…1980 – YEAR OF PASSAGE…President Reagan…Ayatollah Khomeini…Mount St. Helen’s…Chrysler bailout…Voyager…Abscam…Miracle on Ice…Pac-Man …CNN…Urban Cowboy…Fame…A Confederacy of Dunces…Back in Black…Rapper’s Delight…Magnum, P.I…Who Shot J.R.?…Rollie Fingers…Shirley Muldowney…Yao Ming and Jessica Simpson born…John Lennon murdered…
…I am a child of the seventies. My generation was raised by Eisenhower and Kennedy era Americans whose own parent’s lived through the Depression and World War II. Our older siblings, our neighborhood role models, our heroes – athletes, musicians, and TV samurai – perceived the world through the cultural upheavals of the sixties.
Our grandparents grew up with next to nothing and still kicked Axis ass. Our parents invented rock and roll. A decade before we got our driver’s licenses, young people changed the world.
All we wanted was to be cool.
Oh, we’d seen life-changing stuff. On TV mostly. The final days of Viet Nam. A disgraced president. Russian transgression. Terrorism. Hijackings. Assassinations. Cher’s bellybutton.
But none of it worried us much.
The birth of Disco didn’t even set off any alarms until it was way too late.
After my dad left and Ma suffered her stroke, we moved to “the Bungalow”. My mom’s family owned property on Kent Island’s Warehouse Creek that had been subdivided into lots and deeded over to various relations. The Bungalow was a rickety one and a half story clapboard cottage at the head of a shallow Chesapeake Bay tributary. Before we moved in, the place had been tenant occupied for a few years. In the summer it was rented by the week to city people on vacation. The rest of the year locals lived there on a month to month lease.
I was worried I’d never see my friends again when we left Grasonville, but the Bungalow was a magnet for disaffected youth.
Because of my family situation, I had more freedom and more responsibility than most of the kids I knew. Parents say they don’t have the strength to discipline their teenagers. Ma’s stroke literally left her too weak for rules. Plus, she wasn’t home much. My sister and brother-in-law now had two young children. Ma helped raise my niece and nephew.
Dad sightings were rare.
For me, high school was probably the typical mix of exhilarating highs and miserable lows.
I was a ninth-grader during our country’s bicentennial and graduated four years later in a nice round number that was easy math. I played two seasons of half-assed JV football, starred as both Charlie Brown and Dracula (wide range for a kid with a red afro and a lisp) in school plays, was tenth grade class president, and voted class clown in my senior year. I was also a horribly indifferent student and a distraction to classmates. The drinking age was 18 and I was one of the millions of reasons it was raised. I was, above all and like most teenagers, horny as a dog humping air.
Around the time of my birthday in March of 1980, I enlisted in the Navy on a delayed entry program. I wanted to be a journalist but the waiting line was long. At the time, the USN was offering a $10000 reenlisting bonus if you went in as a cook. I just knew I was going to reenlist in four years – without ever having spent a day as a sailor. I also figured cooking was a skill everybody should have if they were going to take care of themselves.
It kind of freaked some people out when I enlisted. This was soon after the Iranian hostage crisis, and there was a wave of patriotic volunteerism among those of us not college bound, but I was the first of my group to sign on the dotted line. I was worried about Ma, but knew my sister and her family would take care of her. And even after I was gone, my friends kept coming to the Bungalow, hanging out with Ma.
I enlisted because I knew the world was bigger than this place I loved and had to see some of it for myself. Because I felt I only had strong women for role models, I had to make a man out of my own damned self. Because it was time to see what I was made of.
Knowing where I was headed now, I let the ‘fro grow to an unmanageable density. I took advantage of every opportunity to get loaded or laid. I barely graduated.
So much for what I was made of.
The night before I left for boot camp, I packed a toothbrush and some deodorant, some of my favorite jeans and rock band T-shirts, a few comics, a National Lampoon and a Rolling Stone to read.
I left my cape at home, but soon wished I hadn’t.
Most of the crazy people went home early.
My cousin Mark on the left, me on the right.