Boy on Campus

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society & Its Pathologies / Social Survival / Culture /

“See you around the campus!”
The cute freshman girl this high school sophomore had just walked with for a couple of blocks had said it so brightly: what was pk being so dim about? “Huh,” I turned back toward her. “You know,” she fumbled: “See you around.” Perhaps she didn’t know what “campus” meant either, was just repeating something she hoped sounded sophisticated.
I was in a bind. I’d just carefully prepped myself to break away from the girl after a short escort, excited that she’d accepted my escort at all. My script imagined me showing indifference. Of course what I was feeling was anything but. This girl was cute! I’d never seen her up close before, and here she’d accepted me as a companion on her journey: through my turf, back to her own turf. From age maybe five pk had been a big man on his own neighborhood turf. The six and seven year old boys from my block were old enough to make themselves scarce on their own block, campaigning elsewhere. The older girls were … I have no idea where: not home. Daddies were all off: disappeared the way daddies do like clockwork. Mommies were all inside, doing mommy things. pk reigned on North Forest Avenue. The only visible daylight population consisted of girls: aged five, aged four … all toddling after pk.
Now this cute girl was tossing off words that pk, very much aware that he was older, very much aware that he was daylight beach-master on this block or two, wasn’t scanning: pk, born with the prodigious vocabulary.
Whether she understood her own diction or not, this high school freshman was flattering this sophomore by pretending that we were not at home but at college: an altogether different state of existence. And pk’s rage to understand, to be able to define, to be able to use, every word, backwards, forwards, inside out, had scuttled his cool departure, his breaking away, seeming indifferent, from this alien object of his lust, almost everything a human being does, a pose.
In grade school we were shoved together with anyone else the same age from our block (who didn’t go to parochial school), those kids we already knew, and other kids the same age from the next block over, and the next … and a similar number of blocks from the other sides of the school. The school sat in the center, and we centered on it. Ah, but in junior high we were suddenly merged with kids from the bunch of block beyond our bunch, radiating away in all directions. Some of those neighborhoods were dense with Jews. One even had Italians in it! My God! the fathers in that neighborhood turned out to work! to actually work! I don’t mean that they got on the train every morning, went to New York, and disappeared into skyscrapers for the daylight, like real fathers; I mean they worked: nearby: you could see them on the street! following a truck! holding a pick or a shovel!
At Fort Dix the draftee from Rockville Centre is stacked cheek by jowl with draftees from Westchester, from New Jersey, maybe from Pennsylvania. Ah, but once in the war zone, your platoon bumps into soldiers speaking British English! into soldiers speaking French! In fact it’s gotten totally chaotic: the soldiers aren’t even white! they’re not even Christians!
I think this freshman girl was Jewish. I think she was from one of those neighborhoods, a neighborhood I was too cool to walk her to. (pk wouldn’t have been beach-master on those blocks!) This girl was fresh meat, virgin to my experience. I bet she’d taste of a different table: horseradish and garlic.
pk’s cool fell in smithereens as the word “campus” stuck sideways in his ear. Once I’d gotten hold of the word and inspected it, I realized that I knew the word perfectly well. I could even give its Latin etymology. But I didn’t hear it uttered on my block. It was a word I read, not a word I used. Even as seniors I don’t recall my clique talking about the campus. I was as humiliated as I’d been the first time I’d told my favorite blond, one year my junior (the other favorite being two years my junior) that I was going to kiss her. We were bundled for winter. She presented her face. And, as I leaned my lips toward hers, a sheet of winter snot made first contact. (Funny, I’d been playing with that girl’s pussy since time out of mind, but that was the first time I’d ever tried to kiss her.) (It was also my first total abortion of contact with a female.)

OK: I think the above is good enough for a first draft. It brings up the idea of neighborhood, it establishes the grading and sorting of citizenry, especially youth, it touches upon the bending and breaking of boundaries. But that’s merely the table on which I wish to examine the idea of “campus.” Those are some of the colors I expect to show in the word. Now I come at it again from a different kind of nursery, on a different environmental tack.

