The news of the last few days has made me think of watching the U.S. bomb Iraq in 1991. I think I had a 19” TV in those days and no cable. I was living in a studio apartment on 7th avenue and Earll in central Phoenix that I referred to as my “cave” before there was such thing as a “man cave.” As the news broke, like many others, I was watching the footage of the huge blasts and streaming rockets in the nighttime sky over the middle eastern desert.
I was feeling thankful to be watching it on TV. In 1987, as I was about to graduate from high school, I did an early enlistment in the U.S. Army. I was signed up to go in for four years and when they offered to guarantee me a job, I chose airborne because I wanted to jump out of planes.
What the fuck was I thinking?
Looking back, I realize I was just putting off the inevitable decision of what I was going to do with adult life. I got caught up in this weird game I was playing with military recruiters and realized it was a viable option. I also realized that people I loved and respected were proud of me for opting to serve. It felt good to be a source of pride when I hadn’t felt that way in a long time.
Pride is a weird thing, even to this day, for me.
But I was there in my apartment watching the bombs fly and probably listening to the Butthole Surfers and enjoying one bong rip after another. The thought occurred to me that in another universe, I was there in Kuwait waiting to parachute my way into the fighting. Airborne were some of the first US troops to hit the ground and I would have been halfway through my last year of active duty.
In another universe, I could be missing a limb or two or be dead.
My cave, though, in 1991 was covered in posters. I had a big, dark comforter over the large picture window that faced west, as well as green fuzzy blanket over the east facing window in the kitchen. It could be dark in there in the middle of the day, and I loved it. Perfect place to watch bombs drop, right?
I may have even spent time listening to newscasters talk over the music and my bubbling water between taking shots at the nerf basketball hoop that was hung on the wall between my kitchen and the opening that led back to the bathroom. I loved shooting hoops in there. I spent hours playing nerf basketball in there by myself. Easily entertained, maybe, or just high on life and weed, and being 19, then 20, then 21 and living alone. It was kind of sports version of masturbation, I suppose.
The bombs dropped, though, and everyone freaked out. We were at war. Within a couple of days, I was on a plane to Oakland to scope out what would be my next home for a while. Berkeley, California was beckoning me. My high school friend, KJ, needed a roommate since her former roommate, Sarah, was moving into SF. Over Christmas break she asked if I was interested and I said I would have to check it out first, even though I knew I wanted to right away.
Phoenix was really offering me nothing at the time. I wasn’t in the right mindset to take Phoenix College seriously and my love life was in shambles thanks to my inability to truly commit to anyone at the time. I know now, of course, that I just hadn’t met the right person because my person was just about to turn 16 in those days and going to high school in Mesa. (Hello, dear.)
So, I got a deal from Southwest and flew to Oakland and back for $40. KJ picked me up at the airport and I went to Berkeley for the first time. I fell in love with the town almost immediately. Such an incredible vibe in those days (I’m sure the 60s were way better, but still), and the talk of war was in the air. We went to a pub called the Albatross and I met a bunch of KJ’s friends, and we talked about, you guessed it, how fucked up the USA was being. It was hippies and punks and a bunch of people in their early 20s who knew jack shit about how the world worked, but I loved listening and laughing with them.
The next day, there was a huge march in San Francisco to protest what was being called the Gulf War. KJ and a few other friends and I joined in the march, and it was pretty amazing to attend. I had never been part of anything like it. The drums were beating, and signs were everywhere denouncing Bush and it all culminated at the Federal building where Mickey Hart played and so did Joan Baez.
I spoke to Joan about that when I interviewed her in 2016 and she told me that it was one of the last times where she felt like the spirit of the 60s was still, in her words, “kind of alive.” Being part of such an emotional event had a positive impact on me wanting to be in the bay area, too, so I was hooked. I think I confirmed to KJ that night that I was going to become her roommate. I had the money, sort of, and knew that my grandparents would help me out, as well. My plan was solid, I thought, to get a job and then get back into school once I was a resident. I was on my way.
War had begun and you could watch it on TV. I don’t feel the same way about watching the Ukraine burn. It feels terrible. In 1991, it seemed kind of exciting but that was just the change I was about to experience in my life.
Another story to tell.
See you tomorrow.
Joan Baez from 1991. Sorry for stealing your picture, YouTube. Truly.