The first time I saw hatred was in Michael Regan’s stepdad’s eyes. We were about five or six years old and we were playing by sliding down the laundry chute in Michael’s house. The chute went from the hallway down to the basement. When we got to the bottom there was Michael’s stepdad. He smacked Michael hard across the face. When Michael hit the floor, his stepdad kicked him hard in the ass. Then he picked him up by his hair and slapped him again. Filled with a physical terror only little people can know, I raced out of there as fast as I could.
When my dad came home from work I told him what had happened. An accomplished poker player, my dad told me to forget about it. Then he went over to Michael’s house and had a talk with his stepdad. Though Michael (between incarcerations) was to live next door for the next 11 years, his stepdad never again lifted a hand to him while I was around.
Which was probably one reason why me and Michael hung out so much. Another reason was that I was adventurous and Michael was stone crazy. Over the years, whenever we got caught committing this or that petty crime, my dad vouched for me and got me sprung. Michael’s stepdad told the cops to keep him. In fact, when Michael was ten years old, he got locked up for two years because his stepdad claimed he was “incorrigible.”
The problem was that Michael was half-Mexican while his mom and stepdad and younger brother and sister were all Irish. They had blue eyes and sandy hair and lanky frames. Michael had thick, black hair, charcoal eyes and dark, chocolate skin. His stepdad hated that. By the time Michael was old enough to know what a middle name was, he was convinced his own middle name was: “You half-breed bastard.”
Like some other Chicanos I grew up with, Michael got involved with La vida Loca. In our neighborhood, that meant joining Los Avenues. Then initiating its third generation, Los Avenues began as a mutual protection society and evolved into a mutual admiration society. Nearby were other Chicano gangs — Hazard, Dogtown, and Clover — but they didn’t invade each other’s turf. They were “rivals” only when they got bored.
The origin of Chicano gangs is the usual physical mismatch between Anglos and Mestizos. Since nearly all of the Anglo settlers of California believed in White Supremacy, it wasn’t long before the Mestizos grew tired of getting bullied. By the time I was growing up, all of the Anglos in my neighborhood knew that you didn’t go out and have fun by beating up on “Mexicans.” Even the little skinny ones might be handy with a switchblade. And if they were not and you had your way with them, then watch out for their brothers and cousins, their uncles and brothers-in-law.
Once, just after I had entered Junior High, Terry Black “chose off” Eddie Lavarro. Near the school was “five points,” a place atop a knoll where five residential streets came together. That’s where after school fights were staged. I say “staged” because such events drew large crowds. As a part of a crowd of Anglos making their way to the site, I remember hoping Eddie would kick Terry’s ass. Terry was a bully and a punk. Eddie was neither. Besides, unlike Terry, I had known Eddie since kindergarten.
When Eddie was late for his appointment, a lot of guys in the Anglo crowd I was standing in thought that made perfect sense. Then four chapas creeped up to five points and parked in a row. Out of the vehicles poured maybe 25 Los Avenues, a couple of them old enough to be our fathers. They promptly went to their trunks and pulled out tire irons, jack stands and baseball bats. Then they stood there, like us, ready to watch “a fair fight.”
When Eddie finally walked into the center of five points, I figured Terry would have a change of heart. But, no. Terry was game. They were just getting started when the police arrived and everybody, except Los Avenues, scattered.
And I didn’t think anything more about it.
About a week later, me and George Ochoa entered the newspaper shed where Eddie was working. Michael Regan was there, and when he saw me coming his mood darkened. He suggested to Eddie that I be initiated into the Mickey Mouse Club. Knowing what that meant, I put my back to the wall. Before I could say anything, the three of them were wailing on me with fists and feet. Since it was silly to try to fight back, I “covered up.” On the floor I protected my stomach and chest with my legs and hoped nobody would kick me in the balls through my clenched ass and knees.
But all of that was instinctive. Even somebody who has never been rat-packed has enough genetic sense to “assume the position.” The real trick was to take it as long as you could. If you squealed for mercy too soon, they would take you for a sissy and beat you all the harder. Yet, if you waited too long, they might do you serious damage. Ideally, early on, you would get knocked out. Your limp body would expose your vitals and not another blow would be struck. Or you could do what I did, which was to take one hell of a beating before begging for mercy — before joining the Mickey Mouse Club.
When they picked me up off the floor, they all seemed proud of me. They said they were willing to forget about me “siding” with Terry Black. When I looked at Michael, he seemed proudest of all. Yet I resented him. I felt he had betrayed me.