thanx wildmammal

The beach-master beats off all the other males from that patch. A harem of females gather around him. Discomfited males have to wait till they’re bigger, stronger, braver: may wait till never. Pups are bred and they all disappear back into the ocean. The seals, the walruses, occupy the beach only for a few months: long enough to conceive, to deliver, long enough for the pups to put on some blubber and learn to swim. Like the French going to the Riviera for the summer. Seals do not live year round on the beach.
Grunions, turtles, emerge from the ocean and lay their eggs on the beach. The female alligator builds a nest near water, tends to hang around the spot where the young find the water, clustered together, growing. The croc lives at the water hole, the lion visits the water hole. So does the kingfisher.
The bear, the wolf, has her pups in a den. Until they’re ready to risk the daylight world, to risk the night, the pups stay in the den. Mother is there almost constantly: on watch, cleaning up after them.
For the beginning of its life, the den is the pups’ entire world. By the middle of its life, the den is tiny and distant in the wolf’s experience. Does the adult seal remember its birthing beach? If the adults use the same beach year after year, century after century, I’m sure it does. But I bet a butterfly doesn’t remember the leaf it cocooned under for more than an hour.
I bet our Cro-Magnon ancestors, the ones who painted the greatest paintings ever painted, had some favorite glacier worn rock, out in the sunshine, were Cro-Magnon kiddies gathered to practice flint chipping. I can even imagine the same rock being used over centuries. But could we visit that rock, the Cro-Magnons present and active, how would wear and debris around the rock compare to a visit to Oxford, to the Sorbonne, to Cornell? Does the seals’ birthing beach still stink of seals months after they’ve all gone back to sea? Does the ocean the seals swim in resemble the little protected pool the seals first learned to swim in? How closely related is a terrarium to a forest?

thanx nationalgeographic

Notice the etymological kinship among the words camp, campus, campaign … Julius Caesar was forever campaigning. It meant being far from Rome. Once Julius came back to Rome, crossed the Rubicon, brought his army with him, Julius left it to others to go camp in Gaul, among the Germans, among the Britons.

First, I’m assembling thoughts, establishing images. What rewrites will look like I don’t know yet.

I’ll never forget my first impression of a campus: Princeton, 1948 or ’49. It was certainly the first time I ever felt the effect of pseudo-gothic: and very nice I found it. My first visit was just a football game. My second was just my family meeting my cousin’s fiancée. My third was my cousin’s graduation: and marriage. I remember the pseudo-gothic. Mainly I remember the fraternity blowouts, the Dixieland bands, the beer, the puking, the rumors among the parents about cannabis smoking at the celebration as thick as the pot smoke itself. note I was ten. I loved every detail.

collegiate gothic
thanx 2blowhards

But then those impressions were knocked to smithereens by my first contact with real gothic: little towns in Switzerland: Wil, Watwil … It was like being hit between the eyes with a sledgehammer.
I’ve never seen Oxford. Columbia I was steeped in since childhood: lived on or near campus not only as an undergraduate, but through much of my adult life. Columbia has this and that architectural pretension. The college quad is covered with ivy. But gothic (and pseudo-gothic) are distant at Columbia.
more as I can fit the time

You will see what I’m getting at (and around) (and under) if you recognize that the author is the founder of the Free Learning Exchange, a public deschooler since 1970, a follower of Ivan Illich, the first (and only) person to offer ungoverned networking to the entire public, a victim of schools, a sworn enemy of schooling, an anarchist, a Taoist … a firm believer that too much human power does far more harm than good: and not just to humans.


Cannabis Smoking at the Celebration:

Nixon on the infamous tapes sounds nothing like the Nixon on TV. Talk in the faculty room bears scant resemblance to talk from the same persons in the classroom. Mothers may say things in front of the toddlers they wouldn’t dream of saying at daughter’s first communion. Society speaks many different and often incompatible languages, but it’s usually careful about who can hear.
I was ten, but under the circumstances, temporary and artificial, I was squeezed into the role of “toddler.”
My freshman girl on the street may not have known exactly what she was imitating in her speech, but she knew sort of. And so did I when they talked about pot at the fraternity parties: especially since I was at the time so eagerly gadding after jazz, which I hadn’t yet (1949) separated from Dixie, rag, honkey tonk.

PS: I can’t say exactly which year the Columbia at Princeton football game was, but I’m confident that my family’s attendance would have connected to my cousin’s matriculation, probably closer to his freshman year than to his graduation. My father was present which would argue for it having been early: 1946 perhaps.
Now I didn’t follow the game much. I didn’t know how to take comments about my waving a Columbia baby blue pennant while surrounded by tiger stripes. But I know today what I wouldn’t have noticed then: that would have been a ferocious game! Those were the years when GI were filling up the classrooms. In 1946 poor little Columbia, chronic gridiron losers (with an occasional great quarterback), creamed Army: the score sixty-something to not much. The Cadets were merely training for war; the Lions had been to the war: and returned: older, stronger, heavier … and further away from Sunday School.
PPS: In the 1980s, 1981 perhaps, I was playing golf on a blustery autumn public course. As usual I was playing single. As was not unusual, I was playing terribly. If I didn’t slice, I skulled. Another single, a much older man, invited a join-up. I’d already seen that he was playing as badly as I was, so I decided not to bother to be embarrassed.
Talk went from this to that. I told him that I was really a skier. He told me that he was really a football player, though he’d had a little golf in prep school. He gave me his name: Cliff Montgomery. Good God, I said, You’re the guy they truck out every HomeComing at Baker’s Field. You beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, 1934, a quaterback sneak in overtime! (The only score: 7 to 0.)
Yep. But neither of us could find much of a golf game that day.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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