Duke University

The Duke Riot 1969

 

1969: The Duke Riot

In 1969, Duke was the second large university to have a campus riot. In this case even that Ivy League stalwart, Columbia had already trumped us. The common denominator for both schools was that the riots being directly related to the Civil Rights movement as well as charges of racial discrimination by black student organizations against school administrators.

The seeds of the Duke riot of 1969 were sown the year before by students who staged sit-ins protesting the grossly substandard wages paid by the University to its large pool of local black workers, which at that time was about ninety cents an hour. The Federal minimum wage was $1.30, but somehow the University had creatively skirted it. The workers had no union representation and I doubt they even had much in the way of ancillary job benefits.

One particularly large protest in 1968 prompted the folk singer Pete Seeger to abruptly fly in unannounced to give an impromptu lawn concert on the worker’s behalf.

The ensuing spontaneous candle light vigil was answered later that night by the local KKK putting on a light show of their own when they burned a cross on the lawn in front of the Duke Chapel. When we heard about it, at dawn several of us ran over to view the still smoldering ashes, but still had very naïve opinions about the message it intended to deliver. We thought it was a joke.

For a long time before this the local residents had resented the rich boy preppy Duke students’ intrusion into the idyllic forests of eastern North Carolina. However, sometimes one should learn to live with and accept the devil that one knows because now the local rednecks faced an even worse devil: the hippie civil rights crusader who was bent on restructuring local Southern society.

Meanwhile although none of these devils happened to be the iconic school mascot Blue ones, the local police were bristling at the potential opportunity to come on campus and bust open a few of these longhaired hippie heads.

1968 in and of itself was a watershed year in American history. In April Martin Luther King was assassinated followed shortly thereafter in June, by Robert F. Kennedy taking a few bullets.

It was also the year that Lyndon B. Johnson announced his intention not to run for a second term as President, which paved the way for the reemergence of tricky Dick Nixon, who eventually won the 1970 election on the promise to end the Viet Nam War.

Campus protesting then became relatively low-key until February of 1969 when 50 members of the Duke Afro-American Society occupied the Allen Administration building. They threatened to burn university records if their demands were not met or if the police were sent in. This group had been negotiating with the school to improve the racial climate on campus and in being frustrated by the lack of progress decided to take radical action. They had a list of eleven demands that included the establishment of a black dormitory, the establishment of an Afro-American studies department, and an increase in black undergraduate enrollment to 29 percent

At that time there were only 85 black students in a total of 6,000 undergraduates, a statistic that made me stop feeling sorry for myself as a White minority of Italian descent who failed being integrated into a fraternity.

The mayor of Durham immediately mobilized 240 National Guard troops.

Having heard about the occupation of the building, I went over to the main campus to see what was going on and happened to join my old girlfriend along with about 200 other students who were blocking the entrance of the building.

The demonstration was innocently impromptu enough, and having arrived early at about noon, I found myself standing next to her on the building’s front steps.

The local police had just been called in and were trying to wedge their way through the crowd in an attempt to enter the premises so they could dislodge the black students, when people started throwing things at them. They did not at all take that very well.

It was then, just before the tear gas was fired that I thought the better part of valor was to flee, leaving my stubbornly resolute ex-girlfriend behind where she soon got Billy-clubbed by one of Durham’s finest who was leading the charge into the fortress.

All hell broke loose after that. The student dormitories emptied out and the quadrangles became a melee of charging students, counter charging cops, and disorganized chaos with students being forced to scatter under a white cloud of tear gas. Dressed in riot gear and gas masks, the scene took on a peculiar appearance that resembled a Hollywood version of an attack by space aliens.

It was truly surrealistic and because most of us interpreted it to be idiotically ludicrous; as we ran around dodging the tear gas clouds and laughing it off as though it might be a romp in the park. After all, why would the police really want to seriously harm a college kid? But twenty people in fact were injured and five more arrested before the tear gas vapors finally settled to earth and peace was restored.

After order was restored I caught up with my ex-girlfriend who had not been seriously injured, but who in stunned disbelief kept saying over and over again:

  • I can’t believe he hit me. I can’t believe he hit me. I’m a woman.

I did not respond verbally other than to make small talk about hoping she was all right, but could not help but think to myself about the hypocrisy of the Women’s Liberation rhetoric she had always espoused in its demands for equality with men.

What I felt like saying was;

  • If you want to be equal, then you can’t have it both ways. If you want to be treated like a woman, then act like one; and not like a rioter. If not, then just suck it up and take it like a man. Look on the bright side, too. You’re probably lucky your head wasn’t split in two.

In fact, we were all lucky and considerably more so than the poor souls who bought the farm at Kent State the following year when the focus of campus protesting shifted into high gear against the Viet Nam war.

After the riot, I retreated to the safety of Big Funk where I pretty much became an armchair philosopher on the subject of racial equality and war. I had been cured of any great desire to be a front line activist. Beside that I had too much studying to do as well as not wanting to be arrested and then thrown out of school only months before graduation.

It was too risky. If one got expelled, the school would automatically send a notice of the fact to the local draft board at home making the result no choice but to wind up facing a less than humorous drill Sergeant, instead of the cop you could simply run away and hide from.

Arthur had a much more simplistic and an ulterior motivated view about racial equality at school. We had already become addicted to the thrill of going to every home college basketball game and were also becoming frustrated by the fact of Duke’s relatively mediocre performances. The teams were good. But they were never great and we always seemed to lose to our archrival down the road, The University of North Carolina.

Arthur’s take on things was that Duke would never become a powerhouse in the ACC, nor would it ever win a National Basketball tile unless it recruited some black athletes. He was right.

The Duke teams up to then had all been Lilly white, and basketball was simply not that kind of game anymore.

duke-riot

Alien space cop emerges from Ork Cloud to beat fully armed Duke Earthling into submission. Notice the Earthling’s sharp, menacingly dangerous and poisonous claws.

