H. Elberton Smith, Graduate in Economics, Disciple of Mr. Jacob Viner, was the only man at 817 East 58th Street, Third Floor, who could stand on his hands. Others were strong, but couldn't manage this trick. Perhaps, reasoned the Student, it is easier to do when one is small,granted that El is well-built, wiry, but then there is always some reason for a person being exceptional: grit, in El's case. The Student bounced off his skull when he tried it and had no patience to go on trying every day for god knows how long.
This wasn't the only thing that El could do, of course, and each of them had some kind of act between the acts, which were the courses of study. Greenman was just that, a great actor. Bus was the great lover. It came with his touch on the piano; when he tickled the keys for "Sweet Georgia Brown," well, she succumbed. Bob was the big smash in tennis, as I mentioned; he also frequented the movies, alone, more than all the others combined,and when ribbed about it, would digress onto the scene in an Indian village, the audience responses when an American cowboy movie was shown. He also provided the others with succinct and reliable reviews. No one could match Bill's cartooning, which kept erupting in the middle of his studies and renting them asunder; ultimately he flew the coop with his girl June and settled down with Walt Disney in Hollywood. Norman's classical clarinet warranted its fame; its excursion into jazz, of which more later, deserved its laughs.
The Student was perhaps the smartest, who knows? the best organizer, but who knows? the biggest eater, yes, that's it, the gourmand, the trencherman, merely the equal of short El and tall Bob in weight, yet the executioner of the groaning board. Not an ability, you say? O.K. He clambered into the four-legged old bathtub one day, under a stop-watch and scornful observation, and remained immersed for five minutes without breathing. No one could approach that feat.
"Keeee-ryyiist Almighty!" exclaimed F. Elberton Smith on such occasions. He possessed the most prurient character, dirty mind, and voluble obscenity of the lot. An exclamation on this order was just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. In keeping with his character, he was a Bible salesman. For years and years, come summertime, he would load up his jalopy with as many as it could carry of the largest Holy Bible in the King James Version that was ever printed and head for the vast, then populous rural areas of Middle America. (He spoke deeply in honeyed tones, in the accent of upper New York State as transmitted West along the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes, like everyone in the Gang, except Greenman, who had been affecting his stage accent for so long that one could not be sure how and when he would get back to his Medioamerphonics.)
The Student took only one long look at this monumental edition, in its gleaming Moroccan leather form: clearly it was not to be kept by your side unless you were dying and had no need of anything else. The tome was half as large as F. Elberton Smith himself. True he was not gross. Beautifully proportioned with a heavily bearded face and thick spectacles that gave him a holy rather than a cute appearance (whereas he, always with an eye for the broads, would prefer the cute to the holy), he would give you an idea of how he petted the book like your smoothest-skinned dear cow, open its pages like peeling your silkiest tasseled corn, breathing in its print like smelling the alfalfa in the summer dawn, entering its text like peering into the nest of your prolific hen, looking up at you from it like he was tearing up the mortgage on your farm, closing it as gently as you would wish the cool sheets of eternal life drawn upon you, raising his hands as if to say it's all yours and with the Lord's blessing, dropping his shoulders as if to say, "What can I do: it's a giveaway. Take it. You'll never be bothered hereafter evermore. The little three dollars you send in these little envelopes I am leaving with you will hardly be noticeable and it is the same as tithing your church, for `In the Beginning was the Word,and the Word was God!' Here, Sir, is the Word and the Word is Yours!"
In 1938 at 817 East Fifty-eighth Street of an ordinary day, the Gang would be at home and interacting, usually in the late afternoon or evenings after ten. The average number of residents was five, each paying one-fifth of the rent of $28.00 per month. Bill King got the electric bill, even after he had flown to his love nest, and gave it to Bob to divvy it up.
Five members meant that the number of different interactions among two or more Gang members would be considerable, thus Bob relating to Al, Al and Allen, Al Allen and El, and Al Allen El and Bus, also Allen and El, and Allen El and Bus, also just El or just Bus, or El and Bus, that's eight in all, and I have not run through the possibilities if Bob or another one of them were not present. Nor the occasions when only a person was alone in the apartment communing with himself or the sages of history, or as sometimes happened, there would be a girl or other friend somewhere about. (Girls and boys were not allowed to visit in their rooms in the dormitories or fraternity houses.)
