No. 15: Of Hand Grenades and Hyper-Bull Sessions

“So, what are those guys up to?” Sam Rothman asked his son, Harold, motioning in the direction of the four hairy creatures seated around a table on the far side of the long hall of the second floor apartment at 405 College Avenue, a.k.a. Freak Hotel.

“Oh, those guys?” Harold said, shrugging and raising his eyebrows, hoping the cluster of hairy creatures would catch his drift — his drift being, “Cool it, guys, my dad is here.”

In point of fact, at that moment, said hairy creatures, who also happened to be students at Plymouth University (with the exception of Steve Freak, the non-student from South Dakota who had been renting out Rothman’s closet), were in the mist of a perfervid, methamphetamine-enhanced discussion of the Meaning of Life and what would happen if suddenly someone threw a live hand grenade in their midst, you know, I mean, I mean, would you run to save your life, or throw yourself on the grenade to save the lives of your friends, and I mean– I mean–

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

When we last checked in with Harold Rothman Plymouth Class of ’72, he had just retuned from his ultimate summer: working as a photojournalist attached to the Naturalist office of the U.S.N.P.S. Lake Mead National Recreation Area by day, gigging as a sideman with the Boulder City-based Creedence Clearwater-flavored “desert rock” band Iron Cross by night. Surfing out to San Diego and ‘Frisco to check out the increasingly embattled (but still fun) countercultural scenes. Gazing out at the desert sky and musing about the Meaning of Life– in a laid back way, that is. Looking up at the shooting stars — including one, he became convinced one night while swimming in Lake Mead — that was coming directly FOR HIM. That’s how clear the desert sky was. And that’s how stoned Rothman was. That kind of summer, you know.

Whereupon our hero had returned to Plymouth University, where, the prior spring, he’d had the mixed luck of being a mixed-up freshman at that normally conservative, crew cut Ivy, a.k.a Camp Plymouth, when said college-cum-camp was hit by the veritable tsunami of Vietnam War-cum-Generation-Gap-propelled Student Unrest (or “Youthquake,” as the Ladies’ Home Journal had quaintly put it back in 1966), said tsunami taking the form of a black power-cum-student power takeover of the student union.

The good part about that had been that Harold could tell his grandchildren he’d been THERE the night 2,000 Plymouthians took over Florence Bent Hall, the university armory, in support of the Plymouth Black Liberation Front. Also, that he could put off dealing with the question that had vexed him since he had first set foot in Plymouth’s hallowed halls — as it had countless of other prior Plymouth freshmen who didn’t have the benefit of hiding their anomie beneath the protective anomie of a Youthquake — i.e., what on earth am I DOING at this place?

The flip side of that equation, of course, was that sooner or later, he would have to deal with that question. And now, like, he was trying to deal with it, and like, the place he had chosen to live his sophomore year, i.e., 405 College Avenue, was, like, the worst place to deal with it. Whereupon Rothman had, essentially, stopped doing anything. Stopped going to classes. Stopped studying. Oh, once in a while he would go truckin’ down the hall to the Dead with his downstairs neighbor Lars Erickson. Or go outside on the balcony and rock back and forth on the rocking chair. But then it got too cold for that. And then, well, Rothman basically went back to sleep.

Call it sophomore slump. Call it C-Town Blues.

So September came and went, ditto October, and Harold Rothman proceeded to fall between the cracks of the great educational institution known as Plymouth University. The Incredible Shrinking Student, you might say.

Not that Rothman wasn’t objectively aware of his dilemma. He knew he was in trouble. He knew he couldn’t keep on doing nothing forever. He wanted out — bad. Hopefully, his father Sam would see his way through giving him permission to take a leave of absence. In fact, he planned to ask his father just that when he visited for Parents’ Weekend.

And so it came to pass that in early November, Sam Rothman came to visit his son, who was then living in that lunatic asylum masquerading as student housing known as 405 College Avenue. Which is how Sam and Harold came upon the aforementioned hyper-bull session.

“Hi guys!” Harold said to the four freaks seated at the table at the end of the long hall on the second floor apartment of 405 College Avenue. “You remember my father, Sam.”

“Sure — hi, Mr. Rothman!” shouted out Dlovid J. Dangle, the one of the four best equipped to feign sanity under the influence of the powerful of the powerful concoction of codeine and amphetamines the freaked-out foursome had imbibed an hour before. “How ya doing?!”

“We better let them continue their discussion,” Harold told his father, shepherding him out the door. Sam flashed his son a look, but went along. He knew when he wasn’t welcome.

And so the discussion continued.

“So, what WOULD you do? Would you run out the room or throw yourself on the grenade?” asked Dangle, the self-appointed moderator of this hyper-bull session, without missing a beat.

“I mean,” Steve Freak said, ‘Run Through the Jungle’ pouring out of the nearby speaker. “I mean, I mean–” But he had lost his train of thought.

And so it went.

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