Chapter 12 A Bed of Roses

“I’d actually like to hear a little about what it was like then. That was just before I got to Berkeley and I wonder if there were similarities on campuses; of there wouldn’t have been in the family dynamics. My father doted on me. I was his prize. My brother just wanted to play soldier but father thought he could teach me how the world worked. I hope he succeeded.”

“OK, since you asked.

“I arrived in Bellingham, WA for the fall term of 1971. At last I was out of the dorm but I was still a short-haired wannabe freak not a long-haired hippie freak. It was obvious I was a vet. But I couldn’t admit to being a veteran and much less a Viet Nam vet. That would be social suicide, not so much at Pullman but certainly in Bellingham. It was very isolating. In those days of drugs, political activism, demonstrations and riots, people I met subtly insisted I account for my past. They were wary. There were more drugs than in Pullman; pot and psychedelics like acid, peyote, mushrooms, and, of course, cocaine. Was I a narc, an undercover FBI agent or CIA? Where had I just come from? I was 23, fit and bulked up from my military service and so looked the part of any law enforcement type. Or was I a Vet?”

“I was a curiosity at Berkeley,” said Agnes. “People saw me as a victim of the war not a perpetrator. And then I had just come from Paris and could tell stories about the student movement there. I took graduate level classes and many of my classmates were worldly adults who had studied abroad. They were hardly provincial.”

“I thought Pullman was provincial and I’d heard Bellingham was the center of hip since Haight Asbury in San Francisco had decamped. It was hip and funky but I was neither.

“With help of a high school friend who was still living in town after graduating, I moved into a group house with a sheet-iron stove for heat and aged barn siding on the inside walls. It was headed by a friend of my friend who had gone fishing for the summer in Alaska. He had not OK’d my moving in and didn’t agree with his roommate’s choice when he got back. He particularly didn’t like the Pontiac Bonneville coupe or the Honda motorcycle— no funk; way too middle class.”

“This sounds to me like provinciality of a different type,” observed Agnes. “People couldn’t recognize that others with different experience would have different values?” she asked incredulously. “And your experience must have been unique in that environment.”

“Perhaps it was. But no one asked and I certainly didn’t volunteer much…… I was so demoralized by this time that I accepted their judgements and compared myself to their expectations. That went on for years.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. What a tumble from being awarded an important medal by a general. It must have been hard on your self-respect.”

“Oh I was embarrassed by the medal. That only made is worse. I never mentioned it.”

You were embarrassed by the Bonneville too. Where did the Bonneville come from? You never mentioned it before. My father had a Bonneville. Did you have it at Ft. Monmouth?”

“I bought it before I was drafted when I was working at Boeing. I had a good job as a toolmaker. It was skilled work. But I got bored and a friend talked me into buying a hay truck and I went off hauling hay. It was an old Mack and I had to work on it constantly. I got drafted about the time I went broke. I kept the Bonneville but both the it and the Honda were social poison. More than just out of fashion they were a statement of values anathema any San Francisco Digger now in Bellingham.”

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