Goddess of the Sixties Print
Essays and Memoirs

Brigitte_Bardot_Swinging_Sixties_7897874(Cimarron Review Number 103, April 1993)

During the flowering of the sixties, in my suburban Kirkwood, Missouri, high school, I was carried away with lust and devotion for my female classmate, Jan Will. Blessed with an invitation for a name, Jan was a stunningly gorgeous girl whom I discovered the first week of tenth grade. For most of my high school years, an uncontrollable passion for her occupied my body as intently as that Beatles’ anthem to male fantasy, “I Saw Her Standing There,” rocked my boot heels, spread to my loins, and settled inside to gestate like Rosemary’s Baby. “She was just seventeen, if you know what I mean, and the way she looked was way beyond compare.” Elvis Presley, our other idol, once said of rock-and-roll music, “I don’t know how to explain it, but when I hear that beat, I just got-tah move. I can’t help it.” Like the King, I couldn’t help it either. I had to have her.

I wanted Jan to be my girl, sexy and demure, like those she-wolves of erotic myth, Barbarella and Bridget Bardot, like those brides of saintly forbearance, Jackie Kennedy and June Cleaver. That Jan had both virtues (a lot more Eros than saint) as well as neither of them (she was also herself), I will enlarge on in a moment. But my portrait begins with male biology. The sixties, like the repressive fifties, handed its teenage boys an ineluctable predicament: We fell for girls with lusty looks whose boyfriends insisted they stay desirous and untouchable.

Jan was everything I desired in a teenage girl. Shy, sweet, pretty; provocative, bold, alluring. Her clothes echoed the duality—papery white blouses, ruffled and airy, and tight black mini-skirts. Sensible flat shoes, shaved legs and no hose. Her skin was pale white, patient and pure; her hair was blonde, long and luxurious. She struck a pose with every move—every step, every stand, every stare. She was statuesque, with long legs and arms, but full-fleshed, full-proportioned, nothing gangly. Beautifully attractive, she must also be sexually active, I thought. (Alas, I was not.) Her boyfriend, Chuck Dobbs, seemed constantly aroused. Had they gone all the way? Maybe, maybe not. They must have gone part way, I hoped. A girl as sensuous as Jan had to be felt.

Much of my fantasy for Jan I got vicariously through Chuck, her steady beau. Chuck was a very tough but not very bright rebel with a red ’62 Corvette. I never saw him carry a book in school, only his car keys, which dangled on a thick ring from his belt loop. Attached to the ring was a beaver’s tail and, with studied nonchalance, Chuck could be seen stroking that fur-piece every day at three, waiting by the front doors for Jan to get out of class. I knew it was Jan’s sexual mystique coupled with an obedience to him that had Chuck looking dazed all the time. No doubt the colossal responsibility of maintaining their slow-burning passion weighed heavily on him. Marriage was impossible until she graduated. It must have been a bitch, owning Jan Will, luscious body and soul.

Part of Chuck’s appeal to Jan grew, ironically, out of his most notorious and regular act—smoking in the lavatory. Most mornings before the bell, Chuck struck the first match in the cafeteria boy’s room. When his hand-picked lookout spotted The Dart, always pronounced The Dart, the name given to our creepy vice-principal who stalked us in his Hush Puppies, the lookout shouted his name and tsssss the urinals resounded as the cigarettes flew in. Most smokers fled, but Chuck took his time, just so he could be nabbed, butt-in-hand. It was rumored that Chuck loved challenging The Dart with, “Smoking, yeah. What’s it to-ya? You got a problem with that?” Getting busted made his day. I recall several times during first period when we heard, coming down the hall, his heel-toe taps click-click click-click click-click like a siren, waxing and waning in intensity. Kicked out, headed to the parking lot, he’d walk by Jan’s classroom and signal her with a long stare. She’d sigh faithfully. Out front, his car would roar on, rev up, and rumble away in the distance. But he was back at three. To pick up Jan.

