the Goliard
Volume 1 Issue 5

June 2002

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Original Writings 

[What's This All About?]

The Night Guy Series

Part 5 - Interlude concerning a goliard's apprenticeship  

Throughout Nate's attempt to incorporate and embrace that lifestyle which he has been referring to loosely as a goliard's apprenticeship, he had been prone to the bouts of introspection that necessarily accompany any appreciable revision of outlook and in so doing had found it hard not to dwell on a certain summer in his childhood that seems fraught with foreshadowing and significance. For one thing, it began with yet another episode of familial extirpation when his father, in this case with not quite a week's notice, hauled him off unexpectedly to some far away place. 

For another, it marked the first time that his mother refused to go along. 

His main recollections of that summer, which also happened to be the summer of 1976, a time when bicentennial festivities abounded, do not involve his country or his family any further than to acknowledge that without the freedom granted him by each, he could never have done what he did. For that was the summer when he came as close as he figured he would ever come to leading the life of a goliard, albeit unknowingly, and ten years before he had even heard the word.

Nate had just completed the penultimate week of his eighth grade year when he first sensed changes abrewing. On a Saturday noon early in June, just as he was about to head out the door to the ball field, dad caught him by the elbow and asked if he could help him move some books to the attic. Nate had just delivered the last stack to the top of the steps when his dad suggested, as if the idea had just occurred to him in afterthought, that they might want to bring some of Nate's stuff up as well.

"Why would we want to do that," Nate asked suspiciously.

"Oh because you know how things go son. We'll sublet the house to a few of my graduate students and they are not to be trusted. Especially with things like books and sporting equipment."

He was talking about most of Nate's possessions.

"What subletting?" Nate asked.

"Pardon me?" dad grunted as he struggled to arrange the books. "Yes, of course, subletting. We can't very well afford to leave the house vacant can we? Come on now; think on your toes young fella. You'll be reaching puberty any day now you know." He joined Nate on the top step, chucked him on the shoulder and looked away.

"Puberty? How will my toes... Are we... I'm supposed to know...?" Nate's father's unorthodox communicating had once again rendered him astutter.

"Well, what could I do?" Dad said, still not meeting Nate's eyes but groping about his head and neck until his arm finally landed clumsily around his shoulders. "I've got a chance to do some work with a team at Stanford. Out in earthquake country. You know, off to California, to do some research." He appeared so uncomfortable that it grew painful for Nate to look up at him so he joined his dad in staring down at their tennis shoes.

"It's simply too good an opportunity to pass up. It shouldn't take more than a few months and then we'll be right back here in Vermont again. You'll probably love it out there son. Won't you? Everybody loves California right?"

"I don't think so."

He hugged Nate tighter as if to support himself but Nate could feel him sag.

"I don't know that your mother thinks so either," he said.

Lest it seem that Nate's recollection of the above dialogue suffers from some bitterness or bias of time, he should perhaps take a moment to say in way of explanation that his father, though a loving and caring family man in some ways, has always considered himself a student of the earth first and foremost and thinks of the world and it's natural realms as a personal and extensive globular laboratory which he must constantly putter with and attend to. Up until this point, Nate's mother had been tolerant and Nate himself had known no other way.

But upon his recent completion of concurrent doctorates in geology and oceanography, they, meaning especially Nate's mother and to a lesser extent Nate himself, had allowed themselves to expect some form of punctuation in his career path which had been painstakingly devoted to the pursuit of assorted and partially completed degrees, all in related areas, and each sounding more fascinating and crucial to obtain than the last, but all falling miserably short as inroads to any actual profession. As a result, Nate's mother had heaped false expectations on the doctorates hoping that one or the other would be the ticket to that much discussed 'normal' life which they had always been that one diploma shy of.

Of course, since his father had been attending assorted colleges and universities in one capacity or another for the last twenty years and was nearly forty with no extended periods of contact with the outside world to speak of, the only thing he was qualified to do upon this double doctoral commencement was to go right back into research and teaching at yet another institution of higher learning. Before Nate's mother could even muster a cautious sigh of relief or go about finally sinking some roots, she realized that nothing had changed. It should be noted as well, with all due respect to the revered scientist that he has since become, that although mostly well intentioned, Nate's father has always been something of a social idiot.

