It was necessary for an incoming student at the University to have a high school diploma. When I was in the United States Army I took a battery of tests and without further ado I received a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). I didn’t need any additional schooling.
One thing I learned about college and everywhere afterward is the significance numbers have. A digit identifies every achievement. The numbers started stacking up on my behalf in college. I was oblivious to them.
I had a guidance counselor who was a graduate student. A graduate student was a person seeking further college education after receiving an undergraduate degree. The graduate student was a big part of the educational system at the University. They would be RA if it were the Army. When I went to see my guidance counselor he meant to be helpful. After my first grading period, or “quarter” as it was called, he thought it would be good for me to take a three-hour class to learn how to plan everything. According to the grade the teacher gave me I didn’t do very well. Also I didn’t do very well the whole time I was in that University when you look at the numbers, but I consider I learned a large amount. When I completed my schooling I had a 2.4 accumulative point hour ratio, which was below average.
Well into my time as a sophomore (second of four segments) I had not “declared a major”. Declaring a major was the selection of one academic field of study that would become predominant over all the others. My counselor seemed concerned, but apparently many students had to be prodded like me. It was not unusual.
I chose Journalism. When I began, the Journalism school was in the process of moving into a new building on “west campus”. It was called the J-school building by many people. I learned some very beneficial things about writing when I was there.
When I was a freshman at the Ohio State University I was like a babe in toy land. As a new student I had to live on campus in a dormitory called Scott House. It was all male. Across the street was a huge building about ten times the size of Scott House called Taylor Tower and it was an all girls dormitory. There was another all girls dormitory called Norton House that was right beside Scott House.
A dormitory and meals contract for each quarter cost $734. An office in the center of the campus took the money. It was called the registrar’s office. A full schedule of academic classes cost an additional $218. I had the GI Bill, which paid for the schooling. Then my parents sent me money for food and lodging. I had no financial concern in those days. I didn’t realize it then, but that was marvelous to say the least.
When I was walking to the Commons where three meals were served each day I would walk on a well-manicured walkway. One side of Taylor Tower was facing me. I would often look from the bottom of that building to the top and I couldn’t help but think how many females there must be stacked in very precise vertical rows. All the rooms were exactly the same. The bunk beds were in exactly the same place in each room.
I had gone to an all-boys boarding school. Because of the absence of females in my daily life I had developed an attitude that they were mysterious creatures. I knew they were classified as human, but to me that is where the similarity ended. I didn’t think of females of our species as more or less than males, just vastly different. While initially sexual attraction was a significant factor I became aware I would effectively loose association with half the human race if I didn’t put that aside. At the University there were many conflicting attitudes. I was settled with the idea that each person’s attitude was representative of them and there were only absolute answers to questions like what is two and two.
The first girl I became attached to sat down on the floor in the downstairs part of the Commons. It was an event designed for the boys to meet the girls and the girls to meet the boys.
I got a paper plate of desert food and sat down in a plastic cushioned chair. I didn’t know anyone there, and I wasn’t with anyone. I was feeling self-conscious and looking for a seat more than anything else. She came over near where I was, and joined the girls in her room on the floor.
The University was geographically located on what was called the corn belt of the United States. Her hair was yellow and long. It was parted in the middle and went thick and straight down each side. Along the entire length of it there were many tiny little ripples. She was radiant. There was a shine about her. When she was sitting on the floor with her friends she glanced at me several times. Under normal circumstances it would have been rude the way I was staring at her.
It was the weekend and there were no classes that day or the next. It was late in the afternoon. That girl and me kept getting to know each other better. I loved her uncomplicated understanding. We walked to the center of the campus where there was a small size outdoor amphitheater carved into a hillside. I did not know it was there, and when I discovered it I was excited and imagined it was just like the ones in ancient Greece. An aisle divided the right side from the left side. About four hundred people could sit there. The seats were flat stones. On the same surface behind the stone was a grassy place where people sitting in the next row up could put their feet. There were many green plants behind the small earthen stage. A person could not see through them. Apparently it was part of a large garden. Beyond the last row of seats to one side I could see the second story windows of the house where she said the President of the University lived. Other than that it was secluded. There was no one else there.
She sat on the end of a lower row, and I stood where the actors stand. I was feeling like Euripides, and in a theatrical way said, “though, the boys throw stones at the frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.” She wasn’t moved. I needed something more germane. “Friends, Romans, countrymen lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar not to praise him…cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.” She watched quietly. I went over to where she was, and sat down beside her. I sighed and told her who those people were. She asked me like a doctor if I always did that sort of thing, and I said I never had such a lovely audience.
The Scott and Norton house newsletter had in its gossip column that a certain room in Scott House had one more than four people living there and it was almost true. Then suddenly she just left. One day she was there, and the next day she was not there. It was just like when I was a small child at home and I forgot a parakeet named Blue was perched on my shoulder. I walked outside and the bird took off. It flew way up inside a large Elm tree. I could not see it but that is where I saw it go. I knelt under that tree and cried for hours hoping the bird would fly back onto my shoulder. I went out there several more days. That bird could have been half way to South America by the time I stopped grieving. Much later I heard she was married. I couldn’t have done that, and thought it was probably better she was gone. All my life I never made a decisive decision to do something or not do something. Everything I did was like a force out in baseball. Going into the Army was a force out. Her leaving me was a force out. It happened all the time. Going a certain direction whether I wanted to or not was always happening to me.
