American Anarchist

The life of Mary Frohman

(Page 2 of 2)

I mentioned that Fish had written fan fiction. In Textual Poachers, his landmark study of fan communities, MIT's Henry Jenkins described Fish's anarchist-feminist Star Trek novel The Weight as a "compelling narrative" that's "remarkable in the scope and complexity of its conception, the precision of its execution, and the explicitness of its political orientation." Frohman didn't have much patience for Star Trek or fan fiction, and grew disgusted when the household started to contain not just Trekkie literature but Starsky and Hutch fanzines. Inspired, angry, and hopped up on speed, she started to write an epic parody of fan writing, in which a villainous Starsky and Hutch attempt to infiltrate the IWW in one of the great Chicago blizzards. I think the bubonic plague was involved somehow as well.

Or something like that: It's been a while since she told me the plot, and I never did get a chance to read the novel. She had set aside the 700-page monster when she gave up amphetamines and didn't return to it until after I'd left Ann Arbor, but in 1998 I got an unexpected e-mail from her, telling me she'd finally finished a draft of the book and asking for editorial advice. There followed a mammoth attachment that crashed my computer, and it wouldn't open after I rebooted the machine; I asked her to resend it but got no reply. (She was, I gathered, new to the Internet.) A tiny press in Michigan—in Lansing, maybe?—was supposed to publish the book; I don't know if it ever did. I hope so. I'd like to read it someday.

There was, eventually, an acrimonious breakup, and in the early '80s Leslie moved west while Mary returned to Ann Arbor. It was there that I met her, first at that pizza joint where she worked as a guard and then, more formally, at her 44th birthday party. (Meredith, who had already known Frohman for nearly a decade, had brought me along as a date.) At 44, she could have passed for 60: Her days of drink and drugs were behind her, and she wasn't getting tear-gassed anymore, but she smoked heavily, ate poorly, and coughed constantly.

But she was a lively woman, a spirited debater and a raconteur, brimming over with stories of the old days and with impromptu political rants. She wasn't exactly a libertarian—not the capitalist kind, anyway—but she had the same unwillingness to fit into any ordinary political pigeonhole. Discuss the family or the workplace, and she'd stake out a position well to the left of even Ann Arbor's mainstream. But if the talk turned to taxes or guns, she wouldn't be out of place at a militia meeting. We agreed on enough to be friends, and we disagreed on enough for the friendship to be interesting. Friendship was, in fact, her highest ideal: She had told Meredith, in that '89 interview, that "because the best relationships are voluntarily chosen, the highest and purest relationship is friendship; there is no one down and it's voluntary on both sides."

On Friday, June 3, 2005, Mary Frohman had a heart attack while she waited for a bus. Her death wasn't a surprise, but it was very sad news. "She practiced what she preached about being a family of friends," Meredith remembers. "She took care of people. She made sure that people were fed and clothed, and when people were sick, she made sure that they got attention." That wasn't a small feat, given the poverty in which she and many of those friends lived. The revolution she worked for never did come, but with the simple, radical act of living by her principles, she helped create a small island of the society she wanted to live in.

*The text originally read "a Chicago cop's .50 caliber machine gun." While Frohman recalls the incident as involving a machine gun, she did not specify that the person holding it was a Chicago police officer.

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    I also met Mary in the 80's at an anarchist study group. She introduced herself first as Ann the Anarchist. She said of one of her right wing libertarian friends, that they had agreed to smash the state and then see what emerged, right or left. I seem to remember that she was also working on a book about the icons or rock and roll. I think she had collected every recording by the Doors except one and she was looking for it, I think it was a 45. I'm sorry that I fell out of touch with her although I still live in Ann Arbor. I wonder if any one knows anything more about her publishing efforts.

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