'Semesters Incomplete'

More tracks and traces from the old days, this piece from my college years in Lowell, Mass., when I was beginning to find my way as a writer. I had kept a journal since high school, writing in 8.5 x 11, hardbound, black artist sketchbooks that I had seen my oldest brother use for ideas, drawings, quick watercolors, scrapbook items taped in or rubber cemented, reading notes, etc. The cleaned-up entries below remind me about what it was like to be primarily a consumer rather than a producer day to day. I was awake in the city, alert on the campus, taking in as much as I could. Later, my community role would change, shifting to engagement and action as much as continued observation and absorption.

Semesters Incomplete


The intramural Stragglers and Red Daggers played extra innings on the diamond looking north up the Merrimack River as far as New Hampshire hills where Robert Frost never left the woods. Afterwards in the Old Tavern, the softball players drank not enough beer and fought over Crazy Eights and bowls of pistachios under the creaky ceiling fans spun by leather belts and pulleys. Outside, marches by John Philip Sousa, a Portuguese-American giant, blared into the open bar door from loudspeakers on The Freedom Train, at rest on the rails by the canal gatehouse at Lucy Larcom Park, on route across country for the nation's 200th birthday.  (5-75)


Federal authorities may want to canonize the locks and canals of the Mill Age and declare them to be St. Urban National Park of Lowell, Mass. Fishing trenches good for carp as big as tuna, splashing cannonballs of factory kids, and tires as smooth as honey-dipped donuts, earned a heavy-duty Congressional once-over physical inspection for the coming budget year. (6-75)


Our Congressman, Paul Tsongas, said, “Don’t spend $40 billion for the B-1 Bomber made to unleash thermonuclear terror after the intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine warheads have destroyed the world umpteen times over.” His point being clear. We talked about such things at his regional town meeting, as well as about renewable energy breakthroughs and why political leadership sucks so badly nationwide. (8-75)


Professor Chris Smith asked, “What makes one thing Art and another thing not Art?” My class is reading Plotinus, Kant, Plato, and Aristotle to find an answer. In another course, Aldo Leopold from the 1940s urged us to value where we live as much as he loved his Sand County in the Midwest, if you can love that way. For a while, the Cultural Revolution and Modern Chinese politics were coming out of my ears: Mao’s swim in 1966, capitalist roaders, the purge of Liu Shao-ch’i, “Bombard the Headquarters.” There's more on international relations and foreign affairs. At the Harvard Model United Nations, my campus club represented Iraq. I spent a night drinking with the pretend-P.L.O. delegation and challenging Oklahoma Jim of the Sri Lanka team about his critique of the social morality of utopias. Make-believe Greek delegates from Bryant College in Utah danced in the hotel lounge to a pop group called Ox until they achieved a sweaty mess. (10-75)


Wearing a feathered wide-brimmed gray hat, Bob Dylan could’ve been a Mexican balladeer on a new Durango song, bouncing on stage and stamping his whole leg in time to the drum. Ramblin’ Jack Elliot dedicated “Me and Bobby McGee” to Jack Kerouac, who as a kid had played King of the Hill on the sandbank right across the way on Riverside Street. Roger McGuinn brought out his “Chestnut Mare” with its fifty-nine lines plus chorus. To finish, the entire troupe, not the least of which Joan Baez, plus Allen Ginsberg on jangling tambourine, sang Woody Guthrie's “This Land Is Your Land” with everyone (including my girlfriend after she had given tissues to a nosebleed guy she had dated one time in high school) -- all of us choir-ing and clapping until basketball game lights re-flooded the college gym. (11-75)