Tuesday, December 19, 2017

It's Not Even Past #4 - Drugs and The Godfather - Introduction

So when I was a wee college lad, my Bubbie came to dinner with my family after a relatively decent performance by my University choir of Carmina Burana at Angelico's, the gloriously shitty Mediterranean food place near campus. When we were at dinner, she met my closest friend in college, his roommate who is now probably my closest friend in Baltimore, his roommate's girlfriend who is now his roommate's wife and one of my closest friends in Baltimore, and his ex-girlfriend who is my former flatmate and still one of the roommate and his wife's closest friends.

Bubbie was 84 at the time, she's now 97 and looks younger than any of us. And to stay so young for so long, she must have a mission, and her mission is her curiosity. She wants to know what makes people tick, she wants to understand what it's like to be people completely unlike her, and she can sit fascinated for hours with people she's never met as they speak about their experiences. And it therefore came as no surprise to me when she said, with absolute confidence and fascination:


So picture Bubbie in 1972, Bubbie is turning fifty-two, she's just moved into the vaguely upper-middle-class house she still owns two years before, which she bought from Maryland's Governor, Marvin Mandel, who had to put his personal holdings into a blind trust while in public office. Mandel was the same age as Bubbie, and only died two years ago. Five years later, Mandel would be convicted for racketeering, and after a few appeals he would spend 19 months in prison before President Reagan commutes the sentence.

Zaydie has just retired from thirty years as an engineer the Defense Department, most of them as a missile specialist at the Pentagon. His great moment of glory was at the very beginning of his career when he made a discovery that led to the invention of the radio controlled Smart Bomb. My father say always introduced him as 'This is my father-in-law Morris Witow, he killed millions!'

The Witows were one of the final Jewish holdouts of Forrest Park, the thoroughly middle Jewish neighborhood of West Baltimore documented in four different Barry Levinson movies. During the '68 Baltimore riots, the National Guard would ride my grandparents home from their jobs in a tank. I will not describe the long and terrifying campaign of harassment perpetrated against them as Jews to leave this newly African-American area forever, but it is more than enough to explain the hard turn toward conservatism of my mother's family, who used to be full of Communists. To this very day, in true Baby Boomer fashion, the Tucker marriage of 1505 Woodholme Avenue is still re-litigating the Vietnam War 43 years into a marriage that began just before the Fall of Saigon.

Richard Nixon is still President, and as my father would tell me with just a hint of apocrypha, there was a picture of Nixon in every room of the Witow household, while in the Tucker house there were pictures of Richard Nixon on the toilet paper. The Vietnam War is raging, and more importantly for this too intellectually abstract family, the debate about the Vietnam War is raging. My father is just wrapping up his PhD at the University of Chicago with its options for a front row seat at the 1968 riots and the lectures of relatively legendary thinkers like Hannah Arendt, Milton Friedman, Leo Strauss, Saul Bellow, Alan Bloom, Hans Morgenthau, Bruno Bettelheim, Edward Shils, and William McNeill. In addition to the Yiddish, English, and Hebrew, of his youth, he learns fluent Romanian, French, German, and Italian. In 1969, he'd gone to research Romanian history in Bucharest while Caucescu is still consolidating his power in the wake of the Prague Spring - his research considered germane enough by the US military that he easily obtained a Vietnam draft deferment and even if the Romanian government followed his every movement as they did every Westerner, they would not dare keep him out.

And yet, being in the very eye of the intellectual hurricane of his time, he looked around, shrugged, decided that most of these charismatic teachers and students were bullshit artists, and went home to marry my mother and help run his father's business in Pikesville.

The Vietnam War was never the catalyst of the Sixties, it was only the Sixties' most obvious symptom. The Sixties were about the meaning of liberty, and we are all, right and left, its rebellious children. The Sixties   part of the ideological spectrum is now reacting to its abuses.

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