After graduating from high school in June, 1969, I entered the University of Wisconsin, Madison that fall, in the school of Liberal Arts as a pre-med major. It was a tragic year to be on that campus, one of extreme unrest that would spill into the next year. We were set up to fail, if you consider the series of horrific world events that just seemed to keep coming, highlighted by the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the 1968 Democratic Convention Riots in Chicago, and on and on and on...
College was inevitable for me, something I was always supposed to do, and it seemed that I had no choice but to follow this path. But I was miserable and very disillusioned with life, in general, and life in the US, in particular, and also totally unmotivated, not about school, but about everything, which is never a good way to enter college, especially when you consider that my supposed field of "interest," to become a physician, required total commitment and mastery of the "pre-med" curriculum, which meant getting a perfect 4.0 grade point average or don't even consider going to med school. My parents were living in Europe, my sister was a brand new unwed mother living near the campus...I had nowhere else to go, I guess.
The drinking age in Wisconsin was 18 back then, so my friends and I spent the majority of our time drunk and/or stoned. As a matter of fact, our dorm, Ogg East, and our floor, the seventh floor of Leath House, which had earned a reputation as a total "zoo," was equipped with a bar in the basement. All dorm residents had to do was hit "B" in the elevator (which stood for "beer" back then), buy a couple of pitchers of brew, and bring them back upstairs. It was awesome...It was either a dodge or a time of experimentation, but everyone seemed to be high on something: many students were experimenting with alcohol or other drugs, and even the gunners were high on college. My next door dorm mates tripped every day; in fact, they gave their pet cat so much acid it walked out of their seventh floor window one day--demonstrating that many hippies weren't that cool...often they/we were just a bunch of screwed up dopers. My own roommate smoked dope constantly and tripped frequently, and we only lived three feet away from each other--there was no escape...That was my life at the turn of the decade--the hippie movement was still moving, though it was on its last legs, as history would show.
On the Madison campus unrest began to build due to the bitter resentment of the undergraduate TAs (teacher assistants), fostered by the bad salaries and benefits the university was paying them. The TAs were essential to the university, because they ran the entire undergraduate school of some 25,000 (?) students, and given their clout and dissatisfaction, they all decided to force the issue and strike for better working conditions and pay. Picket lines began to form all over campus, and the strike was supported by the Teamsters Union, which meant that truckers would not cross picket lines, so no food was being delivered to dorm cafeterias or other campus restaurants. And the strike continued for months (as best as I recall).
As naive freshmen the vast majority of us had no clue what was going on...all we knew was that it was a really exciting time to be in Madison, watching daily protests that could morph into riots at a moment's notice; we were all drawn to the spectacle. The total undergraduate arm of the university was essentially shut down. Only the highly motivated were attending class, and often they continued to pursue their studies without any guidance from graduate students or faculty. In all honesty, I wasn't one of those students. I needed some direction, but it wasn't institutional learning, so for me and many of my classmates a typical day on campus started with beer, joining protesters throughout the campus, hanging out with friends, staying alive on pasta, milk, and eggs, then more beer...and repeat.
University President (or Chancellor?) Knowles had a political agenda, given his plans to run for political office, and he delayed initiating any police presence on campus (or so we were told) for fear it would tarnish his reputation. When the Kent State riots began in May 1970--four dead in Ohio--all hell broke loose at UWM, which was considered to be the Berkeley of the Midwest and a hotbed of unrest. Riots ensued all over campus, and in came the city and state police, the sheriffs departments, and the National Guard, who were brought into town by military troop carriers, lining the streets, brandishing their riot gear: five foot long Plexiglas shields, three foot long lead-reinforced night sticks, M-14 or M-16 military issue rifles with fixed bayonets and live ammunition (I'm not sure if the last comment about live ammunition is true, but that is what we all were led to believe). All told there were about 40,000 troops in the area (as best as I can remember), as unrest continued to escalate. The troops lined all the main streets in the downtown area, and students would taunt them endlessly. In truth they were all our age, just on different sides of the line, and more frightened than we were; but they were the ones with the guns, and after Kent State all students considered them to be the personification of Big Brother and pure evil. They could not be individually identified because they all covered their uniform's ID numbers with duct tape, and they lurked behind their weapons in total anonymity: it was an absolute police state.
