Fifty years ago this year we had the Tet Offensive, MLK was assassinated in Memphis, JFK was gunned down in LA, the clashes at the Chicago convention, Nixon elected president—I got married the first time that year, drove with my new wife from Texas to Maryland were I was stationed, rented an apartment in Laurel, bought a couch and a bed…
My college apartment mate was killed in Vietnam that year, same day Robert Kennedy was shot in the head. There is a London scene in a Steve Erickson book where a character runs into Robert Kennedy walking the streets alone at night. Kennedy tells our character that he knows if he runs for president he will be killed. Knows it to his bones, and he struggles with the burden of what he knows he will have to do and why.
I was supposed to graduate from college in ’68, but had dropped out of school in ’66 and joined the navy. Dropped out after my father had kicked me out of the house during thanksgiving dinner for something I had said, I was always saying something out of line—my father going back to his bedroom for his gun. My UT college roommate, who would later fly B-52s in the late stages of the Vietnam war, was with me. We escaped out the back. I never believed you when you said your father would pull a gun on you, he told me as I drove him back to Austin. I dropped him off and headed back to Abilene. I had transferred from UT to Abilene Christian that summer. Something to do with being kicked out of the house, a rather routine occurrence, and my falling in love with a girl there. That the girl didn’t fall in love with me was another reason for my leaving school.
In ’68 I was working at the agency, married—a hurried and unplanned moment, went to night school, read as much as I could, trying to make up for years of not reading. The almost four years I spent in the Navy was an awakening for me, not dissimilar to Edna’s awakening, when I found myself coming to grips with who I was and wanted to be and the conflict existing between that person and the world at large. The conflict has never been resolved. There is always who I am and who I am expected to be—I dance on the thin line between the two, which is a kind of nonexistence.
Edna ends up swimming from coast of Louisiana out into the gulf, heading for Castro and Cuba. She swims naked in the warm gulf waters.
Nixon had a secret plan to end the war, which he later admitted was only election bullshit. Meanwhile, the war continued. Mistah Kurtz—he dead. The beginning of perhaps the most significant poem for my generation, though most of us had not read Eliot at that time, most still haven’t. Still we knew them, the hollow men, the stuffed men. Then we became them. Marlon Brando later playing the revised role in a different locale. Robert Duvall playing the best supporting actor we could offer at the time—I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like—victory.
Joan Didion scribbles the year before about a generation who had lost all sense of narrative and family. The narrative which loaded her down with some ill explained guilt, as if we had turned our backs on the gold rush days of early California, on the morality of the wars years—and had instead embraced the rootless hedonism Bork found to be the result of individual freedom and the notion of equality. Religion, morality, and law, Bork prescribed—plus, he added, hard physical work and the fear of want.
Yep, that’s always what we, the common people, needed. Hard physical work and the fear of want, which I suppose means not getting paid very much. Helps promote the virtuous life. Though Bork never subscribed such a virtuous life for himself. Class envy, he snarled. Apparently some people are to be allowed to live above the fray.