That churlish attitude toward the brass ran deep in Chuck, who at eighteen was still in tenth grade. Screw Your Goddamn Rulz, I read once on the front of his pocket notebook. He had balls, crazy balls. Chuck was the guy who put rubbers on the salt-and-pepper shakers in the lunchroom and waited to howl at The Dart who, shit-faced with embarrassment, had to peel them off. Chuck was the guy who fisted a jaw when he found any kid detaining Jan after sixth period. Chuck was the guy who stared at the sunken chest of a female science teacher until the woman broke down, had him removed, and took off a few days herself to recover from his burning X-ray vision.

Such defiance, backed by his faithful return to school for his girl, was the way to Jan’s heart. And Chuck, born with one mission in life, happened to have gotten to her first. Did she love him? Was love their compulsion? Love wasn’t exactly the word then. The sensibility was subtler, or pathetically obvious. The consequence of falling in love was not being in love. It was being devoted to each other. And staying devoted—going steady—meant one floated through the halls from period to period possessed of the other, buoyed by the tightrope walker’s umbrella of true love. Walking together, holding hands, stealing kisses, waiting patiently. Fawning and longing, with or without the other. That was the drama that played so well in senior high. I’m yours, you’re mine. Inseparable, for all time. Jan and Chuck seemed to symbolize girl/boy adhesive love for our class. There were understudies, such as Betty and Ralph, who for three years wore each other’s matching rings on matching necklaces, or Frankie and Billie, whose interminable togetherness was the constant source of their quibbling. But Jan and Chuck, together or apart, embodied high-school devotion and the promise of its sexual reward.

Thus, Chuck, aroused and ravished by Jan, mirrored the male mating ache. Given half a woman of Jan’s ilk we boys would devote every waking minute to her just as he did. How we wanted to ache from love as Chuck did, and not to ache for it.


For me and dozens of other boys galvanized by Jan’s magnetic effect on Chuck, it meant in part that we needed to rise to his level of delinquency in order for any devotion-hungry girl to take us, as suitors, seriously. (This, more than anything, explains why young males act out their frustrations.) I took exception, however. There were very few girls in school like Jan, none half as fine, whom I wanted to pursue. Nor did I want to compete with other guys to get lucky with one of those few attractions—join after-school clubs, go to parties, spend hours on the phone conversing with sexy Sandy Frank about how to pass driver’s ed. No thanks. Titanically unaware (what teenager isn’t), I was actually struggling to break free from the invisible we, which in part explains my private obsession for Jan. I had decided that we was they in hi-skool. A muck of conformity, a bog of Joneses. The word we meant invisibility. Fuck we. All that mattered was that Jan Will desire me.

I tried to get her to want me with a few schemes, mostly imaginary but nonetheless real. Beginning with eleventh grade, I was ecstatic finally to have a class with her. Day one, I sat with a row between us, not directly across from her but one seat back so I could angle my stare at her. I started with staring and thought she liked such attention. As often as not I received a modest smile from her; one of these every other day was all it took to convince me something was pos­sible. Though I still couldn’t speak to her directly, I communicated my love during class through a system of throat noises. I’d cough and she’d follow, a guttural recognition from the queen that I existed. These were lusty growls, confused stutters, urgent hacks, laconic moans—whatever mirrored my mood. Their expressive quality was seldom left unmatched by Jan.

Unless I coughed on too long, in which case she’d be silent and I’d have to wait until the next day, I imagined such talk said, You’re special, Tom, or, I know you’re there just in case Chuck gets locked up. I had no plan to rival the great Chuck Dobbs. But if only she knew me, knew me tenderly, intimately, maybe . . . sigh.

Even though most of my sighing maybes centered on sex, the truth was, I fantasized Jan both a virgin and not a virgin, conquerable and experienced. Maybe she had resisted Chuck from the beginning and that’s why he clung to her so desperately. In any case, after a few moans between us in class, I took this sweet image to bed: She would slowly undress, not acknowledging me yet aware of my presence, while I watched through a crack in the door. I shook under the covers like a rocket at take-off. My mental picture easily surpassed Playboy.

