Sophomore Slump 1967

Sophomore Slump 

I would often tell any irritatingly inquisitive non-smoker who asked me why I smoked, that it was to keep my lungs in shape for smoking marijuana.This stupidity is similar to the sadomasochistic behemoth who continuously tries to excel at lifting and throwing a 500 pound ‘unschpunenschtone’ more than three feet on ESPN’s World’s Strongest Man marathons. It equally doesn’t make much sense to either work hard at getting a lung tumor, an inguinal hernia or a slipped disc.

Because I was fascinated by the machismo image that Arthur projected by smoking his pipe, a more likely fantasy was my belief that smoking would make me more appealing to the opposite sex; like the Marlboro Man It was also the case that cigarettes were dirt cheap and could be obtained for free. All that anyone had to do was walk down to the factory in Durham, take the tour, then be allowed to rummage out back in the dumpster sized cloth bin where millions of rejected cigarettes were thrown and fill up your suitcase. These coffin nails had failed certain quality standards as simple as the packing density being a little off. But like date-expired drug samples, they certainly seemed good enough to me; and the price was definitely right.

Also for the first time, I began to drink beer, started going to various parties on weekends or whenever someone decided to arbitrarily turn a weeknight into a weekend by pronouncing that any given Tuesday, for example, would be a school holiday.

At first the parties were relatively formal and located in public venues. The Blue Laws of North Carolina prohibited what we knew in New York to be “bars,” while what passed here as being “bars” were places where one had to bring a bottle of his favorite booze in a brown bag, pull a chair up to the bar and buy “set ups.” This would simply be a mixer that would cost the price of a shot of booze.

The irony in this antiquated Blue Law was that if one were then to be found with an unfinished bottle of alcohol in his car, he could be arrested for having an open bottle in his possession in “public.” Thus, you could drive to a bar with your own unopened bottle, leave it there after the party with a bartender who could drink it himself or take it home, or you could finish it yourself and then drive home. The obvious result of this convoluted bit of logic was that everyone drank the entire bottle of booze at the party, and then drove home in a car with an unopened brain.

In fact, when vomiting my guts out one night after a “set up” party Tequila binge, I have never been able to drink the Mexican National beverage again. My father told me the same thing happened to him in college except that for him it had happened with Gin.

Over time it became more logical to simply get high on some drug than to drink one self nearly to death. It was also quicker and easier. Also, the character of the parties began to shift along with the trend to using more drugs and less booze. Of course these were not Fraternity parties but rather were being hosted by the ever-growing hippie fringe elements that were forming up around campus. The Frat guys remained preppy and continued to have their booze parties while the “fringies” began to get increasingly freaky and into progressively worse habits.

The University was slowly becoming a polarized mini version of what was going on in America in general as students either remained short haired, conservatively straight, or began to gravitate to becoming long haired liberal hippie freaks. It was also becoming more dangerous to express the new freedoms outwardly.

The jocks in particular did not take well to the change in appearances and although Gym class was mandatory for the first two years, every time one of us showed up in the locker room, the athletes or the coaches would jeer and threaten us. Needless to say we all signed up for non-contact sports such as tennis.

This fragmentation was also tracking the political fragmentation in America.

The hey-day of the civil rights movement was underway and in the South certain people were beginning to show up dead. In North Carolina, the KKK began to believe that the only good hippie was a dead hippie and although we were well aware that the Freedom Riders Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney had been killed in Mississippi, we naively believed that we were immune as long as we stuck to the campus.

We were wrong.

In general, none of us truly respected how hatefully dangerous these people really were until it was brought much closer to home. One night the KKK put a burning cross in front of the Duke chapel. It was an awesomely fearful sight to behold and something one had only read about in books, viewed on television news, or saw in a bad movie. On another night in a drive-by, bricks were thrown through the window of a house I was sharing off campus. We were obviously being targeted because we were stupid enough to have painted the front wall with Peace Signs and hung a portrait of Chairman Mao on the front porch. We are lucky that only bricks and not firebombs were the worst we got.

On yet another night while trying to hitch a ride between campuses I was accosted by three white men in a pickup truck, who jumped out, beat me to the ground and then kicked me while I was down. They obviously did not “cotton well” to my long hair and although I was not severely hurt, my pride was too embarrassed to ever have told anyone about it. As I lay on the ground in the proverbial defensive fetal position they kept yelling:

  • Mother fucking long-haired hippie, nigger lover, son of a bitch. Just go back home where you belong, Yankee Jew boy.

I truly believe to this day that it would have been a lot worse if not for the fact of frequent traffic passing by on a well-lit intra-campus campus road, as well as the saving grace that they did not actually pick me up and throw me into the flatbed back of the truck. However from that day forward I had certainly learned how to watch my back and to run hard and fast at the first sign of potential trouble. Avoidance behavior came in very handy later at the Duke riot of 1968 and then again in Harvard Square at the 1970s protest when the police cleared the streets with riot dogs. Lip service protesting was one thing. Having face to face conflicts with police, German Shepherds, tear gas, Mace or Klan members was entirely something else altogether.

This behavioral training also came in especially handy when I became an Intern at a New York City inner city hospital: spot potential trouble… then run the other way. My brother, who had lived in NY City several years before I arrived, told me that the best way to survive on the streets was to: never make eye contact, wear crummy clothes with holes in the pants, always wear running shoes, always put your money in the toe of your sneakers, and tack from one side of the street to the next if you see more than one person loitering around a door stoop.

That was the time when David Dinkins and Ed “So How am I Doing?” Koch we’re running NY City into the financial ground and the streets were like a Wild West shooting gallery. Not so good Eddie, when one has to experience it from the perspective of being one of the gunfighters at the OK Coral.

Yet interestingly enough, even these horrors would not remotely prepare me for the confrontation about to take place at the end of the year when my father got my final GPA which had propped to 2.6. A snarling police dog, an angry KKK member, or a knife wielding street punk would have been preferable.

Years later a patient told me his blood pressure was only high in my office, but not at home, because he had the “White Sheet Syndrome.” I explained to him that I knew very well what he was talking about because I always felt the same way any time the Grand Knights of the venerated Ku Klux Klan happened to ride up my driveway. I just didn’t have the heart to tell him he had confused “sheet” with “coat;” as my sarcastic comment then went entirely over his head.

In truth, for me it was not really a joke, but rather had been a living nightmare and a fortunate near miss.

edgar ray killen

Edgar Ray Killen: KKK member indicted for the murders of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney.

Thirty years too late


Easy Rider

An old black man was discovered sitting in the back of a freedom riding bus headed for Mississippi in 1966. When someone complimented him for his dedication to the cause, given his relative age and enfeebled appearance he looked up and retorted:

  • Hell. I ain’t goin’ down deah to do no protess freedom marchin. Dat’s too damn dangerous. Ize jus goin’ down deah to sing a little Bass and help out with da fuckin’.

(Public sex is safer than public protest)


Edgar Ray Killen: From The African American Registry






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