Reflecting on my freshman year in college, it’s a miracle that I graduated at all because it was one long case of overstimulation, resulting in a grade point average that only a village idiot could be proud of.
Sticking to task meant many things to me but studying wasn’t one of them. There were far too many distractions and far too many adjustments in the art of social interaction to make. I had to tweak, tweak, and tweak some more because I came from my home as an only child, having that built-in meditative time, to a place where the agenda never takes a breather.
Firstly, the college insisted on all freshmen residing in the campus dorms. I never understand the logic here other than it keeps the little buggers all in one place and somehow orients them to college life. In hindsight, it was nothing more than a crash course in chaos; a never ending stream of tomfoolery with one foot in adolescence and the other barely touching adulthood.
Just imagine all of these neurotic newbies, lined up in there little hobbit holes, there brains revving up to warp speed trying to dream up the next goofy-ass thing to do. Even acting on a simpleton’s suggestion that we take a Bic lighter to our combustible farts demanded careful calculation and dangerous experimentation: position at time of ignition, elevation of rear, relative location of onlookers and, for God’s sake, don’t do it standing up! We were attending an institution of higher learning and plotting out flammable ass angles (at least it incorporated geometry).
To compound the anxiety, the male and female wings within each dorm were separated by, in essence, a door, a single penetrable door just waiting to be creatively breached. Neither sex was allowed in the other’s living area so it was almost like hormonal taunting, an administrative ‘dare ya’ and, of course, we dared. It was fairly easy to out maneuver a single RA (resident assistant) when you can string together strategically placed lookouts. Work as a team and fulfill a dream.
Adding stress to the male mix was the ongoing saga of the disastrous Vietnam War, the military draft hovering over our heads like a vulture waiting to pluck us from academia and drop us into a hopeless cesspool that, as a nation, we’d eventually have to walk away from, only to watch it become a tourist destination in later years.
My next door dorm neighbor was in the midst of piling on the poundage so as to plump his way to a 4-F draft status (unqualified for military service) and so he ate anything that looked halfway edible. I knew he was serious when we went head to head in a 30 minute pizza eating contest at a local establishment and I attempted to beat him at his own game. After the rest of the pretenders had fallen away it was just he and I battling it out and although I’d look over and think, ‘that guy could finish this contest and have desert to finish it off’, I came within a slice of tying him. I was thin and built for speed but it still wasn’t enough and I came in second.
Then, while I ran for the exits, in danger of tossing my cookies, he did have desert…after downing 7 twelve-inch pizzas. He not only got the trophy with the bronze pig on top, I think he got his deferment too.
Even though I’d get better at studying later on, during that first year I was a helpless addict of endless shit-to-do. If it was a choice between drinking beer, listening to records, flirting with girls, and boning up on Geology, I chose the girls, washed it down with beer and flunked Geology. At the same time, I was singing and playing guitar in the coffee houses (to get girls, among other things), playing inter-mural sports, conjuring up a multitude of ways to hang out, drinking more beer, flirting with more girls, going to dances, flirting there with girls, helping organize a pinochle tournament in the common area and a hundred other variations on the theme of self-discovery.
I played music for awhile with Mike (guitar player) and Joe (violinist) and after a campus coffee house gig we’d already have stocked the car in advance with a case of Colt 45 malt liquor (thoroughly reprehensible but powerful stuff). Then we hopped in the car, drove deep into the sticks where there were gravel roads and absolutely no cars for miles (this was all farming land and very dark) and cruise along at a brisk 10 miles an hour drinking and singing barbershop harmonies like 3 cats in an alleyway. The only time we stopped was to pee alongside the road where Mike’s standard routine would be to piss with his back to me while slowly moving his feet sideways, giving the illusion that the car was rolling and I’d be frantically jamming on the breaks I was already standing on. He’d do the bit, we’d all laugh like a bunch of jackasses and then we’d take off singing again until we ran out of steam and rolled back into campus. From there we’d be unable to make it any farther than the dorm common area and would fall asleep arm and arm in the shag carpeted ‘pit’ (a sunken lounge area in front of a fire place) only to wake up at dawn; disheveled, disoriented and disgusting. If they had only graded on extra-curricular nonsense we would have been valedictorians.*
Those were our dumb-shit days.
Fairly tame in many ways but one way to extend ourselves beyond reason if, for nothing else, to see how we’d respond. When you’ve never been away from home and lack an identity out in the real world, you’re a lab project waiting to happen and we were quite the specimens.
*[Note to the youth of our nation: the above drinking/singing stunt occurred in 1970 at a campus completely surrounded by farmland, at 3am, with absolutely no living or moving thing in sight, making a corn stalk the only potential danger. Even at that, this is a stupid thing and should never be replicated by another human being.]