In the amphitheater we talked for a long time. I was walking around looking things over and talking to her in the distance. When I was standing one row up from the row where she was standing we were next to each other. I was looking down at her, and she was looking up at me. She put her lips inside her mouth and reached up with both her hands to where the zipper was on my pants. I asked her, “What are you doing?”
She said, “I want to turn you on.” I looked over my shoulder at the windows. I said, not here. Imagine how it would ruin the president’s day. Then I said, actually it is me. I do not like public displays of affection. My car is in the parking lot. I jumped down to her level and kissed her quickly. That was the first time we touched in a definite way.
By the time we walked the distance to the student parking lot it was nighttime. I had a banged up car that always started. A mercury vapor light was at the top of a high pole about 15 car widths away. It shown down through the side window. I could see her hair. She stopped moving to put it behind her ear. Then she continued. I could see her cheek and the line of her jaw. I watched her passively. She was a totally unabashed.
That summer the snack bar was open during the evening study hall. I was trying to memorize algebraic equations and how lithium bonded with barium. We took a break. We sat across from each other in a booth. Each of us had one of those ice cream cones that come out of machines in a twirl. She licked it, and put the whole thing in her mouth. It was vanilla and I couldn’t believe what she was doing. I looked to the side hoping no one was watching. There looking right at us was this fat ugly man who probably had rotten tobacco stained teeth. He was attending an agriculture seminar. They were staying in one of the empty dormitories. He was hunched over the table on his elbows with a cup of coffee. He was still looking at us when we finished and went back to the study hall.
When I was a freshman we had an assignment to read a little book that didn’t get the attention it deserved. It was a small reddish paperback written by a teacher in Indiana. In slightly more than a hundred pages the book defined not thinking clearly.
The English class where I was assigned to read the book met two times a week in a large lecture hall. Then it broke into smaller size classes of twenty or so students who met three times a week. A TA (teacher’s assistant graduate student) was the teacher in the smaller class. We began and ended our discussion of this book in the same week. At the end of the week we had a multiple-choice quiz on the subject of the book. I didn’t do very well on the quiz. At one point, in our discussion, the teacher said, when someone sitting in a stadium sees two people kissing in front of them and it is objectionable to the person, why is it objectionable? Then the teacher answered his own question and his answer indicated to me that he didn’t get what it said. His answer was, “He isn’t getting any.”
I raised my hand, and he asked me what I wanted. I said, maybe the person doesn’t like public displays of affection. The girl who was so good to me was sitting in the seat next to mine. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her shift positions in her chair.
This little book, insignificant looking next to big hard bound text books, said everyone was culturally conditioned, and because of that what is beautiful to one person might not be so beautiful to the next. They have different frames of reference.
If a heavy ball is suspended from the ceiling by a cord and it goes back and forth like a pendulum two people in different positions will describe an entirely different action. One person in one place will observe a forward and backward motion and another person in another position will observe a left to right motion. They are looking the same thing. Those people each have a different frame of reference.
That wasn’t part of the discussion. In Physics in boarding school I learned about frames of reference and I didn’t put the two things together until a long time afterward.
Ohio State University was much like life. There were terrific teachers and terrible teachers. A student had to find out who were the best ones if they wanted to be in their classroom. I didn’t make the effort. I plodded through the system passively. Some colleges were in an academic bell jar, but sooner or later the real world was inevitable. Ohio State University was definitely in the real world. It is well defined by someone long ago who said the primary activity of institutionalized education would soon be to feed the already existing military, industrial complex with people.
My teacher in that English class was a total product of his environment. He was a good spokesman for his environment. Another time he said to the whole class, if you get C grades you are going to have a C life. You’re going to have a C wife, have C children, and get a C job. That was excellent testimony about the world in which he was immersed. “C” was mediocre grade.
The United States’s involvement in Vietnam was being protested by University students all across the country. The height of protest wasn’t during my freshman year, but it was during the time I was there.
At another state school several students were shot and killed by soldiers who were sent there to restore normal order. Domestic violence between students and university administrations started when the U.S. military dropped bombs over North Vietnam and Cambodia. The government said the bombs were dropped because the North Vietnamese (the enemy) was using the Ho Chi Min trail to supply their army in the South.
When soldiers shot the students I read that people questioned why the soldiers had ammunition in their guns. Even if the officers in charge never intended the guns be fired it wouldn’t have crossed their mind to issue, carry, or produce a weapon that could not be used. It was reported that the soldiers were backed into a corner. So a bunch of 18 and 19-year-old weekend warriors with loaded guns were scared. It takes a tremendous lack of imagination not to see someone would get shot.
The State Police (highway patrol) came and went first. It was said they had to have a legal reason to be on campus. Neil Avenue was the road going through the middle of the University. A gate on Neil Avenue located in the North Campus area of the University got closed. That blocked traffic. Buses full of state police arrived. They wore facemasks. They had shields, and wooden mallets.
A laboratory newspaper called The Lantern prepared by the J-students and supervised by the faculty reported the gate closing with a photograph that actually showed the gate being closed. A long time later when order was restored the photograph appeared a second time deep inside the paper. A brief statement said two of the adult people shown closing the gate were identified as plain clothes State Policemen.
