This is the sixth part of a series. Click here to catch up on previous entries.
”Most of us spend 59 minutes in an hour living in the past with regret for lost joys, or shame for things badly done…or in a future which we either long for or dread.” —Storm Jameson
Social Studies and Social Grace
The day after I weaseled my passing grade in Calculus my grade in Social Studies was posted. It was an F. An F, as in F—K! I could not get an appointment to see the professor until the following week. I had 5 days to stress and obsess, all the while trying to figure out what to say.
I talked to my fraternity brothers and it just so happened that one of them had been a Teaching Assistant for my professor the previous year. He promised to have a word with him on my behalf. We reviewed my situation and struggled to come up with a valid defense on why I should be allowed to squeak by, remain in school, and maintain my 2-S (student deferment) draft status.
The class was held at 7:00 am on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday each week. I did not help the situation by missing most of the Saturday classes and the occasional Tuesday and Thursday class. So here we are with a student who did not come to class on a regular basis and who did not score well on the tests. Hmmmm.
On the appointed day, at the appointed time I knocked on the dark oak door to the professor’s office. I entered the dimly lit office and sat in a dark oak straight-back wood chair in front of a dark oak wood desk. The professor smiled politely and inquired as to the nature of my visit. Sound familiar? You bet it does (click here for a Deja Vu moment).
I laid out my carefully prepared and superbly coached explanation: I was operating at a disadvantage that the other students did not have to face: I missed a lot of classes and therefore did not have all the information that I needed to use on test days. I was traveling back to Ft. Lauderdale on the weekend, my mother had a cancer operation and I was helping my father out.
The truth is that I did my mother did have a cancer operation in the form of having some skin cancer removed and sent off for a biopsy (it was pre-cancer and they got it all). The truth was that I did go back to Ft. Lauderdale, once, on a weekend to see The Lioness (TL) and to say “Hi” to my parents.
The truth is that I missed so many Saturday classes because our Friday night parties began after our last classes ended at noon when 10 or 12 of us went to Lum’s for pitchers of beer and Lum dogs with sauerkraut (let it all hang out). By 2 o’clock in the afternoon we were rolling hard and picking up speed, drinking through the night and going to bed at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.
Lum’s was an early version of TGIF
in the South during the ’60s and ’70s
A 7 am class, on a Saturday? Really? As I said before, I missed most of those classes. Sitting in front of the professor, pouring my heart out, trying to justify and rationalize my position seemed like a waste of time, his and mine. When I had run out of words he asked me one simple question, “As an Architecture student, this is your last required class of Social Studies, is it not?”
Is it possible for lightning to strike the same person twice in the same month, mere days apart? Yes.
I knew that I could not depend on this problem-solving technique to get through the rest of my college career, but at the time I did not have a better one. Attending class, studying and turning in assignments certainly did not work, one look at my transcript proved that. Doing it my way and apologizing later was degrading, but had certain results that worked in my favor.
I resolved to go back to Florida and to see TL before she went back to Gainesville, and when I returned for the Fall Quarter of 1967 I would have a new passion and a new fire inside. It is good to have a dream, The World loves nothing more than a tasty dream.
The Fire Inside
“No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of Hell.” —Antonin Artaud
The Summer of Love was still gaining speed by the Autumn of 1967 in Atlanta, Georgia. Newspapers, magazines and television all carried images of the Hippies in San Francisco, especially their hedonistic customs surrounding Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll.
I worked on my drawing assignments in the first floor study of the fraternity house on an eight-foot square table that was close to the kitchen and the downstairs bathroom. It also had the best AM/FM radio in the house and I could play it at a respectable volume without waking up anybody who had sense enough to be asleep. Turning on the radio connected you to hit, after hit, after hit record. FM radio was just gaining popularity in Atlanta at that time and I spent many a late night/all-nighter doing pen & ink and water color renderings to the sounds of Aretha Franklin, Brook Benton, Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell, Otis Redding and the entire roster of Motown recording artists.
I tried to stay on the Down Low during the 1967 Fall Quarter when I enrolled in just 4 classes: Architectural Design, English, Physics and Outdoor Games. My plan was to focus my efforts on a a few subjects and be successful in all of them.
What happened was that I had a lot more free time for my Monkey Mind to run wild. Instead of concentrating my efforts and pacing myself I continued to spiral downward in a vortex of alcohol, good times and brotherhood. My efforts at completing my assignments were rushed, completed at the last minute, and not as representative of my talents as they should have been.
