Friday, January 29, 2010

Losses of innocence

So sad. Earlier this week, Howard Zinn suffered a fatal heart attack at 87 while swimming on vacation. Alive, vibrant living life fully. The very next day J.D. Salinger passed away quietly at his home in New Hampshire where he had fiercely guarded his privacy for more than fifty years. Each touched my soul immeasurably. Captured my imagination. Fueled my passion. Influenced my coming of age. Essential rites of passage leading to the adult me. Each uniquely. Both profoundly. Je pense, donc je suis.

Touchstones for a generation. My generation. Born into a robust postwar economy where daddies emboldened by heroism and valor streamed into their downtown offices in matching grey flannel suits and felt dress hats so our mommies could swirl effortlessly in petticoat buoyed finery with tiny waistlines homemaking in brand spanking new General Electric kitchens whipping up fruity Jell-o salads, picture perfect roasts and Manhattans. Our suburban Betty Crocker-DepressionBaby parents. Life was good. Homogeneous. With the flow. Marching in lock-step with other eager beavers and members of the peanut gallery, we rode merry-go-rounds in the park, watched nascent TV and were told to be seen but not heard.

1951 gave birth to cool daddy-o's, Holden Caufield and me.

Ha! The times they were a-changing. Struggles of self and culture were celebrated in Greenwich Village smoke filled coffee houses by twenty-something Ginsburg and Kerouac anticonformists. Poetry and black turtleneck thinkers born between the wars too young to join in. Avant garde older soul-siblings to my Woodstock generation who still toddled around grassy white fenced yards in Levittown development clones all over the country.

It is of no surprise that Mr. Salinger stuck a nerve with Cold War America's burgeoning adolescence in his opening sentence. He immediately dismissed insights into his childhood as a bunch of crap. Zing. Grabbed growing alienation of the adult world by the balls. Captured our imagination and imprinted upon us a cynicism "away from any goddam stupid conversation". Influential for sixty years and counting, Salinger embodied an enviable aloofness inspiring Bright Lights, Big City and Sex in the City wannabes in the 1980s and 90s. We all yearn to be catchers in the rye. I know I did.

Twenty years later Boston was abuzz with student protests, LSD and long hair when I transferred to BU in 1971. ROTC thrown off campus and the student union known simply as the Union. Populist weekend hippie students from affluent northeastern families poured into Bean Town every September. Down by the river, by the banks of the river Charles, sex, drugs, rock & roll ... and politics ignited the college scene.

Enter Howard Zinn. My academic advisor. Our guru. Our compatriot at sit-ins. Comrade at peace demonstrations on the Commons. His words impassioned and energizing pulling us in. Whose over-subscribed, non-required classrooms burst at the seams. Except when he went to Hanoi during the Tet Offensive with Daniel Berrigan to 'receive' the first POWs released by the North Vietnamese. Irony, indeed. Professor Zinn, a bombardier in WWII, dropped Napalm on unsuspecting German soldiers in hiding. It changed his way of thinking. He changed ours. Civil liberties. Radical Critique of the American Political Economy. The People's History of the United States. Compassionate analysis from all stakeholders. Over, under and around the box. We drew our grades out of a hat!

RIP gentlemen. Raise high the roof beam, carpenter, you just cannot be neutral on a moving train.

Tears until tomorrow ...

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Cousin, I love your blog. The Alice I never knew, but always did. Yikes, you can write, girl. Steve