He hastened his pace. The October day was Chicago-winey, rather Chianti, i.e. slightly sour. You could also work up a sticky sweat in the cool. As usual when he started out in good time for an engagement, he would be late; when he was anxiously tardy, he would be on time. He was eager to lend himself to the freshman-sophomore tug-o-war, a voluntary occasion to enflame his pleasure at collective combat. His heart thumped at the image of himself pulling with all the other heroic freshmen, and it leaped as he espied from across the Circle the crowd gathered, gusting hoarse shouts as if the troops in its cyclonic eye were already engaged.
He knew the terrain, he had scouted it beforetimes, going out the side door of the Reynolds Club, skirting through a grey stone pseudo-medieval cloister, which led out once more into the area of the Botany Pond. The Botany Pond had unusual plants, he perceived, no connoisseur he, but aware that you must not step on unusual plants -- a tragedy of war? -- for this was to be the scene of the struggle. So declared numerous posters, whether affixed neatly to a bulletin board by thumb tacks or lashed to the trees of which there were many and some grand, beginning on his path from the wide Midway, the boundary line of the University with a bayou South across from 59th street to take in dormitories, new they appeared, solid and medieval anyhow. Whoever had drawn the posters, printed them, taken the trouble to circulate them everywhere, they all agreed upon the time and place and exhorted the two classes to put in an appearance to the last man and to besmirch and drown the opposition. The Daily Maroon reporters had painted a picture of mass mayhem, historically and to come, such that withholding yourself would constitute betrayal of your class interest.
He was a self-mover: he had spoken to no one about the contest, hence call him a pawn of the media, but, too, of his personal history, for he was highly susceptible to the appeal of the occasion. He hardly knew a soul except the several from Lake View High School who would be somewhere; he had lost touch with them for the nonce. He responded to all he had ever read about tug-o-wars in books of prep school life, to the lively tough pulling at a boy's camp onetime, to his several picnics where small boys cast themselves frenziedly upon the ropes to help their fat fathers huffing and puffing to tug -- or against their fathers as the case might be.
He was culturally pre-disposed and idiosyncratically fixated upon observing the totality of this great new setting of the University and participating in all the promised happenings, everything. He had an uneasy feeling -- he wondered how general it was, that he would be alone and have to edge up to some already organized groups to become a member of the moment, but he was knowing of donnybrooks, that they would have to welcome any strong tugger, or even a weak one, as the price of victory. He hurried down to the basement of the Reynolds Club to check his briefcase; he stuffed his necktie and wristwatch inside; he ran over to the Pond.
The mysterious force that organizes such events had been well at work -- someone should look up the literature and lend us their report on this phenomenon -- such that, without his inquiring, he could distinguish the freshmen from the sophomores, and these from the motley crowd of hooting watchers, not a few of them girls -- now to be called women -- and the great winding snake clutched by many hands yet still out of control and whipping about, curving and dipping its skin into the muddy edges of the pond.
Eyes were wide and flashing and red all about, shouts of challenge and encouragement and rallying deafened you to the commands, were there such, but really there were not; leadership was in disarray, consisting as it did of some detachments of Sophomores from fraternities and some from athletic teams and others from dormitories, while the freshmen had been actually organized to a degree by their enemies, whom they hoped in turn to join as soon as possible following upon the expected peace. It was by no means the mass gathering of formless class members called for in the posters, no more than the "Arise-ye-masses-of-the-world" bespoke a uniform stirring of the undiscriminated atoms of human society consequential to a vision of the Communist Manifesto writ large on the adamantine vault of heaven.
He knew how to play his part within his limitations. He did not seize the front of the rope, dashing the others aside -- this not for several reasons, although he would have been happy and confident at the post. No, he sensed his place had better be located between two slightly dissociated nodes where a gap ensued from a felt social distance, and where he was not in serious danger of falling into the pond or being dragged into it. What kind of a hero was this? -- a hero wearing an all-purpose sweater and trousers of wool and one of his two pairs of respectable shoes, an outfit that had to endure the rest of the day and into the evening and over a long train ride back up North to Addison Street and Southport Avenue. There was no dormitory room, nor friend's room, nor fraternity , nor yet a locker room; no, he had better not try to be a hero of the day. Besides he could assume that those who awarded medals were of the special groups, awkward and undisciplined as they appeared, who would, at several large tables in the evening talk loudly and joyously of the day and of the exploits, if not of themselves, then of youths whom they have spotted already as medal-winners -- gossip recognized them from the football squad, the swim team, the Alpha Delta House, Psi U --and therefore deserving of new awards.
He had plenty to do nevertheless and when the cry went up he pulled all the harder, and when the freshman line weaved perilously close to the pond, he yanked vigorously to keep at least what went behind him on dry land. But it was not to be, for his crowd went dragging helplessly forward and the sophomores pulled from across the bridge of the pond at such an angle that instead of traversing the bridge the freshmen slid digging their heels into the muck of exotic plants and stinking bottom ooze clinging to the fat hemp. Oh! Not so he. At the last moment, imperfectly moral, it has to be said, he quit the line to escape tumbling into the pond where now the maddest members of both classes began to plaster one another with mud and duck whoever was within reach under the black waters.
