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  (March 30, 2005)
           I went out for a long walk early the other morning, to “greet the brand new day,” as John Lennon sang; to help usher in the spring outburst of roses, crepe myrtle blossoms, azaleas, camellias, etc.
         Instead, of course, I found distraction. Try as I might to ignore it, human behavior tends to just shout down beauty and delicacy.
         Spring was drowned out, for the most part, by large vehicles manned by creatures who do not have the faintest idea what to do at four-way stop signs. And who are all too ready to back up their paralyzing stupidity with ostentatious and vociferous displays of ego.
         Usually beginning with that favorite of all words in the English language: the one beginning with “f” and ending in “k.” With two other letters in between.
         Then there were the “homeless,” people who were once known as “bums,” asking me for “spare change,” and always making a point of addressing me as “sir.” I get more respect from bums than I ever did from newspaper editors. Most of which, in my view, should be on sidewalks asking for spare change.
         Especially the one who explained that I could not write a column for the L.A. Times specifically because I am white and male.
         Anyhow, I loped along an old cracked sidewalk toward Santa Monica, occasionally nodding a “good morning” to a rare pedestrian or dog-walker---usually getting a baffled or frightened look in return. Why is the man in the brown felt hat greeting me? What does he really want?
         In one case, I found myself walking behind a lovely young woman in a floral skirt who, judging by the violent jiggling of her haunches, seemed to be wearing no underwear. She was going at a good clip, too, with long athletic legs working hard to haul that unrestrained, gelatinous bustle. It looked like a most uncomfortable walking experience.
          I momentarily considered asking if having two big slabs of adipose tissue vigorously colliding with every step is problematic, but I figured this might be considered antisocial behavior.
         At last I reached the famed Third Street Promenade, which was delightfully devoid of the throng of hormone-crazed tattooed smoking surly children who glom on to the place like bees on a hive, most nights. Scattered folk on their way to work sipped from the inevitable Starbucks cups; a strange mini-street sweeper went round and round like a manic fly, its 21st century technology somehow failing to vacuum up cigarette butts left behind by hormone-crazed tattooed smoking surly children.
         I perused CDs for a while in Hear Music, but Hear Music had little that I wanted to Hear. Certainly not the new Beck album. Funny how a guy who is calculatedly designed to look so uncalculating sells so well. And I really wasn’t interested in Elvis Costello’s composing debut, despite reviews that compare it to (gasp) Gershwin. I figure there are a lot of composers with better work that will never be recorded because they are not pop stars with fake, goofy names.
         As I wandered out, people had proliferated on the Promenade, including requisite musicians and propagandists. I determined to smile politely, say “no thank you,” and move on as I passed a group of young men handing out flyers.
         But I couldn’t. How can you “move on” past a scruffy, unwashed 20-ish punk with aggressively uncombed hair, as he sucks on a cigarette and proclaims, “Nuclear Power is the answer!” I mumbled my "no thanks," took a few steps as I perused the flyer, and stopped. Young people espousing nuclear power?
         One of Nuke Boy’s accomplices promptly assailed me about how awful Bush’s social security plans are. They had me.
         “We agree on that,” I said, then noted the name of the young man’s sponsor on the flyer: Lyndon LaRouche.
         LaRouche is, of course, a minor megalomaniac who has cultivated small-time political clout for decades, long dismissed as a highly literate kook by anyone with a marginally reasoning brain. He is also a convicted felon who served five years for defrauding senior citizen supporters. Yet he is making a comeback, at age 157. Go to any protest rally and you will find hordes of happy kids handing out LaRouche stuff. Some of them are very talented---I once saw a group of about twenty a cappella singers concertizing admirably as they distributed flyers---and all look very earnest.
         “Oh, LaRouche,” I said. “No, thank you.”
         The young man was handsome, with blonde hair and a short red beard, but his face went suddenly contorted, tense, ugly.
         “That’s what everyone says." he snarled. "Why don’t you like LaRouche?”
         “Many reasons,” I said, turning to leave.
         “What are they?”
         “I’m not obligated to explain my opinions to you, any more than you are obligated to explain yours to me.”
         “Yes I am!”
         Now that was idealistic. His jaw was set, his eyes sharp and flinting. I felt a little sorry for him, so I sought to engage in what the liberals like to call “a healthy exchange of ideas.” I told him that I’d been a journalist for a long time, and had read about LaRouche through the years, had even read some of his writing, and concluded that he was flying without a plane.
         “Huh,” laughed Red Beard. “I’ve talked to a LOT of journalists here, and they ALL say the same thing. So what don’t you like about him? Do you think he’s EVIL?”
         I told him I had no idea what his motivations or ethics might be. Then I made the mistake of beginning a sentence with, "Now, I've been here a bit longer than you have, and---"
          The poor kid. His only verbal comeback was the outburst of a six-year-old.
         "So. . .That doesn't make me smarter or wiser than you, but it does give me far more data on which to formulate perceptions and base conclusions."
         I had his ear again, which was to his credit.
         “Here you have a man,” I continued, “who has been seeking power and legitimacy since well before you were born. He exhausted credibility with most people long ago, and now is cynically exploiting the young. He is usurping their idealism and sincerity in order to reestablish a power base. He reels them in with anti-Bush views about social security, for instance.”
         Red Beard smirked triumphantly.
         “They killed Socrates for that,”he said.
         I brushed aside shock that anyone under 30---or 40---even knows the name, Socrates, and replied, “THEY killed Socrates for THAT. What does that mean?”
         “For corrupting young people!”
         “I never said he was corrupting them. I said he is exploiting them.”
         Red Beard’s face went relaxed again, but the eyes remained suspicious.Suffice to say that I jawed with him for about five more minutes, essentially repeating my point as gently as possible. Yet no matter what I said, Red Beard kept coming back to asking me if I thought LaRouche was "evil." He couldn’t get past it.
         “As I’ve said many times now,” I replied, “I don’t know what goes on in LaRouche’s mind, or what his motives are. Perhaps, like Oprah, he mistakenly thinks he is doing good in the world.”
         That seemed to satisfy him, as his face relaxed and he suddenly looked like he had important persons to assail. More important than a crackpot like me, who could not understand that LaRouche and Socrates belong in the same sentence. I thanked him for his “open-mindedness and courtesy," which he really seemed to appreciate, as he pumped my hand solidly, and I moved on.
         A couple blocks later, a small white car made a right turn in front of me. I recognized white-haired Tom Hayden at the wheel. Tom Hayden, one of the Chicago Seven, a titular “sixties radical” once married to Jane Fonda, an actress and fitness enthusiast now getting a hip replacement.
         I rather like Tom, as he always endeavors to reason with people, just as I do, despite the fact that it is certainly a lost cause. I waved. He took note of me, squinting as if trying to figure out if we were acquainted, so I smiled and flashed a symbol from a bygone era that once rallied hearts and minds behind the notion of “peace and love.”
         He waved back.
         And I made my way home, musing on my encounters with jiggling haunches, respectful bums, suspicious pedestrians, the post-1984 1984 LaRouche Newspeak Child, and a quixotic one-time ’60s “radical” bent on making the world more sane.
         The azaleas and camellias and roses and crepe myrtle blossoms shouted.

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