They were an accurate representation of my mental and emotional states. I squeaked out a C in my design course and an A in my Outdoor Games class. I was still strong physically and for some reason that made me think that everything else was pretty ok. I got Ds in Physics and English and that was enough to put me on Academic Probation for the Winter Quarter of 1968.
I did not go home to Florida for Christmas Break in 1967. My parents decided to go to Ohio for the holiday and I joined them via a side trip to Chicago to visit with my best friend, Spike, and his family. TL stayed in Ft. Lauderdale and was the Maid of Honor in her older sister’s wedding on the 23rd. We agreed to see each other in February when the fraternity had its big Sweetheart Ball the weekend after Valentine’s Day.
It was a long, lonely holiday for me, especially when we got to Ohio. We stayed at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, about an hour’s drive East of Cleveland. I had a lot of time to think about the upcoming quarter and I was confident that I could get off probation once again. I had already done it twice before.
My parents dropped me off at the fraternity house on New Years’ Eve and continued driving South to get out of the traffic in Atlanta and get closer to home for the next day’s drive. I spent New Years’ Eve alone, the 4 guys that were in the fraternity house all had plans for the night that did not include a guy without a date. I called The Lioness in Ft. Lauderdale and we talked for about an hour. I felt so alone and yet I felt connected to her. It was another instance where I was home alone, and this time I had no idea when anyone would return. I hung up and went to bed for the night.
Free Body Brown and the Fall from Grace
10% of life is what happens to you. The other 90% is how you react and what you do with it.
I had a new plan when school started again in January of 1968. It was modeled after the previous quarter’s plan. Instead of taking 4 classes I would take 3 and achieve maximum concentrated effort on a very narrow field of study. I took Architectural Design, Physics and Statics. It would be a piece of cake.
My drawing class was broken up between a three hour lab in the morning, three days a week, and a two hour free-hand drawing class, two afternoons a week. A major time-suck developed here as we had designs due every week in the morning class and five finished sketches a week due in the afternoon class. I managed to get a C for my efforts.
Physics was an ongoing challenge. There were several hundred of us in a large auditorium classroom and, although the professor was informative and entertaining, I did not get a lot out of it because I was having problems doing the mathematical computations (basic Calculus).
My solution was to do what I knew best, graph the problem. An accurate scale graph of the problem was a challenge without a drawing set and T-square & triangles. I could get close enough to take a ballpark guess on the multiple-choice questions, but I was screwed on the questions that asked for a straight answer. We did get credit for trying and that was enough to get a whopping C for me. Things were looking up!
My downfall came in the form of a class in Engineering Statics. Statics is a branch of engineering that looks at all of the forces at work (the load) on a system that is in static equilibrium.
My professor was a man named Mr. Brown and he was known to generations of Georgia Tech Ramblin’ Wreck Wanna-be engineers as “Free Body Brown”. Free Body Brown took his nickname for his penchant of assigning lengthy homework assignments full of Free Body Diagrams to be solved.
A point of clarification is necessary here: A Free Body Diagram is a pictorial drawing of all the forces at work on a body of interest. With a Free Body diagram an engineer can analyze all the forces at work on say, a bridge beam. He can identify the shear forces present or the bending moments that may occur when too much of a load is applied to a beam segment. In plain language, Free Body Diagrams are necessary aids to designing bridges, roof trusses, girders, radio towers, transmission lines, and a host of other necessities of our everyday lives.
Back to Free Body Brown, he was relentless in his efforts to teach us the how, where, when, why, and how much of Static Engineering. He was absolutely right to do this, as Statics is the basic building block (no pun intended) of all structural engineering. By understanding Statics we learn how to keep skyscrapers upright, or to stop bridges from collapsing.
Unfortunately for this fledgling Architect, an understanding of basic Calculus was required for efficient calculation of these multiple forces and vectors. It was at this point that I realized that my weasel-like ways of scamming the mathematics system had finally caught up with me.
I thought that I had passed the classes, checked the boxes and advanced closer to graduation when in fact I was passed on like a sacrificial lamb, to be slaughtered in the snow during my final Winter quarter. It wasn’t pretty, but it was over in a flash.
I dropped the class and took an incomplete grade. This left me with a C average in two classes, which amounted to 9 hours of credit for the quarter. That total was too low to allow me to continue my education — Check, and mate.
Fingerprints will continue with Part 7.