The Times They Are A-Changin’

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A few months after arriving in Vietnam in 1969

The Times They Are a-Changin’ is a song written by Bob Dylan and released as the title track of his 1964 album of the same name. Dylan wrote the song to create an anthem of change for the fluid times. The ‘60s!  What a significant decade of change for our country. What dramatic unforeseen life changes ahead for me.

In 1960 while living during turbulent times in racially embattled East Los Angeles, California, the White Fence, one of the most violent gangs at the time recruited me. It wasn’t that I had options about being in the gang. Nevertheless, life then was more about daily surviving all the other combined gangs. When the White Fence recruited me I knew their violent reputation even intimidated the other gangs so I embraced the process.  I spent many months learning their criminal activities while initiated into the gang. I carried a Zip Gun that fired a .22-caliber bullet, and I had a large switchblade knife. I remained in the gang for two years losing my innocence once again until my single parent family moved out of the area. If I remained in the gang I can only imagine how my life would have changed.

I was first drawn into politics when John F. Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961. Like so many other people, I was drawn to his charismatic speeches and inspirational approaches to life.  Always curious, I wrote President Kennedy a lengthy letter requesting information about our military forces. I received a prompt letter from Robert McNamara, his Secretary of Defense, who said he was forwarding me boxes of military information, and photographs per the President’s orders. That was an understatement! Years later I donated all of this military material to a local library which filled up several large sections. On November 22, 1963, I had once again ditched high school, and I was back home alone watching television, when I heard about the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Like many Americans, it is a day I will always remember. I knew that this represented a major change in the country. On many levels, I experienced numerous changes.

I remember as a teenager in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, how quickly the local grocery store was empty of groceries and supplies. Most people kept their television tuned to the news which provided an hour by hour update of the impending war with the Soviets. There was fear in the air wherever you went. Daily, we all wondered how imminent the world was to a nuclear war. Any sudden flash of reflection in the sky bought our breathing to a momentary halt and our heart beating so hard we couldn’t hear ourselves think.  Our teachers conducted air raid drills where they would suddenly yell, “Drop!” We were expected to kneel under our desks with our hands clutched around our heads and necks. I didn’t believe that the “Duck and cover” method of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear explosion was going to make a difference. It didn’t help that I had black and blue bruises on my knees and forehead hitting the desk from the constant drills. I simply remained seated or standing much to the consternation of the teachers.  I took the time to think about how serious this all was and even without a nuclear war, how the world already changed and that it would never be the same. And, the world never was the same.

The counterculture of the ‘60s was an unsurprisingly powerful expression of a desire for cultural change. I felt this intimately, and I responded with deep philosophical thinking. In some ways, I was counter to some elements of the counterculture. Turn on, tune in, and drop out was the theme that inspired many and nearly everyone I knew. I did chew on an unlighted corn cob pipe briefly as a Freshman in high school. Nonetheless, unlike most of my peers, I’ve never smoked cigarettes, marijuana, got drunk or tried any drugs. I did grow my hair long and I still do. Recently I was photographing wildlife at the Colorado River and a Park Ranger briefly glanced at me and said, What can I do for you, ma’am? I scratched my two week’s growth of beard and replied politely, It’s sir, not ma’am. He was embarrassed and apologized. Relatively new to Colorado, I guess men with long hair is a bit uncommon. During the ’60s, I dressed in comfortable Hippy clothes which I continue to do. I’ve photographed at the iconic center of the Flower Power movement at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco, California. My current Flower Power consists of a house full of plants while dancing to songs from the ’60s as I nurture the receptive plants with water.

My first car while in high school was a used 1957 Triumph TR10 4-door sedan. I remember my girlfriend’s parents purchased a new Ford Mustang 2-door convertible for her at the cost of around $2,615.00 in 1964 which was considered expensive at the time.  I can tell you, given the current monthly payments on my one-year-old Toyota Camry, things have changed.

I recall that in 1965 as a high school Junior, I doubled-dated and we watched the amazing performance of the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl amphitheatre near Los Angeles. What an unbelievable experience that was! For me, no concert since has come close to the excitement created by the Beatles. Music was changing in many ways and me along with it moving to the momentum and rhythm.

During high school, among the television shows I watched included Perry Mason, Route 66, Ironside, The Benny Hill Show, The Fugitive, 77 Sunset Strip, and The Twilight Zone.  In 1967 I purchased the first edition of the influential Rolling Stone magazine for 25¢. A rolling stone gathers no moss and neither did I that year.

