Saturday, December 16, 2006

HOMECOMING

Playing “Men of Dartmouth,” the ragtag band, led a sauntering and sometimes staggering parade of green-bedecked alumni down College Avenue toward Memorial Stadium. It was the 1959 fall Homecoming Weekend and the air was as clear as spring water and as crisp as a ripe apple. Despite copious brandy and scotch swigging along the way, this oiled mass arrived well ahead of the start of the pigskin pandemonium with the Harvard Cantabs. When they entered the gates behind the stands, they were quickly adsorbed into the milling throng of tailgaters chewing on everything from hamburgers to each other. It was a sea of green and white pompoms, Dartmouth Co-op knitted caps, long verdant-striped wool scarves wrapped twice around, and Smoke Shop pipes exuding cherry-scented smoke.

The Saturday-morning trains from Boston and New York had already disgorged their raccoon-coated coeds from “the skids” (Skidmore), “swellsley” (Wellesley), “radical” (Radcliff), and “vasectomy” (Vassar). The buses from New London, NH and Poultney, VT had also been emptied of their sometimes dumber but often warmer girls from “coal chute” (Colby Jr. College) and “the groin” (Green Mountain). Meeting these conveyances were the boys of “dirty mouth” (Dartmouth); some eagerly scanning the assembled faces for their blind dates ... while others were already dry humping their steadies against the nearest lamp post. The more naive or horny females would never see the football game, attend the soiree, or even view a face other than their date’s for the remainder of the weekend.

The prior night there had been a pep rally featuring the sanguine-cheeked college president, the beefy football coach, and lots of players with names like “Moose,” “Grinder,” and “Hulk.” There was also a five-story-high bonfire that the students took as a sacred college tradition and a construction challenge ... whereas the town of “hangover” (Hanover) took it as an opportunity to dispose cheaply of mountains of flammable trash and old railroad ties. The festivities ended with the glee club and the Injineers singing all the popular college songs including “Dartmouth Undying,” “Dartmouth’s in Town Again,” and “Eleazar Wheelock.” Some of these tunes had optional purulent lyrics that the students sang as contretemps against the censored glee club versions.

The gridiron match began poorly with the leg-shaving John Harvards scoring a quick touchdown and a field goal. This brought out the groans and the flasks. Even the “big D” cheerleaders and the bare-chested, war-painted Indian arriving on his saddleless pinto were unable to rouse the morose crowd. This dolor continued as the Crimson scored again and then humbled the Big Green even further with a two-point safety. At half-time, after the atonal marching band had formed some X-rated icons, many disgruntled alumni left the stadium mumbling that such performances were not why they were giving large donations to their alma mater. However, in the second half, things abruptly turned around as Dartmouth scored once on an interception, once after an on-side kick, and, as the clock was running out, one last time on a spectacular, open-field punt return. This, of course, brought out the white handkerchiefs with which to taunt the prissy Harvard fans in the opposite seats.

The game ended without further incident and the stands emptied to fill the fraternity cocktail parties, the dormitory snugglings, and the Hanover Inn mini-reunions. At a house party one could kiss up to your professor for a higher grade, tap your graduated frat brothers for a evening keg, or even snake a date from the various assembled distaffs. The night would then bring a rock-and-roll-banded, theme party at all the Greek houses ... which were the templates from which the movie “Animal House” was drawn. The motif could be old Rome (togas) or a farmyard (hay and roosters) or “Gunsmoke” (ten-gallon hats and chaps) ... among others. By eleven PM the sex pits were filled with groping couples and, by two AM, the floor of the bar room was generally slick with beery puke.

Sunday morning brought a wash-tub full of bourbon milk punch, some soft modern jazz, and bleary-eyed male revelers striving to somehow let their brethren discretely know of their conquests of the previous night. By the time this galvanized caldron was emptied and the old sneaker and dirty jock strap fished from its vanilla reside to the eeks and ughs of the novitiates, it was time to disassemble the weekend and bundle your sloe-eyed date onto her bus or train back to normalcy.

