pilgrims. Those guys all had haircuts like Moe. They could tell each other by their haircuts. Strolling the lanes of London, they could identify each other.

In 19th Century America, women of “class” had long hair that they did up in elaborate piles on their heads. Women of the “night” had bangs cut short. Both social stations were obvious.

In 1849 California got it’s first street gang, in San Francisco. They robbed stagecoaches, did strong arm hold-ups, and they were excellent arsonists and extortionists. The people of San Francisco paid them not to burn down their homes and businesses. They took the money and burned San Francisco anyway. Those guys had distinctive hair-do’s, long greased-back hair that formed a ducks’ tale. The gang was called the Sydney Ducks. They were escaped convicts from Australia’s penal colonies. They came to California to extort or rob gold from the 49ers. Eventually the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance organized to rein them in. Many were hanged. Some made their way into the California prison system. Their hairdo became a symbol of being a badass. Zoot-Suiters went for it in the 30’s and 40’s. By the 1950’s the DA was common and those who wore them were considered “greasers” . Rock and Rollers went for it.

For young guys in the late 60’s and 70’s there were two styles. “High and tight” with a variation of “flat-top with fenders” or long hair. Both groups were easily identifiable. Guys with short hair were considered “narcs or conformists” and guys with long hair “stoners or hippies”. Ok, so what does this have to do with the Mexican police?

My pal Bill and I rolled into Oaxaca in March of 1973. The town was crawling with hippies. They came from all over the world. Oaxaca was an epicenter of psilocybin mushrooms. Carlos Castaneda had published “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge”. Oaxaca had no Yaqui’s or peyote but they did have magic mushrooms. There were some very stoned young people in Oaxaca and many were trying to buy mushrooms in quantity to smuggle home.

Bill and I skirted that scene. We rented a cheap room in a Mercado hotel and we tried to find out what lay to the south, in the mountains. Our hair was long but we weren’t hanging in the Zocalo.

Around the Zocalo were several outdoor cafe’s where people could watch the show, the strolling lovers, the street vendors, the families with their kids. There were always musicians, especially in the evening on the bandstand.

One evening we were having a cheap dinner of eggs, beans and tortillas in a cafe when a rumor circulated through the tables. A large convoy of Airstream Trailers would be arriving in a couple of days. We really didn’t think much about it other than, no way , they couldn’t pull those things clear down here.

The next afternoon Bill and I were on the roof of a Zocalo Hotel. We were drinking and gambling with a group of willing sports. It was a dice game called “Ship-Captain-Crew” which was quite popular in the dive bars on Seattle’s skid row.

Suddenly we heard sirens and screaming coming from the Zocalo. We peered over the edge. A dozen blue state police vans swung in around the square blocking all exists. Several dozen cops poured out the backs. They had night sticks and hand cuffs. They herded all the hippies into a circle. One by one they pulled a gal or guy out of the herd and roughly patted them down. They made sport of this with the women. They checked their passports and visas. Those not carrying them were hustled into a van and the door slammed on them. Anyone holding dope was hustled into a different van. I remember a young woman screaming “I’m an American! I know my Rights!” The cops laughed and slammed her up against the van door before opening it. She wailed from the inside.

ALL the hippies were rousted out of that park. Those with drugs were sent off to the state penitentiary. Those without proper papers on them were loaded into a locked passenger train-car and taken north to the US Border were parents and lawyers could pay the transportation cost and buy their kids freedom.

Bill and I scurried down the back steps and ran away from the Zocalo. We ducked into the first barber shop we found and asked for local hairdo’s. Kids stood around the open door of that peluqueria and laughed as they saw two hippies transformed into locals.

We started making plans to move on, to head south. The next night we went back to the cafe scene. Now, there were middle aged Americans taking up the tables. They weren’t ordering cheap stuff. It was steak and fish and brandy. There wasn’t a hippie in sight. We left in the morning.

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