Sunday, March 11, 2018


By Fred Owens
1968 was a terrible year. I don't even like to remember it. I've done a good job of forgetting, except I don't forget, it just got buried in some cranial crevice.

Memories are woken up by the call for Reunion after fifty years. The war, the assassinations and riots .... laughing frantically at the disaster. It was terrible.  But I did have the good sense to stay from the Chicago riots late that summer, when the cops and kids went at it during the Democratic convention. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and those Chicago cops could tolerate carousing suburban youth, chasing us back home.
But when some of the anti-war protestors wanted to pick a fight with the cops, I just wasn't that crazy -- to go downtown and get in a cop's face and curse at him. Couldn't do it. I explained to my friends from out of town that it has nothing to do with the war. It's all about turf. Lincoln Park and the waterfront belong to the cops. The local boy scouts can camp overnight in the park, but you guys can't.
Or maybe it was just self-preservation. I didn't go to the demonstration because I didn't want to end up in the hospital with stitches and an angry story.
This was the class of 1968 now assembling for a reunion fifty years later. Like the Rolling Stones on their farewell tour we shall not pass this way again. Last chance. Last rodeo.
It has to be about forgiveness. I didn't mean it, I was wrong. I wasn't grateful. Things didn't work out the way I had hoped. The reality of life after school crushed me.
I told this to Virginia Smith. She's from Long Island. She lives in Toronto and might drop by the Reunion even though she is not in our class. We called her Ginny back then, but she prefers Virginia now.
She told me by email that I ought not get worked up about any of this. I ought not take it seriously. Just come to Toronto and hang out with some other old folks and talk about grandchildren and hip surgery, take walks, tell old stories, have some laughs. Nobody cares.
The campus will be beautiful and quiet in early June. The custodial staff takes pride in the flower beds. We can sit on the grass and on the benches.
Father Iversen taught us history freshman year. He was harmless. Mr. DiIanni taught us philosophy. He was tormented. He said he had read the Critique of Pure Reason by Immanual Kant three times and he still didn't understand it. I felt sorry for him. Fr. Madden taught English at 9 a.m. I fell asleep during his lectures and got Cs and Ds.
Nobody took attendance, so I skipped most of the lectures, but I read the material, took the tests, wrote the essays and got good grades. Made friends, partied, had girl friends, stayed up late.

It was nearly guilt-free going to college in Canada during the Vietnam war years. There was no conflict. Not just the students , but all the teachers, and bus drivers  -- everybody in Canada said it was a stupid war and to stay out of it. Canadian students didn't go home and argue with their parents about the war in Vietnam. No draft for them, no body count.
As an American I was against the war. Here we were at college drinking beer and chasing girls and we got exempted but the farm boys got drafted and killed. Too strange. It wasn't a national emergency...... this is such an old argument from fifty years ago. I would rather forget the whole thing.
By the time I was a senior I had read quite a few books. For some reason I now recall some authors not worth a second glance, but at the time I read and admired -- Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse and Oswald Spengler. I poured over them with intensity. I finally realized they were bad writers with nothing to say. This is how we form literary judgment, by reading widely and having the confidence to form an opinion.
I read the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. It was so romantic and so exotic. I am embarrassed to say how much I dreamed on it.
Our senior year we lived a few blocks from campus at 55 St. Nicholas Street, in a decrepit red brick three-story apartment building.
Tom Orent and I and George Massey and Richard Smith occupied the second floor. Upstairs lived Paul Schulte, Jim Gardella and Brian Fredericks.  We were a merry crew. I was the instigator. They were the caution . It was wild times with the war in the background on the TV. Enough about that.
This was St. Michael's College, a Catholic school run by the Basilian Fathers and a part of the public University of Toronto.
A good school for all that. I am so thankful I got to spend my younger years there. That school experience gave me a reserve of quiet joy when things got tough later in life, when I was lonely and broke or just adrift.
But I don't understand the Critique of Pure Reason.
Marshall McLuhan gave a lecture on the Wasteland in the Elmsley Lounge one year. This great man was talking but it was the free sherry that got everybody to show up. It was the last time the college ever served sherry like that, too many drunk undergraduates. McLuhan didn't mind. Not that he liked us. He didn't. He just didn't care how much we drank. What he said was some people get the Wasteland and some people don't. Don't worry about it.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

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