At one point radicals high-jacked a university vehicle and pushed it into the lobby of the State Capitol Building just down the street, which caused quite a ruckus. This must have been one of the rioters' favorite tactics, because some days later they did the same thing to us, and we all saw it happening in real-time one night when we were getting drunk in the dorm, watching the riots from our windows. It began with a group of radicals who were trying to set fire to a huge construction site just across the street from our dorm, the other side of University Avenue. They would toss Molotov Cocktails into the wooden structure, then the troops would come and disperse the group, then the radicals would retreat, the firemen would come (they didn't get hassled because they were the good guys) and put out the fire, and then the cycle would begin again. This went on for hours--a full evening of entertainment. At one point the troops mounted a major offensive against the radicals, who retreated, only to return with a university vehicle, lit up and surrounded by flames, that they pushed into the lobby of our dorm; we all watched it happen down below from our picture windows. It all seemed so surreal. In response the troops surrounded our dorm, shoulder width apart, fitted with riot gear and rifles; military grenade launchers were placed at the four corners of the dorm, and pepper gas cannisters were lofted onto the roof, some ten stories or so above. The chemicals entered the ventilation shafts and gassed the entire building and its (paying) residents, which numbered in the many hundreds. It was about nine o'clock at night. We all got out our bath towels and soaked them with water to breathe through, which we had heard would help neutralize the affects of the CS gas; there was no escaping the building, which remained surrounded for some time. Eventually the cordon around the building loosened, so some of us ran out into the street through these gaps. Me and a couple of friends hid in the dark behind some cars, transfixed by the events that were unfolding, waiting to see what would happen next: suddenly night turned into day as a helicopter approached, aiming its "Vietnam Night Light" at us and lighting up the sky. The troops turned toward us and gave chase; I was never so scared in my life, and panicked, I climbed over a ten foot high chain-link fence at the construction site and got away. We roamed the streets and eventually ended up sleeping in a first aid station set up in a nearby church; in fact, all the churches had been converted to first aid stations, which were supposed to be safe zones where troops and police would not enter. My friends and I, all naive suburbanites or small town kids, were immediately radicalized by the events of that day.
One afternoon, as I was walking behind a student heading to the library lugging an armful of books, I saw a police officer approach him from behind, yelling and warning him to walk faster, prodding him in the kidneys with his big night stick, and when the student turned around to tell him to 'fuck off,' the cop grabbed that stick like a baseball bat and struck him in the mid thigh, shattering his femur bone with a resounding 'crack.' The cop took off, of course, and I was left with the task of getting the student to first aid as quickly as possible. Another time I was marching with a crowd of protesters, hundreds of people, who were headed toward the University Hospital, on Observatory Drive past Highland Avenue, where the road begins to turn. We were met by National Guardsmen who were barricaded there, a military tactic to meet the resistance at a bottle-neck, and they began lofting pepper gas canisters into the crowd with grenade launchers. A girl marching next to me was hit on the top of the head by one of these projectiles, ripping her scalp open and knocking her out, the blood gushing quickly from the wound. We stuffed the gash with somebody's T shirt and hauled her off to the nearest church for emergency care, unable to take her to the hospital, which was only about fifty yards away, because of the barricade.
With all that was going on, I needed to get away, so I stuck out my thumb and hitch-hiked to see my girlfriend, who attended Illinois State University in Bloomington/Normal. I got there at lunch time and found her eating in the dorm cafeteria. As I sat there with her, a state police officer came to our table and began to question me; once he found out that I was a UWM student, he escorted me to his squad car in handcuffs, drove me to the edge of town, and kicked me out, warning me to go back to Madison or end up in jail: my choice. That's how it was back then.
That summer the three Anderson brothers filled a panel van with fertilizer, parked it next to the Math Research Science Center on Bascom Hill in the middle of the night, and blew the beJesus out of everything with a detonator. The percussion of the blast ricocheted off of the building, which was newly constructed of solid brick, and totally demolished the ancient Babcock Hall English building that stood opposite. Tragically, a graduate student who was working in his lab that night, at the Research Center, was killed. The blast was so powerful that a friend of mine, who was stopped at that moment in his van at the traffic light next to the Rennebohm Drug Store at Park and University, some three blocks away from the devastation, was almost killed by a brick that was launched into the sky by the explosion, when it hit the roof of his vehicle.