He was by now free and hearing the shouts and taunts of victory and defeat. It was like the troops after the Battle of Waterloo, relieved at surviving but perplexed, the verdict being mysteriously elusive. He was on the whole satisfied as he went straggling off. His abandonment of the line could not be helped. He thought maybe the Freshmen had won. He even felt that he had lent a hand to the tipping and downing of a couple of the foe.
What he needed now to do was to retire to the Reynolds Club, where he had checked his bag of books and vittles, and there wash up. The toilets in the basement were clean and numerous, the washbowls likewise. There was always paper for the hands and the ass. In brief the Men's Room was a credit to the University and to the janitor, a short grey-clad man from the unsung (not by this student, who was to know them) dutiful aggregation called "B and G" or "Buildings and Grounds." He wiped the mud off his shoes and trousers, washed, slipped the knot of his red knit tie up, carefully redressed his pullover, and combed his hair.
He passed by the Barber Shop, as we would many times, on his way to the checkroom where he would leave his bag and could play ping-pong. There were billiard tables, too, but these he let alone -- the sociology of games, you know, ping-pong was middle class, billiards low-brow, so it went from his short life before, although there was more to the choice, because the competitive contact of ping-pong was furiouser and faster. Whenever he passed, he would see and hear Brad, the head barber, and learned early that your social prestige was enhanced, at least among about one per cent of the community -- you must tolerate me in such statistics, for I have spent much professional time assembling close estimates of, when not actually counting, aggregates of opinions, crowds and interest groups. I am bound to homogenize my story from all that the University was, not from a few myths and facets, slogans and forgetting, and whoever managed to print what about the students, mainly people hired by administrators to turn out propaganda reputed to be successful in getting money and a few other things like money and I'll say something about the other things later. In the University Community of the 1930's might be imagined in round numbers 1,000 faculty, 4,000 undergraduates, 8,000 graduate students, 4,000 Downtown College part-time students, 1,000 workers, 1,000 administrative and clerical personnel, 1,000 hangers-on, and 10,000 family and neighbors, of which 5,000 lived North, 4,000 East, and 1,000 South of the tree-lined, grass-carpeted, grey gothic structured campus. So this one percent is my memory-searching count and a weighing-in of the various components of the university, through these years, before the Student could afford his haircuts there, and then when he could, and by that time he knew Brad and Brad knew him, personally, that is, for the two knew each other by sight long before the one put a scissors to the neck of the other.
Hence about three hundred out of some thirty thousand people in the University Community would have reason to be aware of Brad, and, after a period of time that might be quite long, would dare to ask for an appointment with him, while other chairs might be vacant and available just about any time, and wish his acquaintances to see him getting a haircut in Brad's chair. Brad, of course, knew All about the campus and his Opinions were calm, considered, supportive and Valuable. He had a radio going continuously on the pay counter alongside and that, too, helped him to be fully informative: "It's the Pirates over the Cubs, three to four in the eighth."
So he would pass Brad's chair and Brad's cheerful mustachioed pug face between the toilet and the game-room, or climb up the stairs into one of the two large clubrooms constituting the main body of the building, so far as he could then tell. Several rooms on the floor above permitted small meetings and held the offices of the Club. There Howard Mort was to be found, after he resigned as Band Manager and Director, earlier in the Freshman year of the student, and became an Assistant Director of Alumni Affairs and ultimately Director. Mort, he was called, didn't know much about music but he was a swell guy, gentle, lovable, formidable in appearance, and this Student would sometimes regret following in his footsteps instead of having his comradeship.
The main clubrooms were the most comfortable hangout the new Student had ever seen. There were long heavy tables, many full-bottomed sturdy chairs drawn up to them, and numerous deep leather chairs. The rooms were never noisy. The tall stained-glass windows usually let in enough light to read by; reading lamps and chandeliers shone well into the evening. Then, as the unwritten signal that marked off the University as an understanding patron of the poor student, you could munch candy bars and peanuts and drink chocolate milk and coca-cola bought at the glass counters in the billiard room and take your lunch out of your briefcase and eat it right there, reading all the while the Chicago Daily News or the New Republic or Harper's Magazine or listening in a corner to the radio or talking to an acquaintance.
Such was Bernie Dulsky. The student found him there munching a Baby Ruth with not perfectly white and even teeth that were otherwise showing in a bittersweet smile, and he was dressed soberly like a business man, though he too was a freshman , an old one to be sure, who would not raise his voice or laugh loud anytime but would draw his lips back in a Byzantine smile and chuckle now and then. He liked to comment upon the whole world, and whenever he would say something that sounded to him like a cliche or was a cliche but had to be said, as, for instance, "It's raining cats and dogs outside," he would add, "to coin a phrase." The Student gathered that Bernie came from the West Side of Chicago; they talked and ate together, Bernie with his pathetic bars of candy, he with two sandwiches that would choke a horse "to coin a phrase," a breaded veal cutlet, with tomato and lettuce and mayonnaise, stuck between slices of bread, a double-layered peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a pickle on the side, sometimes a banana, all washed down with a carton of chocolate milk, this was it, food, no more than this, between 0600 hours and 21:40 hours, in the couple of months of the fall of 1935, and usually a chocolate bar after a hard swim and just before band rehearsal and orchestra rehearsal in the middle evenings of the week. He would then upon arriving home eat a supper put out for him, sometimes alone, at other times in the company of his father, the household having retired and Sebastian being out helling or jazzing it up at a nightclub somewhere.
