Personal History, Part 4

So, let’s see … Syracuse University, Smith College of Engineering.  The College isn’t really important other than I thought I should become an Aerospace Engineer.  Well, that proved difficult for a person who doesn’t study his butt off.  So, we will skip the few details of my scholastic lack of achievement.

There were several people that I was close to during my first foray into higher education.  But, the closest was my buddy Bob.  He was studying Archeology and was a philosopher of the best kind.  We would “discuss” ideas for hours, both he and I at opposite poles of the concept under discussion.  Plus, he would accompany me on some of my attempts to play pianos that many of the women’s dorms had in their reception areas.  But, I’ll cover that in the “Music History” section.

Now, remember, I still didn’t have my driver’s license.  So, I (we) walked everywhere.  I’d even walk to downtown to buy sheet music.  But, my most notable walks were at night.  Instead of studying, I’d leave the dorm and start walking into the outlying town:  the residential parts … they felt safer.  And, as I walked, I’d sing songs to the trees, starts and dark houses along the way.  It’s surprising, thinking back now, that I was never picked up for suspicious behavior.

[Side note:  I lately I’ve tried to retrace those walks using Google Street View.  But, not only has the campus changed significantly, but so have the neighborhoods. I guess 50 years can make a big difference in things, not just people.]

I did go out on a few dates during this time.  But, the most memorable event was one where my date kept singing “shades of mediocrity” to herself and eventually went home with another guy.  Oh well, such is life in the big city.

I barely squeaked out a 2.0 GPA out of my first year.  But, the second year was a disaster: 0.38 GPA.  That was all F’s and one D.  Some might say I simply didn’t show up for school that year.  But, actually, I did.  A lot happened … just not scholastically.  I discovered wonderful books at the library that were not related to anything I was (supposed to be) studying.  I discovered fascinating experiments going on in the labs areas under the Stadium.  But, the problem was that I couldn’t calculate a three dimensional field vector to save my soul.

Now, that Spring, Bob said one of the most memorable things to me on one of our walks.  I had told him about a dream I’d had, and he replied, “you know, you are the little Dutchman with his finger in the dike holding back the waters that are the real you.  Some day that dike is going to break.  But, I doubt you will remember I told you this.”  Or something like that.  I remember.  And, I managed to hold back the water for a long, long time.

I was also in the Air Force ROTC program.  On the day during my second year that I knew life on campus was done for me, I went to the ROTC Commander and told him I was resigning and going Active.  He said, “Why would you do THAT, airman?” To, which I answered, “I’m flunking out, Sir.” Guess that was good enough for him.

I tried Summer Semester that year to try to retake some of the classes I needed.  But, it was no use.  Vietnam was escalating, the draft was in full swing, and my college deferment was in doubt. It was time to move on.

Oh, I nearly forgot.  I obtained two vices during those two years: drinking and smoking.  In truth, I gained the first vice the summer before college at Summer Camp.  I just expanded on it at school.  The second vice started with smoking a pipe.  I loved the smell of the tobacco.  But, the pipe was a messy thing to carry around and clean.  So, by my second year, I moved to cigarettes, which were much more manageable.  It would be decades before I quit both.

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