Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Burning Banks and Roasting Marshmallows: The Education of Daniel Marleau. Notes 'n News.

Gregory Desilet. 2010, ISBN: 1-4415-4683-9 (Trade Paperback 6x9).

Michael Sedano

I had drawn Quick Reaction Force duty that February day. QRF was among the Army's quaint oxymorons. After a full day's duty, QRF detailed soldiers were confined to quarters from 1700 until called upon for a quick reaction.

Boring hours pass until the inevitable 2330 hours call-up when we'd rush out the quonset hut shouting "Go! Go! Go!" Jump into the back of a deuce and a half for a wild bouncy ride across the post. Working in total darkness, I would locate the ammo box then pass out magazines of live ammunition to unseen hands as voices counted off. Snap the magazine into the weapon but not pull back the receiver to lock and load one live round.

The truck would slide to a halt near the front gate where we exited the vehicle in silence, threw ourselves on the cold hard dirt and pointed our weapons at the unaware Korean civilians across the street. After a few minutes we were told to reverse the process, only slower, and another QRF was in the books.

In the interim between reporting to our hootch and the alert, we'd pass time cleaning our M-14 reciting the mantra, "Sir, the M-14 is a 7.62 mm, magazine-fed, gas operated semi- and fully-automatic shoulder weapon..." We'd practice donning the M-17 Protective Mask. Stored in a canvas bag slung across the shoulder, the drill was to pop the snap, extract the mask, pull the straps apart while fitting them around one's head. A vigorous tug at the straps sealed a rubber gasket to the face. With one hand pushing firmly against the pressure of a forceful exhalation intended to clear the mask of lethal agents, we'd then shout "gas! gas!" before exploding in wild laughter and ripping the mask off our instantly sweating faces.

The highlight of any QRF was the privilege of receiving the free copies of Pacific Stars and Stripes that would go on sale in the PX the next morning. This particular February's issue made my stomach turn. The front page featured a large photograph of a burning building--the Bank of America in Isla Vista, California. Something snapped when I saw that. My student loans were owed that bank. I used to deposit my Teaching Assistant paychecks into my checking account in that building. And there it was going up in flames. I unsheathed my bayonet and drove it into the photo, again and again and again.

I'd heard stories from friends who were in IV that night. I used to laugh that my wife and my friend Michael Collins had thrown the first stones. But it wasn't until I'd read--make that devoured--Gregory Desilet's creative non-fiction treatment of the bank burning and the series of riots surrounding the fire, that I came fully to realize the ugly violence that consumed my old stomping grounds only a year after I'd left the place. The story makes me happy I was not there.

When I left Santa Barbara, Isla Vista was truly a paradise of drugs, sex, rock and roll, and intellectual ferment. But damn, gente, Isla Vista became one perilous student ghetto during the mad uprisings of 1970.

Desilet's account, although heavily--and effectively--fictionalized, provides some hair-raising moments that deserve a 2010 reading. With Bush-Obama's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as lethal and meaningless today as Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon's Vietnam was then, reading Burning Banks and Roasting Marshmallows: The Education of Daniel Marleau, will make one wonder where have all the protestors gone?

The IV pedo started with an unfavorable tenure decision unfavorable to a self-righteous Anthro profe and his radical cohort. Foolish students were putty in their hands, particularly as the profe cynically linked his private personnel action to widespread genuine disgust with the failed Southeast Asia war. I am not reading too much into the plot here; Desilet's key characters present much the same perspective, albeit one needs to read between the lines to see it.

Desilet peoples his narrative with three fictitious characters. Marleau, a photographer, is Desilet's alter ego. The fotos appear in poor reproduction in the pulp pages, and are better viewed at the author's website. Canova, radical instigator and a bit of an entrepreneur, Canova burns with anger at the pigs. A public speaker and instigator, Canova goads Marleau to attempt a second bank burning, during which Kevin Moran, QEPD, a student, is killed accidentally by a stupid cop. It's a disappointment that the story doesn't explain what happened to the killer cop. Jeff is Marleau's roommate, a voice for moderation and balance between mobilization and against violence. But Jeff has a dark secret that puts Desilet's attempt to rationalize the forces of left / center / right into the trashcan.

Interplay between a drama beauty, her cop daddy, and Marleau leads to some of the book's best moments of comic relief tinged with a flirtatiousness that has a ring of authenticity. The generational split Desilet builds around this trio, although preachy in the end, is a highlight. Younger readers will understand the daughter's impatience, older readers with kids of their own will sympathize with both the kid and the dad. Cops, conservatives, and teabagger readers will side with the dad while condemning the daughter's headstrong attitudes. All politcal and life spectrums will enjoy reading the work.

