Written in an urgent prose, Lay My Body on the Line zeroes in on the San Francisco State College uprisings of the 1960s as seen close up through the unblinking eyes of partisan Roger Leon — idealist, activist, iconoclast, ex-prisoner, writer, teacher, boxer, lover of life and sensitive women.
Roger is the sixth-generation descendant of an ambitious California family from Spain that has known its share of tragedy. Haunted by the youthful suicide of a remarkable older brother, Eddy, whose memory he reveres, Roger, the all-American Oakland boy, is molded into a maverick. Paranoid beyond belief — at times comically but always understandably so — he manages to survive one shattering experience after another. It is only love, strength and a powerful sense of purpose that sustain him after he is betrayed by fair weather friends, unstable comrades and relatives, including his own father who has raised him to speak out and struggle against evil and social wrong.
Packed with all the action, conflict, violence, uncertainty, eroticism, romance and the raw play of ideas and passions that earmarked those turbulent years, this impulsive novel brilliantly relates the story of one family and its disintegration, under pressure, in the heat of a seething American era that won’t be soon forgotten.
—Fred Cody, Berkeley Monthly
—Robert Hurwitt, Berkeley Barb
—Stephen Arkin, San Francisco Bay Guardian
—Mary Walker, The Daily Cal
—Gene Zbikowski, The Phoenix
“You dirty motherfuckers!” he shouts, and Penny close behind him, he dashes out from under the gas and into the protection of the grove of Giant Sequoias on a corner of the campus. Then grabbing some rocks out of the flower beds with other students, he runs around the trees to where he and Penny are alone, and when the cops in the square aim their teargas guns at the students throwing rocks at them from the flagpole, he lobs one, then two heavy rocks at them, then jumps behind a giant tree to hide, without waiting to see if any hit. He waits until the cops fire another salvo of shells at the students by the flagpole, then steps out and lobs one, two rocks again, sees them float over the lawn, over the small trees at the corner of the annex, a quick flurry of cops’ legs scattering apart where he aims, and then ducks behind the tree again to wait. Penny presses against him until “Pow! Pow!”two teargas canisters hit a tree nearby and spew gas on them, and peeking out from around the tree, he sees a cop on his back by the corner of the annex. Up above the trees he hears the chop-chop of the helicopter, and looks up to see another cop leaning out with a pair of binoculars trained on him. He jerks Penny by the hand into a run from giant tree to giant tree, trying to stay under the thick branches so the cop can’t pinpoint them, realizing as he runs that war is a battle over patches of land, and that the cops are able to drive them out of the building but they can’t run them off the campus or even away from the annex. Finally, he reaches a group of students who have taken cover in the grove of trees, and notices several well-dressed, middle-aged men hovering around the group like military observers. He moves away from them but barely gets to the other side of the group, many of the students heaving rocks, shouting, “Pigs! Pigs! Pigs! Oink! Oink! Oink!” when a loud cheer goes up and he sees three guys hauling down the American flag from the flagpole only fifty feet away, two white kids with long hair and a black kid who looks like a high school student and who pulls out some matches and lights one. “Don’t burn it!” Roger yells. “Don’t burn it! You’ll only turn the workers against you!”
“Shut up!” some student yells.
“Fuck you, pig!” a girl shouts, then screams as a group of husky jocks come tearing through the crowd and slug the three guys around the flag, knock them quickly to the ground, fight off a weak attempt by a few guys to take it back, then kick the black kid in the mouth when he starts to get up. Then, after they kick another kid in the nuts, they start to move backwards toward the annex, but are followed at a distance by a group of students, who suddenly double in number and charge down upon them when “Pow! Pow! Pow!” teargas shells land among them, and a big cry of fear goes up as a squad of cops, fifty strong, gasmasks on, clubs raised, come charging through the grove of trees and drive everyone in front of them deep into the square. And no longer holding hands, Roger and Penny run past the flagpole with some students, coughing and rubbing their reddened eyes, trying to run around the humanities building, afraid to run out in the street where cars are speeding by, when a scream and a shout stops them as another squad of cops comes running around the building toward them, cutting off escape, encircling them, driving all of them down into the square in a wild, chaotic scramble, as more cops from the annex move up in an unbroken line to trap them, gasmasks on, clubs raised.
