The 60’s started somewhat auspiciously for me. During the summer following graduation from the Bronx High School of Science, I found myself out on the first date of my life sitting in the balcony of the legendary Paradise Theater on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Although neither of my hands had never as much as touched a girl before, my left hand somehow found its way over my date’s shoulder in an inexorable march towards its goal. Unfortunately, it never reached it. I found myself being duly called to task for my effrontery. What I did not know at the time was that my tentative gropings would form part of the leading edge of what would be called the Sexual Revolution. Of course sex had been known about at least ten years before the 60’s, but only by a small group of men and women who smoked and listened to poetry being declaimed while accompanied by jazz in the basement of Greenwich Village cafés. How it spread from that small seed to seduce an entire civilization has been retold many times in many tomes.
I entered the City College of New York in 1961. “City” as it was known then had multiple reputations. It was called the “poor man’s Harvard” and other similar sobriquets. The north campus was primarily devoted to the sciences and engineering, while the south campus housed literature, music, philosophy, languages and the arts.
In the first semester of my sophomore year, in an introductory chemistry course (naturally), I found my first love, a beautiful girl who turned eyes wherever she went (I learned later that she had left a veritable regiment of broken hearts in her path.) I had gone from being a puppy dog in summer camp that ogled such girls from afar to the Don Juan of the campus. It was during the fall and winter of that year that I devoured an entire emotional and sexual encyclopedia and learned fundamental truths about myself. Bowing down to the idiot goddess of cliché, I still say that there is nothing sadder in life than not having had the experience of falling in love at that age.
The south campus cafeteria was the incubator of every known leftist group, front, cult, and deviationist sect. Each had its own table and woe to someone who accidentally sat down at the wrong table. Even Lenin might have paused a few seconds before deciding where to park himself.
In the first week of school I calmly sized up the situation and decided that a person of my political leanings would most likely remain a virgin until well into senility. And like the Jews who, to avoid persecution, “converted” to Catholicism in Spain and Portugal during the 14th and 15th century, I became a “Converso.” Somehow I found my way into the arms of the nascent Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Tom Hayden, all fire and brimstone came to one of our meetings adorned in a black leather trench coat and an even blacker soul.
I found myself on a student-faculty committee to revise the curriculum set up to appease the growing number of student activists who at that time were demanding that City reduce the number of required courses. I never did sign a membership card in SDS, recognizing that my future might well be compromised if I had.
It was the time of the Civil Rights movement. In September of 1963, one month after the historic Civil Rights march in Washington and Martin Luther King’s famous speech, a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama and four young girls were killed. City’s president, Buell Gallagher called for a campus-wide protest that I attended. After the meeting ended, a small group of radical students (and non-students) called for a march from the campus (which was located in Harlem) to Broadway in order to shut down traffic. My self-preservation instinct immediately kicked in and I withdrew. It was at that moment that I got a real taste of the revolutionary left and its motives. They wanted to use the “useful idiots” as cannon fodder. That tactic had has not changed at all as the Occupy movement in 2012 demonstrated.
When the Vietnam War started to heat up in 1964, I became active in the anti-war movement. After Berkeley, City was the first school to hold a ‘teach-in’. I remember the heartfelt speeches of those who hated the war and an hours-long lecture on the nature of capitalism and its bastard child, imperialism by Marxist historian, Herbert Aptheker. That symbolized the strange brew that the anti-war movement had spawned. At the center of the protest movement was a relatively small number of what we now call “hardcore” Marxists. They tried to guide the movement into revolutionary pathways but, overall, with only a few exceptions (such as the protest in 1968 at the Democratic national convention in Chicago) they failed.
I graduated City in 1965 and found a job in computers at a New York medical center. That became the ovum from which my career was born. I travelled every day from my apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Brooklyn where I donned a white lab coat and spent time in an overly air-conditioned, glass-enclosed, raised-floor room with IBM 360 computers. Making the lights on their consoles dance to the right melodies became my professional occupation.
Oh, yes, there were hippies, pot, “be-in’s”, marches, and riots as the centrifuge that was tearing the country apart spun faster and faster. At the end of the 60’s I was entrenched in my career and drifting away from involvement in the anti-war movement and back towards the center of my political gravity. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time as my costume had taken on its own momentum. But gradually, my soul emerged from the rage and resentment that characterizes the left and gave me back my inner life.
[P.S. I have always hated the horrors of war and believe that almost every war we have fought was unnecessary. Unlike the left, however, I won’t take the next step and say that there is some basic evil in our country that seeks war and destruction but rather that misguided, warped and ignorant leaders push us in that direction.]