goodbye to all that

by Charles Bowen
May 29, 1959, Scholastic #25

Well, well. What's the matter, freshmen? What's on your mind, sophomores and juniors? You say you got up this morning and found out the mice had eaten your toothbrush and were halfway through your cigarettes? You say the pipes started dripping last night and that cigar you were saving looks like a melted candy bar? And your razor blades were all rusty and you tried to shave anyway and scraped three square inches of skin off your cheek? And 'all your clothes were at the laundry and they wouldn't give them back because of that $8.00 you owe for extra shirts? And it snowed this morning and you had to go to class in a pair of tennis shoes and a Wash and Wear Tuxedo? You say the maid took the only copy of your last big paper to wrap her husband's sandwiches in and now it's out at Studebaker going up with the Lark or something? And now you're going to flunk out unless you cream the exam and somebody stole your book and the bookstore is all out of copies? And all your exams are on the same day and that's the only day your girl can get a day off from the Diesel assembly line and come down to see you? You say your uncle just wrote and said he couldn't get that lifeguard job again this summer so he signed you up as a sandhog instead? And your best buddy asked you to deliver some medicine to a friend on the other side of campus and Father Collins stopped you and looked in the package and there was a bottle of Black & White inside?

Is that what's bothering you, fella? Tch, tch. I'm graduating next week.

It has been an eventful year, though, hasn't it? What a lot of fun we all had! Like for instance the football season. - The Indiana game! - The SMU game! The… ah… um….

Well, there was Christmas vacation, wasn't there! Golly gee whiz, I should say so! Holly… chestnuts… the whole family gathered around the fire… your Uncle George saying "Well, I think it's criminal firing a man with four children right in the middle of the holiday season. If that's…."

But we were soon back at school, any-way. Remember the pure joy in our hearts as we pursued a liberal education? Or as we sought out the secrets of science? Or as we tried to find the dining hall in ten feet of snow? Ah, it was a year that went too fast. Already we're trying to figure out the latest change in our exam schedules. For those who think they've got it straight, I've been asked by the Office of Academic Effusions to announce the following further changes: i) In the interest of providing a greater uniformity under the new system, students who flunk will have their grades multiplied by three. Those who pass with a grade of five or over will be required to take the exam over and over until they flunk. It is hoped that in this manner the present unsightly curve will be somewhat flattened out. ii) In order to allow the seniors time for the confusing festivities and ceremonies of commencement, the date for all senior finals has been moved back to last February 17. You all ABXed. See you next year.

(While we're on the subject, you might be interested to hear that the collected bulletins of this office have been gathered and edited by a BAd senior as his thesis. A dramatized version will be presented by the University Theater next fall under the title "Corbaci Strikes Again.")

But I'm forgetting what I started out to do. Having decided to take advantage of the privilege claimed by anyone in any way connected with the journalistic profession at the end of the year, I am going to present my own series of awards and appreciations. No special pattern or theme is being chosen; I am merely listing whatever occurs to me in no special order. I hope this will preclude complaints, and if anyone objects that such a personal method may be lacking in general interest, I can produce a squadron of blood relatives who will eagerly take up the dispute. But enough shilly-shallying.

First, I would like to cite the Notre Dame Laundry as the most improved facility on campus. When I came here they used to rip, tear, and mangle my shirts for a week at a time. Now they do the same job in only three days, and at hardly twice the cost.

Second, I would like to name as my favorite All-Round Good Fellow the moderator of the Scholastic, for allowing my columns to be printed week after week even though he could not have failed to see that each column was a thinly-disguised installment in a master plan for a still disguised as a wall sink.

Third, the 1959 Dome receives my nomination for Most Ado About Nothing. As far as I can see, the photography is greatly improved, but the way the staff toots about sputtering such terms as "revolutionary" and "dynamic" I had been expecting a great deal more. Per-haps a foreword by Ezra Pound or a cut-and-paste senior section so you could match the portraits to the names that seem to fit them. But this is still a year-book, and like all yearbooks, can only succeed in looking like a longer and more-expensively-bound edition of the General Motors Annual Report.

Fourth, since my erstwhile colleague, that lovable old literary duffer John Bellairs, gave no awards in his column, I would like to name him Most Unrewarding Person of the Year.

Fifth, I would like to insert a word of thanks to the National Musical String Co., of New Brunswick, N. J., manufacturers of Black Diamond Banjo Strings, thanks to the durability of whose products I have become a success in show business without having to augment my initial investment of $1.40.

Sixth, to return to larger issues, I would like to name Bob Sedlack as Scholastic Editor of the Year, since it appears that's what he's turned out to be.

Seventh, our student government as Most Ornamental Campus Fixture.

Eighth: A series of ties for Lost Cause of the Year:

Darius Schmeltz, for his vain attempt to re-establish the Arian Heresy.

D. T. Garber, for trying to prove that it is possible to listen to WSND every day (he cha-cha'ed himself to death in a month). St. Michael the Archangel, for trying to drive past the main gate without a sticker.

Last, I would like to name Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Bowen of Attleboro, Mass., Man and Woman of the Year for 1937.