There were more radical students than the state police could handle. They left to make room for the soldiers. The University was State property so the City police didn’t come on campus, but during the military occupation their presence on High Street was significant. High Street was next door. It was where all the bookstores, bars and fast food restaurants were. The city police were dressed in brand new riot gear. They had guns that shot non-fatal wooden plugs called knee knockers.
I saw a line of twenty or thirty soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the administration building. They were expressionless and stared straight ahead without focusing on anything. An officer was moving around behind them. In front of them were many students trying to provoke any or all of the soldiers. One student with long curly locks was going on and on directly in one of the soldiers face. It looked like the officer went over to talk to that soldier, but without turning his head he very quickly reached out, and grabbed a handful of the student’s hair. The officer pulled the student by the hair into the building. I saw the student wince in a bent over position as he was led up the stairs to the main door. Someone said there was a person on the second floor taking photographs to identity people, but I did not see them. Soon after that, the killings happened at the other university and the Governor closed all the state run schools.
I went to the island in Maine for several weeks. I worked there in peace and quite. It was like being on a mountaintop where hate and violence were foreign. When the University reopened it was as if nothing had happened.
At the University one weekend I went with a girl to her house where she grew up. Her house was in a farming community near Columbus. Big company silos were on the border of town. The grain that went in them grew on surrounding farms. The silos were like tall buildings that I could see long before I got there. We went to a farm where her family raised beef cattle. She said her mother didn’t like living on the farm so they moved to town. She also said her father was a director of a local bank. In the driveway of their house in town they had an above ground 300-gallon bulk fuel tank. There was a single axle dump truck parked nearby. She said, most days her father drove it to the farm.
They were going to have a cookout for friends and family. We were the first ones there and I talked with him outside by the grill. She and her mother were in the house. As he talked he was busy adding more charcoal. The rather large piece of meat from one of his steers had been cooking a long time in the covered grill, and it would cook a long time more. We didn’t talk about anything in particular. We just talked. Later alone with her in the house she asked me what we said. She said he had told her he wanted me to leave. I tried to be amusing, and told her I guess I didn’t make a very good impression. We were in a large basement room of her house. I heard some footsteps at the top of the stairs like a person was listening. I said again loudly so they could hear that I was leaving.
I drove back to Columbus alone. An intense heavy-duty drama was unfolding back there that would be perfect for television, but not for me. I think her father was shocked to see what his little baby brought home. If I had a rattle, drooled, and made gurgling noises perhaps he would have allowed me to stay. Didn’t he know his baby had grown up? He probably thought I was too old for her. I could understand his concern. I was a 21 year-old freshman. She was a corn fed 18-year-old. I had been in the Army so I was always older.
I was sitting at my desk in my dormitory room when she got back. She brought me several slices of beef from their cookout. She said she was sorry about her father. I said she didn’t have to excuse him. I thought it was very nice that when she got back she came right away to say what she said, and bring me some of the food.
In one of the first classrooms I was in at the Journalism School we were to learn the news style of writing and practice it every day. The teacher was a middle age woman who was once a reporter for a large daily newspaper in Iowa. She always walked hurriedly down the hall like she had to get an important story finished. She was a reporter through and through.
As we were walking out of the classroom during the last week she called me over to her desk. She told me I didn’t have the grades to pass the course. I would have to repeat the subject. It probably seemed to her that I took the information lightly. I said, okay, like she was telling me to take a right turn instead of a left turn.
She was an exceptional teacher and I got to be in her classroom twice. Each day she would give us a short writing assignment to complete right there. It would be based on a list of facts that she would pass out to each pupil. Before we began typing she would take a few minutes in front of the whole class to talk about news writing and that was the best part. The longest part involved typing. I couldn’t type very fast. I had to look for each letter, and it took me longer than it should to write words.
She had something different to say each day, but some things she repeated over and over many times. She said for us to save our opinion for the Editorial page if we ever got there. She said our job, as reporters was to report the facts. She said the city desk would give us assignments so it wasn’t absolutely necessary for us to find news was but it was absolutely necessary that we, as reporters, know how to report the facts of a story in a fair and honest manner. She said a reporter who manipulated the facts to support a particular point of view was being extremely unprofessional. Also, she said they were doing a tremendous disservice to the reader.
She said the most important part of the story should be first because the editing department might have to cut the story short to make it fit. She said the news style of writing developed in the days when telegraph lines transmitted information long distances. The whole story was in the first
line because the transmission might end at any moment when the wire got cut. She said we still write that way because it is effective. It sells newspapers. If the reader is short on time they don’t have to wade through the entire story to know what has happened.
We were instructed to indicate the end of each story with “30”. She said that telegraph operators indicated the end of a story in that manner because it was an easy transmission to make and it was necessary to indicate no more story was coming. The custom has prevailed, she said.
She also talked about knowing what news is. She said a reporter who finds news or can see it on their own, is a big help, and will be recognized as such. She said news is whatever a person in the community you serve needs to know. Human-interest stories or feature stories she said were another subject.
Years later I heard she suddenly dropped dead. A new wing of the Journalism School building was named after her so she must have made an impression on other people. I never knew her personally, but when we passed in the hall she always made an acknowledgment of some kind. One time she told me I had a nose for news, which was a tremendous compliment coming from her. She added that I couldn’t type or spell worth beans. She said the typing was an acquired skill, but the nose for news wasn’t.
A new issue of the University newspaper appeared every weekday. The paper was staffed by journalism students who were selected by the faculty of the Journalism School. There was a new staff each grading period.
