There's No Place Like
There was one thing good about his old rooming house, besides its being so close to the campus, and that was the antique steam radiators assuredly cranked up -- full blast --waiting for him when he got back from the end of his seven o'clock class. These frigid winter mornings were even more like the dark side of Neptune before the sun came up, but Thomas Beswithal, if he wanted the pre-paid breakfast (as well as the other two squares) harkened the heralds of whatever boogaloo down Broadway was manipulating the ether over his clock-radio. Later that evening, after the dining hall was closed, he would fill that gurgling with peanut butter on the loaf of Wonder bread bought at the corner deli.
After his esophagus and stomach had made some kind of a deal maneuvering the mass-produced mangled eggs, and toast that must have been the shingle prototype for all the Save Our Souflee jokes, he had made it to his Philosophy of Art instruction. In grade school he was the consummate budding Monet, but now, taking an advanced course in a subject that was so subjective, but so full of profuse verbal pedantic profundities he was reduced to a babbling scribbler. It proved at dawn's early light to be to much of an intellectual challenge encompassing the enormity of Kierkegaard meets the Sistine Chapel. The professor's voice was still ringing, "What is Art? What is the aesthetic emotion? There is formalism and emotionalism."
He was just glad to get across the frozen muddy paths leading past Montgomery Hall, the girls' dorm -- so close yet... Ah, just a few more steps and this brain-numbing chill can be defrosted on full, open the door, bound up the metal rimmed linoleum stairs, and he arrives at the second floor landing. Looking past the door on the left, which is usually open, with a denizen in a room that seems like an anorexic Heinrich Himmler, even to the miniaturized wire glasses, and on whose wall is an American flag. Thomas, though leery of him, likes his guitar playing, a tenor guitar, at that. If one peers right, the massive dough-boy turned Psych major has replaced in that room --the two honors' students that enjoyed sleep over automatic three-oh's. But instead of looking at the other room, up the small hallway from another 'cell', the fatigued Beswithal skips every other clanky creaky step to the third floor. The place exhibiting layers of some Danteian Kiln, Tom goes into his own room, his radiator must be the hottest one in the building, the heat waves shimmer and mix with his weariness -- propelling him on to the top of his bunk bed for a blackness that belies the Southerly exposed window's streaming sunlight. The down side of this Saudi-sauna is that it wakes you, prematurely, or it fails to let you arise for that late morning scheduled class that fate put on the underclassman's split agenda.
Perhaps if the lure of the penny-poker games late at night with the braggadocio and intermittent reinforcement could be ignored or even deflected, he would not have become the victim of this human school of sharks, turning him into amusing bait and a somnolent student. The strange guy would play the lover-boys' from Liverpool Rubber Soul over and over. The combination of people that had to live at this rooming edifice was only a mix that Chance herself could have dreamed up from some lazy boy recliner on Olympus, and appropriately-- the one near Seattle. Tommy had little choice, twenty five miles from his boyhood home, and that was too close to live on campus when one is just a freshman, rotten-man would be a better word; so he was lucky to find the ad that offered to rent either double or single occupancy rooms. The bathroom was communal, and after the nightmare of sharing a room with another for the savings of thirty some-odd dollars, he moved upstairs to be by himself. That first year away from cozy, cramped Suburban home was as traumatic as being shipwrecked on Pitcairn. The first roommate, that first year was a dark haired young man, a son of a diplomat that had spent time in Africa, who was seldom seen, but ninety percent of the time was inebriated, or just plain drunk. One time Tom came back from one of the many disastrous classes that first semester he came across Hank Claiborne sitting sobbing, and stupefied beyond even what he normally managed. Beswithal inquired what was wrong, and was greeted by invectives, "I just got a letter from a friend back in Kundbjowie, and he's told me his brother and some others were hacked to pieces by the bloody bastard Pit Viper Rebels!"
"That's horrible," Tom replied, trying to supply as much sympathy as he could to this alien scene. Henry turned and looked up at him as if Tom was part of the problem.