Another way I imagined I kept her attention was by tracking her movements across our thirty-acre campus comprised of twenty-four hundred students. I took roundabout walking paths from class to class so that I might steal a look at her, and she at me. She did notice me more than once, and more than once a week, so I kept at it. One day, approaching our usual synchronized passing, I came to the propped-open door of our tyrannical home-ec teacher, Mrs. Brownmueller. Brownmueller would, unpredictably, take a girl aside and, with a yardstick, measure her skirt from its edge to just below the knee, showing the lass exactly the number of inches by which she had violated the dress code. Thus, when the halls were packed between periods, Brownmueller would reward the female offender with a Salem-like spectacle. That morning, Brownmueller had already plucked Jan out and, when I came by, my love was up against the door. Hundreds were filing by, gawking in disbelief. One or two laughed. I winced because Jan was mortified. She kept trying to leave and Brownmueller kept pressing her back, pushing on her stomach. Suddenly, the big woman slapped Jan’s hand, and everybody stopped. Stunned. Would they fight? Would Jan strike back? My God, I thought, her skirt was only the style, not a personal impropriety. We wanted her—no, to hell with we!—I wanted her to dress that way. So did Chuck. She dressed that way for Chuck and me, you flea-brained bitch! But Brownmueller didn’t hear a word of my protest; she pressed on, holding that stick straight up and down and pulling the skirt down, saying, “Come on! Lower girl, lower.” Only one problem: It wouldn’t go any lower.

By now Jan was crying and her make-up was running and students and teachers were shoving in closer and closer and I was feeling sick and wanted out of there. I wanted to save her but I had to breathe; I retreated. Later the story was on everyone’s lips. Jan survived, apart from the humiliation, because her father threw a fit at Mr. Duchek, the principal, screaming that his daughter had been shamefully terrorized in front of the entire school. Duchek spoke to Brown­mueller (supposedly he called Brownmueller into his office and the monster threw her own fit). But after that the woman stopped her inspections. It was too late, though. The old ax had unwittingly given Jan a new identity. Her skirt the next day was a tad shorter.

That incident secured Jan Will a reputation. She wasn’t ashamed of dressing as she wished. In my mind, she liked being a bit whorish. As the tale spread, her defiance of Brown­mueller grew as celebrated as Chuck’s defiance of The Dart. And more apocryphal. We knew Chuck was bad. We knew Jan was beautiful. But we didn’t know she was bad, too, turning out to be every bit as bad as her big boss man. Though both were dubbed “lost causes” by the social workers, to us they were culture-heroes, heroes of our culture, that is.

See the girl on the window sill, (ba-dum-bump).

She won’t do it, but Jan Will.

Gimme muh-uh-uh-anee, (what I want).

That’s what I want. (That’s, what I want).

That’s what I wa-an-an-an-an-ant, that’s what I want.

When a local band mimicked the Beatles’ cover of “Money,” every girl and boy shouted her name—Jan Will!—with ejaculatory fury on the dance floor. Of course Chuck and Jan avoided our weekly sock hops. They were out in the parking lot, steaming windows, drinking rum and coke, coke and aspirin or, (was it true?) sipping Spanish Fly and talking lasciviously, “C’mon baby, roll over, let me see you shake a tail-feather.” Her name was also publicized in the library boy’s room, knife-etched above the t.p. holder, part of a sexual report card, a catalog of ex-virgins or those who wouldn’t cooperate:

Marlene won’t

Debbie wont

Elaine won’t

Sarah won’t ever

Susie may

April wants to reel bad

Sandy will

So’ll her sister

Tina does

Terri does

Cathy does it

Jan Will

I doubted Chuck had scratched her name there, but its inclusion did dignify the list. A list of girls’ names cleverly concealed the names of their seducers, the three or four aggressive seniors who, it was commonly known, would try any girl on a first date. When a girl’s name was carved in the stall, it meant any guy might try his luck (Jan excepted) whether she “gave” or not. But once a girl had been handled, dating her was more not less complicated. Knowing a girl’s secret was terribly awkward for boy and girl. He knew. Did she know he knew? Did he have to pretend he knew? Pretending might make scoring that much sweeter. Only those truly innocent among us, the Paul Anka types, would swear love to a girl who’d been laid by another. I shied away from such moral ambiguity at the time. Worse, the expectation that I should waltz a girl from flirtation to marriage made hi-skool romance more and more revolting. But then, staying clear of girls meant risking nothing. What to do?

