"I'm in with the in crowd,
I go where the in crowd goes
I'm in with the in crowd
And I know what the in crowd knows ..."
About 50 faces looked up to regard his performance, and 49 of those faces were looking blank. But he made me smile.
Kesey himself came to campus to visit once or twice. In the 1980s I had a chance to talk with Kesey at a conference, and he told me he always thought of Evergreen as "The school without chairs." Initially he was talking about furniture, but since the school didn't have traditional academic departments with department chairs, maybe he was giving me a double meaning.
TESC's first Library head honcho was the late, great Jim Holly. Among his many innovative ideas was the concept to create a collection that would be media-integrated. If you browsed the shelves for say, H.L. Mencken, you would not only find monographs but also sound cassettes of interviews with him. If you wanted to read about bridge engineering, you might find a portable video tape loop of Galloping Gertie (to be played on machine that is now extinct, I'm sure) next to some dry engineering tome. The collection reflected the dynamic and creative experimental curriculum. No other library of equal size was as fun to peruse as Evergroove's.
One area of the library that caught the interest of a certain student composer was the music section. He discovered the sound cassettes had extra room at the end of the tapes. So he recorded his own work on them. Or, he recorded some commentary. Then he returned it to the shelves. I sometimes wonder how many of these little sound bombs he bequeathed are still in the collection.
This same individual like to don a tinfoil mask and walk around in his alter-ego of "Nom Binto." Also, I was present when he tied himself up, donned a knit hat, declared himself the "Easter Pimp," and then hopped around like a bunny until he broke through a window. He also enjoyed shaving off his eyebrows.
What happened to this person? He enlisted in the military and served a stint as one of the guys with his finger on the button in a nuclear missile silo in the Midwest. During the Reagan years, no less. As one who grew up and came of age in the Cold War era, I consider it a miracle we are still here.
Anyway, today this artist/soldier is a highly regarded composer. I have a couple of his CDs and they are really creative, original, and a joy to play. This guy is really good. If you want to find out more about the thoughts of Nom Binto, I would suggest playing Russian roulette with the older sound cassettes in the TESC Library collection and continue playing after the commercial recording is finished.
An oldie from 1983.
There were two aberrations from this neat serial run that deserve mention. The first was The Daily Zero, published as a satire of Olympia's newspaper In April 1977. Today's Olympian was called The Daily Olympian from 1938-1982, and "The Daily Zero" was a longtime common nickname for the paper. The Daily Zero was the brainchild of CPJ staff Matt Groening, Karrie Jacobs, Brad Pokorny, Steve Rabow, Jill Stewart, and Charles Burns and the product poked fun at the right-wing slant of The Daily Olympian. Since the satire had mock ads making fun of Olympia business establishments, there was considerable furor over the publication of this one-shot. It did have the look and feel of the real thing. One bit of humor that might have been missed by some locals: Under "Today's Chortle" The Daily Zero had, "It's getting so you can't tell the boys from the girls these days." In Olympia in 1977, there were still people saying that and thinking they were being clever.
The second effort was entitled The Crapper Point Journal and was not a spinoff from the CPJ. It was underwritten in 1979 by a fed-up faculty member who shall remain anonymous. She gathered up students to produce a spoof of the CPJ and, instead of making fun of Olympia as The Daily Zero did a couple years before, this project turned inward. The premise of this paper was that it was published in 1985, foreshadowing what the school would become in six years. Two features worth mentioning, the full page promo for TESC: "Evergreen, it's not just a college, it's a countryclub," and an interview
While I was back there I visited the ghost-town campus of Franconia College in New Hampshire. Franconia was another alternative school, but it folded up in the second half of the 1970s and Evergreen had a small wave of refugees come from the Granite State. A former Franconia student gave me a guided tour of the place. We had to dodge security people and it sort of reminded me of the days when we would sneak into the TESC steam tunnels at night. The grounds were overgrown and the buildings were starting to show some wear. It really brought home the high-risk nature of experimental colleges in those days. There were other schools that folded up as well during that era.
The best paying job I had in Vermont, armed with my TESC BA in Liberal Arts, was driving a taxicab in Burlington. I never let the company know I was a college grad. There was one other guy in the fleet who had a BA, and the others called him "Doc." If people asked me what I did for a living, I enjoyed answering, "I'm in transportation."