The fact that Nate had grown accustomed to knocking about from college town to college town and being yanked away for summers spent in the supposed grandeur of one geologic wonder or another hadn't made this move any easier because, since he hadn't heard the usual rumblings throughout the winter about what a great treat it would be to visit this place or that, Nate had made the mistake of allowing himself to look forward to finally enjoying a comfortable, idyllic, New England summer of playing and talking baseball and swimming in the rock quarries. A family meeting was scheduled that night to discuss the matter and Nate arrived in a surly and indignant mood. He found that he wasn't the only one.

They sat down, as was their fashion during such meetings, on pillows around the fireplace even though it was almost balmy and no fire had been lit.

"We are here to talk about you being old enough now to take care of your father Nate." His mother began. "In fact, it's coming up on your turn. I just can't face another traipse through the wilderness let alone a relocation. I not only can't, I won't." And the meeting was off the ground.

"Dad can take care of himself," Nate said.

"Says who?" His mother demanded. "He'd forget to put pants on in the morning if I wasn't laying there reminding him. If it wasn't for me you'd see his tired bare ass and even tireder map case heading right out the front door each day." Nate sensed that she was just getting warmed up.

"Lying there not laying, more tired not tireder and it's not the wilderness, it's Stanford," his father mumbled weakly.

"Laying! As in laying out your most tired clothes for you."

"Now that's lying."

"I wanna stay here." Nate said, interrupting the exchange.

"That'd be fine honey except that your father and I are leaving."

"I could stay with the Dempsey boys."

"Who?" his dad wanted to know.

"His friends Kevin and Colin Dempsey. Good lord Swen. How long has it been since you've pulled your head out and looked around at your family?"

"We were gonna play on the same hockey team next year." Nate offered.

"It's not that Dempsey from the physics department is it? I swear if that guy has procreated then I have serious concerns about the future of..."

"They don't have a father." Nate said.

"And I don't think Mrs. Dempsey needs another boy under foot." Nate's mother's eyes lit up for a moment. "But maybe she would consider it. Just for a summer."

Nate hadn't got the feeling from Mrs. Dempsey that she would actually. "Where are you going Mom," he asked.

"Probably to Ireland to see my parents. Maybe to a city somewhere to take some art classes." She looked defiantly at Nate's father and added, "And I've been reading about a group in Tennessee. They are starting an organic communal farm that seems to be...."

"Well Nate here we go. It was only a matter of time before she found some cult to join," interrupted his father. "I'm sure I told you that when I met her she was living off amongst these beatniks who...."

She cut him off deftly. "Not a word."

"What? Well of course you wouldn't want the boy to hear about..."

"Amongst."

"What?"

"There's no such word as amongst."

"Why don't we just stay here Mom? And Dad can come back when he's done."

"Because I'm looking for an opportunity to finally realize my inner self, my creative center." she explained, patting Nate on the shoulder. "And I can't do that here or anywhere that people have known me as a degree candidate's wife."

"You'll be a faculty wife soon enough," his dad began before realizing how weak he sounded and suddenly raising his voice. WE'LL BE ABLE TO SETTLE DOWN IN ONE PLACE. TENURE TENURE!"

"God how depressing. Then Nate will leave home and we'll end up just like George and Martha."

"Who?" They said together.

"Swen, what did we do last Saturday night?" Nate's mother asked.

"You went to a play." Nate replied since his father wasn't saying anything.

"We saw Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf and I'll tell you something, I can answer that question for you. It's me that's afraid of her. That play scared the shit out of me."

"And what scares the shit out of me is this roots business. Plants have roots. We are not plants," said Nate's father, and proved it by inadvertently passing gas. 

"See? I am scared apparently." He added sheepishly."

"Swen!"

"I'm not going to college in California..." Nate took the opportunity to point out.

"College? You're not even in high school yet. Think of it. Me with a college age son matriculating right next to college going husband." Nate's mother looked suddenly panicked.

"Oh it's all sexual I suppose," Nate's dad ventured.

"How would you know?" Nate's mother said with a low, hissing voice and a stare that made the hair on Nate's neck stand up.

She continued staring at her husband until he looked away, spun on his pillow so his back was to her, and drew up his knees to his chin. She eventually softened and looked over at Nate.

"If you find your father to be just too bizarre for you honey, always know that you just need to call me on the phone and I'll send you a bus ticket or something. Then, if you feel like it, you can come take care of me for awhile."