(I wrote this somewhat fictionalized piece ten years ago. I just recently remembered it. GWP)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

PASSING THE PLATE

In the intro to this blog I have asked for contributions from alums as to their own thoughts about Dartmouth Traditions. For various reasons, among them forgetfulness, I cannot write on the following:

- The Freshman (now First Year) Trip
- Freshman (ditto?) Orientation (I’m talking about those group lectures we had as a class)
- Great Issues (those group lectures we had as Seniors)
- Various traditions of various sports teams
- New traditions that have sprung up over the last 45 years

E-mail your contributions to me at muser@tiac.net (with your name and class) and I will be happy to publish them. Thanks

Saturday, December 09, 2006

HAZY HAZING

An Alumnus comment on my entry titled “Beanie Babies” has set me straight about how New Hampshire august legislators feel about hazing … pointing out the N.H. Criminal Code section 631:7(I)(d). To wit:

"Student hazing" means any act directed toward a student, or any coercion or intimidation of a student to act or to participate in or submit to any act, when:(1) Such act is likely or would be perceived by a reasonable person as likely to cause physical or psychological injury to any person; and(2) Such act is a condition of initiation into, admission into, continued membership in or association with any organization.

Now I submit that merely being a student at Dartmouth in the late 1950’s could be construed as being hazed according to the above legalese. Clearly getting passing grades and many other administration-imposed conditions (not urinating off the grandstands during a football game) were required of me for my “continued membership” in the Dartmouth community. And many of these conditions were likely to cause me psychological injury … I still dream about not passing my comprehensive exams (a condition of graduation) or getting a good grade in my SATs (then a condition of admission). Was the four year Physical Education requirement likely to cause physical injury? I submit that many students were. Was the swimming requirement likely to cause psychological trauma? I submit that many students were so traumatized.

Could John Sloan Dickey have gone to jail under such a statute? I submit that he might have … given a vindictive judge and jury. Therefore, I submit that this law is hooey. (And I’ll try to come to New Hampshire only incognito.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

THE HOUSE OF BOURBON

In my stay at Dartmouth, the Sunday morning of Winter Carnival at most fraternity houses involved a live jazz group and bourbon milk punch. Couples would try to purge the demons and ethers of Friday and Saturday nights with “Take Five” and “Five Feathers.” This milk punch was made in a large galvanized wash tub with left-over whiskey of all stripes (preferably bourbon), many gallons of milk, chopped ice, and many floating half-gallons of vanilla ice cream. There was no formality to serving this elixir … just dip your cup or glass in and shake off the drippings. As the liquid level dropped, there would invariably appear an old dirty sneaker or a sweat-stained jock strap or both. This brought squeals from the more delicate females and derisive laughter from the brothers.

I have preserved this tradition in my home at Christmas-tide by serving bourbon milk punch along with my wife’s Christmas cookies when neighbors and friends drop by. My recipe is as follows:

- In the bottom of a Waring blender (most other blenders don’t have the necessary horsepower) pour about two fingers of Jim Beam bourbon.

- Add about another three fingers of cold milk (whole is preferable but not required).

- Next add about six or eight ice cubes.

- Finally scoop in about a cup or so of Bryer’s vanilla ice cream (must be Bryer’s).

- Cover and hit the strongest blender button until this concoction looks like a vanilla milk shake (a “frappe” in Massachusetts, a “cabinet” in Rhode Island).

- Pour into a punch glass and grate fresh nutmeg on top. (The more nutmeg you add the better dreams for the drinker that night.)

- Or you can make multiple blenders full of same and pour them into a punch bowl. The dirty laundry is optional.

Put a Dave Brubeck CD on the stereo.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

ROAD TRIP

Like in “Animal House”, at Dartmouth in the late 1950’s, when things were most desperate and there was little hope for deliverance, it was time for a ROAD TRIP! This was indeed a non-college-sanctioned bizarre form of testosterone-induced tradition that took many an alcohol-impaired life. I think, in my freshman year, eight classmates were killed in auto accidents, many on the way back from visiting women's colleges. We had a code name for many of these distaff colleges. The ones I remember were:

Colby Jr. College was Coal Shute
Green Mountain was The Groin
Wellesley College was Swellsley
Skidmore College was The Skids

And I’m sure there were many more. (Were Smith and Mount Holyoke known collectively as North Humpton, the town in which they were located?) Of course this was disrespectful, but what wasn’t then (and, I suspect, now)?