Background facts and photo taken from: Durham Civil Rights Project
Source www.durhamcountylibrary.org/dcrhp/allen.htm

College Liberals and Radical Roots (1960s)

Unsolicited Influences 

Shortly after arriving at Duke, the University held the customary annual orientation program in which the entire freshman class was herded into a large auditorium and given the usual run down and pep talks about campus life. In the case of our class, the senior student who gave the introduction could not contain himself with a crude sexual allusion to the “Class of 69”, as being the one they had all been anxiously awaiting; “The Class of Reciprocal Oral Sex.” Although the comment was greeted by loud guffaws, little did he know that his offhand reference to a Kama Sutra position would be nothing compared to the several sexual and cultural revolutions about to take place in the near future, all to be spearheaded by the “Class of Incurable STDs.”

In adding stern warnings about the various temptations associated with being free of direct parental supervision, of the need to study hard and in particular of going astray or avoiding the dreaded “Sophomore Slump,” he felt as though his message had been successfully delivered.It was business as usual with the routine accolades being accorded to yet another freshman class.

Having done reasonably well in freshman year with a decent grade point average; emotionally, however, it was a disaster. My girlfriend, M., was immediately absorbed into a sorority and shortly thereafter began dating upper classmen. This was a double blow to my self- esteem as she was both now the member of an elite club while our eternally pledged true love had gone down the tubes.

She and one of her girlfriends were particularly enamored with a tall blond member of the Junior Class they had nicknamed “Many Pennies,” being their sub-Rosa method of referring to the size of his genitalia. Indirect logical intuition led me to believe then that they either both of them had sex with him or he had sex with both of them at the same time.

Meanwhile, while she was out with Mr.Mega-penis, I firmly began to think that no one of the opposite gender would ever remotely love me again. I got through the depression by studying in the library, and also making a few half hearted efforts to win her back. It was a lost cause because I was simply outclassed, upper-classed and outsized.

She finally dumped me for good one day shortly after we had sex under an old Live Oak tree behind her dormitory on the Woman’s Campus, while afterward she complained bitterly about the crudity of the episode in comparison to the nice milieu of fraternity dorms. I guess she preferred soft pillows and sheets to picking prickly oak leaves and hard Carolina clay out of her butt crack. She also didn’t have respect for hundred year old trees or the way our Grandparents snuck out to do it romantically under the moonlight; because there was no place else to go.

After this final breakup, I incrementally began to become brainwashed by my friend Arthur. He constantly berated my conservative Barry Goldwater politics as he slowly but surely began to make me believe that Democratic Liberalism was equivalent to having a social conscious. However, because the Democratic Party under LBJ beginning in 1965 had begun to escalate the war in Vietnam, as he reneged on his campaign promise to keep American troops at home, there now seemed to be no legitimate political force that embraced social consciousness at all.

It was ironic that LBJ, who had campaigned against Goldwater with an ad depicting a nuclear bomb blowing up a little girl picking petals off a daisy, was now the principle instrument of napalm mediated death in Southeast Asia.

Napalm, or jellied gasoline, is a weapon of particular cruelty that was developed in World War II as a means of making the gasoline burn more effectively. It was used both as an incendiary device designed to maximize urban burning in the great fire raids over Germany and Japan. But even worse, being used as an antipersonnel device, it also had the great advantage that skip-bombs could be made to spewed pellets that are the equivalent of flaming Crazy-glue as they bounced along the ground. These fiery little balls would then stick perniciously to the enemy’s skin, could not be wiped off, with any attempts to do so only serving to spread it further, as though it might be incendiary flypaper or malignant poison ivy. Burning at temperatures between 800 to 1000 degrees Celsius, napalm could not even be extinguished with water. Personally speaking, I would prefer to die in an instantaneously vaporizing nuclear blast.

Arthur’s take on the political scene was that most politicians were stooges of mediocre intelligence who were fronted by wealthy businessmen or corporations. This iconoclastic view, while upsetting to my childhood view of the sanctity and infallibility of the U.S. Presidency, has obviously turned out to be quite visionary.

Feeling as though there was no political alternative at all, college students become distracted by and attracted to more radical elements such as the Student for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Black Panthers or other subversive organizations, who began to get footholds on campus and who began to preach for the complete overthrow of the US government. I can recall attending small seminars by Dr. Howard Levy and Tom Hayden who were gaining notoriety on a national level. Hayden was the founder of the SDS and eventually married the notorious Hanoi Jane Fonda.

Levy was particularly engaging in recounting the story that although he was a Dermatologist, the Army bureaucracy told him he had to function as a Surgeon. It did not seem to matter that he knew nothing about surgery; and basically had on the job training.

He also focused on the fact that the Green beret doctors being used to set up small hospital outposts in the Vietnamese countryside where the philosophy of “winning hearts and minds” was predicated entirely on the concept of delivering medical care first. This age-old ruse which goes back to antiquity is best exemplified by the Apostles of Christ whose faith healing escapades founded the nucleus of what is now one of the largest worldwide religions. The concept of “doctor as God” has only recently fallen by the wayside in modern cultures. However, in primitive cultures that have little in the way of medical services, providing even a few basic amenities goes a long way in establishing a foundation of trust.

Levy eventually spent 3 years in Leavenworth for his antiwar activities and in particular because of his vehement opposition to the subversive practice of offering medical care as propaganda tools, while the other hypocritical face of America’s presence was offering to maim or maul innocent women and children with the likes of jellied gasoline. The carrot and the stick: at its best.

I also vividly remember being privy to watching an interview at the campus radio station with Stokely Carmichael because Buck, Arthur and I had just gotten jobs at the station, which allowed to go behind the scenes. Carmichael was instrumental in promoting the idea of Black Power, Afro-American identity and separatism.