On a typical evening the Student would arrive home from Harper Library and the Social Science Reading Room (on the ground floor of the Library) with several books charged out for the night and due back in the morning. Entering, he would hear Allen Greenman declaiming while dressing for his night job at the Admissions Office of Billings Hospital. His costume was unvarying, a white or colored shirt, to which he affixed a stiff white collar, and to that a dark red tie. His suit was a pin-striped, midnight-blue, double-breasted worsted, neatly pressed by himself. His shoes were old, polished, fashioned on a conservative last, in keeping with the suit and shirt, all giving a harmonious appearance, of elegance even, especially if you were not examining the wear and tear of it all and could sympathize with the detachable collar, knowing its economy of laundering. Too, Allen Greenman was so handsome, and cut such a fine figure, that you would believe whatever he was wearing must be fashionable. He was tall, with the bones of a clothes-horse, whatever the not highly developed musculature beneath. He walked imperiously, his head thrust back almost arrogantly, his feet carried rather too far apart as he moved. He gestured magniloquently whenever he wished to drive home an argument and put somebody down for a fool. He was an excellent actor and for a time appeared in campus productions, but he could have done well on the boards anywhere, so self-possessed was he, with flashing dark blue eyes also, thick black wavy hair and a fine dark-ruddy skin color that needed no make-up, the profile of a matinee idol. He imagined himself to be an idol, moreover, and possibly or truly was an illegitimate child, as he claimed, although he had a family address to which he responded and once late in the game his younger brother showed up and looked very much like him, a fact that would suggest a wishful fantasy, common among the aspiring and pretending, or that would point to a persistent adulterer. "Bastard," was his favorite cuss-word. (Psychologists might try matching people's habitual obscenities with their characters, Ssmst!)
He preferred to think of himself as a philosopher, several cuts above an actor and, if he were declaiming when the Student entered, if not out of Hamlet, it would almost surely be something about Schopenhauer or Nietzsche or Georg Hegel. "Jesus, listen to that!" he would be shouting,"you commoners (who would be at the moment Bob King, lying fully clothed on his bed in the other room, unmoved by the insult) cannot possibly comprehend the utter despair, the sky rocket of ecstasy from the bottomless pit of gloom, you call it crazy, truth is always crazy! ... Where is that damned collar-button ..." and he has to stop talking for a moment to look under his dresser and bed for the missing piece. "Awwkh..!" says Bob by way of comment.
"Has my Brother been in?" asks the Student.
"Nah. It's just Greenman sounding off."
"You know, Greenman," calls out the Student, entering his own room, "philosophy is shit for the birds, it's all about nothing, it has no substance without operations, it's gotta be describing operations to mean anything."
This sends Greenman into a mock fury. "Listen to that!" he bellows, "Meaning! Meaning? Have Life and Death no meaning? If they don't, must we all fall back upon mere masturbation? There are your philosophers of today."
He must leave, but not without a recessional. Opening a page of the book he is carrying along to study during the still moments between admitting to medicine the case of the stabbing and the case of the auto crash, he reads solemnly as he exits:
The fear of wild animals has been long bred into man,
including the animal that he hides in himself and fears:
Zarathustra calls it the Inner Beast!
These same two are after him about admission office practices -- as if he could do anything about them. He did, however, defend what he had to do.
"How can you refuse to admit a wounded person to the Hospital?"
"He has to be able to pay. It is not a public hospital. He has to be taken to the County Hospital, or some other Hospital that will take charity cases."
"You mean you actually send people away even if they are at death's door?"
"That's the rule."
"Break the rule!"
"You break the rule, you get fired."
"All right. Pretend that you believed the patient could pay."
"They have to fill out a form. Or you have to fill it out for them. Do it wrong a couple of times and you get fired."
Bob and the Student were incensed at the Hospital authorities, all the more so since they believed that Billings was an integral part of the University and the Medical School and therefore had to practice the code of ethics taken for granted at the University, and extended this reasoning in condemning the attempts of another office of the University to exclude blacks from neighborhood housing, even while they would walk with an eye over their shoulder when crossing the areas of the black invasion.
