Friday, July 04, 2014

The '60s (Part 2)


I haven't done one of these here in a while, even though I've been covering the years 1979 through the present over at the other site.  Anyhow, as I recall, this site left off somewhere around the year 1966, when I was in the 6th and highest grade of elementary school.  I was on top of the world back then and could game the system to my liking pretty much at will.  I was a little bit like a younger, public-school version of the protagonist of the film Rushmore. All that changed the next year, though, when I entered Junior High and was at the lowest grade in a school full of older adolescents.

But first, there was a summer at the beach. I don't think I was prouder of anything than my white transistor radio, always tuned to the Top 40 station WABC, and my felt hat with its chain made of beer tabs (the old pull-off tabs from aluminum cans before they were replaced by the current, safety version).



Playing frisbee, above, as my little brother watches on, and starting a sand castle with my sisters, below, as my little brother watches on.



The summer concluded with a week of fishing at a cabin on a lake somewhere upstate New York.



When the summer was finally over and school had begun, I was miserable in the 7th Grade.  Not only was I then in the lowest grade and at the bottom of the pecking order, but all my friends were in different classes and the school was on the other side of town - too far for me to walk.  My grades plummeted, and then it got even worse.  After one year in Junior High, my parents enrolled me in a private school, a real-life Rushmore, with stiff academic standards, required jackets and ties every day, Saturday morning classes, and mandatory chapel every morning.  Oh, and no girls.  I was not pleased with this revolting development at all. 


To make matters worse, I was a day student, commuting to class and back daily from home, at a school of predominantly boarding students.  I was apart from my friends and no longer part of their daily social activities, and as a day student, I didn't fit in with my new classmates, either. Meanwhile, I was going through puberty and new hormones were careening through my bloodstream, and there was not a single girl in any of my classes or anywhere in sight. 


Right-wing evangelical Franklin Graham, son of the charismatic Billy Graham, was enrolled in the same school, one year ahead of me.  He was something of a bully back then but everyone let it slide because we all knew he was over-compensating for the high expectations set by having a famous father.  To this day, he can be counted on to issue homophobic and Islamophobic hate speech, and is a disgrace to his faith.  


This was 1967-68, the height of the Vietnam War, and we had one exchange student from the indigenous Montagnard tribal area of the Vietnamese Central Highlands.  He could barely speak English, much less answer our questions about whether or not he had ever killed anyone (he eventually confided to me that he had once killed a water buffalo and felt guilty enough about that, but had never killed a man).  60 Minutes once set a news crew over and filmed me and some of my fellow students talking with him, and aired the story as that of a neolithic tribesman living in 20th Century America, entirely missing his humility, his shyness, and his humanity.  It was not the only time I've seen 60 Minutes cover a story on which I had some inkling of background information, only to realize that they got it all wrong.   


It might seem like we spent an inordinate amount of time lining up, but these black and while photos are scanned from the 1968 school yearbook, for which most of these pictures were taken.


I attended private school for two years, 8th and 9th Grades, before finally returning to public school.  I hated it at the time, but to be honest, it gave me a genuine, first-hand taste of the Ivy League experience and I got such a good education those years that I was able to cruise through the 10th and 11th Grades of public school barely having to crack open a textbook, as I had already been through most of the curriculum.  It wasn't until my Senior Year that I needed to start studying again, but by then it was the '70s and I simply no longer cared.


But before the '70s began, there was still one more, invaluable educational experience in store for me.

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