You can call me retarded. I prefer inappropriate. I feel I am working my way up from odd ball.
Long before there was Generation X, I grew up having missed all the deadlines of the 60s – I was 9 for the Summer of Love and 11 for Woodstock. I just wasn’t buying all those teenaged stumbling, mumbling bumblers on drugs telling me to adopt their tune out, turn on, drop out mantra. They knew everything about being young – don’t trust anyone over 25. Soon it was anyone over 30. All we had to do was what they did – we weren’t important to them. We didn’t have defining experiences – assassinations, Vietnam, the draft, moon shots, civil rights, Star Trek. We didn’t relate. I wasn’t some kid looking for a DARE Just Say No program. I just wanted my own Beatles; but instead we got the Rutles.
That entire hippie blissed-out crap was commoditized and sold like a pet rock or fart in a bottle. I knew something else had to be around the corner of growing up. I was waiting. I was ready. Born in ’58 sounds like Springsteen but I was more Johnny Rotten before the Sex Pistols. Now I’m getting ahead of my life. I had to survive a lot before I had the aroma of teen spirit to become a reminder to aging hippies of the failures of their youth. I see myself as positive while they only see the negative. Youth is not about succeeding; it is failing to change the world. Then you grow up. Better to be ready for the next century.
I was born into the military, Alameda Naval Hospital, Oakland Ca, the summer of 1958. The first era of rock and roll, except Elvis was drafted and shipped off to Germany. Dad was an Air Force officer, while Mom tended house. I was an only child, unlike my military brat friends who were born into packs of six or seven. I learned family from them, fitting in easily. My best friend’s mom gave me my razor short haircuts and their table always had room for one more. The other dads coached Little League and football. I didn’t miss out on family; I got mine next door.
In 1970 I started seventh grade at Orion Junior High, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Anchorage, Alaska. We lived in base housing, a quad called Chinook, attached homes for forty families. That’s where all my best friends lived. The guys in my class let a couple of sixth graders hangout with us because they wanted to. We laughed watching them try to act cool. One of the sixth graders, Will, became my personal victim as I stuck him in the eye with a ski pool, landed on his head (sixteen stitches) with my ski boots, and watched him break his leg when we went out-of-bounds at the Army ski hill. He was always cool, especially when I had to leave him laying in the snow to fetch the ski patrol for his rescue. The other sixth grader, Tom, was a joker, always thrashing his dad’s snowmobile for our amusement. He would jump off into the snow at top speed and watch it roll over and over. There was not a piece of plastic left on the machine; he was on constant restriction. We all skated by on antics that usually didn’t get us caught. My best friend Joe was an exception when he got drunk and lunched it in math class, confessing all. One antic, and it cost him getting Eagle Scout. Our main gossip topic concerned the CCD youth leader we all agreed was a perv but had no evidence. One friend’s sister went to Anchorage High. She was a full-on hippie, musk, patchouli and a boyfriend she was screwing. She and her mom fought every week. Eventually she moved downtown. We all imagined they was now screwing night and day.
The center of our base activity was the swim team, which may seem strange for Alaska. Leaving the gym, our hair would instantly freeze as we whipped it up in the forty below wind chill factor – my first spiked hairdo. Since it was a co-ed sport, there was the girls’ locker room and shower to streak. What was cool about swimming were the high schoolers and even enlisted personnel working out with us. We considered we were hanging out with them. They were minimally cool to us. One high schooler, Rex, was exceptionally well endowed, 13-year-old penis envy. Josh, with long blond hair and granny glasses, was a dead ringer for John Lennon. Sam was our fashion guru when he started wearing boxers and announced that girls found it much sexier than the white briefs we all wore. Unable to verify the validity of this wisdom, we unanimously agreed this type of personal decision could wait until high school. Group think ruled in junior high.
The scandal of the year unfolded around Rex, who got involved in dope and sex with a team mom. Being the height of the Vietnam War, Glenda’s husband was in Vietnam, fighting as an Air Policeman, while she was fucking John, one of Rex’s 16 year old friends. When hubby cop came back on mid-tour leave, she told him John was their live-in foster son. Needless to say, John was out the door. Then there was nowhere for the gang to hang out and smoke dope. John returned the day hubby flew back to Vietnam. Unfortunately Mommy OD’d on her young son’s epilepsy medication. Hubby returned. Mommy was on the locked sixth floor ward of the base hospital. End of story: the family was off, minus the foster son, to Alabama, where wives don’t fuck sixteen year old hippies. Rex regaled us over several months with the unfolding soap opera, the sordid details getting better and better. Eventually the pot smoking got him kicked out of his parents’ quarters. Rex headed off to the counterculture frontier.
Drugs were around us but not part of our experience. Driving into the parking lot of the Anchorage Little League field was the first time ever I saw someone my age (or any age) shooting up. Anchorage was our big city, 50,000 civilians and 50,000 military. My first mall experience was there. It stayed open late at night, the perfect junior high hangout. There was no snobbishness between townies and military kids. After junior high we all went to high school in the city. Downtown was our future.
This was the period before the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline was approved. Everyone was unemployed and broke. So we made do with activities that cost nothing, such as the salmon run on the Kenai peninsula – hundreds of fishermen on the banks trying to snag salmon by the month. On their spawning run salmon don’t feed; other spots snagged meant the fish hadn’t had a sporting chance and must be tossed back. Native Americans were allowed nets, which seemed more efficient; they must have thought us idiots for throwing back fish. It had to have the illusion of sport fishing. Everyone got plenty of fish.
It was a totally sporting life. Most families had canoes and Winnebago’s for these trips. Not mine. We used our leave visiting relatives in the lower forty-eight states. Having spent all our money on airfare, there wasn’t much excitement other than hanging out with my cousins in a country town. I claimed to be a great North Woodsman. My cousins took me to shoot rats at the local town dump. The rats scurried about as bulldozers moved the trash. My biggest trophy kill was a rat charging right at me, which I shot from about four feet; it slithered away.
I made friends at the mall with a high schooler from town we called Big John, there being so many Johns. I stayed over one weekend after he asked me to spend the night at his house and smoke pot. I got so wasted I had to go outside. It was a crisp winter night with Northern Lights glowing on the horizon. The stars seemed so clear they started to spin in my head. I ended up throwing up. Big Jon was cool about it. We ended up falling asleep listening to Black Sabbath, over and over on his turntable.
Later I wondered if he was a devil worshiper. It didn’t seem odd to sleep with him, just a kid’s sleepover. My buddies didn’t know about pot. The heaviest experience was camping in Palmer the last summer. We got someone to buy us vodka. This time everyone but me threw up . My orange tent still smells like puke. Before we got so wasted, we sat around the campfire telling stories, the “Stand by Me” gang of 1973.
It was the summer before starting tenth grade and high school. The Vietnam War was over. Most of us were transferring out that year. We’d never be together again, starting high school on our own, in new places. Being military brats, this wasn’t the first time. My dad was retiring and had taken a job in Miami. Mom said we’d be warm for once. Funny though, I never found it cold in Alaska.