My Parents Called 1970 “Ugh, That Year”

The last date I had was a set up. According to our mutual friend, who arranged it, we were a perfect match.

The first thing I notice about my date is how seriously he takes his martini. His order comes with three instructions, and he warns the waiter he’ll be able to tell if any one of them hasn’t been followed. Why would anyone take liquor so seriously? (thought the woman who drinks wine out of a box). Or — to put it another way — this may be yet another man who won’t get me one bit.

He says, “I’ve just moved back to Baltimore after many years in Manhattan.”

I say, quietly, “I lived in Manhattan once, in the early 70s.”

“Oh?” I can tell I’ve interrupted his flow because his response is a bit snappy. Did I mention his ancestors may have traveled over on the Mayflower? Our first six minutes together have led me to this theory. “Where?” he asks but I can tell he’s just being polite.

“Upper West Side. “The Apthorp.”

“Really?” he perks up. He starts throwing out names — one of them famous — of people he knew at The Apthorp. He tells me he went to a few parties there. He orders another drink.

* * *

When Paul Goldberg said, “Wait!” on that sidewalk in Cortland NY, I turned back. And then I walked right into his life. By the evening he was making me tea and we were spilling our secrets.

His plan had been to go to Berkeley, where he felt he could do the most good. After two days of being together, we realized we couldn’t be apart. But there was a pragmatism to our love, too. We sensed my oh-so-new conversion to left-wing politics wasn’t ready for a cross-country move quite yet.

Over toast with grape jelly on our fifth morning together, we decided to relocate to Manhattan — where he’d grown up and his mother still lived. We’d stay with her until we found our own place.

My parents always referred to 1970 as “Ugh, that year.” I didn’t see their point until about 1980. One minute I was the usual college coed, asking for money and fibbing about grades, boys, and how I spent my time. Suddenly I was lecturing them about Huey Newton and male chauvinism. I called them to announce — with gravitas leaking from every pore of my body — my intention to leave school and move in with Paul.

Here’s where they landed: “Just understand you won’t be welcome home for Thanksgiving. Or Christmas.” After that my parents and I went to our respective corners and had a series of miserable conversations that went nowhere.

And soon after that, Paul and I emerged from the subway station at 79th and Broadway, and I took a look at my new home.

The Apthorp is an Italian Renaissance Revival beauty, taking up a whole city block. It comes with iron gates and limestone sculpture and a courtyard rimmed with trees and lamp posts. The men who stood guard at the entrance called Paul by name. The grandness of the place got more in focus the closer we got to his mother’s apartment. The elevator operator in a uniform. Fresh flowers. If I’d been paying more attention in Psychology class, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised that this grandeur spawned Paul Goldberg, Leader of the Revolution.

I kept rubbing my sweaty hands on my skirt as he opened the door for us, sure Paul’s mother was the kind of woman who shook hands when she met you. I was pretty sure she wasn’t a hugger. But maybe she was.

We waited. It seemed a while before she walked into the living room.

“And is this Linda?” She said my name as though she wasn’t sure she had it right. Pretty quickly I knew there would be no need for dry hands. I was not what she was expecting.

“I see you’ll be staying with us,” she said as she looked down at my luggage. “Perhaps my son might have let me in on the secret.”

And that was my welcome to the storied Apthorp building. This signaled the start of my attempt to climb into the bosom of Paul’s family since I was pretty sure mine would never talk to me again.

As I slept that night, ambulances careened up and down Broadway and woke me. I jumped every time. Paul told me I’d get used to it.

Love in the Revolution

What the student strike had in worthy causes — the escalation of the war and the killings at Kent State — it sometimes lacked in organization. With no cell phones and no social media, trying to mobilize people to their respective corners was a challenge. Each speech or every time 50 people walked in one direction on campus took on guerrilla importance.

I reported to my parents that I was learning more from teach-ins and caucuses than I’d ever learned in classrooms. This no doubt pleased them abundantly. They humored me, thinking it was a phase. I dug in harder, adding a new –ism to my vocabulary every few hours. Imperialism, paternalism, asceticism. You get the idea. I don’t think I yet knew the word “dilettante,” which might have slowed my roll a bit.

On the second day of the strike, tensions were high. More speeches. Much more chanting. Fewer peace signs, more angry fists in the air. I was taking a shortcut through the Old Main building and passed by the auditorium just as a loud eruption of applause came through the doors. I should probably know about this, I thought, not having any idea what this was.

Behind the podium was one of the strike leaders. I recognized him by his long curly hair, which I’d admired the day before. Whoever he was, he was igniting this crowd. His wire-rimmed glasses rested on his prominent nose as he spoke without notes. I thought he was brilliant, and — looking back — he may have been. One thing was clear. I’d never passed him in the hallway of a fraternity party.

During one of the audience’s loud chants and extended cheers, I asked the person next to me if she knew his name.

She said “Paul Goldberg” as if maybe I’d spent the semester in a cave.

