1967–Five Years Before, Five Years After–A Decades Worth of Change (Part 2)

Come September, the Class of ’64 was nowhere to be found. The standouts, the BMOC’s, the multi-sport four-year varsity lettermen, were gone. So was their cheerleading entourage. Most had beat it out of town three months earlier. In that year and across the country, they and their 2,145,000 counterparts had received their coveted high school diplomas; 53.5% going to the women, 46.5% going to the men.  Collectively, a little over 48% of them would find his or her way to the hallowed halls of higher education. Of that percentage, 55% would be guys. At the time, it was the order of things. Long standing roles, morays and a nations acceptance of tightly held discriminatory practices would incrementally begin to change. Even if it meant one step forward and two steps back, the Civil Rights Act of that same year would push a society averse to being pushed.

Still there were those other graduates, the majority that didn’t go to college. What about them? Let’s see, that would be about 427,000 males and 681,000 females. For those carrying the “Y” chromosome, it was pretty clear. They were facing a minimum of eight years military service, two years active. In general, if they were in good health, and weren’t married, conscription was just around the corner. Most preferred to just enlist sometime between commencement and reaching the magic age of 18 1/2.  For those that were just a little bit younger, they would eventually be drafted into the inductee club. It must be popular? For in 1965, pledges had more than doubled from the year before. (112,386 to 230,991).  One could visit exotic southeast Asia where one’s comrades in arms had grown from 23,300 to 184,300. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution saw to that.

As for the young women of the same period, they were just coming of age.  The post WWII American culture still reinforced the typecasting of the genders. Images of June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson would be replaced by Mary Tyler Moore’s depiction of Dick Van Dyke’s TV wife, Laura Petrie. Even a 17-year-old former USO dancer can land a professional husband and eventually become a stay at home mom. Isn’t that what they were supposed to do? Get married, have children and be a skilled homemaker? Otherwise, teaching, nursing, waitressing or becoming a member of the secretarial pool seemed to provide the primary alternatives.

Yet, Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” was already portraying a somewhat different future for the female side of the ledger. There was just a tad bit of interest in its publication. It sold over a million copies in its first year of circulation. The dormant vestiges of the suffragettes, the bygone images of Rosy the Riveter, and even the slightest remembrances of The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League would slowly reemerge. “NOW” was just around the corner.

Meanwhile, we sophomores were mostly, if not completely, oblivious.  We had other things to think about. After all, we were both invisible and on display at the same time. Even when maneuvering between bells, our forced marches were motivated by fear. Fear of sitting in the front row. Fear of being called on. Fear of PE and its aftermath, the dreaded group shower. Fear of talking to girls, etc., etc. Given most of us were in the same boat, we would take periodic refuge with our own cadre. The circling of the wagons occurred just before first period, lunch, and of course after school.  Slowly but surely, our routines would gradually change. We were starting to peel off in our own directions. Some were joining on-campus clubs. For others, it was the choir, band or even the school’s orchestra. For the rest of us with an ounce of athletic ability, PE would mercifully be traded for a spot on a team. We were busy finding our place in the world of the preps. Sock hops would fill in the Friday night blanks before, between, and after the football and basketball seansons. Are you going to ask her to dance or not? 

For me and my buds, it was also about the music. It was shaping us as much as anything. If we weren’t wearing out our $3.99 33 1/3 LPs we were listening through the clicks and pops of our worn out 45’s.  In LA, the AM dial still ruled. KRLA and KFWB would battle the KHJ Boss Jocks for our listening attention. Depending upon the hour, it was Robert W. Morgan, the Real Don Steele, Charlie Tuna, Sam Riddle, Wink Martindale and all the rest. Whichever channel, 93, 98 or Radio 1110, we were searching for Mick. Virginal fifteen-year-old boys weren’t getting any “Satisfaction” either.  Heck, most of us really didn’t know what that meant. Since some of us were from Down in the Boondocks we had already convinced ourselves we had a Heart Full of Soul.  Even though we wished they all could be California Girls we wanted to believe the “We Five:” in the morning we were on somebody’s mind.  Oh well, we were busy anyway. We were California Dreamin and learning how to feel Like a Rolling Stone. It took about six minutes. We were jamming. Our garage band days were just starting. Someday we’ll be just like the Yardbirds. After all, even Dylan was going electric.