I graduated from high school in California as the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper and a varsity track and cross-country runner. I entered my Freshman year in college as the Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper. I had so much to look forward to after graduation as a Journalism major! About two years later in 1968, prior to graduation, I was drafted. It was four months after the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. No doubt they needed more men on the ground. I held no illusions. I knew that I’d go to Vietnam. I felt that with my gang experience and street smarts I’d be better prepared to embrace a tour of duty in Vietnam, so I never thought about avoiding the draft and having someone else go in my place.  The Tet campaign consisted of multiple simultaneous surprise attacks by some 85,000 troops on 100 major cities and towns in South Vietnam.  This year, 2018, marks the 50th Tet Offensive anniversary. How fast time seems to accelerate. The decision to fight wars never seems to change.

In the summer of 1969, more than 400,000 people tripped out to the Woodstock music festival in upstate New York for peace-and-love. It was the largest outdoor rock concert ever performed. As a Hippy I would have made my way there. I belonged in that atmosphere! I’d have loved to hear Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane among others while embracing like-minded people. However,  I was stationed in San Antonio, Texas going through the U.S. Army Combat Medic and Medical Laboratory training at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston. I didn’t have time for the self-indulgence of what I was missing. I needed to concentrate on the medical training since lives would depend on it in Vietnam. Rolling Stone listed Woodstock as one of the 50 moments that changed the history of Rock and Roll. Although I’m certain that being at Woodstock would have changed the course of my life,  I wonder if it would have been as fulfilling given the changes I have experienced.

In future posts, I’ll share my experiences of my 14-month U.S. Army tour of duty in Vietnam (as requested by my daughter Kelly) including one of the most significant experiences I had when I volunteered for a combat medic mission in the jungle several hours from our base. I know that with the Vietnam War protests this was a turbulent time of change for people back home. I turned 21 while in Vietnam. My experiences during the war remain the most challenging, intense, powerful, and meaningful time of change in my life.

Music through the Armed Forces Radio Network was our savior. There are several songs I heard in Vietnam that still impact my soul like shrapnel through my heart when I hear them again, and I’m sure other Vietnam Veterans feel the same. The one that was very popular during the middle of my tour is, We Gotta Got out of This Place written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and recorded as a 1965 hit single by The Animals. This song hits me the deepest with the truth that while in Vietnam I wasn’t certain that I would get out of that place. I saw many soldiers who never did leave alive. Perhaps, no one felt confident that they would survive the war.  Music gave us the respite from our thoughts and fears. I can’t listen to We Gotta Got out of This Place without reliving some of the more intense experiences in Vietnam and feel the emotions rising. It takes me right back there as if it was yesterday. Click on the link below to hear We Gotta Got out of This Place.

Another song that affected us in Vietnam is, Leaving on a Jet Plane. Written by John Denver in 1966, and picked up by Peter, Paul, and Mary in 1967 for their Album 1700 and released as a single in 1969 – their only No. 1 hit. I thought about leaving on that Freedom Bird and returning home nearly every day of my tour in Vietnam. When that day arrived, and the plane gently lifted off the runway filled with military personnel, there was absolute silence. When the aircraft flew beyond Vietnam airspace everyone spontaneously erupted in thunderous cheers! We smiled at each other in celebration. We survived the war.  We were finally heading home.  And then, 10,000 miles of reflective silence. There was a lot to think about.  I thought about how much I had changed.  Again, I lost my innocence. I knew that I was was not the same young man who had arrived in-country 14-months previously. I was older and tougher and younger and more vulnerable. Little did I know how much I changed and that learning this wasn’t the easiest part of returning home. Click on the link below to hear Leaving on a Jet Plane.

When I returned home from Vietnam, it was a culture shock. There were diverse changes in fashions, music, automobiles, attitudes, morality, education, politics, and behavior to mention a few. And of course, the harsh reception from the public towards Vietnam Veterans. It took nearly twenty years before I heard someone say, Welcome Home. Even now when someone reaches out to say thank you for your service, I hesitate before responding to the unfamiliar kindness. Perhaps, other Vietnam Veterans feel the same way. A song that reaches me deeply in a compassionate way is, Where to Have All the Flowers Gone. This song is by the Kingston Trio. I can’t help but think of all the young men and women who never made it home, or returned with horrendous wounds and losses of limbs, not to mention PTSD. I don’t believe any of us fully returned home. I think that each of us left parts of us there during the Vietnam War. Where Have All the Flowers Gone resonates the most in my post-Vietnam years and brings out my strongest philosophical thoughts. I wonder with my heart in my throat and incredulity in my mind, when Will they ever learn? Click on the link below to hear Where Have All the Flowers Gone.

