No. 1: Prologue, February 12, 1971
Date: Feb. 12, 1971
Time: 5:36 p.m.
Place: The Bench (Slope)
“I hate you,” Ann O’Connor ’74 said to her boyfriend, Harold Rothman ’72, who was sitting nearby, half-guilt-stricken, half-dumbstruck at his latest academic predicament. Here he was, just returned from his first suspension from Plymouth, and now he was in trouble again?
Moreover, this time chances were good that the Committee on Academic Records would not be as big-hearted as it had been the first time around, when it had merely suspended Harold. This time Harold risked being sent into permanent orbit, i.e., the Big E: Expulsion. All for sending a dada paper to the wrong professor, topic of said paper being “How would you define an intellectual?” Harold had taken it literally, conducting a random survey of students and faculty on how they would define an intellectual, and submitting a compendium of their serious (and not-so-serious) answers.
Alas, not quite what the good professor, Lindsay Chudwaite, had in mind. Hence the subsequent “F,” which, Chudwaite explained to the protesting Harold, he’d felt “duty-bound” to assign. “You’re one of the brightest students I have ever had,” he told Harold. “But we can’t change the rules for you!”
Hence Harold’s new rendezvous with the Committee — the difference being that this time around, Harold had Ann. And, witness the tongue-lashing she now administered to Harold Rothman ’72, she wasn’t too pleased. Nor would be any sensible girl from Hicksville, New York who’d had the bad luck to fall in love with the captain of the Plymouth Varsity Dada Team.
Atop the East Hill, a wedge of sodden clouds narrowed into a magenta eyebrow, and the orb set upon another day on God’s University (as awestruck first-time visitors sometimes called Plymouth). At the bottom of the Slope, a freshman (from California, no doubt), still unsteady on his feet after his first winter, fell on his face just as a Fairlane full of seniors zoomed by. “Plebe!” they shouted, their derisive yells echoing up the Slope.
Harold sighed as his girlfriend continued her philippic. She was getting started.
“First, you make me fall in love with you. Then you bust out of here again?! I suppose,” the redhead continued scathingly, “that was amusing the first time around.”
Harold smiled to himself as he fell into a mocking, retrospective reverie. The lights went out in his internal screening room, revealing a grainy black and white clip of himself opening the door to his parents’ apartment in Queens, fresh off the midnight bus — of course, it had to be the midnight bus, upon being exiled after he racking up that astounding 0.0 cumulative average (four failures and an incomplete in gym).
No, that wasn’t amusing, Harold said to himself, falling deeper into his cineastic-funk-reverie, something he had been in the habit of doing after spending virtually every evening of said exile watching old movies in the auditorium of the Museum of Modern Art. He winced at the memory of his devastated mother, in tears. Change reels please.
Now, on the other hand, his Banishment Party — as his admiring C-Town neighbors called the riotous send-off they gave him — that had been good, clean fun. Harold laughed along with his imaginary audience as his internal projectionist artfully rewound, now revealing an astonished, happy Harold (Cameras, please!) dressed in his T. S. Eliot-ish best — hair parted in the middle, white pants, white bucks — arriving at the elegant, very dada affair. Making his way through the crowd, Harold heard the revelers shout encouragements such as “Way to go, man!”
“You have to admit it: 0.0 has a certain nugatory beauty to it,” one admirer, outfitted in his Yippie-ish Sunday best — farmer’s overalls, paisley shirt, Australian bust hat — said to another of his C-Town comrades, adorned in light-blue swimming trunks, a white t-shirt proclaiming “DIVERSIONISTS UNITE!” topped off with a green silk turban. The latter, puffing away at a pipe packed with the special local blend of low-grade tobacco and high-grade hashish (Taster’s Choice), somberly agreed while resting his bare foot on the stomach of a fallen attendee.
“It definitely is a statement, isn’t it?” he replied, in his best faux-academic manner. “Have a toke?”
“Thanks, I think I will.”
Such was the general tenor of conversation on that memorable evening, as Rothman’s friends, housemates, and one sublessee — a shaggy-haired non-student from South Dakota who went by the moniker “Steve Freak” who rented Harold’s closet for $5 a month — gathered ’round the tatterdemalion living room of the C-Town apartment to commemorate this historic moment.
There they all were, all the people who had witnessed and inadvertently (or, in some debauched cases, intentional) contributed to Rothman’s historic “achievement”: Steve Freak, already well in his cups, who was humming the words to the Eton Boating Song; Lars Evergreen, the mystically inclined history of art major from Illinois, who lived downstairs, who had recently helped Harold come down from the death trip he had had after he nearly jumped from the third-floor balcony because he thought he was dead already and that it didn’t matter.
Ah yes, his internal announcer was saying, those were the days!
Ann was shouting at him now, “Harold! Harold!”
Slowly Harold, snapping out of his docu-reverie, turned to his girlfriend and, speaking very deliberately, said to her calmly, “Listen, young lady, you’re wrong — on both counts.”
“First,” he snarled, “I haven’t busted out of this joint yet.
“Second,” he continued in dead earnest, “since when did I make you fall in love with me?!”
It was getting dark now. Ann said nothing. It was hard to see her face.
“I still hate you,” she said, evenly. But now he thought he saw a smile.