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I do not remember when or where it was that inspiration struck again with the nom de guerre of Ho Chi Zen. Ho Chi Minh was of course the prototype, the courageous leader of the North Vietnamese called in his own language "Son of the Nation". Calling myself after such a great revolutionary and on top of that changing the denotation to "Son of Zen" was of course outrageous, inexcusably so - and I guess that's what I liked most about the idea. For it partook of the chip-on-the-shoulder spirit of Zen.
With me very much in the early days in Tampa, the name endured our move to Atlanta in late 1969 - although I had used it only once in Zenarchy, designating Ho Chi Zen translator of "Quotations from Chairman Lao." Actually those quotations were not translations at all, but a rephrasing based upon a number of different translations of Lao Tzu. So Ho Chi Zen began his career as a rascal, and he has not changed in the least since then.
Like most of the colorful pen names my eristic friends and I have fallen into using, the Ho Chi Zen moniker is just as often used as the name of a character in my writings as by-line. For John Wilcock's Other Scenes Cara and I were to write an essay inspired by Timothy Leary's Politics of Ecstasy idea called "Subjective Liberation". Intended as the first chapter to a book I never wrote called The I Tao (Way of Changes), the article first appeared under our real names and then was reprinted again in the same publication under Ho Chi Zen.
In Zen Without Zen Masters, Ho Chi Zen makes a number of guest appearances, usually to steal one of my best lines, such as: "By the study of Zen one can learn to help people - or, that failing, at least to get them off your back." Moreover, he surfaces every now and then in the Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.
In the summer of 1970 in Atlanta's very political Marxist-Leninist underground paper, The Great Speckled Bird, was when and where he first rode to fame. Most of the serious young Bird staffers were out of town that season, cutting sugar cane in Cuba or running guns for the Palestinians in the Middle East. Someone mentioned to me that for that reason the editors were extremely hard-up for material. They didn't pay anything, but what the hell? Here was a chance to have some fun, especially since they were in search of material that would appeal to the "freaks", hippies living in the 10th Street area and engaging in violent struggle from time to time with local police and rednecks.
My first instinct was to endeavor to dampen tempers with a certain amount of instructive humor. For I saw more creative ways to make revolution than by grabbing for a gun at the least provocation. So Ho Chi Zen wrote an article for the Bird called "Mind Fucking Zen". Briefly, it argued that the essential element of Zen tactics is surprise. For surprise is nature's way of saying, "You're wrong! Think again!" Sanctified by aeons of evolution, this survival trait, the capacity for surprise, could be used by revolutionists to change minds. To illustrate, Ho told a Zen story.
Results of publication were spectacular. Folks from the 10th Street region called the Bird office to congratulate them for "the hippest thing" they'd ever printed. One woman kept calling demanding to know who Ho Chi Zen was. As I soon learned, she was the former wife of our neighbor, Carl Hendrickson, certain that "Mind Fucking Zen" was his creation. When I mentioned to Carl that I was the culprit, he said, "My God, everybody in town has been accusing me of writing that rap!" We decided we must have something in common and resolved to spend more time getting stoned together.
Carl Hendrickson was a heavy old-timey hipster who belonged to the White Panther Party, closely associated in those days with the Yippies. Anarchistic and psychedelic, he resembled me in his thinking just enough for sparks to fly.
When Timothy Leary broke out of jail that year and abandoned his former charming pacifism with a violent, angry manifesto, Carl said: "They never should have taken away that man's dope! Before they were fucking with a Catholic, but now they are fucking with an Irishman!"
I liked that one. For the most part, though, Carl resembled nearly all other Atlanta radicals - guns appealed to him more than flowers and humor. I wasn't that angry yet.
As a journalistic celebrity, Ho Chi Zen was now much in demand at the Bird. So I followed "Mind Fucking Zen" with a number of similar contributions from the Zenarchist Arsenal.
One was a story I borrowed from the arguments of the anarchists and clothed in the legend of the Robber Cheh, a favorite character used by Chuang Tzu for making points about thieves.
Once an apprentice to the Robber Cheh got word that the village of Yin lost favor with the Duke, falling behind on taxes; the royal constables were withdrawn. Meanwhile, the neighboring village of Yang remained under guard day and night. Which village to steal from was the subject of discussion.
For while the apprentice wanted to attack Yin, the Robber Cheh insisted it would be safer to commit robberies in Yang. Since the residents of Yin knew they were without protection, they would guard their property with fierce dogs, dig pits around their homes, alert their neighbors to keep an eye out, and moreover, few residents of Yin would not be armed. Whereas Yang, reasoned the Robber Cheh, would be easy pickings. All his band had to fear was the police, who could be watched on their rounds until they passed through a neighborhood, and then the thieves could strike.
Another piece celebrated Timothy Leary's jailbreak, drawing parallels between Leary and the Mexican revolutionary, Emil Zapata, who used to retire to the mountains and ingest psychedelic mushrooms.
When curiosity as to the identity of Ho Chi Zen reached an intolerable level, I dispatched a fictitious reporter to Atlanta's nonexistent Chinatown to interview my inscrutable Oriental. My object was to satirize Western stereotypes about Asians. Found living behind a Chinese red door in an opium den, cloaked in every possible cliche associated with Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan, with a gong on his front porch bearing the seal of the Illuminati, his ornate home scented unmistakably with fumes of Peking Proletarian Incense, Ho delivered an interview that was characteristically surprising - though not nearly as surprising to me as that the Bird possessed enough humor to publish it.