I lived through more than my share of life experiences during the whirlwind decade of the ’60s. And not surprisingly, I remain as always, an unrepentant Hippie following my philosophical and spiritual paths. And still, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

 

 

And, There She Was

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Running a high school varsity cross country race. I always ran barefoot.

Many years ago, when I was vegan, I ran sixteen miles nearly every day while living in Phoenix, Arizona. I would run from my home along the city streets until I reached the canals. Most of my run on the canal was solitary. I was at the peak of my physical capability, even better than in high school and college.

One day it was about 118° and extremely high humidity. I thought I would be okay to run as I had found a great way to stay hydrated. I would wear light running shorts and T-shirt along with the best running shoes I could afford. I wore a dual pack of water bottles strapped to my lower back. I would freeze the water bottles overnight, so they remained frozen during the early portion of my run. At the hottest portion of the day after I had run quite a bit, the water gradually began to melt and remained cold or at least cool until the water ran out. It was a great system overall except for this day when it was exceptionally hot, and I was still on the canal when the water became lukewarm.

I was not that concerned since I was in excellent shape and completed twelve of my usual sixteen miles. I was enjoying a runner’s high as my pre-frontal and limbic regions (which light up in response to emotions like love) spewed out endorphins. I was in great spirits after leaving the canal and heading toward the city and home.  There was a dirt area between trees in a part of the city where a lot of people walked, biked, and jogged the shady path. I always enjoyed this area after leaving the isolated canal.

Reminiscent of my high school varsity track and cross-country and college days of competitive races, I easily passed each person on the path.  Although a few people attempted to keep up with me, I easily left them behind while smiling or sharing a greeting. I continued this even though I knew I still had about four miles to reach home.

I felt invincible and thrilled with my run. I was beginning to pass a young woman probably around my age which would’ve been around 30. She looked in pretty good shape and was jogging easily. I planned to run by her quickly, look over my left shoulder and smile as I left her far behind me. I increased my speed until we were shoulder to shoulder and added a greater stride as I moved easily past her. I looked over my left shoulder to nod and smile as I quickly increased the distance. And there she was.

She was running shoulder to shoulder with me and not giving me any attention as she just quietly looked straight ahead. Like me, she was hardly breathing and jogged effortlessly. Momentarily surprised, I thought that it would be fun to pick up the pace and of course, leave her ‘in the dust’ as I did with the previous people. I increased my pace to an even faster jog and contentedly looked over my left shoulder. And, there she was.

She looked forward without acknowledging me.  She ran at exactly my pace not faster, not slower and shoulder to shoulder. I thought how cool this was to have found a confident, playful person who wanted to race. Nonetheless, it was time to pick up the pace considerably and even though I had run 12 of my ultimately 16 miles I thought it was time to make my move.

I picked up the pace, so I was no longer jogging I was now running. I thought the woman couldn’t possibly be keeping up with me as we were covering more and more distance. I looked over my shoulder. And, there she was.

She looked as calm and relaxed as I was as if she was going for a leisurely jog in the country. Again, she didn’t look over at me, and we made no eye contact although running shoulder to shoulder we occasionally touched each other depending on our stride, the uneven ground, and the people heading toward us on the somewhat narrow path.

At this time the people that we passed and those that were walking or jogging towards us gave us a lot of room and watched us intently. I could tell from the look in their eyes that they were wondering what they were observing as we were running exactly shoulder to shoulder not acknowledging each other and gradually exponentially increasing our speed. I knew that this path had a long stretch before it finally came to two main city streets with signals.

Even though I knew that I still had a way to go on this particularly warm day I decided to go beyond the fast run and draw on my ‘secret’ racing capabilities,  sprinting. I felt I had the endurance. Although she seemed to keep up with me easily thus far, I thought that this would make the difference.

By this point, I was sprinting fast and easily. People we passed seemed to be in awe of what they were observing as we blew by them. I thought there was no need to look over my shoulder because she would not be able to maintain this pace. But you know how it is, I just couldn’t help myself. I glanced over quickly. And, there she was.

She was exactly shoulder to shoulder with me and looking ahead rather comfortably while matching my sprinting. I couldn’t believe it. I thought who is she, is she a professional runner? Is she an Olympic competitor? Somehow I knew she was having as much pleasure as I was in our spontaneous competition.

Together we realized that we were rapidly approaching the intersection of two main city streets and at our speed, we would either skid to a stop somehow or risk running through a potential red light. Either way, we would be in trouble. Nevertheless, neither of us slowed down.

