Matriculation

As a recap, in case you've lost track on this blog, senior year of high school found me traveling northward on US 69 to reboot.

Come summer, I was ready to begin school at a state college, as it was then labeled, and probably still should be. Calling it a university didn't change what's beneath the veneer. Only in America...


Those were among the happiest days of my life. I was so goddamned excited to start college that I was practically wetting myself. It seemed the most natural thing in the world. I mean, after all, we're born with these empty skulls, and here's a filling station conveniently placed to remedy the situation. In short, I just wanted to learn, anything, no matter the area, so long as it was new and had never occupied my brain before. I longed to be in college forever, and still do. As I later told my students, once in harness, there are only three things in this world worth doing, and learning something new is one of them.

Part of this is that I grew up just one block from the Iowa State University campus. And then my mother typed theses at home for the doctoral students round the clock. There was always a nonstop flow of turbans and saris to the house, accompanied by skins of all hues, brown, yellow, red, jet black, with the concomitant accents. I bet we had grad students from every point of the globe pass through our doors for the continual corrections on their theses. I literally grew up in a household surrounded by all manner of folks anxious to learn, anxious to succeed, believing in the Academy. It just seemed like the thing to do.

It is likely my parents were dismayed with where I had ended up for the inauguration of my academic career. My eldest brother took his Bachelor's at Princeton, then my sister at the University of Kansas, followed by my elder brother at Iowa State University, and here was I coldcocked at Potato State College as we referred to it, considered by many to be one of the more scrofulous of institutions. I once mentioned this exponential decay to my mother, late in her life, but she replied neither she nor Father were particularly concerned. To her mind, I would get a decent enough education at any school, because I knew how to shop. I wonder, is that really a compliment? As it turned out, quite by chance there were several excellent professors at Potato State in those days, and it was easy to find them; just look for the empty classrooms.


So high school was behind me and after a break of a week or two I was ready to start college. Man, poring over the catalog made me drool. I could take classes in just about
anything! So much to learn! For my first summer session, I decided upon two freshman survey classes, one in mathematics and the other in music literature.

Mathematics 110, Perspectives in Mathematics, was going to be an interesting foray. All throughout junior high and high school, I detested mathematics and as a consequence did very poorly in it. My last experience of the subject was with a trigonometry course taught by Mr. Heidemann, I think it was. If memory serves me, he was quite gifted and probably wanted to do research, but the practicalities of feeding a family necessitated attempting to indoctrinate the riff-raff. The D-minus he awarded me was a gift. In those days, I cared little for mathematics, instead becoming positively sexually aroused immersing myself in languages, foreign or otherwise. I just loved words, pure and simple. Of course, the reason for my prejudice came down to that no instructor ever bothered to mention mathematics is also a language in its own right, and a comely one at that. They always wanted merely to compute, which is like asking Renoir to paint your garage.


Don't ask me why I decided to start college with a course in a field little cared for. I guess it was simply because by that point, all learning seemed erotic. My instructor was Dr. Alders, who some years later I would encounter once more, this time as a graduate assistant and he the chairman. He was a pleasant guy, friendly and patient with a dumbbell like me, but really didn't light any fires. That would have to wait until I chanced upon the inimical Harry, who made it clear mathematics is custom-fit for those who want to blow blue engine smoke in the eyes of road-side picnickers. (May I suggest you look up the film Going Places?)

On the other hand, the music literature class I took that summer
was a real eye-opener. It was taught by the great Hermann Herz, of Johannesburg, South Africa who somehow, despite his skill and accomplishment, ended up at Potato State, primarily as the conductor of the Orchestra, but also pressed into teaching from time to time. And I netted him my first term!

I loved that class. It was a lecture hall affair, with perhaps a hundred students in attendance. We congregated in the main theater of the Performing Arts Center, Herz always dressed to the nines, holding court next to the grand piano center stage. It was quite mystical under the dimmed house lights. Best of all, the summer was getting off to a blazing start. That of course meant there would be a barrage of cheesecloth and nipples. Indeed, I remember the first day of class, one buxom hippie chick wandering in from the dorm across the street, bedecked in a thread-bare bikini. 
Oh là là...

And it was a whole new crowd on campus, my eyes glazing as I gawked. Protests against the war, beards, goatees, pony tails on men, Students for a Democratic Society, marching at the local draft office downtown at the Post Office (which housed the Selective Service in those days), closing the bridge with human chains, granny glasses, not a brassiere to be found anywhere on campus, pot, study, debates...and of course, Crowley. He had more aficionados then. In that music class, I also met Cindy, with whom I would continue to attend my first two years of Spanish classes. Man, she was so cute, petite, blonde hair, coiffed into a sort of bowl haircut. I was so enamored, but could never really get her to notice me.


But back to the P. A. Center. I so anticipated every class day. For here it was that Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and various Mozart sonatas found me. Right away, my very first term in college! And Herz was such a scream, with his peculiar South African/German accent and way of viewing the world.

At the end of the quarter, Herz announced that we had accomplished everything we were supposed to, and had a free day left over. How should we make use of it?

Well, all throughout the course, Herz had played little snippets of Mozart's Piano Sonata #16 in C Major, just enough to titillate, but never more than a dozen measures at a time. I had had it with this musical blue-balls! In answer to his question on what to do the last day, I raised my hand, the lone one in the crowd, and proposed he play the entire thing, start to finish, as it was intended to be heard. Herz gasped. Among his hemming and hawing, he watched my face and detected I was in earnest, almost pleading, for indeed I had fallen in love with the piece and wanted to hear it performed by a real human being on a real piano in a real recital hall--a phonograph record is little more than a thick, latex prophylactic, designed to protect only and never offer sensation. After a little hesitation, he agreed, indicating he'd have to stay up all night rehearsing.

The following day, the last session of my first term in college, I heard the Mozart
Sonata in its entirety. Here's a YouTube link to refresh your memory of how sweet it is:


It was one of the most glorious incidents in my life. And as if to make it even more magical, Professor Herz donned a tuxedo when he played for us that day. I felt like he dolled up just for me. My love of collegiate life began then and there.

I had found my profession at last: simply learning new things and exploring the world. Not a very good way to become financially secure, but infinitely more rewarding. And of course, the hippie chicks swirling around only added to the appeal of this new awakening. I rather liked the Age of Aquarius.

Next installment: On Fiction

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