In conclusion I would like to pass on two pieces of advice to those who will be reading the Scholastic next year. First, be patient with G. P. Scarpia, if he's back. Remember that adolescence is at best a difficult time of life. Second, don't take the name of this column too seriously.


Commentary

Title stolen, this time, from Robert Graves's memoir of his experiences in World War I, which was prominent on paperback display stands at the time, though I didn't read it and still haven't (I liked "I, Claudius," though.).

The first couple of paragraphs pretty much explain themselves, but I should mention that, at around that time, there was a comic record that used to get played on the radio called (I think) "The Old Philosopher." You would hear a voice rather like Walter Brennan's reciting a long list of improbable misfortunes, using the "you say this... you say that.." structure that I borrowed for the column. After each recital, he would burst into some rapid, peppy chorus of self-help advice ("Pick yourself up" etc.) at a speed that was almost too fast for comprehension. This happened two or three times in the course of the record, with the misfortunes getting more dismal each time. I think the record ended with the sound of the Old Philosopher being shot or otherwise violently done in by his putative client.

So I was echoing at least the first part of that in my first paragraph. If anyone had taken it seriously, I probably would have gotten shot or at least seriously thumped over snide dismissal that followed, but fortunately nobody did.

You will note the mediocre football season and the dismissal of the coach making another appearance here. The announcement from the Office of Academic Effusions (Academic Affairs yet again) requires a little background. As I think I told you in commenting on the registration pieces that both John and I did in the first issue that year, that office was run by a man named Leo Corbaci, who was enthusiastically proceeding with the computerization of the university's academic activities. Not only registration, but also the examination schedule. Earlier that year, at the end of the first semester, he had triumphantly reduced the examination period from a week to something like three days by using the computer ("IBM machine" as we called it) to crunch the schedule.

And what a crunch it was. I was taking five courses, four of which had final exams, and all four were scheduled within 24 hours. By the time I sat down for the fourth, I was so drained that I had to write a note in the blue book throwing myself on the mercy of the court. (I did answer the questions, also; the note was merely an attempt to explain the low quality. It worked.) Our reward for undergoing this ordeal was that the usual semester break was shortened by several days due to this and other efficiencies (in the 2nd-semester registration process) achieved by Mr. Corbaci and his wonderful machinery. The last semester, I remember things not being quite so bad, but whether this was because they eased up on the schedule or whether fewer of my courses had finals, I don't recall.

Another thing that happened in my final semester was that the University suddenly switched from a grading system of 1 to 100 points to a grading system of 1 to 6 points. I can't explain why they decided to choose six as the top grade, but everybody had a lot of trouble translating the new system into the old one so that we could understand it. This may actually have been fortunate for those of us who had been admitted to graduate school, because, while the schools made their decision on the basis of your record up through the first semester of senior year, they did also require you to send them transcripts of your final semester grades. What with one thing and another, lots of people tended to screw around during the last semester, and some dropoff in grades was common. However, the new system apparently puzzled the graduate deans as much as it puzzled us, so no one's admission or scholarship, as far as I know, was revoked.

Now you know what that reference to "a grade of five or over" is all about. That was actually the second highest possible grade. And the announcement that exams had been moved back to Feb. 17 was, of course, a shot at Mr. Corbaci's inhumane efficiencies. "ABX" was what Notre Dame put on your record to indicate that you had failed a course by reason of not showing up for the final exam. (I guess the "AB" meant "absent.)

In the next paragraph, a "BAd senior" meant a senior in Business Administration. The rogue typesetter changed this to "a bad senior," but I have taken the liberty of changing it back.

The awards at the end don't need much explanation.

I think the laundry had indeed speeded up its schedule without otherwise improving the quality of its work, but I no longer remember how much they raised their prices, if any.

Does the reference to a wall sink require any annotation? Each dorm room at Notre Dame had a sink with a shaving mirror over it; this was the extent of the private facilities. Toilets and showers were communal. (This must be either painfully obvious or shockingly bizarre to members of later generations -- I don't know what most dorm rooms are like now.)

The reference to Bob Sedlack turning out to be the Scholastic editor should be clear enough, given my historical notes on his predecessor's self-immolation on the altar of Freedom of the Press (or coming to a dance drunk, take your choice).

The Arian heresy was big stuff in the 4th century, but was pretty thoroughly squashed after that. (Had the Goths had greater success in Europe, it might now be what all Christians believe, but they, too, were squashed, and with them went their favorite heresy.)

I can no longer remember whether I shared John's feeling that there was too much Latin music on WSND or whether I was just showing solidarity. Probably both.

About G. P. Scarpia, the most daring swordsman in the history of music criticism: I guess he wasn't back the next year, because in the same final issue was an editor's farewell from Bob Sedlack, who announced that he would not be returning. Probably this means that he was a senior, although it's also possible that he decided to transfer to some less philistine campus.

You may be interested in one item in Bob's list of those he wished to thank: "...the two happy humorists of Sorin who attempted to devastate the entire campus through "Escape" and who are always being confused, JOLLY JOHN BOWEN and CHARLIE BELLAIRS..." So there's one man's testimony that our work was similar, though he may have been exaggerating for effect.