Bernie was not his only acquaintance at the Club. Bernie disappeared, furthermore, as the year went on, possibly a casualty of the Great Depression, possibly because he didn't believe in the Higher Education -- not all Jews did, especially then, in fact like most Americans, they could blast book learning -- and Bernie never lifted his voice but he was deeply cynical, so maybe he went off into business to earn a living, unlike our student friend here who dug in grittily and came to own as many holes as a gopher. So he thought at the time. If this were true, then who would be the Bernard Martin Dulsey who won a Master's Degree in the Humanities in 1939 with the thesis entitled, "A Study of the Reasons for the Omission or Inclusion of the Preposition `a' before Substantive Direct Objects"? It had to be him!
Louis J. Gagliano was another Clubman, also on the sad side without Bernie's wit to relieve it, but then he was into the natural sciences, where wit came heavier and infrequently. He left our sights, too. The Student believed that he had quit the scene also, until he, too, popped up to graduate in 1939. There were many special niches, he came to discover. As small as it was, the Campus could conceal all manner of groups, activities, games, crimes, masquerades, and identities; the Student became before long an expert on nooks and crannies, carrying over a penchant of his childhood; it took him two years, though, to locate where the cadavers were stored and exposed for anatomy lessons; he followed the stench of formaldehyde; thenceforth, he looked upon every dead-drunk bum on the streets as the next pick-up for the dissection tables.
Mongrels, too, because the Hearst newspapers in particular frequently published testimonials of anti-vivisectionists against the traffic in animals conducted by the professors of the University of Chicago, no better than the Capone Gang, to hear them talk, and the Student took it upon himself to witness the horrible scene, and without difficulty discovered the basements where bandaged dogs and cats and monkeys lived out their days in relative comfort, or so it seemed, or maybe they were drugged, but certainly not starved or panting for water, nor howling in pain, though occasionally yapping or mewing or chattering.
Like the tides of the sea, many hundreds of students contentedly visited the City Grey only by the hour three days a week until they appeared in the end for their diploma. Such types bothered the gregarious inclusive types like Bill McNeill, who, in the columns of the Daily Maroon, which he edited, exhorted one and all to find more of their life on campus and fostered what he believed might be appealing events. The Student was united in heart with the on-campus crowd; why would anyone want to leave such a delightful setting whether by day or night?
Nameless with time became acquaintances who truly disappeared. Like Haveck, who would descend upon campus from time to time in a grossly oversized old Chrysler sedan and once let the Student be persuaded that if they only would cruise the streets around campus they could pick up girls and go somewhere; the Student was supposed to be the attractive feature of their ensemble, but one call at a passing female and her blank look was enough to suggest retiring the car to Little Bohemia whence it came. Haveck departed, too.
Why don't colleges announce withdrawals? -- "Annie doesn't live here any more," a song of the times went. Why don't they print lists of those who depart and their forwarding addresses, instead of the incoming freshmen and the graduating classes and the honors list and list of student marshals and many another list? Why don't they ask for an Application for Departure, as for Admission, even pay for it, seeking the reasons why the student is flaking off. Then hold the forms for a year, erase the names and put them where anybody can read them. So, too, admissions, so that every student can read the silly things asked and answered, glaring up from the format at them who are risibly touched. Not only would the student know how vulgar he was and how like everyone else, but he would know with whom he was associating, and thereafter could toddle into the Personal Documents Exposition Room and refresh himself, discover the origins of the networks tiny and grand that fibrillated the huge organism. More of this jazz later, much more.
Across the handsome hallway -- it all had a cloistered look at Chicago -- was The Coffee Shop, hangout of those students who were putting out papers and magazines and proclamations, mainstays of conventional clubs, and concerned with playing a social role of some sort in Interfraternity and Women's Club circles and interconnections of the two, tying, of course, into the athletes, some of whom were in attendance, almost 100% undergraduates -- I should mention that it took three or four years for a student to realize that the University was three-fourths graduate scholars and he would never appreciate this at the Coffee Shop. There he would instead spot the younger and older of the four classes and especially clusters of the pretentious, who would eventuate in business, law and the communications world. A continual clatter and hubbub assailed the select from one end of the room to the other.
The Student avoided the Coffee Shop, not able to bear the sight of the social performers there, though when he was a senior caparisoned with a "Big C" jacket and a Phi Beta Kappa Key (borrowed), might finger a couple of dollars in his pocket, and brought along friends who acted as if they owned the place, then three times, maybe four, in all, he exhibited himself there. But it took a while before he could dispense coffee and cakes around the table, or could take the time to sit and talk loosely and at length.