The road trip involved stuffing a car with classmates or fraternity brothers and setting off for one of these destinations full of high hopes and hormones. The trip there itself usually involved a fair amount of beer … steeling ourselves for that ever-dangerous “cutting out of the herd.” This last phrase meant the actual getting of a date in as little time as possible … so that there would be enough instance for establishing a connection, both mentally and physically. Think of it as today’s eight-minute dating. My pick-up lines weren’t nearly as innovative as was displayed in “Animal House.”

We usually would go to a pre-selected dorm that previous road-trippers had drummed around campus as being “productive,” and shouting up the stairwell “Anyone want a date!?” Then after a few words to anyone who rose to this bait (these words, of course, would somehow include the word “Dartmouth”) we would be off to the local gin mill to keep the buzz going.

I will draw a curtain on the rest of the evening’s frivolities and return to our story at the drive back to Hanover (often in harsh weather) which was usually filled with more beer and war stories. But, by the end, everyone was asleep except hopefully the driver. These drivers were indeed the most courageous of souls since it was they who kept us all alive for the next bit of road-trip insanity.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

BEANIE BABIES

When I was a pea-green freshman at Dartmouth back in 1956, I had to wear a green beanie for months when I was in public. This was to identify me as a tyro and therefore haze-able by upperclassmen. The hazing I experienced was rather mild – carrying someone’s furniture, shining another’s shoes … no paddling, no sadistic stuff. I do vaguely remember that the Gauntlet was still in effect where freshmen had to run through a double line of seniors swinging belts. But these august upperclassmen were quite lenient and perfunctory. There was also Homecoming Weekend when the freshmen had to gambol around the center-of-campus bonfire. The official end of freshman hazing was Green Key weekend when we were welcomed as belonging. But this was all then part of the Dartmouth experience and I didn’t particularly resent it. This all lasted until 1967 when the administration made wearing the freshman beanie optional (see http://powerlineblog.com/archives/014377.php) and things, it seems, all went downhill from there (or uphill, depending on your point of view … see next paragraph). I don’t know when any form of freshman hazing officially ended (2001?) but I think the appearance of women on campus had a lot to do with it.

This brings me to the subject of hazing in general. I recall my Psychology 101 class telling me that hazing was meant to trip one’s cognitive dissonance and therefore cause one, the hazee, to embrace more fully the hazer’s institution (or occasionally to swing radically in the other direction and denounce the hazer). I do know that hazing seems universal and sometimes very brutal (e.g., the Russian military). Many sports teams (I presume, mostly male) also haze their new players (e.g., the Duke lacrosse team). And, of course, fraternities also have their initiation rituals. I can speak from personal experience here as I was the pledge master of my fraternity my senior year at Dartmouth. Now, assuming that the statute of limitations has run out, I will relate a few experiences. One of my most successful initiation rites was to send the pledge class to New York City on a scavenger hunt (a pastee from a striper, an elephant turd, etc.). I climbed into bed the following night to find the elephant turd neatly secreted under my covers and a gaggle of pledges guffawing outside my bedroom door. This task did bring this pledge class (at least those who went on the trip) very much together as a group … which made me feel like I was doing my job.

However, the actual initiation was something else. It was a bunch of sophomoric pranks (blindfold eating of spaghetti thinking it was worms, a little harmless paddling, Tabasco sauce on the genitalia, etc.) … all of which were pretty much standard fare for my fraternity. However, there was one pledge, now somewhat famous, who took great umbrage at this latter prank. I was even a little worried he would drop out of the frat house as a consequence. Am I sorry about my pledge master reign? Not fully, but I wish I had thought things through a little more and done more of the scavenger hunt and less of the Tabasco sauce type of thing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Alum Contribution

Thanks for your new blog! I hadn't realized that the pipe ceremony had also been smashed. What a shame. To this day I still vividly recall surrounding the stump of the Lone Pine with my best friends and breaking our pipes.

