We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
Today is our 51st wedding anniversary. Sixteen years ago, we wrote/constructed Aphrodite’s Prism: A Love Story, from three perspectives, to mark the occasion of the wedding of our niece Jodi Rudoren (née Wilgoren) and Gary Rudoren (née Ruderman) on December 4, 2004. Last year we decided to make a 50th anniversary edition, which we are sharing today with all of you. You can download the full booklet, using the link or the red button below. In 2013, we posted Larry’s story from Aphrodite’s Prism on our original acornometrics blog on Tumblr. We’ve pulled that piece from the archive to re-post it here today.
Love in the Late 60s
America in tumult, 1968
Any love story is better understood in the context of its times. Despite how exceedingly personal love between two people must be, it can be the swirl of external events around it that provides much of its enduring fabric. Our love story—Arlene’s and mine—begins in 1968 and is inextricably entwined with social unrest, the struggle for civil rights, and the Vietnam war making the world topsy-turvy all around us.
Arlene Wilgoren – 25, Dorchester Mass, Jewish, Brandeis grad, civil rights worker, math whiz, socially adept and worldly wise.
LD Dunn – 18, Royal Oak Mich, raised to be a priest, pending college dropout, hippie, rabble rouser, troubled genius, painfully shy, often outrageously entertaining, and casual in his conviction that he was destined to flame-out before reaching his 21st birthday.
Whatever could bring these two together?
That mini-dress, those earrings, and …
April 1968. Martin Luther King gunned down by a sniper’s bullet on a motel balcony in Memphis. We were each working in fledgling political organizations—Arlene with PAR (People Against Racism) and LD with Yipfugs (Youth for Peace Freedom and Justice)—that were thrust into the limelight in the aftermath. PAR was in the midst of a hastily called organizational meeting in Detroit that week, using their newfound notoriety as impetus to form a national organization out of dispersed, loosely affiliated groups in Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, and Washington. Yipfugs, based in the Detroit suburbs, were up to their usual disruptive tricks, demonstrating and leafleting at a Eugene McCarthy for President rally at Tiger Stadium—yes, we were against poor Gene McCarthy who was way too establishment for our taste. We wanted nothing short of revolution, baby!
Following the rally, we were invited to a PAR party at the home of Les and Bonnie Biederman. Les and Bonnie were the first Jewish folks I knew as friends, having come form a very insular Catholic community. A group of us Yipfugs arrived at the party well into the evening, exhilarated from our evening of haranguing naïve young people to jump off the McCarthy bandwagon and join the radical movement for real change. Welcomed inside by Bonnie, my eyes almost immediately settled upon Arlene.
She sat in an Eames leather lounge chair. An overhanging high-intensity reading light cast a halo around her. She wore an orange and yellow mini- dress, which she had made herself, with big orange and yellow hoop earrings. She had a trim, pixie haircut and a 10,000 watt smile. All of this struck me, but what struck me even more was that she also happened to be expertly rolling joint after joint.
“Oh, let me introduce you to Arlene Wilgoren from Boston PAR,” I heard Bonnie say.
Without taking my eyes off Arlene or those joints, I said, “Well sure, please do!”
Throwing darts at LBJ
Arlene moved to Detroit to be the National Secretary of the new PAR National Organization, located in the McKerchey building on Woodward Ave. in downtown Detroit. It happened that the office was about 5 blocks from the Detroit Institute of Technology (for some reason, we dis-affectionately called it Z-I-T), where I was in the second semester of my Freshman year in college and already at my second school. I wasn’t very interested in school, at least not at ZIT. I preferred to hang out at the PAR office where David Baker, PAR’s leading political theoretician, had taken me under his wing as his protégé. I was getting the education I really wanted in political analysis, organizing techniques, propaganda, that sort of thing. David wasn’t always around, or maybe he shooed me away as a pest when my endless inquiries got to be just too much.
