S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “School Daze,” Park recalls his time at Evergreen State, which coincides with the college’s debut.
In the Spring of ’72 I went to Vancouver, British Colombia with my seminar from Evergreen State. There were twelve of us and we were part of a program called “Human Development,” as there were no classes per se at Evergreen; instead you enrolled in groups that featured a catch-all of disciplines like Psychology, Sociology, Economics, etc., and within those you were assigned to seminars more closely aligned with your interests.
I cited Literature and Philosophy as mine while majoring in drug and alcohol abuse. As I noted in an earlier column (“Sidekicks”) I began my Evergreen stint in the “Individual in America” program but bowed out after a month. (One too many seminars on the philosophy of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek.)
This left me with Human Development. Unfortunately my reputation preceded me (i.e. how I’d only been admitted to the college after a sanity hearing), and one professor after another rejected me before I finally landed in Janet Hampton’s group.
She, fittingly enough, was an anthropologist, as we were a motley group of misfits (even by Evergreen standards). What’s strange now is the only time I remember being in their company was the two field trips we took.
I don’t know whose ideas they were, or even what their purpose was (maybe a perverse reward, or some kind of group bonding?) but we spent a weekend on the Puget Sound the first time. Evergreen State had its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1996, and in the gallery featuring photos of the “’71 Pioneers” was one from that weekend. It’s a bitter winter’s day, and while my classmates huddle close I’m hugging a case of Rainier Ale.
The coke and psychedelics were in my pocket. These were standard issue for a Bay Area guy, particularly on a weekend getaway. Plus my drinking still had momentum to it, and I was determined to squeeze everything I could out of my alcoholism.
I should have drank alone more, though. God knows I tried: it was “hair of the dog” in my dorm room, in fact, that led me to missing so many seminars. (It was supposed to be a “two-person studio,” but I went through roommates so quickly that the Director of Housing finally gave up, told me he’d leave me by myself if I promised never to live on campus again.)
That was easy enough. (I’d exhausted the dorm experiment anyway.) In the meanwhile this was Evergreen’s maiden year, a drug emporium where everything was optional, teaching was experimental and there were no grades, so how much you did was up to you. It was the perfect setup for a guy like me, looking for a mail-in degree that didn’t impede my substance abuse.
And if I had to attend the occasional seminar, or consult with Professor Hampton about my “study projects,” well, that wasn’t so much to ask.
Though it’s hard to remember what we talked about. I know she hovered on the edge of her chair, looked ready to bolt at the slightest sign I was a madman. (Not so unusual in my drinking years.) I was surprised, in fact, when she even invited me on the Vancouver trip.
It was a four-day junket and—while the others looked to explore the city—I was interested in Canadian beer. We drove up in three different cars and my only memory is a girl in back screaming. (She liked the mescaline I’d given her way less than I did: it took most of my Valium stash to calm her down.) We’d signed waivers before leaving but it wasn’t a school-funded trip, so we ended up at a “Cool-Aid Clinic” that first night, a large, empty house where hippie nomads crashed for free.
We slept on the first floor and there must have been a hundred of us in there; I looked out over a sea of sleeping bags when I rose early the next morning, found an old crate against a wall, sat down and opened my satchel. Everyone else had backpacks, of course, but I liked that satchel because—after layering it with towels—it formed a soft cocoon for the bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 I carried around. It was my go-to beverage in emergencies and the fastest hangover cure this side of grain alcohol. It was also cheap and had a thick, syrupy quality that forced you to drink it slowly.
Otherwise I might have gagged and that wouldn’t do; not with the angelic, slumbering face of Debbie Gretchen beneath me. She was the only student at Evergreen who hailed from Beverly Hills and treated the experience accordingly (like a safari).
But she was definitely hot. I hit on her the first time I saw her and was rebuffed just as quickly. (Even now she was the only one in the room with a pillow beneath her head.) As I stared down at her, looking all cozy and vulnerable in that hippie hell, I felt a strong connection between us, as her sense of entitlement was as unwelcome at Evergreen as my alcoholism.
It was a tender moment and the first indication the wine was working. Then I unintentionally belched, splashing some of the Mad Dog on Debbie’s forehead. Her eyes jerked open and she stared straight up, following the bottle as I tipped it to my lips.
