Every college kid remembers when he turned 21 because it was the day he could use his own drivers’ license to get into the Boom-Boom Room.
That was in the first semester of my sophomore year, 1966.
There were a lot of laws, even ancient ones, that were in place then that are no longer valid.
I’m sure you’ve heard the axiom, attributed to Churchill, “If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not Conservative by 40, you have no brain”.
Now Sir Winston was aiming that at English public school boys, their version of Ivy Leaguers, and not at working class people. But American working class people did have a similar version of the same theme. Class distinctions were not the same in America, for children of working class people did go to college.
Of course this was what always distinguished Americans from the rest of the world. Even our noblest thinkers, educators and business successes had a coal miner, welder or dirt farmer in their family tree, unlike the English.
When I went off to college my dad simply warned me I’d act stupid for awhile, “so be careful”. But he wasn’t afraid of me slipping into the Boom Boom Room on a fake ID. When he turned 21 he was on a troop ship headed for North Africa, my pregnant mom back in Cincinnati at her sister’s house to wait out the war. Unlike Churchill’s class, he was more fearful that I’d fall prey to “ideas” that swam deep around college campuses, and become a Democrat, or worse, a liberal. He knew I’d bump into that sort at college, but hoped that I would reject what they taught, so that after college, I’d find a nice girl, get a job, start a family, and vote for the Barry Goldwater of my choice.
That was how it had always been once maturity, duty, and responsibility settled it, the same thing Churchill was talking about.
In 1964 we all looked the same on campus. You couldn’t tell an engineer or pre-med student from an English or poly-sci major.
We all dressed pretty much the same, zip-front jackets, slacks, open collar shirt, Kingston Trio madras still popular. Girls wore skirts and button blouses (yeah, go figure). Just like high school, some girls were smoking hot, others just nice, and others not so easy to look at, in about the same proportions as you’d find on a grading curve, a few A’s, lots of C’s, and a few D’s
For two years I lived in a private home owned by a widow, walking distance from campus, which housed 6 upstairs beds in four rooms. I shared one of those rooms with other students from freshmen to juniors, my rent $60/month. I had a job at a bookstore about a 15 minute walk away, which paid $2.45/hr, and I worked as many hours as I could.
It was called “working my way through college”. My father paid tuition and books only.
With no car, and no way to meet girls without one, college was pretty monastic. Even dreary.
Of course, the Vietnam War started in August 1964, and by the time I was 21 in 1966 that dreary visual landscape finally changed.
You can say it was the war, but at the ground floor I’d say it was the draft. If you’re under 50, and having not even been born at that time, you may find this strange, but the draft was FOR MALES ONLY. Just guys.
So, there was an immediate influx into the university systems all over the country of young men who had never intended to go to college, but instead to take good jobs building Fords in Cincinnati or Indianapolis. The draft changed the choice; to go to college to avoid it, or risk the for-sure quick tour to Vietnam where almost all draftees ended. One in three of those would get shot at.
Although I was never that curious at the time, on reflection the change in the visual landscape I noticed most were the girls. I never quite made the connection between the War, the Draft and why suddenly a visible percentage of the girls would stop wearing bras, or let their eyebrows grow across their foreheads, or start wearing blue jeans with holes in them, and tee-shirts that showed off just a bit too much of their ill-shaped figures, and even, since I sat next to one in an English class, no longer taking baths.
I hadn’t even noticed these honeys those first two semesters. I think they wore regular clothes then. In the college male classification system for girls of Mystique, Mistaque and Mistakes (A, C’s and D’s, just mentioned), they largely fell into the borderline of the last two categories. The sort you’d never ask out on a restaurant date, but would offer a beer to around closing time. By 1967, the anti-war hippies (we never called them liberals or even lefties) started walking around in groups, even taking over some of the campus pubs which were within walking distance, and, after ’66, I could visit legally. Their music was different, and interesting. Canned Heat.
Oh, many of the guys changed, too, more blue jeans, tees, facial hair, but I always thought “Sergeant Peppers” had more to do more with that. I was ROTC, already committed, but the war was a million miles away. I never really made the connection.
Then the Chicago Democrat Party Convention riots in 1968 took place, just a few weeks after I was sworn in as an Army 2nd Lieutenant. So my new bride and I watched them on TV, TV a thing I really hadn’t been around since ’64.
Without getting all teary-eyed about those halcyon days of celibacy which arise with no money and no car, I remember how I believed American parents in that period viewed the general misbehavior of their college children, and it swung between permissiveness and, using Churchill’s axiom, that they were just leading with their hearts instead of their minds, and would grow out of it. It would all be over in a few years, when they would settle down, get married and raise a family. Just like Dad said.