He venomously spewed repeated hate that the root of all societal evil in the World was centered in the history of Western European culture and world conquest. While it was simultaneously inspiring to watch his charismatic delivery, I was still left to wonder what he might do with all us White folks after the Black revolution established him as Emperor of America, and in particular how one could so romantically explain away the history of African tribal warfare, genocide, and slave trading.

I had the unpleasant premonition that life under a Black dictator would not be a predictably pleasant experience. It was also the first time I had ever seen anyone of celebrity accompanied by body guards and wondered why anyone would have to be that paranoid. After all, this was America where free speech was a protected right under our Constitution, was it not?

Although all these individuals were very charismatically persuasive, I also had the same premonition after attending a few SDS meetings where I listened to the venomous hate being hawked by the local cell leaders. The Students for a Democratic Society was a left wing organization that was probably the white equivalent of the Black Panthers. It was never comforting that any of the people in these groups were really delivering a message of brotherly love or a clear vision of world peace but rather that the message of the day was simply to preach the violent overthrow or the U.S. Government.

It was a confusing time and it became increasingly difficult to decide which one of the many devilish public icons one should put any faith in; a problem many citizens had and which sewed the seeds for much of the anarchy that was soon to follow. Because I eventually came to realize that living under a government formed by SDS hate mongers might be the worse of any current evil, as well as being more potentially hazardous to ones health, I paid the SDS lip service, then quit soon after joining. Early fans of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot would have been better off if they too had jumped ship at the beginning. Still wondering to this day if the fact of my brief membership is still in my FBI file, I regret not keeping the membership card for my scrapbook.

The only real good to come out of all this was that I met my first college girlfriend at an SDS meeting and started going with her after the President of the cell dumped her for someone else. Although she was one of the original “women’s libbers,” which made her exciting to be around for a while, she definitely took it all too seriously. This subsequently led to one too many humorless dates involving more in the way of tedious arguments over social reform than fun, laughs and good sex.

Added to all this social turmoil was the enormous pressure of trying to maintain grades and the intensely cut throat competition engendered by those individuals who remained oblivious to what was going on in their surroundings or in the world and who could actually have cared less. Being an A student at a small high school in N.Y. was no guarantee of getting A’s in an environment where everyone else had been selected for extreme intelligence.

However, even genius could have its pitfalls as exemplified by several emotional crack-ups in the student body. This manifested itself in something as simple as the hitchhiking Dan dropping out of school, to the extreme example of the engineering student who blew his brains out with a perfectly functional miniature cannon he had designed and then molded out of solid brass. Having successfully aimed it at eye level from the top of his dormitory dresser, it was even set up to absorb recoil when it fired.

Or the likes of the notorious Duke Shit-Bomber who would defecate in a shoe box, plop a cherry bomb into the pile with a delayed fuse, then place the device in a dormitory hallway and run for cover. No one ever knew where he would strike next until one day the terror stopped as he simply mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from again, so to speak. Perhaps he was recruited by the C.I.A. to work in Viet Nam.

Last but not least, there was an acquaintance of ours, Jack, who fancied himself a world-class oenophile and who always brought his own personal bottle of Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc to parties, hogging it to himself as he lorded its superfine qualities over the rest of us wine ignorant peasants. Jack the Wine Taster, as we nick named him, would sniff, sip, drool, and then moan in ecstasy as he swirled his libation around in a fluted glass. One night however he failed to realize that one of his so-called friends had tired so much at the snobbish effrontery, that when the bottle was half empty had poured in about two jiggers of his piss just to see if Jack could tell the difference. Apparently his highly cultured epicurean taste buds did not bat an eye as he sipped and finished off his subtly refined but slightly reprocessed wine.

As the tenor of the times and Art’s brainwashing began to take root, I did start to lean to the left of center politically and began to fall into the enticing snaring promises of anti-materialism and free love. These philosophies were being spun out of the antiwar movement, and were being made ever more visible in the media by their focus on the flower people in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. It was certainly more agreeable to pursue these ideals than those being promulgated by the fifth column organizations that had begun to preach the violent overthrow of the U.S. Government. The times were so confusing and unsettled it was easy to succumb to the idea that our culture was seriously flawed and unbalanced, that the fascist powers-that-be were fully in control, that little people counted for nothing and that ultimately, nothing really mattered at all. Anyway the wind blows. Strawberry fields, forever.

Forgetting that my father’s hard working materialistic job was actually responsible for sending me to school, I let my hair grow down to my shoulders and started to pipe smoke aromatic tobaccos as well as those tasty unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes that cost only 18 cents per pack. In reference to his purist anti-filtered smoking philosophy, Arthur justified both habits as such:

  • So what’s the point in smoking, if you really aren’t smoking? Smoking filtered cigarettes is the same as having sex wearing a condom.

Then becoming increasingly saturated by the propaganda of the ultra left, it wasn’t long before I began to smoke marijuana and to begin experimenting with psychedelic drugs.

Arthur kept talking about dropping out and moving to California, regaling me with tales of the free life being enjoyed by a friend of his, Randy, who had gone out there the year before. These fables made me progressively and increasingly begin to seriously question all the values I had been raised to believe in. I also began to intensely hate the military industrial complex and to harbor equal distain for Lyndon Johnson’s having creating a social environment that fostered a cloudy uncertain paranoia about the future.

As students, we all knew that any one of us could easily be conscripted to fight in a God forsaken jungle on the other side of the world when the free pass of educational deferment expired at graduation; all thanks to a cracker from Texas, whom my uncle Bill stated with direct certainty had won his first congressional election on the stuffed ballots of deceased constituents in his district. LBJ might have even calculated how many dead soldiers from his own state would have been necessary to vote from the crypt on his bid for a second term in the White House.