I was never on the staff, but when I was a Junior and Senior occasionally I would get assignments to do stories for the paper. One time I was given the name of the Director of Transportation for the University and told to do a story on that department. I went to the man’s office, and was waiting near his desk while he talked on the telephone. He was having a long conversation about whether the exhaust pipes on new busses should go on the lower right side, the lower the left side or straight up on the right or left side. I wrote the story as a day in the life of this guy and mentioned the exhaust pipes. The story never got printed and the person at the copy desk where I handed in the story asked me sincerely, “Are you serious?” I replied that I didn’t know the answer to that question, but I added that the assignment on that man’s job was not a joke to me. I told her I didn’t write a self-imposed joke, but if his job seemed a joke then that is the way it is.
I got another assignment to find out about a professor in the Agriculture School who was doing much study on a method of growing food called “hydroponics.” In his study a plant rooted in gravel (any inert medium) was flooded several times a day with a water solution containing all the necessary nutrients.
After the professor of Agriculture talked to me I went over to a vegetarian restaurant on High Street to get another opinion. I had become acquainted with the owner-operator earlier when I inquired why I couldn’t have an avocado with olive oil. His answer was because it isn’t on the menu. I liked him. When I asked him about hydroponic plant growing he said he didn’t know anything about it, but he wondered how the plant would get the “trace elements” found in every plant and in the soil. He said, “A plant is more than it looks.”
When I asked the Professor a question about what the person on High Street had said he walked around me like I was a bother to him. I caught up to him and told him it was a real question. He became friendly, but he never answered the question. I suppose he thought it was unscientific, and not worth answering. He was a very involved in his work.
Among other things fifteen credit hours of a language was a requirement for a degree. I had taken the French language in boarding school and that was difficult. The only reason I was able to complete and pass the course was that the teacher took into consideration my effort. At the University I was expecting Italian would be easier because I was half Italian, but it was equally as difficult.
I wanted to get a degree so prospective employers would know I was college educated, but a degree became like a bunch of sour grapes. If I couldn’t get it no matter how hard I tried I didn’t want it. As a last ditch effort I wrote a letter to the head of the Italian language department asking him to excuse me from the language requirement. I explained my situation exactly. I didn’t try to sell or sugar coat anything. I said that to pass the Italian language course I would have to devote so much of my study time to it that I would not be able to do much Journalism, which was my major field of study.
I didn’t think he would change anything for me. I was told there were a total of 35,000 students at the University. I was mentally prepared to leave. I was very surprised when I quickly got a letter back from him saying that I was excused from the language requirement. I was overjoyed. It
amazed me how good I felt when I got that response. I would never meet the man. I stayed there. One of my past coaches said opportunity presents itself to us all. One person is properly prepared for it, and the other is not.
There was an assignment for me to do a story about the student ID card. Every student had an identification card, with his or her photograph in the center.
When I went to the place where the cards were made the person who ran the place was alone in the room. He was excited to hear that I wanted to do a story for the University newspaper about what he did. He sat down right away and gave me his undivided attention. He talked and talked. I had to interrupt him several times to clarify a point, but other than that he told me everything about his job without my having to ask many questions.
At one point he was talking about a big stationary camera in the middle of the floor. He said it took the pictures that went on the ID cards. By his conservation he seemed to imply that two photographs were taken at the same time. I thought I misunderstood what he said and backed him up. He did say it. I asked him why the second one and he said it “stays here.” He added in quite a matter of fact tone that the student riots in the past had helped his office grow in importance. He said the camera I was looking at was a special one purchased recently. He said people who ran the University apparently wanted to have a picture of each student on file.
He told me about the laminating process and other aspects of his job. He had ideas all his own about how the student ID card would some day become a charge card. We shook hands and said good-bye.
One teacher explained the legal aspects of Journalism. He said an elected official or someone in the public eye has no legal right to privacy. The teacher said if such a person thinks they have been represented unfairly and they bring the newspaper to court then what you wrote about them better be true, or you have libeled them. He said truth is a defense when writing about elected officials.
He said when a person minding their own lawful and private business is identified without their permission in the mass media and it is thought by them to be disparaging then they could claim an invasion of privacy.
He said most Journalism that is contested falls between those two extremes, and that is why it is contested. He asked the class if a reporter was invading a person’s legal right to privacy if someone was identified in a photograph that shows them throwing a ball on a sunny day in a public park? He said even if the only purpose of the photograph was to show the beautiful day, we would want to get the person’s permission. He said we might think a certain representation is harmless, but the person identified might think otherwise.
He said it is not an invasion of privacy if a person is written about and they can identify themselves because of some private knowledge they have. He said as soon as that person is identifiable by a third party then you have invaded his right to privacy.
The graduate students in the Theatre Department directed many short, one-act plays for different projects that they were doing, and they needed actors. Undergraduate students in the College of Theatre got first choice so I got mostly minor parts, which were sometimes the best parts. In one play called “Waiting for Lefty” I became an immigrant union worker. I imagined how my grandfather was although he was not in a union. I spoke with a heavy Italian accent, and had great fun. I almost switched my major field of study to Theatre, but I had to think of eating when I grew up.
