Monday, August 27, 2018

Memories Part 4- 1967-1968

When I think of my first love I often change the first line of WH Auden's "Musee Des Beaux Arts" to-- "About love they were never wrong, the old masters.." It wasn't what I had hoped it would be, but what kind of love can two15 years old experience? I can't tell if I was emotionally immature or mature? What would the difference be? I thought if John liked me it meant that he was like me. Nope. Not in the least. I thought if we were brave together to be dating as an inter-racial couple, we were together making a political statement about the times. Nope. I hid the relationship from my parents, but I know they suspected what was going on. John was a bass player in an R&B band. One of his band mates was a white guy named Kenny. He was my fake boyfriend when John and I went out. We did this for almost a year. When we did go out not everyone we crossed paths with accepted that I was dating a black guy. I got called "nigger-digger" on more than one occasion. Still, I learned much about young romance, trust, honesty, passion and disappointment. Turns out that attraction to someone is not the only measure of love. We were nothing alike. I asked him recently on Facebook what his music playlist was back then. He sent it to me. Not a single song have I ever listened to since those days. It had Archie Bell and The Drells "Tighten Up," Sam and Dave "And I Thank You..." Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally," etc. Yikes. I hardly remembered those songs. Not like the music I was immersed in at the same time. The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, etc. Still, I went to hear John's band play in local The Battle of The Bands and county Block Dances. John wrote that he remembered at one of the shows the last song they played that evening was "And I Thank You." He said a dear friend of ours was standing with me in the audience and he picked me up and put me on his shoulders so I could see them. The lyrics resonate with me now--

"You didn't have to love me like you did
But you did, but you did
And I thank you..."

Nice memory, and wow was that ever true. I didn't have to love like I did. Ah young stupid romance.

In piecing together this bit of personal history I was reminded of something that I had long ago forgotten. In my ardent love for John I went to the local shopping mall and decided to shoplift a Nehru Jacket for him. I thought he should have one. I had never shoplifted before, but love was a strong motivator. I found a nice one, surreptitiously folded it up and put it in a bag I had brought with me. I continued to shop and make my way around the store. Then, I left. I thought once I was out of that store I was free, I had made it. But.. no. That's not how it works. Once you leave the store with an item not paid for, you are stopped by a store detective in the parking lot. Uh-oh. He brought me back into the store and into his office. He told me what I had shoplifted, that he had been watching me for quite some time. He told me that he was going to call my parents. I was frantic. I was heartbroken. I was embarrassed. I was guilty. He knew that I hadn't gotten the jacket for myself. I told him it was for my boyfriend, that it was a surprise gift for him. We looked at each other. I looked at his wrist and arm and saw he had a tattoo. It said "Born To Raise Hell." I looked back at him and said, "That's a very interesting tattoo. You know who else had that tattoo? Richard Speck the murderer." He looked at me and smiled. He said, "I know. I know." He then told me he wouldn't call my parents, but that I should NEVER shoplift again. I told him I absolutely would not. He walked me to the door and said, "Keep fighting, tiger." I never forgot those words. I never shoplifted again.

My father was working a regular 8:00 - 5:00 job in those days. It was a big difference from his 3:00 am- 10:00 am self-employed schedule. He had been the one who was there when we got home from school. He had been the one who made dinner every night while my mom was commuting home from her job 20 miles away. Things changed in a big way. My parents planned all the dinners, but my sister Lynn and I were responsible for making it. So, we learned how to cook dinner for our family. My dad always wanted/needed dinner right at 5:30. We had it ready. If my mom was late he would get a bit frantic. Turns out he was diagnosed with diabetes a few years later, so it was probably his blood sugars dictating his desperation for food RIGHT NOW!

Our suburban house became a hangout for all of our friends. We had many gatherings in our basement, and yes by then we had started smoking pot. We sat together listening to music, getting high, and fantasizing about changing the world. Or maybe just planning which concerts we would go to in at the Fillmore East. We were teenagers on the cusp of a revolution we felt certain was coming.

