Year of the Signifyin Monkey









































































Nothing would ever be the same
(January 30, 1968 San Francisco time)


"Nothing would ever be the same."

What can that possibly mean? Nothing ever has been the same. Oh, it used to be the same but now it’s not. When was it the same? Back then, when things were the same. Not like now, when nothing’s the same. Especially now at the end of January 1968, when things are about to be so not the same that sameness itself will change.

Since Stop the Draft Week in October, the Jewish and Gregorian New Years have come and gone, the Lunar New Year is at hand. As Jimmy prepares Sunday dinner, a skillet based on Original Joe’s Special, Greenland passes below midnight, the darkest invisible point on Earth’s far side from the Sun, and enters Monday. Most of the planet is occupied by Monday now, which stretches from Greenland eastward across Europe, Africa, Asia to the International Date Line running south from the Bering Sea past Midway Island, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga. As Jimmy drizzles whipped eggs into a pan of spinach, ground beef and mushrooms, and Cathy pours Mountain Red from a gallon jug into ruby glasses bought at Goodwill, Saigon has spent nine hours in Monday, last day of the old Lunar Year.

When Cathy and Jimmy wheel sleeping beneath the midnight point six hours from now, four hours of Sunday will be left in the world, thinned in a crescent between the Golden Gate and Midway Island. All else is Monday. For an infinitesimal moment, as the unseeable Line passes beneath the invisible Point, all the world is Monday, January 29, 1968. Then a splinter of Tuesday opens, moves westward from the Line at 1000 miles per hour. Saigon will enter Tuesday, New Years day, the first day of Tet, Year of the Monkey, as San Francisco, behind the times, wakes to Monday, the day before.

And then nothing really would ever be the same.

They chewed the first mouthfuls. The telephone rang.

“Huhwoh,” said Jimmy.

His lawyer.

“You need to come over,” said Beverly Absalom, “both of you.”

“We’re in the muhl of duhr.”

“ Now.”


The Lam

Bev’s apartment hung to the fog shedding and eucalyptus drenched slope of Mt. Sutro. She offered them wine, bade them sit, turned up the hi‑fi to drown any listening devices, pulled a chair close.


“The Alameda Grand Jury has indicted Jimmy for assault on a policeman," she said. "Don’t ask how I know.”


The air died in Cathy’s lungs.

“That was months ago,” said Jimmy.


“The wheels of injustice grind slowly. They added assault and battery with a deadly weapon, to wit, your hands —”


“ — intent to kill, demonstrated by extreme hostility, malice, and disregard for life, which bumps it to felonious, and tossed in disorderly conduct and riot in the first degree.”

“He saved a girl from being beaten up.”

“The grand jury only knows what the DA tells them. They have a photo of you assaulting this cop and I don’t know what else.”


“We need to organize,” said Cathy. “arrange bail, set up a time for him to —”

“—don’t use the word surrender,” said Jimmy, dwelling on being stomped.


“—at the Courthouse,” said Bev, “and bring the press so the cops don’t do that thing they do.”

“I’ll get on it,” said Cathy. A Rolodex whirred in her mind. “Tie it in with Huey Newton.”


“But until then, my dears, Jimmy needs to lie low. The warrant can go out any time. Don’t go home. Where can you stay they won’t look for you?”

They shook their heads.

“Do you know Lester Krup?”


Ramparts staff writer. He’s back East. I have his keys.”


“Telegraph Hill.

“How long do I have to stay under?”

“Few days, a week, depends how willing they are to negotiate and what support Cathy drums up.”


“Shouldn’t Cathy go too?”

“No,” said Bev, “It lends credibility to my mistaken belief that you’re in Pittsburgh giving a speech.”

“Suppose they come in shooting?” asked Jimmy.

“They won’t, darling,” said Bev. “You’re white.”


A philosophical note

People are often accused of “rewriting history.” This is odd, for history constantly rewrites itself.

In 1864, living agents that could be identified, held responsible for disease, and killed, appeared in Louis Pasteur’s Paris laboratory. Once they appeared everyone acted as if they had always existed, thus retrofitting our world with microbes.

In 1968, a great leap in need of explanation took place in the Bay Area, overtaking Cathy, Hank, Jimmy, Wilhelm, etc, who by infinitesimal degrees had made the leap thinkable, which made it possible, which made it occur, but they did not make it occur until it was over. Since nothing happens without a cause, the anti-war movement was retrofitted in 1968 with leaders of Stop the Draft Week in 1967, making them the effect of the event of which they were supposed to have been the cause, and now, in the 1967 that was being created in 1968, they had always been the cause. This pleased the authorities, who like Pasteur did not believe in spontaneous generation and thought it impossible for ten thousand people to decide on their own to seize the streets of Oakland. Now they had living agents who could be identified, held responsible, and if not killed, punished. Thus were the alchemizers alchemized.

