The Decade of Change 1960 - 1970

by Ralph J. Chin


The ten year span between 1960 and 1970 was a decade of dramatic change in America and some of these changes altered the path of the United States of America forever. The people of Newark, New Jersey were affected by these events in many different ways and I know this era left an indelible mark upon me as I grew up trying to find my way through this maze called life.

In the years of 1960 and 1961 I was still attending Maple Avenue Elementary School in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey. It was city life but there were nice tall oak trees that reached the third floor of our house and lined almost every street in my area. Maple Avenue was set amid a cluster of these tall Oak trees and was shaded on one side the building by them. It was a good looking three story brick, steel and concrete structure with tall windows on each side that allowed you to look outside from the classroom. The only fence was a chain link fence surrounding the asphalt playground area at the rear of the school. The front and sides were bordered by green lawns that nobody dared tread upon for fear of reprisals from the power that be!

I was the only Oriental person in my classes and one of the very few in my entire school. The only other Asian people were my sister, my cousin Wayne and two girls who lived down on Bergen Street but they were unrelated to us. My cousin’s Robert, Clifford and their sister Cindy were all going to St. Peter’s Catholic school up on Lyon’s Avenue so I didn’t see them until school was out. Wayne’s sister and brother were already in High School and my younger cousin’s, Bobby and Donna, were not attending school yet because they weren’t old enough.

One day I convinced my parents to make my sister take me with her to see the latest Alfred Hitchcock movie called “Psycho”. It was playing at the Park movie theater down on Bergen Street and while my sister wanted to go alone with her girlfriends, my parents made her grudgingly take me along. I have to admit, I regretted going to this movie because it scared the dickens out of me! I was only eleven year old at the time and I was so frightened by this movie that I never saw the end of it. Why? Because I had closed my eyes and put my hands over my eyes so I wouldn’t peek at the movie screen for the entire end of the movie. During this time I listened to my sister and her girlfriends screaming and this made me press my hands tighter against my face. I had accompanied my cousin Wayne earlier to see “The Monster from the Black Lagoon!” but I think this “Psycho” movie finally cured me from watching horror movies for the rest of my pre teenage years! LOL!

For some odd reason people seemed incline to tell me about things that I had no use for. I was only eleven years old when my cousin Ron would tell me about lasers and his brother, Wayne, would explain cameras to me. Then a close friend of mine told me about a pill that prevents women from having babies. I didn’t have a clue as to why they all thought I could use this information. I was still too young and naïve but give me a couple years and I would figure out the last one all by myself!

My family would always watch the news together on our black and white TV. When the youngest President ever to be elected took his oath of office, we watched his inauguration address and then the excerpts of his “Man on the Moon” speech. This man was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. My family was excited about this new leader as were a lot of the neighbors and I thought his goal for the country was equally exciting even at this young age. It appealed to my flare for science fiction having grown up watching the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits on the TV. As I grew up with this credo of “landing a man on the moon and bringing him safely back to earth before the decade was out” I began to realize what an awesome effect this program was going to have on our country’s future. The technology coming out of the space program is something that is still fueling America’s advancement in many different scientific and non scientific fields. Microprocessors, Solid State Analog and Digital Integrated Circuits, Computers, printed circuit boards, new materials and better rocket engines are just a very few of the many technologies that the space program has spawned for this country. I once heard a comparison of today’s computers with those aboard Apollo 11’s moon landing mission. It said that an old DOS 386 computer had more computer power than the computer system that took men to the moon even though those systems were state of the art at the time. Who would think technology would advance so fast! Certainly President Kennedy lit the fuse on this incredible journey but it hasn’t ended and I doubt if he knew where his road to space would lead the country.

When 1961 dawned, I was a year older but still only 12 years old. One thing I did understand was that the New York Yankees were my baseball team! In fact, I think everyone in my neighborhood and school was a Yankee fan. I watched baseball history being made on the TV as Roger Maris hit his record breaking 61st home run as a Yankee outfielder. The record keepers put an asterisk beside it because the leagues had lengthened the baseball season by 18 games that year to accommodate for the new teams in the league. I had been a Yankee’s fan so long that I vaguely remember watching Don Larsen throw his perfect game in the fifth game of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. If you do the math, I was only seven years old at the time. Whenever the Yankees won the World Series I would celebrate this event by jumping on my bike and spreading the news to everyone I saw while I burnt off the adrenalin rush their victory would produce for me. Once a Yankee fan, always a Yankee fan! Although the days of Mantle, Maris, Ford and Berra are gone, I still root for the Yankees especially when they’re up against their arch rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Their former rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers also known as the Brooklyn Bums, had decided to move to Los Angeles long ago and that rivalry kind of fizzled out. The Mets never developed the animosity toward the Yankee fans that the Brooklyn Dodgers had and I never knew why but that’s just the way it was!