"Fish shish kobish," muttered Nate's dad to the fireplace.

"What number will you be at?" Nate asked, getting to his feet and preparing to leave them alone.

She paused for a moment. "I guess you'll just have to wait for me to call you sweetheart," she finally replied, straightening her back and assuming the lotus position. "I don't know where I'm going to be yet." He left them sitting there on the pillows one behind the other as if they were in a canoe and about to head over a waterfall.

Nate heard his dad blustering something about sex farms and the Harvard of the West as he slammed the door and went out into the night.

As far as Nate new, nothing had been resolved by that Friday when school let out and he was hoping the whole thing had been forgotten but early the next morning, he was pulled from his bed, forced to sit through another meeting, and before he knew it, he and his dad were loading the International Harvester and his mother was stuffing money into his pockets and crying. By noon, she had kissed them goodbye and off they went down the road.

So there it was.

After a month of zigging and zagging their way West, visiting Dad's former teachers, classmates, students, colleagues, drinking buddies, and old friends and making detours up mountains and down canyons to take measurements or get the odd rock sample and photograph, Nate found himself in Palo Alto, California living with other displacements of academia in a apartment complex set aside for visiting researchers and their families. They had only one bedroom and virtually no furniture but Dad let Nate pitch his tent in the middle of the living area and he stayed inside it for a few days, pouting and reading Catcher in the Rye, only coming out to get food from delivery men and to bounce a rubber ball off the bare walls. It didn't take long however before he became so lonely and crazed with an odd strain of double tent/apartment fever that he felt he had to cut his losses, break out, and explore his new surroundings.

Nate set off initially, through the Eucalyptus and Bamboo, with high hopes of locating that niche of ball playing youths that he had never failed to locate in past summers of exile regardless of the county, country, or culture he found himself in. He had, after all, managed to get into games of futball in Ecuador and Brazil, basketball in Alaska, paddleball in Hawaii, squash in Maine, baseball in Mexico, botchy-ball in Nepal, and snowball fights in Iceland by this point, but by some weird configuration of characters and neighborhoods, no ball of any kind was being played on or near the campus of this place known to some as the Harvard of the West.

Nate felt hope and possibilities running low after visiting every court, field, playground, and gymnasium in the area and he was trudging across campus with shoulders aslump when he came around a corner and spotted a large pack of kids. They were sitting around a statue and chanting things like:

Bored Bored of Gerald Ford
Pardoned his Dick
Head like a gourd.

and

Carter Carter Jimmy Carter
Peanuts Peanuts
Another farter

Needless to say, Nate stopped in his tracks.

For the next few days Nate took to following this group around campus and lurked on the outskirts of their gatherings until he was able to deduce by observing the dynamics that, while the band was large, unruly, and comprised of a colorful mix of the offspring of intelligencia and the local barefoot grateful hippy kids, they followed three definite ring leaders. Two of them were twin sisters with foreign accents, long blonde ponytails, and a penchant for performance and the other was a diminutive horn player called Duckie Dugan.

On the fourth or fifth day, after a particularly inspiring performance spoofing a President Nixon speech which featured Duckie holding a large stuffed dog aloft, Nate finally got up the nerve to approach Duckie and the twins directly to see if he could join. This amused them for some reason but he learned that, while no formal audition was required and strength in numbers their ultimate goal, they would appreciate a limerick if he could think of one and were especially looking for material on the vice presidential candidates or Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme. Not knowing who Squeaky Fromme was Nate opted for the vice president theme and, after stepping to the side for short time, was able to come up with five relatively weak lines about Vice President Rockefeller and recited it for them nervously. They liked it, Duckie said, after some conferring. One of the twins, who it turned out were from Amsterdam, wanted to know why he was avoiding Squeaky.

"Who's Squeaky?" Nate finally asked.

"The woman who tried to shoot President Goard." answered the other twin. Duckie sucked on his horn awhile before asking Nate if he was aware that Rockefeller wasn't a candidate.

Becoming immediately flustered in the face of such scrutiny, Nate attempted to point out that while it was true that Rockefeller was not a candidate, both Nelson and Rockefeller were harder words to rhyme than Walt, Mondale, Bob or Dole. He had merely been challenging himself instead of taking the easy way out.

