Political activism starts early for some people. For Lip, my high school friend, this was especially the case.
Lip came from a great family. His parents were very gentle and kind, but his father, a liberal democrat, had this habit of talking about political conspiracies. His favorite one was that the FBI was following his friend, who frequently visited their home.
This was also a time when conservative books like The Naked Communist, describing the evils of communism, written by Cleon Skousen, were very popular.
Political tensions on the right and left were growing during my time in high school, or so it seemed to me. Little did I know that Lip would be instrumental in getting me involved in right/left tensions in a way I never dreamt of.
In the spring of 1961 (close enough), Lip invited me to a lecture that was to take place in downtown Long Beach. The subject was, “The Dangers of Communism” (or something close to that.) It was held in a big meeting hall, the name of which I can’t recall. Anyway, we arrived early to get a good seat. In fact, we were so early we were able to sit in the second row.
By the time the lecture started, there must have been 500 people in attendance. About five minutes into the presentation, the lecturer started quoting from The Naked Communist. Lip leaned over to me and spoke in a voice loud enough so that those sitting around us couldn’t help but hear. “Skousen is an ex-FBI guy. His book is an ultra conservative propaganda rag. If you read it, you’ll throw up. I’m not kidding. Skousen thinks that any liberal idea is a communist idea.”
I didn’t react to what Lip said. I just stared straight ahead and put my finger up to my lips in a gesture to be quiet. About five more minutes went by, and all of the sudden Lip jumped up and in a loud voice said, “I’m leaving.” The speaker and audience froze.
He then started to move to the side of the row to leave. He turned back and to my horror said, again in a loud voice, “come on Roger, let’s get out of here.”
(Lip had invited me. Lip was driving. There was nothing that intimidated me about Lip. He was short, uncoordinated, funny, with a streak of unpredictability that drove me to distraction.)
So, what did I do? Of course, in utter stupidity, I stood up and walked out with him.
He’s A Nut
Before I could vent on Lip (I can’t remember being so mad), he started jabbering as we walked toward the car. “Roger, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, sorry, sorry.”
Me: “Why’d we come?”
Lip: “I wanted to see for myself. The guy was a NUT, right?”
Me: “How could I tell? You kept interrupting.”
Lip: “I promise you nothing good was being said.”
Me: “We only heard ten minutes of it. How can you say that?”
Lip: “I heard enough. I know about these things.”
Me: “Take me home.”
Lip: “Let’s go get a hamburger.”
Lip: “I’ll pay for it.”
Me: “Show me the money.”
Lip: “Ok, I’ll take you home.”
While writing this piece about Lip, I went back and did some research on Skousen and his book.
I was surprised by many of Skousen’s extreme views. Almost any view that was not extremely conservative was considered a communist leaning view. Even those who favored a separation of church and state were considered to be influenced by communists.
I found out that even most conservatives considered Skousen an extremist. For example columnist Mark Hemingway, writing in the prestigious conservative magazine National Review, described Skousen as a “nut job”.
Have you ever noticed how many times the word nut is used to describe people? For example, I know for a fact that one of my sons in law thinks I’m a nut. And that Gingrich thinks Obama is a nut. And everyone thinks Gingrich is a nut.
But, if you really want to see a nut, look at Jim Cramer going nuts on cable TV as he calls the “Fed” nuts. (“Cramer- They Know Nothing! August 7, 2007, YouTube.com.)
From Lip’s Lips
History making events are background to our everyday lives. In one short evening, however, Lip changed that for me. For a brief moment, I was taken from my foreground life of dating, going to the beach, and studying for tests, and hurled directly into the political rhetoric of anti-communism, the all consuming topic for most of the 20th century.
It was also my first introduction to how political opposites describe each other. One way or another, they always get around to calling each other nuts. And it was from Lip’s lips that I first heard the term nut used in a political context.
To this day, I’m still trying to determine what kind of nut Lip was. More than likely, he was probably just a plain old nut, like the rest of us, albeit a bit more colorful.