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Singing and marching down memory lane

John Colson

It was a song that dragged me from the depths of slumber to the stormy surface, but it was the memory of the dream that kept me there.I glanced out a window and realized it wasn’t even lunchtime yet in London, so what the hell was I doing awake?Snatches of songs and dreams were raining together on the dusty back streets of my mind, and the churned-up surface made it look like the armies of the night had recently passed by. But my feet weren’t getting wet, and it felt warm and good, so I decided to take a mental stroll.The song was one of those old ’60s standards, by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, that starts with the line, “Almost cut my hair … it happened just the other day.” Lyrics speak of paranoia, “like looking in my mirror and seeing a police car,” but then about the urge from deep down that it’s time I was “letting my freak flag fly” because “I feel … like I owe it … to someone.”The dream was of a vague place, maybe a living room, maybe a stage, and a gathering of people I once met almost 20 years ago on a peace walk through the Ukrainian Republic, back when the Soviet Union was still the “Empire of Evil.”Tatiana was there, a vibrant, almost painfully alive woman aflame with ideals and ideas who always seemed to be at the head of the walk, or in the midst of political debates, or flying around the room alone at a rock concert in some Ukranian backwater. She was later stabbed to death by a jealous boyfriend, amid rumors of political intrigue and KGB threats.Misha was there, too, a gangly Muscovite who wanted to be an American entrepreneur so badly that everyone around him could taste it.And there was Valodya, a small, darkly intense dissident who attached himself to the Peace Walk even after being rejected by the official Soviet Peace Committee because he was a troublemaker. He would chide us for being taken in by the Peace Committee’s overt friendliness, even as KGB agents mingled among us taking notes and photos. Or for not speaking out against reactionaries who hoped to topple Mikhail Gorbachev and his Perestroika initiatives aimed at reconciliation with the West. He disappeared before the walk ended, some say into the bowels of KGB headquarters in Moscow, where the more militant of our Peace Walk bunch staged a protest that ended in bloody truncheons beating young Russian heads and carefully avoiding the American ones.In my dream, Valodya was fulminating against something. I can’t recall exactly what, other than it had to do with false promises of a good life and backroom dealing by wealthy bureaucrats and their criminal-corporate cronies. The Internet was somehow responsible for our all gathering together, something I realized just as the entire scene began to fade out. Someone was yelling that they’d wiped Valodya’s program, that the gathering place had been a ruse by the secret police and we’d fallen for their lies once again.But I didn’t disappear, of course – remember, this is still a dream – and on I went, drifting along, half-conscious of alleyways and buildings, as another song gathered volume. It was the Eagles singing about “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see” and about how I should “take it easy.”Then it came to me that one of those in the dream was Allen Affeldt, a participant in the 1986 Great Peach March that passed through Glenwood Springs on its way from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Affeldt then became head of the International Peace Walk organization that got me to the Ukraine not once, but twice, for a month each time, two years in a row.And Affeldt, it just so happens, is now the mayor of Winslow, a windblown ghost of a city along U.S. 40 just about halfway between Flagstaff and nowhere. I ran across his name during an Internet search some time ago. We’ve exchanged e-mails; he seems as lost as I feel but just as generally content. I even once stood on that damned corner in Winslow for a while, staring up and down the highway – no flatbed Ford to be seen.The east was brightening through the snow clouds as yet another song came bubbling up through the mud at my figurative feet: “Woke up / Fell out of bed / Dragged a comb across my head / Found my way downstairs and drank a cup / And looking up, I noticed I was late.”John Colson can be reached at jcolson@aspentimes.com