Excerpt Three

Excerpt Three: Conversation between Gary and Priscilla from Chapter 12, pages 103-105

Gary gripped her hand. “That could be a tough one. How do you resolve conflicting loyalties?”

“Sometimes it’s just a choice between selfish indulgence and responsibility.”

“Like between making out or philosophizing?”

“Can we stay on point, Gary?” She frowned. “We’re talking about the big world out there.”

“All right, Priscilla.” Gary’s tone revealed his increasing agitation. “What about Vietnam? How loyal are we supposed to be to our country when it’s wandered into a war that’s wrong?”

“Now you’re on a big question—one that actually deserves that smoldering anger of yours.” Priscilla realized she was issuing a risky challenge, but ventured on. “I never know where it comes from or where it’s going.”

Gary glared and then melted. “I’m never sure myself,” he murmured. “Maybe it will help if we get angry together. So what’s the answer about Vietnam?”

“The answer is, we can stay loyal to our country even though our government has failed us. Our generation is stuck with a government that can’t see they’re leading us in the wrong direction. Kids can see the problems but they can’t. We grow up protected by the moral certainty we learned in church, school, scouts—‘My country right or wrong.’ But there’s always a lurking rebellion. It came out of the shadows with the free speech movement at Berkeley—you know, ‘the university is a machine, but we’re not going to be just a product. We’re going to throw ourselves into the gears to get power.’ My older brother, Morgan, was there at the beginning and told us all about the confrontation: dragging passive-resisting free speech sit-down striking students feet first out of a building—their heads banging against the stairs—putting them in handcuffs and hauling them off to jail.” Priscilla increased her intensity. “Dad says that when the students struck for power, the faculty didn’t want to be left out and joined with the students. He’s afraid the rebellion will lead to education based on student demands, and the end of a classical education based on Western Civilization. And then came the hippies who dropped out to rebel against all the established institutions. I see kids our age becoming so self-absorbed. It’s like they’re at sea—unmoored. They drift into cults and causes that are either irrelevant or challenge traditions for the sake of it. But opposition to the war is a common cause that’s uniting the radical counterculture, increasing their numbers.”

“Wow! Now you’re angry.”

“Of course. We’re in this together. Here we are in this weird cloister of classic education that manages to teach both evolution and Christian morality—and in college we’re about to confront the tumultuous world of radical counterculture.”

“I get it, Priscilla,” Gary joined in her outrage, consoled that he was not alone. “So, which way do you think you’ll go—with the radicals or the establishment?”

Priscilla thought for a moment, and grinned when she arrived at an appropriate answer. “I’ve seen a little of it already. There’s an honors program at school where we can take courses at UC Santa Barbara. A few of us go there in the school van. I took English Lit last semester, and now I’m into psychology. The overall experience is more like an introductory course on what to expect in college. After class the college students include us in their co-ed shit-fuck conversations while we’re waiting over coffee for the van that’s always late.”

Gary leaned back, surprised by her candor. “How do you get along in those conversations?”

Priscilla began to giggle. “I was a very sedate Miss Constance girl—never a foul word—until one day I cracked. There’s this jerk they call Snort who comes around. One day he looks at me and starts out with, ‘So there she is in her prissy pussy pink private school uniform.’”

Gary bristled as Priscilla continued.

“I looked him straight in the eyeballs and said, ‘What about you: those flaps on your filthy feet, the ragged faded jeans, the tie-dyed shirt, those stupid beads around your scrawny neck, the long unkempt hair. You look like a piece of shit, and you don’t even realize it’s a uniform—so fuck off, Snort.’”

Gary’s protective anger quickly gave way to leading Priscilla into hysterical laughter. They finally caught their breath and he gasped, “How did they all react?”