Ah, to be seventeen again, with so few cares in the world.
Jumping from our high school graduation, with Paul C. wearing shorts and a tee shirt under his gown, to days spent on the white sand at Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. Our most important decisions were which chicks to hit on, and whether to buy a Sunny Boy orange drink or ice cold Cherry Coke, along with, of course, a hot Coney Island Knish.
We ran those afternoons off by scurrying back and forth into the ocean, until of course it was time to go home for dinner with Mom and Dad. One can almost still hear the symphony of rock songs serenading us from the countless transistor radios on the equally countless beach blankets.
This writer remembers two giant hits those hot beach days of June '67: The Doors 'Light My Fire' and The 4 Seasons 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You'. We knew that fairly soon many of us would find summer jobs to keep us from this daily taste of paradise... unless of course we found jobs at night.
The Spring/Summer of ' 67 saw many caskets coming home from Vietnam in , ironically, the 'dead of night'. We all knew of guys from our neighborhood a few years older than us, never to return home, but in memory. As we sat in the kitchen each evening at dinnertime, with the portable television facing us, the news at 6pm showed us all the vivid scenes of death and destruction thousands of miles away. This was mingled in with the death and destruction from the Watts riots in Los Angeles, about things we seventeen year old white kids really did not comprehend. We were mostly ignorant of the causes of such unrest in poor areas around us. Few of us ever dared to venture into the poverty stricken neighborhoods of our own Brooklyn, as few of 'those people' ever came into ours, factoring out the cleaning women, janitors and delivery helpers. Segregation was alive and well in Brooklyn '67. All we seemed to care about each evening was how to meet some good looking girl to be our steady chick.
Amazing how ignorant we were of all that was transpiring around us. We had, that summer, either the Yankees or the Mets to root home each night. One can never forget hanging out on the corner of our block, after of course the girls had to go in for the night. Night was reserved for sports talk, sprinkled in with a bit of girl talk as well. No mention of Vietnam, or Watts, or the new craze of 'Flower Power' replete with bell bottoms, peasant dresses, long hair and marijuana.
No, we guys of 24th Street all had our short haircuts (Harvey ' The Bear' did grow sideburns though) and we wore the regular' uniform' of jeans, polo shirts and Converse sneakers. No sandals for us. We all loved Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and all the Rock N Roll we could get. It would be a year or two away for most of us to adopt the hairstyle and the dress of the rock stars we worshipped.
The sad irony is the most pertinent question: "Where were our parents? Why hadn't they taught us to question the things that some of us learned a few short years later?" Well, the answer is obvious. My friends and I had parents who either believed in what the status quo 2 Party System shoveled their way, or just saw the futility (in their eyes) of going against the grain. After all, these were children of the great depression and of the last 'just war' America fought.
In the 30s and 40s our parents saw a government, with all the faults every government has, providing cover for their working stiff butts. In '67 it became simply a Republican vs. Democrat shell game that they participated in. The Vietnam (so called) War was supported by both political parties in '67, so there was little debate amongst many working stiffs as to "if" we should be there. Sadly, as in most important issues in life, self-interest trumps status quo.
In '71, when my older brother and I were deep inside of 'draft age' my dad, a lifelong Republican (going against his class interests as a longshoreman... but that's for another column), spoke out at an Easter dinner to the rest of my aunts and uncles:
"Before I allow either of my sons to get drafted and sent to Vietnam, I will personally drive them to Canada and support them until they can come home!"
You see, when you live your entire life within a political system that is skewed toward two 'War Parties' who are equally supported and equally financed by this Military Industrial Empire, anything counter to that mindset is too radical to even consider by most people.