He did better, on all accounts, at Hutchinson Commons, the magnificent dining hall down the hall and up a few stairs. It had a complete cafeteria line hidden under a wing, a grand assortment of foods boiling down to the inevitably purchased 25-cent later 28-cent special lunch of the day -- a meat, a green, a potato, a bread and dab of butter, a pudding, a beverage. (There was a progressive notion of diet at the University already then.) You could get a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie for less. Here most of the University elements were represented, from the modest independent student of the City to the living-nearby graduate student and instructor, and then a large number of the administrative staff and the campus visitors of the day. This Student did not even bother imagining the three good meals a day he could obtain if he could afford the promise of the Commons. He couldn't be starved out of the University -- he could get home over the weekend to eat and carried his food package from home to school at first, and we shall see how he solved the problem on the spot superbly -- but I suspect that a fair number of students of those days were driven out of school by pangs of hunger.
To its everlasting glory the University of Chicago made room for nearly everyone it could, provided they showed scholarly promise. It was, down to the last person of consequence, aware of the dickensian state of the economy, sensitive to social injustice, and gifted with a jeffersonian prejudice for the meritorious. This is a mouthful of praise and I would not wish to lose you believing I am to go all out with honeyed assertions: wait, if you please, for we shall be making mincemeat of it all.
The credit goes largely to the students, so different from those of Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Smith College, Radcliffe, and Wellesley and the ilk, who were still far from the turn in the road that was to come with World War II. Chicago was midwest, it reeked of the prairie, which began its enormous expanse with the first vacant building lots met with in any direction, so swiftly traversable that the southern hills and western mountains seemed to tread hard upon its heels. The University had been started up by the combination of a billionaire Baptist with a lot of little Baptists and many Jews just coming into their own in the City. John D. Rockefeller and his henchmen invading from the East hardly had need of the protestant upper crust of the Hog Butchery of the World or of the fanatic Catholic hierarchy. Pragmatists and scientists took over the internal workings, religion took a long lingering rest, reviving in snooty ways that made a few very special Catholics in an otherwise non-Catholic, anti-Catholic enclave within a densely Catholic City, or brought in a radical protestantism that took the thorns off of Christ's Crown and jabbed them into the fleshy bottoms of their sponsors. The faculty, and the administrative staff that reflected it, had, too, the quality of generosity, of St.Paul's "charity," to a far greater extent than other schools, whether these were inferior or pretending to excellence. More of them came as refugees from the Eastern arrogance, narrowness and spite; more came from the great spaces of the American interior, more from state universities. There were more Jews on the faculty, and there came to be many more, than in other Universities of consequence.
The City of Chicago gnashed its millions of teeth at the University, to no avail. Even while the press denounced it and the bourgeoisie scorned it and the workers feared it, the University went its way, raiding the city not only for dogs and derelicts, but for its best high school students, and for the human subjects of its developing empirical sociology, political science and educational research, that dared speak of the Great Beast as a splendid Laboratory, vivisecting it, too!
Its audience was even national: its University of Chicago Roundtable brought several professors onto a topic of current interest to a radio audience of 1.5 million listeners; they gabbed on Sunday Evening prime time, at the same time as the buffoon Jack Benny and the ventriloquist's dummy Charley McCarthy. When, at about the same time as came the Student upon the scene, Hutchins procured his old Yale buddy William Benton for Vice President in charge of public relations, a veritable cloudburst of propaganda descended upon the huddled urban masses.
Consequently, the Student had little fear for his beloved college. It seemed more serene than embattled, despite the incessant bolts hurled by the armored medieval knights of the outside world -- that it was a menace to mind, a roost for spoiled intellectuals, a mote in the civic eye, a communist threat, a source of moral infection and perversion. Little reason to cite typical town-vs-gown struggles in Cambridge or Berkeley or Madison, Wisconsin. This was different: fix in your mind the most strident urban force in history face-to-face with the most flagrant intelligence of the future. Because the Student had always loved his City, he could always envision bridges where others saw abysmal moats, but in the end, too, he saw himself as a soldier of a beleaguered garrison.
The University was so different from the City that it even spoke a different language with a different accent. The student could stretch his vocabulary, could become enormously polite to the polite who were so polite to him even while helping him and giving him things, like information, loans, lists of books, appointments to take up time, and a set of books at half price.
The hash-slingers were nice, the cashiers were, too, and generally he was allowed to do just about everything he wanted to do so he could be what he liked best to be, a nice boy, too.
The nice boy, then, walked across University Avenue to the ruddy brick house that contained the Department of Music. It was here that he would be contributing some kind of services in exchange for his half-tuition scholarship. (He never realized how good a deal it was for the University: to fill the ranks with premium scholars and obtain help on a hundred tasks, at the right time, reliably, honestly, without cash payment, but reporting it all as gifts to the worthy.) He had brought his trumpet down from the North Side that day and had been carrying it around. He had in mind offering his services to the Band as well. We have little to do with the Band, he was told by the most beautiful woman he had ever met, who sat in the main office alone, flicking bits of dust from her highly polished desk; the Band meets at the West Stands of Stagg Field, but if you would like to try out for the Symphony Orchestra, you can speak to Mr. Talley when he returns to his office or see him on Wednesday night when the orchestra will be rehearsing. Thank you very much and off to the Band Rooms.