So I spent the rest of my time there in Arlene’s office. She had a Lyndon Johnson dart board (the first president she ever voted for, because he pledged to stop the war; within weeks of his inauguration the bastard was bombing the shit out of North Vietnam, giving Arlene a somewhat sour outlook on voting). I would throw darts at LBJ and shoot the breeze while Arlene tried to get some work done. She was awfully tolerant of my intrusions, and possibly even a bit charmed by this wacky young hippie who liked to hang out in her office. Over the weeks we talked about all kinds of personal history, and compared notes on the current state of affairs in the world and how we were going to straighten them out.
The more I learned about Arlene the more she became like an icon to me on a professional level, if you can call radical rabble rousing a profession. In those heady days of my radicalization, I had some first-rate mentors training my mind. But Arlene was different—she was schooling my soul. I learned from Arlene about passion for freedom, equality, and justice, not just intellectual justifications. Before too long we became really good friends and started hanging out a lot together, though always in group settings—which was how we usually did things in those days anyway. We were very communal. I’m sure it never occurred to me to “ask her out on a date”—that wasn’t exactly one of my top skills. And even if I had thought of it, I’m sure I would have been scared to death to ask.
On tour with the Melville’s
As the summer of ’68 approached, my mentor threw me a summer challenge. I was to conceptualize, organize, and implement a speaking tour of the state by some recognizable authorities on the war, racism, and imperialism. Something that would draw some crowds we could proselytize and organize into the movement. I set about doing my research and hit upon a move I thought ingenious. A recent event of some note was the “Catonsville 9”—all nine were current or former Catholic clergy who broke into the Catonsville, Maryland draft board office and poured lamb’s blood on all the files. They were all arrested, because their policy was “Don’t just do something … Stand there!”—meaning take demonstrative, symbolic actions against the war and stand there in the face of the authorities and take credit for what you do.
We were very taken with this approach because of its blend of political action and street theatre—or guerilla theatre—of which we were great devotees. Among the “9” were the Berrigan brothers—Daniel and Phil, both priests—and Tom and Marge Melville, former Maryknoll missionaries, priest and nun respectively, who were kicked out of Guatemala for helping the underprivileged classes organize against the corrupt right-wing dictatorship (which was heavily subsidized by the US because they were anti-communist). The Melvilles would be perfect for my speaking tour challenge. I loved the fact they were defrocked clergy (me and the Catholics had gone our separate ways by now) and they had the whole package—anti- racist, anti-war, anti-imperialist. As a bonus, Phil Berrigan was living at my Uncle’s church in Baltimore and could surely provide an entrée to the Melvilles.
We put together a five-city tour of Michigan in July and went on the road with the Melvilles. I don’t remember how we decided who should go—but Arlene ended up joining our entourage, partly because she hit it off with Tom and Marge. And likely, we needed her car. So we had about a 10-day road trip, cooped up in Arlene’s Corvair, sleeping on the floor in other hippie-radical’s houses, and introducing the Melvilles to enthusiastic crowds at one movement church after another.
That road trip greatly cemented the friendship between Arlene and me, and it wouldn’t be long before things took an interesting turn.
The unforeseen value of being a communist
When Arlene relocated to Detroit, she had moved into a basement apartment on Cass Ave., just off the campus of Wayne State University. That apartment was later dubbed the Apartfug because of all the wayward Yipfugs Arlene sheltered in their time of need.
It all began with our friend Carolyn from a good Royal Oak Catholic family of about eight or ten kids. For some reason her family couldn’t cope with her; I believe they thought she had flipped her lid. Perhaps she had, though more likely it was just the drugs. Carolyn wasn’t too thrilled with her family either, so a couple of us Yipfugs cooked up the idea to see if maybe Arlene would let Carolyn stay with her for awhile. Arlene being the generous soul she still is today said—“Of course.” Not surprisingly, one thing led to another. Soon, Carolyn’s boyfriend, Otto, had moved in and the Apartfug was on its way to becoming a mini-commune. The next refugee turned out to be me.
I was still enjoying the relative hospitality of my parent’s house. “Dunn’s Room” was the inner sanctum of the 60’s hippie-radical movement in Royal Oak. It occupied the entire upper floor of the 11⁄2 story house we grew up in. From 1967 onwards, we had transformed this space into an outrageous lair of hippie-dom–floor-to-ceiling psychedelic murals in day-glo colors, pulsing in 3-D with the black lights and strobes, and the stereo blasting one acid-rock anthem after another. And there are probably some drug stashes still hidden away in cubby holes in the attic to this day.
