Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Reunion

My college mate Sander Hicks was in town this week and it was good to see him. Our paths had not crossed in 15 years.

Sander and I were both students in the theatre department at Eugene Lang College in New York City. In those days, Sander played guitar and sang. He had a face and physique for playing tough guys. He wrote songs, poems, and stories. When we weren't acting in plays together or getting our chops busted by Warren David Keith in acting class, we were doing political work together. I worked as an intern at War Resisters League (alongside the recently-deceased Ralph DiGia) and we both were part of "Hands Off!" criticizing U.S. military policies and the culture of militarism itself.

On Thursday night, I drove down to Venice and paid a visit to the Beyond Baroque book shop to see him. I didn't know what he'd be doing - reading from one of his books, singing, or what. Indeed, when I arrived, Jason Heath was singing while Sander sat to one side and consulted his notes. When the band finished, Sander opened up a cooler full of complimentary beer and soft drinks.

Sander has accomplished much without becoming a celebrity or being assassinated.

When St. Martin's press abruptly recalled a controversial (and best-selling) 2000 biography of George Walker Bush (then a candidate for President of the United States), Sander is the man who intervened and published the book on his own press.

Inspired by the likes of Greg Palast, Sander became an independent investigative journalist himself and showed a talent for it. He has reported for AlterNet, the New York Press, and other media. After the abomination of September 11, Sander conducted his own research about the complicated relationships among intelligence agencies, governments, and terrorist groups, and wrote a book called The Big Wedding: 9/11, The Whistleblowers and The Cover-Up. He is active in New York's Green Party, writes, and runs a neighborhood coffee shop in Brooklyn that promotes activism and hosts candidate debates.

This month, he's on a west coast lecture tour and this was an early stop. Sander spoke from notes, but needed a little prompting to finish the story he was here to tell. He is an eager listener who sometimes jumps to conclusions - something I had noticed in Big Wedding - and loses the thread of the story he's telling. On the other hand, his research is extensive and while its implications are often chilling, Sander himself is cheerful, optimistic, and patriotic. He turns from the darkness to speak of grassroots progressive change, of his faith in democratic participation by citizens.

And interestingly, as he turned from the dark underbelly of September 11 and the Bush family to express these positive sentiments (and his religious faith), people started to walk out. The risers at Beyond Baroque creak loudly and Sander had to talk over quite a bit of ruckus.

Following his talk - which eventually included the whole story of the death of Dr. David Graham, a 9/11 researcher who died a suspicious death in 2006 - a group of us ended up at La Cabana, a nearby Mexican place that is convenient even if it is not to everybody's taste.

I had the pleasure of giving my old college mate a ride back to his hotel in downtown Los Angeles. On the way there, in mid-conversation, Sander fell asleep. His head dipped and the seatbelt kept him from falling forward, and he slept the brief, deep catnap of an activist on a rock and roll schedule.

At his hotel he hugged me, grabbed his box of unsold books, told me to find him on, and was gone. The next day, he was in Santa Barbara and today he's in San Francisco, making his way north all the way to Seattle. By then, he should have his story down pretty well. Theatre is like that sometimes - you get it right just in time for closing.

Then he'll go home to his coffee shop, a woman who loves him, and his adorable 2-year old son.

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