Turning On by Mike B Good
Chapter One – Off to College – (Santa Barbara, September 1967)
I heard the hatch cover open. Then Dad saying, “All right, mister, you can climb out of there now.”
I looked up at the sunlight pouring down. Big mistake. I hadn’t seen it in three months and it hurt. Like a vampire, I hissed and held my arm over my eyes.
I asked, “Has it been all summer already?”
“Was that a joke?” asked Dad.
Mom looked down. “You know your father doesn’t get them, Mikey.”
“That’s why I went with sarcasm.”
Like it made a difference. Dad, born with no sense of humor, didn’t get that, either.
I climbed out of the bomb shelter (AKA: The Dungeon of Learning) and took a cautious look around
Relieved, I said, “Oh, good, the world is still here.”
“How come you always say that?” asked Dad.
Really? He had to ask? With him in charge of the CIA’s Secret Weapons Department and me cut off from the world for weeks at a time, I could never be sure. Not with Dad’s secret plans to get rich quick.
“So, what’s been going on? Did I miss anything?”
“You were lucky you were in the dungeon.”
“Your father’s upset at the hippies,” said Mom.
“The hippies? What’d they do?”
“I’ll tell you what they did,” said Dad. “They declared a Summer of Love.”
“Far as I can tell? It’s where a bunch of deviant longhairs and their,” he held up his hands to make quotation signs, “groovy chicklets get weird.”
“They’re called chicks, honey,” said Mom.
“Whatever,” said Dad. “The point is they’re smoking pot and making love all the time.”
I considered that. “Really?”
“Yes, it’s terrible. Worse, they want peace. Can you imagine?”
“Yeah, I think I can.”
“Wipe that smile off your face. Life isn’t about making love and having fun.”
“Well, maybe it should be.”
Dad turned red and looked at Mom. “Where did we go wrong? We’ve kept your son grounded like a gopher and he still has these radical ideas.”
Mom defended me. “He’s your son, too.”
“We should’ve made him the same way as Johnny.”
“What do you mean, made me?”
“Never mind,” said Dad.
Mom jumped in with a diversion. “Today’s the big day, Mikey. My young man is off to college.”
I was thinking: Thank God.
“Are you sure you don’t want to live at home?”
“But you won’t have us looking over your shoulder, controlling your every move.”
“That’ll make it tough, Mom, but I’ll try.”
To be fair to Mom, she had good reason for concern. She and Dad had raised me like a veal; done their best to shield me from liberal worldviews, make me a good little Republican. And here I was off to a liberal school, not West Point where Dad intended. He’d taken the news hard.
“As a West Point legacy, you should’ve been a shoe-in, but no, you had to cost Uncle Dick the election.”
He meant the one against Kennedy. Dad wanted me to feel guilty for hypnotizing Nixon during family get-togethers. . .at least for the post-hypnotic suggestions. Between us, I didn’t.
“It’s one thing to make your uncle act insane around the family, it’s another when he’s running for president.”
“Serves him right for challenging me to staring contests.”
“What I don’t understand,” said Dad, “is how the Admissions Officer at West Point learned of your involvement. We’ve kept that information ultra-top secret.”
I managed to keep a straight face. “I guess we’ll never know.”
I’d avoided West Point, but as punishment, I’d spent the summer underground, missed out on the Summer of Love. Except for the torture equipment, the Good Guys Bomb Shelter Company’s top-of-the-line Platinum Model, with three bedrooms, two baths, and well, everything a house above ground would have except a view, was comfortable—for a mole. Lined with lead and fifty feet underground, the Platinum Model could withstand a direct hit from a nuke. Dad planted his shelter (and me) in the front yard beneath an enormous America flag atop a fifty-foot pole. For realism’s sake, he created a mushroom cloud from dry ice. The Homeowner’s Association wasn’t happy about the gawkers cruising our street, but canny businessman Dad knew it paid to advertise. Though able to withstand a direct hit from a nuke, the Dungeon of Learning wasn’t a fun place to spend my childhood. Dad wasn’t just an insane mad scientist; the guy was strict. He’d punish me for the slightest infractions. Even my brilliant observations.
Or, as he called them, “Unappreciated snide comments.”
Dad was attentive to my complaints. “You don’t like it down there?”
“No, not really. I prefer fresh air and sunshine.”
Showing compassion, Dad said, “Fine. When the Reds drop the Big One, I’ll let you stay outside.”
Despite our family’s tradition—grandpa, Dad, and my older brother Major Johnny, had attended West Point—a military college was not my first choice of schools. Or second, or even on my list. I wanted nothing to do with the military. I rubbed authority figures the wrong way. Something about my attitude when people bossed me around. Then there was the war in Vietnam. But what I wanted wasn’t the point. Not according to Dad.
“Why can’t you be like your brother?”
“You mean a real son of a. . .”
“Language, Mikey,” said Mom. “Try to keep a civil tongue.”
Major Johnny, who loved authority figures and always wanted to be one, had thrived at West Point and now worked under Dad in the CIA’s Dirty Tricks Department. Another thing he loved. In a word, Major Johnny was uncool. He’d bought into Dad’s paranoid worldview, made it his own, and except for the age difference and uniform, Johnny could’ve been Dad’s twin. We were polar opposites and we couldn’t stand each other.
Dad shook his head. “After all that oppression? I just don’t understand how we raised a rebel.” He gave Mom a look like it was her fault.
