One minute I'm playing my green tambourine in a meadow of crimson and clover whilst trying to kiss the sky; the next I'm lying awake in the middle of the night, worrying about my cholesterol level. How did this happen? How did I go from wearing tie-dyed shirts to (sometimes) wearing shirts with ties? When did "Let it all hang out!" and "out of sight!" become "I can't fit in my pants!" and "I need bifocals!"?
Where, oh where, have all the flowers gone?
By now the more mathematically inclined of you are surely thinking: "But John! If you're 52 years old now, then in 1968 you were only 10 years old. That's not old enough to be a hippie! You wouldn't know Eldridge Cleaver from Beaver Cleaver. Get some memories of your own, you time-leeching jerk!"
Wow. That's pretty tough talk for someone who carries around a calculator. And I'll have you know that I used to dance the jerk, okay? I used to "jerk" until my little 10-year-old back would spaz out, and I'd have to hobble around like Jed Clampett. Sure, I was 10 in 1968. But it so happens that my mother enrolled in college in 1966, and that she used to return home from demonstrations against the Vietnam War sporting tear gas welts and all kinds of nasty cuts and abrasions. She'd come stumbling in after a protest, my sister Nancy and I would bring her ice packs and ointments, and then we'd all settle in front of the TV to see if we could pick out Mom in any of that night's local news footage.
One night I did see my mom on TV, running from a cop who was chasing her fast, with his club raised high. After that I wasn't too interested in seeing my mom on the news anymore.
I learned pretty quickly that the revolution was being televised.
Of course, my personal acts of social protest involved things like switching out my pet rat Algernon for my school classroom's pet hamster, stealing every single board eraser at my school, and perfecting a belch so sharp and loud it always shocked our teacher Mrs. Blinkard into screwing up whatever she was writing on the board.
But I knew what time it was, man. I was down. I railed against the man. I advocated the complete overthrow of that system by which the establishment attempted to oppress me by giving me so much homework I hardly had any time left at all to watch cartoons. I organized a protest, picket-line and all, against the 7-11 in my neighborhood when they raised the price of Slurpees from ten to thirteen cents. (That made the news, too -- police and all. Nobody hit me. But I was interviewed by a TV reporter woman who asked me, "So how did the idea for this protest come to you?")
Oh, yeah. My freak flag was flying, baby.
Meanwhile, my sister Nancy, four years older than I, had transformed from Nancy Shore to Nancy Sinatra, via frosty white lip gloss, white vinyl go-go boots, and mini-skirts. Her high school binder was covered with yellow and orange power-flower stickers. She thought Dean was cuter than Jan. (Young people: Jan and Dean.) She knew how to dance the jerk for hours without having to limp around afterward.
One night during a dinner of hot dogs and Fritos I looked across the table at the place where my dad used to sit before, a year earlier, he moved out following my parents' divorce. I looked at my mom. Her red eyes were moist and swollen; a bandage covered a large gash on her forehead. Peeking out of the chest pocket of my sisters' frayed overalls was the white end of a rolled joint.
The light from the electric faux-candelabrum hanging above our table gave us all a sickly yellow hue.
For some reason the now-iconic photograph I'd recently seen of a Vietnamese man getting shot in side of the head with a pistol came to my mind.
"Can I be excused from the table?" I asked. For what seemed like an eternity my mother sat staring at me, as if she didn't recognize me. When she almost imperceptibly nodded, I slid off my chair. I headed straight for the front door. It was spring, and there was still some light outside.