"Hole, pole, mole, goal, foal, stole, roll. Whale, pail, scale, mail, jail, stale. Knob, cob. Fault, halt." He rattled off quickly hoping to demonstrate. "Leaky, freaky, sneaky." He added for good measure.

The twins looked at each other and nodded simultaneous approval and Duckie blew a little tribute on his horn. The next day Nate was introduced to the rest of the group.

Temporarily forgetting about sports involving round balls, Nate spent the ensuing summer months roaming the campus with this precocious, bedraggled group who, for reasons which seem odder to him now as he considers them then they did at the time, devoted most of their waking hours to various ambitious and satirical writing projects. They would scrawl scatological limericks, scratch out apocalyptic poems, and force self penned plays and short stories on anything and anyone who happened by. They would read and distribute their poetry, they would act out skits on porches, they would write and sing bawdy songs. And they had no respect for anyone older than themselves.

Nate was mostly too shy to participate directly and remained on the fringe, blushing at their antics, marveling at their motivation, laughing at their lampooning, and joining in on anything that didn't strike him as too outlandish. They were constantly climbing trees to sit among the leaves and scratch in notebooks, sneaking into classrooms to scrawl on the blackboards and pocket the chalk which they would later use to scribble on sidewalks. They would re-adorn statues, redecorate exhibits and take surveys. They never missed a chance to mimic the summer school students who seemed confused but amused by it all. They hung dummies in effigy and lit them on fire. Most knew there way around juvenile hall. And they made Nate wonder why he had never even considered doing such things before.

What interests him most about that summer in retrospect, given the writing aspirations he's had since then is that, even surrounded by all that creative composition that had been so important to his comrades, the idea of authorship, be it of poem, pamphlet, or prose, held no romance for Nate and even at a time when things like peer pressure and the group dynamic were at play, he could never sustain an interested in writing past the conceptual stage.

He is well aware now of course, that the practice at pencraft should have been a fundamental goal for any future goliard, with its mastery being perhaps even more crucial than a command of those other disciplines which include rhyming, reciting, lampooning, improvisational invective, impromptu debating, daydreaming, and the ridicule of public figures, that comprise the core of a true goliards very existence. But for reasons he doesn't fully understand, during those tumultuous teenage times, times that could well have provided the perfect training ground and constituted my formative years as a scribe had he seized the opportunity, the only writing he recalls sitting down and doing took place in the public toilets on campus that, due to his father's abstemious ways, he had much occasion to use because he almost never went home.

So if tracing origins is important to understanding the turns and twists of one's life, Nate can say that it was there, in the public restrooms of Stanford University, that he was first compelled to thoughtful written response. Compelled by sentiments which were mostly anonymous in source, usually cowardly and vulgar in message, and assumedly always male, that he found expressed on the bathroom walls. It became his little specialty within the group, although they were never aware of it, and as he became familiar with the varying themes and convictions particular to certain buildings, (the Philosophy and English department restrooms became his favorites), he would look forward to his next visit, perhaps even subconsciously accelerating the process with diuretics and fibers, hoping to find new material or dialogue that might warrant some comment.

Often, he would just sit, answering no call of nature other than an urge for solitude, and fastidiously respond to every bit of graffiti as if it were a test question. Facing these stall walls that he felt, cried out especially for rebuttal, comforted by the anonymity, and with plenty of quiet time to reason out appropriately acerbic and poignant retorts, Nate etched, scratched, and scribbled his initial creative efforts.

Then, in mid August of that summer, before it had even ended, Nate's father whisked him away again on a days notice, although down to Arizona this time and not back to Vermont like he'd promised and he was separated from the group just as quickly as he'd met them. He often thinks of his short stay in Palo Alto since but because of the nomadic nature of the members, their ages, and the abrupt manner in which he departed, he never kept in touch. He has however, been able to follow the tumultuous career, (singular) of the twins as they have gone on to become one successful actress between them and he has enjoyed watching the confused media discussing the supposed 'split' personality of the star, her black political side, and why her mood seems to fluctuate from day to day.

And he had to smile to himself recently while reading about the infamous antics of the Stanford marching band in a national newspaper.

"There isn't a performance that goes by when I don't feel like disciplining them." The paper quoted an official as saying. "They toe the line of decency every weekend." The article went on to report that despite their extensive record of impropriety, no band members had actually been officially disciplined. The bandleader was identified as one C. Ducett Dugan

.

 

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