John Hevelin thinks Norman Mailer sounds like a refried Mickey Spillane and I believe him!

john hevelin

John Hevelin, no doubt completely unaware that his good friend Pierre would use this picture in a tribute to him.

I know John would like the headline. I don’t really mean this to be a eulogy or an obit. I don’t think John would like that. I think he might be pissed off that I’m using WordPress and not troff to write this, nor vi, nor even emacs.

John Hevelin, a good friend of mine, one of the few people who bothered writing something nice on my LinkedIn profile, passed away on 11 May 2014. I met John when I hired him into Sun Microsystems in 1988.

Click here to read the Antioch College tribute to John.

Born in 1946, John plied his trade as a technical writer and overall activist. A proud Antioch College graduate (’70), he came from an interesting family and won so many awards graduating from Galway High School (’64) (valedictorian, history award, math award, science award, english award) that I almost puked reading this article. I am certain his success still embarrasses him.

His father, Rusty Hevelin was an odd duck in his own right, hanging out with Rod Serling and dating Coretta Scott King before she met Martin Luther King.

He was an advisor to the 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, something I never paid attention to but that others found extremely impressive.

He was always one to question authority, and I thoroughly enjoyed him as a friend. He always appreciated my warped views. We loved to talk of the velvet glove of Stalin, Marx, and the absolute idiocy of FrameMaker and primacy of Tex and troff. He was a good man who had a much deeper life of exceptional experiences. He loved equating our management with totalitarian regimes he had known. John was convinced that we were forever under the jackboot of the man, the oppressor. Generally he was right.

On the day of the Loma Prieta quake, I had taken Caltrain in to work at Sun Microsystems up in Mountain View on Shoreline. At the time, Caltrain stopped at the Castro station which was at Rengstorff near Central Expressway. I wanted to get home in time for the World Series game, which started at 5pm. I knew John lived in my neighborhood in the Rose Garden near downtown San Jose, so I convinced him to leave work early to catch the game. He didn’t care at all about baseball, but since I was his manager, he wasn’t about to complain. So because of John, I was home for the great Loma Prieta Quake of 1989 with my family. That alone validated our friendship.

I started doing a forensic analysis of what’s on the web about John – what traces did he leave behind? Who was he? I found the following on Amazon.com, when he reviewed Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel / the Novel as History which recounts a part of his life I often talked to him about, the Vietnam War era. This is John’s review of Norman Mailer’s book on an incident during the Vietnam War protests.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars 22 reviews
73 of 83 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read the History, Skip the Novel (I was There) 3 Feb 2008
By John Hevelin – Published on Amazon.com

Forty years ago, Norman Mailer and I attended a major demonstration against the Vietnam War at the Pentagon. Our situations were very different. Mailer was then forty-four, an established author and celebrity, and a founder of the “Village Voice.” He attended the demonstration in the company of the poet Robert Lowell (a conscientious objector jailed during World War II) and Dwight McDonald, a leftist contributor to the “New Yorker” and the “New York Review of Books.” Mailer was the subject of a BBC documentary and was accompanied to the demonstration by a film crew. He was arrested early in the day for crossing a police line, spent a night in jail, and was released the following day after extensive efforts by his lawyers.

I was twenty-one, a penniless student in my third year at Antioch College. I was a comparative newcomer to mass demonstrations. Although I did not consider myself a pacifist, I was opposed on principle to military service, and I was opposed specifically to the Vietnam War. If drafted, I expected to go to prison. I did not go to the Pentagon to be disruptive, and I did not go to join the hippie “levitation/exorcism” exercise, which I considered juvenile. I attended with a Quaker who had been a conscientious objector in World War II, and a fellow classmate, who would become a conscientious objector. We felt it was important to make our opposition to Selective Service and the war visible. We had heard that some pacifists intended to commit civil disobedience (blocking doors or entering off-limits areas), and we went to support their action. I had neither the courage nor the self-discipline to commit civil disobediance (sic) myself at that point, and either arrest or injury would have been catastrophic for me. Simply participating was the bravest thing I had ever done in my life.

The week before the march had been marked by anti-draft demonstrations in many cities, and television news stories showing Oakland police beating demonstrators with riot batons were quite vivid in my mind. In the bus driving through Washington, D.C., to the staging area, I was startled to see the streets lined with paratroopers with fixed bayonets. Nineteen sixty-seven might have been the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco, but the summer had been marred by major riots in the ghettos of Detroit and Newark. Obviously, Washington city officials were afraid that the ghetto in NE D.C. might erupt.

I don’t remember much about the march. I remember circulating through the grounds outside the Pentagon, trying to stay out of the way of the troops and MPs, trying to avoid getting clubbed, gassed, or arrested. The night was cold, and people built fires of abandoned picket signs. Eventually it was time to rendezvous with the bus home, and since there seemed little else we could do, my friends and I retreated to the bus back to Ohio.

Mailer was arrested early in the day, and I left late in the evening, so neither of us personally witnessed the systematic beating and arrest of hundreds of unresisting demonstrators by army units in an event called the “Battle of the Wedge” (reconstructed by Mailer from eyewitness accounts). A disproportionate number of those beaten were women.

It takes a certain kind of man to beat a defenseless, nonviolent woman with a riot baton. America had caught of glimpse of this kind of man during the Civil Rights demonstrations in the 1950s and early 1960s, men willing to use dogs and fire hoses against Negro children, but this was still seen as an aberration of the segregationist, racist South. It would not be until the following year when these men would gain greater visibility at My Lai, raping and butchering innocent women and children. It was white, middle-class America’s introduction to the fact that “our boys” could be less than heros.