There was one play I did that was very serious. It was called “Jean”. Jean was the butler. He and the lady of the house fell in love. That was the story. There was just one other actor in the play and that was the lady. The graduate student director, the girl, and me, got together several times in his apartment, and read over the script to get it exactly the way he wanted. I was amazed how exacting he was. He once said he was doing the play for her. I suppose his doing something for her meant he knew her well. Their relationship seemed personal and friendly. My relationship with both of them was friendly but mostly academic.
They both had escaped the confines of the Theatre Department. They were off Broadway or different from the usual theatre students. Their scene in itself was fascinating, but I didn’t ask any personal questions. I was grateful that he asked me to be there and be Jean. It seemed like life was a big chore for her or maybe that was the lady in the play.
Once another person and me ran the “light board” which was where all the lights for the stage were controlled. We had to bring lights up and turn them down on cue. She was very smart and had almost a 4.0 grade point average, which was the equivalent of straight A’s. She was a Theatre and Dance student. We often talked when there wasn’t much to do. One day at the light board I asked her what an arabesque was. She had mentioned that word and I didn’t know what it was.
It was like she transformed herself into a tiny ballerina that goes around and around on one toe inside a glass music box. She stepped back, and unfolded slowly in a deliberate way. She stood up on the ball of one foot, and when that was accomplished she slowly turned her hips and body sideways raising her other leg higher than her hips. She then slowly brought both her hands together in a circle around her head. Her face was looking up in the opposite direction of the pointing foot on the raised leg. She held that position for a second and then she came down on two feet and said very unemotionally, “That is an arabesque.” It is a good thing I was sitting on a stool, because if I wasn’t I would have fallen on the floor. I turned my head to the light board. I didn’t tell her it was practically the most beautiful thing I had ever seen a person do.
The subject in one Journalism class was to know when information was an accurate representation of the truth and not a representation of what someone wanted us to say. The teacher said the purpose of his class was to tell the difference between good research and bad research.
We were each assigned to come up with a question, and design a survey around the question that would give the answer. At length we discussed what good data was. The teacher said there would be many people who would give us data to support what they wanted. He said as journalists who had the public trust we had to be able to recognize one from the other.
My survey was designed around the question: Is there any difference between the newspaper reader who buys the newspaper on the street, and the one who has it delivered to their residence?
My survey design called for a questionnaire to be inside newspapers sold at newsstands and from newspaper vending boxes. The potential respondent would receive a free candy or something else of value if they answered the questions. A similar approach was taken in distributing the questions to people who got their newspapers at home.
When the course was over the teacher gave us a final grade, and that was one of two times I went back to a teacher to get a higher grade. The teacher and I talked for a while about the merit or lack of merit of my work. He asked me why he should raise the grade, and I said my study would get unbiased results. I needed a higher grade so I wouldn’t have to repeat the course. I hadn’t received a failing grade but as a Journalism student I had to get at least a “C” in each Journalism course. He said he would raise my grade one letter.
During my time at the University I took two courses in Political Science. Both courses were on the main campus, and I had two different teachers. The department of Political Science was not part of the school of Journalism. Both courses were about American politics. Often, tests were the type that had several answers to each question, and we were to select the best one.
The second time I ever went back to a teacher for a higher grade was in Political Science. The teacher didn’t raise my grade, but he was a living example of one aspect of American politics. One morning he came to class wearing a three-piece suit with an American flag lapel pin. His hair was all slicked back. He looked very different. He said that day he was going to a luncheon right after class where he would meet long time elected officials. He wanted to become a politician and it was his idea he had to have the approval of the people who provided the lunch.
When I was a freshman and sophomore I lived in a dormitory on campus. I had a meals contract. A dietitian prepared the menu. They were “balanced” meals. As a junior and senior I lived in an old house a block and a half from the University. It was on the South side of Frambes Street. Two brothers, who spoke Greek, owned the house. Their last name was Greek and they looked Greek. I think they were Greeks. I suppose the house was an investment property for them. I seldom saw either of them. I mailed them the rent money.
The first floor was one apartment occupied by a married couple with a Golden Retriever dog. He was a graduate student. Their apartment was nicely furnished. I never went inside but several times I could see inside from the front hall. They were busy people who were nice enough when they talked. He moved one day, and I heard he got a job at a bank in California.
On the second floor there was a small two-room apartment where a music major lived. He listened to classical music and played a large wooden stringed instrument. There were three other small rooms on that floor. I rented one. One student who worked very hard and got good grades rented the other two rooms. There was a large attic room rented by a quiet person. He left early in the morning and returned at night. I rarely saw him, but I could hear him come and go. When he graduated he worked in Columbus and continued to live there. On the second floor we shared a room with a sink, shower, and toilet. It reminded me of the one in New York City. A stick of dynamite would have improved the place.
I went to college year around, but between each “quarter” there was a “break”. The dormitories would be closed during the breaks. When I lived in the dorms I would go home, but when I had the off-campus apartment I didn’t have to leave. I made fewer trips home.
When I stayed in Columbus during the break I would do “spot labor” to get some spare change. In those days a company that did that sort of thing would have a waiting room where people would show up in the morning to work that day. It was called a “Labor Pool”. I always got a job because I had a car, and I could take other people to work. The agency liked not only my car, but also the fact that I was sober and well rested each day.
Usually the jobs we got were the ones no other person would do. Once I went to work for a plumber whose customer had a frozen three-inch PVC sewer pipe under a house trailer. After I got there that was when the plumber described the situation. He was a nice older man, but I told him I wasn’t going to crawl under that trailer and fool with that sewer pipe unless he got “Lincoln and Jackson shaking hands”. As I was walking away I heard him say, “No one wants to work these days.” That comment struck a nerve, and I turned around. The work wasn’t as awful as I thought, and he bought me lunch.