With everything going on, our teenage plates were full. School and homework were in there somewhere. Since a majority of our less than cool clan were now members of both the Cross Country and Track Teams, workouts took most of the afternoons. (We were runners way before it was cool). Anyway, there wasn’t a whole lot of time left for TV watching. Most of what was on wasn’t that great anyway. Gomer, Lucy, and Red again? I was a Soupy Sales and a Hullabaloo kind of guy. The Adams FamilyThe Man from U.N.C.L.E., there was a “Solo” before Han, and Get Smart were on the schedule. You had to love “99.” Occasionally, we could even persuade the parents to drop us at the movies. Sure, The Sound of Music and Dr. Zhivago were the top two ticket grabbers, but we went to see Thunderball, The Great Race and of course, Help.

Still, outside our safe and sane white suburban neighborhoods serious stuff was going on all around us. 1965 saw SCLC and SNCC converge on Selma.  Once again, Chet and David would tell us all about the assassination of Malcolm, Bloody Sunday, and the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The front page of the Times carried Martin’s return, the march to Montgomery and how white supremacists beat a white Unitarian Universalist minister by the name of James Reeb, to death. Even with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, violence was only escalating. This time it was close to home. A familiar name, but not so familiar a place. There was rioting in Watts, a neighborhood out of site and out of mind. Why are they busting into stores, stealing, and setting fires? Aren’t these the problems of “Colored” communities in some distant place? Places we’ve never seen or been? It was nothing more than a brief interruption to our ignorant complacency.  Pass the peas and carrots please.

Even if we had been looking, we weren’t seeing, hearing but not really listening, reading but not really learning. After all, current affairs were hardly being discussed in school. They weren’t a part of the 9th or 10th grade curriculum. Regardless, it seems like I heard something about a debate in England between some guy named Buckley and another named Baldwin? 

Ironically those of us with poorer working-class roots, the few that had moved here from mixed race communities, had some inkling of a world beyond the row after row of fine trimmed lawns.  We were neither mature enough, nor articulate enough, to fully understand it. But we knew things weren’t right. There were differences and they weren’t just about color. Yet the majority of our newly acquired classmates, those with college educated professional parents, seemed to be the most unnerved, the most perplexed. Most had only experienced the homogeneity of their middle and upper middle-class surroundings. Those places that had already transitioned, Watts, Willowbrook, Compton, Inglewood and East LA were just places on a map. To one degree or another, we just didn’t know what we didn’t know. Not to worry, short-term anxiety would soon be replaced by simple disinterest. Besides we had other concerns. We were just 2.5 miles to Mickey’s Deli, 2nd Street, and the Hermosa Beach Strand. There were tans to be had, waves to catch, bikinis to check out. 

Still, out there in the big distant world of the adults, President Johnson’s War on Poverty would continue. He would outline his concepts of a Great Society and sign an Amendment to the Social Security Act. Medicare and Medicaid were here to stay. That grabbed out parent’s attention. For us, a more tangible war was on the horizon. SDS would conduct its first anti-Vietnam War march on Washington while draft cards were still being burnt in Berkeley. There was a blackout in the Northeast, Hurricane Betsy slamed Louisiana, the Palm Sunday tornadoes hit the Mid-West, while Cubans were being airlifted to Florida. While the Arch was being completed in St. Louis, the Ranger 8 Probe was taking pictures of the ‘Mare Tranquillitatis’ region of the Moon. Cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov took a stroll in space only to be followed by Gemini Astronaut Ed White some three months later. The launch of the Apollo program was now less than four years away.

If one was paying attention, he or she would have known that there were big problems in Rhodesia, Suharto was stirring it up in Indonesia, and there were US forces in the Dominican Republic. Really, the Dominican Republic? Canada’s Union Jack on a field of red was traded for a “Maple Leaf,” Singapore was expelled from Malaysia, while India and Pakistan were at it again. In the background, the Soviets conducted 14 more nuclear tests while the US would bring new meaning to the concept of the “Blitz.” Operation “Rolling Thunder” marked the commencement of the bombardment of North Vietnam. It would be routine for the next 3 1/2 years. By the end of 1965, Barry was trying to make us believe we were on the “Eve of Destruction.” 

Thankfully, there was still sports. Every Saturday, give or take a couple, we would hear these words: 

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”

Aww yes—Koufax pitched a perfect game, Jimmie Clark won Indy, the Dodgers squeezed by the Twins, the Celtics blew by the Lakers, the AFL’s Bills trounced the Chargers, while the NFL’s Packers chewed up the Browns. UCLA’s hoopsters beat those Wolverines, and although losing to the Longhorns, the Tide remained college grid-irons number one. Go Figure! Oh, I almost forgot. Roy Emerson still dominated men’s tennis and the Astrodome played host to the first indoor professional baseball game.

By December, we would all be ready for a Charlie Brown Christmas.

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