Freedom of choice was ingrained in my Catholic upbringing. I did not have to follow the flower people, I did not have to waste my time frittered away smoking pot while listening to the Rolling Stones or the Grateful Dead, and although I did only pay lip service to the radical movements instead of direct participation I had already opted instead to take the path of least resistance by cheering from the sidelines. The final result was the free choice of copping out and not participating in anything organized or useful at all, or not to even study too much anymore, which in retrospect was all a regretful waste of time. But the times were confusing, and I did not really know any better.

If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed off drugs, kept out of politics and flown under the radar by taking up golf instead.

Duke had a championship level golf course on campus; lessons would have come free covered under general tuition as a gym elective, while a round of golf in the serenity of nature could have easily substituted for a toke of smoke.

Arthur 

So what’s the point in smoking, if you really aren’t smoking?

(Arthur)

 

(Photo and name printed with permission)

School Daze 2: Freshman Year at College 1965

School Daze 2

The freshman dormitories on the men’s campus at Duke are on the quadrangle west of the Chapel. They are a long series of structures resembling Gothic row houses; and are arbitrarily divided into sections that are lettered in alphabetic sequence. Contrary to this generic lettering, the upperclassman Independent Houses have proprietary names of identification, like Canterbury, while the Fraternity Houses have the customary Greek nomenclature such as Alpha Tau Epsilon. This seems to emphasize your relative worthlessness as you start your academic career and seems modeled after the nameless rank-less military plebe class at West Point.

When my parents dropped me off in front of my new home, the freshman dormitory simply known as “J House”, then hurriedly unpacked the station wagon, put all my things in my room, and abruptly headed home, I had a panic attack. Although I should have been elated at the arrival of my long anticipated emancipation, instead I felt nothing but instantaneous homesickness.

To make matters worse the dormitory interior was crypt-like with narrow sunless hallways, tiny rooms with narrow windows, and even narrower beds. The two young men expected to co-habit the room, whose parents were trying to save on expenses, could immediately feel a pervading claustrophobically interpersonal angst. The housing was nice looking on the outside but akin to living inside a medieval tomb. In addition I had to bunk with a roommate who had been arbitrarily assigned to me.

He was a nice enough, but a very straight-laced person who was in college under the Reserve Officer Training Commission (ROTC), a factor that required him to wear a Navy uniform most of the time. I suppose it was the natural progression after Boy Scouts and did nothing to help my previously ingrained distain for uniforms.

The good thing was that he spent a lot of time out of the room, which was fine with me. However to this day I do not know if this was because of his ancillary military obligations and studies, because I was giving off unfriendly vibrations, or because of the constant taunting of the dormitory political liberal, Arthur, who in salutation would repeat his last name over and over again making it sound like the croaking of a nocturnal marsh frog.

  • Brrrrent, Brrrrent, Brrrrent.

Freshman dorm relationships in general tend to be a bit like a group of vacationers stuck together on a long tour package. After a lot of random interactive shuffling about, the various personalities sort themselves out, and then cliques form. The absurdity of it all is that even though you are now buddies, if you met the same people on the street or at a cocktail party, you would never even give them the time of day. Eventually the re-sorting evolved and everyone either joined a fraternity or moved into an Independent Dormitory.

But during that first college year, the blend of disparate souls can make for a significant degree of diversity, camaraderie, or interpersonal tension and hostility before it does eventually re- shuffles. Perhaps this accounts for the origins of the “birds of a feather” Fraternal system in the first place. Better to be with an asshole identical to ones self than to be a diametrically opposite asshole who in relative terms is a real asshole. Our dorm was no exception.

Living next to me in a single room was a good-natured carefree soul from Pennsylvania, Doug, who was totally unperturbed by the world as he let everything roll off his back. He was passionate about golf, and despite his lack of a legacy, got into a fraternity simply because of his athleticism.

Across the hallway was a highly neurotic Jewish pre-dental student who could not get going in the morning unless he repeated his bathroom rituals in a predetermined properly correct order. He could easily be tortured by simply placing one of his previously and neatly aligned pairs of shoes out of line, or by moving his toothbrush two inches to the right. One day he actually had a near nervous breakdown when he lost his Mezuzah. It was the first I had ever heard of this uniquely religious good luck charm and its loss caused the small world of our dormitory came to a screeching halt until the item was finally relocated, then once again placed above his doorway, with all of its associated blessings and mystical protections happily restored.

We had to find it or he would still be perseverating to this day:

  • I lost my Mezuzah. I lost my Mezuzah. I lost my Mezuzah. Where’s my Mezuzah?

He eventually joined the small Jewish fraternity that consisted primarily of intellectual nerds, and was never seen by us again; although I subsequently learned he has made a fortune in cable television but not in amalgam dental fillings or in realigning crooked teeth in some glitzy northern New Jersey suburb.

Being Jewish at Duke University may have fulfilled certain admission quotas, but generally speaking, the Jewish students were a targeted minority. Being a northern Catholic with an Italian last name this made me look good by comparison.

Perhaps it was no accident that the Jewish fraternity house, the Tao Epsilon Phi, (The TEPs) was physically adjacent to the football athlete’s Fraternity house, the Alpha Tau Omega (The JOCKs); such that  on many a liquored up Saturday night it would not be infrequent that these frustrated animals would crash through the barrier door in the basement separating the dorms and proceed to use the Jewish “dweebs” as footballs.

That is if they were not first entertaining themselves or their sorority sisters by their unique tradition of group mooning out the windows or  throwing a television set off the dormitory roof and then gleefully screaming as the screen and neon tubes disintegrated as the appliance completely disappeared into a pile of tiny silver dust particles. The authorities would usually turn and look the other way or slap some inconsequential punishment on the cheeky offenders.

Administrative authorities also turned their other cheeks to the jock’s generally poor academic performances and the fact that their sorority sisters wrote most of their term papers. But after all, what is a major University if it does not have an athletic program, even if the athletes themselves do not really go to school, or in order to matriculate will enroll in specially designed classes such as “Citizenship 101” or “Advanced Primitive Tribal Face Painting”

This particular course comes in especially handy for them on football game day when they put that idiotic black paint under their eyes, a ritual ostensibly designed to keep reflected sun glare from bouncing off their mirror-like steroid induced shiny skinned faces and temporarily blinding them.

