No. 18: Exile on Main Street

In the last installment of C-Town Blues: After coming down from a near fatal “death trip” in his drab C-Town apartment, Harold Rothman ’72, belatedly paying the price of the 0.0 cum he had racked up the prior term, receives a letter from the Kafkaesque Committee on Academic Records suspending him from Plymouth for one year. He is also told that if he wishes to return to the Hill, he must first leave town; as far as the Administration is concerned, he is persona non grata. Following a riotous send-off by his depraved C-Town friends, he takes the midnight bus home to New York and his shell-shocked family…

And so, that winter, that long horrible winter of ’70, Harold Rothman — class of ’72, sometime harmonica player, sometime poet, sometimes muser on the eternal verities, sporadic tripster, even more sporadic student — began his period of enforced exile from Plymouth University on the mean streets of New York.

Amongst other things, Rothman soon found that the reality of being suspended from college — and no less sent into exile, for Christ’s sake! — was considerably less appealing than the bohemian, down-and-out-in-Paris-and-London imaged his C-Town friends had conjured up.

For one thing, he now had to work. Not as in school work, but as in work work. One of the conditions for Rothman’s reinstatement, according to the latter he had received from the College of Arts and Sciences’ Star Court (a.k.a. the Committee on Academic Records) was that, while he was out there in the Real World finding himself (wherever that was), he also was required to hold down a job. A real job. As in job job.

Rothman’s mortified father, Sam (his mother later told Harold that Sam had “turned white” after he had taken the call from Harold telling parents about the Committee’s blood-chilling letter, after their errant offspring had finally worked up the courage to tell them about it) had already taken care of the “finding” part of the equation, locating a reasonably well-paying, salaried job job for The Fallen One in the microfilm department of the main branch of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.

You know, the one with the lions in front. Rothman would get to know those lions very well over the next six months, as he filed past the frozen behemoths on his way to his job job as a microfilm and microfiche inspector.

It wasn’t so bad, actually.

Rothman’s duties mainly entailed inspecting old reels of microfilm and microfiche for errors, which meant he spent five or six hours reading anything from past volumes of Candy and Confectionary Journal (cool!) to Police Journal (freaky) to Plastics Monthly (ugh).

The best part of the job — in addition to whatever literary “pleasure” it supplied — was that Rothman was essentially his own boss. He would be given a certain number of films to inspect at the beginning of the week, and as long as they were properly inspected by the end of the week, his father’s friend, Howard Bouscher, was okay.

The worst part of the job was going back to Queens to have dinner with his parents, who were, of course, still ashamed of him.

So after a while, Harold stopped going home right after work. Instead, he would go to the Museum of Modern Art to see old films. There, in the dark, in the basement of the MoMA, he would lose himself in Godard and Kurosawa. Sometimes he would see the same film twice. Eventually, he would leave and take the E train back home to Queens. By then, it was usually too late to have dinner with his parents, and he would skulk back into his room and go to sleep.

And in the morning he would take the subway to 42nd street and the routine would begin again — microfilm by day, foreign film by night.

Somewhere in there, he had an affair with the sister of his old high school friend, Danny Holly.

It was a life, of sorts.

He’d pretty much forgotten about politics and all that. Then one day, walking around the Village over lunch time, he passed a row of townhouses on West 11th Street and heard a tremendous explosion.

What on earth was that?

In fact, the townhouse he’d just walked past had contained a Weatherman bomb factory.

Evidently, one of the resident bomb makers had read the recipe wrong. Result: kaboom!

RADICAL BOMB FACTORY BLOWS UP the papers read the next day. THREE DEAD.

Wow, Harold said to himself the next day as he read the paper over lunch in Bryant Park. Guess The War isn’t over.

Then he went back to his job inspecting microfilm at the New York Public Library.

Sometimes, in between reels, he wondered whether the Committee would let him back in. But he tried not to let it bother him.

In this way, more or less, Harold Rothman ’72 spent his period of exile from Plymouth University.