As to the specific question of terminology -- I had a private tour of the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of the American Indian with the Museum's Director. He said that at the time they were naming the museum they confronted this question. They surveyed all of the tribes in the land and the overwhelming response was "American Indian" rather than "Native American." If that moniker is good enough for the Smithsonian, it is good enough for me.

Here's another one for the files--"Freshman Trips" are now known as "First-Year Trips," "freshman" being a sexist term, of course.

An[other] interesting story about the death of traditions -- they neutered the words of "Men of Dartmouth" when I was a student there. One of my friends was a member of the Aires. He swore that the Aires, being an all-male a capella group with a storied history, would continue to sing the traditional lyrics to honor this history. I bought their most recent CD a year or two ago and, naturally, they have adopted the new lyrics. Like the end of the pipe ceremony, the passage of student generations tends to erode traditions.

Good luck with the project! I'm glad you are collecting all of these stories.

An Anonymous Alum

Friday, December 01, 2006

GREEN CHEESE

I guess, given the current contretemps, the previous jettisoning of the noble Indian as Dartmouth’s mascot is no longer a debatable issue. (I still remember the awe and pride I felt when, back in the late 1950’s, the Dartmouth Indian, in full war paint and battle regalia, rode a pinto bareback onto Memorial Field.) We have buried this former college symbol under the detritus of radical nihilism. Unfortunately, like many cherished traditions so trashed, its firing squad was not ready with a suitable replacement. Their quick fix was the “Big Green.” I can only guess this was a bow to Dr. Seuss and/or Kermit the Frog. Now I don’t like to harp, but doesn’t the “Big Green” sound like the name of a Deidre Imus cleaning product? Or an acre of mown alfalfa?

I know I am quite late to this renaming process but perhaps we should rethink this “Big Green” thing and come up with a more inspiring and pertinent replacement. Perhaps:

Eleazer’s (like Yale's Eli’s)
The Diversifiers (a bow to Prexy Wright)
Blocks of Granite (in our muscles and our brains)
Party Animals (a bow to National Lampoon)
Occum’s Razors (my personal favorite)

For those readers who object to my use of the word “Indian” in this treatise, I offer the following story. On talk radio recently I heard a caller object to the use of this term by saying that she was “a Native American and didn’t want her daughter to grow up being called an ‘Indian’ as this was a accident of history -- since Columbus thought he had sailed all the way to India.” To this objection I can only respond that “America” itself was another accident of history propagated by a map drawn honoring Amerigo Vespucci instead of Columbus. Shall we then call Indians “Native Columbians” (to correct this error), or “First People” (like in Canada), or Aborigines (like in Australia)? Some even suggest that we speak only of Indians by referring to their specific tribes. This seems dignified but impractical since the majority of Americans can’t even point out China on a world map let alone distinguish between 500 or so distinct Indian tribes.

I think I’ll just keep it simple-stupid and stay with “Indians.”

Thursday, November 30, 2006

TRADITIONS

A good friend of mine is a charter member of the “Here and Now Society.” He has not one pore of nostalgia on his person. He praises aluminum siding and eschews cedar shingles. He salivates when cobblestones are paved over with asphalt. There is not a vox populari which he does not immediately embrace … from late-term abortions (“unto the sixtieth trimester”) to “The Da Vinci Code” (“a welcome ray of truth”). Tradition to him is anathema. And many more like him believe that a predilection toward “out with the old and in with the new” is the reason that the United States does so well competitively in world commerce.

On the other hand, Tevye sang it well when he lauded the value of tradition in “Fiddler on the Roof”:

”Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?

(Chorus) Tradition!”

