Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Favorite Year

Does each of us have a "favorite year"? I do--or more specifically, I have a favorite part of a year. The summer of 1970...

That was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. It seemed like an endless summer, probably due in large part to my taking a Summer Enrichment Program class at Berry College. This was a program they offered for select students from the various local high schools; we could take one college course at no charge, giving us educational opportunities that exceeded what was available to us in high school as well as offering a taste of college life. Since my chosen course, Calculus, was a morning class, I was getting up early (not a typical summertime activity for me) three days a week, which put me back home at 9:50 on those mornings, ready to enjoy the day.

I didn't have a job that summer, because of the SEP class; my parents didn't think it would be wise to balance the two. They suggested, wisely, that I focus on the class at Berry, since I had already accepted an academic scholarship there; it would probably have made them question the decision if I bombed out on the SEP course.

That meant that I had a full day of Doing Very Little--something that has turned out to be quite rare, although I had no idea that would be the case. My best friend at the time, Sven Ahlstrom had an afternoon newspaper route--a sprawling car route, not one of those neighborhood bicycle routes--so our days were typically spent riding around in his '68 Chevy Malibu, looking for comics or books or music, getting something to eat, then working his paper route. We were both doing fanzines--I was in two amateur press alliances and writing for other fanzines at the time, and I had lured Sven into the world of apa-dom as well--and that filled up some of our spare time. But the days seemed forever long, and the pressures seemed almost nonexistent.

Sven had an eight-track tape player in his car, for which we owned precious few tapes. What he and I had bought on eight-track, we listened to over and over again, Steppenwolf Live, Badfinger's Magic Christian Music, the Beatles' Let It Be, the eponymous Crosby, Stills, & Nash first album; In-a-Gadda-da-Vida, Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar, the Rolling Stones' Beggars' Banquet... I know there were a few others, but not that many. Tapes were expensive, and for the most part they duplicated what we already owned on vinyl (albums were real music; tapes were just a means to enjoy that music on the road).

In those pre-iPod days, there was no shuffle; we listened to albums all the way through, again and again, until we not only knew every note of the song, but we knew exactly how long a silence there would be at the end, and then we knew every note of the song that would follow that. (Problem was, we had learned some of these playlists from the vinyl versions, and the eight-tracks were in different order so that they could divide the album into four more-or-less equal lengths--I could tell you why, but that's more eight-track technology than the 21st Century would dream of enduring.) So not only would we sing along with the songs that were playing, we'd start the next songs a half-beat or so before the music began--not because we mis-estimated, but because we were too impatient to wait.

Susan and I were dating, but she was working at the time, so I spoke with her only in the evenings and saw her only on weekends. Sven was interested in a friend of ours, Ida Hutchings, but any romance between them was sporadic and ill-fated; they were destined to remain friends, but nothing more. Gary Steele was a good friend, but for some reason he didn't enjoy the hours spent in an un-air-conditioned Malibu, so he rarely hit the road with us.

I feel like we lived in that Malibu; I didn't have a car of my own, although I could use the family's '64 Volkswagen if I really needed to, so Sven's car was our only legitimate transportation choice. Like all sixteen-year-olds with access to a car, we felt like it would be positively criminal not to drive as much as possible, so we were continually mobile.

We discovered underground comics that summer when what would probably have qualified as a head shop opened in Rome; I never paid attention to the drug or lifestyle paraphernalia, but the books by Robert Crumb and Foolbert Sturgeon and Richard Corben and Vaugn Bode were endlessly fascinating. We also discovered Rolling Stone that summer; the magazine was relatively new to Rome readers, since I don't believe that the two magazine distributors in Rome carried it prior to that spring. The biweekly magazine joined our must-read list alongside comics and science fiction magazines and Doc Savage books and Playboy (sure, we looked at the pictures, but we really did read the articles--and we discussed them!).

The summer gradually transitioned into the beginning of our senior year of high school; none of us knew at the time that this would be the last summer we were all so free to enjoy life as we wished. But oh, what a wondrous two and a half months it was!..

1 comment:

Sven said...

That was a good summer, a lot less worries than we have now. The tunes were better than most that I hear these days. Now you have to tune in a "Classic Rock station" to hear anything good and they usually play the same list over and over. I do drive my kids crazy when I start singing aloud with some of these tunes and know all the words. And they are impressed when I tell them I saw these bands in concert or in a small club.
I still have some of those old Rolling Stones and Underground Comics tucked away in box somewhere. Robert Crumb and the Furry Freak Brothers where always my favorite.
I'm sorry you lost track of Gary, sounds like he wants to start a fresh chapter in his life, maybe re-invent himself. His mother used to make the best sweet tea.

If that Malibu had been a convertible it would have been PERFECT!