Wabash College

June 29th, 2017

Wabash College

In “Skin of our Teeth”, Wabash

I really didn’t understand the whole “going to college”  thing throughout my high school years.  Even when I got to be a senior, it was still a great misty concept, I was taken to see the Universities of Chicago, Wellesley, and Princeton–without ever talking to anyone there.  This was in the late ‘50s, when there was not so much competition for students as there is today; also, my grade point average in high school was pretty miserable.  I had been, I admit, a miserable student.  I just was never all that much interested, and so couldn’t see how it might affect my future.

Dad wanted me to go to Princeton, his alma mater.  I dutifully filled out the application and sent it in,  But I was hesitant about going away, and nervous about going to Dad’s old school, probably because it felt too much like a competition.  So Dad looked around — like, asking his friends at the bank — and came up with Wabash College, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a few hours’ drive from Des Plaines.  Wabash had a reputation as “the Princeton of the Midwest.”  Like Princeton at the time, it was an all-men’s school.  In retrospect, that was probably not the best choice.  But I applied and was accepted, so that was decided. (I never applied to any other schools.)

So the parents drove me down to Wabash, and installed me in a new dormitory.  Wabash was not huge.  Founded in 1832 as a Presbyterian seminary, it is one of the few all-male colleges in the U.S.  Enrollment is about 900 now though it may have been fewer back in 1962.  My room — a single room was next another, with a shared bathroom in between.

The physical layout was great.  The roommate, a senior, a philosophy major, which was what I was shooting for.  I considered myself a Pre-Theological student, which is, I assumed, philosophy.  My dorm was just steps from the student union, which is where meals were served, catered: on Sundays the cafeteria was open to the public; the food was excellent at all times.  What all this was costing my parents, I had no idea; they never discussed finances.  In 20016, annual tuition at Wabash is $40,000.  And then room and board.

I enjoyed myself immensely at Wabash.  I never joined a fraternity, and did not become a heavy drinker: it was the intellectual pretension that I loved.  I took to wearing a corduroy suit; I bought a pipe.  I read philosophy.

I did not do well in classes — terribly, in fact, but I didn’t think that of greatest importance — it was much more fun sitting around the student union, bullshitting.  I stumbled through the year like that.  At science I was a total failure when it came to actually reading the textbook; German was all Greek to me; Philosophy I liked, though didn’t really understand it; Math was set theory, which left me pretty much puzzled; History, a long list of numbers easily forgotten.  In short, I was a mess.  But it was great sitting in the student union shooting the bull.

The next year was even more slackish.  I was invited to move into an off-campus aparment (nicknamed ‘Trinity House,’ for the number of residents), which I did with alacrity; it was the “cool” place on campus.  Lots of sitting around listening to classical and jazz, eating spaghetti with professors and getting buzzed on Metaxa and retsina.  Tons of absorption in Kafka and Dostoevsky, Baudelaire and Gregory Corso.  That was fun.

What wasn’t fun was how it ended.  I had earlier become friendly with a boy in the dorm, who was considered  “strange” by those who knew him only slightly, and as genuinely weird by those of us who knew him better.  I forget his name; let’s call him Elmore.  Elmore was tall and lanky and pallid as the moon.  Elmore moved as though floating on cool gruel.  Elmore had a guru!  and  kept a picture of the Master on his desk, with little devotional candle. Who had ever heard of anything so strange?  (This was before the Beatles.) Elmore believed in flying saucers, had seen them.  And Elmore saw “auras”.  Which meant trouble.

Elmore decided one night to do an “aural reading” of some of us.  You see, every aura has a different color, depending upon your personality.  A red aura meant you were passionate and emotional; a blue aura meant you were a depressive type.  A green aura meant you were an intriguing sort.

Mine turned out to be yellow.  A yellow aura meant you were homosexual.

‘Homosexual’ is not a good rep at a midwestern men’s school in 1960.

This was near the end of the school year.  I didn’t think much of what Elmore had said, except that it confirmed for me the creepiness of Elmore.  I continued doing my slacker thing; and if I noticed anything strange as I walked around campus, any strange looks or others avoiding me, I didn’t let it bother me, I didn’t know why that would be happening.

Until someone clued me in: Ellmore, or someone else who had been in the group that night of the aura reading, was bruting about that I had a yellow aura, and you know what that means, and if you don’t, it means he’s queer.  A faggot.  A fairy.  I had no idea what that could be about.

Until the Dean of Students called me in, one evening, to ask me straight-out, confrontationally, brutally:

“Is it true?”

It hit me full-force, like a two-by-four to the head.

So I cried.  And then, “No, it’s not,” through my tears; and still believing it was not true.  Still denying.

All of which was a pretty good setup for Doctor Deutsch.


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