I tried not to drool on myself the few times Jan and I actually spoke. One day in the library, which I increasingly browsed during lunch period, I spotted her looking for books. I walked straight up to her, stood close by, and while she searched a shelf I pretended to do the same. We knew each other from Mr. Lyles’ American History class, and from our throat chat.

She said, “Hello.”

I said, “How are you?”

She said, “Avoiding Lyles’ paper.”

I said, “What’s your topic?”

She said, “I have to find books that explain why the Civil War was not just about slavery but had economic causes that started years and years before the fighting began.”

I said, “Oh yeah, I remember Texas (Lyles was from there) discussing that.” I pointed her in the direction of the Civil War, Dewey decimal, 973.7, to which she responded, Oh, yes. She knew where things were. I blushed; I need not be some egghead to her Fraulein. She asked what I was doing. I said, “A paper for English on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” She had read that story in English, too.

“Strange, wasn’t it?” she said.

“Yeah, that’s what I liked about it,” I said, without thinking. It was strange. But I didn’t know what was strange about it in her sense. I didn’t dare ask her. I didn’t dare ask her anything personal.

I thought that if I tried to talk about Goodman Brown, I would sound too bookish and thereafter lose her interest. I was speechless. This wasn’t right. I should move in, act up. But I felt powerless. Felt I should perform. Felt exposed, open, obvious. It never occurred to me that that’s how Jan might have felt, all the time. I held on, though, praying something would happen between us. Maybe a magnetic love-ray would bring her to me as a lighthouse brings in a ship. Maybe this was the moment to mention our throat talk. Wasn’t it true? Weren’t we already into each other? While I pulsed, while I waited for a sign, while she tarried slightly, my eyes adored her—the small pout of her frosted lips; the sudden wrap of her blouse which, when she reached for a book, captured and outlined her breast; the eager arching feet that rose from her flat black shoes; the blonde down on her arms; the tiny, gold, heart-shaped locket that blinked from a chain around her neck.

Oh, I felt my skin electrify with wanting her! It felt so good just to be in a corner, scru­tinizing her with an artist’s eye, memorizing her moves for my under-the-cover fantasy. I wanted her especially to feel my sensitivity, to know that her desire, stately, perfumed, had eroticized me. Wasn’t that the whole point: To be smitten? I also fancied that I was letting her play with me as her secret Romeo. Yeah, me. I was in her mind now, truly, girdling her with my devotion. Finally, I withdrew from the stacks, offering her a humble, chaste smile.


Soon after our contact I called up the Ron Starling 7-to-11 radio show, KMOX-All-Night-Request-Line and told the velvet-voiced female call-taker to dedicate “Your Devoted Love” to Jan from Tom. Were there any special words I wanted to go with the request? No, the song says it all.

An hour later, quivering under the sheets, I heard: “Hello, children of the night. This is Ron the Birdman, the love-sick boy himself, with a request going out to Jan from Tom. Hey, Numero Uno. Mr. Tom wants you to know he can’t get you out of his mind because he loves you more than words can say, more than he can Stand It! [An instrumental intro begins and Ron whispers.] Watch it Tommy—your itchin’ may get a twitchin’. Is it true, Tom, that your advances have all been second chances? Well, dang! [Loud again.] That’s the story of my life, brother. But remember. You got-tah hang in there boy and say a prayer with the Fabulous Knickerbockers.” Our song began: Be my love. [What a mouth!] All my life. [What an idiot!] You and me. [How stupid!] Man and wife. [What a fool I am.] Your devo-o-ted love. I hoped and prayed she heard the request, and I hoped and prayed she had been sound asleep.

I waited, but no significantly new groan across the aisles ever came from Jan.

Eleventh grade ended. Summertime, and Jan didn’t swim, at least not at the country club pool I went to. Once or twice I saw her driving by, me on my bike or walking, her nestled in Chuck’s ’vette, her brilliant platinum rapture more and more impossible.


