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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2008/10/22
by Mike Gruenberg

On the Corner of 7th Avenue & 13th Street in NYC

In My Life

A friend of mine once told me that all the information he needed to know on how to get through everyday life was contained in two places. For simple daily facts that he could use in conversation, he turned to the information contained on the inside of the tops of Snapple Iced Tea bottles. Great refreshment and pertinent data, a virtual two-in-one deal. For more detailed lessons on how to cope with those annoying and not so annoying people in your daily interactions, an hour or two of watching Judge Judy on television each week would cover how to survive most of those situations. Little known facts combined with real life lessons was the secret combination to ensure success.

As John Lennon said, whatever gets you through the night really makes the most sense to me. We are the products of our own environment. Where we were born, who were our parents and the way in which we were brought up undoubtedly shapes the person you are today. More than that there are defining moments along the way that ultimately refines our views on coping and hopefully succeeding.

For me, coming of age in the 60s was both an extraordinary and difficult time. Young men and women were demanding and experiencing new freedoms that were unprecedented. On the other hand, our elders seemed reluctant to give us the freedoms we were demanding. Our fashions were different than what our parents expected us to wear. Our music, a symbol of the new society we were trying to create often made older people uncomfortable. We stood for civil rights, new politics and a feeling of change.

The first defining moment for me came in 1960 when John Kennedy ran for President. He was young, intelligent and expressed new ideas for our country. I remember that my mother, a naturalized citizen formerly from Austria was so taken with JFK that she volunteered to work for his election. Like many other young people at the time, I was impressed with Kennedys intelligence and his new way of thinking. The older politicians in Washington D.C. seemed old and stale when compared with Kennedy. The next defining moment came when Kennedy won a narrow election victory over Richard Nixon. It was a very close race, but young adults everywhere were energized by Kennedys Camelot presidency. It was a new age in America filled with great promise for its citizens and our allies led by this young Senator from Massachusetts.

With JFK at the helm, many Americans became involved in social and political issues more than ever before. I became active politically due to the influence of our young President. Of course, the next defining moment for me came just three years later when Kennedy was assassinated. All of the hope and promise was shattered on that gloomy November day in Dallas. I can categorically say that everyone in my generation can vividly remember where they were on the day JFK got shot.

While in college in the late 60s, I got a job at a Laundromat on the corner of 7th Avenue and 13th Street in Greenwich Village. It was a simple job. I was required to give change to the patrons so they could put their quarters in the machines. I also folded clean clothes; made sure the customers didnt overload the washers and counted up the receipts at the end of the night. We had a diverse group of customers which made an otherwise dull job a bit more palatable. The extra added benefit to the job was that I was in the middle of Greenwich Village, my new center of the universe. I saw new bands, heard new music, and listened to poets. I came in contact with hippies, political activists and whole host of people previously unbeknownst to me wearing bell bottoms and cool fashions who became my new friends. Even better, my dear friend Bobby from the old neighborhood had moved to NYC from Queens and lived right around the corner from the Laundromat. It was likely that after closing the Laundromat that we would go see Phil Ochs on Bleecker Street or Bob Dylan at the Night Owl or find a record store open til midnight. We would go to a the Village Gate or the Tin Angel and see up and coming new acts like the Blues Project or see this new young black guitarist named Jimi Hendrix at a place called Steve Pauls The Scene .I never saw them on the street or at the Laundromat, but we knew John and Yoko first lived in the Village when they came to NY. The Village represented a cornucopia of music, politics and art. The Village became my second home. Its sights, sounds and people helped shape my views of the world.

Intertwined with the music was the political action of the time. The U.S. was fighting an unpopular war in Vietnam and many of the young men and women in and out of college opposed the war. The Lyndon Johnson Presidency called for more bombings, a surge by present day terminology, but there was no end in sight and the U.S. was clearly losing the war at home and abroad. There were demonstrations against the war on my college campus as well as campuses and cities throughout the world. It was a difficult time, but we had hope because Robert F. Kennedy brother of JFK who had served as Attorney General was running for President. He was young, somewhat brash and openly feuded with Johnson. A new generation was quarreling with the old generation once again. There was not much love lost between Kennedy and Johnson. It was the young generation taking a stand against the older generation. RFK questioned the old way of doing things in Washington. It was again time for the old to make way for the young.

The next defining moments for me came pretty fast. First moment was when RFK won the California primary which put him in a great position to win the Democratic Partys nomination to run for President. The next moment came shortly thereafter when Bobby was assassinated at the same Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where he announced his primary victory. More moments came months later when peaceful anti-war demonstrators were savagely beaten by Chicago police outside the Democratic National convention. Politically, the years from 1960 1968 untimely saw the deaths of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, men who saw a vision of a better, safer and more harmonious America. There was an unpopular war that was being managed by an unpopular administration. People old and young were clearly frustrated and at odds with one another. It was the classic tug of young people dissatisfied with the old ways pushing for new thinking and constructive changes.

Over the years, I have moved on and raised a family and found a good job that has afforded me a comfortable life style. I am not as active politically as I once was, but more and more of my thoughts go back to those days in the 60s when I was more involved. Those thoughts returned to me recently while watching all the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. There are many similarities to todays political & social landscape in relation to the 60s. We were fighting one war then; we are fighting two unpopular wars now. Each Presidential candidate today has different views on how to finalize our struggles in those wars, much the same as we had in 1968 with Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy who differed with the Lyndon Johnson administration over the conduct of the war being fought at that time. The current administration has the lowest approval rating in history which is similar to the plight of Lyndon Johnson whose unpopularity forced him not to seek the Democratic Partys nomination for a second term in office.

It looks to me like the younger generation of today is once again at odds with the older generation; we are moving today at internet speed in our daily lives. We need to understand how to solve our current economic crisis with ideas geared to the world economy. There are serious questions that need serious answers. Whomever a person chooses to vote for on November 4th is a personal decision. I will not propose to tell anyone whom to vote for. I do recommend that ALL registered voters take the opportunity to vote on November 4th for the candidate of their choice. I can assure you that this veteran from the 60s will be pulling my lever of choice on that day.
Exercise your freedom to vote.

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