Greenman allowed that an especially bad case might get emergency treatment -- "on the brink of death" -- and then would be packed off elsewhere; the public hospital was compelled by law to take everybody in, no matter how crowded the facilities. He was on the defensive, resisting to reveal his true feelings in their confusion of compassion, disgust and rigorous rule.
The Student was usually critical of others and would not take an Olympian view of his friends. Still, he admired Greenman and his other roommates, how much so he was incapable then of realizing, just as the lucky children with great parents are often kept from appreciating them until long after their deaths. But just put yourself to the task and ignore history, to think of the ages of life where greatness can be exhibited. I can sometimes fully agree with the parent who claims that her two-year old child is great, and I believe that a person can be great a nine, at thirteen, at seventeen, at twenty-one, at twenty-nine, at thirty-five, at forty-four, at fifty-six, at sixty-four, at seventy-two, at eighty-one, at eighty-six, at ninety-four, and having known well enough only one person over ninety-four, Great Aunt Josephine being a kissing (the French insist upon their kiss at all ages) 105 years, and frequencies being statistically unreliable at this advanced age, letting it go at ninety-four and over, I can believe in greatness at any of these ages, not to hem and haw, but to mean, unqualifiedly, greatness in comparison with Moses or Jesus or J.Caesar or Plato or Wagner or Teresa et al. You must only strike out the absolute standards of greatness, which are mere made-up standards, after all, concocted by dizzied followers and religious frenzies and the desire to climb on the bandwagon.
I am saying, and telling this to the Student, who certainly moved here, there, and everywhere in the great University community, and who realized dimly that he moved amidst greatness, that in his own sphere and compass, taking everything into consideration: "Comparing him with all who and which went on about him, Allen Greenman was great. You do not need to know the sequel, like the Student as a child came to be taught and feel, that greatness is a measure of certain conventional activities (politics, science, writing, business, religion) at some prejudiced level of age and place and occupation, the city of Athens, the Roman Empire, the League of Nations, the human race -- or as the standards of the world become disrupted, the members of the Lower Basin Street Jazz Club, the heroin dealers of The Eastern States, and so forth. The insight arising out of this very disruption should tell us that greatness can occur at any time in a person's life, can endure for a short or longer time, can expand or diminish in its scope and in the number of people it effects.
When Allen Greenman departing sang out the several bars of Tannhaeuser that he remembered -- no Italian bucalero he who could serende the night through -- sang out still in the bravura of Gigli, of Caruso, he sent the Student aloft to pierce the dead-tone Chicago sky, making the grimy cracked sink shine and the dull old oak floor pull its boards together. Music-minus-one, the one being a hundred percussion-reed-brass-horn-string voices dressed in soup-and-fish, in limp mermaid gowns, the thousand clapping penguins, silly serious commuters with the parked-car heeby-jeebies. Dissolve thine beastly crowd and pissith upon, spoileth, corrupteth each seedling and spring worm for its own good and glorification which is thineself indeed! A great one is swinging down the stairs from overhead! Oh, man, when wilt thou look upon the thing in itself?
So the Student, given my help here, would have promptly elected to greatness his friends of the 817 Gang, every one of them. Beginning with Alan Greenman. Greatness is to be measured from one moment to the next, in a quantitative Chicago-type concept (it was not the only one in this business, there were Minnesota, Stanford, Columbia, even then), so that what ensues is an individual's Curve of Greatness carried throughout his existence, until there is the great dying person who looks straight in the eye of death and thinks or asks "What else is new today?"
Try it yourself. Never forget that we constitute a Republic. Take up all of those whom you know, include those who are conventionally great, whose biographies in summary form are in your nearest poorest encyclopedia, and prepare your set of charts, the vertical scale of absolute greatness,the horizonal or temporal scale the age of the person. Thus little Suzy equals Madame de Stael. The first duty of a citizen of the Republic is not that of voting, for voting comes later. It is evenly-tempered, without casting blame, to judge, at all times, everyone.