I was a non-violent, peace-loving romantic (still am!). The end of 10th grade was approaching. It was spring of 1968. Just writing that year sends me reeling. 1968. The war in Vietnam was raging. Candidates from both political parties were crossing the country with their messages of peace and war, hoping to get enough votes to be on the top of their prospective tickets. Spring 1968, just a few weeks before my 16th birthday Martin Luther King on his "Poor People's Campaign" was assassinated. Shot. Murdered. The man who said "I have a dream..." who said "I've been to the mountaintop..." was dead. I was in high school in a relationship with a black man and this was the context of our lives. How does one make sense of such brutality? Of the violent contempt some people feel about others? How could we believe in "the better angels of our nature"... how could we after all this time? I felt crushed but also driven to the streets to rise up in protest.

And then... and then... two months later Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. How was this even possible in our supposedly civilized country? It was devastating in every way. Beliefs in the dream that the war would come to an end if Kennedy was elected, that there would be social and economic justice, that we were in fact on a path to a greater good came crashing down. The heartbreak of these two assassinations has never been fully assuaged. I have always believed that there are some events that lead to a trajectory in a direction of which there is no turning back or undoing. We are this now because of that then.

And then came the 1968 Democratic Convention. The sad complexity of things, the collision of dreams, the protesters and the police, the whole world was watching. The candidate of my dreams had already gone to his grave. We were left with people I did not believe would represent me in their decisions for our country. I loved Humphrey's support of Civil Rights and the Peace Corp, but he ran on a platform that was in full support of the Vietnam War. That was simply unacceptable for me. I was too young to vote back then, but not too young to care deeply. There would be protests in our future. I was ready to march.

All of this ushered me into my junior year of high school. There I watched Richard Nixon get elected. I was both heartbroken and charged with passion to keep on fighting like the tiger I was.

To be continued...

PS-- The reason I'm writing this is because we sometimes make assumptions about people's lives without knowing really a single thing about them, except for what they write on their blogs and the pretty pictures they take. We have all lived long lives before these internet ones.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Memories Part 3-- 1965-1967

It's hard to choose what to write about. So much happened in those two years on every level of our lives. My siblings and I went from being basketball and baseball playing, cheerleading, and Halloween trick or treating kids to peace marchers, concert-goers, world-changing dreamers. The teenage years had begun and we were in the thick of some of the most profound movements to shake our country. We were in the suburbs, but a mere 27 miles from New York City. Yes, we were living in a commuter town. We could hop a bus on the corner and be at Port Authority in the city in 1 1/2 hours. Our world was both big and small.

It was right around this time that I met someone in 1966 who changed my life. She was the upstairs neighbor of a friend who lived in an apartment complex just outside our little suburban tract-house neighborhood. BK was two years older and already going to high school. And even though we lived in the same town she went to a different high school than I would be in. She was a poet, dreamer, musician, intellectual. She introduced me to all of the music I fell in love with— Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, etc. The great lyrical poet musicians of our time. She encouraged me to write and to dream. We became best of friends.

It was also in this year that my older brother left home for college in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It was the first time our family had ever been separated in such a way. I remember when my parents came back from dropping him off at school, we were already so lonely for him. That first week without him we sent him letters and on Monday we mailed him the Sunday comics from the newspaper. We were growing up and learning the new ways of the modern world.

It was in 1966 that two horrific explosions of violence shook our world. Because I always paid attention to the news, I read the stomach-churning story of Richard Speck’s murders. Somehow I had not really grasped how humans could kill with such mercilessness. It made me afraid about being a young woman, learning that just by being a girl I could be the target of someone’s rage. And then, two weeks later Charles Whitman climbed the observation deck at the University of Texas killed 16 people and taught us the word “sniper.” Violence became a part of our culture from then on. My friend BK and I would walk from her house to mine and say, “Sure hope I don’t get sniped today.” Somehow the world was no longer safe. Boys in their cars would drive by and shout things to us like “Hey babe, wanna go for a ride!” And I would cringe in fear.

