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It was an anthem for me in the summer of 1969. Hot, humid, green and lush Pennsylvania summer. I was going to start college in the fall. I had mixed feelings. I had been rejected by Harvard – OUTRAGE! – and felt like I was settling by going to Penn. Spoiled boy! Plus – I was feeling the tug of the sixties. I wanted to save the world, not go to college. Plus – I was worried about my father’s health and the strain of college tuition.
But Tommy and “Pinball Wizard” were a balm.
In this unlisted Quirky Berkeley post, I reminisce about playing pinball at Houston Hall (University of Pennsylvania) and at Cy’s Penn Luncheonette, affectionately known to all as the “Dirty Drug.”
I also flirted with the game in Salinas.
I played at the Greyhound Station on Gabilan, right across the street from the offices in the Glikbarg Building where the UFW’s lawyers worked.
I played with Marshall Ganz, the head organizer for the union and the leader of the 1979 lettuce strike. He is next to the far left in this photo, taken in Calexico. To his left is Big Tony, a lettuce loader. On the far right is Calacas, a lettuce cutter.
Below is a fictionalized account of playing pinball with Marshall. I call him “Moishe” here. Cesar Chavez is referred to as “The Chief.”
After Moishe delivered the message to Lance, Dusty, a few others, and me, I went across Gabilan Street with Moishe to the Greyhound Station, where we played pinball for an hour.
“What gives Moishe?”
“From the start, the Union has used The Chief as a heroic figurehead. We made a conscious decision to do this, figuring it fit with Mexican cultural expectations better than the no-leader Alinsky model. Motherfuck! That is the sorriest, deadest bumper that I have ever seen in my life.”
“Well, the left flipper on mine is nothing to write home about either. So, Zapata, Villa, The Chief.”
“Yeah, but the only problem was that the power structure of the Union mirrored the organizational model. The Chief – MOTHERFUCK! Tilt? I can’t believe it.”
“With all due respect, your body English is a little intense sometimes Moishe. It’s not like you don’t have a few credits left. Maybe think about trying a subtle wrist?”
“The Chief has always had all the power. He would destroy the Union before voluntarily giving up an ounce of power. Did you ever wonder why there are no locals recognized in our constitution? We are the only – Good God! The action of these machines is appalling! – the only union that doesn’t have locals. Just the Union. Just one President. Luis moved the Teatro Campesino out of Delano in ’67 because – Jesus Fucking CHRIST I cannot believe that this motherfuckingest machine has tilted AGAIN! – the Chief wanted to split them up and sent an actor to every field office as a propaganda director. He couldn’t handle even a group of actors, let alone a local. That’s pretty much the back story.”
“I think you’re gonna have a pretty bad bruise on your hip there from the slamming.” Knowing that Moishe loved Greek tragedy, I asked, “When do you think that the change by which the action veered round to its opposite took place?”
“Peripeteia is more easily identified in theater than life. But I’d say the law in ‘75. Or Prop 14. The Chief lost control. I think you’re right about the bruise.”
“That’s the way I see it. No sooner had we pulled the sword from the stone in ’75 than we began to fall on it. So how’s it going to play out?”
“If I knew, would I be standing here in a dismal Greyhound Bus Station in Salinas, California, playing dismal pinball with you?”
“No need to get personal about it!”
“I took your point but did not apologize. I think that you can do better than a King Arthur allusion, by the way. No offense.”
So there you have it.