In twelfth grade something started to change. At first, I couldn’t figure it out. Was it me? Was it those things that I had stubbornly resisted learning in class which were now getting under my skin? I woke up one day wondering whether my view of reality wasn’t entirely my creation. Wasn’t it obvious that my fantasizing of Jan wasn’t getting her? Maybe her distance was no more than her total ignorance of me. And then it hit, a salvo fired by our proto-feminist teacher Mrs. Lee in my American Problems class: In the U.S. men and women, like Negroes and whites, had strongly separable destinies. Despite the emerging protests against the Vietnam war, boys would likely grow up to be just like their fathers. Serve their country without questioning it. Women had far fewer choices than men did. “These are facts,” said Mrs. Lee. “You can’t argue with them.” Yes, Jan was beautiful and desirous. But, according to Mrs. Lee, that changed nothing. Jan was mapped for marriage, wifery, home. And I was privileged—college-bound, after which a career and money-making awaited me. That our highways were already paved to the horizon was a stunning realization. Jan and I were radically different, so much so that I dared not accept it.

Instead, I spent my time reading, intellectually transfused by an English teacher who had exposed me to the Romantic writers of the nineteenth century. I was easily hooked, trading one obses­sion for the other—Jan for literature. I hung out in libraries in the evenings, stalking the sonnets of Wordsworth, the long poems of Keats. (I wish today they had shown us the libidinous Whitman instead of the good gray “O Captain! My Captain!”) When I whipped up a good fantasy about Jan, it was laced with Keatsian imagery. She was the girl-bride Madeline in “The Eve of St. Agnes,” and I was Porphyro, watching her sleep through “pale enchantment,” knowing I might “win . . . that night a peerless bride.” Nevertheless, the implacable future had asserted itself: I was bound to the university while Jan was bound to another night at Steak ‘N’ Shake, sitting by Chuck’s side, rubbing his thigh, telling him they’d get married when the time came. Be patient, rub harder, rub harder.

Like me, Jan seemed increasingly self-absorbed our final year. Perhaps most twelfth graders were turning inward. But Jan’s turn was troubling. Around campus, I noticed her standing apart from her chatty girlfriends. Her shoulders drooped, her clothes bagged. I looked for her in her gym class. But she didn’t dress out. Her usual arm-laden stack of books dwindled. She started missing a day here and there.

I began to figure that her sexuality had a value different from the value I assigned it. Because she and Chuck were destined for each other, no potion of mine would change her. As time went on, she seemed less responsive to everyone—teachers in the class, gawky tenth graders following her in the hallways. My looks. Her indifference was upsetting. I thought I had extricated myself from them, from the facelessness of other boys, resisted we successfully. But now I had to believe I was in the crowd toward which she showed her new disdain. To be seen this way by her felt awful, so I blamed her for not wanting me and, to cope, rushed to give her a voice. “Fuck them,” I imagined her saying. “Who cares what they think? Their longing has nothing to do with me. They can’t know me because the girl they see is not me.”

When Jan stopped her looking-and-smiling at me altogether, in my mind I lost my discipleship in hers. But still I clung to her. I called her a tease, and I was certain that to keep Chuck in line she had been pretending interest in me all along. Me and probably a dozen others. Just before I could fully try her for betraying and abandoning our secret sharing, it ended. While I watched another massive troop movement to Indochina and heard a politically lusty Allen Gins­berg read at Washington University, Jan Will stopped coming to school one day two months shy of our graduation.

She’d been missing for a week already. I had no classes with her, but she was nowhere on my usual routes. Chuck was no longer waiting, throttle humming, to pick her up. No Jan, no Chuck. Maybe it was an extended illness: strep throat, the Asian flu, mono. One afternoon, I stopped to overhear a gaggle of teachers—Brownmueller, Nurse Spitz, and that evil-eyed math instructor Mr. Wayne. The gist was, Jan had withdrawn for reasons which had nothing to do with school. Her folks refuse to move, although she might return next year. Not if everyone finds out. Finds out what? But that’s doubtful and it would simply not be possible for her to graduate or take make-ups. She was such a good student, surviving those pawing and preying boys. And then Mr. Wayne snickered, “Jan will never have time to make up a thing once the baby comes.”

