The Summer of 1967
I would venture a guess that even today by about the middle to the end of sophomore year most college students probably become “know it alls”. I was no exception.
During the summer of 1966 after freshman year, I began to have political arguments with my father. These debates became progressively more vehement and ugly, once again reflecting the political division of the country. He was a hawkish conservative who believed in the righteous cause of anti- communism while I had become liberally freethinking and socially compassionate. My honest beliefs were that the Military industrial complex was fascist to the core, while America had forgotten its poor, its illiterates and its impoverished classes.
My father would rant about the economic waste of social welfare programs or the inability and lack of desire on the part of poor people to “raise themselves up by their own bootstraps,” because after all his father as well as himself were self-made, so why could not everyone else be so or do so as well. Of course in his later years, however, he certainly did not mind buying into and deriving certain expected benefits from Lyndon Johnson’s Great Societal experiment called Medicare.
- That’s different. I earned it.
- I’m not sure you really earned Carte blanch ad infinitum for any and all of your medical bills, dad.
- And why not?
For my part, I had been exposed to the continued abject poverty in the South where poor whites lorded over poor blacks and where closer to home, black workers on campus were not even getting minimum wages. I think they were agitating to get up to 90 cents an hour, but without a union and with no advocates, they were not making any headway. My father told me I would change my mind when I began to pay taxes, while I told him he was a heartless fascist. It was a no-win Mexican standoff.
In the summer of 1967, my father finally did get the last word and played his trump card. I had lined up a job the previous year as a busboy at an old hotel, The Irving in Southampton, which at that time catered to the blue bloods who wintered in Florida or Palm Desert, and who summered on Long island’s famous East End. Many of these people moved into the hotel for the entire summer, allowing common folk like myself to get a first hand look at their decadent lifestyles.
The Irving Hotel was an elegant old establishment complete with a black tie Maître D’hôtel. An old professional German named Fritz, he supervised a formal dining room that still set tables with real silverware and Pewter accessories. If I thought that the summer of 1966 was bad because I had struggled through work with mononucleosis, little did I know how much worse the summer of 1967 would turn out to be.
My long unruly hair embarrassed my father. He had already freaked out earlier in the year when we made a rare family appearance at church for Easter Sunday at which time the long hair had caused numerous stares and giggles, all of which culminated in a great row after the fact of getting home. When my Aunt Jean saw this mop on a visit to Texas she was more direct. She followed me around all day, every day, torturing me by repeatedly calling me a “little girl” and offering to take me to town to buy a calico dress. But I could care less and indifferently let the taunts roll off my back because just like the Beetle Haircut in high school, I knew in my heart that I was in the fashion vanguard and adamantly refused to capitulate.
However, when my father got my grades for the last semester, he delivered his ultimatum in a true “come to Jesus” diatribe: I was going to get a haircut, I was going on probation for the next semester, if I did not pull my grades up to an A level he was not going to pay for school, I could get drafted into the Army on my lost educational deferment and I could go to Vietnam. He said that was it and he didn’t even care if I came home in a body bag. Although I tried to play on his guilt by telling him that he would not like to see me come back in a pine box, I really had no choice. He said again that he didn’t care one way or the other; that being hidden away in a body bag would avoid public embarrassment and thus because obviously my life on the line, I finally capitulated and got a haircut. I may have been stubborn, but I was not stupidly suicidal.
The only time I head ever seen him that mad was the night I tried to sneak into the house two hours past my curfew because of a sincerely dedicated but failed attempt to seduce a date in the back seat of the family station wagon. I had just crept into the final turn before the hallway leading to the safety of my bedroom when my father bolted out of the shadows, grabbed me in a neck throttle and slammed me up against the wall.
- You’re late. Do that to me once more and you will never drive again.
How was I supposed to know he had a slipped disc and was trying to unsuccessfully sleep away the foul mood inducing pain in the living room recliner?
Meanwhile more shit hit the fan when my mother and Aunt Polly raided my bedroom one day, ransacked the drawers and were sitting at the kitchen table burning incense sticks when I came home from the beach.
- We found your pot and we’re burning it up. What we really want to know is how you can get high by smoking this awful smelling stuff. We’re surprised it doesn’t kill you and if you ever bring this stuff into the house again, you’re out of school, you’ll have to get a job, then maybe get drafted, then go into the Army and we don’t care.