A year later in July of 1967 my father's wholesale produce business came crashing down. The move to big supermarkets and shopping centers changed everything, but it was the Newark riots that put the last nail in the coffin. It was a very difficult time for our family. My father was 49 years old, had four kids (one in college) and his whole world was crumbling around him. It was the first and only time I saw my father cry. But he picked himself up, got a job selling furniture at a fine store, and it became his profession until he retired. It was an interesting lesson watching both the larger financial interests put small businesses out of business, and watching how a week of riots in a broken city could change the lives of so many even people living far away.
But then 1967 the Summer of Love also bloomed. Oh the color of art, the sound of the music, the smell of incense and marijuana. It was as joyous a time I could have ever dreamed up. The perfect balance to the war and violence that needed our peaceful loving attention. The confluence of these movements was a profound thing to come of age in. I was truly naive but also firmly convinced of our utter goodness. I believed if I could be so opened up to the nature of oneness and the world, then it was possible for everyone to do so. It took me a long, long time to let go of that dream.  It was in that open-hearted summer time I went to Central Park for some rally of some sort with my friend BK. I remember hanging around with people chanting and singing for peace, having serious conversations about the war, looking around me and the thrill of being swept up in a movement bigger than myself. We shared food, drank from the same water bottles, and were grateful for our openness.

But soon the summer was over and I was starting 10th grade, taking my first school bus ride to high school. On the second day of school, while walking with my brother to the bus stop I felt sick. My head felt feet above my body. I think I had a fever. My throat hurt. My glands hurt. I went to school anyway and went straight to the nurse's office. She took my temp, called my parents and said "Get this girl to a doctor right away." I was sick sick sick. I had a severe case of mononucleosis. My parents had to make a room for me to sleep in downstairs away from my siblings. I was as lonely as I've ever been. For SIX WEEKS I could not leave that room. My food was brought to me on paper plates.  The school sent four faculty (one per day) for six weeks to tutor me in English, History, Math, and French. It was a sad time for me. I have thought over the years that I must have picked up that dreaded sickness from one of the water bottles at the march. While I was sick and feverish, I dreamed often of going back to school and falling love with someone I saw in my homeroom on that first day.

And so it happened. When I finally got back to school in mid October, I saw him. We looked at each other. And soon we fell in love. I'm not even sure I remember the details. We probably wrote notes to each other.  We started hanging around together in the giant entry way at school before the bell rang. There was only one issue about our love that I was going to have to figure out:  He was black.

Next post on love, loss, dreams, jobs, Woodstock, and graduation.

PS-- The reason I'm writing this is because we sometimes make assumptions about people's lives without knowing really a single thing about them, except for what they write on their blogs and the pretty pictures they take. We have all lived long lives before these internet ones.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Foggy Smoky Summer Doldrums

I was going to continue my Memories posts, but with a dear friend visiting from out of state and the bleakness of the weather, I couldn't get myself motivated. I will try to continue some time this week. I've got more stories to tell.

But for now, I have taken exactly eight photos so far this month of August. EIGHT! That might be a record of photographic inactivity for me since we started blogging. It's been that foggy here. There have even been several days of minus tides, and we have not  even ventured out to take a look. You know how much we love minus tides. We feel pulled by that moon as much as the sea. We did not go.

A screenshot of the plane arriving and turning around.
The fires are raging inland. We are literally surrounded by fires. The inland heat pulls in the fog. Our dear friend was supposed to land at 8:00 last Tuesday night. That flight got cancelled, and the passengers from that flight got put on one that was scheduled to leave at 10:45 (arrival 11:30 pm). Then that one got delayed so that the takeoff was after midnight with an arrival time of 1:05 am. So, we followed the flight online and saw that it was making its way here. We arrived at the airport at 12:45 am. It's a very small airport. We were waiting for the plane; we heard it overhead; we ran outside to watch it land. Only, there was no plane in sight. We waited and waited. Then we learned that the pilot found it too foggy to land and turned around and flew back to San Francisco. Our friend spent the night in the airport there and arrived the next morning.

I told Roger when we left the house to go to the airport that night that the fog was too low for a plane to land. How could the people at the airport not know this? I saw it. I said, maybe I should have pilots call me for landing instructions. We had a good laugh!

PS-- The sun came out on Sunday, and it was 75 degrees. It felt so good! How's your summer going?

Monday, August 06, 2018

Memories Part 2--The Suburbs 1960-1965

We moved here, and oh the streets of this suburb were so quiet. We could draw our favorite games of Four Squares and hopscotch right on the street. We could take our jump ropes and our bicycles and play and ride for hours. We met all of our neighbors, families like ours with kids we would be walking to school with everyday. (Some of those kids we are still friends with on Facebook!) My parents bought a barbecue and backyard furniture. We planted flowers and bushes and dreams right there. It was an unforgettable new life that summer of 1960.

