Finished one of the books in my “to be read” pile – ‘What Really Happened To The Class Of ’65?’ by Michael Medved(film critic, talk show host) and David Wallechinsky(son of author Irving Wallace). The 370 pages went too quickly and I wish there had been twice that many. The book was a validation that the hopes, dreams, worries, insecurities, triumphs, failures and mindsets in general of high school students (at least in the 20th century and maybe beyond) were universally experienced. Students of Palisades High School class of ’65 were raised in a level of affluence alien to my experience (children of parents who were Ph.D.’s, authors, professionals, scientists, successful entrepreneurs) the students themselves seemed no better prepared to face the challenges of the day (developing/maintaining a social image, alcohol, sex, drugs, war, politics) than I was at that phase of my life. One major difference was that if their post graduation exploration of life’s possibilities didn’t work out their parents (or the trust fund) often provided a safety net.
I do think the 1965-1969 years were interesting to live thru based on the changes occuring in society, technology and cultural in general. Many of the ’65 grads finished their college education in 1969 coinciding with the twilight of the youth/hippie/peace movements before they were co-opted by the “establishment” during the ’70s and went mainstream. The ’70s proved to be a rough time for many of them.
I was struck by the number of grads who pursued (at least initially) a career in law and how many of them were accepted at Harvard. The interviews for the book were performed around 1975 and were complete by the time of the class 10 year reunion. The life stories up that point were interesting but overall the comments or speculation by the grad themselves about what their counterparts might have achieved so far in life I found lacking in depth and vision. (too many “she’s probably a housewife” or “he’s working in an office” predictions) In reality the number of grads who opted for what might be labeled an “alternative” lifestyle was impressive. Another choice, and one we rarely hear about today, was the Peace Corps. Some performed humanitarian/social at various stages and others made careers out of helping others. New Agers, Buddhists, Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, John Birchers and several mental breakdowns were also spawned from the class. Plus a couple of Ph.D’s and millionaires; one guy, a future CPA, did very well in the stock market while still in high school.
So of course I’m running thru all the situations I encountered as a teen and comparing them to what I was reading.
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first; Vietnam and the Draft. The Draft ended the year before I graduated, although it weighed heavy on my mind until then. The pivotal point in my thinking occurred in 1970 when the only person I knew on a first name basis before he went to Vietnam was killed in action. I’ve posted about him several times but I find it interesting that he was a ’65 high school grad. His death opened my eyes and for the next several years my thoughts focused on how I might avoid the military. Although I never openly confronted him, this went against my father’s belief that everyone owed their country some sort of service they were obligated to fulfill which usually meant the military. He did his best to push me toward ROTC because in his words it was better to be an officer than an enlisted person. (he served four year in the Navy during WW2) Two years of NJROTC and one year of college Army ROTC convincingly taught me that I wasn’t military material. One of the major milestones in my life (from my wife’s perspective) was when I reached the age that even if the Draft came back, I was too old to be called.
Alcohol. The legal drinking age has varied over the years and also by state. In hindsight I’m glad that I lived in a time when you could drink anything, anytime and pretty much almost anywhere legally once your turned 18. Alcohol didn’t exist for me until well into my 18th year. I soon found out many of my classmates were long time drinkers but I never saw or heard any evidence of it. I lived a very family-centric(sheltered) home life until I turned 18. All my thinking was done for me by my parents including making me believe that anyone who took a drink was to be considered a lower form of life. Turns out that in my parent’s generation and before, many of my relatives had reputations as hard drinkers which contributed to several family tragedies. (all this was hidden and I didn’t discover it until decades later) One ’74 classmate finally drank himself to death last year and I’m still amazed none of us were killed while driving drunk. Yes, drinking poses all sorts of problems but we were young, stupid and ultimately very lucky. Living in a mostly rural setting probably helped. In general alcohol contributed greatly as the catalyst which allowed me to escape my shell of introversion and develop some sort of social skills as I ventured out on my own. I strongly believe that the legal age to drink should be 18 backed by the same argument once used in the ’60s – if you are old enough to vote or die for your country you should be old enough to drink.
Drugs. In high school rumors of drugs and who used them were more prevalent than with alcohol. Once again I never came into knowing contact with anyone who used drugs and therefore was never confronted with the opportunity to do so myself. After graduation alcohol fueled our social lives until I moved away from home to start my third year of college. Eventually I discovered marijuana and hashish. Interestingly enough, I also stopped drinking. No other drugs were known to exist to me. In hindsight I wish I had tried psychedelics at least once but am now way too afraid of what they might do in conjunction with my various neuroses today to risk trying them at this point in my life.
Sex. I didn’t began dating until after high school. I possessed no social skills of any type, especially when it came to females. Junior High was a rough time. Just the thought of asking a girl for a date gave me sweaty palms, dry mouth, nervous stomach, stammering speech and enough anguish that I began to question my mental health. By the time I reached the 10th grade the battle with my hormones was over. I resigned myself to a life of solitude. Up thru most of collge I had serious doubts that real “relationships” were possible. My biggest regret is that by not dating, the most important social events during school were unavailable(dances, proms, etc.) Not that I dated regularly after high school, but somehow it became easier. In high school the one time I opened my mouth in response to prodding by a classmate asking if I was sexually active backfired when I flippantly said something about waiting until college hoping he would leave me alone. I instantly became the target of ridicule because it happened on the team bus ride as we were headed out of town for a game (I played J.V. basketball) and word quickly spread throughout the bus among the J.V and Varsity players where I was trapped with no way to run away and escape the torment. My father had attempted to prepare me when we had our “sex talk”. I was in Junior High and remember the discomfort I felt as we discussed what I knew and how to be prepared. He attempted to offer me condoms which I declined because as I remember telling him then, the best way to avoid pregnancy was to just not “do anything”. Little did I know I had just predicted my sexual lifestyle for years to come. What I am absolutely puzzled about is that over the long term, all and I mean ALL of my true close friends have been female. I’ve had several intimate yet non-physical relationships with women and to this day I have never experienced any deep lasting friendship with another guy. Not that I’m any sort of smooth talking, suave person now but I’m still amazed that a complete social dork like I was in high school could overcome what I considered insurmountable obstacles.
Image. I was basically a “nerd” who always was near the top academically. Up until I 5th or 6th grade I saw myself like everyone else but as puberty began and personalities became better formed, I found myself on the outside of the jock, cool or trendy cliques of classmates. Although a good student I never really applied myself. Satisfied with my ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades, the fact that I received them was good enough and I lacked any appreciation of having to actually learn or apply my knowledge. I had no depth. The only thing I thought was importnat was how other people saw me. Once again I was conditioned by my parents (who only had high school diplomas) that I would do good simply because I could do good. Other than attending college which in some undefined way assured everyone more money(i.e. success) in life, goals, dreams, ambitions were never discussed. Their goal for me was to be a good student and I lived up to their expectations but managed to miss out on enjoying what the environment offered, feeling like a misfit most of the time. (which of course I’ve come to understand most teens feel like at some point) The final event which caused me to carry some unseen, self-created burden well beyond high school was when I was named “Most Likely To Succeed”. To this day I still wonder how the hell that happened because other than good grades and a stint as NJROTC company commander (which only lasted six months before I was replaced by someone more deserving) I felt like I had wandered thru school in a daze with no clue about what “success” really meant. (I’m still debating that one with myself)
Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived parts of my life in reverse where the lessons and guidance I needed as a teen, and the enjoyment of finding then trying them out, didn’t occur until I was well into my ’40s. Better late than never I guess.
Now you know.