Since he came to spend more time in the West Stands than Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi combined, I must give over a few words to its physical character. This was, of course, before the Stands were refashioned into the cradle of the atomic bomb. Even then their grimness was better suited to the Bomb than to music. Especially in the dark, or dusk which this is, October in Chicago, nearly six o-clock. You would walk to the corner, head West on 57th Street, skirting alongside the stadium for the length of a block, turned right then as the stadium turned, and watch for a set of doors in the massive concrete wall that stretched for the full block to 56th street. Straight up would be the hooded levels of bleachers. They towered high with their extruded lower lids frowning. They were nevermore filled with rooters, not since Chicago began to play mediocre football and a different kind of population had taken over the University.
One door would be unlocked and you would pull it open. You would not be first in, so dim bulbs would be illuminating long stretches of concrete, deathly grey, hollowly echoing to your steps. You cheer up, because, from somewhere above, a snaredrum rolls, and a clarinet bleats. Following your ears and a cardboard sign saying "Band Practice Upstairs" you climb many steps and walk into a room giving light into the corridor. There is a cowboy smoking a cigarette and snorting over the pathetic effects of two peck-hornists. The room is very large, it now reveals itself. The drummer, several percussionists, it would appear, are jesting in a corner. The place is set up for rehearsal, heavy metal stands, unfolded chairs, a podium, music put out.
"Have you come to try out for the Band?", you are asked. "Yes." "Fine, this is the right place." It is the cowboy talking. "This is Mr. Bachman, our Band Director." You shake hands.
"Come inside the Cage." A floor-to-ceiling heavy wire cage closed off an end of the large room. It held a lot of instruments, clothing trunks and uniforms on racks, stacks of music. "Go ahead and warm up, " said Mr. Bachman. He puffed at a cigar while you take your golden Holden trumpet out of its purple velvet cushion in the black box, blow some hot air and steam into the horn, and strike several tones, forte, your lip is cold, no need to hit your first notes piano, and you might miss. He then does something impressive, like Giotto's famous free-hand circle. He attacks clearly and simply Middle `C', but softly, swells it incrementally with no perceptible break to a fortissimo and recedes as gradually, taking twenty seconds to do it, no tremolo, no vibrato, no variance in pitch throughout. That's all. Actually, involved in the stunt are awareness, command of pitch, amplification, harmonics, envelope, and breath control. It doesn't sound like much, but you cannot do it unless you are a pro, and it takes a pro to realize the fact.
"Did you play in a band before?"
"Yes, Lake View High School in Chicago."
"Who is the Bandmaster there?"
Mr. Bachman didn't know him; but meanwhile you note Mr. Bachman, that he has a firm, kind, interested expression on his dark thin face, rather small, lean, straight-standing. Slightly nervous and fast of gesture.
"Here, play this," he says, grabbing a piece of music from the table, any piece, obviously, and putting it on a music stand. You play it. No problem. It's a march. Washington Post March by Souza. Three-eighths time. Off you go, ta-ta-ta Tah ta TAh ta Tah.... After a few bars, he stops you. "Good," he says, "let's hear a scale, scale of D." No problem. Two sharps. Up and down. Rip off the chord at the end for good measure. The horn is resounding now; you're putting some blare into it. A couple of bandsmen move in from the other room. "What's your name?" says Mr. Bachman.
"Alfred de Grazia."
"Is your father the Bandmaster?"
"Yes, do you know him."
"I have met him. I am from North Dakota. I haven't spent much time here."
The Student wonders whether he knows the Dad as a victim of the Music Depression or as commanding the patronage for the Federal Music Project Bands. Mr. Bachman's dark eyes light up playfully. "Can you give us the chromatic scale." You can, in ten seconds, up and down two octaves. Good. He smiles. "Can you play the scale of C#?" You know a little trick is being played on you; it's the most difficult scale, awkward on the trumpet, rarely employed, it's simply a scale to complete the logic of a scale for every half-tone. You lift your horn and play it as fast as the C scale. Bachman laughs, the others smile. He claps you on the shoulder. "Good work. See how it goes on first chair. This is Chuck Towey, the student manager," introducing the cowboy, "he'll give you a locker and a uniform when the time comes." You hang around for quite a while. The bandroom is humanly warm, this mud-colored, bulb-lit, grimy-windowed, cement-floored, clutter-filled space. When you do leave, you trot down the obscure stairs and start the long journey North to home in high spirits about the state of affairs. But hungry: he could practically hear himself saying "I hope Mom has something good put aside."
He would be up before six the next morning if it were a day for the lecture in Social Science I at Mandel Hall. By six-twenty he would be handing his cut-rate schoolchild's pass through the ticket window of the Elevated Train station at Southport Ave. and Roscoe St., he would settle into a seat, take up a textbook and study. He would change trains for the Jackson Park Line and ride for another hour. At Sixty-third and University Ave. he would hop off, clamber down the steel steps, and walk rapidly North six blocks and into the Hall.
