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College and Me

Cartoon sketch of a person wearing glasses holding up a bowling ball. Illustration by Earle Levenstein.

College and Me? Basically, a big zip.

I mean, I never went to class.

I was about to qualify the "never," but after reflecting upon that four years of Business Administration and coming up with nothing but bowling, the great waffles at a White Tower, the formal dances, usually with one of the Big Bands, and the one time in my life when I actually threw up after just a few shooters (granted, even though it was centuries ago), I let the "never" stand.

The most I'll allow is "that I remember."

Anyway, the point is, the whole thing was really a non-starter. I never wanted to go to any school at all. Not kindergarten, not elementary school, not high school, and certainly not college.

This shouldn't be news. I've talked about my litany of fears a lot of times. Maybe incessantly. The nightmares, the chaos, the screams, the beatings, the terrors; the certainty that at any time, any hour, any minute, we were toast. Finito.

No more anybody.

To compound my general sense of pointlessness and marginal depression—a "What am I doing here? What am I supposed to be doing?" feeling and the thousands of kids my age zigzagging across campus, laughing and shouting and dashing in and out of buildings—was the fact that the place was vastly overpopulated.

The year I entered college was the year World War II ended. Our soldiers came marching home and the great GI Bill—a rightful gift from heaven—that made it possible for every one of them to pick up where they left off after the war ended, enabling them to return or start college with a young family in tow; purposeful, with goals, focused on the future; a wonderful boost to a fulfilling life ahead.

So that this college of mine, or every one like it — the picture of stability, tradition and purpose, meant, I have to say, for kids with goals, that they had no worries; they saw the future brightly glowing four years ahead, and a few punks like me with no goals, no focus, no interest, and no seriousness of purpose — in a matter of weeks, these colleges had to add a sea of quonset huts to the timeless old fraternity and sorority houses and dormitories; there were acres of temporary structures, classrooms, and living quarters for the newly arrived young families, eager to reclaim life.

I have absolutely no memory—not my department anyway—of any professor or instructor taking attendance, which, of course, was right up my alley.

There couldn't have been more of an invitation for me to stay on my ricocheting, pointless, nosediving course; I could sleep late, eat up my allowance, do a lot of bowling at night and acknowledge that I was really on a road to nowhere.

Not all was lost.

There were frequent visits to that White Tower for waffles at dawn —I can still taste them— and then, there were those formal dances: music, dancing, like something out of one of those old movies and —an interruption of my regular bowling schedule— I created the setting for all of them.

Right. I did.

My sporadic drawing: cartoons, sketches; they were irregular, but here and there and my intermittent off-the-wall explosions of improvised scenes for my fraternity brothers —yes, I have to acknowledge the fraternity; I was only a kid, what did I know— elected me, in the absence of anyone else, to set the stage.

Have to say, it was probably the only activity in the four years of my imprisonment that I enjoyed, beginning to end. Parenthetically, it lead one of my friends —a lovely guy; short life— to urge me, hand on my shoulder, to start college all over, this time, as an art major. That was his last goodbye to me.

And that was that.

College ended; I didn't even bother attending graduation.

I got my diploma in the mail.

What did I tell my parents? No memory of that, either.

Went to work within weeks in my father's business—don't ask—and a few months after that, the Korean War broke out and not much later, I received an invitation.

From the draft board.

You might know the rest.

Basic training in North Carolina; the Army sends me to France rather than Korea. Then discharge and floundering.

Years in the ad game; a whole other story.

Ongoing therapy: worth every hour.

No diploma.

But Gilbert and Sullivan had it right: "Things are seldom what they seem…"

Never boring.

Much more to follow.

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