  • Sorry coach. I flubbed it cause I couldn’t see the ball. I forgot to wear my war paint.

So what if Duke Football at that time ranked consistently in the bottom ten percent of all Division I colleges. Since the team consistently gets pummeled into the gridiron every Fall Saturday afternoon, their tactics and tendencies to beat up on TEPs may have in reality been nothing better than a simple case of Kick the Dog Syndrome. It certainly was not an example of putting the elements of “Citizenship 101” into daily practice 

In general it seems strange that many Division I colleges continue to maintain both football and basketball programs, but that very few seem to excel in both simultaneously. I was told once that it all revolves around solicitation of alumni donations backed up by a perpetual hope that someday, no matter what, the monetary support will bring in a National Championship. Duke football fans will be dead three times over before that ever happens again. 

At Duke, an equally strange curiosity was the fact that there seemed to be an inverse proportion between the size of the athlete and the size of his unusually diminutive girlfriend, which gave rise to our jocular reference to their imagined sexual encounters as being “spinners” or “propeller jobs.” All in all I suppose that is probably better than the imagined sexual implications attached to the fall and spring Fraternity classics known as the “Greek Games.” 

Further down the hall, in J House, lived another Jewish student, Dan, who was the antithesis of the obsessive pre-dental nut case. He rarely studied, eventually flunked out and later enrolled in a smaller college that was easier to survive academically.

His favorite pastime was to have everyone come into his room, turn off the lights, lie back on his bed, then pull up his legs and ignite his farts with a butane cigarette lighter. He could fart at will and we all laughed hysterically as he entertained us with a repetitive flame throwing demonstration that could have made him a comfortable living in any carnival side show: Methane Man: The Human Flame Thrower.

Of course this is not to say that we neither discouraged him nor did we ever think we were not freaky ourselves when we attempted to measure the distance of the flaming eruptions with a ruler. These activities can be lumped into the general classification of: ND-SN-FBS: No Date-Saturday Night-Freshman Boredom Syndrome.  

Because Dan had no problem hanging cartoons up in the dormitory lounge for public review one of his most legendary achievements was to sponsor the first annual “Gross-Out Art Contest,” an event that nearly got him expelled when one of the contestants submitted a picture of Donald Duck giving Jesus Christ a blow-job. He was an advocate of freedom of the press, having taken some inspiration from the radical contemporary author’s Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs who were breaking down the barriers of literary censorship on a national level with books the likes of “Howl” and “Naked Lunch,” while at the same time Bob Dylan was breaking down the barriers of racial segregation by questioning the morals and mores of polite society or centralized government with his music.Dan was also a natural born stand up comedian, who because of not having a car or other monetary means, traveled back and forth to New York by hitch hiking with a handmade placard stating:

Dan F: A laugh a mile

He always got a ride.

 

Dylan

(Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson and Allen Ginsberg)

Another standout was the good natured Georgia boy, “Buck”, who had an innate sense of humor, an open curiosity about the world, was always too quick to fall in love, but who also had a tendency to be easily influenced and easily led astray. Sometimes I think the world was simply a little too much for him. At one point he had to temporarily drop out of school when he retrieved his mail, only to find a note written by his parents to this effect:

“Dear son; Had enough, decided to quit, sold the house, moving away, and sorry but now you are on your own. By the way, this also means you get no more money. Pay for school yourself. Love, Mom and Dad.”

He then decided to either sell or to give away all his possessions, as he became a passionate follower of the teachings of the transcendental meditation icon, Maher Baba, who had concurrently been made famous by the Beatles. Although he was only following his own soft, kindly heart, and truly did believe he could make a difference in the world by following the pacifist trail, we all thought Buck was a little crazed with his fascination for the squeaky impish rodent-voiced little Indian prophet.

Even though cultural issues in America were then turning out to be quite troubled, as America’s youth was beginning to turn away from materialism, most of us seemed to be able to smell the phony little rat wrapped up in the white Sari. We were also still a bit mercenary and not quite at the stage where we were about to think twice when we absorbed all of Buck’s cast aside 33 speed records into our own vinyl collections.

As it turned out Buck was but one of the many, including the Beatles, who were hoodwinked into believing that this great teacher was going to reveal the long awaited key to salvation, but who then were equally and horribly disappointed when on his death bed the Baba’s highly anticipated pre-advertised final words of holy revelation were:

  • I was Rani, I was Shiva, I was Krishna, I was Vishnu, I was this one, I was that one. I am also Maher Baba. I will die, but I shall return.

Why should any one who knows anything about Buddhism or Brinkmanship have been disappointed or even remotely surprised at this wondrous, ever so profoundly clever yet fraudulent revelation? After all, if one believes in reincarnation the Baba did not tell a lie, did he?

Sadly, several years ago I heard that Buck had gone on to become a high school teacher who in being well loved by most but apparently not by all in Atlanta, Georgia, was subsequently shot to death one day in class by a disgruntled student. Perhaps his biggest flaw was that he was the kind of person who could never even hurt a fly and that the disgruntled student probably took his offbeat sense of sarcastic humor without the necessary grain of salt.

In dorm life as well as in societal life, as might be expected, there is always an alpha personality that rises to the top and tends to lead the pack. In J House, his name was Arthur, a pre-law student from Trenton New Jersey, who had an insidious ability to insert his views, to make them predominant, and to cast an air of arrogant condescending superiority.

He was extremely intimidating and liked to prey on weaker personalities while attempting to turn them to his point of view, or if he could not, then spent a great deal of time torturing the intended victim until he at least raised a reactive response. Then when all else failed, his final tactic was to simply raise his voice higher than any one who might be trying to propose a countervailing argument.

