Yippies Go Yiddish
Avoid Tsuris at Dem Convention Miami Beach 1972
I graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in May 1972. I didn't have a job or job planned. I had a large portfolio: Creem, Rolling Stone, Fusion, Village Voice, Berkeley Barb, as well as Boulder Express, Boulder magazine, and the Colorado Daily, where Sam Maddox and I were co-arts editors. I first went back to Long Island, where upon entering the house in Searingtown, sensed the absence of my father's coats in the front closet. "Where's dad's stuff?" My parents forget to tell me they were getting divorced.
My mom had bought a condo at Sky Lakes in North Miami Beach, FL. The condo was empty for the summer. My friend, Elliot Cashdan (1946-2011), who lived in East Meadow, was about four years older than I. He was not a writer but was struggling with his grief, needing to tell the story of the early death of his mother, whose many complaints were ignored by doctors until she was diagnosed too late with a brain tumor.
Elliot had a sporty British car, a Rover. We drove the hip sedan to Florida to spend the summer in North Miami Beach, collaborating on his mother's story (I felt in way over my head writing about posible medical malpractice). We worked in the morning, then hung out at the pool, invited friends over, drank many vodka tonics, went out to dinner. I'd just graduated college and saw the appeal of retirement.
Both the Democrats and Republicans were holding their conventions for the 1972 presidential election in Miami Beach that summer. Hunter S. Thompson had started filing regular dispatches since January 1972 in Rolling Stone that became part of his 1973 book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. Covering those covering the campaign was Timothy Crouse, who would write the book about the journalistic stars known as The Boys on the Bus. Political campaign coverage was at the top of the journalism pyramid, and I wanted in. I didn't even think to ask for credentials to the Miami Beach Convention Center. Instead, we hung out with the protesters, kibbutzed with the delegates we spotted in restaurants, easy to I.D. with their campaign hats. (The Republicans met August 21-23 to renominate President Richard Nixon, and I'm sure we blew town before that.)
This is an edited combination of my dispatches from the Colorado Daily. The first is a scene-setter, since it appeared in the Monday, July 10, 1972 edition, which was opening day of the Democratic convention, which ran through July 13. A second dispatch, about the demonstrators in Flamingo Park, will be posted in a few days.
YIPPIES AND DEMOCRATS CONVENING IN MIAMI
You drive through the South for hours, through Civil War towns like Fredericksburg and Appomattox, into the motorized neo-suburbia of Chapel Hill and Greensboro, through the Jesus Christ radio messages of Red, Dirt, South Carolina. You cross into the Georgia late at night, the windshield a mortuary for mosquitos not quite wiped off by the hard-jivin' rain, through Atlanta, Beatles on the radio, and before long, sleep in Macon.
The funny thing is, so much of it is exactly the same. Howard Johnson, Holiday Inns, Quality motels...you can drive across the length of this country without ever having to deal with it, but simply bug through, fast-food, self-service, air-conditioned, at 80 mph.
The South is changing. Easy Rider is mostly dead, and if you see it again, you realize Peter Fonda got shot because that is what he was looking for. You can dress like a yankee, look like a yankee, walk it and talk it like a Nu Yawker, even, and in most parts of the land you might as well be a traveling Bible salesman from South Bend.
A 12-year-old kid pumping gas in Georgia has never been to New York, doesn't want to go there, but sure finds the idea of its existence interesting. The threat has been disarmed by TV, by the new American mobility that has made virtually no place immune to strangers and their ideas, to Dick Cavett, to vans and trailers, to Flip Wilson to U-hauls, to lowest common denominators of American variety that everyone can understand.
Can George McGovern take the South? Some say he couldn't win the states from Virginia to Texas if he had Robert E. Lee as his running mate. Others think he can win with his dreamy coalition of Blacks and young whites against the war. There might be a few straggling Southern Dems who would stick with the party if they ran Fidel Castro and Angela Davis. But these "yellow dog" Democrats that bedeviled JFK and slowed civil rights legislation were gone by 1968, when Nixon won his first term with the "Southern strategy" and the Democrats lost it all in the chaos of the brutal 1968 Chicago convention and its aftermath.
