Sometimes I feel like a ghost, haunting the ruins of respectable society.
My name is Darien Lamen, PhD. But Lamen isn’t my real name–it’s a cover story.
You see, a hundred years ago, my Great Grandma Lucie took that name from a man who sent her letters through a national pen pal club.
Lamen… the name of a self-described working boy who wrote to pass the time between shifts on an oil field in North Dakota… and to find a wife… writing about the weather, homesteads, and movies he saw when he went into town.
One of them, “Lure of Ambition,” was about a working class girl in New York City who seduces a wealthy man and escapes the grind once and for all. Lamen didn’t much care for that one.
“You ask me if u can call me Hubby,” Lamen wrote a few months into his correspondence with my Great Grandma. “Sure you can. I always most all the time think of you as my little wife and Honey as my daughter. Sure, u can also let those girls believe we are married or anybody. It will help protect Honey. Don’t u think so?”
Lamen… the name of a man who gave my great grandma a cover story, and money to move out west. A man who, as far as I can tell, she never actually met.
Grandma Lucie was what society used to call a wayward woman. In 1924, just months after she gave birth to my dad’s dad, they sent her away to the “county farm.”
Three kids out of wedlock. Three strikes.
Grandma Lucie escaped from there with a friend. But they were caught at the bus station making for home. There’s even a write-up in the local paper. Made the news. Wayward women on the run.
Grandma Lucie’s friend was sent back to the farm. But she was sent up to Albion, along with her newborn baby, my grandpa.
In those days Albion prison was what they called a “women’s reformatory.” And as a reward for good behavior, Grandma Lucie would have been allowed to swing her arms freely when walking the grounds, instead of having to keep them clasped behind her back.
Degrees and pedigree are no guarantee against becoming a casualty of casualization, a ghost haunting the ruins of respectable society.
Lucie isn’t my only ancestor to show up in the crime blotter of the day.
There’s the Heritages. Youngest son was sent away as a child to work as a servant on a pig farm in Pennsylvania. He made the news when his brothers kidnapped him back and smuggled him across state lines.
Then there’s George Senior, he and a buddy caused a stir in a Pennsylvania mining town by getting on the trolley drunk on their one day off. He was lucky enough to be able to pay his fine. His buddy got locked up.
Lamen. A cover story.
In the farm town where I grew up, it was a good name. An honest name. The kids I went to school with respected my dad. Everyone knew Dr. Lamen had come up the hard way, without electricity or running water. He was one of them. Except he had defied History.
And me? They called me Doctor’s Boy. The son of a doctor who would go on to become a doctor, but not the useful type. Where my dad had defied History, I was born in the enviable position of not having to answer to it. Born free from History. At least that’s what we thought.
Lamen. A cover story. And to think we almost got away with it.
But History has caught up. Degrees and pedigree are no guarantee against becoming a casualty of casualization, a ghost haunting the ruins of respectable society.
But in this haunted place, I’m in good company.
And it’s no longer a question of how many of us can climb up out of history. But as Toni Negri once said, it’s about making, constituting history, being on the inside at all times… inside the infinite opening that each historical moment determines.
One hundred years ago, when the socialist Eugene Debs was convicted of sedition for condemning capitalist imperialism, he said in his defense, “Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. While there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
My name is Darien Lamen.
Lamen, noun–a non-specialist or non-professional; person or persons descended from wayward women, nameless fathers, farmhands and miners; kin to all those condemned for crimes of poverty, impropriety, and sedition against class society…
And I am starting to grow into my name.
All audio, text and images are under copyright © Neelum Films LLC