I watched the Inauguration and Lunch, and await the Parade. I have nothing to add to the festivities, save that it was a great speech. It is also, appropriately, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I have nothing as valuable to add as undoubtedly an army of other, more eloquent writers will say. So I will pass on that. Instead, let me tell a story that only I can tell, though it is a tale without a moral.

This has been in my head for the past couple of days, and I don’t know that it will have a point, but we shall see.

When I was at TCU, I was quartered in Tom Brown, B301. And Tom Brown Hall and Jarvis Hall had formed a semi-collective virtual “coed” dorm. At the time, co-ed dorms were the great kerfuffle, Vietnam having just wound down, along with whether holding the doors open for women was requisite chivalry or oppression. To Jarvis Hall feminists, it was invariably the latter. Tom Brown, on the other hand, had its own library, which, hilariously, contained the pledge books of all the fraternities. I presume Jarvis had the same for the sororities.

B 301 Tom Brown Residence Hall

B 301 Tom Brown Residence Hall

It was an oddly stratified campus, with the athletes getting a brand-newly refurbished superdorm (which they regularly trashed) with pool tables, etc. The Fraternities and Sororities were all officially ON campus, in a new winding stone-building row on a chunk of the ever-shrinking golf course — along with Brachman Hall, which was the official “coed” dorm, which meant that Brachman HOUSED men and women in the same building, if you didn’t count the three-inch-thick fire door that separated the wings and was always locked — a literal firewall between the sexes, and cynically used by TCU’s recruiting arm to fill in the little college evaluation box that asked “Coed Dorms?” with “YES!”

Yeah. The TCU Administration was as enthusiastic about coed dorms as today’s Republicans are about Obamacare.

TB-J, as we were known, was filled with the actual Timothy Bottoms in “The Paper Chase” students, and they actually had their own seminars and classes scheduled (there was a philosophy class in the library, which was right through the wall from my bed.)

Timothy Bottoms, Paper Chase

Timothy Bottoms, Paper Chase = TCU minus the jackets & ties

And so, when the Speakers’ Series brought in an author or lecturer, TB-J would have an informal “after” reception for said speaker, with perhaps 20 or 30 TB-J (or anyone else, but, frankly, the athletes and frat-rats were more interested in pursuing the Nieman-Marcus models who attended the university and aspired to be a Tri-Delt, the Alpha Female sorority on Campus) students.

As a result, I had long one-on-one talks with Gene Roddenberry, Alvin Toffler, Erich von Daniken and others, plus the one I don’t even know why I was there for, which was  Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin. You just had to stick around when everybody wandered off at the end.  Before that, I just hung to the periphery and observed, already in writer’s discipline without yet knowing nor desiring that I was going to write for a living.

proxmire-circa 1973

Proxmire–1960s

This is not meant as brag or bray but I realize that I’m the only one who can tell the story, although I will leave it up to the Reader to decide what it means. I will recount what I observed as clearly as I can recall.

***

Bill Proxmire was a famous Democratic Senator from Wisconsin at the time. Wisconsin Historical Society:

… Proxmire won his first major political victory in 1957 in a special election to fill the seat of Sen. Joseph McCarthy — the Republican censured for his attacks on people he accused of being communists. Re-elected in 1958, Proxmire went on to overwhelming victories in 1964, 1970, 1976 and 1982…. (Wisconsin Historical Society)

He was most famous for his monthly “Golden Fleece” award, which was, for many years, a meme in the Three-Network Daze of television. It made good TV, and, once a month, Bill Proxmire would name some Federal Program that looked absurd, at least superficially. Many were. Many weren’t. But it was a great PR device and Americans who watched the evening news were used to that little tag of Proxmire’s Golden Fleece just before Walter Cronkite intoned “And that’s the way it is …”

proxmire golden fleece

March 11, 1975 Golden Fleece Press Release
(Wisconsin Historical Society)

Now, you must understand that I was a fish out of water at TCU: member of an old Abolitionist family at a school founded by Secessionists. A hater of the Dallas Cowboys since the first and second (the Ice Bowl) NFL Championship games with the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers. A Republican among Democrats, most especially on the Debate Team, of whom I have written elsewhere.

And for three long years, I learned to listen appreciatively to opinions and sentiments that I in no wise shared. When I arrived the Dallas Cowboys fans were still celebrating having won the 1972 Superbowl , and I spent my first year in Texas with bite-marks on my tongue*.

[* In 1976, I had the distinct pleasure of watching these selfsame fans in opposite, glum, mode, having lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21–17. So, all things come to he who waits, or, time wounds all heels, according to your theol0gical bent.]