You sat where you pleased, and in fact did not have to come at all; attendance was voluntary for all classes at the University. The smaller the class and the more specialized its subject and idiosyncratic its teacher, the less likely that attendance could be treated as voluntary. Here, however, the Student was intent upon understanding what the University was all about, what an education was, what knowledge was worthwhile. So he attended the lectures, even at eight in the morning.
Yes, one will say, now we shall hear of the Chicago Plan, the Hutchins Plan, the Survey Plan, the General Education Plan, the New Plan. True. But more later, too. The Plan was an innovation of several years before, and known throughout world academe. It was the idea of a predecessor, propelled by the will-power of Robert Maynard Hutchins, who had become President of the University upon achieving thirty years, and embraced the struggling curricular concept. (Ironically, Mr. Hutchins had been approved by several powerful personages of the Faculty because he gave them the impression that he would favor the Graduate Departments and perhaps even get rid of the College altogether.)
Whatever the case, Mr. Hutchins was to rank continuously among the very few University leaders of America who could honestly be termed interested and involved in intellectual matters. He was one of the few who could be said to have an interest in the minds of the students (and damned little else beyond their minds), which was a marvelous departure from the combination of Bible-thumping and athleticism that students in America generally got from their top leaders. His opting to champion the College may well have come from a realization that the barons of the Departments and Professional Schools would dominate and frustrate him, but that the clamorous college crowd of the under-represented needed a King. And so he became the proper King for the occasion, entrancing, sardonic, witty, preaching an education he scarcely could profess to have but sincerely wished he possessed.
The Student was fully supportive of the idea of general education, for he had been himself a pretender to many skills and never at a loss for ideas; he believed Mr. Hutchins had even been inventor as well as executor of the College Plan of General Education. He did suspect that a man so lofty, beautiful, successful, and arrogant as Hutchins could not be flawless. Still, never did his loyalties flagg, not when his teammates cursed Hutchins, invoking the name of the castrated god Alonzo Stagg, for cutting back on what he was convinced were the absurdities and intellectual destructiveness of athletics, nor when social scientists attacked Hutchins from the left for his medievalism and natural scientists attacked him from the right for restraining their unlimited compulsion to over-specialize their interests. All attacked him because he believed that the ancients possessed great knowledge that could scarcely be improved upon. Nor was the Student ready to follow him here.
The student liked the idea of general learning. He thought there was at the bottom of civilization and at the base of human destiny a literature, science, and philosophy to be learned, and, since he was of democratic inclination, to be learned by everyone. He was happy in the notion that he might one day arrive at having learned just about everything except for small digestible increments that would regularly appear from the cooking pots of such as himself.
The student believed, too, in the wonderfully executed "objective" examinations that were used to test the stages of acquisition of this eternal knowledge. Banishing the subjectivity of the examiner, not to mention the discriminatory prejudices, the examination contrived, by asking for a choice of several possible answers, by the filling in of a word to correctly complete a sentence, and by other devices, to get at the most abstract and complex kinds of knowledge, and to test in short answers one's achievement of it. He could hardly wait for the end of the academic year in June, to pit himself against the ingenious testing machine.
He had not, upon entering the school, shown up well enough in the "English language" examination to be forgiven bothering with it further. He was in fact required to retake the examination after a year of golden opportunities to improve himself. By lot he found himself in the classroom of Mr. Bond, a sepulchral and abashed lank figure, who would generally bore the class, even though the proceedings were based upon discussion and contained a quota of bright students.
It hardly took the Student long to become vocally critical -- after all what does an instructor in English composition teach: all the practices his teacher told him he wished all writers might have, and unfortunately most great writers did not have. Such as they are, the "principles of writing well" -- and strangely Mr. Bond, though possessed of a resonant voice and a precise manner of expression seemed to forget the spoken language -- are badly derived statistics of what ought typically be found in "good" writing. Advice on English composition, far from being simple, is practically impossible; the sociology of composition, which, along with systematic ethics, could save it from its worse follies, is one of the most backward branches of general sociology.
But those who teach English, if anything, are less bright than other teachers for they can rely on Authority to "prove" their lessons, and can reach into a huge grab-bag of spurious proofs to deliver the gift of "proper usage" to their victims of the moment. Faced with bright and unabashed students, who, nota bene, cannot be threatened by an examination made up by the teacher and, worse, graded by him, the teacher has normally to collapse, as did Mr. Bond, gently, reproving, letting out air from his large body sac with very faint hissing. Until, that is, one day a couple of his students were badgering him -- it had something to do with nouns being used as verbs without license --viz, "she habitually proper-nouned her favorite objects while objecting to verbing them" -- when, out of the stillness that cloaked a pronunciamento of Mr. Bond, there eructated as loud a belch as ever disgraced a campus classroom, this desperately and contemptuously issuing from the scarcely notable, even picayune, physique of Mr. Rubenstein, hitherto the favorite person of the Student for sitting-next-to.
