Growing up in Pittsburgh, Fran Shor received a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh. His Ph.D. is from the University of Minnesota. He taught for forty years at Wayne State University, retiring as an Emeritus Professor of History. He is the author of five nonfiction books and hundreds of articles. He has been a longtime peace and justice activis
Passages of Rebellion
by Fran Shor
Passages of Rebellion
by Fran Shor
Published Sep 26, 2020
Genre: FICTION / Political
A Compelling Work of Political Fiction
Passages of Rebellion follows the semi-autobiographical protagonist, Frank Goodman, in his antiwar and anti-draft activities during the turbulent years of 1967-1970. The novel, moving back and forth in time, explores his interactions with a wide variety of characters – from his fellow student protestors and draft resisters to his wife, Mary Browne, and a bombing suspect who accompanies Frank as he flees to Canada to escape capture for an abortive raid on a draft office.
The story also flashes forward in time to highlight the radical feminism of Ruth Browne as she moves from her life in Michigan as a director of a Women’s Shelter to graduate school at the University of Toronto. A confrontation between Ruth and Frank takes place at his bookstore in Toronto, leading to a surprising revelation.
Using a variety of passages from works of Albert Camus, James Baldwin, and Andrea Dworkin, among others, Passages of Rebellion considers the role of violence in the international, national, and domestic arenas. Threaded throughout the text are philosophical and literary references, including to Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, that illuminate the meanings of rebellion.
The telephone rang just before midnight. Barely awake, he answered mumbling, “Who is this calling so late?” It was a familiar voice; someone in the movement who knew Frank was planning on driving across the border.
“Can you take a passenger with you?”
“Can’t tell you now, but I’ll meet you with him tomorrow morning at 6 am at your place.”
“Okay. Just don’t be any later. I want to beat the traffic and get to Canada as early as possible.”
He put down the receiver, regretting that he had agreed so quickly and without questioning who this stranger was. He trusted his friend, especially since that person knew why Frank had decided now in late August 1970 to flee to Canada. Fearing potential arrest for an earlier action in which he participated with others to destroy draft files at Selective Service offices in Minnesota, Frank felt there was no alternative. He had faced imprisonment in the past, but had managed to avoid a lengthy sentence, the kind of sentence that invariably would be part of the prosecution against him and his comrades.
Only yesterday, he told Mary that he was going to “disappear.” They had already split up, a wrenching separation that was about to end in divorce after signing the papers she handed him. She pleaded with him to reconsider fleeing to Canada. He hesitated while she pummeled him with arguments, based on historical and emotional ties that had bound them for over two years of momentous and frightening times. Because those times were still so resonant, they clenched each other through sobs and then slowly began a last desperate physical fusion. Weeping together as they climaxed, their bodies and their beings then separated.
No time to cry again for what was lost. Instead, Frank set his alarm for 5:30 am. As he descended into a fitful sleep, the memory of those early times in Minneapolis came flooding back. They washed over him as if he was re-living that past in the present.
As Franklin Roosevelt Goodman turned his battered 1962 used Chevy Corvair onto University Avenue, he appeared troubled. And confused. The confusion was probably attributable to the long drive from Chicago and the imprecise directions he had to reach his sight-unseen rental in a rooming house in Dinkytown. Having left his cousin’s place early in the morning, he stopped to meet up with a friend in Madison. The dawdling with the latter over a lunch with a few beers and a little weed left him bleary-eyed and unprepared for the treacherous driving on the three-lane highway out of Madison. Navigating that road under the influence made for an unpleasant and paranoid drive that continued right up to the outskirts of Minneapolis where confusion caught up with the paranoia to make the rest of the trip fraught with uncertainty.
It didn’t help that the sun wasn’t around to illuminate the unfamiliar city landscape. What shone in this mind’s eye, however, was the re-emergence of a persistent questioning about the path he had chosen. It wasn’t just second-guessing the choice of going to graduate school in American Studies at the University of Minnesota as opposed to attending Law School at the University of Michigan. Frank Goodman had also committed himself to refusing his student deferment in order to protest the draft and, more pointedly, the immoral war. That war represented everything he detested about the imperial arrogance of the country whose ritual celebration of its nationhood coincided with his birthday. Once a happy coincidence, filled with cake, ice cream, and fireworks, July 4th now reminded him that he was no longer in patriotic sync with the country in which he was born. A country, in the words of the poet bard bred further north in Hibbing, Minnesota, that believed it had “god on its side.”