Suddenly she screamed: “AGGGGGHHH! AGGGGGHHH! AGGGGGHHH! IT’S A WINO!”
Seriously. Like I’d started a fire, or snuck in there, or molested her somehow. Hippies jerked upright across the room, startled awake by the commotion.
“Just a bad dream,” I declared, doing my best W.C. Fields impression.
“YEAH!” sputtered Debbie. “AND IT’S YOU!”
Two screamers in twenty-four hours, though … that wasn’t good. In the days to come I’d follow the group around until a pub appeared, then disappear inside. I was fascinated by Canadian businessmen pounding down multiple pints with their lunch. How’d they stay awake afterwards, particularly given the relative strength of those ales? I went in there “fresh” one day (i.e. no alcohol for breakfast) and tried to keep up with them.
Only to wake on a park bench later, more or less proving my point.
I made it to the Simon & Fraser University tour, though, and the trip to the local zoo, and vaguely remember a couple restaurants. I know we stopped at a Thai place on the way out of town. The twelve of us sat at a long table and ate a series of noodle dishes. (Or they did, anyway. I stuck with beer, as the mescaline I’d eaten earlier—trying to get right for the drive home—had ruined my appetite.) I do remember Professor Hampton encouraging us to share our memories of the city, and how nonplussed everyone was by mine.
This was Evergreen’s maiden year, a drug emporium where everything was optional, teaching was experimental and there were no grades, so how much you did was up to you.
There were also a series of arguments with the manager of the place, who insisted I put out my cigarettes. As the meal drew to a close I pushed back my chair, staggered to the men’s room. Took a long piss at the urinal, then checked myself out in a mirror.
It was worse than I thought. Where did I get that black eye? And why was my hair sticking out sideways? It seemed too greasy for that.
I splashed water on my face, drew back my shoulders, steeled myself for the long ride home. Strode out into the restaurant to find our table empty.
I was encouraged at first, as it meant someone had picked up my tab. Then I stepped outside, walked to where we’d parked the cars and saw they were gone.
What the hell’s this? I thought. They couldn’t have left me here … you don’t ditch a student in a foreign city, Greeners especially. They’ve got a conscience for christ’s sake!
I figured they’d realize their mistake, double back to get me. But ten minutes passed, then fifteen, and no one appeared. I walked back to the restaurant and stepped inside.
“Hey!” I called to the manager. “Do you know where my friends went? Do you think they forgot me?”
“They no forget!” he laughed. “As soon as you went to bathroom they paid check and ran out! They ditch you good, Smoky!”
Now understand … I wouldn’t have minded if I’d had any money left. Instead I’d spent every dime of my Work/Study check in those pubs, which meant I was hundreds of miles from home with nothing but psilocybin for help.
It was time to access the Alkie Hotline, that being the phone number of my nearest Bay Area buddy.
Acid Mac, in this case. He lived in Seattle and was attending the University of Washington. He was as bad a drunk as I was (well, close, anyway), and had saved my ass numerous times before.
I found a phone booth, called him collect. When he accepted I filled him in on my plight.
He laughed. “You realize, High,” he said, “that being ditched by Greeners is pretty much the bottom of the barrel.”
“Yeah,” I admitted, “I’ll give ’em that. But in the meanwhile I’m dead broke and a long way from Olympia. Can you help me out here?”
“I’ve no money either, man.”
“What about that BankAmerica Card of yours?” (It was, as I recall, one of the first credit cards issued. God knows how Acid Mac got one.)
“Do they even take that in Canada?”
“Damned if I know.”
“Well, look around, Wilson. If you can find a food and alcohol establishment that recognizes it, I’ll drive up there and get you.”
That was all the incentive I needed. I pounded the pavement until I found a card-friendly Beef ’N Brew place that offered all-you-could-drink beer with your meal. Acid Mac would have driven up just for that; as it was he arrived in time for dinner. We put away five pitchers with our short ribs, then passed out in his Chevy Nova afterwards. Returned the next day for lunch and dinner, drinking another nine pitchers in the process, and when we showed up for a third time they gave our alkie asses the boot.
Mac drove us to Seattle and I hitched home from there. No one in the seminar mentioned their betrayal afterwards, and I’d be goddamned if I would. (Like everything at Evergreen it was my own doing, anyway.)
It sweetened the pot, though, when—after graduating a year later—I went to a tavern, used my degree as a bar coaster.