I was born in a time (after WW II, the year between 6/47 and 6/48) that still holds the record for most births ever, in a given year’s span. It was the second Great Generation come to America, right in succession. Others would follow, each with increasingly elaborated and complex through-lines. But in the fifties and sixties, at first, shit was pretty simple.
I grew up, the eldest of three brothers, in a military family, albeit one less regimented than loving and fun. Both my parents had been in combat through four years of the War: Mom as an Army Nurse in a mobile evacuation (tent) hospital, Dad, second command of the 1st Recon Troop, attached to the 1st Infantry Division (Patton’s). They met early, in North Africa, as that campaign was winding down, and after corresponding vigorously (mail took six weeks) the next four years--having one weekend leave together in Paris (after Anzio (Mom) and D-Day (Dad), just before the final hard push across Germany--and at the end, near Berlin, they found their units once more conveniently juxtaposed.
After returning to the States, they were married eighteen months later, in Jan. ‘47, the same week my Dad’s divorce from a pre-war hometown arranged marriage became final. Dad managed to stay with the Army (doing another year in combat, in Korea, in ‘51) until I was a senior in high school. By then, we had already moved twelve times, twice after only a year, usually it was three. This was the literal bane of my existence. First, Going (which followed a prior Leaving), then, Leaving again, this over and over. Both were agonizing. I started smoking at 12, as one does, to cure the ache. AM radio was ruling America with its pop rock and roll, every teenager in town in every big-finned car, leaping to life as one to the opening sounds of their favorite songs. Football was king. Things were about to change forever.
I was one month shy of my 16th birthday when the Beatles landed in America. What timing. You had to be there. Suffice it to say, King Football’s crown was lost overnight to the new king, Guitar, still reigning, to this day. I was a mediocre football player, but simultaneously, a mediocre guitar player. So I was ready. But not for being torn from the pinnacle of my high school career, to spend a dull senior year in Florida. I drew solace from the fact that a racy trio of senior girls had determined from heated after school research sessions, conducted all year, that it didn’t seem likely they’d ever again be kissed the way, they all agreed, it was with me. They were expecting life-long disappointment consequently, in that regard, and I expect they found it. I banked that distinction for the long haul. Nothing could take that away.
Halfway through college, I still lacked the faintest shred of ambition towards anything I could imagine, so I was pointed in the direction of Navy Flight School, the military’s elite. They take the selection process so enormously seriously, understandably, that they spend a year checking you out. By the time they called me, the Navy had receded so far into the recesses of my former self, I can barely remember a single thing that was said. One thing I remember is: I had just turned on the black light over the Hendrix poster and lit a joint when the phone rang. The caller sounded exuberant. I remember that. So, they did think I was a worthy candidate; had been, actually, would say it better. In any case, I explained that I’d been busted for selling two ounces of pot to a peripheral friend, who’d been flipped and set us up. Now, I was awaiting trial, facing fifteen to life. Click.
But, happily, I beat that bad rap; the dirty coppers had barged in, guns waving, failing to show us the search warrant first.
I dropped out of FSU, starting my last semester, due to the bust before finals prior. I never did get a Bachelor’s degree, although I have a Master’s now (an MFA in Poetry) for which I’d turned myself in to the IRS (as a contract worker non-filer, for ten years, I owed them a bunch) in order to get the tax return I needed apply for another school loan. I finally knew what I wanted to be now, when I grew up (I was almost 50). I had set out after college to fill the potential of my striking aptitude for psychedelics (LSD, etc.) There was going to be a real need for people like me. I moved to southern California near the end of ‘68. Laguna and great LSD (Orange Sunshine, 250 mics, take two, so fresh it steamed up the baggies it sold from, a dollar a hit), were but 12 miles south down the coast highway at the Taco Bell, just across Hwy 101 from the Mystic Arts Bookstore.
I came back to Florida with updated plans of moving to this wildass commune in the woods of Vermont that had a Forest Wizard, who claimed to be a yogi from a hundred years ago. He’d show you the photograph, and there was a some resemblance. I spent the summer there, cycling between losing my girlfriend and regaining her again, etc. I went to Woodstock from VT, and that winter, I was more surprised than I should have been, when I got drafted, ordered to report for a physical, which if passed would lead to immediate induction into the US Army. I returned to Florida and buckled down to somehow beating the draft. I had returned their original form filled in in orange crayon, claiming to be a subversive anarchist, which, though I was strictly an amateur, was totally true. I was by now far from Army material (this a year after getting picked for Navy Flight). The draft board came back with a vengeful and emphatic 1A, which stood for cannon fodder, as in, induct ASAP.
But I wasn’t done yet. It wasn’t until the final can’t miss physical, imposed on me again, that I saw all my desperate efforts had come to nothing. Then, a miracle was bestowed, at the last station, leading to the bus to induction, my urine showed traces of protein, whatever that means. What it meant to me was a six month deferment. It was the boost I needed to escape their clutches for good; they were beginning to reconsider what kind of men they were looking for. I returned to the commune in VT and stayed 24 more years, till ‘95. During that time, I returned to school, at UVM, studying Calculus and Computer Science, clocking a 3.89 GPA over three semesters, then dropping out again well prior to any sight of a degree. But that eventually became a programming job, working with a crew of my hippie friends, one of whom had a friend in unsuspecting IBM International. That was really good money for about ten years, the only I ever made, except for the next job, a one year stint spent commuting to Boston for three days at a span, working from home the rest. Laid off, I worked two hard winters outside, in a parking lot at the hospital, for minimum wage. By then I had moved to town and fathered another daughter. She’s about to graduate college and I still live there, where I’ve been seriously making Art since 2008, mostly non-stop and around the clock.
Rick Skogsberg (Ricksko), 2018