Suddenly, she was gone. Jan Will became Jan Won’t Ever Be Mine.

Knocked up, it was called in those days. P.G. In the family way. Take ‘em out of school. Send ‘em off to have the baby. She probably went to one of those Catholic homes for girls, in the woods, behind spiked fences, with rooms full of sluggish, molting girls. When Jan was forcibly removed, the mirror of my vanity was broken. Gone was my secret lover, sacrificed to her beauty and to the mores of our parents. Any sexual image I had of her evaporated. With child, her shape lost to a maternity dress, her breasts engorged, I couldn’t imagine it. Women like my mother, or those well beyond seventeen, or soldiers’ wives got pregnant.


Only when Jan had been gone a month did the inevitability of her rise and fall strike me. Jan would never have escaped Chuck Dobbs. He knew all along he would impregnate her, a child the price of their devotion, his lust, her sexual allure. I knew her allure would grow fertile within my imagination. I had no idea the same would grow in her belly. What most surprised me, though, was how quickly her pregnancy became the story of my senior class. In the weeks remaining no trash about Jan was left undumped: She had it coming; she was born to be bad; she had a fatal weakness for men; she even propositioned her father. Some yammered that the child would be put on the adoption block or that Chuck was volunteering for Vietnam.

Just before June, we were reminded that with graduation, our lives would begin. But Jan’s life was ending prematurely, becoming the stuff of legend, and she was splintering quickly. One Jan joined the Hell’s Angels. One Jan fell into a poverty program. One had an abortion. Another burned her bra. Still another found herself—years later—in a Joyce Carol Oates’ story, peculiarly attracted to harm, seduced via her own vanity. My Jan, until the final bell of high school, remained a sexual mystery.

Once, before her ouster, I overheard Jan tell a group of girlfriends that she really hated it when, every Monday, her father barged into her room while she was standing there dressing and gave her her allowance. She said she hated that. I thought she meant she didn’t mind tolerating the old man, another boy-will-be-boy like the rest of us. Did she hate it? Maybe she found it exciting, valued the subtlety in herself with which she managed money from Daddy or protection from Chuck. Maybe she was saying, I will my own sexuality, whatever it takes. I’ll show you what I can do with my body. I choose Chuck, oafy, loafy, and dopey. He’ll protect me from all those other little daddies out there who also wait just long enough and then barge in while I’m still dressing. Chuck I can control. He’ll help me make it through high school, as long as I’m careful, and then I’ll dump him and move on to someone better. Someone richer. Someone smarter. Or move on to no one. I want what I want. So what if he touches me where he’s not supposed to? So what if, where I’m not supposed to be touched, I want to be? His hands aren’t my parents.

Part of me sentences Jan to own her sexuality because that might rescue me from the visual tyranny I imposed upon her. But that’s more illusion, and ending illusions is what leaving High School is all about. She knew nothing of my history of lust for her. She wasn’t hurt by my attentions. This is only the deconstruction of an image. I wish I had spoken with her, simply, directly, allowed our shadows out together. What might have come of their mingling? I don’t know. Less of a myth, perhaps. Less of a writer’s fancy. The flavors of the soup are lost to the hunger. I will never know whether she was, as Gloria Steinem suggests, impersonating a female or alive to her sexual potency. My Black Dahlia, I will never know who the real Jan Will was.


Within a year of my arrival at the University of Missouri, I discovered among all my new, male friends a sort of recklessness born of failed female fantasy in high school. At night we played blues albums at top volume and screamed the choruses, and the next night we got drunk and confessed about those hometown girls who’d jilted us. But our angst was deeper than just lost love. We were festering with an anger about what would happen to us, to our bodies, in particular. It began to surface when we found ourselves arguing incessantly about politics, about the war in Vietnam, about the meaning of nihilism. Though only the truly committed volunteered for the grim-faced silent protests in front of the student union, where serious people held signs that said the Vietnam War was immoral, we found good feeling once we enlisted for the big demonstrations, cheering with deafening force, Hey Hey LBJ How Many Kids You Kill Today! “Fuck the Vietnam War,” someone said in my huge freshman political science class, and most everyone turned and applauded. The applause accelerated instinctively to a pulsing, thundering, unison clap. Even Herr Professor joined in.

