Lyndon Johnson

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