104-year old woman

Book pages 72-73

One reason I never can get tired of traveling in America is that it is the only country I know in which you can take such psychic leaps almost daily. Sometimes when I lived with, for instance, a poor welfare mother in a northern ghetto, in order not to burden her food budget I would go out hitch-hiking up north of the city where the rich people live. Often I was picked up by a well-off businessman and when I entertained him with my travel stories I would occasionally be invited home for dinner in his big home with central air conditioning.

During dinner I would then tell about how the mother with three children in the ghetto rarely could afford decent food. If I was with a conservative family they would usually then sooner or later say that I certainly was welcome to come and live with them, so that I didn't have to return to those conditions. But liberal families would normally load me up with expensive food items from the freezer and drive me all the way to the border of the ghetto and give me money for a taxi the rest of the way. "Here comes Robin Hood," I would laugh proudly when I came home.

Being a good vagabond, I had learned, is certainly a matter of give and take. One doctor in Skokie gave me eight pot roasts for a welfare mother in South Chicago and a businessman in North Philadelphia gave me a big bag of tokens, so the son in my family in South Phili wouldn't have to walk to Temple University.

In the South I rarely found the same effusive compassion for the poor, but the psychic leaps I experienced there too. One morning I was cutting firewood for this 104 year old woman in South Carolina. She and her 77 year old daughter usually had to cut all their firewood themselves. Their shack resembled the medieval houses in the Open Air Museum in Copenhagen, but it did have a well though many others do not. The daughter's husband was 97 years old and all three slept in the same bed to keep warm when the fireplace turned cold in the morning.

Their house was owned by the white landlord (living behind the trees in the rear) whom they paid $30 a month. Later that day, although I had torn a big hole in my pants while cutting wood and wasn't wearing my short wig, as I usually did on such occasions, I managed to get into a press conference with Julie Nixon in Charleston. Nixon's daughter, who was visiting a home for handicapped children, walked around shaking hands with crippled children.

Afterwards the press asked her friendly questions. I managed to spoil the entire press meeting by quite simply asking her whether she didn't think it was hypocritical to visit these handicapped children after Nixon had just vetoed a bill to aid the handicapped. Julie Nixon became so embarrassed that she was unable to answer and the manager of the institution interrupted the performance with all possible diplomatic speed. At night when the visit was broadcast on TV my question had been censored out.



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