[Another excerpt from my never-to-be-published memoir, Extra-Ordinary. SB SM]
Of all acts of the parental experience, none is as poignant as dropping a kid off at college. The fruit of your loins is now fully on his/her/ or their own. Is there any acknowledgement or moment of appreciation? Never. There was no welcoming fanfare as our white, Chevy station wagon pulled up to, then away from, the entrance to my dorm, 59 Vanderbilt Hall, on Yale’s Old Campus where the freshman are housed for a year before splintering off to their respective residential colleges.
I met my new and eagerly anticipated roommates. My bunkmate was J.P. Lund, a classical music major and a southern gentleman from Virginia. Besides noting that he is a fine and upstanding human being, the most interesting fact I can relate about J.P. is that he kept his entire wardrobe in a laundry bag that he kept at the end of his bed. He would stuff the dirty items in there along with the clean ones. There was no telling the two apart. Every couple of months, he’d grab the bag and haul it to the laundramat and the whole process would begin anew.
My other suitemates were preppies from the Nobles and Greenough School, Bill Peck and Peter DeChellis. They had been groomed to go to Yale and seemed to take the experience in stride. Meanwhile, I arrived in full-blown rock star mode. My hair hadn’t been cut since I accepted with the left. I had a fledgling goatee that still needed some help from mascara. I wore a black t-shirt with tight black jeans. My new friends were suitably impressed. I was badass!
This all changed in the first week. I had been awarded a scholarship by the U.S. Navy and was attending school by virtue of their largess. I was sworn in on the second day on campus. The hair and the goatee had to go. The uniform was was issued. By the end of the first week, I recognized my mistake and went to the NROTC office to return my uniform. “That’s not the way it works, son” I was told. “You are now enlisted in the You-Ess-Enn (USN).” Ugh. The muffled sound of a gut punch.
Years later, this is an era best looked in retrospect, I summarized my bright college years in my hip-hop rap entitled Autobiograffiti, a musical journey told via my various area codes:
I spent four years in the 2-0-3.
It’s a lovely place, but it’s not for me.
I moved into my dorm, and then,
I found myself enlisted in the U-S-N.
Once I had my Yale degree, the Navy had big plans for me.
But that was not for four more year.
Still time for parties and girls and beer.
But the world outside the Ivy calm
was booby-trapped like Vietnam.
Assassinations ruled the day
Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?
Along with 999 other “male leaders,” as we were dubbed by Yale President Kingman Brewster, I entered a world of jackets and ties, sherries with the Dean and Master and Old World civilities to a backdrop of the Vietnam War, rock and roll, and searing social injustice. Within scant months our class of privileged punks had dragged the venerable institution down into the mud us. The traditions were quickly torched, not just at Yale, but across the nation as a combination of an unpopular war, the increasing popularity of marijuana, and The Beatles coalesced to shatter decades of institutional tradition.
Four years later, we left amid turmoil, capless and gownless, to go back to the garden and complete the Revolution. Several lifetimes later, I’m still trying to make sense of it all. On the surface, I look like a solid Old Blue. I’ve shepherded three, count ’em three, published books on the history of our class and have served two stints as president of the Yale Club of Vermont. My lingering impression, however, is of the schism that existed at the conclusion of my stint in New Haven. From my Autobiograffiti:
As the Navy’s time was getting closer,
I was mighty sick of the “yessir, nossir.”
But to get away from Uncle Sam,
I’d have to win the lottery.
so I did … hot damn!
The “lottery” was the first Draft Lottery to decide by the luck of the draw and the date of birth who would and would not be accorded the honor of fighting in the unjust war. There is no one of a certain age who doesn’t remember the precise number of their birthdate on this fateful day. I am, was, and will forever be #338!
I got my revenge about 50 years later when the Yale Alumni Association asked me to stand in for the President at the investiture of the newly-appointed President of Middlebury College, a duty I accepted with suitable solemnity!
When I looked back, however, my classmates had all taken hiatuses to become lawyers and doctors.