By the eve of the moon's new year they had become Jimmy2, CathyB, Wilhelm II, etc. When a question was raised at meetings, the chairman glanced swiftly in Jimmy2’s direction. Jimmy2 could gain a group’s attention by raising a discreet finger like a regular at Sotheby’s. Peripheral conversation dimmed as he spoke. People in the room more often prefaced their remarks with “as Jimmy said.”

Women who had not spoken but had important points to make approached CathyB in the hall outside the meeting. What do you think of this idea? they wanted to know. Could you raise such and such with [Jimmy or the chairman or whomever male]? CathyB labored at the law firm of Garry, Dreyfus, McTernan, Brotsky, Herndon & Pesonen, as had Cathy, but young people waiting for a lawyer now asked CathyB what she thought about their case, and what lawyer would you recommend? Cathy was a secretary, CathyB a legal worker. Cathy was sexy, CathyB even more. Cathy had not been invited to conferences. CathyB was.

Wilhelm II was no longer the dean of Telegraph Avenue coffee-shop revolutionaries, he was a revolutionary leader and always had been. The original Wilhelm, though just as witty and quotable, had never been called upon or quoted half so often by the press.

Thus are mighty saltations of tiny adjustments made. Thus did Jesus walk on H2O, molecule by molecule.


Jimmy let Cathy drive, which he usually did not. Anxiety sucked at his optic nerves; Original Joe’s Battery Acid rose in his stomach.. They stopped for gas. In a Mens Room the color of panic, he shit a stream as his butt hit the toilet seat. Gone with the shit the adventure of it all, the morgue-tiled toilet a prison hole where crazies paint the walls with feces, and for what? The glory of saving a girl from a shoving about by nervous cops. He wiped himself from a roll of rectal sandpaper, but o no, the bowels of his body had to go again. He gazed through the stench to a repainted swath of wall above the dispenser. Someone had schoolboyed as on invisible blue lines, must have been constipated to take such careful time:

fuck you jimmy

a fart from the great beyond.

Had your fun, can I go now? Wiped zipped washed toweled, he stood, clean hand on flaking knob, not knowing whether he would step out the dented door into

1) a jail cell

2) the African veldt, that would be nice

3) a gas station parking lot in Delano, California circa 1965, about to meet Cesar Chavez for the first time, and all the future, including this, would be changed

4) the upstairs hall of the ancient house in St. Louis, 1952, dinner’s ready, Dad calls out. Ajax butta bum the foaming cleanser butta bumbum wash the dirt right down the drain.

Jimmy stepped through Door #5: reality as he left it, Cathy waiting, fog damp on her damp face.

They popped out of the Broadway Tunnel into Lunar New Year’s Eve sizzling over Chinatown, kids giddy in the streets, Grant St. blocked off. Cathy cut north at Stockton to avoid the jam.

“Who knew,” said Jimmy.

“Year of the Monkey.”

She pried out a parking space near Washington Square.

“I’m starving.”

“Relax,” said Cathy. “They don’t have an all-points bulletin out on you.”


Cathy made room on the marble round of a trattoria on Union for a legal pad. What Is to Be Done.

She wrote:

call black anti-draft union, DC, Hank, Wilhelm

find campus contact sheets

A woman or the reflection of a woman or the thought of a woman in a peasant dress passed outside the windowglass. Who would The Girl turn out to be? A brat from the Marin suburbs or the area thereto adjacent. A South of Market junkie. Financial District secretary, records division, Bank of America, secretly anti-war. Waitress in this very restaurant, earlier shift. Lead singer for or groupie of not-yet-famous rock band.

“Who was the reporter you were talking to when it happened?”

San Francisco Institute of Art student, listening to KSAN, humping her boyfriend, or six blocks away walking down Grant Street gaga at the twenty-man dragons.

“Jimmy, you aren’t listening. What reporter were you were talking to?”

“Phil Harbinger.”

She wrote:

call Phil Harbinger

ask Harry Bridges to donate Longshore Hall for fundraiser

“Jimmy, I’m doing all the shitwork here.”

“Who's the one on whose head they want to fandango?”


Or sitting in the bay window of her parents’ Pacific Heights mansion staring at the lights of Alcatraz, wondering where her hero is, that daring man who rescued her in Oakland, and what is he suffering and what can she, pining, do on his behalf.

Here, Girl, I’m over here -- me, Jimmy -- look this way.

The trattoria swung toward midnight. In Saigon, the Year of the Monkey was a half-day gone.