On another job five of us moved mud. We were to make the ceiling of a room in a new apartment building a few inches higher by digging the floor down deeper. The builder had made a mistake. I dug three days with other people, and I think the job went much longer. Five or six concrete blocks were removed from a wall. We put each shovel of wet sticky mud through the opening and shook it off outside. We walked on boards. If someone stepped in the mud they would sink like it was quick sand. We weren’t supposed to go in a large adjoining recreation room, but once we all did to relax a moment and play a little Ping-Pong. We walked across an otherwise spotless linoleum floor leaving gooey footprints behind us. The room was furnished. There was a large cabinet type television that was gone the second day. So was one of the people who came with us the first day. A uniformed policeman stood on the edge of the shiny floor looking back and forth at the large hole in the wall and at all the thick mud. Maybe it could fit through there and maybe it couldn’t. He didn’t find out that day.
We all talked as we walked back and forth. The person I talked with most of the time said he was in a state mental hospital. He said he and many others were released at the same time when the Governor said there was no need for them to be there. His honesty was most unusual. He had this incredible honesty about himself that no one else had.
Four of us went to work at another place where steel drums were re-conditioned. The job lasted several days, and each day the same group of us went in my car. Two of the people were older men. They always carried a pocketsize bottle of wine. Several times, another person and myself, in the front were offered a drink.
Outside, on the job, everything was frozen and cold. We were supposed to get a load of drums out in the yard, and bring them to the factory. We had an old truck with no license plate. The horn and lights were broken, but everything else worked. An old rusted steel drum that had ice and snow stuck all over it was made to look new. That is what they did there.
At the end of the day a foreman would write our time on a piece of paper, and we would go back to the labor pool office. Someone there would cut us a check for the day’s work. Our pay rate was the minimum wage. We would hurry to a store across the street. A big sign above the door said, “Checks Cashed.” There was a charge for cashing a check. It was a “package store” too. Two of the people always bought a particular kind of wine. They would look someplace else if it weren’t for sale there. The wine they bought cost a forth of the money they earned that day, and tomorrow they would do it all over again. I do not know where they slept, or what they called home. They didn’t expect things would ever be different for them. It was depressing, but they were never depressed. The person who sat in the front was young man who always wore the same dress shoes. Without a word he would change the car radio station even if it was where he put it the previous day.
A job in the newspaper sounded good, but it didn’t say what it was. The person who answered the telephone said there was much money to be made, and if I was interested I should show up at a certain place that evening.
When I got there about 30 other people also answered the same advertisement. After a few minutes a person came into the room. He talked with people in the front row. They laughed. Then he proceeded to speak to all of us, and show slides that pictured a large ornate house with palm trees and flowers all over the place. He said the house belonged to the person who started the business and in so many words he said we could have a similar house if we wanted. He still hadn’t said what it was we would do. I was beginning to wonder if it was legal. When I raised my hand and asked him what the job was about he said in a moment he would get to that. A few minutes later he brought out this thing and if it weren’t for the hose and a few attachments I would never have guessed what it was. It didn’t look like any type of canister or upright vacuum cleaner I had ever seen.
The person who was speaking said selling the object on the desk in front of us was the job. He said he was a dealer, and we could be dealers too by getting other people to sell the product for us. He explained that the office would give us names and addresses of people who would be prospective buyers.
He went on to say that before we gave a demonstration for real we should practice it on our parents with him watching to see if we did everything right. I went up to him afterwards, and explained I was a student at the University, and that my parents lived far away. He didn’t seem to think that was a problem. He said I could start right away.
I learned how to show what the product could do by watching another person do it for people in their house. When an appointment was made by telephone by an office person they said there was a free gift for them if they listened to the whole thing. I never sold a vacuum cleaner but I gave out many free gifts. For several weeks I demonstrated the product to about 20 people. I thought I made a few sales. The main person in the vacuum cleaner office told me each time that the credit application was denied. There was no sale.
I got a sales lead from the vacuum cleaner office to go to a house that was near the University. Early one evening I went there. A woman lived in the house with her daughter. The woman was studying English in a masters degree program. She was married and divorced as a teenager. The six-year old child was from that marriage. The mother seemed my age. Her face was pretty. She wore baggy clothing that day, but I found out later, she had an exquisite body. I took a black and white photograph of her standing against a white wall in Florida with her hands behind her back. She was wearing skimpy white under clothes. She had a disgusted look on her face, but she did what I told her. She had a picture perfect body.
The free home demonstration called for showing how well the vacuum cleaner worked. I was practically cleaning her whole house. She was sitting up straight on a couch with her arms folded across her knees. She would point what to do next. The stairs opened into the main room. There was a banister on the open side. Her child was in the middle of the room and when she saw me vacuuming the stairs she looked at her mother and laughed. Her mother laughed, and covered her mouth with her hand so I would not see.
We talked for a while, not entirely about vacuum cleaners. When I was ready to leave I was standing by the door with my coat on and she was across the room. I asked aren’t you forgetting something? She asked, what? I said your free gift we promised you, it is a big part of our operation. She walked across the room. I handed her the package, and she tossed it on the couch. I told her it might be a doily or a finger bowl or something useful in the kitchen. She pushed me out the door.