Being self-published should not dissuade readers from seeking out this excellent account. As it does for me, Burning Banks and Roasting Marshmallows: The Education of Daniel Marleau fills some gaps in what one thinks one knows about the 1960s and 1970s. People who think "hippies, love children, antiwar protests" explains anything about the era will have their eyes opened to what those terms look like up close and dangerous.

La Bloga friend Roberto Cantú invites scholars, students, and people interested in the Mexican nobel laureate to the 2010 edition of the school's annual celebration of the writer's career. The 2010 meeting, titled, World Civilizations, Modernity, and Octavio Paz: A Plurality of Pasts and Futures opens in the Golden Eagle Ballroom on the El Sereno campus near East LA. The event is free, although conference organizers warn that campus cops enforce parking regulations 24/7.

For information on the conference, visit the Paz blog or contact Dr. Roberto Cantú at the Department of Chicano Studies, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032. (323) 343-2195. rcantu@calstatela.edu.

David Mills, QEPD

Gregg Barrios eulogizes his friend, television writer David Mills, in a recent issue of the San Antonio Express-News. Datelined New Orleans, where the writer collapsed during production, Barrios notes how suddenly vital matters can change, It's difficult to write about the passing of a talented television writer whose work has graced some of the most important TV programming in the last decade: “The Corner,” “NYPD Blue,” “Homicide: Life in the Streets,” “ER,” “Kingpin,” “The Wire.” It's even harder when that writer is in the prime of his life and creativity.

2010 Festival de Flor y Canto Open Call for Artists is Closed

The festival takes place at Doheny Memorial Library on the campus of the University of Southern California on September 15-17, 2010. The lineup of veterans of the 1973 event returning for a reunion will be a strong draw. Equally attractive is the list of contemporary poets and fiction writers with impressive publication histories, amplified by a group of emerging writers some making their debut on a public stage at 2010 Festival de Flor y Canto, as was the case in 1973. Look for announcements on the guest lineup in coming weeks here at La Bloga.

National Latino Writers Conference May 19-22 in Alburquerque

Registration remains open for the 8th renewal of one of the best writing workshops for Chicana Chicano Latina Latino writers. A small enrollment, a top-notch faculty, and superb facility guarantee a productive experience. Couple professional ambience to the conference's opportunity to present work to agents and publishers, and the NLWC stands as a compelling need in a writer's development. For details, visit the National Hispanic Cultural Center's website here.

That's the view from Isla Vista and Pasadena this antepenultimate Tuesday of the only April in 2010, a Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. See you next Tuesday.


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1 comment:

Michael Collins said...

If the book is as well written an engaging as this review, we're in for a great read. I intend to find out.

In behalf of Mrs. Sedano, a highly literate and gentle woman, and myself, I'm happy to deny once again Mike's confabulation - we threw no rocks. However, I was there to watch events unfold.

I was near the bank returning a book to someone when I noticed the small groups gathering near the Bank of America. I wandered over to see what was up. There were people griping about bank's rotten behavior and its role in the power elite. There were also cans of rocks about the size of baseballs just sitting here and there.

The crowds grew and people started more organized chanting. Then the Santa Barbara PD showed up in large buses and started to unload for a ritual beat down. All of a sudden, rocks were headed in their direction, quite a few rocks. They SBPD made a hasty retreat to their transport and took off. It was the only instance that I know of during that time when the police had to openly retreat.

Then the bank was burned.

It was a set up. Where did those rocks come from?

A few days before, Jerry Rubin and the other members of that traveling show had addressed a huge crowd in Isla Vista at the football stadium (for a team that didn't exist anymore). They whipped people up real good, then left town. I was near the stage and, right next to me, Rubin said to one of the others, "This is the best one yet!!!"

What a crock. The Bank of America burned but, the entire time I was at UCSB, no one ever organized a demonstration at the 10 or 12 major defense firms located about one mile from IV, not one.

Rubin's remark and the failure to address the real defense establishment of the time taught me a great deal about the legitimacy of the protest movement leaders. The movement was excellent. The leaders, effortlessly flying all over the country for years, were a bunch of performers, small time magicians, diverting the energy of a real peoples' movement into the clown show of paid freaks who missed the point and alienated the masses.

Ah well, the war ended...and it had nothing much to do with us. Nine years is a long time. How many have we been in Iraq?

I'm sure that this book is well worth reading, just based on your description of Carnova.