Off Campus 1968 : Big Funk

Big Funk  

In 1968 after one year of living together, my girlfriend and I split up as did Courtney and Bill. I guess it was a pretty good thing after all that I was not a young parent: not so much for my sake, but for that of the child. No one involved would have had any kind of reasonable life.

As we were all contemplating going our own ways, Arthur suddenly reappeared on the scene.

One year of living in San Francisco as a flower child had cured him of the romance associated with having a low paying job, living in a roach infested flat, and running around with a group of air headed friends who had nothing better to offer than to chant mantras in a community park, get high on drugs, paint their faces, wear 1880’s clothing, protest the war, talk to plants, wave the peace sign, and annoy the rest of the world with a tedious tendency to repeatedly sing Kumbaya. He realized that going to Law School would undoubtedly pan out as a better long-term personal goal.

Having nothing better to do and no better place to go, I agreed to look for a rental house, which he and two other friends, Steve and Hutch agreed to share. We found an old four-bedroom single story family home on the outskirts of the campus that would allow us to walk to school. My share of the rent was twenty-five dollars a month.

Four guys living together sounded like a good idea, but after a very short time, we were too much in each other’s way, so Steve and Hutch decided to split. Steve was an accomplished photographer who worked for the school newspaper while Hutch became better known as being a radical campus agitator. There was nothing bitter about splitting up and everyone stayed in close contact.

Arthur was obsessed with naming the house because he thought it would lend character as well as good karma to the place. Of course his word would ultimately be the final one and being inspired by The Band’s first album “Music from Big Pink,” which commemorated the pink house near Woodstock where it was recorded, he settled on the name “Big Funk.”

Although we started with a street number on Lancaster Street to let our friends know our geographic location, it was not long before the house became a legend in its own right and no longer just another mailbox location. Everyone in our social milieu came to know it as Big Funk and everyone knew where it was.

Being decorated both inside as well as out with hippie icons, then sporting a large ‘Peace’ symbol on the front wall, with a toilet seat cover draped around the porch light, Big Funk progressively became a central gathering and party place for the fringe element of the university. Its unusual exterior decor in the middle of a relatively low-income residential zone also made it a stand out target for the ire of the local redneck population. A picture of Chairman Mao on the porch wall did little to help the cause either.

One of our favorite weekend pastimes happened to be to smoking pot and playing our favorite records while watching TV with the sound turned off. We used to muse; ‘why doesn’t someone create a TV channel for potheads where you just get to look at visual images while your favorite songs are playing?’ Someone else apparently thought it was a great idea as well when he started MTV and got rich while boneheads like us did nothing proactive.

On one of those weekend evenings as we were sitting in the front living room during a particularly loud-record-silent-TV-session, a local element of the KKK drove by and heaved a brick through one of the front windows. The brick was wrapped with a paper note containing crude threats and Swastikas that made it clear in no uncertain terms how these men felt about our presence. Although we were at the same time shocked, highly insulted and incensed, I do not believe in our naïve stupidity that we realized just how lucky we were not to have been burned out or abducted for a nice quiet lynching. The brick could just as easily have been a Molotov cocktail and the little paper ties holding the note to the brick could just as easily have been long lanky nooses.

At least after that episode we were smart enough to tone down some of the exterior décor and to confine the hippie stuff to the interior, the focal point of which became known as the famous Big Funk Barrel. This barrel was an old oak crate that served initially as a simple TV stand but as time went by we chalked it up with erasable graffiti, apropos to current events; with the only graffiti listed as sacred and untouchable being the one commemorating the great 1968 Super Bowl victory of the New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts.

The rest of the inexpensive décor equally reflected our student poverty as it was makeshift, or purchased third or fourth hand. Rock posters, posters of Indian Gods like Shiva, or psychedelic art decorated the walls and paisley print sheets served as window drapes, tapestries or sofa covers. In retrospect the color clashes were incredibly nightmarish but ‘au courant’ contemporary in the eyes of our peers.

These peers comprised some of the campus political fringe element, which congregated together and sometimes “hung out” at Big Funk. They were interesting from the point of view that although in outward appearance they all may have mimicked the Haight-Ashbury air-headed flower children, they were still on the inside the high scoring SAT students who would eventually become the political and social leaders of our generation. Ironically many of us did a complete turn around and eventually then went on to spearhead the early phases of the social phenomenon that would later come to be known as the overly consumptive, prestige and proprietary label oriented ‘Yuppie.”

Money, prestige and social power has a funny way of changing one’s outlook on life, but in those days we were still polarized by all the issues surrounding the Viet Nam War as well as being closely tied to the champions of the Civil Rights movement or the revolutionary campus leaders who wanted to overthrow the U.S. Government.

One of the things that actually jump-started the reputation of the house and expanded its social circle was the fact that Arthur decided he wanted to make some easy money, so he began to import LSD, THC and Mescaline from his former California connections. These drugs arrived in huge quantities that he then quickly re-sold for a mark up to lower level campus drug dealers such that before the hand off there would occasionally be bags of a thousand THC or mescaline capsules in our refrigerator.

I also had the unique experience of being exposed to the rare and highly prized predictably high quality proprietary branded Owsley Acid tablets before Owsley got busted and the technology shifted to blotting the drug onto paper strips or sugar cubes; along with the drug quality and predictability of the dosing going south at the same time. Along with the LSD guru Timothy Leary’s philosophy on life, acid quality also died a quiet death too.