We saw each other often, but I was rarely in her house. I never saw her child again and she never saw the room where I lived. The University was closed between quarters. She invited me to meet her in Florida. My job selling vacuum cleaners had fizzled out. Now and again I did spot labor.
I met her near Miami, Florida in a fancy hotel beside the ocean. It was a very busy time of year in South Florida, and when I asked her how she was able to find such a nice room she said very plainly that her father ran the construction company that built those hotels. She said there always was a room for him. She flew from Columbus to New York City and then to Miami. She was very stylish. I drove straight there from Columbus, Ohio in the Rabbit.
The Rabbit was the name my mother gave to an Italian automobile that was subsequently given to me. When it was mine I kept it parked on Frambes Street. My mother had bought it a few years earlier when she went to an auto show in Milan, Italy. It was one of the few times she traveled, and one of the only times I remember her traveling with my father. They went to Italy because in Italy my father and a few other American investors were trying to make an orange juice mix that required a person add water and stir. The mix idea died on the vine, but in the early stages my parents went to Italy together. An Italian citizen met them at the Milan airport and showed them around the town. That is how they happened to go to the auto show.
There were many sleek cars but there was one car with headlamps and running boards. It was the Alfa Romeo replica of their 1929 car that won so many races. In the late 1960’s there were many replicas being made around the world and they were so garish and awful that the word “replica” when used in conjunction with an automobile was the same as saying poorly done. The Alfa Romeo replica wasn’t like the others, but it always carried the stigma of that word. The car didn’t sell very well. Only 92 were ever made. The one my mother got was the 68th. It had the number 393068 embossed on the firewall. It was built in the Alfa Romeo factory, and the body was designed by Zagato who obviously had no restrictions imposed on him by the Alfa Romeo people. It was like the 1929 car in concept only. It was assembled on the Alfa Romeo 101 chassis. It had Borani wire wheels with 42-millimeter spline hubs and knock-offs. The motor was the normal 1600 cc four-cylinder engine with twin overhead cams and it had a two-barrel down draft Solex carburetor. An Alfa 5-speed transmission, deferential and modern rack and pinion steering made it quite an automobile. Even though it was made and imported into the United States in 1968 when this country’s emissions laws were in effect the title to the car said it was made in 1967. That meant it was exempt from pages of emissions laws. The car was spared much plumbing, added weight, and reduction in power. The car was light and quick. It had stiff suspension and went around corners like it was holding onto something.
My father told me what happened. He said my mother saw only the way it looked sitting on the floor. She wasn’t one who bought many things, but she ordered one of those cars on the spot. I was told the Italian man with them tried to steer her toward something else, but it was no use.
When the car arrived, my mother drove it one or two times. My father drove it more often, and he parked it the last time he drove it front end first into a barn. The reverse gear fork was bent. Neither my mother nor my father ever drove it again probably because they could not back it up. It got covered with dust and bird droppings. Eventually the battery died. Then one year in late autumn a 17-year old boy on his own time pushed the car out in the sun to clean it up. That was the day I got the car.
I was in Columbus. The telephone rang. It was my father and he told me to come home quickly because “your mother” is going to give the Zagato (He called it the Zagato) to the boy who cuts the grass. I jumped in my beat up car and headed for home. When I got there I told my mother that if she was going to give the car to somebody she should give it to me. I told her that I liked the car as much as the boy who cuts the grass did. She gave me the car.
The first time I drove it long distance was also the first time I went to Florida. It was warm. The hotel was near the water. People were lying in neat rows on metal frame cots that had plastic cloth stretched across them. She knew just how to get a cot. We went up to a person in a white uniform at a small station under a large parasol. He took two towels and led us to the cots like a person showing someone to a table in a restaurant. After he left we sat down and she took out a plastic bottle and smeared some of the content on her skin. I did the same. Then we both lay back on the cots like two more greased sardines. Soon I sat up, and turned toward her. We were both wearing dark glasses. She didn’t turn her head toward me when I spoke. It was like her eyes were closed. I could not see them. I said I would rather go north and break ice or wrestle an alligator than bake in the sun like this. I wasn’t as easy going as I might have been. This whole scene was hers. I told her I like beaches and the ocean. I asked if there was a place where every square inch was not a grid. We went in the hotel grease and all.
She got two towels and a book and we drove up the coast in the Rabbit. There was one traffic light after another, and at one or two intersections young people in bathing suits walked across the street. She said they were college students on vacation. I replied that I had heard about that phenomenon where college students, not entirely unlike us, flock to this area at the same time every year. We found a public beach. It was about 500 feet long. It had a paved lot for cars between it and the road. I put some coins in a parking meter. There was a stucco wall and several palm trees. As we parked someone came up to us and said it was a “gay beach” (that didn’t refer to the actual beach but meant the people who went there were homosexual and lesbian). She questioned if we should stay, and I said there are no signs to indicate heterosexual people aren’t allowed here. I said maybe we won’t stay, but I would like to see if people are running around grabbing each other’s rear end, or if they have antennae. When we looked there were relatively few people. I didn’t see anyone who struck me as overtly offensive. We sat on towels in the sand.
