Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mr. Fred's Dream

The video is a cover of “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” from the Freewheeling album.  Of all things, the original doesn’t seem to be up on YouTube.  (Just an alternate take that should have been taped over long ago.)  This cover seems to be by Dario Piccarreta.  I have no information about him, but he has a great name and does a very good, respectful job on the song.

But this is my dream!  My friends!  Our old lives!  I wax nostalgic myself sometimes.

Through my late teens and twenties I was lucky enough to be part of a group of close friends.  I made a list, fifteen of us.  A couple of them on the list were outliers in general, but close friends of mine, and I decided to include them. Everybody knew them; they knew everybody. 

There is no distaff side to the list; most of us had girlfriends, but many of them came and went and all of them were left out of the real shenanigans, more or less.  We were all born between 1947 and 1950.  I’ve been wondering: how did my friends and I fit into the traumas and the temptations of our era? 

Military Service

We were all prime-time for the Vietnam era draft.  Only five of us served time in the military, myself and four others.  Of the five, only two completed their tours without incident.  One in the Air Force, and one in the Navy.  Four years each. 

In my case, boot camp went fine, and I was posted to “the fleet.”  Before too long, the Navy decided that I lacked military bearing, or had failed to adjust to military life, or was possibly hostile to authority, some combination of those things.  I was given an Honorable Discharge and a plane ticket home.  They were decent about it; I’d never been in trouble.

Another friend had been drafted into the Army.  Although he had no formal education to speak of, the Army discovered at boot camp that his intelligence was off the charts.  They sent him to Army intelligence school.  He went through the school and was posted somewhere, but then his officers discovered that he, too, lacked military bearing, and had certainly failed to adjust to military life, and was probably hostile to authority as well.  I don’t think he made any trouble while he was in, but I’m pretty sure that he was given a General Discharge.  The Navy has more of a sense of humor than the Army.

A third friend was also drafted into the Army.  He got the more usual schedule:  boot camp; advanced infantry training; jungle school; Vietnam.  He was there for about six months before he got shot in the head.  He survived, but with life-long disabilities, including partial paralysis and epilepsy.  He’s made the best of it. In those days, they didn’t “discharge” seriously wounded soldiers, they “retired” them.  So they got retirement pay, and, in my friend’s case, 100% disability as well, with full meds.  I don’t think that they’re so generous anymore.

Of the other ten guys, seven were 4F.  A couple of those were legitimate, one with physical and one with psychological problems that had been clinically observed.  One guy was legitimately gay, and they noticed quickly and rushed him out, thanking him for his interest.  One might have just had his file marked, “oh, hell no.”  He was odd.  At least three went in loaded, exaggerated their drug use, and might have said that they were gay as well.  Anyone who ever tried that approach got the result that they were seeking, and I never heard of it ever coming back to haunt someone after that.

There were a few simple “no’s” on my list.  I don’t know how they did it, but they never went in.  It’s not like we really discussed these things. 


My gay friend has made as much of a success of “marriage” as any of us.  He’s still in a long-term relationship that began in 1973. 

Only three of the fifteen never married.  One, because death took him at age 22; another, because a terrible cloud came over him at about that age (he died relatively young, too); and the third because he just could never get the whole woman thing figured out. 

Six of us, including myself, have at least one divorce under our belts. The times of the first marriages were: six months; six months; two years; several years; ten years; and forty-four years.  (That last one is mine.)  Two were caused by general craziness; two by adultery (one by the husband; one by the wife); one by cocaine abuse; and my own by compassion fatigue on the part of my wife.

Four of my friends have gone on to very successful, long-term second marriages. 

Five of the fifteen have only been married one time, and are still married.  This all puts us, I believe, right at the heart of all of the statistics. 

Drugs and Alcohol

Let’s just say that my friends and I were not immune to the temptations of the times, and none of us were loath to participate. 

Three of my friends developed alcohol problems that they thought were problematic enough to join AA.  Two are still going to meetings, and one is sober on his own. A couple of my friends stopped drinking on their own, successfully.

A couple of others should probably have joined AA.  Let’s not put too fine a point on that one.  One friend has actually drunk himself to death. 

Our involvement with the so-called drug scene seems almost quaint by this time.  Only one of us went through a period when his drug use interfered with working.  He got over it, and was fine.  Only one of us became a regular user of cocaine.  He had a good income, and he worked in the music business.  That can be a dangerous combination.  He got over it, too, but only after his marriage had blown up.  He’s been fine ever since. 

Education and Career

I am the only one on the list that completed university.  (I later went on to get a JD and become a lawyer.) 

Two others on the list completed three years of college, which is worse than no years of college at all, because it proves to the world that you cannot sustain an effort. 

Everybody on the list did finish high school, at least. 

Only three of us went on to impressive careers.  One as a session drummer and drum teacher; one as a recording engineer; and one in the field of publishing. 

Another was an insurance adjuster, that’s a good, responsible job.  He worked at it for twenty-nine and a half years, and he was “laid off” a couple of months before his pension was to have vested.   Picked the wrong company to work for, unfortunately. 

I am not on the “impressive career” list.  Interesting, certainly, but hardly impressive. 

The rest of us have knocked around all of this time at one job or another.  For years, we had resumes that would mostly frighten prospective employers. I, and many others, settled down and began to perform well at some point.  By now, many of us are retired, one way or the other.  A few of us are on the “work until you die” program.  America these days is not a friendly place to get old.  I’m sure that I’m not the only one who wishes that I’d been born in Europe.

Mental Health

At least eleven of us were depressed, more or less.  There was one, and maybe two problems that may have been schizophrenia, one was clinically observed from an early age.  All of us learned to play the cards that we were dealt. 

In the absence of psychological issues, I’m sure that the group, as a whole, would have performed much better educationally and career wise.  My friends and I were a pretty smart group, but you’d never know it to add up the statistics. 

Are we happy now?  The survivors?  Maybe fifty-fifty.

But “survivors” has a nice ring to it. 

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