Whoever thought of that trite saying “Give it the old college try”?
My parents married and rapidly came of age during The Depression. My father put himself through Georgia Tech cutting hair and studying the marvels of radio engineering; my mother had a more genteel upbringing in private schools. Surely they thought in the 1930s what I am thinking in the next century: the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
Dixie in the 1920s and '30s was still recovering from the War of Northern Aggression, which destroyed our agricultural economy as thoroughly as Sherman, Sheridan, and Grant went on to destroy the heathen Injuns. What proud chapters we have written in our history! This has never been “My country—right or wrong”. This is America, where we welcome the worst with the best, as long as they fill out an immigration visa form.
So, Dad headed west for a while, and under the aegis of Roosevelt’s CCC, he signed on as a park ranger at “Jellystone” National Park. Yep, Dad knew Yogi, and was he here today; he’d say that Yogi ain’t presidential material.
In 1935, when my parents married and planned a family, they took it for granted that their child would attend a university. That foggy morning during the Battle of the Bulge, I doubt my father was thinking about his progeny when he won his Silver Star. When I took third place with a bronze medal in a later war, I certainly wasn’t considering the option of children. That day, staying alive was impossibility beyond hoping. Like all soldiers before me, I fought for those beside me, not for some dream of future children who might achieve what I never could.
I suppose I am a child of privilege; one of the last of the “baby boomers”. Please allow me to elucidate: my parents managed college under the harshest of conditions. The Depression of the 1930s was not easy on those families who managed to remain “comfortable”. You have to do some tricky math to equate New Millennium dollars to 20th century cents, but even under the best of circumstances back then, it wasn’t an easy proposition to send a child to college.
Nevertheless, when my father came back from defeating tyranny, with the stench of Nordhausen concentration camp still in his nostrils, the first thing on his mind was “The kid’s going to college to learn how to never do this again.”
The Book of Ecclesiastes has it nailed; there is nothing new under the sun. My great-aunt—granny’s sister—used to quote that to me all the time when I was a pup.
Unfortunately, the kid got snatched. I fought lesser tyrants, but their myrmidons were tough little SOBs. Nowadays, we call the snatching “the draft”—a long dead entity—and our little war is still hotly debated. My “child of privilege” status only extended so far; besides, I quit high school when I turned 18, and joined. I’ll never forget the day—three days after I turned 18—that I walked in on my high school counselor and told her that I wanted the papers to sign to formally drop out.
“You’re college prep. You can’t do that! What are you going to do?”
“But there’s a war on!”
She gave me all the arguments. Eventually, when I sat and smiled, she gave me the papers. I signed, and got the hell out of there.
A Kodak™ moment: When I left her office, she followed me into the hallway of the high school. This woman was more distraught that I was ditching college than I was worried about the prospect of being killed in combat.
My timing was perfect; it was a class change going on. I planned to sneak out a side door and be gone forever. Instead, Mrs. M____ tailed me into the hallway, and in a last ditch attempt, she screamed “You have an I.Q. of 146! Why do you want to waste that?”
It was like telling a dirty joke at a party. Just when you hit the obscene punch line, the universe conspires to halt all other conversation. Silence reigned, and everybody stared. “Him…?”
Her shout caught the attention of everyone in the hallway. Not since I’d jumped the redneck who called me a “nigger lover” for escorting a black girl to a sock hop had I been the attention of so much focus.
(That drew a thee-day suspension. When I returned, I got the silent treatment from my peers. In that case, silence was golden. I only hope my “date” didn’t catch too much flack. My tires were slashed, and the car windows smashed. The KKK burning a cross in the front yard was not out of the equation. My parents understood this; I didn’t.)
I tried five minutes of junior college. I met my first wife, hosted Lynrd Skynrd, Odetta, met George Carlin as entertainment director of the student council, and smoked a lot of pot. That’s not in any particular order. Actually, I got more “smarts” from those experiences than from any nasal-toned professor explaining English literature or some algebra expert trying to sleep-teach me the algorithms of A=B…etc.