A couple of days later, Cortland — knowing it had lost control of all the students now yelling, “Strike! Strike! Strike!”  — announced it would close early for the semester. And, in triumph, everyone began making arrangements to leave campus and travel to other places and be radical and revolutionary in locales that mattered more.

I set out to meet Paul Goldberg before he left town.

I was walking downtown when I spotted him a block away. If that sounds one single bit coincidental, it was not. I believe the latter-day word for what I did is classified as stalking, about which there are now laws in place.

He was alone. I began to follow him. I was rehearsing opening lines when he turned onto a residential street. It looked like the part of town Paul Goldberg would live in. A little seedy, but he might call it “being with the people,” or any number of phrases I thought he might say. Then suddenly he took another turn. I realized he was walking to the door of his apartment.

He was five steps away from being gone forever.

“Excuse me.”

He turned, and there I was. All at once I could tell this was new territory for Paul Goldberg. My guess is that never in his life had the pretty blonde girl who dated lacrosse players moved in on him quite so aggressively. Or moderately aggressively. Or at all.

“I just wanted to tell you that I was in Old Main when you were giving your speech the other day. And it was the greatest speech I’ve ever heard.”

It wasn’t much but it was all I had. Specifics or critique would have just gotten me in trouble. I went with the broad stroke.

He was wide-eyed.


“Well, that’s it really.” I paused a bit but his mouth was still slightly open, and he didn’t look like he was going to say anything more.

“So, uh, have a good day,” I said as I turned and started back toward Main Street.

With every step I was silently saying, Please Please Please Please. Please, Paul Goldberg, this is our last chance to be together until the end of time. Say something.

“Wait a minute!”


[Up next Thursday: The Phone Call That Didn’t Go Well]

It was 1970. I Was Late to the Revolution

My sophomore year in college continued in the tradition of my freshman year. Socially, I was golden. Academically, I counted on short bursts of manic studying with equal parts dumb luck and using my charm whenever I could. By spring, I was squeaking by. Barely.

I looked like the same girl who had arrived on campus two years before. My wardrobe of choice was one of the miniskirts my mother had made me, a matching headband, and a blouse I was sure rendered me “cute.” I slept every night with my hair in rollers so big it was amazing I didn’t throw my spine out of alignment.

April 30, 1970, at the tail end of sophomore year, I decided to get serious about grades. This Hail Mary maneuver happened every semester, but I sensed I was in more trouble than usual. I was studying. But then I got hungry and walked to the Student Union for a slice of pizza.

There was a crowd fixated on the television there. I couldn’t see the screen.

“What is it?” I asked the person next to me.

“Nixon just invaded Cambodia.”

Lots of short sentences have changed the course of my life. “Let’s get married,” was one. “You’re pregnant,” was one. “Try it,” was one.

“Nixon just invaded Cambodia” is up there with all of them.

Here’s where I go off on a little tangent about my generation’s place in history. This is what makes Baby Boomers annoying to anyone who came before or after us. But the truth is, when we were teenagers, so much came shooting at us all at once. Things gave way.

The war had been going on since we were in junior high school. Most of us knew someone — or knew someone who knew someone — whose life had been thrown into utter chaos because of it. Some had a closer view of the loss. Some were the lost.

All of this happened: Four girls killed in a Birmingham Church. Protestors crossing the Pettus Bridge. Goodman, Schwerner, Chaney. The March on Washington. Stokely Carmichael rose up and shouted “Black Power” for the first time.

My senior year in high school witnessed the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and then Robert Kennedy nine weeks later. Trusting the universe, something 1950s kids were really good at, became harder to do.

And as women, the role we’d been taught to believe was coming our way was not coming our way, it turned out. We would not get married weeks after college graduation. We would not become housewives and have babies in our early 20s, the way our mothers had. And we’d have a lot more sex. Our mothers did not like that part at all. So we felt jubilant some of the time and guilty the rest.

As soon as Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia that night,  several groups — all with differing agendas — started forming outside, loud and angry. They ranged from “America, Love it or Leave it” to a less structured group chanting “Drop Acid, Not Bombs!” And a few in between, with messages harder for me to glean. It was a political smorgasbord. I had a lot of catching up to do.

In the next few days, I listened to speeches and read as much as I could. I irritated friends by lifting slogans, sometimes complete paragraphs, from works I didn’t fully understand. I wrote my parents terrible letters about how horrified I was that we were middle class. My mother wrote back: “Would you rather be upper class or lower class?” and I screamed at her into the phone that she’d missed the entire point — in fact she missed every point of my entire life.

Cortland, like almost every campus in America, had upended. We were officially on strike. I had a fleeting moment of worry about my grades. As always, I’d been counting on a miraculous showing during exam week to carry me through. Finals wouldn’t happen now.

I had to put aside childish worries, like grades or what my parents thought. I had more serious commitments now, a revolution to join. I jumped. No parachute.

[Next Thursday: Love in the Revolution]