Mr. Bond rose in all his dignity and, the full force of public opinion behind him, bellowed a denunciation worthy of the devil-devouring puritan ancestors of American "good English." "Disgusting manners! They will not be tolerated here! etc." Even the Student was impressed by his indignation, and looked upon Mr. Rubenstein reproachfully. In the weeks to come, the Student took steps to enhance his own social status in the classroom by switching his seat from the front of the room, where the troublemakers were wont to sit, to the back of the room, where Mr. "Pete" Petersmeyer and other sober and uncommunicative athletes chose regularly to plump themselves down: a vote with his ass for law and order in the classroom. Mr. Rubenstein largely held his peace thereafter, sprawling gracefully over the chairs vacated around him, like a Greek at a cafe. He came less to class. Then he could not be seen on campus. The Student regretted not seeing him around, in or out of class; his comments were always pertinent. He was gone. Mr. Rubenstein had left the University. At least, so it appeared. But the ghost of Rubenstein sweats out of the old stone of Cobb Hall.
The Student did not formally change class and instructor, as well he might under the rules of the University. He simply ceased to attend Mr. Bond's classes thereafter, and dropped in upon the sessions of an instructor he had good word of, named Norman MacLean, a cheerful type, who seemed mainly to want you to put matters of interest down in a refreshing way. Then in June he took the Great Final Examination to qualify in English Composition and received the grade of "B".
Actually, he was a poor writer, who had two merits: he could be clear, if clumsy, and he pounded out sentences forcefully, which is a help in certain kinds of composition, like extremist political oratory. True, he did have a large vocabulary but it came from such opposed nodules of the language that he could not figure out how to bring it all together; he needed a style, in a word, and that would have taken great labor under excellent editorial advice, and he did not see the problem, and the teachers did not know the meaning of a "style" except in the
works of some great writer like Hemingway or Proust. The language-teachers used "style" as the dress designers did, a word for what they liked with a gobbledygook analysis of worth and why, or none at all. Again the lack of a basic systematic philosophical-logical-empirical-scientific approach to the study of literature and composition -- "to coin a word".
He even wrote a poem in his thunderous style to compete in an annual student competition for some prize a lady had once handed the University. It began something like this:
Furiously cursing, rapidly he strode,
Behind him unkempt and abandoned abode...
He showed it to his advisor, Mr. Earl S. Johnson, who did not hold out great hopes for it but found its message serious. By this time, Mr. Johnson had become a friend. Earl Johnson had more friends than anyone in the University, if not at that time, then later, for he didn't have a mean bone in his body and he loved to be friendly with all sorts of people and threatened no one, even when they should have been bashed and he was large and strong enough to bash most of them, or intimidate them at least, with his noble features and mensch's mustache. It was he who signed the form entitling the Student to a child's rate on the Chicago Transportation System. It was he who helped him get a $15.00 a month job and recommended him to the supervision of Mr. Louis Wirth who in turn passed him along to Clifford Reyburn for supervision. No question he had a friend in Mr. Johnson; the best kind of Advisor; actually, the advising system worked well at Chicago, perhaps in part because the student could choose an advisor as well as being assigned one, perhaps more because the faculty realized their students were only rarely nincompoops and included interesting types.
"Earl" he became four years later -- amusing that the University, beginning with Mr. Hutchins, thought the faculty should be called "Mr." and so too the male students and janitors, and the women all "Miss" unless they were "Mrs." of whom there was none to be seen as an undergraduate to anyone's knowledge but of graduate students, yes, an interesting phenomenon, the married student, to the Student, who still thought in stereotypes about many things -- Earl The Mighty Friend was out of Kansas, his forebears out of Denmark, then he became a rural county school superintendent until he was accepted as a student at the University, scioned by Mr. Louis Wirth, one of many enfants terribles intellectuels of the prolific Louis.
On the principle that the great and famous should lecture to the youngest and rawest, Mr. Wirth delivered himself of the Chicago School of Sociology to several hundred students of the freshman and sophomore classes in Social Science I, a course under the New Plan which dutifully and masterfully assembled the basic ideas and methods of the several social sciences -- these being especially political science, sociology, social psychology, anthropology, and economics. The text was a Syllabus of several hundred pages that the staff of the survey course put together,
consisting of outlines, lists of required and recommended readings (the "required" would figure prominently in the examination at the end of the year), and intriguing, exasperating, evidently valid and downright magnificent quotations, statements like "the best bureaucrats are the worst ones. They eat holes in our liberties...", delivered by the President of the U.S. Chambers of Commerce, a statement that would set everyone to hooting and hollering for blood in the sections that met to integrate and discuss the lectures and readings of the week.
Mr. Louis Wirth also had axioms, paradoxes, sarcasms, and exposes up his sleeve to shake out before the impressionable young. He was an extreme relativist -- never mind that he was in social and political affairs an activist of the first order, taking on one controversy after another: black civil rights being one of them: "It's nonsense to think that because laws need popular support to be effective, laws providing equality between the races won't be effective." Racism was hardly an open issue at the University. Racial equality was dogma. Yet racism there was.