Another year passes and my first year of Weequahic High School was about to dawn on me in the September of 1962. I had this dreaded feeling that I was not ready for this major step in life but later realize I was just scared of change and growing up. This was the year the soda can manufacturers put pull tabs on their products. The kids were making assorted jewelry items out of the tabs after drinking the contents of the can. A couple of years later the soda manufacturers replaced them with non-removable tabs because the original tabs were creating a littering mess as the tabs ended up on the floors of the world along with cigarette butts. They were all over the school grounds, on the streets, on the sidewalk and on the lawn. What a mess!

The next big excitement in the neighborhood was when the invention of color TV was announced. While everybody wanted one, few could afford it. Mom and Dad loved to watch TV after a hard day’s work but Color TV would have to wait until the price dropped a little. The corner bar had one and I would go over there and look through the glass doors to see the color picture from outside. After watching black and white TV for most of my young life I was transfixed by the color images on the screen! Eventually we did get a color TV and I think Mom and Dad got more of a kick out of it than my sister and I!

Then the Cuban missile crisis was splashed across the screen and the entire school was abuzz with conversations about Cuba, nuclear war, Russia and at the extreme end of the spectrum, the end of the world as we knew it. My classmates were confused and worried that their futures were in jeopardy and didn’t know what to do. I told one girl “There is nothing that we can do; it’s out of our hands and up to our leaders of our country”. The Soviet Union was trying to arm Cuba with nuclear missiles and President Kennedy ordered the United States Navy to blockade the Russian fleet from bringing those missiles to Cuba. The crisis brought the entire world to the edge of nuclear war and we were all relieved when Russia’s leader, Nikita Khrushchev, finally backed down.

When the year of 1963 dawned, we had no idea what new problems the world would create for us but on the bright side, the movies saw the debut of Sean Connery as James Bond in the super spy thriller of Dr. No. I went to see it with some of my classmates and we instantly became fans of this cool, tough guy! One of the black guys I knew in high school decided he was going to be the biggest Bond fan ever and instantly absorbed every detail of the movie. Whenever a question came up about the Bond film, he was there with the answer. Sometimes, as time went by, I would notice he had a hard time separating the movie role from real life and I could see him fantasizing he was Bond at different events by the way he acted. I just laughed and let him have his fantasy even though I thought he carried it a little too far. Then Marilyn Monroe, the famously sexy blond bombshell actress that my friends and I were all gaga over, died from an overdose of sleeping pills. A lot of people thought she was murdered but the truth of this event will probably never come out. A few of the studs with large egos were mad because they would never get a chance to meet her. I thought this was humorous but kept a straight face and said “Her loss!” They would look at me and start to laugh saying “Yeah, your right, her loss!”

Zip codes were instituted by the United States Post Office and every town, large or small, got a 5 digit zip code to speed the mail process up. President Kennedy then made Cuba off limits to the people of the United States. No one was allowed to go there or conduct business with them. Cuba became non existent to most Americans.

Then on November 22nd of this year President Kennedy was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald who subsequently was killed by Jack Ruby in front of the nation’s cameras. I was in my Weequahic High School algebra class when the announcement was made over the school wide PA system. My teacher actually laugh but I think she was laughing at the astonishment on our faces and not the announcement itself. We were all in shock and in the following days these events were discussed by teachers, students and everyone I knew. They were all worried about the future of our country but I had no doubt that the orderly succession of leadership would take place and it did. Lyndon Baynes Johnson became the 36th President of the United States of America. He was nothing like the young, energetic President we just had and I personally didn’t like him but life goes on. Then the conspiracy theories started up and like Marilyn Monroe’s death, we will never know the truth of what really happened. All I could think of was that the President would never see the results of his “man on the moon” initiative and how it affected us as a country. I think he would have been proud.

When 1964 dawned the country was in a recovery mode and Beatlemania was getting out of hand. So much that I painted a sign on behalf of all the neighborhood guys which said “We hate the Beatles!” and proudly displayed it to the neighborhood girls. They were mad at us for many months but what they didn’t know was that I was secretly becoming a fan myself having watched them on the Ed Sullivan show and started listening to their music. I began this odyssey in my fifteenth year by first wearing the clothes of the British invasion and then learning the guitar and finally playing in a long hair rock band. I had become a Beatles fan but the only person that knew my secret was a girl in my history class. She would brief me on the bands activities when I asked her about them otherwise she, too, kept this a secret. The reason for this was because a lot of kids still liked the American pop stars like the Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Supremes and the Four Seasons. You could easily lose a friend over you favoritism of these British bands with their long hair and funny accents!

A second James Bond movie came out and this time it was the tough, action film of “From Russian with Love”. All my friends and I made immediate plans to see it. I loved the tough fight scene in the train because for once, there was a question in everybody’s mind whether the hero could defeat the buff Russian hulk!