I returned to school that fall, but something about the campus had changed. The pall that filled the air was palpable, the school spirit stripped from the campus by that tragic death, and all I wanted to do was drop out of school. But this didn't feel like a viable option, given that my destiny back then dictated that I graduate from college and go on to med school. Just as importantly, I was 18 years old, and losing my student draft deferment during one of the largest draft years of the Vietnam War made me imminently draftable. In reality, like many other students my grade point average was in the toilet, and though Knowles had approved pass/fail grades for the entire undergraduate campus after that horrible year, no medical school would ever accept those grades. I had to take a "D" in organic chemistry, which ended any long-shot chance I ever had to enter med school, leaving me totally clueless as to what I would do next.
As I was thumbing a ride back down to see my girlfriend, I talked about the situation with the driver who picked me up, a twenty-six year old man, who seemed so wise because of his advanced age. He advised me to stay in school, because if I left I would never return; it was the argument I needed, because it made me realize that if I didn't want to return to school I shouldn't be there in the first place. Add to that the fact that I was extremely depressed, contemplating suicide or something just as tragic, and my draft lottery number was 304, which pretty much meant that I wouldn't be drafted, and my fate was set. I dropped out and never looked back, rationalizing that if I could kill myself, which seemed like a possibility at the time, then I could do anything else first, and if it didn't work out, I always had that nuclear option. Ahhh yes, the eternal optimist...
I moved to West Germany in February 1971 and never looked back, finding employment the day after my arrival, beginning a complete overhaul of my life. I was searching for magic and happiness, which was so simple abroad, because it seemed to be all around me. Ultimately I would live in Deutschland for a total of five years, but in 1973 I took a chance and formed a business with three partners: We bought a Setra 25 passenger tour bus and moved to Greece, settling on the gorgeous island Myconos, Greece, in the center of the Aegean, where we opened a bar, and in Athens, where we started a hippie tour bus business, "The Bozo Bus," which took travelers between Athens and Amsterdam, providing them with a mind-blowing Hippie travel experience that was both transformational and unforgettable, but that's another story that I hope to tell in this lifetime.
I returned to Germany after one year (our tour bus was ripped off by my business partner, Sam Brustus!), where I became a regional manager for a music store chain located throughout West Germany, owned by W.D.Warren and Company of West Germany, which sold music to the US military community and dependents.
I returned to Greece in 1976, where I lived for five years, working as a freelance photographer, English language tutor, and cabinet maker. I studied the Greek language intensively for one year at the University of Athens, Greece, fulfilling a life-long dream to discover my roots and learn about the past, the history of my forebears that is represented somewhere deep within my DNA. During my years in Europe I traveled extensively, like so many Hippies did, searching for the mysteries of life, and gaining a lifelong passion for understanding diverse cultures and people, and myself, along the way.
After ten years of travel, facing my thirtieth birthday, I had grown concerned about my future and ready to do something about it, so I returned to the US in 1981 with aspirations to rejoin my efforts to become a physician. Much of that story is told in my first published book, "Searching For Prometheus--Discovering the Soul of American Medicine in the Philosophies of Traditional China," so I won't repeat it here. I completed my undergrad education with a major in chemistry from the University of Illinois, then entered medical school at Northwestern University, also completing my residency there in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery.
After completing my career as a physician and finally having the time to pursue other interests and enjoy my family, I began to focus on personal self improvement, returning to a special interest of mine, Tai Chi Chuan, which I was first introduced to in mainland China in 1978 while traveling there for one month on a special visa, as US/China relations at that time were still heated, restricting US travel to the area. My interest in philosophy in general, and Eastern Philosophy in particular, began during those years of travel, and particularly during that month in China. After years of retirement I finally put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) to write my analysis of medicine and healthcare in the United States, offering reasons why we should consider adopting certain aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine and incorporate them into our approach. The book, mentioned above, has been released for eBook publication in 10/2014. You can find it through this site or from your favorite eBook seller. The direct hyperlink to my book is:
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Thank you, dear Reader, for your interest! Sincerely, John