21 and Stupid

21 and Stupid

Every college kid remembers when he turned 21 because it was the day he could use his own drivers’ license to get into the Boom-Boom Room.

That was in the first semester of my sophomore year, 1966.

There were a lot of laws, even ancient ones, that were in place then that are no longer valid.

I’m sure you’ve heard the axiom, attributed to Churchill, “If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not Conservative by 40, you have no brain”.

Now Sir Winston was aiming that at English public school boys, their version of Ivy Leaguers, and not at working class people. But American working class people did have a similar version of the same theme. Class distinctions were not the same in America, for children of working class people did go to college.

Of course this was what always distinguished Americans from the rest of the world. Even our noblest thinkers, educators and business successes had a coal miner, welder or dirt farmer in their family tree, unlike the English.

When I went off to college my dad simply warned me I’d act stupid for awhile, “so be careful”. But he wasn’t afraid of me slipping into the Boom Boom Room on a fake ID. When he turned 21 he was on a troop ship headed for North Africa, my pregnant mom back in Cincinnati at her sister’s house to wait out the war. Unlike Churchill’s class, he was more fearful that I’d fall prey to “ideas” that swam deep around college campuses, and become a Democrat, or worse, a liberal. He knew I’d bump into that sort at college, but hoped that I would reject what they taught, so that after college, I’d find a nice girl, get a job, start a family, and vote for the Barry Goldwater of my choice.

That was how it had always been once maturity, duty, and responsibility settled it, the same thing Churchill was talking about.

In 1964 we all looked the same on campus. You couldn’t tell an engineer or pre-med student from an English or poly-sci major.

We all dressed pretty much the same, zip-front jackets, slacks, open collar shirt, Kingston Trio madras still popular. Girls wore skirts and button blouses (yeah, go figure). Just like high school, some girls were smoking hot, others just nice, and others not so easy to look at, in about the same proportions as you’d find on a grading curve, a few A’s, lots of C’s, and a few D’s

For two years I lived in a private home owned by a widow, walking distance from campus, which housed 6 upstairs beds in four rooms. I shared one of those rooms with other students from freshmen to juniors, my rent $60/month. I had a job at a bookstore about a 15 minute walk away, which paid $2.45/hr, and I worked as many hours as I could.

It was called “working my way through college”. My father paid tuition and books only.

With no car, and no way to meet girls without one, college was pretty monastic. Even dreary.

Of course, the Vietnam War started in August 1964, and by the time I was 21 in 1966 that dreary visual landscape finally changed.

You can say it was the war, but at the ground floor I’d say it was the draft. If you’re under 50, and having not even been born at that time, you may find this strange, but the draft was FOR MALES ONLY. Just guys.

So, there was an immediate influx into the university systems all over the country of young men who had never intended to go to college, but instead to take good jobs building Fords in Cincinnati or Indianapolis. The draft changed the choice; to go to college to avoid it, or risk the for-sure quick tour to Vietnam where almost all draftees ended. One in three of those would get shot at[…]

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