And, if you like over-the-top bragging, high-pitched rebel squeals and drunken brays in a Southern nasal accent ( e.g. “LOVE them Cowboys!”, “Super Dallas Super Cowboys!”,  “Yee-haw” and so forth), that was the best  place in the entire Universe to be (although in all other senses, Fort Worth and Dallas are bitter rivals, not the least of which being Fort Worth TCU versus Dallas SMU). If not, the opposite.

cowboys 72

The celebrations continued a full two years later …

It was good training, in retrospect.

Even then I noticed that while most people I knew had very detailed and precise political philosophies, they were not thought through, and were, among the vast majority of Democrats and the very small minority of Republicans (this was in a day that no Republican could be elected in Texas, which was changing, with former Texas Governor John Connally’s defection to Richard Nixon’s GOP) almost always cookie cutter. I had begun to understand that, while most people know very well exactly what they’re for or against (as, say “Second Amendment Rights”), they have adopted those views without ever thinking them up or through.

They have put their political beliefs on like a suit of clothes, and, sitting at TB-J’s after-speech soirée with Senator Proxmire, I could predict the questions based on the cl0thing. In a school of neatly pressed shirts, Tom Brown were the fellows with faded flare jeans and wild t-shirts. In a school of fashion models*, the Jarvis women dressed straight Gloria Steinem.

[* I kid you not, TCU even had a contract with the Miss America Pageant that no matter who won “Miss Texas” she would always be a student at “TCU” — as North Texas State University’s (in Denton, 30 miles north of Fort Worth and TCU) Phyllis George found out.

Early life [Wikipedia] — George was born to Diantha Cogdell and James George in Denton, Texas.  She attended the University of North Texas for three years until crowned Miss Texas in 1971. At that time,Texas Christian University awarded scholarships to Miss Texas honorees. As a result, Phyllis left UNT** and enrolled at TCU for several weeks until winning the Miss America crown later that fall. She is a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. George won the 1971 Miss America pageant…

** If you note that acronym, you’ll understand why they changed to NTSU. One letter added to a sweatshirt was too juvenile a stunt not to be wildly popular with North Texas male teenagers.]

Phyllis George

2011 WEHT Phyllis George

The Jarvis hall was drooping into a sort of shabby elegance, with soft yellow lighting from the aging ‘Forties light sconces, with good industrial easy chairs and sofas. The room was filled but not packed. Proxmire was a Senatorial exemplar of the Distinguished Gentleman, elegant pin-stripedsuit, elegant  coiffure (top, evidently not entirely his own), graceful in gesture and pleasantly modulated in senatorial voice.

William Proxmire 1976

Proxmire @ Univ. Wisconsin River Falls, 1976

And all of the questions were pretty much political rote as were Senator Proxmire’s. As I said, if you looked at the clothing style of the questioner, you could pretty much guess the question in advance. If you watched the evening news, you pretty much already knew the answer.

As I’ve noted, my debate coach, James I. Luck, taught us to discard the ephemeral arguments, focus on the core issues and look for the contradictions.

Again, I did not know why I was there. Probably because my girlfriend and wife-to-be (also not known at the time) was busy with an evening class, or I didn’t want to be working on physics or calculus problems. I knew who Proxmire was and I had no real desire to see him, but I attended the speech at the old now-demolished Student Union (where I began my vocation) and thence to Jarvis Hall’s parlor, where I listened and watched and,  after listening carefully, I spotted a contradiction.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kU2MVenYHA]

(I do not remember what it was, and it’s probably not important, those zeitgeist issues having moved into the forgotten ephemera of history.)

I carefully considered my question, and I asked: Senator Proxmire?

He acknowledged me. I asked my question, slowly and carefully: “You say such and such, but then you say so and so. Isn’t that a contradiction?”

Yeah. I know. Bad boy. An even number of stereoscopically linked eyeballs rotated in my direction and clicked onto me like a laser-sight painting a target.

smart_bomb targeting

And then Senator Proxmire began to speak.

He was a Senator, and I had no expectation that this would be a devastating question. But I DID feel the discomfiture of the audience, you know, that JERK.

An odd or even number of necks swiveled forty-five degrees to the Senator.

I had seen the small flicker as he recognized the import of the question and he spoke honeyed words, as adoring eyes gratefully drank in his glowing answer.

Except it was BS. I knew it, and he knew it, and we made brief eye contact, and then he finished and I made a motion of assent, even though he knew and I knew that he hadn’t answered the question at all. And, from the flicker of recognition that passed between us when I equally nebulously nodded my agreement (i.e. “I know that we agree that a) you answered A question and b ) it wasn’t the question asked and c) we both know it) I recognized that while all might be convinced that the pesky question had been put to bed, neither Senator Proxmire nor I were, and that he recognized that I could have pressed the point but decided NOT to.

All were happy.

Which was WHY I chose not to. I had the answer to my question: yes, it was contradictory. Yes he knew it. And that was that.

No point in being a jerk just to be a jerk. The cookie cutter people were mollified and believed that Senator Proxmire had adequately dismantled the question. Sleeping dogs and all that.