The 817 Gang flourished between 1937 and 1940. It began when Bob and Bill King arrived from India and were let into the old apartment building. (The accommodation of others, and particularly of non-missionary characters, was not foreseen in their lease.) The Gang ended when Bob finished his studies, and lost the apartment. It was a highly successful but poor gang. At no time would the collective fortune of the individuals in it amount to more than a thousand dollars, this at the beginning of the school year when summer earnings were in. They had no common treasury, of course, and never did more than several dollars change hands as a loan.
I call the Gang a success because the members were fond of each other, would take care of each other when called upon, enjoyed one another's company (but were not a tight group at all), learned from each other, and profited materially from their common living arrangements. That is gang behavior, what a gang does, after all; it brings in the swag (of classes audited, books read, news heard, helpful tips gained) and shares it out to the Members. I would recommend the system, for that is what in effect it was, and I would imagine that the Universities of the world and indeed the institutions of the world might well be organized on the same system, the Gang of Five veritably, and to good effects. (Not the conspirational counterrevolutionary Chinese communist five, which anyhow did not exist and/or was maligned wrongly.) Five is the best possible number to base the social system on. It is an open number that promotes interaction, sets a limit to discourage preoccupation with too many others, fosters intimate mutual understanding, and elicits decisions readily. Hurrah for the Rule of the Five!
Sebastian, or Bus or Buzz as he was called, came in not so much because anyone left 817, as because the Student was helping him to join the University. He wasn't going anywhere but down, with his vain pea-pod associates at Wilson College, or with his jazz combo, or with life at home where the little boys were taking over, or with his love life that now centered around Miriam Carlson, whose Swedish Lutheran antecedents were only abeyant forces, or with the Student who took him to task whenever sporadically they met at home. Luckily the Student, unlike many another, was an inclusive type; when he had something good, or thought he did, he wanted to share it (this could pester people who didn't want to be sold his "good" ). He wanted to get Bussie down to the Midway, and readily figured out how to do it, that is, by arranging for the repetition of his own pattern.
First of all came the question of admission. The University, whatever it might pretend to later on, was not rigid over admissions. There was no horrid struggle among students competing to get in, driven berserk by the bloodthirsty cries of their fathers and mothers. He went to Mr. Earl S. Johnson, the Great Dane, and told him that he had a brother who was just as smart and competent as anyone around, including himself, who was a fine musician, had a good character (what else could one say?), and would do well if once he could be admitted. Would Mr. Johnson recommend him for admission? He certainly would!
Sebastian was more skeptical. Nevertheless he came down, and met Mr.Johnson, who liked him immediately, as only he could. He made the rounds of the Student's habitat. He was granted admission. His mediocre record of courses that had been dispiritedly passed through at Northwestern University and Wilson Junior College was adjudged sufficient to accredit him a Third Year standing; so he would be entering on a par with his Brother.
Money was the next worst problem, but the Student could make his brother guarantee to put away the first tuition payment to begin with, described to him the cooperativeness of Cotton-Mather and Company for eliciting funds thereafter, fixed up with the 817 Gang an arrangement to allow him to carry a second bed into the largest of the rooms with him, and used the Gang's group leverage to extract a promise of early employment at Billings Cafeteria with its meal ticket attached. From then on, he would be on his own.
Sebastian, ragingly happy until enveloped by failing gloom, was forcibly thrust forward by the weight of possibilities. He signed on, or to cast the metaphor overboard, he took to the University like a fish to water. He decided upon the special field of Political Science at the same time as the Student did, neither of them with any special reason or plan, partly as a rejection of the dullness of the Law, and the apparent remoteness of Sociology. Perhaps they had in mind the federal Civil Service; it was aggrandizing, rising swiftly in prestige, and was well advertised by professors who were well-connected in New Deal circles. Actually there was a score of disciplines as entertaining as politics, but they had no idea of the occupational line to be followed. Whatever else it could pretend, the University did no better than most schools in giving concrete notions to its students of the many skills of life and the conditions of study and work in them. Practically every student rejected the occupation of his father, if indeed the occupation had survived to be scorned, unless his father was a well-connected business owner. The University of Chicago students had practically nothing of the higher level family connections and "old-boy" network of the Ivy League schools. Most of them were moving from one unsatisfactory old world into an unsatisfactory new world amidst a grave depression.