My ex-wife also liked to use the torture tactic as she consistently misinterpreted peace and quiet as meaning a lack of interest or lost love. Equally confusing was her belief that having a nasty loud argument meant I was actually taking a sincere interest in our relationship.

Art’s political philosophy was inherently to the left side of liberal. He was also far ahead of me intellectually as he had already been versed in literature I had never even heard of, lording over our conversations with ideas and quotations he had extracted from the likes of T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac; to name few. He also had very broad musical interests, and despite the intimidation factor, was instrumental in elevating my awareness to considerably more expansive horizons than those attached to my insular introverted upbringing.

Finally and ultimately then, there was myself. A nerdy, conservative northern boy, who originally intended nothing more than to go to school, to study hard, to get into medical school, to subsequently have a life and career that would basically run predictably on auto pilot; with a lucrative almost guaranteed income.

Nice house. Perfect wife. White picket fence. Two perfect kids playing in the yard. Dream on.

I could have never possibly guessed that God had somehow sent my own personal devil, Arthur, to test and to tempt every value I had ever known, or that the War in Vietnam had already set the substrate for my not unwilling journey into largely uncharted waters. I was about to be tested on my ability to tell the difference between black and white. In fact the entire country was headed in a direction that would not allow for any shades of gray whatsoever.

It was 1965 and Lyndon Johnson had just committed the first 200,000 Marines to an escalating firefight, in a geographically divided Southeast Asian country, despite a foreboding forewarning by the fleeing French who had already abandoned the contest that it could never be anything but a no-win situation.

This was a war being proffered by a paranoid super power interfering with a foreign struggle for independence, in a place it had no business to be, and which nearly resulted in tearing the United States to shreds by igniting a domestic civil war of opposing philosophies and moral differences. It was a conflict that in this country was about to cause a borderless internal division having nothing to do with the Mason-Dixon Line and a conflict which ultimately gave Ho Chi Min the ongoing fortitude to see his mission fulfilled and his own visionary dream for his country won and finally realized.

It was a contest that shortsighted American politicians had failed to realize, could only have been successfully accomplished or completed by genocide, an idea that might have actually crossed the minds of some Washington politicos, except for the small fact that the Vietnamese people were not about to go quietly and gently into that good night.

 

Black and White

 

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune

The Titanic sails at dawn.

And everybody’s shouting

“Which side are you on?”

And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot

Fighting in the captain’s tower.

While calypso singers laugh at them

And fishermen hold flowers.

Between the windows of the sea

Where lovely mermaids flow

And nobody has to think too much

About Desolation row.

(Bob Dylan: Desolation row)

Dylan, Robertson and Ginsberg: Source  robbie robertson.com
Poster www.ragtime-society.de/Video/Deutsch/cover.htm

 

Duke University: The Harvard of the South ( And other Sobriquets)

The Harvard of the South

When I became a member of the Southampton Golf Club it was known as “The one down the road from Shinnecock.” When I went to Medical School at Tufts University in Boston, it was known as “One of the other two Boston Medical Schools.” And when I went to college at Duke University in 1965, it was known as “The Harvard of the South.”

It’s a good thing I do not have a thin skinned inferiority complex, or I might have thought my life to be nothing better than a series of second bests and near misses, both in educational as well as in social venues.

In point of fact, akin to undeveloped real estate that eventually becomes unobtainable once it has been “discovered,” both my golf club and that “other” Medical School eventually became quite desirable and unattainable in their own respective rights. At present, one cannot get into either of them without knowing or blowing someone with inside connections.

As a curious footnote, when in the early 1980s golf was still a sport predominantly enjoyed by blue blooded American gentry but not yet passionately embraced on a national level; even Shinnecock had its precarious moment as it narrowly escaped becoming no better than a desiccated raisin in the sun.

The course was a non-irrigated tract of wispy, windblown fescue, not quite qualifying as a true links course because it is some distance from the seaside. It also happened to be hovering on the brink of receivership because of an ambivalent lack of interest by a sparse population of part time local high-society patrons who were the only denizens able to afford playing the silly sport. Everyone else had to eek out a marginal living by farming, clamming, fishing, waiting tables or being in any other kindred service related businesses that only ran from May through September.

The waiting list for membership was a mere six months, while the fees were only a few thousand dollars, including the initiation cost. Yet despite what essentially equated to a red carpet invitation to join, the club practically had to beg people to even consider it.

Several members of our current hospital medical staff took the opportunity to sign on and are now envied as much as those foresighted people who bought property in the Hamptons when an acre on the ocean went for about $10,000. Today there is no land left to buy, the prices fetch six to nine figures; even in some cases just for a knockdown 1950s bungalow like the one my father is currently living in.

On a parallel track, the Shinnecock waiting list is now infinitely long, the startup cost is not disclosed, and when finding a sponsor, it no longer really matters who you know, because in this day and age everyone knows someone. Local legend has it that even the President of the United States would have to be parked on the member waiting list; especially so if he happened to be a Democrat.The same thing holds true for the National Golf Links, The Maidstone Club and the Easthampton Yacht Club, where being a member’s progeny is just about the only thing warranting an entrée.

You see, everything is either relative or it just boils down to whoever happens to be your relative.

Add to this category the prestigious Duke University and the equally reputable Tuft-New England Medical Center. Duke University currently enjoys a superior reputation for undergraduate and graduate work. It also had a curious reputation for pioneering research in the paranormal, although in retrospect this was more likely to be a pseudonym for clandestine CIA brain function and mental telepathy study projects.

It has fine colleges in Medicine, Law, and Engineering and with its world famous Rice Diet, was also one of the first institutions to mainstream the catastrophic implicative importance of obesity and weight loss. This was decades before the rest of America began eating itself to death, before obesity was a pathetic anomaly instead of being the norm, and well before fasting was something reserved for penitence during Lent.