What was driving that rage, in part, was our fear at being drafted. Although we had student deferments, we needed to pass all courses to keep the classification. There was talk of a lottery, which made us more anxious. The more anxiety, the more we fell back into our longing for girls. This lust for loose girls and our counter-culture’s claim that sex should be free—es­pecially in a society eagerly fighting a foreign war—was physically draining, psychically exhausting. Continued chastity was the worse thing imaginable. We had no way to speak of such things to one another; our inner doom about sex, like our dying, was too personal. It was a real fear, though, that Vietnam would take us before our lust-and-devotion was consummated. I lay awake some nights thinking, Will I die before I get laid?

On a college campus where so many young men faced the same fate, I became immersed in we, which meant that the vaunted individuality I believed so fully in high school fell away. Suddenly, hating the Vietnam war gave me a home, us a community: We wanted no part of a social order that was sending us to die, to defend what singer/songwriter Tim Buckley labeled a “godless and sexless” country. Fuck voting, fuck America, fuck love it or leave it. We were geared for sexual not political fates, a fact the warmongering bastards in the White House neither recognized nor understood. Our lustful imaginations had a power and sway over us that far exceeded any patriotic duty, that stirred us in ways our World-War-II fathers comprehended but put aside more easily than we could, that pressed the anger we had for those girls we could not have hard against any authority until we got our way. Not any way. Our way. Hell no! We won’t go! had as much anti-war idealism as it had unrequited teenage love.

Once the doom of war and the doom of teenage love came together, I had a much clearer understanding about Jan Will. She was the first person I knew to claim for herself a degree of freedom and the first person I knew to pay a dear price for doing so. She represented both freedom and the loss of it, and to the thousands of scared, untouched, blue-balled boys like me who lost their own imagined Jans, she became a goddess of love, a goddess of the sixties. Idealizing her, I unconsciously identified her struggle to be free of me with my own struggle not to be drafted, to serve, to die. My lust for Jan’s body was no different than the war’s lust for mine. Jan’s example made me resist the war carefully; because she lost I knew I might lose. Because Jan Will decided she would lie with Chuck, decided she would manipulate me and her father and her teachers and all the other boys on the block, the sixties rocked on, America nearly incinerated in 1968, the war didn’t have its way with me or with millions of others, and, eventually, Charley took over.

That first year in college, I read Ted Berrigan’s poetry, which brought together the feelings I had for Jan and the Vietnam War. Berrigan was a New York City poet, not one of the radical priest brothers, Philip and Daniel, but a romantic postmodern who wrote about staying at home, relaxing in bed, and reading The New York Times, who welcomed friends personally by name into his work. Berrigan, who probably got laid regularly, was genuine and fun in a way I imagined no poet could be. He arranged lines on the page any way he wanted to, like buckshot, pure graphics, pure play of language and space. His style fascinated me as a totally anti-establishment method of writing, which in effect said his poems behave however he wants them to, despite the great traditions of English and American poetry.

How freeing it was to read that opening line of Berrigan’s long poem “Tambourine Life”: “FUCK COMMUNISM.” I read those words over and over, and sure enough those two sweetly defiant words said more to me about the nature of my reality than anything I’d ever read. Move over “truth is beauty.” Step aside “miles to go before I sleep.” No more “Your Devo-o-ted Love.” Berrigan uttered the great apocalyptic words no one else would utter, what we were itching, dying, to say alone and in chorus for so long, what Jan’s body said to me for years. These two, Berrigan and Will, peas in a pod, were the co-creators of my sixties. Their radical independence prepared us eventually to leave Vietnam, to let the Soviet empire crumble from within. We didn’t survive the Cold War because of capitalism or covert operations. No sir. We survived because Ted and Jan showed us how to fuck the enemy, and I mean fuck ‘em good.