Fourth of July 1976

I often get kind of nostalgic on the Fourth of July. This kind of wistful nostalgia. And I’ll always think back to the Fourth of July of 1976. The Bicentennial year. America was 200 years old, and I was 19 years old. On my own for the first time in my adult life. Though I was really just a boy. So it was very exciting. Everything was new.

I was homeless at the time, and I camped at the Fremont St offramp on top of this big hill underneath the pillars of the Bay Bridge. I would hear the cars endlessly whizzing by way up over my head. It was a great spot, actually. Totally secluded and hidden from view. And I had a panaramic view of the San Francisco Bay and the Oakland skyline off in the distance.

When I think of my 19 year old self standing there atop that hill, looking out at the bay and the huge open sky, in my mind it’s like the opening scene in a movie. Because everything in my life was just starting. I was like a blank canvas waiting to be filled with paint. I was like half crazy at the time (generous estimate). Had already been through several traumatic, shattering experiences. But I kept my psyche together with this fierce show of will power. To block out how damaged I was, I compensated with this total belief in myself and my greatness (while having virtually no actual evidence to back up this lofty claim). I firmly believed I was a spiritually enlightened sage who had pierced the secret of the universe by taking LSD and reading books about zen Buddhism. And I was also convinced I was a great artist, possibly even a genius. And I firmly believed in my greatness for two straight years. Until my whole facade finally cracked one day, and I had a complete nervous breakdown. But that’s another story. . .

I still vividly remember the Fourth of July that year. 1976. Standing there looking out at the dark night sky and the black water of the Bay rippling back and forth. And watching and listening to the all the fireworks exploding in the sky from Oakland across the way. .. .

And now, 46 years later, I still look back at my youthful 19-year-old self with a certain fondness and amusement. And a certain sympathy at how lost and lonely and bewildered I was. And this feeling of, “You poor young fool, you!” Knowing now what I was in store for, how I would blunder madly and recklessly through all the years. And feel a bit of amazement that I was actually able to survive it all. If only just barely at certain points. And I’ll think of all the years, and all the winding roads I went down, and how they all somehow led me to here, where I’m now sitting, pecking away on a cellphone, all these years later.

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