I started 3rd grade at PS 25 that September. I remember when my parents asked me how school was on the first day and if I had met anyone I would be friends with. I told them that everyone looked the same. They asked me what that meant. I said they all had blond hair and blue eyes. I realized that my first three years of school in the inner city was as racially diverse as I would ever have it. It was here in the suburbs that people started to ask me where I was from. What? I’m from New Jersey, right here. No, they wanted to know where before this? Um… Newark? Most people asked me if I was from India. It was one of the most common things asked of me when I was growing up, even by strangers in department stores.

We settled into our new life. My parents bought an above-ground swimming pool for us (round, 4 ft deep and  24 feet wide). We practically lived in that thing all summer long. Our backyard was the family gathering place for barbecues and parties. Family Thanksgiving dinners happened around our dining table, and my father carved the wildest Halloween pumpkins every year. I remember though that I stopped waking up at 3:00 am to sit with him before he went to work. The kitchen was downstairs, and the light no longer woke me up. In the winters after big snowstorms, my brothers went around the neighborhood shoveling walks and driveways. In the summers they mowed lawns. My sister and I babysat the younger neighborhood kids. There was a sense of community there on that suburban street.

My family watched TV together every night. It's crazy to think about the things we tuned into: Ed Sullivan; Gunsmoke; Petticoat Junction; Dick Van Dyke show, etc. We listened to WABC radio every morning while getting ready for school. We had a newspaper delivered everyday. News and music were an essential part of our lives. When I was 11 years old, the photo of the Buddhist Monk who had self-immolated on the streets of Saigon had a profound impact on how I saw the world. In that suburban house on a quiet street, I learned again that the world was full of pain and suffering. In fact I struck this pose in the dining room of that house while my parents were hosting my uncle’s in-laws who had flown to New Jersey from California to meet the family.

When I think of this era I remember that 1963 was a year of so much upheaval and pain. In googling back to confirm the dates of things, I was eerily reminded that it was the day after the monk's self-immolation that Medgar Evers was murdered, and in September there was a bombing in a Mississippi church that killed four young black girls. In November President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. How does an 11 year old who is paying attention to the world process such a time? Seriously. This is what I was learning. This was the world I was growing up in. (I remembered that I wrote a long post about the civil rights movement of this era on the blog in 2005. Here is a link to that. It's really too bad all the comments are gone from those days.)

But then music balanced our world. My parents had a nice Victrola and lots of albums. Those first few years were filled with Motown. We loved The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Temptations, etc. We did the twist and the hop. We danced and danced in the family room. Then the world changed for us. The Beatles came to America. I am not sure I can adequately express how much this changed everything. I was 12 years old and a new art form was emerging. One of my neighbors and I were so moved by them that we wrote a song when they went back to England. If I remember correctly these were the lyrics:

There they go
Back to Liverpool
In England so so blue
Our eyes are full of tears
The Beatles are not near
Oh no no noooo
What can I say
What can I do
I am so oh so very blue
Our eyes are full of tears
The Beatles are not near
Oh no no noooo.

I laugh as I type this, but I still love that song. LOL!

We were coming of age in a time of great music and lyricism, the Vietnam war was quietly beginning, friends were marching in the street for civil rights. It was a time of such wide engagement that it’s hard to convey the full sweep of it all. By the time the 1964 elections rolled around I was a 12 year old utterly committed to Lyndon Johnson and stood with a friend outside the polling place with signs to VOTE for LBJ! (Yes, I learned to really not like him shortly after.) It's hard to imagine being 12 years old and so passionate about the whole world and everything going on in it, but I was.

By 1965 the first combat troops arrived in Vietnam, and students on campus at UC Berkeley burned their draft cards. My brothers grew their hair longer. My sister and I let our hair grow long too, and stopped curling it. We were passionately anti-war and utterly pacifists.

So as I type this more than 50 years after those days I wonder-- how did we know about all of this without the internet? We followed the news about music and politics as closely as we do now without crazy mind-deadening devices in our hands. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. We knew about rock concerts and political news; parties with friends and timely communication; major breaking news events and sales at the local stores... how did we do it? Do you ever wish you could go back to a time before this excessive connectivity? It may seem crazy to ask such a thing on a blog that only exists because of this connectivity, but would we all be writing in different venues had this one not taken over? And would we have still found each other? I wonder.

Next post will be 1965-1970. The world was rocked in so many ways.