Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Nine
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 30, 2008
For all the 1970s media-hype about free love, guiltless sex, and non-nuclear families, and the ubiquitous peer pressure, the closest Sean had come to sex was a dry hump in the front seat of a borrowed car, and Sharon had only been trying to make her boyfriend jealous. He’d met her at a party with some of Kathleen’s friends in Frederick. They’d exchanged phone numbers. He’d called her, and arranged to meet her up there. He still didn’t have a car, so he took a Greyhound. The bus ride was pretty long from Baltimore to Frederick, but this woman seemed interested in Sean, and Sean was becoming increasingly frustrated by fate’s teasing. He found her house, but she had him wait outside. She said she didn’t want her father to know. She was borrowing his car. Sean drove and Sharon navigated. They drove around Frederick, Sharon had brought sodas with her. She also brought champagne glasses. She directed Sean to a closed storefront and had him park right in front, facing the street. Sean thought it strange, but here was this beautiful woman, dark-haired, brown-eyed, with a ready smile and, well, something in mind. She poured the soda into the glasses, but after a couple sips, she asked Sean if he wanted to make out. He put his glass on the dash; she did the same. They kissed. Sharon’s tongue was suddenly in Sean’s mouth and he tickled the base of it with the tip of his own. Kissing was something Sean liked. After a few minutes, his hand began roaming Sharon’s back and arms and neck. Sharon leaned into Sean, until he felt her weight on him and he leaned back against the door. He asked her if she wanted to get in the back seat, but she just pushed him all the way down and kissed him some more. Sean ran his hands under her blouse, and had both hands on her bra hooks when a flashlight beam knifed through the darkness, and the voice behind it wanted to know what they were doing. An odd question, considering that there was no mistaking what they were doing. The deputy shone his light in both faces, one at a time. Sean said, “We were just parking for a little bit, officer.” The deputy played the light around the car, taking in the glasses on the dash, but he didn’t even ask if they were drinking, or how old they were. He simply said, “Well, you’ll have to move on. You can’t park here.” So they drove away down the main street.
“What now?’ Sean asked. “I know a place we can go,” Sharon said. They drove out of town up into the hills. She had Sean stop the car in a clearing off the road in the woods. It looked like a make-out spot. “You’ve been here before?” he asked her. “Yes,” she told him, “With my boyfriend.” “You have a boyfriend? Sean asked, surprised. “Yes”, she said. “In fact,” she said, “that was him back there.” “The cop?!” he squeaked. “Well, he was my boyfriend,” she said. Sean’s mind woke up: Now I get it. The whole thing had been a plan to get caught. To make her boyfriend see her with someone else, to make him jealous. The champagne glasses, parking in plain sight of the highway. She must have known he’d be along.
They sat in silence for awhile. Sean pulled her over and kissed her some more. He opened her blouse. He kissed her shoulders and neck. This bra has to go, he thought. He popped her bra open, and pulled it down, exposing the pale flesh in the weak moonlight. He reveled in the sight and kissed her nipples. They were strangely, to Sean, stiff and hard. He ran his hand along her back into her jeans. Just then a car engine roared up the steep hill, and headlights lit up the underside of the trees around them. They froze. Sean was nervous, and Sharon sat up, clutching her chest, then pulled her bra up and closed her blouse. Sean was thinking about being arrested for public indecency or something. He had no idea what Sharon could be up to. Was this her ex-boyfriend? Was she expecting him to fight me or something? The other car turned in a small circle and left, and they sat there like that for a few moments. They drifted back down onto the seat. Sharon rubbed her crotch against Sean’s. Sean’s penis was erect alright, and Sharon pushed against it. Sean could feel her slit through his pants. He kept trying to get her blouse off, but she pushed his hands away. Sean popped the button on her jeans and started to open them, but Sharon had had enough by then. “Let’s just go home, OK? She said. She drove Sean back to the bus station in silence. Sean didn’t know what to say. He kissed her, but her lips were closed, and taut. He took the long ride home in the dark night, back to Baltimore, watching the houses slip by, with lights in the windows. Lots of activity in some of those houses, he thought, and felt more lonely than ever.
After two and a half years of taking night school classes, Sean decided that he would never finish that way. He had only now finished his freshman year. He had been saving money, but it wouldn’t be enough to live on. He applied to the state university anyway, and hoped he could find a way. When he told his boss, Dr. Lyon, he had said, “Don’t you worry about it, Sean. I know how important school is to a young man like you. But tell me, do you think that you could continue working on a part-time basis?”
“I don’t know,” Sean answered, “How many hours?”
“Well now, I think that’s up to you. Would you want to work after school, or on the weekends?”
“On the weekends, mostly.”
“Fine. If I really needed you, could you come in on a weeknight too once in a while?”
“Yeah, I mean, yes, I think I could.”
“Good, that’s fine. Let’s see – what are you making now?”
“Four dollars an hour.”
“I think six dollars an hour would be a good rate. That’s like time-and-a-half. That’s what you’re really doing when you work during non-regular hours.”
“Great,” Sean said, beaming, “Six dollars is fine,” and he knew that he could make it now. Six dollars an hour was a lot of money to a twenty-one year old in 1971. He was admitted to the University of Maryland, transferring in as a sophomore. He was elated.
