Bill Orleans is a jerk, and indeed a candidate for Greenbelt Council. He has never been more of a jerk than when he agreed to a silly and totally unnecessary compromise to be determined sufficiently compliant to be certified as a candidate. Shame on him! Ask him about it.
Orleans was effectively born in Greenbelt, in October 1947; conceived and gestated here, delivered in Riverdale, and returned here shortly thereafter. He grew up white in Greenbelt in the ‘50’s, a privilege which went unexamined until years later. (Also male and straight, if bent in the corners, privileges unexamined until even more years later.)
Nevertheless, he began his life long pursuit of life’s lessons right here in town. At about 8 or so, while walking the sidewalk in front of the apartments on Crescent across from the elementary school, he casually was bouncing a rubber baseball when he saw a single ant crossing ahead one pace, which ant was then killed by a thoughtless bounce, something akin to sport. Whatever might have been that ant’s fate, Orleans had no right to end its’ life for sport. “All God’s” creatures ”got” value, and no life should be taken so casually.
At about the same age, he was sent from his Westway home by his mother with a couple of dollars to get milk or something from the Co op. He went to the candy store instead. Returning home without whatever it was, he was questioned by his mother. He lied, and said some bigger, older kid had taken it from him, whereupon he was driven about town by his mother to find that kid. Orleans saw a kid older and bigger that had indeed been mean to him in the past, and told his mother that that was the kid. (Of course he was not, it was a lie, but he justified to himself that it was ok because the kid had been mean to him in the past.) His mother, it turned out, knew that kid’s mother, and that kid got a licking for something he had not done. Not bearing false witness is a good rule for a good reason. One can never reconcile oneself to the lie, as indeed Or leans could never reconcile with that kid, who avoided Orleans ever thereafter, and long after his licking Orleans was the one to feel the pain of it.
Again, at about the same age, he stole from Ben Franklin’s a plastic crucifix, manufactured for what was probably the cost of a penny or two, and priced at a dollar. His guilt endures and is likely not absolvable. A few years later he saw a girl he knew walking alone near the Centerway underpass. She had long been the subject of mean teasing from other kids, including himself. She was haughty, a tattletale, a teacher’s pet. For whatever reason and by whatever the method an eleven- or twelve-year-old could employ, he sought to suggest she be nicer to other kids (to loosen up a bit) and that they (we) would probably be nicer to her in turn. This many years later he cannot recall whether from this small interaction she changed or others changed in their response to her, but he does recall that at that time he was thanked for being nice to her, and that thereafter he changed. At any age it always is better than not to talk out conflicts, personal, and maybe also political.
At the age of 15, after one year at High Point, Orleans moved to Albany to live with his father and his Aunt Jule; his life lessons continued. Early on, enrolled in Albany High, and still a new kid in town, he had occasion to defend a kid physically and developmentally disabled, harassed in a classroom, class in progress. This resulted in a challenge to meet in a park after school: A few punches and a lot of wrestling in the grass, established, by kids’ logic, that he was okay. More importantly, the other kid was no longer harassed (at least as much as he had been, apparently for years, and at least not in Orleans’ presence). One need not be strong enough to beat mean spiritedness, just strong enough to say “Stop”.
At seventeen Orleans forced the issue with his family and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Nothing of particular significance occurred in his 4 years, but he distinguished himself by continuing to confront meanness, observed too often among the enlisted and commissioned, even within the constraints necessary in military discipline. Sometimes his confrontation was subtle.
In the summer of 1968, having returned from overseas with 6 to 9 months to go, he applied to PGCC for an early out, and was discharged in January 1969, 3 months early; he had lived, and got out with an Honorable. During the last 6 months he was stationed in Camp Lejeune. Two weekends of the month were his. One weekend he would drive back to Greenbelt to visit family and just goof. Most of these trips he would take guys going to either Washington or Baltimore; driving up, we never stopped. But as he learned, after his initial 30 day leave after returning stateside, driving South in the late summer of ’68 was problematic.
1968 was to be his first time voting. He had listened on Armed Forces Radio the news of earlier that year, and had long previously decided we were wrong to be engaged as we were in Southeast Asia, and had decided that he would not be voting for Hubert Humphrey (out of spite). He had sent $20 to Eugene McCarthy from Vietnam. From his perspective, Nixon was out of the question. He flirted with the intention in his first vote of voting for Dick Gregory or Pogo. On his first drive South from Greenbelt, after leaving I 95 at the Virginia-North Carolina line, he found himself on old country roads. The first time he stopped, he was confronted by “colored” and “white only” signs, and Wallace (and Nixon) for President signs, and KKK imagery alongside the roads. The last weekend before the election he spent in Raleigh, and seeing a Humphrey-Muskie sign above a Democratic Party office, on impulse he crossed against traffic into its parking lot, and put a Humphrey-Muskie bumper sticker on his car.
Sometimes incremental change only one step forward is better than two or more steps backward.
Discontented and failing at PGCC, he left Greenbelt again in the spring of ’69 for New York, where he worked a variety of jobs until getting his license to drive a taxi, work which he engaged in on and off for 30 years. He would still identify as a New York City Cab Driver.
He enrolled also in the New York School of Hard Questions, with a major/minor in no pretense and no bullshit; and later in Labor college. Later he was received into a second faith, the one true secular faith, democracy.
Most important to his fully understanding life lessons was his mentoring from an old taxi driver. A member of the Communist Party USA who had fought in Spain and returned troubled, who left the Party with the Stalin-Hitler pact, warring not always metaphorically with former comrades, who engaged in the continuous struggle over 40 year s to win a cabdriver’s union; who had known and suffered under the “leadership” of 20th century Labor significants: Mike Quill, John L. Lewis, Jimmy Hoffa, and finally Harry Van Arsdale, to see taxi workers betrayed by their “leadership”, themselves.
Over a strike barrel one cold, snowy winter night in ’71 (I had stayed late, he had come early), just he and I, in a sense I graduated, with his instruction, “Orleans”, he said, “Bill, I have just one thing to say to you: Never pat yourself on the back, ever ask of yourself more and harder questions, and, Orleans, Bill, never give in to the bastards”.
This is Orleans. And this: several times a convicted misdemedant, he was never convicted of a felony (nor should have he been); and this: he is an admitted paronomasiast; and this, twice diagnosed with mental illness, in the New York VA with Dystemia (Dis-stem-i-a) said to be a mild form of depression, and in the Washington VA with Dystemia (Dys-stym-e-a) said to be a chronic form of depression. Who isn’t a little sad, and maybe every day? Nothing was prescribed with either diagnosis, and he is uncertain if ever he would have taken it if it had been. The Feds couldn’t get their pronunciation straight. Instead, he followed what would have been his mentor’s advice: “spit in the eye of the bastard, laugh at your depression.”