Although things settled down after I educated them as to their error by telling them that I only used incense to make my room smell nice, I felt it nonetheless best to be safe by giving away the safely hidden lump of the real hashish I had procured at school which was earmarked to get me through the entire summer.
Then to make matters worse, the girl I had met at the SDS meetings and had started seriously date informed me that she was pregnant.
In those days birth control pills had just come onto the market, were hard to obtain and still carried a certain stigmata as to their safety as well as the real intention behind their proposed use. Women who used ‘The Pill’ naturally then had to be secret sluts. God forbid, Grandma, if they smoked too, what you might think of the combined pharmacopeia of estrogen, progesterone and nicotine. (I have previously alluded to the fact that my Italian Grandmother’s favorite query about my father’s potential dates was to ask if they smoked. If he said” No” she was happy. So when he asked her why she wanted to know she quipped: “Because if she smokes, she fucks.”)
Completing the stupidly circular argument, women who got pregnant out of wedlock were labeled as obviously proven sluts, leaving the only logical conclusion to be that chastity should be the easiest and safest way out of the raging hormone dilemma. However, no matter how the argument is sliced or no matter what religion one subscribes to, there will never be a way to stop pre-marital sex because as previously elucidated; we are all biologically programmed to have it in our teens. For a young woman the, birth control pills and diaphragms would ultimately be easier to hide from a mother, than an oddly shaped ever expanding midline and suddenly larger bra cup size.
My girlfriend and I were both 19. She was a Baltimore debutant who went home from school for the summer, while all I could hear playing in my head were the wrathful expletives about to be delivered by my mother if I told her what was going on. It would undoubtedly be one of her worst nightmares come true: A pot smoking college-drop-out, longhaired hippie teenaged son, who was about to become a father. Not good.
However, being one of the original “Women’s Libbers”, my girlfriend made an automatic unilateral decision that we were both too young to become parents, that our prudish families would be horribly scandalized, and that our academic careers or any potential future careers for that matter would very likely be ruined or severely hampered. She wanted an abortion.
We were in quite a bind with the outlook seeming hopeless at best, if not bleak at worst We would probably have to confess the plight and then take whatever consequences came of it, including teen-age parenthood. There weren’t too many available options because unfortunately at that time in America, abortion was illegal. It was also associated with numerous real or anecdotal stories about women dying from clandestine coat hanger jobs or green soap dilatations and curettages at the hands of self styled home schooled butchers.
I was emotionally prepared to become a hotel busboy for life.
The Irving Hotel in Southampton imported help for the summer, most of it being college age students who were housed in a motel like hovel on the large grounds owned by the hotel corporation. I had already befriended one of these itinerants, Bradley, a bright guy from Springfield, Massachusetts, who was going to high school at home and was in his second summer stint at the Irving to make money for college at the University of Massachusetts.
He was an eternal optimist and a gentle soul with a great sense of humor who glibly brushed off any and all adversity. He was also a fellow pothead, and although quite bright intellectually, managed to hide the fact behind a likable goofy affect that reminded me of Our Gang’s Stymie who once told Alfalfa that:
- I ain’t gonna show my intelligence to noooo body”
Some of the best times we had during the summer were to smoke pot after work in the concrete bunker provided as housing for the summer help, put on headphones and listen for hours to The Doors, Canned Heat, or Iron Butterfly.
When I confided the pregnancy situation, he seemed completely nonplussed and told me he knew a man at home in Springfield who had dedicated himself to a campaign for the legal right to abortion. He had also helped numerous women in trouble, or women who wanted to have their own right to choose. When I contacted Brad’s friend by phone he related how he had helped a number of women to have safe legitimate abortions in Nogales, Mexico and outlined how it could be accomplished over a weekend. There was nothing in it for himself other than to ensure medical safety, so he subsequently arranged the appointment for us with his Mexican connection, Dr. Jose Romo De Vivar who completed the circle of the notorious Massachusetts-Mexico illegal abortion ring.
Financing this endeavor was not easy, but I somehow managed to borrow about $1500 from a friend at Duke, the son of a wealthy Jewish lawyer from Northern New Jersey who happened to have had his own relatively flush personal savings account.