Who was a rebel? According to my hipper friends, meaning all of them, I was a square, an academic nerd. I didn’t have a pocket protector full of pens, but I couldn’t blame them—I had the grades to prove it. Which is why they paid me to do their homework while they surfed or made out with their cheerleader girlfriends. Not that I was insanely jealous.
Being brainy was bad enough, but I was skilled at ventriloquism, magic, and hypnosis—a trifecta of dorky talents honed during idle hours in the Dungeon of Learning. It got to where I was afraid to look in the mirror for fear of what I’d make myself do. And yet, my family considered me rebellious. Everything is relative. And mine were nuts.
“Enough chit chat, son,” said Dad. “Hop in the car.”
No way I wanted Dad moving me to campus. Or Dad anywhere near campus. No reason to stack the deck against me before school even started.
I stalled for time. “Wait a second, Dad, I gotta pack my stuff.”
Also, get to a phone and call a friend.
Dad pointed at a suitcase in our driveway. “I’ve already packed everything you need.”
“Really? My surfboard and golf clubs are in there?”
“You won’t need them; you’ll be studying.”
“Not every moment.”
“Listen up, son, and listen good. There will be no slacking off. I expect you to buckle down, apply yourself, and graduate with honors in minimum time. Then you’ll enter law school and join the family firm.”
“Excited, Mikey?” asked Mom.
“Um. . .”
“Just think, in only seven years you’ll start living the American Dream.”
Code for working overtime, getting into debt, and saying good bye to my childhood fantasies about a life of fun and adventure. What was exciting about that?
“The campus is only ten minutes away,” I said. “I can drive my VW. No need for you guys to. . .”
“Nonsense, honey,” said Mom. “We want to see you into your first home away from home.”
By home away from home she meant room 204 in Anacapa Hall, a tiny space I’d be sharing with a stranger. Still, compared to the bomb shelter? I’d take it.
“How about just you come, Mom? It’s only the one suitcase. Between the two of us, we should be able to manage.”
“But your father gave up his weekly match with your Uncle Dick and Governor Reagan to supervise this operation.”
“Dad, you should’ve gone golfing. This isn’t one of your spy missions.”
“Not the point. I want to reconnoiter your field position. Meet your new commanding officer.”
“It’s a dorm room, not a barracks or a foreign embassy.
“How do we know it’s not infiltrated by a communist?”
See the worldview I had to deal with?
Half an hour later, after checking in at the front desk, I found Anacapa Hall’s room 204. I could only hope my new roommate wasn’t there yet. I knocked, just in case he was.
A furtive voice asked, “Who’s there?”
“Hi, I’m Mike,” I said, poking my pointy head through the door.
Inside the room, a hippie behind a cloud of smoke on a bed. He was hiding something behind his back. The window was covered with tin foil, a parachute covered the ceiling, a black light illuminated day-glo colors on the rock posters that covered the walls. Bob Dylan was on the stereo, saying everybody must get stoned.
“What do you want?” asked the hippie.
“I’m your new roomie.”
“Aw, shit. Who’s that weird-looking freak behind you?”
“Who are you calling a freak, weirdo?” asked Dad in his don’t-fuck-with-me voice. The same one that ordered me to the Dungeon of Learning.
I couldn’t blame my roommate for asking, not with Dad dressed, as always, in his Uncle Sam outfit, complete with a top hat with a hatband demanding: America, love it or leave it.
Before the weirdo could answer, Dad made a face and asked, “Hey, what’s that funny smell?”
Square as I was, I knew the answer. I’d smelled it many times before—every time I visited my hippie cousins.
“That’s incense, Dad.”
On the stereo, Dylan finished giving advice. The next record dropped and Jim Morrison started singing Light My Fire.
The weirdo seemed relieved. “The nerd’s right; it’s incense. You can’t arrest me for smoking that, man.”
Not sure what you did with incense, Dad let it slide. Instead he said, “Turn off that noise.”
“What noise?” asked the weirdo. “You mean the Doors?”
“I mean that racket on your stereo. Don’t you have any Mantovani?”
“Does this room look like an elevator?
“I don’t like your attitude, mister.”
“Well, I don’t like yours either, Uncle Sam. If that’s your real name.”
Dad said, “I think you need a lesson in manners,” and pulled out a ray gun.
I held up my arms. “You can’t shrink him, Dad.”
Dad checked the batteries. “I don’t see why not.” Taking aim at the weirdo, he said, “I’ll teach you to respect authority.”
Mom put her hand on his arm. “Take it easy, dear. Remember your blood pressure.”
Dad took a deep breath, holstered his weapon, and counted to ten. Relaxed, he pulled it out again and went back on the attack.
“What’s with the long hair and beard? Are you a communist?”
I wanted to disappear.
The weirdo said, “Fuck no, I ain’t no commie. I’m an anarchist.”
I watched as smoke came out of Dad’s ears. Scary when I caused it, but kind of amusing this time. Dad believed in law and order, even if the laws were insane, and if there was one thing he hated as much as communism, it was anarchy. Also, salads.
Before Dad could shoot the weirdo or go on a batshit rant about using clean language and respecting authority, Mom said, “Come on, honey, let Mikey make friends with his new roommate.”
From the hostile look on my new roommate’s face, I wasn’t sure that’d be possible.
“Oh, all right,” said Dad, holstering his weapon. “I still have time for the back nine with Dick and Ronny.”
END OF EXCERPT.
This excerpt was reproduced with the kind permission of Mike B Good. If you would like to get the book in its entirety then follow the link below.