"Damn right, you don't understand anything!" Hank expelled continuing on this way with a vehemence not seen since elbowing a mate too hard playing football. Eventually young master Claiborne moved out, and the shared occupancy co-piloted ride through life temporarily became a solo flight.
Being alone in the room had new disadvantages as bored boors become brutish bullies, and John Heggarthy was no exception. He was a guy you naturally would know was from Baltimore (there were at least four more living here from Poe's last stand) even if he did not tell you, just from the twisted vowels and consonants orally ejaculated. (The guy is a local community leader in Baltimore today, I found by Google.) This guy whose chiseled face looked like the surface of the moon, with small darkened spaced teeth that were perfect for his continual sardonic grin, was a self claimed artist; and indeed he proved that with pornographic abstract expressionist etchings from his art classes proudly displayed to the innocent Tom. But, that was not the main problem, the Marquis de Sade reincarnated knew he was pushing all the right buttons and one night after some haranguing, Beswithal locked himself in his room, John was to have the last word, but this was communication emitted from body language, obscenely so in the form of golden flowing metabolic wastes through the keyhole. Like some jackal laughing at its prey, he would peep through the key-hole. In a fit of rage the trusty can of Right-Guard@ spray deodorant became a retaliatory device through that same orifice.
"Yow! You sonofabitch!" emanated from the other side of the castle keep.
"Stay away, you had no business coming around here!" Tom retorted. This age old cure for bullies seemed to work, again, this time. Tze Sun, or whatever his name, (it's Sun Tzu) would be proud, Carcassonne, eat your pig's heart out.
If it wasn't the card games or B.S.'ing that encouraged the absence of Alpha waves, it was the drunken parade outside coming from the 'Vous (The Rendezvous tavern) yelling at the top of their rheumy lungs, breaking glass to the tune of their fraternity songs. How appropriate it rhymed with zoo, as most members of the circus proudly called themselves animals. That was especially true of the jocks, some called fish, whose non-school hours (maybe even some of those) were spent immersed in fluids, even if peanut shells were beneath their feet. Tom couldn't afford any of that action.
There was nicknames for some of them, and Beswithal helped make some of them up: the Hawk, the real nice Jewish guy from the Bronx, worried about his looks, and the Dutchman, a doctorate student in mathematics that lined up like trophies his nightly emptied beer bottles on his window sill. He was also lampooned as the Nazi, who became livid when called that (since he was from the Netherlands), and the Pig, a named earned the Psych majoring Daniel Marsalo after he assumed the resident managerial duties; and finding power a high. The guy he replaced was a student that could be found enforcing the no women rules, (which Tom's abstention in this department was not for lack of trying) mop in hand, flip-flops flapping down the worn out hall. Marslo was an avid student of B.F. Skinner and the Behaviorism the University of Maryland embraced. I eventually would be a psych major, too, until taking Statistics of Psychology forced me to switch to Art. Then there was big Bill, William Franklin, the tall guy with the beard, who used to be at Berkeley, and famously came in late (not too untimely for the bull-sessions of the pre-dawn) after being 'smoked up', yelling at Tom's naive status quo politics, "Barbarian!"
The worse thing this guy, whose leaning put him on the left bank of the Volga, could do, was to be reading a history of the Roman Empire. The inevitable comparison to the United State's and all its involvement on the world's stage (tragedy or comedy -- you, dear reader decide) was interspersed with John's insane vulgarity, which when mixed with the ex-fascist's stern humor would have been scarier, if not for the young Tommy's ignorant bliss. The big jar of pennies saved up through gawky childhood gave Tom an early edge in bluffing and seeing bets in card games, but a lesson to be repeated but never learned, losers will become winners if more experienced and given enough time to figure out how to read your face (and maybe your hand).
The time spent in New York with his grandmother Beswithal prepared him for his dealings with Jerry Wienman. His preening in the mirror while whining about what the fairer part of the student body would be attracted by him led to a rapport that was not unlike some schtick written for a vaudeville duo. Tom would flatter him, offering, "You know, you look a little like Tyrone Power!"
