Chapter 11 In Case of Riot – Break Glass

“But it wasn’t just students and anti-war demonstrators, you realize. In the summer of 1970, the black section Asbury Park erupted in flames and gunfire. Then it spread to other neighborhoods. I had rented an apartment near some other HHQ people to escape the constant low level harassment of living on post in the barracks. That week my mother heard about the unrest and called me on the phone for some reassurance that I was alright.

The day before, my landlord had pulled his Cadillac convertible into the shared driveway to seek refuge from the riot. His nearly new Cadillac had several bullet holes in the otherwise flawless bodywork. As I answered the phone, gunshots rang out in the street below. I assured mom that it was fireworks left over from the 4th of July but she wasn’t buying it. She urged me to return to the barracks for safety. The next day the riot-control squad was put on alert and confined to quarters so mom’s request was served.

“Asbury Park! I never even heard of Asbury Park.”

“Neither had most of the people who read about it in the news. But it was a continuation of the upheaval that began five years earlier. Most of it wasn’t political like you say it was in France. It was long standing grievances over housing, lack of jobs, police brutality and just general racism.

“But amongst the whites this period demonstrated a class divide between the laborer’s and the college elite; as i said, between those subject to the draft and those with college deferments. Aside from the shunning because I was a veteran, there was a sense that “You aren’t one of us. Otherwise you’d have a deferment. So you must be working class.” Of course they looked down on the working class, despite John Lennon’s song about being a working class hero.

In those days it was mostly upper-middle class kids whose families had the wherewithal to support children in college. The only way those of us without family support to get an education was to work or on the GI Bill. So we veterans got a double dose of prejudice, moral and class. Of course I didn’t realize any of this at the time.”

“Neither did I,” said Agnes. “I did not know any American veterans when I was at Berkeley; only Tran and he vas a Vietnamese veteran and that was a few years later. I was still in Paris during the time you’re talking about. We had our own issues to deal with. For one the Sorbonne was being broken up into separate universities. I had no idea how that would end. Then there was the fighting over American cultural imperialism, as we called it then. But ironically everybody embraced the American jazz musicians who’d been there for years and years. I think it was the rapid shift to a consumer culture that was at the root of it and that wasn’t American jazz. It was McDonalds on the Champs élises.

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