Friday, September 08, 2017

The Summer of Love; the Winter of Our Discontent

I laughed when I saw the cover of the Aug./Sept. issue of AARP: The Magazine. Over a Peter Max original illustration was the header: "Celebrate the Summer of Love, 50th anniversary, 1967-2017."

I was almost as far away from San Francisco as a 16-year-old could get in the summer of 1967. In the waning days of summer, I was about to become a junior at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach, Florida.

That summer, my classmates thought that I was moving to a new life in Cincinnati, Ohio. My father was already in Cincy, crunching numbers at the General Electric Works. He moved as did so many others -- Florida's aerospace industry had come to a grinding halt.

But what about the moon landing, the one that was still two years in the future? Much of the prep work was finished. NASA and its many subcontractors (GE among them) didn't need all the engineers and statisticians and accountants that they had brought to Central Florida for the task. An engineer friend of my Dad was pumping gas. Others found tourist-industry jobs so they could continue to enjoy the splendors of The Sunshine State.

Two of my friends, Rob and Ann, had already decamped with their families to Schenectady, N.Y., another big base for GE, the one where Kurt Vonnegut once toiled in PR ("Deer in the Works"). Classmates had thrown us a going-away party. Good-bye and good luck!

I was registered to attend another Catholic high school, this one an all-boys school in Cincy that I was certain to hate. I was not a kid who made friends easily. I would not make the basketball team, as the new school was big and had a hot-shot varsity already in place. If I ever met any girls, Catholic or otherwise, they would ignore me. My good grades were due to take a nose dive and I was destined for failure. This was my dark side speaking, teen angst on overdrive. If I wrote poetry then -- and kept it -- it would be something to read. But I was a jock and a surfer and my type didn't write emo poems or any kind of poems. Or so I thought.

My mother worked at a local hospital and still had a two-year-old at home, along with eight other kids. We couldn't sell our house. All the buyers were on their way back north. Prices plummeted. My father said that he missed his wife Anna and his nine kids. Dad left me his 1960 Renault Dauphine so I could take my siblings to school and basketball practice and anywhere else they had to go. I was delighted to have a car and a license to go on the many dates I imagined that I would have.

After six months, my father surprised us all when he decided to leave GE and try to get a job in central Florida. My future was saved.

It wasn't easy for my father. He was a quiet man. I can imagine his life as a bookish professor or a secluded monk, a man without a huge family and all the pressures that brings. As a kid, he spent his time going to the library and building crystal radio sets in his basement. He wasn't a striver or a climber, which doomed him from the start in the corporate world. I know, as I spent five years as a corporate man, twenty-five years in government. I am an introvert but learned how to be a public person. I was tasked with supporting my family. I did that. But there always is a cost, and you may not know about it until you are retired.

My Dad returned to Florida late that summer. When school started, he was looking for a job. My mom worked as a nurse at a local hospital. We were together again.

What was life like in August 1967 for the average American big family? My parents never had enough money. Both worked, a rarity in 1967. Still, it was never enough. Most of the people we knew were in the same boat.

The Summer of Love? To us, hippies were an anomaly. I thought they were cool but their antics were foreign to me. Sex was dreamed of but an impossible dream, to take a line from a popular 1960s Broadway musical. We sweated and groped in the back seats of cars. There were public school girls who went all the way, or so the public school boys told us. But that wasn't for us.

Remember that this was pre-Disney Florida. Before the boom that caused the founding of dozens of fantasy worlds and caused everyone in Providence and Newark to relocate to Daytona and Sarasota. If it was a feature at Disney, it would be called "A Whole Different World World."

It's a Whole Different World World
It's a Whole Different World World
Segregated schools, no sex on the beaches
Swamps teeming with gators and leeches
It's a Whole Different World World after all

Don't get me wrong -- we admired those people engaging in unbridled sex and drug-taking in The Haight. We might have followed the lead of our parents and cursed those damn hippies. We were fascinated and jealous at the same time. It just seemed so foreign.

Happy 50th anniversary to all of you who engaged in the Summer of Love and lived to tell the tale.

Summer of '67. We all have our stories....

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