Broke Writer, mid-1980s
I want to tell a few stories about a friend I met camping in Markham Park, Florida: 1986 or so.
Radiance was the name she had chosen for herself after joining a religious cult: a cult for which she had sold her home and donated 100% of the cash to the cult’s couple of bearded leaders.
Radiance was a strawberry blond. She had re-named her skinny-as-a-rail ten year old daughter “Flame,” also a strawberry blond.
Radiance was attractive, to me at least; Flame was riveting, despite a figure like Olive Oyl’s: reddish mix with Celtic milky whiteness, both of them. Look out, poor, helpless, pathetic males.
I’d just been in Naples, insanely bought an old mildew-logged 26′ Coachmen travel trailer and dragged it across Alligator Alley, towing it with an 1981 Dodge Aries K, underpowered for itself alone, if tuned: and that car was far from tuned. In fact it wasn’t registered, or insured … But Radiance saw me pull in, saw that I needed some kind of a tire-block to keep the trailer from rolling off on its own, and scrambled around for a stone, a fragment of cinder block … anything. I saw this behavior as Christian, self-sacrificing: I recognized Radiance as kin to myself: especially when she told me about selling her worldly possessions to give (not to the poor but) to the “priests.” It didn’t matter to me how cynical, greedy, or dishonest her acquisitive holy men were; what mattered to me was how open, vulnerable, naive, giving, trusting … Radiance was.
I didn’t sell any worldly possessins; I didn’t have any wordly possessions: I gave everything I had away, and never accumulated much beyond some books and records. The public was my bunch of bearded priests.
I was less impressed by her saintliness once I met her mate, a self-interested dishonest exploiting thug if there ever was one. I still hoped that Radiance saw and trusted, was blinded by, my own self-sacrificing, open, vulnerable, naive, giving, others-reliant saintliness: without even being told yet of my discipleship to Jesus, to Ivan Illich … how I invented the internet with Illich, how I was the first human in the world to offer digital record keeping, at coast, to the public: 1970: replace the government, banks, universities … Unfortunately I came to reevaluate Radiance’s IQ, from 100 to 90, from 90 to 85, from 85 to 70 … Her husband’s I never evaluated at more than 50 to begin with.
It was only later that I learned that her husband was supporting them by stealing sabal palms from Markham Park and selling them to nurseries: with Radiance’s connivance!
One thing I loved about meeting Radiance: she was the first person I met in years to disregard data imposed through birth certificates, and name herself: however self-flatteringly. One of the first people I’d gotten fan responses from after I founded the Free Learning Exchange was a founder of Free U and the People’s Switchboard, an A-head lesbian who had re-baptised herself “Mercury.” I don’t recall the exact appellations of her cronies, but their names were all Olympian: gods’ names. “90%” of them were homosexual. They struck me as intelligent mainly because they were so different, so far from ordinary.
My favorite, a quiet guy who displayed no sexuality at all (that I noticed), was a vegetarian who wore a large lapel button:
Radiance and her thug were man and wife by order of their living together, by order of their having sold their home and joined this cult together; not by order of any registered church or municipality. Radiance insisted that he was her husband by order of Last Chance: they’d both had so many partners, so many serial disasters, that they were determined to sink or swim with this one!
I was horny as a son-of-a-bitch, but kept my fly zipped.
It was harder for me to keep my hands off Flame’s skinny ass than her mother’s lush rear, ample bosom, but I did, I kept my hands off both mother and daughter. (I did scandalize the neighbor’s twelve year old by laving Flame’s fire ant bitten calves, knees, thighs with alcohol, Flame’s white-pantied crotch staring me down, Radiance dismissed the charges, rebending all statements, facts, into praise: “Paul’s just being helpful.”
Oh, but then Radiance confided to me what she might not have told Dear Abby so baldly: she and her thug were inadequate in bed!
(She also told me that this husband of hers spent far more time hugging Flame while watching TV from bed than he spent hugging Radiance while watching TV from bed. Uh oh.
Neither Radiance nor Flame are names you’ll likely get far with in phone books, FBI files … They’d fled Oregon, put themselves under the monks in Virginia or somewhere, went down the drain to Florida …
My greatest disappointment in Radiance was her still gadding after every religious fake to tell her that he’d just come back from heaven and was there to save her. Radiance’s greatest virtue was that though she followed every fraud, she didn’t try to lead any frauds of her own.
It must have been 1987: We were camped in Markham Park. A bookstore across Alligator Alley had the newly released James Gleick, Chaos in the window. Broke as I was I had to grab it. Radiance gravitated to the “spiritual” section. She pointed to a title, The Me Generation, said it was her favorite book. But it wasn’t Tom Wolfe’s Me Generation giving a title to a collection of his essays: it was somebody’s plagiarism of the Wolfe phrase! I told Radiance, or tried to, that the book wasn’t godly, it wasn’t humble; it was plagiarism, theft, the opposite of Godly. Seemed to me.
Every new generation simply doesn’t get it: the concept of Original Sin. We’re not competent to know how sinful we are, how far short we fall from intelligence. We have no right to talk about God, or truth, or what God said, or what God did …