I eventually got a college degree. My parents lived to see this, and they glowed. It was a long road between being a backwoods dropout and eventually doing the cap and gown thing—which I botched—but I “gave it the old college try”. My parents cried on that day, and I think I leaked a little, too.
As I write this, I am listening to a CD titled “The Concert for New York.” It happened in a spontaneous outburst of unity following 9/11. The music is not a muse; it makes writing more difficult. Don’t be confused; it’s great music; too good . . . it brings back the day I’m lying in the hospital and Manhattan goes to hell.
If you held a gun to my head, I cannot tell you what fixated me on that phrase: “the old college try.” It’s like “Win one for The Gipper.” It’s such a cultural cliché, most folks don’t even remember it. I recognize the cinematic reference. Some folks can win a trivia contest by differentiating between Ronald Reagan and Pat O’Brien; the latter was the star.
Like Hunter Thompson—an earlier role model, for Heaven’s sake!—I write with my flow.
I can tell you what fixated me.
Colleges are cesspools of liberalism. Everyone has an opinion, and they are welcome to it. The only thing I have required of others for my entire life is that they think.
That used to be the mission of colleges. Now the emphasis is on “feelings”, not thought. I have enough sociopathic experience to know “feelings” can be manipulated to one’s heart’s content. When I finally got around to college, my peers were alarmingly younger, and they—in the early 1970s—were prone to “feeling”, as opposed to “thinking”. I ended up in front of an academic review board with a professor who was going to flunk me because I disagreed with him. I won, I suppose. I graduated.
No kidding; I am not making this up…to this day, my college degrees hang proudly in my bathroom. “In case of emergency, break glass.” I have attempted to teach computers to people who are alarmingly undereducated. We might call these people “cannon fodder”, but they are truly better suited to killing people and breaking things than they will be served by a college education.
Everyone has a right to a college education. The values are dubious, in my opinion, but we all need the exposure to life its own self. Today, I speak in casual conversation like a thug, and my demeanor at first blush resembles a career criminal more than a bureaucrat. As a movie fan and a small fish on the technical side, I am constantly confronted with method actors who claim to be enmeshed in their roles. That excuses a wide range of behavior. These people are paid and—hopefully—educated beyond my wildest dreams. However, when they open their mouths, the most stupid rhetoric on the planet emerges.
“The old college try” doesn’t haul the same weight as it used to. As an etymologist—one who seeks the meaning of words, as opposed to an entomologist, a seeker of bugs—I really want to trace the origin of “give it the old college try”.
I got scalded verbally by a friend’s reply to an e-mail. Her sister in San Fransciso is indoctrinating her toddlers with liberal claptrap about the Bush administration. (When I was that age, Eisenhower was president, and my political interests were non-existent.)
I told her to tell her sister to do what I always urge: think!
I got raked over the coals for my suggestion. Part of the reply: “We’re liberals! My parents were Socialists! What do you expect?”
Truth be told, I don’t expect a hell of a lot from anyone. It may be the psychology of illness, but I have withdrawn from politics, both observation and commentary. Al Gore wins the Nobel Prize, Osama Bamalama throws away his lapel pin, She-beast Hilly says she’ll negotiate with the nuclear-determined Iranians: I keep up with the news, but live by Ecclesiastes. What else is new?
I have been cursed for most of my adult life with an eerie prescience. I curse and seek to debunk psychic phenomena, but I seem to have a spooky, unerring ability to predict the future. What I have seen for America’s future led me to what the alienists call “suicidal ideation”. I’ve taken the MMPI more times than the average bear; I might be at high risk of suicide because of my past, but one factor not included in the diagnostic manual is that I have never walked out on a movie until the credits roll, and I usually stay to read them.
America is the architect of its own destruction. I refuse to die until God calls me home. I came up as a liberal, but now denounce such a mindless ideology. I stand at the gate screaming “Think, you f----ers! Think!!"
No one listens, but I give it the old college try.