This story fascinated me so much that it stuck in my cranium for years. This was weirder than anything I could make up, and he served as the inspiration (i.e., I simply lifted him) for a character I used in my comic book series Bezango WA 985 (shameless plug, you can find my comix for sale at the Danger Room, just ask for the books by Olympia's oldest cartoonist, which isn't really true since I'm sure Tucker Petertil is a bit older than me). Anyway, here's how this Evergreen legend turned into a comic character, (my character had a cape, mask, and a big M on his shirt) I'll quote from issue #2:
"If you spill something, like a glass of orange juice on the kitchen counter, you can call the Midnight Sponge at any time, doesn't matter if it is 2 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon, and he'll show up with a big sponge and clean the mess. We all know his true identity, but we pretend we don't. And when we run across his day-job self, we are always sure to praise the heroic deeds of that mysterious hero and conclude with, 'I wonder who he really is. Where does he go? What dark secret is he protecting?' Then both of us go through a mutual bit of acting, since I'm sure he knows that we know who he really is."
"If you want to know who he really is, I'm afraid you'll just have to move to Bezango."
"Washington, a great state, built by pioneer families ..."
And here I thought, how nice. He's going to recognize live-off-the-land Territorial families like mine. People who came here in the wild and woolly days to seek a better life. Citizens who contributed to the creation of entirely new communities. Real pioneers, hardscrabble workers and farmers who sacrificed everything they had to take a risk and jump into the unknown.
"... Yes, great families, like the Boeings, the Weyerhaeusers ..."
They were watching J.P. Patches.
Any Baby Boomer who grew up in Puget Sound knows about J.P. Patches. Oh, there were other shows for kids: Brakeman Bill (with Crazy Donkey), Capt. Puget, Wunda Wunda, Stan Boreson. But J.P. was the king. His show was live, improvisational, and fun. I was a member of his earliest audience out of KIRO, and grew up with him. When I had to write a paper about children's television, it seemed only natural to write about J.P.
To my amazement, when I left a message at the TV station about my interest, J.P. called me back and agreed to talk with me. I had seen him only twice before in person. I saw him at the Century 21 Exposition (Seattle World's Fair) in 1961, and he also came to the grand opening of the shopping complex where Rainy Day Records now sits, which took place about the same era.
When I showed up at the station early one morning, I was ushered into a little sound booth. Through the glass I saw the set of J.P.'s home in the City Dump. In the booth there was a TV and it was playing what was being broadcast at the moment, a really low-budget choppy animated bit about "Little Johnny Everything," which had an annoying jingle throughout it. The door opened, and it was J.P. "Are you Willis?" he asked. Yup. "Keep watching," he pointed at the screen, "Maybe you'll learn something new." He followed this comment with a jaded laugh and walked to the set to begin performing.
There were two things that really stick in my mind about his performance that morning, over 30 years ago.
The philosophy of education and the types of courses offered at TESC are generally:
Too liberal 64.1%
Too conservative 1.1%
Be continued along present lines 31.1%
Be changed to a more conventional four year college 53.5%
Be closed and tax dollars used elsewhere 9.4%
Dr. McCann, President of TESC:
Is doing an excellent job 35.8%
Is doing a mediocre job 28.2%
Should be replaced 35.8%
The existence of TESC has contributed to the drug abuse and crime problem in this area:
To a very great extent 35.4%
No more than a conventional college 55.2%
Very little 9.3%
Seminars and open meetings at TESC such as have been presented concerning male homosexuality, lesbianism, marijuana usage, World Liberation, and other such thought provoking subjects should be:
The hiring of instructors such as anti-war activist Stephanie Coontz to teach at TESC:
Should be encouraged 5.8%
Is acceptable, if balanced by more conservative and conventional instructors 38.2%
Is totally unacceptable 41.6%
This survey generated quite a bit of publicity at the time, and Rep. Kuehnle had some unsolicited responses. Some quotes from those:
""[TESC is] a permanent rock festival here in this town for we taxpayers to support the creeps from out of state who just come here to hide from life. This school is encouraging these young people to use drugs, stay dirty, learn more and meet more homos."
"Did you know that the paved area in front of the libary is known as 'RED SQUARE'?"
There have been many fine lectures it has been my privilege to attend at TESC, but three of them especially stick out in my mind. This trio of presentations reveal, I'm afraid, that I wasn't really all that intellectual as a student. It was the form rather than the content that sticks in this old cartoonist brain of mine.
