Editor’s Note: In October 2019, along with a large number of my former classmates, I’ll be celebrating the 50-year anniversary of my high school graduation. I never thought I’d live this long or be this old, but, what the hell, it sure beats the alternative. If you’re a 1969 graduate of Greenwich High, you might want to click here. This is the second article on this subject I’ve done ... the last one was back in 2009.

Limping in to 50

  I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.”

— Bob Dylan
               “My Back Pages”

In Texas hold ’em (“the Cadillac of poker”), when players bet the minimum required to stay in a hand, it’s called “limping in.” Unless they’re “slow playing” good cards (the opposite of bluffing), it usually indicates a weak hand.

After a year that tried to kill me three different ways, I’m limping in to my 50-year Greenwich High School (GHS) reunion, a three-day event slated for the first weekend in October. That’s right, I’m shamelessly using this space, which is normally reserved for such high-minded purposes as bashing Orange Mussolini and mocking Moscow Mitch, to publicize my reunion. (For more information, former 1969 classmates can write to ... markdrought4@gmail.com.)

Like most Americans, I enjoy milestones, and a half century is a major one. I know I’m biased, but 1969 always felt like a landmark year, coming as it did on the heels of a somewhat depressing 1968. The “Summer of Love” in 1967 had young people feeling “high on life” (as well as other things), but 1968 tapped the brakes on our optimism.  

Early in the year, the Tet Offensive torched Vietnam, then Martin Luther King was assassinated, and cities across our country burned. It was the opposite of a summer of love. The presidential campaign started out promisingly enough with peace candidates Gene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, but climaxed with RFK dead in another tragic and senseless murder. Then, with “the whole world watching,” the counterculture and the forces of “law and order” battled it out in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention.  

The rioting in Chicago reflected badly on both sides. Ironically, the radicals (e.g., the SDS and the Black Panthers) helped scare the “great silent majority” into voting in a fascist president the Left despised. In 1968, uninspiring Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey lost to an even less-inspiring and totally corrupt Richard Nixon, the first president to disgrace the office by resigning one step ahead of an impeachment conviction. Tricky Dick had campaigned on a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam; it was a lie that no one believed or took seriously, and his “plan” escalated and expanded the war, while bloating the body count.

By comparison, 1969 felt like a breath of fresh air. The moon landing, arguably the greatest achievement in human history, made us proud to be Americans again. On a far less cosmic scale, the Woodstock festival was inspirational in its own way, even for those who couldn’t go. (I had a rickety car, and my parents refused to let me borrow theirs, for which I never forgave them.) For millions of us, newly graduated from high school, the sight of 500,000 of our comrades on the six o’clock news, many frolicking naked in the mud, lifted our spirits, and it felt like a whole new world was waiting for us.

That year was similar to 1964, when The Beatles’ arrival had lifted us out of the funk we’d been in since November 1963. IMHO, the JFK assassination was the most traumatic national event of my lifetime — even more so than 9/11. By the end of 1963, much of the country was walking around like zombies, and we needed the exuberance that The Beatles delivered. IMHO, the “Beatlemania” that began on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 — and the ensuing “British invasion,” with its garish clothes, crazy hair styles and all-around era of good feeling — was the biggest pop culture phenomenon in our history.

I tend to compartmentalize by years, and I consider 1969 the second best year of my life, just behind 1976 (the year I met my wife). In 1969, after years of teachers misleading and trying to scare me about how demanding college was going to be and how hard I’d need to work, I was relieved to find it was no more difficult than high school … not to mention 1969 was the year I began to grasp the potential of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

However, as the Buddha said, “All things are transitory.” As 1969 came to an end, the Woodstock mystique would be tainted by murder at Altamont. The following summer, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died of drug overdoses, with Jim Morrison gone soon after. In the spring of 1970, the endless killing in Vietnam came home to roost, with four students shot dead at Kent State, two more murdered at Jackson State and campuses across the country closed down. At the same time, the sixties would end, both symbolically and literally, when The Beatles went their separate ways.  

Call me sentimental, but I still have a warm spot for 1969, which is why I’ve been to all five reunions since then. In 1979, it seemed like we’d barely been away. In 1989, I wanted to be at my graduation weight, so I went on a crash diet and bought pants that, just a few years later, I could barely fit one leg into. Coming from a family in which the males die young, I was happy merely to find myself alive at my 40-year reunion in 2009, and I’m even more pleased (and surprised) to still be around for my 50th.

My mother’s final GHS reunion was her 65th. Even if I manage to live that long — or my consciousness can be downloaded into an iPad — I don’t think I’ll be attending my 65th. Mom’s classmates had to replace dinner with a brunch, because, in their early 80s, many of them couldn’t see well enough to drive after dark and had trouble staying awake past 8:30. And, sadly, the alumni committee had a hard time getting things done, because its members kept winding up in the obituaries.

Nonetheless, this October, I look forward to limping in one last time on the long and winding road back to 1969. And who knows when my back pages will be turned, and what will be written on them? In the best lyric he ever wrote, which he saved for the end of a too-short career, John Lennon summed it up for many of us:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

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