Hayden is dead now, so I feel free to recount the occasions upon
which our lives intersected. There were a couple of them. If I seem a
bit rough on Tom in the beginning, please consider it in light of the
new Netflix movie about the Chicago 7 (or 8). Tom doesn't seem like a
particularly pleasant man in Eddie Redmayne's portrayal either. I
learned along the way that he was a good man.
Sixties have been remembered well in popular memory. Much better than
they deserve, if one is being honest. The actual results were mixed,
and even that is being kind.
were some successes, some high points, but upon close examination
they were either no big deal, or more like the prelude to a backlash
that undid all of the good. Sure, we landed on the moon, and made it
back alive, that was really something. Nothing much of note followed,
however, and the lasting benefits of the “race to the moon” were
found only in things like the miniaturization of computers and
advances in metallurgy and rocket fuel formulation. Sure, some
important legislation was passed with bipartisan support. The Civil
Rights Act; the Voting Rights Act. Great Society! War on Poverty!
We've all see how those things worked out over the long haul. To be
clear: not very well.
beat the rush, myself. I was already well and truly alienated before
the turn of the decade. Happy New Year, 1960! A few years of high
school and the assassination of JFK put the icing on the cake. A
couple of years of college and a brief stint in the Navy failed to
improve my mood. 1968 finished me off. I cut the power, and the
blackout lasted for many years.
Hayden was about ten years older than me, and in the late Sixties
“ten years older” was an enormous chasm of time. Those were the
days of, “never trust anyone over thirty,” and it was true for
the most part. They had a very different experience of life; they
liked different music; they were politically alien to young people;
they were beyond the reach of the draft, and if they had served at
all in the military it had been in those lazy days of the late 1950s,
early 1960s. The Elvis Army, you know, they send you to Germany or
Georgia and they teach you how to make pies. 1968 wasn't like that.
had been aware of Tom Hayden for years before 1968. Aware of the
Students for a Democratic Society, the SDS. I thought that it was a
bunch of crap, and I don't recall the subject coming up frequently in
my social circles. I thought, in fact, that anything to do with
either politics or hippies was a bunch of crap. Not that we thought
that the SDS were hippies, no, they were even worse. They were, in
our eyes, straight kids pretending to be radicals while playing at
parliamentary procedure. I was aware of a few of the individuals who
would come to be known as the Chicago 7, or 8. Tom Hayden, Abby
Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale. The whole thing was not my
scene. Much too public.
we didn't waste any time on such things. I, for one, had much more
important things on my mind. Things like girls, literature, music,
movies, museums, and Italian food, or anything that would tend to
enhance my enjoyment of those things. And, I suppose, anything that
would help to dampen the signals from the outside world on less
experience of 1968, and the Democratic convention, was more like
Haskell Wexler's “Medium Cool” (1969) than like the recent Aaron
Sorkin film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Like Wexler's cinema
verite point of view, my life took place in quieter spaces, involving
ordinary people, with the worst of the craziness buzzing around the
edges, only briefly and occasionally including me in the action.
usual, it has taken me six hundred words to get to the point.
the mid-1970s, Tom Hayden and I had both gotten married and moved to
Los Angeles. I'm not sure if we did those things in the same order.
It's not much of a story, but here it is.
1976, Mr. Hayden ran in the Democratic primary for the United States
Senate seat of John Tunney. Wikipedia describes it as a spirited
contest, with Mr. Hayden closing the gap near the end. Good run, but
he lost the primary. That was the beginning of Tom Hayden's quest for
a career in California politics.
wife at the time, my ex-wife you might say, was an educated
professional woman who ran her own business during the day and taught
classes in her field at the local community college a couple of
evenings per week. She was a pistol, that one, full of excess energy.
It flew off of her in sparks. A beautiful, vivacious woman with a big
personality. People like that sort of women. She was active in the
profession's organizations, and this meant that she worked with some
people who were very active politically. And, as is the way with such
things, with some people who had a lot of money, since politics and
money go together like Ben and Jerry. Some time in mid-1982, we were
invited to a fundraiser in a ritzy, beachy suburb north of Los
Angeles, a fundraiser for none other than Mr. Tom Hayden. At the time
he was running for a seat in the California State Assembly, the lower
house of the state legislature. He was still questing for that
elusive career. Trying to find the doorway, so to speak.