Mailer speculates at length why so much of the violence was directed at women, but I don’t think his explanations suffice. For men who opposed the draft, the support of sympathetic women was crucial. Faced with accusations of being cowards and homosexuals, the love and compassion of activist women helped young men find the courage to resist induction and face prison and ostracism by society. (For an example, see the poster by Joan Baez and her sisters, “Girls Say Yes to Boys Who Say No”.) Mailer says that soldiers at the Pentagon were “taunted” by hippie girls exposing their breasts, but he forgets about the “Summer of Love” and the counterculture affirmation of Life — the hippie girls weren’t taunting the soldiers, they were trying to remind them that there is an alternative to violence and death. Make love, not war. And for other women, opposing the war and the draft was a statement of their independence of the patriarchy. And that night, violent men took their revenge on independent women.

Mailer speculates that the demonstrators experienced a “rite of passage,” and invites comparison with Valley Forge and the Alamo. He overlooks a far more recent rite of passage that I’m sure was uppermost in the demonstrator’s minds — the Civil Rights Movement and the profound courage exhibited during the Freedom Rides, the lunch counter sit-ins, and the march on Selma.

Sometimes Mailer sounds like refried Mickey Spillane. But this book must have been written quite hurriedly — the march took place in October 1967, and the book was published in 1968.

“Armies of the Night” is divided into two books (I and II). Book I is divided into four parts (1-4). I would rate book II as a “5” — if you want to understand the politics of the Sixties, book II is one of the best introductions you can find. If you’re short of time, read book II and leave the rest. I would rate parts 3 and 4 of book I at “3”, and I would rate parts 1 and 2 of book I at “1”.

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6 Responses to John Hevelin thinks Norman Mailer sounds like a refried Mickey Spillane and I believe him!

  1. William Hathaway says:

    I know I shouldn’t get shocked when I follow a curiosity in this modern information world, but I was at least surprised this morning to learn this about John Hevelin. I had stumbled on a deceased date for his brother Scott (2011) and was following through on survivor lists when your tribute appeared on my screen. I knew John from Galway High School (Scott and I were class of 1966) and I always considered him one of the brightest stars of our school. At least in my (tiny) circle, the smart kids were my heroes. John was tops. I had not heard much of him after those school years so it is gratifying to learn of his career, though bitter to learn his race is so very recently run. And to finally learn so much more about his family – mind opening. I would bicycle to their house in those days (it was a Small …Town …) , mostly to visit with Scott (who I last saw at our 40 year class reunion.)

    If you are interested in gathering details on John’s time in Galway, I have photos of him from the school yearbooks of that time (he was on the Yearbook staff three years) and could email them on request. (Looked so different with hair on top.)

    I have been gathering histories of everyone related to my GHS for a show at my 50th year reunion so could expand the tales far beyond the interests of this forum. In case you’re really curious. Would share while being sensitive to privacy concerns of living individuals involved.

    Thank you for the tribute.

  2. Pierre Bedard says:

    Thanks so much. John was a great person who lived a great life. Knowing him was one of the great pleasures of my life. By the time I ran into him he was already as jaded a Wobbly as you could find, but he was a great friend. Your comment made me reread the tribute and I stand by every bloody word now as when I typed it. Thanks.

    • Anne says:

      Thank you so much for honoring John (and for adding the link to Antioch). He and I were housemates in 1977-78 and remained dear friends ever after. He taught me cribbage and politics (although latter never became an interest). I’d love to exchange more info if you’re interested.

  3. Tarlochan S. Nahal says:

    Pierre,

    Thanks for sharing your memories of John Hevelin, I remember him well as I also worked for you at Sun along with John, Tony Cussary, Bruce Bartlett, Jayna Pike and many other tech writers in Mountain View. I had joined your group in March 1989 and I remember the Loma Preita earthquake. I was at Sun at that time.

    I remember when you moved to Marketing sometime around 1991, John came up with a unique idea. We went outside on the shoreline, took a group picture of all the Tech Writers as he wanted to surprise you. When you logged in, it showed up the group picture on your screen. And there was pot-bellied John in the middle looking like a ringleader. I might still have a copy of it in my personal archives because I had asked Jayna to make one copy for me.

    John was a funny guy. He would play the Navigator game on his computer which was developed by Bruce Bartlett (tech writer), Curtis Priem and another Bruce (both Sun engineers) he would make loud laughs and utter obscenities while playing it.

    He thought FrameMaker or for that matter, Interleaf (if people still remember it) was a scourge of a technical writer. He thought vi, troff and emacs was the way to go! Even though he knew it was a losing battle, he still hung on to those tools like a dead albatross around his neck and formatted his manuals using vi commands and troff and used FrameMaker only when it was absolutely necessary. He was the go to guy when it came to those tools.

    May John’s soul rest in peace!

    Tarlochan S. Nahal

    • Pierre Bedard says:

      Tarlochan,

      Thanks for the kind words in John’s memory and great to hear from you. Send me a copy of the picture and I’ll post it. True, I escaped tech pubs and moved up (or down) the food chain into marketing, but it wasn’t because of my team. John always used to say “no fate worst than framemaker.”

  4. Bruce Bartlett says:

    Our friend Tony Cussary sent me the link to your article. John was a close friend when we worked together at Sun. He was always ready to assist anyone who would ask in the use of Unix, troff, etc. We worked together on refining some of the finer points of the Sun Style Guide. We had many fun conversations about the relative merits of FrameMaker vs. vi. Our views differed, but the conversations were always respectful.

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