But where could one go? Business, Law, Medicine, women into Social Work, this School having been the invention of Edith Abbott, the Library School, or the Humanities for whatever their vague promise of the cultivated hostess or the writer. Surely, considering the vast scope of University studies and their ramification into the community, a way of intruding students into the more vital workplaces of life might have been devised. The educational effect would be equal to the orienting effect. The Student, could he have met up with the scientific farmer's and forester's life, the corporate life in its more creative branches, the law and order milieu, the publishing industry, the health care environment, and the City Hall gang at work (something he knew a little about already from childhood), would have been better able to guide himself and simultaneously would have had his imagination and intellect stirred into questioning. Yes, all this should have been done in secondary school and grammar school, but it was not, and would have to be taken up by the college. Or better yet, by a system of education that would be consistent and radically reorganized from beginning to end, from embryo to the end of life. The measures to orient the student to the future would be part of a total transformation of which the University of Chicago here portrayed, apparently so daring, could have little conception, nor could its typical front-runner, the Student.
The 817 Gang had its own seminar, Sexology, in continuous session, largely pedantic, with the field work by individuals rather than by team. Greenman's investigations were private, discreet. For a time nothing at all was apparent; then there appeared with him from time to time a quiet brunette of average height, pleasant of face, expressing a kind of brownish image from skin to clothes to boots pastelled into the darkish and brownish hallway by which the couple entered and departed. She was timid or not the smiling type -- who could tell? Greenman preferred not to introduce her farther into the society of his peers, perhaps feeling that she was not sharp enough intellectually, or that it would let her assume too close a relationship.
It was not the same with June Clegg. When Bill brought her into the apartment she made herself at home. Whoever came in became her friend. She was not only open, she was enveloping. A tall girl, brunette, with wicked Finnish slant eyes, another illegitimate one, or orphan -- she claimed both -- who barely tolerated her stepfather and mother, if they were merely such, with a flair and a claim to attention that the men would not begrudge her, for she was gay and energetic and interested in everything, and catty in a bold feminine way that was not too annoying. She had an especial liking for Bob King, while in love with Bill, to the point that the others laughed at Bob, assuring him that she really loved him and not his brother, nor did she do much to contradict them. She would be fondling and kissing Bob and tickling him when he tried to escape, on the edge of treason and adultery. This went on for a long time, all the time, until she and Bill King left for Hollywood, and so on, but that is another volume to come.
Aside from June, Bob was too shy to carry on any affairs, or even to date. He was devoid of the "social graces," as they are called in Collegiate Slobbovia, though he could stare at Indian dancing forever and taste tea like a planter. The Student, of the same age, had more experience and possessed the graces, but encountered few opportunities to exercise them, nor did he seek them. When something was plopped in front of him, he sharked at the bait. Otherwise he treated women in general pleasantly as equals or even more than equal when it seemed in order.
He it was of the lascivious knights of the cafeteria tables who fixed the flirtatious light in the grey eyes of Grace the serving lady, and with calculated idleness (can you imagine him idle?) walked her home one afternoon after she had served lunch. She lived in a modest clean flat in the area of ordinary American citizens on the other side of 55th Street, to the North , that is, bounded by Cottage Grove Avenue and Stony Island Avenue on the West and East, and to the North by the southwardly trending black neighborhood beyond Forty-third Street.
There he removed her pants in short order, and with her total consent, and with an immediacy that he had better learn to pace out, pounced upon her, delivered himself of a dazzling set of spasms, orgasmicized, and left her possibly not quite fulfilled, but panting and wondering and grateful. Such that he visited her again and again and she in her endeavor to show that she loved him put aside whatever seemed best coming into the cafeteria so that it could be slipped to him, who was not really needing it and condemning favoritism on principle, as he came to the counter, until one day as he sat with her at home on one of his brief visits, there entered her husband Charles, a thickset short man like one associates with a lug and semi-trailer and calls "Chuck", who inquired suspiciously as to his presence and was introduced with the insouciance of a Creole Madam, "He's the nice student I told you about," and who said hello and not much else, but probably appreciated his wife a little more later in the day. But really the Student did not appreciate or patronize Grace thereafter, for no particular reason.
