Sunday, October 29, 2006

west campus, boston university 1972-3

my time in boston and boston university could be divided according to the places i lived: first, the west campus, a drug festival but nonetheless where i had a number of friends, and first started seriously traveling, in order to breathe fresh air, see new england, and sleep at night on weekends; second, a huge dorm called 700, heart of boston university, where all stereotypes came home to roost, particularly about the women students at bu; where a roommate named p.h. woke up stumbling for his cigarettes every morning, a good friend to this day. and finally, as a sophomore, symphony road. on the other side of kenmore square and fenway park- by then i was a journalism major, transferred from sociology, still somewhat unconnected, not integrated into campus life.

i started out at the west campus, in fall of 1972; i'd walk down to the main campus, walk back, take the t into town, take the t back. i had nothing against the university, the education, the city, etc.- i could not seem to get enough out of the city, but felt very guilty having my parents pay for my education, and not know what i wanted or what i was doing. though i avoided going overboard in all the drugs that were floating around, or the other diversions, music, clubs, movies, skulling on the charles, whatever, i also didn't get a job, but rather travelled every weekend hoping just to get out. a job early on at a friendly's didn't stick; i had a radio show, but couldn't keep up with the responsibility; i did my best to attend classes but missed a few; and once, on a campus of 30,000, i wrote my own name in on a ballot for college of liberal arts representative of the freshman class, and won the election. had to turn down the post, though- i was already over my head.

i was involved in mcgovern's campaign for president; this was the fall of '72, and mcgovern was going to win massachusetts, so they sent me to maine every weekend that i was willing. i gladly went- canvassed in orange-brick riverfront towns like lewiston, sacco, portland, androscoggin river outposts where they mostly liked nixon but didn't care much, and had a lively state senate race. the leaves were gorgeous, the sky maine-blue, the ocean a peripheral-vision sight on the ride up, and the culture an interesting taste of getting out of the city. another experience traveling: signs in french; people who spoke french; a kind of isolated culture.

back in town i often took the t to harvard to visit my brother, but he was usually busy, very busy, though his dorm-mates would, having spent a quarter in a video game in the lobby, make a point of beating that game all night long if they could- and a diner advertised food that was ver-i-tas-ty. i was impressed by the brick, ancient feeling of it all, and the profusion of the name leverett everywhere- leverett hall, leverett this & that- in downtown boston, leverett circle, right where the interstate, storrow drive, beacon street, and the charles street jail came together. sometimes i felt that, since my brother was in a fog of study or whatever, too busy to appreciate where he was, i was the rightful heir to the name, the heritage, but of course i didn't deserve it either, being a slacker, with no goals or aspirations but to get out. the city was interesting to me, and i explored it with a relish, walking to dorchester, or taking the t out to allton or beyond, and walking back; sometimes i'd also walk back from harvard, where i'd try to visit my brother, or just hang around.

i would also take the t to revere, a working-class beach town with a boardwalk, windswept styrofoam up against the wooden stairs to the docks, a town where everyone was everyone else's relative and they were wondering what i was doing there in january- for a quarter, i figured the beach in any form was a good deal. the water was icy cold and gray, choppy, dark- there were no hot-dogs for sale, but the t home stopped at logan airport and picked up a motley new batch of travelers- that, if i remember correctly, was the blue line. i lived on the green- and harvard was on the red, but i pretty much hit them all before it was over, figuring that at a quarter a shot i could see everything from walden pond to lexington...and i did.

my roommate in the west campus was t.p., a trumpet-playing boy from the jersey shore who fairly quickly stopped going to classes and became absorbed in the drug culture there in the dorm. he'd play trumpet late at night, sometimes into the morning; then, he'd sleep days, or, he'd wake me up in the middle of the night, out of boredom. i liked him pretty well, although he made it hard for me to concentrate on classes. he occasionally had women visitors when i was sleeping, but what did i know? i slept in a kind of daze. he very graciously invited me down to his hometown; maybe that was thanksgiving break.

the jersey shore was empty, cold, beautiful; his family was generous, and made their own pasta. on the way, he pointed out to me the diner where bruce springsteen played, and other local landmarks. i can't even remember how we traveled, but for some reason, i remember clearly a kind of opposite view; here everyone disparaged new jersey, as industrialized, crowded, inhospitable; and here, what i experienced was a beach town, beautiful, empty, waves crashing on the shore, and a warm, hospitable community. i think his family knew that he was flunking out, but i didn't get involved in that. he was my friend; they were gracious to me.

i was stunned when nixon won the election; it seemed obvious to me that he was a liar, and a crook, and that the war was badly misguided. everyone around me in boston agreed, but that was just boston. my experience in maine just convinced me, in retrospect, that the country was ambivalent and unconcerned. in school, i talked to people, especially in the classes, but those late-night discussions about philosophy in the dorms never happened for me. my dorms, at least those, were bathed in drugs, and i took to avoiding them.


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