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
"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
"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
"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
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
"Who?" his dad wanted to
"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
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
"What? Well of course you
wouldn't want the boy to hear about..."
"There's no such word as
"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
"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
"See? I am scared apparently." He added
"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
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
Bored Bored of Gerald Ford
Pardoned his Dick
Head like a gourd.
Carter Carter Jimmy Carter
Needless to say, Nate stopped in
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
"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
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
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