A few years later, after I had graduated from Advanced Infantry Training and was set to go off to fight in Vietnam, I paid what turned out to be my last visit to my homeboys. I sought out Michael Regan and found him living in the dirt basement under his stepdad’s raunchy Victorian mansion. Michael’s “room” consisted of a cot and a dresser and, overhead, a single 60-watt light bulb. Not wanting to shoot the shit in such confines, we took a walk down the street. Within a couple of blocks we spotted a 14-year old Anglo girl with a woman’s body coming our way up the sidewalk. Michael was thrilled. He asked me if I wanted to “do” her. He claimed he had done her before and she liked it. All we had to do was find some bushes and nobody would be the wiser.
Watching Michael’s face, I saw the hatred I had first seen in his stepdad’s eyes.
You might expect that I saw lots of hatred in Vietnam, and I did. Though maybe not so much as you might think. For one thing, it is not necessary to hate in order to fight a war. Some do it for pleasure. Also, as a part of an invading army, it is hard to match the ferocity of the natives. Besides, as Americans we were only over there for a year or 13 months. Whereas the Vietnamese on both sides were in it for the duration. The real hatred was between them.
When I returned Stateside I spent some time in North Carolina. There I met a quadroon from Mississippi named Dolf Reed. Olive-skinned, gray-eyed and aquiline-featured, Dolf looked more like a Spaniard than an African. Nevertheless he had spent years with SNCC, organizing voter registration drives, lunch counter sit-ins, petition campaigns and the like. Dolf began as a Baptist reformer and now was a “revolutionary black nationalist.” He told me that if I loved “the people” then I had to hate their oppressors. I couldn’t do it in the abstract, either. My beliefs, he asserted, were meaningless unless I lived them. So if I really hated war, he said, then I had to hate Generals and war profiteers. If I hated slums, then I had to hate slumlords. If I hated bullies, then I had to hate thuggish cops.
Dolf was giving me his essay on liberation, but I wasn’t buying. He was telling me that if I wanted to live in a humane society, then first I would have to get rid of the evil men who control this one. While I was willing to accept the reality of that, I couldn’t take the next step. I couldn’t shake the words of Malcolm X:
“You will reach the point where you will realize
that it takes power to talk to power;
it takes power to make power respect you.
And it takes madness to deal with a power structure
that is so corrupt, so corrupt.”
Just 21 years old, already I had seen enough madness in my life.
I quit doing political work mostly because I could no longer take what we used to call the “dagger eyes.” That’s how it is, you know. Try to do anything out of the goodness of your heart — feed the hungry, house the homeless, offer redemption to convicts or addicts or drunks — and you will make enemies. It doesn’t matter if your motivation is simple Christian decency. In fact, nowadays, advocating simple Christian decency is the quickest way to get yourself into trouble. Publicly plead for mercy for a “condemned killer” and watch the hate mail pour in.
Excluding those rare occasions when some individual is hotly pursuing vengeance against somebody who has done him serious injury, it is possible that all of the hatred in the world is self-hatred. In fact, the modern take on hatred is that it is a pathology. Hateful people are considered more ill than wicked. They are more to be pitied than feared.
What I’ve learned about hatred is that it is stupid. As some wag once put it, whoever you hate doesn’t know it, and if, by chance they do, then they could give a shit. Much more importantly, once you hate this group or that group you become a pawn and a chump. Say you hate Jews, or blacks, or whites, or anybody else. (Globally, the possibilities are limitless.) Whatever your preferred poison, there is always a legion of hustlers out there who will take your time and your money and — maybe — your life in exchange for their “assistance” in helping you pursue your “enemy.” Whole empires are built on such stuff. Playing this stupid, hateful mob against that is the oldest con in the world. And the biggest con still in operation today. To cite just one example: now we have half-literate Serbian peasants, folks without money or status or prospects, fervently believing in and acting upon the idea that if only they could exterminate all of the Muslims and their children, their chickens and their dogs and their goats, then they themselves would live like nobles in the now “cleansed” Greater Serbian Nation. Tell me the Serbian “leadership” isn’t getting filthy rich pushing that hateful nonsense on those bone-ignorant fools.
The bottom line with this hatred is this: when some yahoo promises to make your life better by making somebody else’s life a whole lot worse, hold onto your wallet. And if it is national politicians who are doing it, then hide your children.
Postscript: Shortly after my last visit, Michael Regan beat his stepdad to within an inch of his life. For this Michael did three years plus change in Folsom Prison. Shortly after his release, Michael robbed a neighborhood liquor store and, just for the fun of it, shot and killed the Anglo clerk. Since there was no death penalty in California at that time, he was sentenced to “life.”