bohemian life in our very midst

by John Bellairs
February 20, 1959, Scholastic #14

I have often viewed that gay and mysterious group of Bohemians, the University Theater actors, from afar, wistfully longing for a taste of the wild, dissolute life which they lead. My only taste of forbidden pleasures in the past has been a coke chugging contest held at a meeting of Scout Troop 680 in the Old Grange Hall in Calhoun County, Michigan. Then too, I had longed to tread the boards (or board the treads, I wish someone would clear me up on this). I was, however, driven from this pursuit when I lost a declaiming contest for leaving out the "raven'd sea shark" while reciting the cauldron scene from Macbeth. I have had a distaste for seafood ever since.

But, at any rate, I was approached last week by fellow named Thespis Pananacreon, who said that he was a representative of the University Theater group. He said that they had heard of my longing for Dionysian pleasures, and that they would be most happy to take me with them on a junket. I joyously accepted. On seeing the gold-trimmed tunic which Thespis wore, and on hearing the lyre which he strummed constantly, I could not help but smirk at the thought of the world I would be entering, and the pleasures which lurked behind the pink doors of Washington Hall. "Once, a philosopher, twice a Bacchante," I gurgled to myself.

Thus it was that one night, after a performance given by the Theater group, I scuttled surreptitiously into a side door of Washington Hall (all those who have seen my scuttle surreptitiously will know what I mean.) Inside, half-over-powered by the smell of grease paint and mothballs, I was introduced by Thespis to those who would be my companions on this memorable evening. Each actor, clad in the costume which expressed his soul most perfectly, greeted me in mellifluous accents and proffered a goblet of Kool-Aid (grape flavor). And you may be sure that I drank my fill. The actresses were primarily young intellectuals from St. Mary's, who were gaily discussing the latest play of their leader, Megaera Plotz. She herself read me part of a critique which she had written for a literary magazine; she called the work "Parnassus among the Paperbacks: Frank G. Slaughter as an Existentialist." I devoured the work greedily between munches of jelly sandwiches and draughts of Kool-Aid. Eventually the sound of a bronze gong told me that our group was going forth on a revel. At last, I thought, we are going out to mingle with the cocottes, sansculottes, or whatever they are. A momentary blush crossed my face, but I rushed madly on, tripping over the hem of my tunic.

We boarded the South Shore Train, and took over one whole car, which we decked with myrtle and thyme (ground). In one part of the car Hecuba Thurgood, whom here friends call "The Muncie, Indiana Muse," was doing a pantomime of Wallace Stevens' Sunday Morning, although we had no cockatoos with us. The group that I was in was listening to Thespis and Caliban Gloam do a duet with lyre and Phrygian flute. After one number an actor nudged me. "That's the Lydian mode," he said, leering. He then offered me a gumdrop (rum flavor), and after two or three my head began to spin and I blurted out the entire third act of Macbeth, then sank into a swoon.

When we got to Chicago, the group swept out of the car (swept out the car is more accurate-the conductor was quite peeved at our antics) and were rushed by taxi to the favorite "coffeehouse" of the theater crowd, The Golden Bough, operated by Arthur and Letty Fraser of Bindlestiff, Ore. Once inside, we found our way to small table in the dimly lit room, and began to talk over the cosmos in a leisurely fashion. Sparklers were passed around, and I lighted mine from the flame of the candle (set rakishly in a Pepsi bottle) on my table, and let it burn till it almost singed my fingers. Miss Thurgood read to me parts of her epic poem, The Dragon of the Dixie Highway, which is written in dactylic monometer. At each strophe I became more ecstatic, and was on the point of hysteria, until the spell was broken by the sonorous voice of Thyrsis Cranch, the entertainment chairman:

"We're going to play 'Spin-the-bottle,'" he said, with a goatish look.

Soon we were engaged in this riotous game, and my pockets were full of candy kisses which I had won by lucky spins. The next game was "Guess Who I Am." My imitation of Nestorious stumped the whole panel, and you may well guess my amusement. The game broke up when Clytemnestra Fenley, attempting to imitate the Winged Victory of Samothrace, set fire to one of the featherdusters she was using as wings. We all had a stirrup cup of tomato juice, with a dash of Worcestershire sauce for tang. I will confess that I don't know how the ancients balanced a cup in a stirrup. It is quite hard.

We left the Golden Bough, and took the train back to South Bend, arriving just in time to get back to campus. The merest thrill ran through me as I signed in at 12:05, for I was just beginning to fully realize the depth of my experience that night. The next morning, when rosy-fingered dawn painted the Nieuwland Science Hall with vermilion beauty, (I have become quite lyrical since that night of nights), I looked about my room. All I had to remind me of my first taste of Bohemian life were a slightly dented bay wreath, and Dixie cup smelling of grape juice…and my memories.

SOCIAL DEPT.

I feel it my duty to be the first to report on an event of prime importance, the first Lost and Found Party ever held at the University. Last Monday the students gathered in the Dining Hall for this gala event. Gaiety was the watchword as the hall, decorated in a white elephant motif, rang to the shouts of rummaging students. Dendron Foley and an unidentified commerce major put up a spirited battle over a green parka with "Hanseatic Bowling League" on its back. Two seniors managed to carry off the largest item on display, an Italian automobile which had been left in the foyer of the O'Shaughnessy Building. Here are some statistics on the outcome:

Most Loot: Lasciate O. Spearanze, who got twelve overcoats, nine copies of "Steam Pipe Fitters Annual," a size 22 Triple E. Cavalry Boot, and a biretta.

Least Loot: Cranbrook Oaf, who not only got nothing but left minus a shoe and half of his pair of pince-nez glasses.

Tea and cookies were served and a young woman sang a song of her own creation, "The Lost and Found Mambo" and favors were distributed. All who attended felt it a success and hope the party will be repeated.


Commentary

"John is obviously spewing out those various classical and mythological names and other pompous locutions for the sheer sonorous hell of it," says Myers. "The only Notre Dame specific reference that might need explanation is to the South Shore Train, an electric train which connected downtown South Bend to Chicago and was heavily used by the student body on holiday breaks. During our era at least, one did not make casual day trips to Chicago, but for Notre Damers the city represented what Memphis is to the characters in a Faulkner novel, an alluring mecca of sin and sophistication."