Maybe he should forget about grad school. Or, maybe, he should just take the damn privilege of the deferment and bury his head in the sand. And like the ostrich, bound forever to inhabit terra firma, dart to avoid the ground where corpses, both real and imagined, littered war-torn villages of Vietnam that inhabited his mind. Or, maybe, like a demon driven by the memory of those corpses, he should continue to drive straight north to Canada.
For now, a more immediate matter was finding his way to the rooming house in Dinkytown. He was sure he was heading in the right direction on University Avenue, especially since he could spot a part of the university coming up to his left. Trying to catch sight of the streets on his right, Frank pumped the brakes to indicate his tentativeness about where to turn. Ahead was a stoplight that thankfully blinked from yellow to red, allowing him the opportunity to check out the sign. He was positive that it said “4th Street,” exactly where he needed to make the turn.
As the Corvair crossed over a small bridge, it entered the area known as “Dinkytown.” Although Frank had seen numerous references to this lively part of Minneapolis, he had no idea what the name meant. Was it because it was such a small slice of the larger city or because it was sui generis, distinctive and separate from the surrounding metropolitan area? Did it have a hidden meaning that only its inhabitants and regular visitors knew and kept secret from others? In any case, the name might be revealed to him because he was about to join the ranks of its residents.
Entering Dinkytown on this warm summer night with people milling around gave Frank the feeling that he was being welcomed to his new surroundings. All he needed now was to find the next turn where he could make a left from 4th onto the street that housed the address he sought. Then, he could drop off his meager belongings and join the buoyant crowds. As tired as he was, the alluring evening buzz from the crowds on the Dinkytown streets made him eager to join in.
Turning the Corvair onto 17th Avenue, he proceeded to follow the addresses on either side of the tree-lined thoroughfare until he managed to determine which side was even and which was odd. Seeking out the exact odd number that corresponded to the rooming house address, Frank pulled the dusty and dilapidated Chevy into a vacant spot between two automobiles that looked as weather-beaten as his. He sighed in relief that he had reached his destination. The Corvair expelled a portion of its exhaust as if it too recognized it had arrived unscathed at the end of a long journey.
As Frank exited the car, he grabbed the backpack on the passenger side. There were just two pieces of bruised fruit, a brown-spotted banana and a dented green apple, neither of which appeared very appetizing when he peered in to see the remaining contents. Moving to the front of the car, which is where the trunk was in the Corvair, he opened it to retrieve one suitcase and a large duffle bag stuffed with both clean and dirty clothes, the dirty ones strategically situated on the bottom. Slinging the duffle bag over his right shoulder and grasping the suitcase in his left hand, Frank walked over to the pavement leading to the front door.
Although it was only around 9 pm, he hesitated to ring the doorbell, fearing that he might disturb the landlady who owned the rooming house. His one previous interaction, beyond the initial letter exchange, had been a harried telephone call from a pit stop on the highway earlier in the day to let her know he would be arriving later that evening. Her obvious displeasure at the late notification and the equally “late” hour of arrival put him on-guard for what might be an inhospitable beginning as a renter. Shaking off any further hesitancy, Frank extended his index finger and pushed the doorbell with purpose.
The wooden door opened slowly. Peering around the corner was a nervous-looking older woman with white hair and a saggy orange-tinted face. Before Frank could speak, she forcibly inquired, “Are you that Franklin fellow who called earlier today?”
“Well, you know I don’t like to let folks in this late at night. And my renters have a curfew that they got to respect or I’ll kick ‘em out. Besides, I don’t normally rent to folks like you. Y’know, student types. Too many troublemakers nowadays. You ain’t one of them troublemakers are you?”
Frank was taken aback. He was confident that his polite letter of inquiry about renting a room would have put even the most suspicious landlord at ease. That aside, he realized he would have to say something that would offset her annoyance with his late arrival.
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t get here earlier in the day. It was a long drive from Chicago and I had to make a stop in Madison. I promise that I will abide by your rules and be a model renter.”
“Glad to hear you say that, young man. You can come in now and I’ll show you your room and tell you the other rules of the house. Please remember to address me as “Mrs. Johnson.” You should know that Mr. Johnson passed a few years ago, but my older boy stops in from time to time to make sure that things are in order. He’s with the Minneapolis Police. So, he’s got a good eye for troublemakers.”
Great, thought Frank. Not only is the landlady going to ride herd on me, but her son, the cop, could become an unwarranted and unwanted intruder into my personal and political affairs. Knowing this, Frank’s steps following behind Mrs. Johnson were as plodding as hers were. When she reached the top of the stairs, she beckoned him forward into what was a combined kitchen and dining room. Waving her wrinkled right hand around the room like a wand of a surly fairy godmother, she motioned to each one of the appliances.