The only student whom he qualified for his attentions was Margery Tanner, who had the flapper figure he so liked but lacked, alas, the flapper personality, and dressed on the drab and blah side. They travelled to her home in Kankakee together. They walked about the campus on occasion. They kissed, far too blandly for his heated blood. She was intelligent -- who wasn't at Chicago? -- but on the provincial side -- also not uncommon at Chicago -- by origin her family was North Scandinavian-Finnish, calm and cool; startled, upset, with an aunt who had married a Jew. He was waiting for a chance to take her to bed, but not pressing for it. Considering how hard up he was, it is puzzling why he did not pursue this chance. Probably subconsciously he feared his impetuosity and then, worse, subsequent feelings of obligation to his lover, thenceforth an enduring attachment that he would abhor.
His brother, Sebastian, swimming easily now in academic waters, looked about casually, but of course could find no one so beautiful as his Miriam Carlson, whom he transported to the South Side frequently, whom he visited up North (how frightened was old Mrs. Carlson of the baleful influence, not only upon Miriam but upon her lovely younger sister Marga "who knew him first," of this keyboard Lothario out of an Esquire ad, shades of her departed man, the Minister turned Banker, would that he might still be here to help her humph and whine.) Sebastian connected with a beautiful Greek in one of the classes the Brothers attended together -- about half the time they registered alike -- so exceptionally beautiful for the Chicago scene and so refreshingly black-haired and ruby-lipped by contrast with the ordinary mousy average, that the Student would have tried to intervene were it not for her heavy legs -- one of his "no, no's". She disappeared from the scene next year, a common experience, here this quarter, gone next quarter -- as if some secret police were arresting and taking away people and no one would talk about it. Sebastian couldn't complain, nor did he: sie hat er gute, and he sparked the weekends often by gigging on the West Side or North Side with Frank Albano on battery and Carmen Guerino on sex and clarinet.
Of Norm and El, little need be said of their experiments in sex off the premises. Bus, like Alan and Bill, used the apartment faute de mieux, and the Student politely absented himself; he spent little time there anyhow.
Norm was apparently destined to abstinence for a long time, a severe student, whose close friend was destined to bachelorhood and devotion to his Alma Mater, Claude Hawley, disciple of Mr. Marshall Dimock, headed for the neuter haven of the Civil Service. Let, if you please, names like Claude's scratch your mind, for he will be back before you someday; he connected with the Student far back then, clearing and cleaning cafeteria tables and eating together, then made other connections with him: in wartime operations, in educational experiments, in securities brokerage, for a grand total of later Time-Together of about 55 hours, which somehow, perhaps because of the dependence of time upon the intensity of reality, seems to have been longer in retrospect, merely one/thirteenth-thousandths of the Student's life of 25,414 days by present reckoning. (I x R = -Log 1/T.) In a fundamental way it all and always had something to do with the University of Chicago. You have to believe it: Claude, the lifelong bachelor, left his $5,000,000.00 to the general fund of the University, general fund I stress, for that is the ideal way to give to a University, basically unselfish, no need for a Hawley Monument, The Hawley Building, The Claude Hawley Chair of Public and Educational Management, or a Hawley Scholarship Fund, or a Hawley Communications Research Program, all the stranger since his life was so selfishly pursued; penurious, even miserly, he never picked up a check at a restaurant table, blaming it on his Scottish paternal line rather than upon the Polish strain of his mother.
But you didn't waste time talking about females or even sex with the likes of Claude. That leaves R. Elberton Smith, who by his behavior demonstrated his frustration. (You will note that the bordellos of Chicago received no custom from the 817 Gang, contrary to the age-old patterning of student sex behavior. During the collective life of the Gang no more than several prostitutes had their moment of glory, at a total compensation -- sales tax unpaid -- of $10.00. (Cf.the French Republic where one out of ten baccalaureates had contracted syphilis.) Elberton got some kicks out of a nursing mother across the street who was using a breast pump; he excitedly called out the students to witness the phenomenon, truthfully known hitherto to no one save him. (It indicated, to the Student at least, that Nature was often unbalanced, now too much and then too little milk.)