Somehow, we had convinced our parents we should install a doorbell at the bottom of the stairs for them to use when they wanted to talk with any of us. This was purely for their own convenience, not ours, we reassured them. (What can I say? I wasn’t called the Minister of Bullshit for nothing.)
One now-historic afternoon in the Fall of ’68, that doorbell rang persistently. Shaking off whatever fog I was in, I stumbled out of the bedroom and leaned over the second floor landing to see what was up. It was my father. “Whose leaflets are these?” he barked, pointing to a stack of papers on the bottom stairs. He was pretty good at getting worked-up into a red-faced lather in those days.
“They’re mine,” I said. In truth, I couldn’t recall for sure what they were, but they were obviously leaflets even from that distance. And as the resident propagandist, it was quite likely they were mine. “What’s the point?”
“Where did they come from?!” he barked.
“I made them—so we can get people to come to this rally we organized!” I said somewhat incredulously, still missing the point.
“The speakers at this rally are communists!” he barked back.
Me, broken record again, “What’s your point?”
His blood pressure was still on the rise, “Are you telling me you’re a communist?!”
Me, bewildered, “OK, so what if I am?”
“No communist is going to live in this house!,” he roared.
“Does that mean you’re telling me to leave?!” (whose blood pressure was up now?)
“If you’re telling me you’re a communist, then yes, I guess that is what I’m saying.”
“OK—fine. I’ll be gone by tonight!” “Fine!” he said, and slammed the door.
My expulsion was as unexpected as it was inevitable. But what to do next was not so clear. The only “job” I had was my political activity—organizing, propagandizing, learning from my political elders. And the only income I had was occasional hit or miss cash from dabbling in the traffic of mood- altering substances.
LD ensconces in the Apartfug, and that ain’t all!
I packed all my worldly possessions in a black plastic garbage bag, I didn’t really have much more than nothing. But where the hell was I gonna go? I screwed up my courage and called Arlene.
“Hey,” I said. “I got kicked out of the of the house. Can I stay there for a day or two while I figure out what to do?”
“Well … sure,” Arlene said. “I don’t see why we can’t make room for one more if it’s just for a few days. Come on down and we’ll help you figure it out.”
Who would have ever predicted those few days would turn into 36 years and counting? Of course, there wasn’t really any ready place for me to sleep. Carolyn and Otto were sleeping on some sort of couch or day-bed in the living room. Arlene had the small bedroom to herself, with a single mattress on a box-spring on the floor. She offered to pull the mattress off for herself and I could sleep on the box-spring. I wasn’t in any position to quibble, and it was surely better that sleeping on the floor.
I don’t know if either of us can fully explain what happened that night. Did a comforting hand reach for a hand in need? Or did a grateful hand reach out in thanks. No matter, that simple gesture turned into a hug, that hug into a passionate embrace that lasted well into the night. From there, it was likely not as quick or simple as it seems now – Arlene probably thought it was crazy to conclude this was anything more than friends taking care of each other; I was probably too crazy to recognize whether it was crazy or not. But a deep and enduring bond was formed that night, as friendship blossomed into love. And before long, love was precisely what we were calling it.
Such a romantic proposal
I remember it all as just so simple and nonchalant. Sometime in that Winter of ’68-’69, the local Detroit PAR organization took a determined decision that if they were going to confront racism in the white community, they had better relocate to suburbia and live among the heathens. So the Detroit PAR office moved to the corner of 9 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue in the welcoming community of Ferndale (just three miles from my youthful, very white, stomping grounds of Royal Oak).
The PAR National Office remained downtown, as did we for the time being. But we were also quite involved in the local Detroit PAR activities and I still had Yipfugs business to attend to in the suburbs as well. So we made frequent trips out Woodward Avenue for meetings and such. Sometime in late winter or early Spring (I don’t have any specific notion of the date and wonder if Arlene does) we arrived at the Ferndale office early for a meeting and were sitting in the car listening to music. I’ll never recall this moment verbatim, but it went something like this.
