Bildungsroman (1970-71)

My freshman year of college at St Joseph’s College in Philadelphia was easily the most transformative year of my life. What I learned and experienced outside the classroom was much more of an education than what I gained inside it. Before my yearlong residency at Fortier Hall (4th Floor), I was a skinny bookish introvert with limited social skills. After Fortier, I was still introverted but my social skills improved and I gained a sense of confidence in dealing with people and how I presented myself, maybe with a little bit more “Fortier” swagger. My sense of humor improved and I incorporated some of the best traits that I admired from my fellow Fortier residents.

Truth be told, I majored in basketball at St Joe’s (not Political Science or pre-Law). I squeezed classes and studies in between playing basketball with commuting students, intramural leagues and pick-up games. I spent as much time in the Fieldhouse as I did in the library. My knowledge of history and literature improved but not as much as my ball handling and outside shot. My roommate was on the freshman basketball team so that became my introduction to various social groups on campus and to some of the pretty young women in the cheerleading squad and women’s basketball club team. I even practiced with some of the young Lady Hawks and I enjoyed some social time with a few off the court. 

The fall of 1970 marked the first year that women entered St Joseph’s College. Some coeds lived on the third floor of my building and I was grateful when some helped me with the mechanics of doing laundry or sending up soup when I was not feeling well. I think their prescence largely made the building more civil. There were also parties and chances to meet women from other schools including Rosemont and Harcum. I still have fond memories of Becky from Rosemont who put up with my failed attempts at humor and seduction to woo her. I enjoyed her company and conversation.

Animal House had Bluto, Otter, Flounder, Boon and Pinto. Fortier Hall had “The Boy,” The Pope, Smilin’ Harv, Fish, Steak, The Great Eraser and Hooter, among others. Just about everyone received a nickname. I had one too but I will conveniently tell the story of my nickname possibly on a future blog post. Despite differences in personality and temperament, we mostly got along.

Fortier Hall was not exactly “Animal House” but it did have its moments. I remember a planned raid on Villanova to cut down one of their trees for Christmas. I fortunately did not attend the raid as I later had to help bail out some of my hall members who were caught and arrested by Villanova campus police. There was also a fire alarm set off at 3 a.m. on a very cold winter night. While the rest of the residents of our building dutifully evacuated and shivered outside in robes and pajamas, my fellow Fortier hall mates were “advised” to stay inside. The students freezing outside did not enjoy that practical joke.

One frigid night, the heat failed in the residents’ building. The Resident Manager of the building was housed on the first floor with his very attractive and young wife. Using the PA system, he advised us of the heating situation and to make plans accordingly to stay warm and comfortable. He closed his announcement with a request for any ideas or suggestions to stay warm. Someone yelled outside loudly, “Send your wife to the Fourth Floor.”

Fortier Hall did have a priest who lived with us. He largely (and wisely) stayed out of the way. My recollection of him was rather unique. One night, a group of my fellow residents were watching “smokers” (porno movies) in a darkened lounge.  I poked my head into the room and said, “Aren’t you worried about Father seeing this?” I should not have worried as he was sitting in the corner of the room watching the film. 

There was a protocol to put a tie on the door knob outside when you had a woman in your room. This was a “Do Not Disturb” sign alerting your roommate and others to stay away. On weekends this was not an uncommon occurrence and our good Father managed to disappear. I swear the seniors in our hall paid him off.

I experienced one food fight at St Joe’s. The cafeteria food was not good and tended to be very bland and predictable. So Food Services made an announcement that steak was going to be served. All of us looked forward to it. We shouldn’t have! The steak was tough as a pigskin. You could not cut it. You could not chew it. Soon steaks were flying around the cafeteria like footballs on the gridiron and a chant from angry students broke out, “The steak is shit, the steak is shit.” The Director of Food Services came out of his office to assess the clamor and had to dodge pieces of inedible steer aimed in his direction.

Big 5 basketball was the big social event on campus at least from December through March. Villanova was the big rival and the rollouts tended to be more brutal and caustic for that game than others. One of the most infamous rollouts was “ What’s the difference between Chris Ford and a dead baby? Answer: A dead baby doesn’t suck.” Big 5 games were generally sold out at the Palestra and raucous. A group of us also supported my roommate at freshman games and we were especially obnoxious at our home games towards the visiting team. I personally pissed off one All Star South Jersey player who looked like he was coming into the stands for a fight.

There were three influences on campus that I did not have any interest in. For some reason, guys on my floor liked to watch soap operas, especially General Hospital. I passed. I also did not share any interest in drinking beer so I often was the only sober member of our Hall during parties. I never smoked, inhaled or tried marijuana. I still recollect the Hall parties filled with the odor of Mary Jane, loud music by The Doors and the smell of spilled beer on the carpets. I did pick up one bad habit and that was cursing. Cursing was part of normal discourse among Fortier residents and I carried this bad habit home for a short while.

I don’t remember any classes or teachers at St Joe’s that made any impression on me. I learned much more from the residents of my Hall and those of another Hall (Ryder) that shared the fourth floor with us. I was in a mix with students of different countries, states, ages, economic status, talents, interests, political and cultural views. I also shared conversations with students who inspired me by their drive and ambitions for the future. My freshman year was during the Vietnam War and while there were no disruptions on campus, there was plenty of discussion and debate on our continued military involvement. (That’s why I feel bad for students who are now forced to online studies. The biggest benefits of college may be the social and intellectual connections you make not the dry textbooks and sterile lectures you muddle through.)

I finished up my education sophomore through senior year at Rutgers University in Camden. The teachers and classes were much better at Rutgers and I focused more on my studies and less on basketball and social events. I graduated with a Political Science degree with the intention to attend law school but wound up in the banking industry as a career. I owe my year at St Joe’s as the start of my life education and its influence is still a part of me.

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