It rained and rained in the winter of 69.  Houses slid down hills; hills slid onto freeways.  A record at the time.  My car battery had died some time before, so I decided to walk the four or five blocks to a Safeway.

 black panterVenice, CA, in the winter of 69 was not a pleasant place to walk.  The canals stank.  The place I went to wash my clothes looked like it had been bombed, with huge holes in the wall and armed rent-a-cops protecting the premises.  Elderly Jews lived there and many minorities. As I walked I passed black men standing in vacant lots warming themselves over fires started in 20 gallon drums.  Black Panthers leaned against the walls of establishments.

I waited and waited for a break in the rain to walk back home; when it let up a little I decided to go, but I hadn’t taken a dozen steps when the paper bag with my goods in it ripped open from the wet.  Hot dogs, break, baloney, macaroni and cheese, and a broken bottle pickle relish.  Milk.  I didn’t have the strength to pick it up.  The bottom fell out of my little universe when the bottom fell out of that bag.

I went to a nearby phone.  I dropped a dime, then a quarter, got my mother on the phone and said I thought maybe I was in mental distress and maybe should come home for a bit.  She said yes come along.

Let’s see.  I was 23 by then.  I had received an NDEA Title Four, Defense Act Loan, to attend UCLA as a graduate student in literature.  It was a sweet deal; the first year you got money, and after that you were guaranteed support for the next three years, usually as a Teaching Assistant.  But by then I had stopped going to class because my car battery had died.  I had screwed up the quarter before and done poorly.

I found it hard to concentrate.  They had changed the rules for the draft.  For a while you got out of the draft if you went to grad school, but then they said you could have only one year of grad school and then you were eligible for the draft.  I had my physical and they said I was eligible.  In a matter of weeks my money from the government for that quarter would give out.  And that would pretty much be all she wrote.

I can still see that parking lot in my head.  The pay phone, shopping carts scattered around.  Maybe I had gone unconsciously to the grocery store to get to a phone; I didn’t have one in my place because phones cost money.

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