Students go down on the fringes, others jam up in the middle of the square or shoot out in fast runs, trying to break through the circle of cops, some making it. Roger starts to dash toward the street where the line of cops is thin, but can’t see Penny, turns and spots her running with some other students toward the basement entrance of the humanities building further down the slope, where they jerk on the doors one after another but can’t open them, and they turn and scream as cops charge down on them.
“Run, Penny!” he shouts, and she turns toward his voice but moans, “Nooooo!” and crouches down with her arms up as a cop charges her, and Roger feels a shock of fear spurt through him, paralyze him, then suddenly spark him into action at the sight of her so totally helpless only a few feet away. And all fear gone, he runs at the cop, rams into his side just before he reaches her, hits him in the padded ribs with the heels of his hands, knocks him over on the porch, then grabs her arm as the cop goes sprawling out on his back. But he sees her stare past him and scream again and “Bam!” a flash of lightning shoots through his head and he staggers back with rubbery legs, sees the cop who hit him raise his club again, but can’t make his legs carry him away or even get his hands up high enough to block the club, and watches helplessly as the monstrous figure in the gasmask and visor steps toward him and brings the club down again, catching him on his half-raised arm, staggers him backwards off the porch, and drops him on the lawn as the cop on the ground leaps to his feet. But the sight of the cop jumping up fills him with energy and coordination again, and his head suddenly clear, he pushes off the ground with his hands, and jumps to his feet in front of the charging cops, clubs raised, their eyes wide with surprise behind their masks. He starts running with an insane energy, spurting ahead of them toward the giant sequoias on the corner, amazed that he has gotten so far, beginning to believe he can make it by the cheering faces of the students between the trees who are heaving rocks at the chasing cops, and running like fire, heartened by the cheers, he dashes to the trees, runs in and around them, sees the students backing into the boulevard ahead, and though still running hard, almost clear of the trees, he picks a gap in the crowd that is falling back to let him through, even takes a deep breath the last twenty feet or so, when he sees just a hint of a shadow at his side, then a quick flash like a cloud closing out a sunspot, and a blinding smash in his head again, which knocks him off his feet, topples him headfirst onto the concrete, a terrible pain like fire in his head, and he tries to cover it with his arms, to soothe the fire and hide his head down between his legs, as a long moan comes of his mouth from deep inside his body like some stranger’s voice. He writhes, feeling like somebody has plunged a hot soldering iron into his brain, splitting it in two, feeling whacks to his back and shoulders, legs, and sure he is about to be killed, desperate, he screams and starts running on all fours, lifts to his feet as he runs, but sees the clump of trees in front of him instead of the street and realizes that he is running the wrong way too late, feels a painful thump on his back, then another to his head with a smash, a flash, and splintering stars, horrible pain, and the trees blacking out like a movie screen, and he falls again, a numbness coming over him, the thump of more clubs on his back and ribs, then a blurry sense of fatigue, no sight, his body deflating as the air passes out of him, a blurry darkness, a heaviness at the back of his head, then nothing, neither sight nor sound for moments or minutes he cannot tell, can only feel his body roll over and over as if buoyant and under water, his head hanging, wobbling loosely, as if his neck is broken, then wet, wet lawn in his face. His brain sputters, fuzzes with flashes of light, and he floats somehow, sharp winces of pain shooting through his brain with a jog-jog-jog, and he catches his breath, feels like he’s falling, tries to throw his arms out to stop his fall, but catches his breath again with panic for his arms are locked behind him, his wrists cut by sharp metal, and he falls, rolls onto wet lawn with a big moan in his ears, then crash! like a wave breaking, noise comes pouring into his head and he wakes to the shouts of the crowd, opens his eyes and looks up from the lawn, sees through the blood the students backing up, their mouths open, fingers pointing at him, yelling, the chop-chop-chop of the helicopter, screams, great din of noise, the sound of sirens screaming in his head and the flash, flash, flash of red lights.