Arlene: “You know, I’m awfully happy to be in love with you. And it just seems to keep getting better.”
LD: “I know what you mean–I keep feeling like, ‘this is great, how could it get any better,’ but then it does. I have a hard time remembering what life was like before I loved you, and don’t know why I should even try.”
Arlene: “You know, I’ve been thinking, maybe we ought to get married.”
If it’s true that inside every cynic is an idealist striving to avoid disappointment, then inside every idealist is a real pisser of a cynic. I replied: “Wow, married! What a great idea!” while thinking, hey man, I’m going to die before I’m 21 anyway. Even if it doesn’t work out, I can stand anything for two years.
So I said yes. And the truth is, yes was just the right answer. It seemed, and seems, so right in every way.
A dashiki so short you can see her pupuk … and honey, couldn’t you at least wear shoes?
So that brings us to the wedding. A weird and wonderful hippy wedding which Jodi herself wrote about as a college Freshman at Yale and which continues to be the stuff of myth and lore—even among folks who were not there.
The wedding outfits: Arlene made matching dashikis—brightly colored and ornately patterned, modeled after African ceremonial robes. She made mine a shirt and hers a mini-dress, so short that the casual observer could catch occasional peeks at her underpants. .
The setting: We planned to be wed outdoors (out in nature, man, among the birds and the bees and the flowers), unfortunately bad weather forced us into the basement of a movement church in downtown Detroit.
The guests: Hundreds of young radicals in their finest hippy garb, along with pockets of straights— notably Arlene’s mother Goldie and stepfather Al, my parents, some relatives and neighbors. The hippies reeked of pot smoke, the straights of Chanel #5 and Old Spice. Rising above the noise and intermingling scents, our favorite local rock band jamming Come on Baby Light My Fire and Sunshine of Your Love.
The vow: an original, so perfect for its time, hand-lettered in calligraphy on a scroll made from a window shade:
The 23rd Day of Leo, 1969 Because of the way we love each other, we, Arlene and LD, have decided to live our lives together. And we declare that we will act not only as individuals, but also as a unit until that union inhibits our growth rather than stimulates it.
The ceremony: Everyone gathers in a circle, sitting on the floor. Arlene hands out wild flowers—for Peace. LD hands out peaches—for Sustenance. Goldie, whispering, pleads with Arlene: “Honey, could you at least wear shoes?” We jointly recite our vow, as a promise to all assembled, with no official witness for the state. We conclude with a massive group hug, readily given. And everyone signs our wedding scroll in witness.
The celebration: A potluck supper, featuring hot dogs, followed later in the evening (for the hippies only) by an endless night of partying and carrying on in all the special manners the 60s had to offer.
The aftermath: Over-indulged, finally in bed by 5:00 AM. Phone ringing at 7:00. It was Goldie. “Darling, are you actually married?”
“Of course we are Ma,” said Arlene, groggily.
The truth: Well, legally, no, we were not. We had decided that what really mattered to us, and, we thought should really be what matters at all, was to stand up in front of our community and announce our love and commitment to each other. So we did just that. And to hell with the state. It was none of their business, so we burned the marriage license!
This pesky legal detail we finally did take care of several months later with a few signatures on a newly registered license.
Thirty-six and counting
Thirty-six and more years later, it seems like so long ago and yet only an instant in the past. Since those early days we’ve wandered from Detroit to Boston to the great American West; back to Detroit; to Ferry, Michigan; to Washington, DC; to San Francisco; to Fayetteville, Arkansas; to Chicago; and, for the moment at least, to LaCrosse, Indiana. Not to mention stints as rabble-rouser, consultant, administrator, teacher, farmer, consultant, student, finance executive, nurse, computer scientist, consultant, executive, nursery owner, philanthropist, consultant, and retiree. And somehow, through it all we remain inseparable beyond a few days at a time.
The message in all this—cherish each other for who you are, support each other to be who you can be, never stop learning and growing. And you can never say “I love you” too often, too much, or too enthusiastically.