nectkties — unfinished — with addendum

As an introductory chapter, fortunately this is about youth. At least it’s chronological, that is, it predates maturity, old age and death. This, the Neckties Chapter is firmly based in the Eisenhower years, the crew-cut 50′s where hubby worked, wifey stayed home, there was a chicken in every pot and a hump-backed Oldsmobile in every garage. The Eisenhower years were a time of prosperiety — if you were fortunate enough not to be a blacklisted pinko screenwriter, or in post-war Europe (god forbid), or somehow called before a congressional subcommittee. Remember Joseph McCarthy? Remember Richard Nixon and the HUAC house un-american activities committee? Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?.

The Eisenhower Fifties, if you hadn’t forgotten them as a result of drugs ingested in the Psychedelic Sixties (Do you take, or have you ever ingested, any illegal substances?), were a time of prosperity. The interstate highway system was being built, a dream of Dwight Eisenhower from the time he was a young army captain traveling in a convoy that took 70 days to reach Washington from their starting point in North Dakota. (Hey, I read it on a plaque at a rest stop in Kansas…) Really he was a pretty good president, Dwight David Eisenhower. I Like Ike! He coined the phrase “military industrial complex” — wanted to call it “military industrial congressional complex” but somebody talked him out of it. Wonder who that was…?

So in the fifties, everybody, at least everybody who was anybody, wore a necktie. Crew cut. Necktie. Starched white collar. Unless you were blue-collar working class. Or had dark skin. Or spoke accented English. Or no English. Or unless you were a bohemian. Or mescaline (oops Mexican). My mother (a wonderful person, really, but a product of her times) felt superior to, and afraid of, the rising Hispanic tide. She said Mexican children had lice. I tried to enlighten her with the viewpoint that perhaps some of them didn’t have running water, but to no avail. My mother, rest her soul, had grown up in the pre-politically-correct era where you could use the N word and the M word and nobody would object. Nobody, that is, if your environs were lily white.

We lived in Highland Park, a long block from Figueroa. My grandmother took me to Sunday concerts in the park in Sycamore Grove, near the Southwest Museum, on Fig just down from York Boulevard. I hear now it’s gang territory. We lived in Eagle Rock. We lived in Glendale, talk about lily white, blacks were allowed in to work during the day, but harassed by the police if they were on the streets after dark. We kept moving North ahead of that Hispanic tide. It’s a simple fact of history, one ethnic group drives another out. There’s nothing new under the sun, just think about the Volksvanderung of the first centuries of the Christian era, where the Mongols moved West and drove the Huns into present day Germany, driving the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths and the Vandals to the South where they sacked Rome. Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths, again in 455 by the Vandals. The pump don’t work cause the vandals took the handle. (Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues, 1965)

So there we were in smogland, the greater Los Angeles area, land of the freeway and home of the brave, er Dodgers, after they got stolen from Brooklyn. They kicked out a lot of Spanish-speaking residents from Chavez Ravine, drove them out with shotguns while they were building Dodger Stadium.


I remember driving to the beach, before they went broke in 1965 my folks had a house in Belmont Shore, part of Long Beach. I remember the smog, riding in the back seat of our 1954 Ford station wagon, my father with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, driving an hour through the smog to get to the beach on summer weekends. I remember the smog, my eyes would be burning so bad I couldn’t see, as we passed through Alhambra, Monterey Park, Bell, Downey, Bellflower, Lakewood. Once we got to the beach, I remember they combed the sand nightly with tractors and big screened rakes, raking out the rubbish of the day before, leaving a pattern the next morning like a japanese garden freshly raked. The tar was always there on the beach, sticking to your feet. They say there was tar on the beach even before they started drilling offshore, that’s how they discovered the offshore oil. I remember LaBrea tar pits, with mammoth and tiger carcasses preserved in the tar. I remember later, in the 60′s, flying in a small plane from San Diego to San Francisco, as we passed LA there was a huge oil slick offshore, and a huge brown cloud of smog covering the entire Los Angeles basin.

The Eisenhower Fifties were good for many people. Dad worked, mom didn’t have to, you could buy a home without getting an inheritance or an insurance settlement for the down payment. There was some crime but not a lot. Jobs were available. Inner cities had not yet deteriorated so much. Violence on the public schoolground was limited to fistfights. Peace and prosperity were on the land, and idealism had not yet died out.

For me, that idealistic flame started flickering when JFK was shot. I was in high school gym class, a senior in November 1963. Coach Vujovich called all the guys into the locker room and told us the President had been shot, we were to go to our homerooms and wait for instructions. Principal Golder came around to every class and told us we would be going home, the country was shutting down, doors were closing, everybody was going home. This was a watershed moment in history, they say that when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 it was the same, everything just stopped dead. I know that 9/11 had the same effect. For many, the deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy stopped their lives in the same way, though for me in 1968 I was dropped-out, travelling, and didn’t have a regular life to stop. But their deaths, along with the unending Vietnam war, snuffed out the candle of idealism for me and for millions of other people of my generation.

The land of the free and the home of the brave, constitutional rights, you have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney. Tell that to the Guantanamo detainees….

“Some will rob you with a six gun, some with a fountain pen.”
Woodie Guthrie