“That refrigerator,” declared Mrs. Johnson, “is shared by all three of you renters. You need to label what’s yours and make sure you don’t take anything that doesn’t have your name on it. I don’t want to have my renters fussing and feuding over what food items they have.”
Pointing to the stove, she once more issued another caveat. “You can cook on that stove and in that oven, but I don’t want any strange smells coming from anything you cook. And, no cooking late at night! Also, make sure to clean any pot, pan, and dish you use. That also goes for silverware.”
Even though Frank had worked in a dish room in a nurse’s residence as an undergraduate and was not averse to cleaning up dirty pots and pans, Mrs. Johnson’s tone of voice indicated he would have to be very circumspect about what he did in her kitchen.
Oblivious to the fact that Frank was still shouldering his duffle bag and carrying a suitcase, Mrs. Johnson brushed past him to continue her tour of the renters’ quarters. Explaining that the nearby bathroom was another shared space, she underscored her insistence that the bathroom had to remain “spic-and-span.”
“I hope you’re not the kind of person who leaves hair in the sink or in the shower. I won’t tolerate that in my bathroom.”
Frank decided on the spot to grow a beard, negating the need to shave. Glancing at his image in the bathroom mirror, he imagined what his hair might look like if it grew to shoulder length. However, he was struck by the thought that such hirsute hipness would be an immediate marker for Mrs. Johnson of a deviant troublemaker. Maybe he’d find another place before either the beard and his hair took on an appearance that would spook her. He wasn’t sure whether he stood a ghost of a chance to remain in her good graces, particularly given the house rules.
“And another thing,” announced the landlady. “There are no girls allowed at any time in your room. If I see or hear that you’ve tried to sneak a young lady up here, I’d just toss both of you out immediately.”
Oh my god, an exasperated Frank sighed. There’s got to be some way out of here. The sooner the better.
“And here,” gesturing to the room at the end of the hall, “is your bedroom. Pretty comfy and a good deal to boot. You even have a desk, something the others don’t have. I expect you’ll need to unpack now. Just remember to be quiet coming and going. Here’s a key to lock this room and another for the front door. Well, good night!”
“Good night, Mrs. Johnson,” softly intoned a weary Frank. The combination of the long drive and the drill-sergeant routine of his landlady had drained any desire to go out. All he wanted to do was to unpack and relax a little before hitting the sack. Flopping down on the bed added one last insult to his senses as he sunk into the mushiest mattress he had ever encountered.
What a contrast to the place and the person with whom Frank spent the last several months. Instead of a small bare bedroom among strangers, he had lodging in a tidy house with a large basement, lined with bookshelves of enticing volumes. Centered equidistant from the surrounding bookshelves was a pullout bed for both sleeping when he could and reading when he couldn’t. The owner of this domicile was a handsome elderly widow whose stark white hair was cropped, offsetting her soft facial features. Her equanimity and hospitality radiated outward from her Quaker demeanor, enveloping Frank in an environment that approximated a slimmed down version of a Gandhian ashram.
This restful living space, just outside the city of Naperville, Illinois, was one of the few perks that Frank received for his volunteer work as a Vietnam Summer Intern for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in the summer months of 1967. He was able to indulge his political passions of speaking and organizing against the war and the draft without monetary compensation as a consequence of having saved money from the two prior summers of laboring in Jones & Laughlin steel mill in the South Side of Pittsburgh. In addition, Frank had been awarded a tuition grant for graduate school and would be acquiring a teaching assistantship for the spring quarter. So, he did not have to worry about finances during the few months of his time as an AFSC volunteer and through the fall and winter quarters of grad school.
On the other hand, while his work during the summer of 1967 was emotionally rewarding, it also was fraught with some traumatic moments that produced both physical and mental scars. Because of his total immersion in topics related to the Vietnam War, including an obsession with the number of Vietnamese being murdered by his country in so many horrific ways by heinous weapons like napalm and anti-personnel fragmentation bombs, he drove himself to insomnia for which the books in the basement he inhabited provided a modicum of relief. The other more alarming incidents were the death threats that ensued from the publicity he attracted as an antiwar speaker and draft counselor. Among those threats was a telephone caller who menacingly hissed that Frank would soon be shipped back in a railroad coal car to Pittsburgh. Another ominous warning of imminent death was a postcard with a riflescope and his name written in the middle. The signature on the postcard was that of the extremist right-wing group, the Minutemen. While no physical harm was visited upon him in Naperville, he carried some psychological wounds with him to Minneapolis.