Sincere feelings of racial equality were, on the other hand, uncommon. There were a few black students at the University; three graduated in the Class of 1939, along with two Asians. There were a few black semi-faculty, they were happy blacks -- that contradiction in terms! -- generally, for there were trusting and accepting and generous characters in some numbers around, and many Asians and South Americans and Europeans. One black man belonged to the Rifle Club. A black woman belonged to the Young Women's Christian Association. The Student knew of no black athlete (sic).
When the Student was loitering beside the steaming swimming pool one day, he observed a heavy black man walking naked -- nudity was the rule at the men's pool except for the teams wearing breechclouts -- and the swimming Coach commented to the Student, for no apparent reason, except that he knew him and he was standing there, or maybe the incident rested uneasy with him so he had to relate it to someone, "Some people don't like blacks using the same swimming pools as whites, so I told him to shower conspicuously before he gets in the pool." It set the Student to pondering. What is a favor tendered another? He listened; he didn't feel he should argue the point.
There were three black fraternities, each with a few members, the largest of them Kappa Alpha Psi, all of them too poor to afford a house on campus; they would have been prevented by restrictive covenants from renting or buying one anyhow; in the face of all this, the Interfraternity Council barred them from membership on grounds that they had no house on campus.
As Mr. Louis Wirth lectured the crowd at Mandel Hall one morning, "Whatever you can imagine as a form of human conduct has been a custom in some place at some time." This was a heavy message for those who had ears to hear and minds to apply. Cannibalism? Of course. But homosexuality? Incest? Homicide? Theft? The Student couldn't quite believe it, but then he knew hardly a smidgin of the world's ways. He was devouring, as did they all, the required reading, Sumner's Folkways, which fed fuel to Louis' fire. It was an astonishing compendium of bizarre behavior sanctioned by custom and law around the world somewhere. How did Sumner ever come then to feel so strongly about the moral superiority of absolute laissez-faire economics, about which he wrote another book, What One Social Class Owes to Another, the answer being "nothing"? For his own ox was being gored.
Laissez-faire economists were chez eux at Chicago. The Chicago School of Economics was already enthroned, never to be overthrown. The Student's good friend, Marjorie Goldman of Lake View High School, was in love with Mr. Harry Gideonse, who also lectured in Social Science and held student discussions and strode tall about the campus with a large Alsatian police dog on the leash. Mr. Gideonse was teaching a different version of society than was Mr. Louis Wirth. He would let the economy go to hell in its own terms though he was strong on civil liberties, like Louis, but Louis felt the economy had to be ruled in order to bring an equality of income, then of rights, to the people, all the people. They communicated little, they did not engage in debate. They taught their thing: nobody told them "Hey, you guys, get your act together. You're on soon." The student found Gideonse too cold, technical, while proper to be sure, Dutch, in manner, as in fact were his origins. They were clever, these Chicago economists, used to holding their own with top-rate interventionists, regulators, socialists, communists in other departments, and somehow they let a couple of socialists sneak into their own, notably Paul Douglas and Earl Johnson's good friend, Maynard Kreuger.
The readings came fast and hard, contained in the thick syllabus, a set of a dozen used books that you would rent for several dollars for the term, great books, if not famous, like Henry Thouless' Straight and Crooked Thinking, which commonsensically ordered the Student's mind forever; also Delisle Burns' History of Political Ideas, which neatly picked up "liberty," "equality," "the state," and other concepts and pursued them from their beginnings up to the present, a relief from philosophy taught as an individual man's ideas, not only because it fashioned long chains of ever-changing thought, but also because the contribution of the collective mind, the populace, the second-raters, could now understandably be taken into account; and a lot of excerpts from other books that were held for you in the reserve rooms of the College Library at Cobb Hall.
Cobb was merely some old classroom and dormitory space that had been converted to use as a room of books -- the Library -- and some rooms of tables and chairs and lamps where one would sit as best one could for as long as one could from morning to night, and if one wished surcease you could go to other study places that looked like libraries, for example Harper Library's Main Reading Room, which had a distinguished polish in the Cambridge -Princeton style, also possessed by Hutchinson Commons and most other structures roundabout. The print would sometimes grow obscure in the poor lighting there, but it was rather inspiring to the untravelled, and to those still uninitiated to Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture whose effects down the street a ways at Robie House were turned over to the Chicago Theological Seminary, ironically if you think of religion as conservative, not so if you know how skeptically Christ's resurrection was viewed in those quarters.
Relativism, medievalism, avantgarde, laissez-faire,
economic disaster all around the country, a revolutionary
fervor in education, yet not so much happening as one would
gather from the noise. Why? If people believe that they are in
a revolution, must there not be a revolution? Or for that
matter, what is a revolution? What a mish-mash. What is a
School? Ask the Student. He was in a maelstrom of several
heated-up Schools and the big University that contained them,
which advertised its own overall Revolution, under the baton
of Mr. William "Bill" Benton, America's most successful hawker
of symbols, as the Greatest Educational Show on Earth.