Actually, Elberton was a mine of information and conjecture on the subject of sex, and with the especially hearty cooperation of Bob King managed to lift the level of sexual knowledge considerably. From the pool of individual experiences, not specifically identifiable (by mutual agreement), and an encyclopedic literature read or orally conveyed, the equivalent of a year's course in sex practices and psychology was acquired. No course or group of courses existed from which this learning might have been compiled. Mr. Anton Carlson, famed physiologist and thoroughgoing conservative politically, snorted, "Sounds just like a psychiatrist" when Psychiatrist Charles Bennett Congdon of the Student Health Service ventured the guess that only one-tenth of gonad activity was disposed to purely biological ends, the other nine-tenths going to affect everything else we do or say. The 817 Gang were of the Congdon School, which, you must note, defends general sexuality against brute sexuality, against the "meat-pounder sexologists."
They read mainly in Havelock Ellis, Wilhelm Stekel, Sigmund Freud, Frank Harris, James Joyce, and Henry Miller. There were others and a flow of fugitive publications, ranging from cartoons to articles and clippings. Elberton was a fecund supplier of jokes and doggerel, viz. the "virgin lady from Cape Cod,/ who thought children came from God," whereas "it wasn't the Almighty / who lifted her nighty,/ it was Roger the Lodger, how odd!" etc., and then the "story of sad-eyed Dick,/ born in the world with a corkscrew prick,/ who searched all Earth in a fruitless hunt / to find a girl with a corkscrew cunt,/ and when he found her he dropped down dead / for the golblamed thing had a left-hand thread!" "Golblamed" he threw in as a concession to his country clients, who could be told obscene jokes but would not wish the name of the Lord to be taken in vain, whence, golblamed, goshdarned, goldarn, consarned, doggone, hot damn, etc.
It was strange that Freud did not include dirty jokes in his study of wit and the unconscious, two birds with one stone he might have slain. Freud's works became familiar, viz. "The Interpretation of Dreams." Bob King was a terrible dreamer, He would give a shout in his sleep and wake up, stunned, look about, and slowly a silly grin would appear on his face. He would walk in his sleep, too, more rarely. They believed Freud. They believed in Freudism. Sebastian talked least about Freud but began to go deeply into the study of psychoanalysis. He read through heaps of books. He was perhaps the least confessional of the lot of them. Freud's essay on "Civilization and its Discontents," was required reading in the Social Science Survey in the Second Year. The others knew it anyhow. They liked it. They didn't see its basic flaws, the cult of darwinism and its application to social evolution, and the flattery of the natural goodness and sexuality of primitive peoples.
Although it seemed to them that they were healthy and hardly in need of psychoanalysis, they felt that the world would benefit greatly from universal self-knowledge, a realization by people of the traps of their Unconscious and a skill in avoiding and destroying the traps. They hardly inquired whether this glib solution was any more possible than the many other proposed solutions, such as communism, anarchism, fascism, and socialism, that they regarded as impossible. At heart they were typical Americans believing the education of the individual person was the alpha and omega of utopia. However, their proposed curriculum was of the depths of psychology, so it was not so rationalistic and superficial as the usual educational prescription.
Several major concepts, scientific and moral, formed out of these informal, jesting, hollering, in and out of the hallway, from the pronunciamentos off the bathroom stool (Elberton's specialty); from Bob's gesticulating, Havelock Ellis Vol.3 in hand, the other six volumes all over his room; Sebastian scratching his head, pondering some secret vice before leaking it; Greenman haw-haw-hawing contemptuously, and the Student waiting for a pause to project a generalization. Thus, sexuality is good in itself! Masturbation is ordinary. Premarital sex is not bad for either sex. Men should approach women easily and gently and employ foreplay. Romantic love is the only excuse for enduring sexual relations, and for marriage. Monogamy is preferable, but divorce is not evil. A technique of love-making exists and can be taught. Americans are generally poor lovers in comparison with Italians and French, but English are worse. No honest gesture or technique of love is bad. Homosexuality is an unlucky happening but, once incurred, whether by heredity or culture, it should be permitted its enjoyment. Contraception should be employed as a matter of course, children born only when their parents are ready for them. Sex taboos and prejudices are universal and generally abominable. Sex education should be afforded everyone.