I should mention that it was not only SDS that had always rubbed me
the wrong way. Tom Hayden had always had the same effect. I was
somewhat abrasive for what amounted to at least half of my life, but
I had learned to be civil. I was properly dressed, and I knew some of
the people at the affair. I was fitting right in for most of the
evening. My wife and I were introduced to Tom and I shook his hand.
We exchanged pleasantries. For all he knew, I might be rich, so I'm
sure that he was on his best behavior. We both were.
all had a few drinks, and some expensive finger food, and Mr. Hayden
gave a little presentation in support of his candidacy. Then it was
question time, like a press conference. It was going pretty well, but
then the devil on my left shoulder fed me a doozy of a question and I
let it fly.
Hayden,” I said, “you started out in the race for the U.S.
Senate, and it didn't go your way. Then you tried for the House of
Representatives, then the California state senate, and now you're in
the race for the state assembly. My question is: if you lose your run
this year, will you lower your sights still further and try again?
And what position in politics would be too low for you to consider?”
was way too pleased with the question to pay much attention to his
answer, but I recall that it was brief. He won that election and
served in the California Assembly for ten years, followed by eight
years in the California State Senate. He did a pretty good job of it.
I'm sure that he was a much better person than I had given him credit
years later, he showed me a different side and indirectly did me a
solid. Our lives again intersected, although on that occasion it was
not in the same room. He was still in the assembly, and by a total
coincidence he and one of my wife's professional friends were seated
next to each other on a commercial flight. They were well acquainted,
and happy to see each other. First, a bit of background.
was not the only abrasive personality in my family, and my ex-wife
had gotten us into license trouble with the Department of Social
Services. She had brusquely asserted her right never to be bossed
around by anybody, under any circumstances. Not an unusual occurrence
in itself, but on this occasion the person receiving the metaphoric
back of her hand was a DSS official. They pulled our license, which
put us in a spot. Luckily my wife was very popular in her
professional circles, and well loved by her business clients. A
couple of things happened rather quickly.
one of her ex-clients, a high-powered lawyer with offices in Century
City, asked her if she was represented by counsel. No, so he simply
said, “I'll take it on, don't worry about it.” DSS was accustomed
to running these drills against unrepresented individuals, so imagine
their surprise when, in quick succession, they receive a
representation letter, and a phone call to quickly set up the hearing
in the matter. “As soon as possible, please, because lost revenues
are adding up,” he said. “Next week, if possible, and please
allow two days for the hearing.” That made the poor DSS attorney
swallow his bubble gum. “Two days?” he said. “Well, we will be
calling quite a few witnesses and references.”
soon after, our friend took her seat next to Mr. Hayden on the plane.
A flight scheduled to take about one hour. Tom had a situation that
our friend might be able to help with, and he asked her if she'd mind
if he ran it by her. He was seeking her advice, she's as bright as
the sun. She said, “sure,” and for about a half hour they
discussed Tom's situation and she had some ideas for him. With ten
minutes to go in the flight, she said, “Tom, I have something that
you might be able to help with too.”
wrote down our names and address to give him, and told Tom the story
of our license problem. He said, “I'll call them. It should be
fine, from what you told me.” Being officially in state politics
comes in handy in these situations, even if you are only in the
assembly. The next day, Tom called the head of the legal department
at DSS in Sacramento, who gladly took the call from a famous
assemblyman. After telling the guy our name and address, he said, “do
you know who these people are? Do you know who they know?” Donors,
he meant, Democratic donors. That attorney then called the guy
handling the matter in the Los Angeles County, who almost immediately
sent a letter to us, and called besides, more or less apologizing for
the mistake. License restored as of this second. We never saw the
offending official again.
light of all of this, it occurs to me that I owe Tom Hayden an
apology for my rude question, and more of a thank you for helping us
out of that jam. Those I now send with great reverence into the void,
because Tom was part of the great die-off that we all experienced in
2016. That was a banner year for death, wasn't it? Really got the
died of a stroke. I hope that he did not suffer too much. He was 76.