The first lecture was probably the most utilitarian in terms of helping me later in life. Thad Curtz was giving a talk on child psychology. He played a tape of a baby crying for five straight minutes without interruption. For most of us 20-somethings who had yet to discover the sleeplessness of parenthood, this was excruciating and seemed to last forever. When I became a father a few years later, having the crying limited to five minutes would've been welcome.
I can't remember what the point of his lecture was supposed to be, but Byron Youtz gave the second memorable class. He had set up a giant mobile in one of the lecture halls, and set it spinning. But something went horribly wrong and it careened out of control, threatening to clobber anyone who could not duck. A real Pit and the Pendulum situation. There might have been some screaming. That always spices up any educational experience.
The third memorable lecture was around 1978-79 by the late, great Richard Jones for the Shakespeare program. And this one actually had an impact on TESC administrative policy. Some of us were loitering around the outside of the lecture hall doors, just visiting before going in, when we saw a particularly agitated classmate of ours push past us and storm in. A few seconds later we heard Richard yell that student's name followed by a line I normally associated with B-movies, "Nooooooooooooooo!" Then we saw several dazed looking students come out the door as if a bomb had just gone off. Apparently our stirred up fellow pupil had leaped over several rows of seats to pound the living daylights out of another attendee. A few years later, the existence of a "problem-student" monitoring task force had been revealed at TESC, and I believe Richard was a member. He cited the 1978-79 incident as the spark that created this group.
According to conventional wisdom, Henry McCleary sold his entire operation to Simpson in the last hours of Dec. 1941 due to several factors: his age, the fact that his timber was played out, the unions were closing in, and the start of another war economy. Sam Lanning quoted Henry in Jan. 1942, "Sam, I am old and I have had enough. The whole world business has gone to war and production for war needs. I have closed out and bought 22,000 acres of grazing land stocked with cattle, quite a distance from town and prefer raising beef to making bombs."
But there was another, more subtle, reason for Henry's departure. One of his chief business clients, Japan, was now our enemy. Since Henry was a man of action, leaving very little in the way of written thoughts, we can only guess what was going through his mind in Dec. 1941. Pearl Harbor has never been mentioned as one of the reasons for his selling out, but one cannot look at the McCleary-Japan relationship without concluding Henry must have felt some sense of betrayal.
"I don't know about this place," he squirmed, "I might get ideas."
I told him to relax. By the mid-1980s I was convinced TESC had watered down their entire school to the point where it was pretty much like any other college, and I told him so. The electricity and wonderful eccentricity of the 1970s was over, I said. Evergreen was now safe and bland. There was little danger of "getting ideas."
Just then, as if on cue, someone walked by in a giant condom costume.
That's what I get for generalizing.
In addition to speaking at the ceremony, Proxmire was available in one of the lecture halls for a Q&A session. He praised Evergreen's experimental approach. I remember he disappointed us a little on one topic. A student asked him a very simple question, "When is it going to happen?" And we all knew what that meant without any further qualification. When was Nixon going to be removed? Proxmire sort of smiled and went into a long explanation why the impeachment process should be avoided if possible. Of course, this was only a month before the existence of the Watergate tapes became known. And Spiro Agnew was still the Veep-- the thought of President Agnew seemed even worse than Nixon.
Today Sen. Proxmire is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and is seldom mentioned, which is a shame. Happy birthday, Senator.
Rep. Kuehnle made a motion in Apr. 1973 to eliminate TESC from the budget (an 11 million savings at that time). He called Evergreen "a school for poets, nonconformists and revolutionaries." Rep. Barney Goltz, a Bellingham Democrat, responded on the floor with, "I don't know what Mr. Kuehnle has against poets," and then added:
There once was a solon named Kuehnle
Who very much opposed Evergreenly.
In spite of his song,
Mr. Kuehnle is wrong.
I think his idea's obscenely.
"Congratulations," responded Kuehnle, "You sound like a four-year graduate of that institution." (I wonder what Rep. Kuehnle would've made of the poem I described in pt. 23 of this series?)
Kuehnle's motion was defeated by a vote of 82 to 3.
The Spokane Rep. made a second attempt to shut down TESC later that year. This time he described the school as "an academic fairyland" and a place where students "build architecturally pleasing teepees." He was defeated in a voice vote. And Rep. Goltz got in another poem:
Mr. Kuehnle is back on the floor,
knocking down Evergreen's door.
He will not owe it
To any one poet,
But I think it's to be laid on the floor.
More serious attempts to shut down or drastically change the school would come later. In the meantime, these attacks were a tremendous aid in helping TESC students develop an espirit de corps and try even harder to make the experiment work.