Ensconced now in the confined space of a rickety old bedroom with lingering thoughts about the recent past, Frank wondered whether the exhaustion of the day would help lull him into a much-needed sleep. Most of his clothes were unpacked and stuffed into the creaky drawers of the ramshackle dresser in the corner of the bedroom. The remaining duffle bag contents of one pillow and one blanket were thrown on the mattress. Several different coats, from the Pitt letter jacket to a raincoat, extracted from that same duffle bag, were soon hung on the bent wire hangers in the small closet.
Frank maneuvered himself over to the heavily stained wooden desk and pulled out the chair where he had placed his backpack. Removing a notebook from his backpack, he opened it to the page that listed the names of places and people he hoped to visit tomorrow or soon thereafter. Even if he had difficulty sleeping this evening, he looked forward to having an early and potentially sumptuous breakfast at one of the local diners, Al’s. After the meal and some exploration of Dinkytown, the campus, and the West Bank, the area the bordered the other side of the Mississippi River dividing the campus into east and west sections, he would call the telephone number he had been given for Daniel Whitman. He had been told that Whitman was a conscientious objector who was attempting to start a draft referral program for the Twin Cities. Given his experience from the summer with the AFSC and his own commitment to turning in his student deferment in protest of the draft, he was hoping to join with Daniel and any others who were prepared to mount a campaign to undermine, in whatever way possible, the Selective Service System.
Closing the notebook but leaving it on the desk, Frank took out the toothbrush and toothpaste lodged in one of the pockets of his backpack. He placed those next to the tattered towel that Mrs. Johnson had deposited on the dresser. Pulling together the heavily brocaded dark green curtains across the window above the desk, he closed off the depressing view of the aluminum siding of the abutting house next door. Given the absence of even a hint of nature outside the window, the dreary-looking drapes offered the illusion of a green space.
Frank slowly undressed down to his briefs and t-shirt. Grabbing the towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, and room key, Frank made a quick dash to the bathroom. Returning to his room and putting aside the slightly wet towel and toothbrush, Frank removed his dog-eared copy of Catch-22. Flicking off the overhead light and turning on the tiny lamp on the small bedside table, he sank into mattress as Yossarian once more appealed to Doc Daneeka to save him from another bombing run.
“A bombing,” exploded Frank. “Jesus Christ! Had you told me this guy was involved in a bombing, I would have refused to drive him with me to Canada. I don’t need another liability on this trip, not to mention that I could be charged as an accessory to a crime.”
“Yeh, well, he’s pretty desperate. He’s been with me since he arrived earlier today from Wisconsin. Obviously, he doesn’t want to be seen anywhere in public, especially with the news about the explosion at the Army Mathematics Research Center on the Madison campus of UW.”
“Hold on,” Frank interjected. “Was this guy involved with that action? I mean I realize that place was aiding the military with counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam. But blowing it up? I just hope there was no one in the building or anywhere near the place.”
“The explosion was in the middle of the night and they called to warn the cops to empty out the building.”
“Still, who knows what kind of repression is going to come down on lots of different folks as a consequence.”
Frank’s friend didn’t have time to engage in a discussion about the ramifications of the bombing. He just wanted to make the transfer as quickly and quietly as possible. “It’s still dark enough now and I can transfer him from my car to yours and then you can hit the road. Besides, aren’t you already going to be adding another charge to your rap sheet by fleeing the states?”
Frank rubbed his forehead and pondered his predicament. He couldn’t deny that he was already compounding what the state deemed as “illegal” actions from his involvement with the destruction of draft files to running away to Canada. But, really, he had tried to remain nonviolent even as his militancy and that of the movement, in general, increased. Was this flight now with a bomb-throwing passenger indicative of the erasure of the more definitive boundary between his commitment to nonviolence and a turn to revolutionary violence? Expelling a long sigh, Frank nodded to his friend. “Okay, move him into my car.”
Waking up his passenger, Frank’s friend took the guy’s duffle bag from the backseat and threw it into the open trunk of the Corvair. He then gently pushed the stranger into the back of Frank’s car where the scruffy-looking guy curled up on the floor.
“He’ll probably sleep most of the way to International Falls. It might be best not to ask any questions.”
Frank just shook his head in resignation. He looked at his friend for possibly the last time. Believing that he had dispelled all of his doubts about leaving the country, the pained expression on his face reflected all the lingering questions that now re-emerged, seemingly unresolved. He reached out to embrace the only person besides Mary who knew that Frank planned to disappear.
“Good luck, brother,” he whispered in Frank’s ear.
“Yeh, same to you,” replied Frank as he let go of more than he could admit.