Fortunately for my peace of mind, after pulling off a few big deals I was very much relieved that Arthur was smart enough to get out of the wholesale drug business while the getting was good. He finally became convinced that the reward was not worth the risk and having taken an interest in photography was happy enough to have purchased a high-end 35 mm camera with the profits.

It was bad enough that the KKK targeted the place, but having it targeted by the police or by someone else who might want to steal some of the goods or profits did not make it easy for me to sleep well at night.

Once again, I also did not want to be drug busted, even though hopefully it would only have been guilt by association. I just never had enough balls to be a dealer. Being the kind of person who could never even get away with lying to my mother, this would make me an automatic set up to be the guy who gets busted on his first attempted deal because the client happens to be an undercover cop.

My friend from the Irving Hotel, Brad, learned this lesson the hard way several years later when he and his wife became small time drug dealers in Springfield and were robbed at gunpoint by one of their clients. The bad guy took both the merchandise as well as all the cash leaving Brad and his wife luckily intact with their lives. Easy come, easy go.

Just the simple exposure to access introduced the big problem of temptation. Having such a huge inventory of these drugs available made me completely understand why Adam broke down and ate the apple. He did it because it was there.

So when it came to the threshold of using or abstaining from personal drug trials my will to resist being little better than our first father, caused me to cave in. However rather than hard core capitulation or a propensity to abuse and dependence, when it came to drugs my mantra soon became “Just say maybe.”

By the time I graduated I had tired some of the finest grade hallucinogenic drugs that the west Coast had to offer. I also had the opportunity to try some of the worst drugs available in the local cult circuit, such as Paregoric soaked cigarettes or crushed dried banana peels; the latter being a gross hippie misinterpretation of what Donovan meant by his popular song, “Mellow Yellow.”

Some really stupid friends, interpreting the song as delivering yet another subliminal message, even tried to smoke saffron. Just think about how that would feel going down your trachea and into your lungs. Meanwhile Donovan may have only been referring to the color of his bedroom drapes, or more likely to his experience with a prior case of hepatic jaundice, meaning that good liner notes would have spared everyone a lot of wasted emotional energy and speculation.

Despite this experimentation with a variety of drugs, I still managed to maintain a 3.8 grade point average because by this time I really had a higher purpose in mind for my life and had refined the art of recreational drug use, by doing it very sparingly. When it came to hallucinogenic drugs one had better do it sparingly in order to preserve a modicum of sanity.

For the most part I also discovered that it was all either purely a waste of time or only really served the useful purpose of re-setting all the over stimulated stress circuits and fuses in my brain’s frontal lobe. I guess I was one of the lucky individuals who never had a “bad trip.”

Although there may have been some bona fide alteration of perception, I never really hallucinated nor ever had the over touted acid flashback phenomenon. Hallucinogenic drugs only served to give me a better appreciation of nature and would simply cause me to focus on natural objects with a sense of wonderment at the complexity, the beauty and the mystery of time, space and creation.

On one Mescaline trip spent at the beach, I spent hours looking at a hand full of sand and was able to see in it everything from the ocean tirelessly pounding away at rocky shores to the entire universe and the majesty of its creation.

The same experimental dabbling happened in the 1980s when everyone went crazy over cocaine. I tried it a few times but hated the effects it had on my sinuses. I also liked to sleep more than to be high all night, dressed in a leisure suit covering a NIk-Nik hand painted silk shirt and dancing like an idiotic dervish in a strobe lit discothèque; all in a usually fruitless quest to get laid. The paradox is that Cocaine never makes women horny. All it makes them want to do is dance all night or talk and giggle incessantly. Then by the time the drug wears off all they want to do is go to sleep. So do you, if only to get the pounding disco echoes or the yapping feminine chatter out of your eardrums.

The Studio 54 scene was not for me. My biology simply dictates that I am a day person and not a night crawler.

Principally beginning the year after I graduated, Big Funk went on to become a legendary social center, meeting place and party palace for the left wing hippies of Duke University. Then as each tenant would move on to bigger and better things after graduation any new prospective tenant would have to be approved by those left behind.

It became a unique fraternity house in its own peculiar way, giving anyone who lived there a special kind of personal fraternal legacy, which was memorialized in a photo staged by Arthur the year after I left for Medical School. If you lived there, you qualified to receive a copy of the picture.

Eventually, the neighborhood improved and the house is now a single-family dwelling. I spoke to Arthur once about a sentimental visit he paid to it when he visited Duke with his son, being graciously allowed a walk through by the tenant or owner. He listened patiently as the tenant told him about the history of the house and about its legendary name, after which he said:

  • I know. I’m the person who named it.

Ultimately, Big Funk was purchased for renovation by a man who wrote a news article about it, after a former tenant who had moved up the block presented the new custodian with his own personal copy of the photo and a brief historical outline. The article speaks to the fact of the house’s historical legend, as well as the intention to display the photo, which being faithfully passed on will now reside forever on one of its newly constructed interior walls.

Even Big Funk, it seems became subsumed by Yuppie money and was forced to capitulate to the changing times.

Speaking for myself, I had come full circle since my freshman fraternity rejections and had unknowingly become a charter member of the most legendary off campus house in Duke history. Great! That and a dollar twenty-five will buy a nice cup of coffee. And even though today I still own a Big Funk Charter Member commemorative photo, the only thing I really remain curious about is whatever happened to the famous Big Funk barrel. The last time I spoke to Arthur, I forgot to ask him.

The one thing I do not have to concern myself with is what portion of that barrel, since 1969, has usually been reserved for the notoriously hapless New York Jets football team: middle to bottom.





(Beta Iota Gamma   Phi Upsilon Nu Kappa)



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