Sunday, April 14, 2024

Not Even Not Zen 349: Biomythography - Note 90: Strange Bedfellows, Part II

Strange Bedfellows, Part II

Next, the Pinko

"You're a commie, ain't you?" said an older boy.

We stood in the mulch next to the asphalt playground. It was the spring of 1972, or pretty close, and it was sunny and mild,a perfect noontime for games. At the end of our touch football scrimmage, I had said something as we walked off the blacktop. I don't remember what it was but it stopped him. So I stopped.

He poked me in the shoulder and I poked him back. He was the class bully, more or less, and we had fought a few times, though he had mostly given up on fights. (In retrospect, he was a pretty good kid, well behaved except for his perfect teasing skills. He was just big and smart. He was our best athlete at a time when it made him the leader on the playground.)

"Commie or pinko," he insisted. "If you're against war, you're a pinko. Against church, you're a commie."

I felt ashamed but also enlightened. At last, I understood what a pinko was, sort of. And I probably was one. And I was also everything else bad, I knew, although I always seemed to end up being those things without meaning to be.

In the 1960s and 1970s, what folks would shout at an atheist was most was, 'commie.' As a non-believer in elementary school, I got called that, plus 'red,' and 'pinko.' I'd heard those names before, starting years earlier, due to my voicing of support for civil rights. By the time I was nine, I was ready to accept I was some of the bad things, even though I didn't understand the terms. 'Pinko' in war and civil rights seemed to mean I was a sympathizer the idea of basic fairness. Other people were mad about it.

He shook his head at me and walked away in disgust.


I didn't comprehend the context, of course. I didn't understand the epithets. My friends and I used some of those phrases ourselves because adults did. The fact that some kids could use the terms accurately seemed weird. One boy, Stanley, knew what "fuck" meant when he was eight. Another, Mike, knew what a "pinko" was by the time he reached fourth grade. I didn't know the cultural history behind any of it. None of us did, really, even the boys who were fairly savvy.

It's not that we were completely ignorant - but mostly, yeah, we were. 

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