It is also an institution that is situated in the middle of nowhere, being just down the road from Durham, North Carolina, a city which at the time I enrolled had nothing much to offer except for its local poverty, tobacco processing and cigarette manufacturing factories.

Alumni boast the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Nixon, while the institution’s general notoriety has not been undiminished by its repeatedly stellar NCAA basketball teams, led by the only college basketball coach ever to be widely recognized by a single letter. Coach K.

As a small digression, there is a reason that this particular moniker, and for that matter sports monikers in general, do not require an elaborate academic explanation for their creation. The practice is quite simply rooted in a pernicious tendency for sport casters to combine sloth, ignorance, or esoteric sensationalism with an overarching inspiration to create nicknames.

This is a habit that panders to their equally lazy, ignorant, or cult focused audiences, the” fans,” who then tend to think of it all as sports sophistication.

For example we have:

Catfish, Tiger, The Juice, Dr. J., The Bambino, The Big Unit, Air, Flo-Jo, The Bus, The Mailman, The Golden Bear, The Say Hey Kid, Gronk and The Splendid Splinter: to name just a few.

Why these elite and universally recognized people have to be identified by a sobriquet remains to be fully explained, but probably parallels the WASP habit of nicknaming; which I have previously explained simply as: “nobody can figure out why.”

In a similar vein, it can certainly pose both significant pronunciation as well as spelling errors when sport broadcasting mavens are presented with names that seem to be composed of only consonants. It is akin to a school child who  struggles along with spelling, then in giving up on the difficult words, throws the school binder to the bottom of a drawer, and begins the long walk down the road to functional illiteracy.

So too, the sportscaster will tend to take the easy way out, and with the brainwashed fans gleefully following his lead, will then proceed to finalize the process by making the abbreviated names or nicknames into secret cult code words. Or in a similar vein to Bill Clinton’s testimony regarding the Lewinsky affair:

  • You can’t possibly say you don’t know who Coach K. is.
  • That depends on what the definition of K, is.

Or the sublimely and extremely esoteric example of having referred to the Temple basketball star, Bill Mlkvy, as “The Owl Without a Vowel.”

Trust me on this one, because having lived in Polish immigrant farm country for nearly three decades, if it had not been for the fact of inanely repetitive television broadcasting, and until the point that they finally got it right, the famous Boston Red Sox from Bridgehampton would probably have been forever known simply as Carl Y.

At least is his case they were finally able to boil his name down to a simple three letter ‘Yaz, ‘ whereas unfortunately for Coach K., his name contains just one two few vowels and simply cannot be salvaged; or if his demeanor was not so calm he might be known as Coach Krazy; akin to the current fans.

Imagine myself going through the identical situation when I dated someone with the last name Ratyjyczyk. In lieu of being in the avant-garde of the soon to come male chauvinist pig phenomenon, when making introductions by simply referring to her as “The Pole With the Hole,”, it was rather because of superlative memory training in medical school, combined with retention of a few basic manners, that I made it into a mnemonic rhyme instead. After that I never got the spelling wrong: R-A / T-Y / J-Y / Cz-Y / K    You see, it can be done.

More to the subject at hand, Duke was founded in the early 1800s by Methodist and Quaker families, becoming Trinity College when a deal was struck whereby the college would give free education to Methodist preachers in exchange for financial support from the church. It eventually moved from rural Randolph County, N.C. to Durham, in order to imbue it with an “urban” flavor, although I do not understand why Durham could even remotely have been or even yet be considered urban.

At that time a unique research library was opened under the guidance of John F. Crowell, after which Washington Duke and Julian Carr then generously funded the new school from profits made in tobacco. In 1878, Washington Duke linked the remainder of his donations to the contingency that women be admitted on an equal footing with men; a somewhat rare and radical thought for his time. Bravo and kudos to you, Washington.

Eventually, the Men and Women’s campuses were separated by about a mile, as the Men’s school moved to a new West campus.

Perhaps the founding fathers felt by creating this geographic gender separation, that undesirable and potentially scandalous premarital copulation with the East Campus vestal virgins would be held to a minimum. These being the same corporate tobacco czars who while believing that no man would consider walking a mile for a woman, if he happened to be a nicotine addict, would think nothing of walking ten miles for a Camel. This relative value question should be posed to any man who hasn’t had sex in a month or so, albeit not to the few hard-core nicotine junkies who would in fact rather smoke a cigarette than  get laid.

In any event, because of ongoing support from the Duke family, the institution was able to attract faculty from the great northern schools such as Johns Hopkins and Columbia, and by WW I, had transformed itself into one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the country.

Washington Duke’s son, James, eventually created the Duke endowment in 1924 with a 40 million dollar trust fund that seeded the development of a university on the new West campus and progressively thereafter the schools of Medicine. Law, Nursing, Forestry, Engineering, Religion and Business were opened.

The school was renamed after the Duke family when James agreed to this as a request by the University president, William Few being contingent only on the fact that the school be a memorial to his father and to his family. Apparently that deal was a no-brainer. For 40 million dollars, I would even change my own name.

Other more colorful local legend has it that James B. Duke originally solicited Princeton and offered the money to their Board of Governors, contingent on the fact that Princeton re-names itself Duke University. When the Princeton Board of Governors politely refused, James is said to have returned to Durham where he built the new West Campus on a Gothic architectural style and design pattern that Princeton claims he directly plagiarized from its own hallowed halls.

This is undoubtedly nothing more than Princeton sour grapes, because the architecture of Duke University far and away surpasses that of Princeton, as does its current academic reputation. Perhaps Princeton instead should now refer to itself as the Duke of the North.

