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1973: My Year of Crisis
July 6, 2014
by William P. Meyers

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I am reading Years of Upheaval by Henry Kissinger. Actually, I am skimming it. Even for a political junkie like me, it is incredibly detailed. It covers 1973 and the first half of 1974, during most of which Kissinger was U.S. Secretary of State.

In 1973 I was a Political Science major at Brown University, but at the time I followed little of what is covered in the book. Which makes me reflect on my own life in 1973.

I entered Brown in the fall of 1972 and during the Christmas holidays refused my parents' demands to attend Mass, refused to allow them to hit me or boss me about any more, and lost their (minimal) financial support.

Fortunately I was long used to having no money to spend, so the spring semester was not much different than I had planned. I worked some as a lifeguard and I earned good grades. Then I got a my notice from Brown that my tuition had not been paid (I was on a monthly plan for what was not covered by scholarships). I would not be allowed to enroll in the fall until the debt was paid. Add in that I did not register for the draft. A Peace Treaty had been signed with North Vietnam, but the U.S. government was still drafting people.

In the summer of 1973, as Watergate progressed, I worked 60 hours a week at the newly built Brown U. swimming pool. I paid what I owed Brown and began saving for my sophomore year. I figured if I worked 20 hours a week during the school year and cooked my own food I could get by.

On October 6, 1973 Egypt launched a military effort (the Yom Kippur War) to reclaim land Israel had taken from it in the 1967 war. I was frantically trying to maintain my grades while surviving on endless meals centered around pasta or beans. I had no television set and no radio. I only occasionally had time to read a newspaper at the school library.

But what I really remember was the cold. I grew up in Florida, so my freshman year in Rhode Island was a shock. I did not own a proper winter coat (my father, who had grown up in Chicago during the Depression, thought winter coats were for wimps). After Israel won the war the Arab, oil-producing nations cut back on their exports. As a capitalist tactic it was brilliant: they made more money selling less oil. In history it is called the 1973 oil crisis. In my Brown dorm my room it was always cold. Even my roommate, who was from Boston, thought it was ridiculously cold.

By springtime 1974 my own life was as messed up as the U.S. economy, which was now in the first of a series of recessions [See 1973-75 recession]. My grades were plummeting. I was hungry all the time. My clothes were getting ragged. I decided to take a year off from college. In any case I was falling so far behind on my tuition that simply working long hours that summer would not fix things.

So in the summer of 1974 I only worked 40 hours a week. I worked for minimum wage at the Coro costume jewelry factory. I was able to buy more food, and my health started to recover.

On August 9, 1974, hounded by the enemies he had made, President Richard Nixon resigned from office. I hated Nixon back then. I appreciate him a lot more now. He was a war criminal, but he made peace with China, and he did get the U.S. out of Vietnam.

Clearly, more than a few things were seriously wrong with the world, not to mention my own particular place it in. I paid what I owed Brown. I had about $200 left over. I bought a backpack and a new plaid flannel shirt at Woolworth. I chucked what would not fit in the backpack, stuck the remaining cash in a sock, and walked down to the freeway entrance. I stuck out my thumb (it was not my first experience hitchhiking) and some kind person picked me up and started me further down the highway of life.

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