Few cultures value tradition as much as the Jews or the English. The English follow ceremonies that go back to the Middle Ages (e.g., pampering the ravens at the Tower of London. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London ). One has to only watch a regal coronation in England to see an outpouring of obscure traditions that are nevertheless followed to the letter … or, likewise, a Jewish Seder.

The question is: What is the true value of tradition, particularly insofar as Dartmouth is concerned? Clearly, the dropping of the tradition of seniors breaking their clay pipes on the stump of the Old Pine in the BEMA was not of major consequence, particularly if done without political rancor. (I still remember having to go to the Smoke Shop to buy my clay pipe before this rite.) However, this ceremony did commemorate a transition from college life to real life and, if it had been so represented to the students, would have been of great value. The trouble was that this was not the case. We were just going through the motions. And so this tradition was susceptible and, as such, was open to be attacked for reasons outside of its true meaning. And so it was and so it was dropped.

Again and again this has been the case (as documented in this blog.) I guess my point is that traditions are good in so far as they connect actions of the present to the lessons of the past … with alacrity and clarity. If the powers-to-be at our college refuse to do this, then it is they who are wiping out the footprints of those who came before us … and tarring over the cobblestones.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

HUMMER

When I was a freshman (in the late 1950’s) and lived in Wheeler Hall facing the Green. I greatly enjoyed, through an opened window, the fraternities rehearsing for “Hums” on the steps of Dartmouth Hall on those ever-warming spring evenings. And finally, during Green Key weekend, would come the full-blown Hums competition with every available member of each fraternity dressed in black shoes, black chinos and white shirts singing their hearts out just for the honor of winning this age-old competition. And there were some spine-tingling performances as well-harmonized groups sang a capella many of the old-time pop classics, Dartmouth favorites, and an occasional new composition. As I remember it, the judging was based on percentage participation, song selection, group appearance, and quality of performance.

Then, when I was a member of a fraternity, I too became part of this tradition and savored it immensely. Even though I was most often a “sandbag” – someone who had to learn the songs but, because of poor vocal quality, was not allowed to actually sing – I had to just lip-sync the words. (This was a nod to the percentage participation judging factor.) I still recall most of the words to “All the Things You Are” (even though I never uttered a sound) which was one of the highlights of Sigma Nu’s 1959 performance led by Mike Melvoin, now a music industry poobah in Hollywood.

I’m not exactly clear why this beautiful custom has disappeared under the waves but this website has a clue:

http://www.dartreview.com/archives/2004/05/11/green_key_history_those_were_the_days.php

Apparently, home-grown songs became the norm at Hums in the early 1980’s and eventually they became too raunchy to tolerate. So … another sweet tradition obsoleted itself due to lack of monitoring and attention to its original purpose.

Monday, November 27, 2006

PIPE DREAMS

I first take up the issue of the Dartmouth's outlawing, in 1993, the custom of seniors breaking their long-stem clay pipes on the stump of the old pine tree in the BEMA during graduation week. This tradition was killed because our Indian brothers accused this rite of involving a "peace pipe". This is, at best, a forced conclusion. Long-stemmed or “Churchwarden” clay pipes existed long before Dartmouth was founded and even before the English came to America. See:

http://history.org/Foundation/journal/Winter03-04/pipes.cfm

Many of these cheap clay pipes were coach drivers' pipes which were used by those early drivers who brought students to Hanover from White River, etc. These coach drivers would, when the nicotine and tar levels around the mouthpiece grew too dark, break off a few inches of the stem to get to a more pristine part. These clay pipes also were used in taverns where patrons could use a communal pipe by first breaking off a few inches of its stem for sanitary sake.

Early Dartmouth students adopted this pipe because of its panache, ubiquity, and low price. They also adopted the habit of periodically shortening the stem for hygienic purposes. Then, of course, when they graduated, this clay pipe would become a college-days throwback and its abandonment for more expensive pipe types (such as briar) was celebrated in this BEMA ceremony. It had absolutely nothing to do with Indians, except perhaps that it was the Indians who introduced the world to tobacco … perhaps an act for which the world should demand reparations?

Alas, we "Big Greeners" have been once again buffaloed by the PC crowd.