Where Were You...

If you follow the National Hockey League, you'll remember where you were on April 18, 1999, the day Wayne Gretzky scored his 2857th and last point. If you like college basketball, you'll remember that day in March 1975 when John Wooden coached UCLA to its tenth national championship. If you golf, you'll remember the 13th day of April 1986, when Jack Nicklaus won his 6th Masters and 18th major title.

Baseball is different. Everyone remembers Babe Ruth. Almost everyone remembers Henry Aaron. And, like it or no, you'll remember where you were on the day Barry Bonds passes Aaron. Barring the unexpected appearance of justice, Barry Bonds will break Hank Aaron's home run record sometime in July.

It was the fall of 1973, my third year of hitchhiking. I'd made my winter money fighting -- more accurately, watching forest fires in Alaska, and was hitchhiking to Florida. It had been a perfect trip, leaving Fairbanks at the top of fall and then following crisp, golden fall all the way down the continent.

I was hitching south on Route 78 through Watkinsville, county of Oconee, state of Georgia. A car full of longhaired -- I must speak the word -- hippies pulled up, gave me a ride, and after a few miles, offered a place to stay. They shared a farmhouse 20 miles outside of Watkinsville. Six were local, and one was an exchange student, up from Chile, studying at the University of Georgia, the next county over.

I knew my life had changed at four a.m. the following morning when the Oconee County sheriff, his deputy, and a passel of "good ole boys" turned on the overhead lights and shouted, "Get up!" It was a drug bust, one of those, "if they be hippies, they got to be drugs." They were, of course, exactly right.

Georgia law stated that possession of drugs meant being in the same room where drugs were found. The sheriff, Floyd Owens, and his sub-lawmen went through the farmhouse finding crime in some rooms, quiet enjoyment in others. There was one joint of cannabis in the room I was sleeping in, underneath the mattress of an unused bed.

Five of us were taken to the courthouse, a hundred-year-old brick building guarded by a dead Confederate general on the lawn. At that time, possession of even one joint was a felony carrying with it the prospect of 8 to 12 years in jail. My bail was set at $10,000 1973 dollars. It might as well have been a million.

Astoundingly, our little band became something of a cause. Certain minuscule parts of the South were just then blooming into Bro and Sishood, a cultural movement overwhelmingly confirmed when students at the University of Georgia raised our bail money. Within ten days we were all out on the street.

I had an older brother in Atlanta, about 90 miles south. Mike stands 6'3", with dark, long brown wavy hair. Very smart. He has a cutting (at times), brilliant sense of humor. Always secretive, you had to know him for many years before you found out he read poetry. During this interval, he was midway through his degenerate phase. I called, outlined my situation and asked what was up with him.

"Me? I'm a bum. The only thing I do is keep my car running."

The next day I set up world headquarters at Mike's and went looking for a job. It's hard to imagine this as real now, but back then, faced with serious jail time and an overpowering need for money to feed a lawyer, I never considered cutting my shoulder-blade-length hair. It wasn't that I wanted to make a political statement, it was I didn't think of it. There were no reality-based people around to explain that my physical presentation was cutting down my employment opportunities to the level of a barefoot, pregnant, Puerto Rican heroin addict applying for a job as protocol officer at the White House. That explains why I became the new guy on the night shift at the Georgia Retardation Center. Duties included watching TV and changing excreta-filled sheets for the sum of 65 dollars a week plus one meal a day. I handed 62 dollars to my lawyer, a cretinous, money-sucking, mock-liberal, incompetent piece of fluff.

December, January, February, March. My case slowly winds its way to the front of the line. On April 8, I got off work at 7:30 a.m. and hitched over to Emory University to take morning coffee and newspaper, spare-change breakfast, trawl for women. Noon and time for bed. I hitch back to Mike's, walk in, am handed a beer. Still standing, I look down at the TV. A baseball batter has just started his swing, now comes a crack, and the ball begins its arc. Looks like it's going to be a home run.

Henry Aaron has hit his 715th home run. The crowd goes nuts.

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