The water was warm, but it wasn’t very clear. Neither of us went swimming. She was wearing clothes over her bathing suit, and when she took them off I had to marvel once again how extraordinary she looked. She could not be unattractive if she tried. That night we heard a well-known actor-writer-comedian at one of the hotels. When the lights were on she left and came back. I saw her on her way down the aisle to our row, and I kept watching her. The way she carried herself looked so good, and then she sat next to me. I told her the way she looked. She didn’t say anything. She smiled and looked down. At dinner I had asked her what she would have done if she didn’t get into the masters degree program. She said she would have been a stripper.
On the beach I was sitting staring at the horizon. Occasionally a pelican flew along the shore. She was lying on the sand beside me propped up on two elbows reading a thick book she brought with her. She finished it, and I asked her what happened. She asked me if I really wanted to know because it was a long story. I asked her to tell me the main points.
She said, in the story a space ship is broken down on one of the moons of Jupiter. It contacts its base in another galaxy. The China wall is a message that says, “ part is on the way”. Then most of the book is the story of the earth and wars that go into the future. A child being held by somebody’s hand on the moon picks up a piece of shrapnel and that is the part for the broken down space ship. Thousands of years of human history have gone by, but it’s only been several months somewhere else. I asked her, people building the Great Wall in China thought they were walling something in or out and all the time unbeknown to them they were sending a message? That is the story, she said. She also said she met the author.
Late that afternoon we went to a hotel bar that was nearly empty. One table was in a nice place in the room and we sat there. Somebody had been there before us. A waiter came over to clear the glasses away and I was passing them over to him. When I held a half-full glass with fairly fresh ice in it I hesitated a moment and drank it all up. Then I handed it to the waiter, and said I hated waste. She ordered a drink. I said I’ll have whatever he is having and pointed to the empty glass. When he came back with our drinks he said right away how much money it was. I paid him, and he left. “He charged you for that drink”, she said. I looked over to the side. Ten feet away the waiter was resting on his elbow on one side of the bar, and the bar tender was beside him on the other side of the bar. They both looked at us with big grins. The people in South Florida were so friendly. I grinned back and waved. It was such a beautiful day in the neighborhood. She said they were laughing at me.
“So!” I exclaimed.
We stayed there long enough to have a few more drinks. When we went to our room she was feeling very romantic like there was a candle in a wax covered Chianti bottle. For one moment I accommodated her. I wrapped my arms around her. I kissed her deeply and turned so that she was leaning over backwards, and I was holding her weight entirely. I thought that was the way a knight who wasn’t wearing his suit of shining armor would kiss a fair maiden. My white horse was tied up at a hitching post outside. She didn’t like me behaving that way, and she got mad. The fantasy was over.
The next day after breakfast we were in the room getting ready to go outside. I turned on a television that had always been there. It showed the funeral of a former President of the United States. There were caissons. Even the dead person was in a horse drawn hearse. Remove all the concrete in the background and it could have been the beginning of World War One. The Prussians were like that with plumes on prancing horses. They ran into fully automatic weapons and poison gas. Here was this on television. They were burying a person this time.
I was sitting on the edge of the bed enthralled by the whole thing. She wanted to go, and asked me how I could watch a funeral. I said just a minute and held my hand up without taking my eyes off the screen. She wouldn’t wait, and said she would meet me in the lobby. She left the room. I watched a few more minutes and when I got off the elevator I saw her first. She was sitting on a seat that went around a large column. She was leaning back on the column with her eyes closed and she had this painful look on her face. When I got up to her and spoke she opened her eyes. Soon after that I said I was going back to Columbus. She acknowledged that statement like it was a good idea, and I left. My departure was sooner than planned.
The Rabbit burnt the exhaust valves on the number two and three cylinders on the trip down there. It got worse on the return trip. By the time I got back I had half power. Also, when I got in the warmer weather on the way down there a bushing assembly located where the steering shaft goes through the fire wall caused the car to steer stiffly, and at high speeds it jerked to the right and left. The two front tires wore out. I didn’t correct either condition until I got home.
I stopped in Cincinnati and took the head off the engine. I took it to a dealer to have the two valves replaced and all the others lapped and properly shimmed. I fixed the bushing.
When I got back to Columbus the break was over. I saw that girl a few more times, but it was not the same. Finally when we didn’t see each other anymore she sent back a picture I had given her. It was an old faded ink drawing on rice paper. It showed a Japanese woman in a kimono walking along a path in the rain. Her hand was extended and it held a Japanese lantern on the end of a stick low to the ground. She was finding her way down the path by the light from the lantern.
I went to school year around, and in the summer there weren’t nearly as many students attending the University. Still, it didn’t seem there were fewer students than any other quarter because the classes were full, and the dormitories that were open were also full.
It was between spring and summer quarter after my second year that I moved off campus. A pre-medical student on Fourth Street advertised for a roommate. He was in school that summer, but the other students he shared his apartment with were not. He needed help with the rent. I didn’t have the apartment on Frambes yet. The first place I lived off campus was the Fourth Street apartment leased by the pre-medical student.
Several of my friends lived in the dormitories during that time. I was there often. In August the Ohio State Fair was happening in that city. It lasted two weeks, and we went there several nights. We never went through the main gate where we would have to pay admission. We would always go through the exhibitor gate. We looked down at the ground and said, “hog barn” like it was a matter of routine. We said it exactly a certain way so as not to raise suspicion. We said it loudly, quickly, and with a country twang. The guard there never questioned us. My friend from New Jersey devised this method of entry. He was in college to become a small animal veterinarian (vet).