Therein, Ho explained that the State is a figment of its own imagination and that the Zenarchist Revolution is inevitable; "In fact, it just took place as I was speaking that sentence! Now that you have your freedom, how will you hide it from robbers?"
Another time he was quoted from a speech he didn't actually deliver in Piedmont Park on "the dope problem", that being the problem of what to do about the dopes who thought marijuana and LSD should remain illegal.
Thereafter, dedicated Bird writers began returning from the far-flung barricades and Ho Chi Zen faded into the ornate Oriental woodwork - with parting tips about how guerilla warriors could survive in the wilderness, gleaned from my research about dropping out.
Among Ho Chi Zen's contributions that summer had also been a five-step program for social change, called Yin Revolution, that utilized drop-out skills in conjunction with political action. More about that in the pages to follow.
Predictably, many Marxists regarded Ho Chi Zen as a deviationist with pronounced petty bourgeois tendencies. That is a charge I would not deny, since in the view of anarchism the petty bourgeois is a natural revolutionary ally of the worker, something to which even Mao Tse-Tung gave significant recognition in planning the Chinese revolution. For Mao had read Kropotkin and Bakunin along with his Marx.
When I wrote a letter to the Bird a year or two later recommending the flags of all nations be burned, as well as the red flag of revolution, the black flag of anarchy and the white flag of peace, in order to assert that human lives were more valuable than rags, signing it Ho Chi Zen, I was brought to task. I had included in my list the Viet Cong flag which, unlike all the other examples mentioned, was not a rag, but a symbol for which thousands of revolutionary soldiers had given their lives.
Robert Anton Wilson wrote me to say that I was wrong and the Bird was right in repudiating my letter, "For while the flags of most nations are made only of cloth and hence are simply rags, the flags of the socialist nations are made one-hundred-percent of gossamer and angel feathers."
Soon a San Francisco printing collective joined the fray when called upon to reprint certain of Ho Chi Zen's Bird articles in Saint John's Wednesday Bread Messenger. In a rider on which they insisted, they accused Ho of racism for resembling Fu Manchu, missing the point of the satire. Moreover, this Marxist printing collective went on to point out, with no little outrage, that there was no evidence that Ho Chi Minh was into Zen, a possibility that never occurred to me in the first place. (Chairman Mao, on the other hand, possessed a profound grasp of Taoism and often resorted to Taoist concepts to explain Marxism to the Chinese people.)
So to celebrate the end of the Vietnam War, I bumped Ho Chi Zen off and wrote him an epitaph. Since Ho Chi Mihn was affectionately known to his people as Uncle Ho, the Atlanta high schoolers who also read the Bird had taken to calling Ho Chi Zen by the nickname, Nephew Ho. Called "Obit, for Nephew Ho", the poem began with the lines: "When Lester Maddox raised all Hell/Ho Chi Zen would break the spell/Lampooning every racist myth/Yankees napalmed Asians with..." Ho proved irrepressible, however, and it turned out soon enough that my report of his death was, in Mark Twain's famous words, "greatly exaggerated." Nonetheless it was, belatedly, the only reply I ever made to the sober-sided charge that Ho Chi Zen was just a modern-day version of the Yellow Kid.
Many an artist has tried to capture the elusive Ho Chi Zen with pen and ink. Nothing quite presents him as I imagine he looks, as the picture in Zen Without Zen Masters that accompanies the story, "Ho Chi Zen's School". There he is shown waiting to pounce on any student who puts money in his donation bowl three times in a row, in order to expel that unfortunate for excessive gullibility.
Times are, though, when Ho Chi Zen is just too cute for the serious business of Zenarchy. That is why I tried to kill him. Too much the gimmick and not enough the funky human being I'm trying to give permission to exist in everyone. He gets in the way. But he is as wily as Bokonon in Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. Just when I think I am rid of him, he pops up somewhere new. Rasputin's assassins had it easier. Nephew Ho is as immortal in his own way - and sometimes as detested by his creator - as was Sherlock Holmes. I seem stuck with him.
As the Chinese Buddhist Layman P'ang Jung used to say of too-clever a Zen antic, "Bungled it trying to be smart."
Toward the final, desperate days of the Nixon regime, though, Ho Chi Zen made a return appearance in The Great Speckled Bird that was neither too facile nor the least bit offensive to my sincere Marxist comrades. Done up on the front page like an album cover, the lyrics to Nephew Ho's "Watergate Rock" began with: "I want to make one thing perfectly clear:/I've nothing to hide and nothing to fear..." Repeated at the beginning of each stanza, this couplet was followed at the song's end with, "...but angry women of all ages,/Buddhist monks in tiger cages,..." and continued with a list of who Nixon had to fear, of people whose pain and heartbreak had made possible Richard Nixon's sorry career as President of the United States of America.
That time Ho Chi Zen was what they call "right on". And I guess that, more than anything else, is why I still let the little rascal monkey around in my written work. When his country and the rest of the world needed him, Ho Chi Zen was there.
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