Secondly, the clocktower was a magnet for mountain climber types. Rappelling down the tower was sort of an Evergreen badge of honor. Gov. Evans and faculty member Willi Unsoeld (famous for making the first ascent from the west ridge of Mount Everest in 1963) were two high-profile clocktower adventurers. Willi was a great guy, by the way. He was one of those rare people who exuded a kind of energy that made you feel good just being around him. A charisma, I guess. Evergreen knew how to use his talents in the early years in recruitment efforts and also whenever they got in trouble with legislators. Hey, this guy was no wimpy and pale aesthete. He climbed Everest, by God. Legislators liked that. And so did we, actually.
But the third thing I think about whenever I see that clocktower is really the main thing. I don't know what it is like today, but for years the clocks on that tower never worked in harmony. Seminars, lectures, movies, never started when they were supposed to. We were on Evergreen Time. Our very own time zone, totally separate from Pacific Standard Time. And it was OK. Relax. Don't get uptight about it, man. Time is relative.
Unfortunately, the real world didn't work that way. I had classes in grad school at the UW where they locked the door after class started. If you were late-- too bad. And I wasn't prepared for grades. Or tests. Or the Socratic method. Or feeling like I was back in high school. Or doing a lot of work and not really learning anything except the art of data regurgitation.
During the most serious closure threat (1977), several alternate uses for the TESC facilities were discussed, including converting the campus to State offices or a police academy. Sen. Hubert Donohue (D-Dayton) and Sen. "Slim" Rasmussen (D-Tacoma) co-sponsored a bill to make the campus an extension of the University of Washington. The Evans-McCann transfer of power was the spark that set the idea in motion. Of Rasmussen, the Seattle Times said, his "blood pressure rises at just the mention of Evans' name." Two other big name sponsors included Sen. August Mardesich (D-Everett) and Sen. Sam Guess (R-Spokane).
Several topics came up during the debate over Evergreen. TESC was more expensive to run than the other schools, costing more per student. Enrollment was declining. The incredibly low rate of in-state students as compared to other schools was brought up, since Evergreen's original mission was two-fold: to offer an alternative type education, and, here's the sticky part, to serve Southwest Washington.
Here's my personal observation. I graduated from an enormous near-the-peak-of-the-Baby-Boom class in Olympia High School (there was no Capital High School in those days). When I went to Evergreen, I think my high school might have had more students than the College. Out of several hundred OHS grads, only about 10 of us, at most, went to TESC. Out of that small group, only two of us that I am aware of were true products of the Olympia School system, the others were children of Evergreen staff-- meaning they were new to town at that time. The other guy who was a fellow native put in one year then transferred to the UW. So the school got a lot of mileage out me. Many locals who later attended the College told me recruiters used my name (as if I was some sort of somebody, which I wasn't) as proof they were indeed serving SW Washington.
Obviously, the College survived this closure attempt. But the political events of the 1976-77 school year created a crisis that made the new Evans administration begin the process to tighten the reins on some of the charmingly eccentric qualities of Evergroove and make the school more palatable to the powers that be. And, no matter what you might think of this, you have to admit he succeeded with flying colors.
President McCann surprised the students when he announced, at the start of the 1976-77 school year, that he was going to resign halfway through his second 6 year term as President. By coincidence, Gov. Evans, who was not running for a 4th term of office, was going to be looking for work after Jan. 1977. The students wanted to have a say in the hiring process, but when we returned from Christmas break, we discovered the Trustees, all appointed by Dan Evans, had appointed Dan Evans as the new President of TESC. Dr. McCann was given a two-year sabbatical as well. This whole affair really generated a lot of bad press for Evans, McCann, and TESC. The legislators, led by Sen. A.L. "Slim" Rasmussen, investigated the ethics of this transfer of power and as a result came closer than any other time to closing or traditionalizing (like that word? I just made it up) the school. Locals called TESC, "Dan the Man's Retirement Plan."
I'll let the headlines of the era tell the story. Here's the key: ST=Seattle Times, DO=Daily Olympian, TNT=Tacoma News Tribune, BS=Bremerton Sun, SPI=Seattle Post-Intelligencer, VC=Vancouver Columbian, A=Argus, DJA=Daily Journal American.9/15/76 "Evergreen College President to Resign" ST
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."