It’s a moral duty to dress well.
Former Vogue editor, The Wall Street Journal Magazine
It was the fall of 1969 and revolution was in the air. I was new to Chicago, eager to take to the streets the way protesters had done the summer before, incurring the wrath of Democratic Mayor Richard J. Daley who famously said “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.” How true!
“Dat bum Gene McCarthy is a freakin’ poet–he’d never get elected!”
The newest cause was the trial of the Chicago 7, and I joined many others from area college campuses who descended on the downtown to vent our anger at the trumped-up charges of “conspiracy.”
As the crowd of demonstrators made its way to the federal courthouse on Dearborn I spotted Janet, the pixie-like redhead from my Humanities 101 Class. We’d been sneaking smiles at each other the first week of class but a dingbat named “Ian” from Manhattan always corralled her after class and squired her back to their co-ed dorm. Ian had gone to a private school and so knew how to corral a woman by squiring her, he was light-years ahead of me in terms of courtship rituals.
But now was my chance–not an Ian in sight! So I quickened my stride and caught up with her as she turned the corner on Michigan Avenue. “Janet,” I called out. She turned and saw me, and flashed that cute little smile of hers–but then in an instant it was gone.
“You’re not going to wear that to a peace march, are you?”
I turned around to make sure a cop wasn’t about to bring his nightstick down on my head and, seeing nothing but waves of fellow hippies behind me, I rushed up to her. Her happy expression had been replaced by a look of distress, as if she knew the night would end in blood and concussions for us all.
“Janet–hi. Is something wrong?”
“No. Well–actually yes.”
“You have a tie-dyed t-shirt on under plaid flannel–it’s positively immoral!”
As we waited for Bertrand Russell to address the crowd estimated at 20,000 in London’s Trafalgar Square, you could almost sense the tide of history turning, as if you were standing on a beach and the waves of war were ebbing before you.
“Would the owner of the blue Mini Cooper license plate BA49 JLZ please move it, it’s on my foot.”
For the first time in the long and bloody existence of mankind a body of thoughtful citizens had risen up, with Russell taking the lead, to demand that their nation abandon war in order to save mankind, the earth itself, and also any deposit bottles they may have around the house. They’re worth five pence apiece–and try saying that five times fast.
Russell was one of the smartest men on the planet, no doubt about that, but like many high I.Q. types, he needed a certain amount of . . . shall we say, “handling.” The writer J.B. Priestley had been appointed his guardian to make sure that he got from his flat to the demonstration and didn’t get sidetracked in some obscure bookshop, indulging his taste for ancient mathematical treatises and Scrooge McDuck comics.
I scanned the crowd and checked my watch–11:55 and no sign of the two. And then, like Moses parting the Red Sea, I saw a seam open in the mass of mankind and there was Russell, with Priestly holding him by the elbow, making their way to the speaker’s podium.
“Thank God you made it!” I exclaimed. “I was worried that our peaceful crowd was about to turn violent!”
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Priestley said, his face a map of grave concern.
“Why–what’s the matter?”
“Look at Bertrand,” he said, reaching into the breast pocket of his tweed sport coat and pulling out a Winston Churchill model blue pindot tie. “He’s wearing an Argyll & Sutherland stripe on a tattersall check shirt!”
In the cloak room just off the floor of the legislature the members of the Congress Party sat nervously as Mahatma Gandhi practiced the speech in which he would call for independence for India. This was a make-or-break-it moment for the anti-colonial movement, and some of the party’s elder statesmen weren’t sure the 46-year-old lawyer was the right man for the job.
“This old thing? Thanks–I got it on sale.”
“We must not strike too harsh a tone,” said Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who was known for his “Whiggish” approach to political issues. He saw the arc of history bending towards freedom, but he didn’t want to break it, like a pole vaulter trying out one of the new fiberglass models.
“We have waited too long,” said Lal Bahari “Guppie” Gupta, sounding a more forceful note. “The British will never relinquish power unless we demand it.”
“You’re both wrong,” I said, raising my voice a bit to be heard over the din of the members assembling on the floor as the speaker called the legislature back into session.
“What do you mean?” Gupta asked, raising an eyebrow skyward in scorn.
“It’s that freaking loincloth,” I said, exasperated. “Does he have to wear it every goddamn day?”