No. 19: Return of the Nowhere Man

“He’s a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his nowhere land,
Making all his nowhere plans
For nobody…”

– “Nowhere Man,” The Beatles

And so Harold Rothman ’72 spent his first months on enforced leave from Plymouth University. If he had felt like the Nowhere Man before, all those endless nights cooped up in his garret-like room at 405 College Avenue, nearly killing himself because he thought he was already dead, now, he felt even more so now, out of the university’s sight and mind, reporting to the library’s microfilm department at 9 a.m. on the dot to inspect the day’s volumes of Candy and Confectionary Journal and Police Gazette.

Did he miss Plymouth?

“No way,” he muttered to himself one afternoon, reviewing a 1954 volume of Rubber Dealer. How could one miss an institution that, while taking its sweet time to deliberate his fate, had allowed him to take classes for a full month before spitting him out — not to mention let him slip between the cracks in the first place. How could anyone miss an institution like that?

“No way I miss that place,” Harold hissed aloud, his head concealed by the microfilm viewer, suddenly plunged into a strange, hazy, sprocketed ontological-cum-literary zone of his own own device. Between the pit of his fears and the summit of his knowledge, Rod Serling might have said. Or something like that.

“Fuck Plymouth,” he said before inspecting a page of 22-year-old rubber-related news (“NEW IDEAS ON FIGHTING RUBBER PLANTATION FIRES”). Another day, another time, Harold would have seen the humor; but today, it was just breaking rocks.

No, he didn’t miss Plymouth, the institution, but he had to admit he missed the place. Camp Plymouth. He missed the gorges. He missed the squirrels on the Arts Quad. He even missed some of the professors. (Not many. Some.)

Abruptly, Harold stopped reeling. I have to go back, he thought. Have to.

There was only one problem, of course: Rothman had been banished, kicked off campus, told to stay away. As in away. As in Steve Freak, in amphetamine throes at Harold’s suspension party, repeating over and over in his endearingly demented way, “Personanongratapersonanongratapersonanongrata…”

Yeah, he had to admit, he missed Steve Freak, too. He even missed his crummy C-Town room. He missed watching the sunrise from the top bench of Schoelkopf Stadium, tripping or not.

So he decided to go back. Just for a week. Slink into town and out. Just do it, as Jerry Rubin would advise. Yippie!

“Yeah, I’m going back,” he said to himself. And so the next weekend, Harold Rothman took the bus back to Plymouth.

Talk about timing! That weekend, it so happened, was “Amerika Is Hard to Escape” Weekend, after the poem of the same name by Father Peter Rattigan, the celebrated Plymouth campus advisor-cum-poet-cum-antiwar-activist who had failed to surrender to the authorities after his conviction for pouring blood on draft records, and was now at large. Rattigan’s legion of campus devotees had planned a whole weekend of festivities in his honor, culminating in a mass concert-cum-demonstration-cum-be-in at Binton Hall, featuring Phil Ochs and the Bread and Puppet Theater, among others — and at some point, it was rumored, an appearance by Plymouth’s Most Wanted himself.

“Yeah, it’s going to be far out,” his former roommate David Hollow promised Harold between tokes over the phone. “Come on up, man. You can crash here. We’ll keep it mum.”

So Rothman took the bus back up to Plymouth and had the obligatory smoke-filled reunion with his C-Town buddies, and he regaled them with tales of his Dostoeskevian existence on the microfilm chain gang. And he looked at his old room, where he’d death-tripped back on his birthday. Still looked pretty crummy. But it was good to be back.

And so Saturday night, of course, the whole gang — Guido, Steve, Dlovid, Jeff and the rest of Rocks ‘N’ Bottles, the name of the informal 405 house band — rumbled over to Binton Hall to hear Phil Ochs and see Bread and Puppet parade around with their tripped-out, towering stilt-walkers.

And suddenly, in the midst of the Bread and Puppet performance, the lights went on and there was the fugitive priest on the stage, flanked by the puppet people, flashing the peace sign, daring the special agents in the crowd of 15,000 to arrest him. Harold couldn’t help but smile as his timing. After all, he was a fugitive of sorts, too.

Then the lights went out again, and you could see a dozen or so small fires flickering as student resisters, swept up in the moment, decided to provoke the G-Men by burning their draft cards.

When then lights went back on, Rattigan had vanished. The next morning, Harold Rothman did, too.

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