Confessions of a college party school wannabe
Special to the Daily
This week, the Princeton Review released, for reasons of its own, its annual list of the Top Twenty Party Schools in the nation. Reading it, I confess, made me feel rather sad and dreary, as if it were a reminder of an intangible but memorable adventure that I somehow missed out on.
You see, throughout elementary and high school ” and even into my first year of college ” I was sent to fundamentalist religious schools. Compared to them, the United States Military Academy at West Point would have been considered a party school.
Wikipedia, bless their collective hearts, describes “party school” as “a term used to describe a college or university (usually in the United States) that has a reputation for heavy alcohol and drug use or a general culture of licentiousness.”
“Licentiousness,” regrettably, is not defined.
The fact that the University of Colorado at Boulder made an appearance on the list didn’t surprise me a bit ” the stories I’ve heard from my Boulder acquaintances convince me that this is a well-deserved honor. After all, any school that names its cafeteria after convicted cannibal Alferd Packer has got to have a keen sense of fun.
(By the way, did you know that back in 1968, when the students christened their new cafeteria the “Alferd Packer Grill” they also gave it the slogan “Have a friend for lunch!” True story).
Now that I am in my memory-sodden middle years, I often wish that I had gone to a party school. The closest I ever came to a party school was the summer I spent on the campus of, ironically enough, one of the schools listed by the Princeton Review as a “Top Twenty Stone-Cold Sober” school ” Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga. I was chosen to participate there as a piano major for six weeks in the Governor’s Honors Program at the end of my junior year.
Since that was also the year that I graduated high school ” I got out, or rather escaped, from the clutches of my ultra-fundamentalist religious high school a year early ” I had high hopes that I might be able to catch up on a bit of light debauchery.
Nothing dangerous or stupid, mind you ” I just wanted to get a glimpse, from the sidelines, of what I had been missing. …
The loveliest thing about Governor’s Honors was that I was surrounded by a group of kids who each excelled in something intellectual or artistic. For once, I wasn’t made fun of for not being good at, or giving a damn about, athletics. At the schools I went to, if you were good at something that didn’t require handling a leather ball, you were a freak, to be bullied and reviled until your parents picked you up at the end of the wretched day.
As soon as I arrived, I got into the roughest set of all ” an all-male group consisting of a couple of already-world-weary actors who revered the works of Noel Coward and Leonard Bernstein, and a low-brass musician ” which, as any musician will tell you, is as low as you can go, respectability-wise. He was, in fact, a tuba player.
Our debauchery reached its peak during our weekly trips to Macon Mall, where we gave our finest performances as bad-ass college kids from a party school. The first thing my group did was hit the bookstore, where they strong-armed the hapless clerk into looking up on the computer system a long list of authors and book titles ” none of which existed.
In retrospect, I’m happy to say that I didn’t play an active part in this particular prank ” my timid soul could only keep away at a safe distance and look on ” but I’m nevertheless ashamed to confess that I did enjoy the spectacle hugely. I’ve no doubt that this passive enjoyment was enough to lose myself a few good karma points in the coming years.
However, I did join the group when it made its weekly assault upon a certain piano store which, mercifully, is no longer there. Some of my colleagues from the piano department joined us, and the impromptu concerts that ensued always attracted an admiring, if rather surprised, crowd from the rest of the mall.
But the most fun came when we explained to the store manager, in minute technical detail, why the pianos made by that particular company were no good ” except perhaps for firewood. We were quite right, that particular make of piano has always been famous among musicians for its shoddiness.
To his credit, the manager enthusiastically agreed with us, but explained that he had a wife and kids to support and good retail jobs at the time were scarce, especially for a former musician out of work. We offered to bring him back to the Wesleyan campus with us, where we could sneak him in one of our dorm rooms and provide him (and his family) with leavings from the cafeteria for the remaining weeks of our internment, but he rather reluctantly declined it as being a tempting but far too temporal offer.
We did, however, manage to sneak in a lovely black and white shepherd-mix dog and take care of her for the entire length of our stay. We fed her, played with her, and even managed to sneak her into the showers for a much-needed bath. True, our dorm supervisor kept finding her and sending her back out, but we took turns on 24-hour “Dog Duty” to watch for this exigency, and always managed to immediately sneak her through another entrance and into another dorm room.
I think we named her “Millie,” or something like that, and she ended up going home with one of our set at the end of the summer.
On the final night of Governor’s Honors, a gala dance was held in one of the auditoriums. This was at a time when disco was at its height of popularity. My crowd was determined not to go, but at the last minute one of the world-weary actors and I made a quick impromptu appearance, executed an elegant turn-of-the-century waltz under the disco ball to show our contempt for current pop culture ” I believe Donna Summer was singing ” and made a quick exit.
He later became a big city lawyer, I believe, and is doing quite well.
Sadly, this was about as naughty as I ever got during my school years, unless you count the time I sneaked in a rosary and loudly recited a few Catholic prayers during a stage production at my severely fundamentalist Protestant high school ” that one was good for quite a few letters from parents.
But other than that, I’m afraid that as far as my school days were concerned, I just didn’t have any fun.
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