Hollywood. Sunset Strip. 1968. Indeed, Eight Miles High. The Vietnam War grew uglier by the day. Since January the nightly news rolled reel after reel of the Tet Offensive and the brutal American loss. In February, President Johnson, set on curbing draft deferments, made graduate students draft game.
My friend, Richard, greeted me at my Hollywood apartment. A half-smoked cigarette dangled from his mouth. “Anny! My bud!” We embraced. “That pig of a president,” he said.
“Well, hello to you too, Mr Smiley Face,” I retorted as Richard made his way to my second-hand sofa. “What’s got you fired up today?”
“He called for 50,000 more sacrificial lambs. I got to manage some acid down that redneck’s throat before my ass winds up in Nam.”
“You’re probably safe with that high number next to your name. Besides, there’s hope for an end to this war. Senator Kennedy announced today that he’s seeking a Democratic presidential nomination. He knows this war is wrong.”
“I don’t know. I got a bad feeling about all this. There is a whole lotta hate out there no matter how hard we try to make love happen. From where I sit, you know, a healthy and strong dude, and 20-years-old, I see it different,” Richard said, as he smashed his worn cigarette into the red ashtray on my worn and stained coffee table.
“No. We have to believe that peace can happen. It’s everywhere and we have to stand strong for it.”
“Hey you’re a chick. Sorry it’s not a put down Anny. You don’t have a draft card. You’ll never get one. If I don’t get back in school real quick my ass will be ordered to kill kids in the jungle, because the commie-kid is in the way of big oil investments in Vietnam.”
“What do you mean? I asked
“We want the oil back. That’s where it’s at. If they get the commies out of Nam, then they get the oil, and control our economy. So rednecks like Johnson keep the war going at the expense of lives like mine. I don’t mean shit to them.”
Richard went to the refrigerator and poured a glass of orange juice, sat on the floor, pulled a rolled joint from his half empty pack of Camels. He struck a match, sparked a joint and drew deeply. “Here, Anny, take a big hit. We’re going out tonight.”
“Cool the Strip is supposed to be rockin’ tonight. Canned Heat is playing the Whiskey. Let’s go, dude! I’m ready.”
By summers end, the optimistic wave of peace disintegrated. In April we witnessed Martin Luther King’s assassination. Like canned heat, riots raged. College campuses closed from the heat and anger of grief and protest.
In May, hope flickered when Robert Kennedy won his first primary, and peace talks opened in Paris. But in less than three weeks, a record number of GIs were killed in Vietnam. On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed in Los Angeles. Everything seemed lost. Evil won. Faith and trust lost their grip.
Richard was killed in Viet Nam a year later.
“1968. Canned Heat Explodes” is from a fictional manuscript I wrote decades ago. I post this now because I sense another time of employed desperate measures working against the United States.