In the background the Vietnam War was brewing and people started protesting America’s involvement. Little did we know that this war would become the catalyst for the largest anti-war movement in the history of the United States. It would be the dividing line between friends, lovers and families. Some of us would turn out okay but some of my friends weren’t so lucky. My best buddy Billy enlisted in the Marines and served a tour in Vietnam and he came back as a antiwar hippie with a drug habit. I drew the line when I caught him doing heroin. I went my own way after that incident and it was the last I ever saw him. Some other acquaintances didn’t make it back….may they rest in peace.

On a lighter note, the Beatles played at Shea Stadium in 1965. Shea Stadium was a baseball stadium that was home to the New York Mets baseball team and it was the only logical place to hold a Beatles type concert because of their huge fan base. They drew so many screaming fans that it was amazing they could even hear themselves sing or play. The Beatles popularity was ever increasing as they stormed America and grab not only the top spot on the American song charts but also the number two and three spots with different songs. No one had done this before in America and all kinds of records were being broken by this British band. The more I listen to them, the more I became convince that they were the wave of the future in music in America.

The Government then passed the Medicare bill and it became a reality for a lot of Americans this year. This, along with the Social Security program was designed to take care of America’s workers as they grew older.

In 1966 I graduated Weequahic High School and was still playing in a neighborhood rock band. The Vietnam War was now at full steam with over 400,000 American troops stationed over there. Some of these troops were my former classmates and friends and while I tried to enlist in the Air Force, I was rejected due to my hearing loss. I decided instead to make a go at college as music major in an effort to pursue my musical interests. I guess this effort was doomed from the start because of my hearing loss but I just had to give it a try. I ended up dropping out of college and becoming a full fledged hippie musician complete with long hair and the anti war attitude that was necessary to fit in with this type of crowd. I eventually wound up going back to school to learn electronics due to my equipment failures with my band equipment. Jimi Hendrix had just broken the scene with his smash hit “Purple Haze” and I went out and bought a bass guitar just so I could play the bass line in this song. I ended up playing bass in all my bands I joined after that because I just got into it so much and I loved it.

During this time of transition a lot of things were happening in my neighborhood. The Newark Riots occurred in 1967 and no one liked what was going on. Troops were on the streets with their guns in hand. There were stories about tanks in the streets although I never saw one and there was a 10pm curfew instituted. My Dad and I watch from our living window one night as a black kid was walking across the street near the Synagogue. I asked Dad if he should be out there and Dad said “No” and just then the kid started running down the street into the Synagogue’s parking lot because an Army jeep was coming down the street with four troops in it. They caught the kid and took him away. He wasn’t from our neighborhood because there were very few black families in our neighborhood so it was a real mystery as to why he was out there.

Meanwhile the first Star Trek movie came out to rave reviews and I went to see it with my current girlfriend. She didn’t like but I thought it was okay. Then LSD became an illegal drug about this time but that didn’t stop people from trying it. I never wanted to try it, drugs weren’t my thing. I knew if I had my music and a girl who loved me, I would be alright. I didn’t need the stuff but apparently some of the kids I knew saw it as a way of earning some easy money. Nothing big time, they were just selling nickel and dime bags of marijuana. I just avoided them and refuse their offer of free drugs. I just didn’t want to become one of their customers.

In April of 1968 Martin Luther King was shot down in Memphis, Tennessee and then in June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated on the campaign trail as he ran for the Presidency that his brother once held. We all thought the world was spinning out of control and wondered if we’d even be alive to see another day. Songs like “Live for Today” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” made a lot of people feel like they had to live their lives to the fullest while they still could. I didn’t agree with them, after all, they were just songs. Most of the guys were just using it as excuse to fornicate with as many women as they could under the pretense that they may die soon!! How ridiculous!

1969 became my year of destiny. A lot of the guys I knew weren’t looking for love. All they wanted from women was sex and that was where I was different. I hadn’t found anybody in the three years since high school that I could say I was in love with. I dated but nothing came from these relationships. Sure I would bump into some old classmates I fancied back in the day but I wouldn’t go to bed with them although I knew a few of them wanted this to happen. I just pursued my musical ambitions until I met Denise, the love of my life and her group of friends. We all went to Woodstock together in the middle of August and had a good time. Just before all this happen the Apollo 11 moon landing occurred in July and President John F. Kennedy’s dream for the nation finally came true. I was proud of my country and the men who risk their lives in this venture. I don’t know if I would have the courage to sit atop the monstrous Saturn rocket that propel them to the moon while it blasted off rumbling and shaking with untold power.

In the movies “Easy Rider” was happening and I took Denise and her girlfriend Crystal to New York City to see it. Again, we all had a good time and I was living the life I wanted. I was truly happy because I had my music and a woman who loved me. Denise was my everything and her friends were the best a person could have.

The decade ended on a bad note as the Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California resulted in chaos when the Hell’s Angels provided security for the Stones. One person was killed, scores were injured and the property damage was so bad I don’t think promoters ever again pursued outdoor concerts. It was supposed to be Woodstock West but obviously it didn’t come close. And so it went for this decade of change!


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