"Oh, yeah? You really think so?" He answered while turning his head side to side cracking a little smile across his knife-like face. Well he did have jet black hair that might have been more than adequate on celluloid. He would tell him to call himself Gerry Wimano, and that was well received.
Tom's own romantic adventure came in the form of a Rod McKuen, Hermann Hesse reading pleasantly-plump freckled redhead, from Short Hills, New Jersey, Karen Fogel. She was so confused and so sensitive, he was madly in love; and she was in love with love itself. Her version of bittersweet indulgence proved to be the final story would become a tragedy, and not a denouement of Tom's imagination's desire.
The two honor students would leave their door open, they would be on a sheetless mattress, wrapped in a brown army blanket, sunlight blaring in curtainless windows after staying up all night participating in unofficial psychodrama. They would lean out of the window that overlooked U.S. Route One, a road that four years later would be blocked by the National Guard, and to the stunned Bus stop patrons would force their thespian antics. One fellow, whose straight long hair hung over his brow and thick round glasses, would read from his book on Cleopatra in his best Basil Rathbone. One night the reading was enhanced with props, as he read, "And he anointed her!..." throwing some leftover sauerkraut out the window with perfect timing. These guys, because they never showed up to class were dropped from the honors program. All they had to do was show up and they'd gotten passing grades, probably B's.
One guy taught everyone how to make phone calls for a penny in the public phone on the second floor landing, you pounded the snuff out of the poor piece of Alexander Bell's inventiveness whilst dropping Abraham Lincoln's fine cameo in the slot, nine times out of ten, one would get a dial tone. They got chastised on that one, too.
One other student, and an athelete was the tall roomer nicknamed, Bear. His friendliness was mistaken for interest in what one was conversing to him about, but after Tom finished some rather long verbal essay about this or that, he knew he really did not get through when Bear would blurt in his far Western Maryland accent, "Either that or a ham sandwich." To spend time with him, you had to share the pain, jogging with him across campus was like following a lumbering Brontosaurus at full tilt. Whenever he had a light on in his room late, the rare book cracked open, which was from his obligatory anatomy class, both hands on his head, you'd get the first warning, "I'm gonna burn the midnight oil." The second: when Tom mistook quiet for acquiescence, would be, "Get the fuhhng outta here!"
One must not forget how the adage "It takes one to know one" is a truism. A transfer from Villanova, who cried during his many bouts about his wrecked football career, and indeed, during his self-pickling episodes his legs seemed to bend backwards like he was some anthropomorphised grasshopper while he terrorised the Dutchman. Four sets of glossy glazed eyes putting themselves into a mind-battle that involved slobber and tears.
The back stairs, black stairs, metal stairs were their poor man's veranda. One guy that hung out there in his undershorts was Marty, from, where else, that same city where only Johns Hopkins gives real dignity. And in a room next to this fire-escape-turned deck was Craig Durnston, a short mature acting and sounding neatly groomed grad student that was the most notorious rule-breaker, he would sneak his girlfriend, Anita up that etagier, finger to lips bringing Tom into the conspiracy. He was in the Reserves, and that made him the sleeper 'head' whose love of the Jefferson Airplane was only surpassed by his worship of his own piped-in flights of fancy. "Here, take it." He said to Tom, giving him a present of Andy Warhol's Velvet Underground and Nico as their friendship developed over those last days in that second semester in May. "Try this on a day that seems right"
Before that craziness ended, John had gone around, grimace full tilt, showing everybody his prize that came in the mail, his funky countenance was more animated than its usually sleazy frenetic norm, it was a signed black and white photo. It was exotic dancer Blaze Starr of the Baltimore "Block" fame, or infamy, depending on one's ranking on the prude scale, who answered John's request to send the "boys" a memento of their adulterations. Indeed it was signed in large fluid cursive calligraphy: To The Boys at Binky's Palace. The rangiest human hive in College Park had become something rivaling a Bohemian Maharajah's dream.
This is based on a true story: names changed to protect the ridiculous.