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THE NOWHERE MAN – A TRIBUTE TO PETER FONDA
AND THE HIPPIES, WITH A CHINESE PERSPECTIVE

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
(written during the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and
the day after "Easy Rider" actor Peter Fonda died)
August 17, 2019


This is a strange time for me - the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and Easy Rider. I saw the movie of Woodstock in a movie theater twice. The first time I was sitting directly behind "Sharon" and her boyfriend. The second time I took "Sharon" because she wanted to see it again. I guess those were the only two dates I had with her. We also saw Easy Rider at about the same time, which I guess counts as a third date. Those two movies are strangely wound together in my mind and reflect who I am. When Peter Fonda died yesterday I felt deeply sorry for him. His father, Henry Fonda, was a true G.I. - cold and aloof, little emotion, completely self-absorbed. I am just now letting myself realize how much I hated Henry Fonda and the GI Generation. They didn't give a darn whether we made it or not, as long as they could watch their TV program and go to bed, not caring for God or man. Cold, introverted, they thought the universe revolved around them. It's amazing but true - Henry Fonda was emotionally cut from the same cookie cutter as my own father. I never knew my father. About once a week I went dutifully to his house, sat at his kitchen table and listened to him give the same monologue that he always gave - vacuous, as though no one else outside of his own personality existed on the farm in Canada long before.

But there was one main difference between me and Peter Fonda, the actor who died yesterday. He acted out his rage in Easy Rider. I sublimated and held down my rage, and have for decades. I guess that's makes me a "Silent Generation" guy, instead of a "Baby Boomer" like Peter Fonda. It's funny because Peter Fonda was actually one year older than me. But this generational thing cannot be cut off neatly. There are some overlaps (and underlaps) according to an individual's experience.

Under slightly different circumstances I would have been a Hippie - pot, free sex, peyote, probably suicide, if I'd been born about two years later or had lived under different circumstances.

But I hated Henry Fonda, and his whole generation. That is the "true truth." It has been a love-hate relationship. How could you "get through" to a cold fish like that? So you either had to tighten your belt and live under his rules, or loosen your belt and die in a fog of drugs and hedonism. I tightened my belt. I voted for Nixon. I wore an American flag button on the lapel of my black suit. I drove a bullet-gray Dodge Dart. I made myself into a G.I. – outwardly.

Peter Fonda's mother committed suicide because his father Henry had an affair going on with another woman. I would very much doubt if Henry Fonda shed even one tear when she cut her throat. My mother sank into alcoholism. She might as well have been dead, because I couldn't talk with her anymore. What did that do to me? It made me into a strange combination of a Nixon Republican, who was also emotionally in touch with the very heart of the Hippie movement, a man divided against himself – much like the president in that way.

Dr. Cagan says I am "a man between" - between the GI's and the Hippies. Between the old way and the new way, between my father and Peter Fonda. Between "Saving Private Ryan" and "Easy Rider." It has not been altogether bad to be an :"in-between" man. But it has been a place of excruciating loneliness, because no one understands a man in between, a man who is neither part of this generation, nor the one before, nor any generation, or anywhere, as one of the songs at Woodstock put it, "a nowhere man."

I guess that's what has helped me work with both the Chinese and the Hippies. The Hippies didn't know who they were or what to do about it. Chinese kids are about the same, in a slightly different way. They don't know who they are. Their parents call them "Americans" and reject them. Their schoolmates call them "Chinese" and reject them. I thoroughly understand that. I think of Chinese young people as the "nowhere generation." They are the ones I should have stayed with. They are the ones I abandoned, like Henry Fonda abandoned his first wife and his son. But unlike Henry Fonda, I'm going back where I belong, with the "nowhere people," Chinese kids, to whom God called me long ago.