The Student discovered and bought T.S.Smith's edition of Poetica Erotica, that Horace Liveright had the nerve to publish and caused him some grief with the forces of the law. It was hardly strong medicine, but loaded with poems that the Student thought he might like to recite someday as part of sexual foreplay to some deserving ravishing creature. More important and far more "obscene" by police measures was a two-volume set that he came upon at a price that even he could afford, Wilhelm Stekel's "Sexual Perversions", that flung them all into realizations of the libidinal, most of which the Student found disgusting.
But Elberton, for one, enjoyed them, as well as whatever could be found of the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Try as he might, the Student could not get his flesh to crawl or thrill at the imagination of sadism and masochism, of orgies, of sodomy, bestiality, but he was instantly alert and aroused by any hint of straight heterosexual contact, from hair ends down to heels and toes. If he was homosexualized it was in the typical American twist that pushed aside the plump curved large-breasted soft woman in favor of the skinny flat-chested bobbed-hair boyish flapper. The women of Rubens and Rodin left him practically unmoved. A high-heeled, high-kicking, long-legged fast-moving jazzbo kid sucked up his full sexual attention.
They taught themselves the larger meanings of sex. They also taught theology and the sociology of religion to each other. Elberton Smith must have gone back in direct line to the eighteenth century Methodists, thumping preachments, descendent of Believers in the Very Word and in the Crowd of Believers finding the Lord together, even looking the part with glowering short dark face on his furious short body with his dark glinting eyes, all straight out of the troglodyte Celts of the coal black dells of Wales. But, of course, he did not believe. Nor did Bob and Bill, who described the passions of Shiva with the same enthusiasm as did their missionary fathers the passion of Jesus. Nor did Al and Buzz, whose awareness of Catholicism came from the cries of the anarchists and socialists on the other side of the barricades. Nor Norman Pearson or Allen Greenman. But religion as theology and philosophy and sociology and anthropology fascinated them and could consume hours in discussion.
The voices from the Employees Cafeteria of Billings added directly and indirectly to the unholy din: the James brothers from Goshen, Alabama, Bernie Loomer of the Theological Seminary, the others whom I've mentioned -- there were some fine religious minds sweeping the flatware and crockery off the tables and ready to explain the mysterious ways of the Lord. They all would certainly have had signal preparation for the Savior, should he have decided then and there upon a Second Coming.
Mr. Louis Wirth of the Sociology Department about now was approached by a radio station impresario escorted by the University's public relations man and told, wouldn't it be nice all around --image of the University, public education, student recruitment, community relations -- to conduct a roundtable like the famous University of Chicago Roundtable, but with students instead of professors speaking. Sounds not a bad idea, opined Louis, and he invited several students to form the group, among them, of course, the Student of our acquaintance. Great issues were supposed to be taken up. The first was to deal with the institutions of free speech. A rehearsal was held, complete with managers and microphones.
Mr.Wirth, as silence settled upon the scene, introduced suavely the program, explained what institutions were -- state, church, clubs, schools, etc., -- and raised the question whether all were doing their part to uphold freedom of speech. Since no one else seemed inclined to address the matter, the Student spoke up, saying that, yes, one of the problems of free speech was that the Catholic Church didn't believe in it.
As he spoke, he recognized coming over the bland great moon of a face of Mr. Wirth the same agonized expression that had overcome the countenance of Mr. Sigmund Levarie when the Student sounded the beautiful High "B" on his Trumpet two measures too soon on the Bach Chorale.
"Of course, your statement would require a great deal of qualification before it would be acceptable.." began Mr.Wirth, somewhat to the Student's annoyance.
Upon mature consideration, the idea of the Student Roundtable was put aside. Too bad, thought the Student, who had been hoping to pocket several dollars upon its every occasion.
As for Mr. Louis Wirth, he should have been disagreeable, but, do you know, the Student noticed him smiling to himself afterwards, as from a secret joke!