I procured airline tickets and successfully communicated with the doctor’s office. That was the easy part.
The hard part was to come later as for one full year after the fact, I ate nothing but small tins of Star Kist Tuna as I had to live on about two dollars a day in order to be able to pay back my friend. Guilt, of course, having played a significant role in this self-imposed sacrifice, I did not ask my girlfriend for a single dime toward our expenses as I assumed complete financial responsibility for my actions. My girlfriend and I double lied by informing our parents that we were going to visit each other. Then I flew to Baltimore where I picked her up, we then flew to Arizona, rented a car and drove over the border to Nogales, Mexico.
Nogales is a twin city. There is the American Nogales that is neat, clean modernly prosperous town. Then, just across the border there is the Mexican Nogales that is filthy, dirty, antiquated and impoverished. Nothing could better highlight the difference between America and the third world than the juxtaposition of these two towns, while nothing could better predict the future mass exodus of Mexican immigrants and illegal aliens than the visible opportunities that beckoned these poor people, who were only separated from a better life by an imaginary line drawn in the sand. The abject poverty and the juxtaposition of these two towns bearing the same name but existing in two diametrically opposed worlds was a startling eye-opener for me, because an International border was the only thing separating a bustling, clean United States village from a dilapidated, run down slum.
It was easy enough to locate the doctor’s office although it first required navigating our way trough a bevy of urchins; street beggars and shoe shine boys who hung on our heels like lampreys.
Among other things, prostitution happened to be a considerable portion of the local underground economy and was not too seriously suppressed by local authorities making the town seem to be a Mecca for U.S. citizens looking for a cheap trick. The street pimps were quite brazen, as exemplified by one of the more pernicious street solicitors, a young boy in his early teens, who nonchalantly approached us and repeatedly proposed:
- Hey meestah. You wanna fuck my seestah? You can have her for a quarter. An’ don’ worry. You can go upstairs while I stay down here an’ watch your girlfriend. Everything weel be OK. I weel take especial good care of your girlfriend.
Given the circumstances of our situation and purpose, the solicitation was not appreciated, but was not dissimilar to a proposition we got in New York City the next summer when a street solicitor wanted us both to do a screen test for a pornographic film. It must have been something in the way she moved because I knew for sure I didn’t happen to have any of the same ‘je ne se pas de quoi.’ Or as they say in the street vernacular:
- It must be jelly, ‘cause jam sure ‘nough don’t shake like that.
Even discounting the time value of money, I can hardly imagine what other unsolicited calamity or health hazard might have come along with that quick ride on a twenty-five cent Mexican whore. All I really needed to complete the vision of hell I already thought I was in would be to get an incurable strain of VD, a stolen wallet, no U.S identification, a kidnapped pregnant girlfriend and no way to get back home. Ultimately, although entirely nerve racking, and despite biting my fingernails to nubs while I waited, the D& C was completely uneventful and mercifully uncomplicated, which then allowed us to scramble back to our respective homes.
The entire episode lasted less than 48 hours during which time fortunately no parent had called any other parent while we both went on to make up lies about how great each other’s respective home visits had gone. Putting it all behind us was a great but nevertheless very sobering relief, as well a very harsh lesson in the value of practicing very careful birth control methods.
Thank goodness contraceptive pills soon became readily available and over a short period of time after coming on the market finally lost the stigma that those women who used them were nothing better than street whores, common sluts or lost souls who were doomed forever to roast in hell.
(Nogales, Mexico / Nogales, Arizona)
Laid back in an old saloon, with a peso in my hand
Watching flies and children on the street.
And I catch a glimpse of black-eyed girls who giggle when I smile
There’s a little boy who wants to shine my feet.
And it’s three days ride from Bakersfield
And I don’t’ know why I came.
I guess I came to keep from payin’ dues.
So instead I’ve got a bottle and a girl who’s just fourteen
And a damned good case of the Mexicali blues.
Is there anything a man don’t stand to lose
When the devil wants to take it all away
Cherish all your thoughts. Keep a tight grip on your booze
‘Cause thinking and drinking are all I have today.
(John Barlow and Bob Weir: The Grateful Dead: Mexicali Blues)