Long before there is Generation X, I grew up having missed all the deadlines of the 60s – I’m 9 for the Summer of Love and 11 for Woodstock. I’m just not buying all these teenaged stumbling, mumbling bumblers on drugs telling me to adopt their tune out, turn on, drop out mantra. They think they know everything about being young – don’t trust anyone over 25. Soon it’s anyone over 30. All we have to do is what they did – we aren’t important to them. We don’t have defining experiences – assassinations, Vietnam, the draft, moon shots, civil rights, Star Trek. We don’t relate. I’m not some kid looking for a DARE Just Say No program. I just want my own Beatles; and instead we get the Rutles.
That entire hippie blissed-out crap is commoditized and sold like a pet rock or fart in a bottle. I know something else had to be around the corner of growing up. I’m waiting. I’m ready. Born in ’58 sounds like Springsteen but I’m more Johnny Rotten before the Sex Pistols. Now I’m getting ahead of my life. I have to survive a lot before I get the aroma of teen spirit and 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’m born into the military, Alameda Naval Hospital, Oakland Ca, the summer of 1958. The first era of rock and roll, except Elvis is drafted and ships off to Germany. Dad is an Air Force officer, while Mom tends house. I’m an only child, unlike my military brat friends who are born into packs of six or seven. I learn family from them, fitting in easily. My best friend’s mom gives me my razor short haircuts and their table always has room for one more. The other dads coach Little League and football. I don’t miss out on family; I get mine next door.
In 1970 I start seventh grade at Orion Junior High, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Anchorage, Alaska. We live in base housing, a quad called Chinook, attached homes for forty families. That’s where all my best friends live. The guys in my class let a couple of sixth graders hangout with us because they want to. We laugh watching them try to act cool. One of the sixth graders, Will, becomes my personal pin cushion as I stick him in the eye with a ski pool, land on his head (sixteen stitches) with my ski boots, and watch him break his leg when we go out-of-bounds at the Army ski hill. He’s always cool, especially when I leave him laying in the snow to fetch the ski patrol for his rescue. The other sixth grader, Tom, is a joker, always thrashing his dad’s snowmobile for our amusement. He jumps off into the snow at top speed and watches it roll over and over. There is not a piece of plastic left on the machine; he’s on constant restriction. We all skate by with antics that usually don’t get us caught. My best friend Joe is an exception when he gets drunk and lunches it in math class, confessing all. One antic, and it costs him getting Eagle Scout. Our main gossip topic concerns the CCD youth leader we all agree is a perv but have no evidence. One friend’s sister goes to Anchorage High. She’s a full-on hippie – musk, patchouli oil and a boyfriend she’s screwing. She and her mom fight every week. Eventually she moves downtown. We all imagine they are now screwing night and day.
The center of our base activity is the swim team, which may seem strange in Alaska. Leaving the gym, our hair instantly freezes as we whip it up in the forty below wind chill factor – my first spiked hairdo. Since it’s a co-ed sport, there’s the girls’ locker room and shower to streak. What’s cool about swimming are the high schoolers and even enlisted personnel working out with us. We think we’re hanging out with them. They are minimally cool to us. One high schooler, Rex, is exceptionally well endowed, 13-year-old penis envy. Josh, with long blond hair and granny glasses, is a dead ringer for John Lennon. Sam is our fashion guru when he starts wearing boxers and announces that girls find it much sexier than the white briefs we all wear. Unable to verify the validity of this wisdom, we unanimously agree this type of personal decision can wait until high school. Group think rules in junior high.
The scandal of the year unfolds around Rex, who is involved in dope and sex with a team mom. Being the height of the War, Glenda’s husband is in Vietnam, fighting as an Air Policeman, while she’s fucking John, one of Rex’s 16 year old stoner friends. When hubby cop comes back on mid-tour leave, she tells him John is their live-in foster son. Needless to say, John is out the door. Now there is nowhere to hang out and smoke dope. John returns the day hubby flies back to Vietnam. Unfortunately Mommy OD’s on her young son’s epilepsy medication. Hubby returns. Mommy’s locked on the sixth floor ward of the base hospital. End of story: the family is off to Alabama, minus the foster son, where wives don’t fuck sixteen year old hippies. Rex regales us over several months with the unfolding soap opera, the sordid details getting better and better. Eventually the pot smoking gets him kicked out of his parents’ quarters. Rex heads off to the counterculture.
Drugs are around us but not part of our experience. Driving into the parking lot of the Anchorage Little League field is the first time I see someone my age (or any age) shooting up. Anchorage was our big city, 50,000 civilians and 50,000 military. My first mall experience is here. It stays open late at night, the perfect junior high hangout. There’s no snobbishness between townies and military kids. After junior high we all go to high school in Anchorage. Downtown is our future.
It is the period before the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline is approved. Everyone is unemployed and broke. We make 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 never feed; other spots snagged means the fish has no sporting chance and must be tossed back. Native Americans are allowed nets, which seem much more efficient; they must think we’re idiots for throwing fish back. It has to have the illusion of sport fishing. Everyone gets plenty of fish.
It’s a totally sporting life. Most families own canoes and Winnebago’s for these trips. Not mine. We use our leave visiting relatives in the lower forty-eight states. Having spent all our money on airfare, there isn’t much excitement other than hanging out with my cousins in a country town. I claim to be a great North Woodsman. The locals take me to shoot rats at the town dump. The rats scurry about as bulldozers move the trash. My biggest trophy kill is a rat charging right at me, I shoot from about four feet; it slithers away.
I make friends at the mall with a high schooler we call Big John, there being so many Johns. I stay over one weekend after he asks me to spend the night at his house and smoke pot. I get so wasted I go outside. It was a crisp winter night with Northern Lights glowing on the horizon. The stars seem so clear they start to spin in my head. I end up throwing up. Big John’s cool about it. We end up falling asleep listening to Black Sabbath, over and over on his turntable.
Later I wonder if he’s a devil worshiper. It’s not odd to sleep with him, just a kid’s sleepover. My buddies don’t know about pot. Our heaviest experience is camping in Palmer before the last summer. We get someone to buy us vodka. This time everyone but me throws up . My orange tent still smells like puke. Before we get too wasted, we sit around the campfire telling stories, the “Stand by Me” gang of 1973.
It’s the summer before I start tenth grade in high school. The Vietnam War is over. Most of us are transferring out that year. We’ll never be together again, all starting high school on our own, in new places. Being military brats, this isn’t the first time. My dad is retiring and has a job in Miami. Mom says we’ll be warm for once. Funny though, I never find it cold in Alaska.