But there was another aspect.
It would be over 20 years before I would get to know trust babies up close, about whom I knew absolutely nothing in 1968, or learn that the general rule was never that general. At least in bigger cities, or what we today call “blue cities”.
In 1990 I was contacted by an old client who I’d helped with a marijuana bust in Arizona in the 70s. She was just such a trust baby, from a very wealthy and powerful family along Lakeshore Drive north of Chicago. She was living in a commune of walled adobe huts called Apache Flats near where I practiced law. I got all of them (6) off with a fine.
Apparently pleased with my work, and at the end of her rope, Kathy (her name) contacted my brother, who still lives there, who gave her my contact near Cincinnati. He told me she was the poster child for why people should not do drugs, for when I met again in 1990, we was as emaciated as a 90 year old woman.
I flew out and spent three days with her. She hired me to find a law firm in Chicago, then to be a middle man between herself and her lawyers, and oversee the cases going forward, in her gaining control of her trusts of her deceased parents, amounting to about $15m, the trustee being her older sister, who parceled out her allowance with an eye dropper.
They did not get along.
We stayed together on that job for 8 years, and we got her all that money. I was back and forth to Arizona and Chicago regularly. She lived on a small creekside ranch house near the Apache Reservation, ran around the house naked (yecch!) and believed every conspiracy theory that ever came down the pike, from JFK to Area 51, not that far away. Now that the Vietnam War was over and Nixon out of office she considered herself to be a libertarian who swore by the Second Amendment and the legalization of every colored little pill you could possibly ingest.
Kathy was the sweetest person you ever wanted to know, except when you mentioned the word “police” or “Christian”, at which time it was as if someone closed all the blinds. Suddenly the room would go dark and she would (sometimes quietly) seethe about the “pigs” or the grave danger Christianity posed to American freedom.
“But Kathy, I’m a Christian” I’d remind her, which she would never acknowledge or seem to mind.
She ran off to Arizona with a fellow who fathered her son around the time I turned 21. A true “drop out”. We were friends until she died in 2004 at the ripe old age of 70, going on 97. She never worked a day in her life. Never took home a paycheck, or had to. Nor scrubbed a kitchen floor, for that matter.
Brilliant, she knew Wall Street as well as Donald Trump, and invested much better than her sister. When she gained the bulk of her fortune she converted it all, just before the Dow crossed 10,000 for the first time (1998 I think) after swearing it never would, but increased her pile by half. Brilliant.
Having been to her ranch several times, I never saw a book. If she ever read one after high school, I doubt it. Like Apache lodge-tales, she lived in a society where events and history were passed by word of mouth. She belonged to a sub-culture that got almost all its knowledge from song lyrics and sitting around in a garage swapping stories about pigs and assassinations while passing around a bottle of Jack Daniels. “Yeah, man.”
In her world that was well enough, I suppose. She was a walking encyclopedia of the apolitical and groovy cultural side of 1960s hippiedom.
But I don’t think that culture exists any longer.
In ’66 when Kathy dropped out there were tens of thousands trust babies like her, but many more had found their way to colleges around the country, not hippie communes in the desert. Most were lured into the arms of the American Left, where during the Vietnam War, business was very good. They made their mark in Chicago in the summer of ’68.
Kathy took the dusty road less traveled, in moccasins. She was a flower child, a gentle soul, a genuinely innocent spirit, with only a couple of hate-filled trip wires. And with the one sheriff who had raided their little nest back in ’77 finally fired by the town council, you guessed it, for beating up a disabled vet in a wheelchair for sitting on his porch smoking weed, there wasn’t a “pig” within 2000 miles she could even curse about.
Today there are millions, not tens of thousands, who “will do no labor today” (Shakespeare). Or any day. Or ever have to. Only I am not speaking electorally, for they have a far greater impact on our society than mere votes, which they often as not don’t participate in anyway.
For many young Americans today, if they are stupid at 20 they are condemned to remain that way. And it’s time, as Americans, to recognize this as a great threat and understand that there is something very, very wrong with a social system that enables, much less sponsors this.
Today our new trust babies are bathed in wall-to-wall hate. And entitlement. A dangerous mix.
Keep this in mind when the subject comes up about a national service requirement for all American youth. It will come up, as we intend to broach the subject with the veterans at VeteransTales.org, all of whom already have skin in the game.
Come be part of that discussion over the next year or two. It is a subject that is overdue, that every American should have invested some of his/her skin in this nation’s future. And at least know how to make their own bed.