No. 17: Persona Non Grata

It took a little while for it to sink in, this idea that he was, like, dead, but the more Rothman thought about it, the more it made sense.

Outwardly, there was nothing different about the apartment to signify that this was It — heaven, hell, or wherever he was. The radio was still playing “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” just as it had been before. Or was it was it an echo — an aural hallucination? Didn’t matter.

Rothman walked around the apartment, peering into the other rooms where his roommates were asleep. Were they really asleep? Or were they, as Grace Slick sang, On the Other Side of This Life? Yes, that was it. They were on the other side; they were alive. Asleep, but alive.

Yes, that must be it, Rothman said to himself. Somehow that day, or that night, he had died. He had gone over, as Rod Serling put it in his intro to “The Twilight Zone,” to that “sixth dimension that lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his consciousness.” Yes, yes, the Twilight Zone — that’s where he was at. Neither here, nor there, but definitely someplace else.

So, this was it. The After Life. The Zone. This was the way it was going to be, walking around this Godforsaken crummy apartment forever. Freaky! Ergo, he said to himself — by now, Rothman as leaning over the apartment’s third floor balcony, where he found himself staring at two dogs of indeterminate breed who were fighting over a bone in the middle of College Avenue, a vision of desolation if there ever was one — if I am already D.O.A., then it won’t matter if I jump off the balcony, right? ‘Cause I am already dead. Correct? Correct!

And for a moment, a long moment, Harold Rothman contemplated doing just that, i.e., joining the growing ranks of America’s hallucinogenic casualties, like the co-ed daughter of game show host Art Linkletter, who had recently done a header out her Berkeley window while under the influence, flaming through the news like a countercultural kamikaze.

After all, he was dead already, wasn’t he?

But Harold didn’t jump. Call it common sense. Call it survival instinct. Call it God. Somehow, something (someone?) stopped him from really Doing It. Somehow Rothman made it through that long, desolate Collegetown night.

And so there he was a few hours later in the apartment of his downstairs neighbor, Lars Evergreen. And Lars was moving. He was alive. He had come back from The Other Side. And so had Harold. And now Lars was making Rothman drink some orange juice with sugar in it so he would come down.

And Rothman came down.

And then, a few weeks later, the letter he had been dreading, the letter from the Committee on Academic Records, arrived. For a while there, as he went to class and took exams and got back into the swing of things, Rothman though he was going to get away with it.

Nothing doing. He waited a few days to open the letter. Then he opened it. Bad, not as bad as it could have been — but close. Rothman hadn’t, as he’d feared, been expelled. He was suspended. (Gulp.) For a period of at least one year. (Gulp.) What’s more, Rothman read on as he felt himself going into shock, the Committee, in its Infinite Wisdom, had decreed that because his “living environment” had contributed to his failure to make satisfactory progress toward his degree (hard to argue that!), in order to be eligible for re-enrollment, he would first have to leave town.

He re-read that part. Leave town?

So there it was. It was official now. Harold Rothman ’72 was persona non grata. Cast off. Exiled. Banished.

“They can’t do that!” said Harold’s friend Tom England, he of the beret and French cigarettes. “It’s not legal!”

“Oh yeah. Read.” Harold gave him the letter.

“Oh, well,” Tom shrugged, perusing the sentencing document, “I guess they can.” He flashed a smile. “Only one thing to do now, old boy. We must, simply must give you a party! After all, it isn’t every day that one of our number is banished.”

And so Harold Rothman’s friends got together and threw him a banishment party. After all, they couldn’t just let him slink off into the night.

It was a nice party, as such parties go. After all, there wasn’t very much of a precedent for such an affair. A banishment party? people asked. Cool. Okay, we’ll go. The place was packed.

“Way to go, man,” Steve Freak was saying as he sat on the old velour couch in the packed apartment, “I Want to Take You Higher!” wafting out of a corner, people passing a joint around. “Banished,” he said, shaking his head. “Banished, that’s heavy.”

As planned, Rothman, who had already packed his bags, left the party around 11 or so that, in a final beau dada, he could take the midnight bus back to New York, his friends crowding the very same balcony he’d nearly jumped off during his death trip to wave him goodbye. Of course, it had to be the midnight bus.

He got home at 7 a.m. Selma Rothman answered the door. Harold could see that she had been crying. Goodbye Camp Plymouth; hello Reality. Now it was really time to crash.

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