48 Years to the Hour
48 Years to the Hour.
To bring the outside world into Horace Mann Junior High School a few girls carried their transistor radios in their purses. It drove the hall monitors nuts as the hallways filled with baby-boomers and the songs of the era echoed subversively until the tardy bell clanged. The girls kept track of the romance ballads and those youth rebellion things deemed essential to being able to speak to the transforming storm surf that was looming on the cultural horizon in the early 1960’sSan Diego.
The songs echoing off the walls were usually fun in the sun recruitment jingles, rockabilly ironies and car crash laments with a few inner city blues and race ballads slipping in mid chart. Disc jocks yammered and annoyed apparently thinking they were funny or somehow relating. When we knew there was only one voice on the radio worth listening to and his was a howl from below the border in Mexico that only came out at night.
The Beatles were being turned down by the record companies and resolving themselves to another stint of bennies and five set nights in Hamburg. Brian Epstein was looking around for a way out of his fate as a bored-stiff undercover upper class British Businessman. They were about to meet and in a few weeks they’d detonate the first blown minds on our shore-lines through a two weekend stint on television hosted by an ex-sports writer in a rumbled suit.
The West Village was going viral through sing-alongs and laments about winds blowing change and folkie tunes but that nebulous interest was more in the air than on minds or within the spirit. Instrumentals generated curiosity-there was a Huck Finn banjo bit called Washington Square and a horn section working Midnight in Moscow irony and, of course, ever irrepressible African America had kids grinding in dance halls all over the country to a smoldering saxophone and an echo chamber guitar with Harlem Nocturne.
Off El Cajon Boulevard my friends cut holes out of their parents encyclopedias and ran the wire to the ear-plug up through their shirts to listen to the World Series and count out the score on their right and left hands to kids in class. Other than the Fall Classic none of the fellas cared too much about style (basic nylon bomber jackets, corduroy pants, hush puppies, or black converse sufficed), or where the dances were (the girls would tell us) the songs were stuck in our heads anyway.
But, now, it was late November, we were biding our time until Thanksgiving break when we’d play marathon football games on our old elementary school playground. Those games were as close to communal paradise as a thirteen year old could find.
We’d gather around nine in the morning and begin playing touch football games until the sun went down. Breaks were for water and the game rotated players but never ceased. My neighborhood was a couple miles away so we never ate, we just ran and dodged and argued and laughed and bore down and impressed the girls and their big sisters who lined the sidelines watching us skitter over the asphalt field for a few long minutes before sashaying to the new mall down the road. Sometimes one or two of them would get in the game which generated many a nocturnal visit over fences into backyards or along sidewalks for long talks with the blue lights of televisions playing in the suburban windows.
Not that we didn’t feel something coming, we did, all of us, and not that we didn’t recognize our time was something very special, we did, all of us, but for the most part we were innocent and at ease in peace time and living in the heaven our WW2 Generation parents created for us, not that we didn’t resent them for it, we did. So we had a secretive culture of radios and the wanderings between the beaches, the canyons, the suburban baseball fields and playgrounds of jasmine scented, orange grove, jacaranda trees, lawn sprinklers and sleepy if not uneasy San Diego nights where we worked tentatively on night moves and struggled to find a common language between boys and girls that included love, romance, sex but held off exploitation or anything along those lines we deemed weird.
But then right about now, early afternoon forty-eight years ago the girls held their hands to the mouths, their eyes widened with news they couldn’t fathom but was too powerful and awful to contain. Tears ran down faces that beseeched each other for understanding. Some ran to teachers others to their brothers or sisters. The whole school, five thousand of us crammed into one Junior High stood where we were as the lunch time bell demanded we be in our chairs but no one was moving. Teachers held the not confiscated but now shared radios above our heads turned to news stations. All the rules had changed. The world was suspended, nothing carried import and we waited to hear if he’d live from his wounds.
It was only six months earlier when the President Movie Star rode down El Cajon Boulevard waving at us from the back seat of his limo. His face was surfer tanned, his hair Scot-Irish red, eyes Paul Newman blue. He rode past to the sound of our school cheering as we jumped in the air over each other’s heads to keep our glimpse of the coolest, funniest and most handsome elder in our world. A man who introduced us as a new generation heading for the moon, gathered us in troops for peace, urged us to be fit and to take fitness tests for our health, and we kept track of and watched his kids like they were our own little brother and sister.