Truthfully speaking, I believe the legend to be a mere vehicle for Duke to spite the condescending or patronizing attitudes that were promulgated by the arrogant northern colleges and by those individuals who never truly believed that the South could actually ever rise again, nor for that matter to ever be able to compete on any level. However in this day and age academic excellence at Duke, coupled with a predictably lethal national basketball program, is a combination that is difficult to cursively dismiss when it comes to consistently attracting talent on every level.

All legend and folklore aside, the entrance to Duke University is beautifully engineered in a way that forces one to enter the main campus via a small traffic circle that diverts traffic into a long driveway. The circular driveway entrance is elevated above the level of the campus such that as one enters the drive the visual graphic becomes the Duke Chapel as the distant centerpiece of the roadway. Initially being at eye level, it then ascends progressively skyward as one slowly descends toward the center of the university.

It is a breathtakingly awe inspiring sight, and one I am sure that prompted many students to commit, and then to and fall in love with Duke at first sight. It certainly happened to me when I made my first trip around that circle and entered the long seductive, sloping drive leading down to the large flat mall that then splendidly splays itself out in front of those tall, majestic medieval Gothic spires.

As a sight that never grows old, it remains as one of those memories that is permanently etched in the frontal lobe of my brain. I told my mother when I saw the Chapel that there was no doubt in my mind this was going to be my college.

 

 

DUke university
© Photo from Duke University Gift Collection Catalogue: Volume 21 issue 1 2003-2004

 

Legacies : Frats and Freaks

Legacy 3: Frats and Freaks

Legacy: def 2: Anything as a characteristic, derived from an ancestor. 

Pedigree: from the French: pied de grue or Crane’s foot: A chart of ancestry. Family tree

In the early 1960s at least, social success in a prestigious southern college was closely linked to joining a fraternity or a sorority. It provided promptly guaranteed social introductions and social venues along with pre-certified social credibility. However, if wishing to join a southern college fraternity or a sorority, one had better have a “legacy” or otherwise suffer the serious risk becoming a social outcast, and worse, deemed to be an “Independent;” a veritable man without a country. Even if one did not have a legacy, which is almost predetermined genetically, a person could still occasionally make the grade if possessing some ill-defined attribute that the fraternal organization required for itself: such as new money, musical talent, athletic prowess or physical beauty.

I had none of these attributes. I was upper-middle class, had no preppy clothes, did not know about Weejun penny loafers, wore geeky large framed brown spectacles with coke bottle bottom lenses, and possessed only mediocre talent when it came to athletics. In addition, my father was just a journeyman first generation Italian dentist, while my former dirt-farmer mother had already shunned and insulted The Daughters of the American Revolution.

When I went to college, at Duke University in North Carolina, I didn’t know at the time that I even had a definite, albeit defunct, Southern American legacy, much less what in the world a legacy was. But I soon came to discover that Legacy at Duke basically meant having old Southern wealth attached to an old Southern pedigree; along with the litany of private clubs and arcane organizations that go with it. Those things were not discussed in the High School I attended, ‘up yonder’ in New York, because ethnically and biologically speaking; nobody ever really gave a damn. The Northern melting pot had already created a new amalgam of its society, which made people pretty much accepted for who they were as opposed to an AKC Dog Show pedigree of who had bred them.

As it eventually turned out a year later, the concept of legacy was not the only thing I was ill prepared for when I went to College.

Nevertheless, every Freshman gets an informal tryout in an initial hazing process consisting of an endless string of Frat House parties where the brothers meet, greet and ogle you. They also bait their hooks with a bevy of beautiful WASP sorority sisters garbed in cute little Villager outfits and draped over their “brother’s” arms like limp dishrags. However, I flunked the field trial when every single fraternity, including even the most marginal ones such as the Pi Alpha Geeks and the Zeta Beta Nerds, rejected me.

Fortunately, enough however, one of several “Independent” dormitories, Canterbury House, finally did accept me, along with several other intellectual misfits who did indeed possess a chromosomal complement of normal human genes but sadly genes that lacked a readily definable or proof-based DNA legacy. The Independent Houses, being created as a reaction to the harshly restrictive fraternities, had then rounded up a collection of the fraternity outcasts. This action was entirely necessitated out of a need for social self-defense and survival. These houses also tended to attract their own unique group of female independent counterparts. These women were more interestingly genuine or colorful than the graduates of a Southern Debutant cookie-cutter assembly line that had invariably molded their daughters for an automatic re-deposit into the protective womb of their mother’s former sororities.

Thus, for the time being, although the rest of the fraternities never recognized the legitimacy of the pseudo-fraternal Independent organizations, nor of its members as being part of the human race, at least I had found a home of sorts with a quasi-identity on campus…even if it was considered second-class by the elite body of blue blooded Southern snobs.

The “Frats” would condescendingly refer to the Independents as “The Freaks,” ironically enough, only a year or two before things got very freaky indeed. When I eventually found out in the 1990s that I did have a legacy, which makes it quite certain that on pedigree paper I would easily qualify to be a fraternal member, I am still not quite sure if having to do it all over again, any one of those great Southern old-boys clubs would ever reconsider admitting me anyway. Even if given a mulligan, as I found out later in life there would be a small residual stigma attached to any other personal introduction or application I might ever make. My last name ends with a vowel; and in the good old Southern pedigree system, they simply “do not cotton to that.”

Fraternity interview question: Hey boy. You sum kind-a furriner, or what?

Freaks

The freaks’ll stay together

They’re a tight old crew.

You look at them

And they look at you.

I love the Ballyhoo girl,

But she don’t care

It’s hard to find love anywhere.

Hard to find love anywhere.

(Devil Baby: Mark Knoffler)

A Good Mutt’s Pedigree

    Granny Nora and children                          Dad and siblings

      Granny Nora, my mother and her  siblings                                My father and his siblings

Hey Mambo

Mambo Italiano.

Go, go, Joe

You mixed up Siciliano.

(Hey Mambo: Bob Merrill)

Freaks: Movie Poster ©Todd Browning/MGM Studios