If I were a true punster, the title would be The Crack of Dawn.
The first year of college right out of high school was a jumble of experiments. At 18, the school was far enough away from home that commuting was impractical; therefore I arranged a government loan to cover dormitory accommodation as well as tuition. The guy who’s room I shared upon arrival must have drawn the short straw because he didn’t seem so thrilled to have landed a green, freshman roommate. With his waist-length hair, he sported a “been there/done that” attitude. But he quickly warmed up to my irresistible charm (haha) when he carefully showed me how to use his sophisticated reel-to-reel tape stereo system, top of the line for its day. The speakers were almost as tall as I, making his impressive recording compositions from bands like The Who mind-blowingly absorbing after we would share a bowl of hashish.
Bunking with him lasted only a month or so before a spot opened up on the fraternity floor where a couple of my friends were staying, so I soon became an unofficial frat member. It wasn’t a jock frat, rather a mix of background and color. If there were any athletes in the fraternity, it ended up being two of my friends and me.
Shortly after arriving on campus, I noticed a poster at the gymnasium’s entrance inviting students to join the swim team. No experience necessary read the sign. “Hmm, I might be up for that,” I thought. I had never participated in an official school sport, and the idea of no experience was an attraction. After all, how hard could swimming be, I thought, having swum in the ocean almost every summer growing up.
But it was grueling, with daily practices of endless laps of freestyle, breast, back, and fly strokes. I didn’t know until after I joined that a friend, the only other guy who selected this college from my high school, Bob, had also joined the team. We then became friends with another Bob, who we called Dunk, an abbreviation of his last name. Bob had participated in organized swimming before, and Dunk was a superb competitive platform diver. We still call each other friends to this day. Together the three of us, along with Billy Beirster, from Brooklyn, NY, were the newbies on the swim team. We were a tad on the unrestrained side, whereas the balance of the team was,..umm, more mature.
As in any sport, the games, or meets in this case, made the practice worthwhile.
As an example, Billy would regularly, actually upon request, demonstrate his nostril inhaling prowess by snorting jello at lunch in the school cafeteria. In those days a cup of jello cubes was a staple dessert selection. Beirster would carefully and steadily balance a cube, which was at least six times larger than his nostril opening, with one finger below his nose, while he closed his other nostril, as focused snorters do. Then, with everything still, except for the wobbly jello cube precariously balanced on his fingertip, it would suddenly disappear up his nasal cavity with one quick, short snort.
A lucky set of events allowed me to letter in swimming that first season. To be given a “letter,” an embroidered patch, intended to be sewn on the back of a varsity jacket, required a certain number of points acquired by placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the official events. We competed with various state colleges and universities around Pennsylvania.
Billy Beirster had no problem snorting them.
One of the “away” meets was with a team not known to have particularly fast swimmers. Therefore our coach allowed some of us a chance to accumulate points by resting the regular starters. I ended up placing first in the 50-meter freestyle event that evening, which, if I remember correctly, gave me a healthy chunk of points towards the letter that year. A couple of my teammates were smoking pot before that meet, which may be the reason I had a further edge. I had learned my lesson with drugs and swimming earlier in the month by popping a tab of LSD just before a swim practice (not one of my most intelligent experiments). During the endurance laps, the psychedelic effects kicked in big time. The water started feeling thick like the jello Billy snorted. Every time I took a breath, hallucinations of large, colored clouds with dragon details appeared against the folded up bleachers. The lane markers on the walls at each end of the pool would spin clockwise, then counterclockwise, and gyrate to appear further distant the closer I became until I finally banged into the wall. One of the senior swimmers approached me while I was still in the water, looked into my eyes and said, “Freddie, you don’t look so good, I’m going to recommend to the coach that you go back to the dorm and rest.” “Thanks,” I gratefully replied, “I’m feeling a little out of it today.”
Receiving a letter like this required points.
But I’m rambling. This is about Dawn. Or rather Valerie. She could have been a poster flower child. After all, the Vietnam war was still in full swing and the hippie movement hadn’t yet faded. The second draft selection was processed during that first college-year and luckily I received a high number, meaning I wasn’t compelled to enlist and fight in a war that made no sense. Anyway, I was semi-intoxicated by Valerie’s presence. For whatever reason, she liked hanging around Bob, Dunk, and I. Not long after I met her though, she changed her name to Dawn. She was tall, slender, pretty, long blond hair, light and smooth olive skin, a down-to-earth sultry voice, intelligent, and au naturel. If she wanted to change her name to Dawn, who was I in my half-stoned mind to opine. I fell for her all the same. My puzzle was that she didn’t fall for me. I dreamt about her and was confident she would be the perfect girlfriend.
It was a popularly unpopular war, Vietnam.
Toward the end of that first school year, I was therefore thrilled that she wanted to accompany Bob, Dunk, and I to our hometown for a long weekend. “Maybe she’ll become enraptured with me away from school,” I naively pondered. But then she met my brother D. It must have been his long curly locks during the time he was living out a short rebel streak that attracted her to him. Bro D was renting a room from friends of mine in town. When I met them one morning, I walked into his room and there they were, in bed together. He just looked up at me and smiled. I could only smile back, even though there was a sudden gnarly turbulence in my gut. He was doing what any red-blooded guy would do if given a chance, so I could only admire him for that. He happened to conquer what I couldn’t. He didn’t know I liked her. I never told him because admitting so would have acknowledged a made-up fantasy. Anyway, better him than someone else, I remember thinking.
Shortly after that, something clicked. How could I take anyone serious who had changed her name from Valerie to Dawn? Her closest friend changed her name to Born. The bohemian outlook started seeming a little too hippy dippy. Just that quick she was erased from my desire board.
I quit full-time college midway through the 3rd semester (2nd year) as I couldn’t figure out why I was going into debt studying for a degree I didn’t much care about. I’d go on to attend five universities over the next 10 years (another experiment I wouldn’t recommend) before figuring it out and receiving a diploma, or two. But what brother D didn’t realize, nor did I, is that toward the end of that first year, he helped me over a short phase with the Break of Dawn.