Reminding me of my best races, I pushed myself even more. I was now sprinting so fast it felt like my feet never touched the ground. I could barely focus on the people that we passed who appeared in a haze. This time, with confident assurance I knew that when I looked over my left shoulder that finally, she would not be present. While now sprinting on the top of my toes I casually looked over my left shoulder. And, there she was!

How could this be I thought? I had never met anyone who demonstrated this capability and did it was such finesse. We both were sprinting about as fast as we could go still shoulder to shoulder when we came to the main city cross streets. It reminded me of the 1958 novelty song, “Beep Beep” by The Playmates. It was about a Nash Rambler and a Cadillac racing each other. Click on this link to hear the song. Caddy & Nash Rambler

Neither of us could or would stop so we ran through the red light somehow dodging the cars and made it to the opposite corner still shoulder to shoulder. In a way it was exhilarating, and if we had not been running that fast, I don’t think we could have navigated the vehicles. I still remember the wide-eyed stares from the drivers as we both weaved through the traffic lanes.

Somehow we both sensed that the time to continue the run was over as we each changed to a stationary jog. For the first time, we faced each other. Looking into each other’s eyes communicating numerous things without saying a word.  With a shrug, I pointed to the direction I had to go, and with a mutual shrug, the woman pointed to the opposite direction. This mysterious woman shared a Mona Lisa smile and we each turned away from one another to continue our run.

Neither of us needed to make it more than what it was because the connection we had nonverbally was about as powerful it could be under the circumstances. I learned a lot from that experience, and I have shared what happened with her in the workshops seminars and retreats that I have given. There are subtle messages to be gained from the story.

Whenever I closed my eyes and relieved the experience, I looked over my left shoulder and smiled. And, there she was.

Quincy, a Dachshund Co-Therapist

Many people have wonderful stories about their animal companions which are sometimes about how the actions of the cat, dog or another animal saved their life. Here is my story about my animal companion, Quincy, a miniature Dachshund.

Many years ago, I provided psychological counseling through private practice in my office and sometimes in my home. One day, I received a referral from a psychologist at a local school district about a male high school student. The psychologist told me that the individual was very resistant to therapy and refused to communicate in any sessions, so they decided on referring him to me.

In the first session in the home office, I briefly greeted the young high school student who sat on the couch facing me while I sat in the recliner. Quincy chose that day for the first time to climb up on my lap, with my help, and he appeared to fall asleep quickly.

I briefly discussed confidentiality and the therapy process after the introductions. The teenager was rather a nonresponsive fidgeting with his hands and looking down and mumbling single word responses. I began formulating a therapeutic plan to reach him on a more meaningful level so that our sessions would make a difference.

While I was seeking areas of his life to exploring, I asked some appropriate questions mentioned by his school psychologist. I asked him if he used any drugs. He did not immediately respond, so I asked again. After a long pause, he finally said no as he continued to look at the floor.

Just as he said no, Quincy looked up and stared at him and gave a loud moan like someone would say when they doubted your honesty. Since he never did this before I wasn’t certain how to interpret the noise. The student gave it no attention.

I asked why the psychologist believed that he was using drugs. With barely a shrug of the shoulders, he gave no other response. After moving on to other things, I decided to try once again by asking if he was using drugs. After a few moments without looking up, he mumbled no.

Once again, Quincy opened his eyes raised his head and looked at him and made the same exact sound he had made previously. By now my curiosity had gotten the better of me, and I was beginning to think that Quincy was responding to what was said but only when the response was untruthful.

I left the questions about drugs and talked a little bit about my therapeutic approach and my involvement with the school district. Then, I asked if it was true that he had been disruptive in one of his classes. A few moments later he mumbled no and then immediately looked up at Quincy who returned the look with the same doubtful noise and then appeared to return to his slumber.

I couldn’t contain my chuckle watching him see if Quincy caught him in another untruthful statement. He looked up from Quincy curiously after hearing my restrained laughter. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. He shrugged as well and began his contagious laughter which I eagerly joined in.

From that time on we engaged in a thorough and effective partnership in his sessions. Notwithstanding that he continued to look at Quincy before answering any difficult questions.

Quincy continued this behavior with a few other people who tended to be less than truthful. Since he was my co-therapist, I rewarded him with his favorite Mighty Dog food after each productive session.

I named Quincy after the Quincy, M.E.  American medical mystery-drama television series from Universal Studios that aired from 1976 to 1983 on NBC.

I’ll share more stories with my animal companions in the future.