In the lower end of Miami Beach [yet to be redeveloped as posh South Beach and still home to a population of poor Jewish retirees], it seems that English is used only as a matter of convenience in the land of the old folks. The Yippies have used this to brilliant advantage. "We didn't come here to make tsuris for you," Yipppie Jeff Nighbyrd said, using the Yiddish word for "trouble." Another Yippie seconded that. "Don't let the meshuginnas fool you." The senior citizens nodded in agreement as they spat out watermelon pits at a party thrown by the Yippies at the Lummus Park beach.
In North Miami Beach there's a Chinese restaurant called Fong Sha Noon. I asked the blonde waitress if she knew what the name meant.
"I don't know, and there's not a Chinese person in the place," she said.
"That's okay, it's not Chinese," I told her. Elliot knew: "Fong sha-noon," is a Yiddish pun roughly translated as "are you starting in with me already"? [It is also said to be mean "sudden abundance" in Chinese, according to the All Music website review of the album Fung Sha Noon, by New York composer David Simon on John Zorn's Tzaddik label].
At Fong Sha Noon one evening, we saw a number of delegates in straw hats with red, white, and blue bands, advertising their support for Endicott Peabody, who was in Miami Beach to campaign for the vice-presidential nomination. Peabody, a former governor of Massachusetts, has as his slogan: "The number one man for the number two job." The patrician Peabody had a jolly sense of humor, and enjoyed hearing what the name of the restaurant meant. [Peabody was not a very successful politician, partly because he was so progressive, even radical, for his time. He did away with the death penalty in his state; his mother was a Civil Rights activist who had gotten arrested in 1964 for trying to integrate a motel restaurant in St. Augustine, Fl.]
The senior citizens are for the most part supporting the Yippies, and will be marching with them when they "start up." Most of the senior citizens in Miami Beach are Jewish, mostly from New York. At one time they were the vanguard and rank and file of the radical and union movements. Born in Eastern Europe, educated by the streets of the Lower East Side and the Jewish Daily Forward, they are the people of Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas. When they were young, they elected socialists like Meyer London to Congress, labor firebrands like Baruch Charney Vladeck to [New York] City Council...
These activists raised children who became doctors and lawyers, stock brokers and accountants, who moved to the suburbs and raised families of their own. When their grandchildren, who these days sport beards and uncut hair looking like rabbis (or Jerry Garcia), come down to protest the Vietnam War and Nixon, it's like old home week in SDS heaven.
The elderly are not the only ones who've cooperated with the demonstrators--who, at this time, number a few hundred at most. On Thursday, June 30, the Yippies held their first march. Miami Beach Mayor Chuck Hall drove up in his Rolls-Royce, took off his coat and tie, and joined Jerry Rubin at the head of the march.
Mayor Hall has been in favor of granting the demonstrators beach and park campsites. He is supported on the six member City Council by only one of its members, Leon Haber. The other five, rallied by attorney Ellis Rubin, have nixed Hall's hopes for extending "an open hand" to all convention non-delegates.
Miami Beach Police Chief Rocky Pomerance, a tough but progressive cop, is optimistic about the demonstrators. "The counter-culture and movement people have all evinced the desire to demonstrate peacefully. We recognize and respect the right of peaceful dissent," he said. To back up his words, Pomerance said that he hopes to have his officers stationed at the convention center without guns, while deploying all the peaceful crowd-control plans at his disposal. Miami Beach, 1972, was not going to be a replay of Chicago 1968.
You might ask: What was the difference between a Yippie and a Zippie? A Yippie would buy Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book. A Zippie would actually steal the book. Yippies were lapsed, stoned Marxists; Zippies were Zeppo Marxists.
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