The campus, however, was not close to his apartment, or his job. He commuted by bus, but he was unhappy with that. The trip took from between fifty and seventy minutes to cover a ten mile distance, and it was time wasted, he decided. I’m not getting anything done. I can’t study on the bus, and I can’t stand sitting down anymore. I need to get off my butt.
Sean had just spent two and a half years planted in a big wooden chair in the Physics lab, and studying would now mean that he’d spend all his time sitting. One day he walked to school, but that took way too long, and besides, he was exhausted by the time he got home. Then he decided to get a bicycle. It had been a long time since he’d ridden one. His previous bicycle had been stolen when he was thirteen. He took a bus to a store five miles away – bicycles were not all that popular at the time – and rode a brand new Schwinn Suburban ten-speed home to his apartment.
He wished he hadn’t. Halfway home his legs felt so weak, he had to get off and rest on the City High School lawn. He was wheezing, and his heart was pumping a little too hard, or so he thought. Before long, however, that bicycle was his constant companion. He felt more alive, using his own leg-power, and not adding to the polluted air he was breathing.
He started pedaling to the theater, to movies, or to local demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. He didn’t have much of a love life, but he sure as hell had transportation.
I can go anywhere, he thought. Just how far could I go? To California? Canada? Shit! I might still need to do that if I’m drafted. I should travel, see the country, other cities. Man! To swim in clean rivers, camp in the mountains, see the canyons and forests, that would be my version of real happiness.
However, he usually had to fight his way through herds of buses, semi’s, beetles, caddies, mustangs, and vettes on his way to and from school – in a cloud of fumes, greasy air and soot. He was not happy about that, but he had other things to worry about over the next couple of years.
The war was not over yet. He could still be drafted. People were still being killed wholesale. He wanted to do more than walk in demonstrations and yell at the President. In the previous decade, Universities had been the scene of violent protests and strikes against the military and war profiteers. He’d only read about it, and seen it on the news. He wanted to do something before people forgot that the war wasn’t over yet, even though the President kept repeating his four-year-old promises to end it soon.
He talked to other students about the war. Some of them felt the way he did. He decided to organize a teach-in. He’d been to plenty of them at the University where he worked, and he thought it was still a good idea.
He wrote a short article for the school paper calling for a meeting to make plans, but only six people showed up. It’s enough, he decided. “Let’s do something,” he told them.
The others were new to this kind of activity, having just left high school. But, they all wanted to get in on the protests they’d missed in the Sixties. “I think we should call for a boycott of classes,” Lynn suggested.
“We need leaflets,” Michael said.
“And movies, and speakers,” Sean suggested.
Sean went to teachers he knew would be sympathetic and asked them to print up the leaflets. He called the American Friends Service Committee and asked them for movies about the war. The others posted the leaflets and talked to their friends. Mike arranged space to show the movies, and Lynn got approval to use the central mall for speeches. An English teacher brought a lectern and a microphone – Sean knew she would help, she didn’t use The Prison Letters of George Jackson in her classes for nothing.
Sean went to class as usual on the morning of the teach-in. The activities wouldn’t start until noon, and he had a Genetics lab to do first.
The lab assistant, a Biology grad student, came over to Sean while he was finishing up. He knew what was being planned, and he knew who had started the whole thing. “So, are you still going on with it?”
“Yeah,” Sean said, “Of course.”
“Do you really think it will do any good?”
“I don’t know, I certainly hope so. I have to do something.”
“You know, you really should decide what’s important.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, are you going to run around yelling and screaming about something you can’t do anything about, or are you going to study Genetics?”
Sean looked at him for a minute. What is he telling me? he wondered. And why? “I have to do both,” he finally said, and he left to go join the students already gathered on the mall.
“Nixon said he had a secret plan to end this war,” the first speaker said, “and he was elected twice now. The war is not over. He says he’ll bring the troops home, but every time he does, he sends over another warship with twice as many men. His “secret plan” was the carpet bombing of Hanoi, and the mining of Haiphong harbor. He used his end-the-war promise just to get elected, and then he used it again. He’s a liar.” The small crowd cheered. Sean went inside to check on the movies.
“Hey Sean,” Michael asked, “Can you run the projector for awhile? This movie’s about over, and I’ve got some other things to do.”
Few people stayed for the next movie. By the time Sean rewound the first one, and got another one loaded in the projector, only four people were left.
He stopped one of the people as he was walking out the door. “How come you’re leaving?” he asked him.
“Aw, hell, we’ve seen all this before.”
“But,” Sean insisted, “that’s the whole point. It’s still going on.
“Well, I’m not going to have to go there.”
“Our tax money is being used to keep a corrupt dictatorship in power. We’re paying for the weapons, the tanks, the helicopters, the napalm. Don’t you think that’s important?” Sean asked, but the guy just turned and walked away.
The crowd thinned out at the rally by the time Sean shut the projector down. An Anthropology professor was calmly discussing the effects of war on society when Sean went outside. Most people weren’t listening. I thought he would be great, Sean thought, He sounded so enthusiastic in class. Thank God it’s almost time for this to be over.
Sean gathered his books, and started his long ride home through traffic. Maybe that guy was right. Maybe it was all a waste of time, a waste of energy. He brooded about the teach-in for a few minutes, but the effort of pushing the pedals and straining his thighs to keep his speed up with traffic brought his mind back to the joy of physical exertion. There was clear road ahead of him. Cool air caressed his sweaty forehead as he leaned into his bike, becoming one with it, pushing it harder, faster.