The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Saturday, January 12, 2008

About Sylvan

Another nostalgia trip.

Sylvan Woods

The other day I was walking through the Campus Center when I came upon this shocking sight: The arcade games are gone!

That's like seeing the Mona Lisa without her smile! When I was at UMass in the late 70's I was a pinball wizard. Actually even before I came to UMass I ruled such infamous times wasting parlors as the Two Guys snack bar on Boston Road and downtown's Playtown. Of course in modern times the pinball machines have been replaced by video games, but the scene was still the same - a place for gamers to hang out.

I can't believe that the games are gone for good, but then why would every single one be gone? UMass doesn't change very much, so whenever something does change it feels like time is acting like a giant eraser rubbing away my youth.

This is the giant quadrangle in the middle of the Northeast Dorm area. When I was at UMass there used to be frequent streaking episodes here on Friday and Saturday nights.

In case you are too young to know what streaking was it was a big fad on campus in the 70's where people would basically take off their clothes, usually after drinking heavily, and run around the campus nude. Sometimes the campus police would chase them. Mostly they wouldn't bother.

I did not participate in streaking. It wasn't that I was modest or anything, it was because I was gay. There used to be a gay section in the John Quincy Adams Tower in Southwest where I used to party naked all the time. Running around bare ass was a novelty for straight kids but for us queers it was the norm.

Students today would find the concept of streaking quaint if not outright corny. What student parties I've been to in recent years always had people running around starkers after midnight; mostly guys but with a surprising number of drunken nude females. Without anyone taking much notice of it, modern American youth have adopted an almost European casualness about nudity.

Although I visited them frequently, I didn't live in any of the gay ghettos around campus. Instead I lived in the rural setting of Sylvan, so named because it was, well sort of sylvanish!

sylvan (sĭl'vən)
Relating to or characteristic of woods or forest regions.
Located in or inhabiting a wood or forest.
Abounding in trees; wooded.
[Medieval Latin sylvānus, from Latin Silvānus, god of the woods, from silva, forest.]

Sylvan consists of three dorms - Cashin, McNamara and Brown - located way up on top of the hill overlooking the campus. The original farmers fields that had once made up the site have been allowed to grow wild, creating over the decades a dark woods surrounding the dorms.

To get up to Cashin from Northeast you have to climb these wooden stairs.

I lived in the dorm called Cashin.

Sexually I've never been in the closet, but I didn't always advertise my gayness. That was the case when I was at UMass. Certainly I never pretended to be straight, but there was a weird sort of unstated social contract in the 70's that made it okay to be gay as long as you didn't actually say or do anything around straight people to make that fact undeniable. It was don't ask, don't tell only the civilian version.

One day as a student I went to check out The Stonewall Center or whatever the gay campus club was called, but it wasn't open. I looked in the window and saw all kinds of political stuff on the walls. I remember thinking, "Hey, I like to suck cock but that doesn't mean I want to march down the street waving a sign about it." I never went back.

Sylvan was the hippie section of campus and most people would have called me a hippie before they called me gay. My friends and I smoked pot, took acid and worshipped the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane/Starship. We would get totally blazed and stay up all night talking. One time we wondered what would happen if you kept on talking until it was impossible to talk anymore. How would the conversation end? We decided that any conversation could continue only until everyone participating completely exhausted their knowledge, which would occur when someone asked a question no one present could answer. Thus we composed this maxim:

"Any conversation taken to it's ultimate conclusion must end in a question."

For this sort of brilliance my parents scrounged to send me to college! This is where I used to eat my meals, at the Worcester Dining Commons.

The biggest change since I lived at Sylvan is that our former tennis courts have been turned into new dorms. These dorms now block what once had been a gorgeous view of the mountains.

I remember I used to walk to class and seeing that view I would feel happy that I lived in such a beautiful place. I'm still that way. To this day I continually find myself standing in awe of the incredible beauty of our Valley.

Here's a video I made at Sylvan this morning.

This is the anniversary of The No Child Left Behind Law and Liberator Online had this to say about it:

It's the six-year anniversary of the Bush administration's landmark No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. So far NCLB has cost tens of billions of dollars and brought record levels of federal involvement in education -- with, predictably, little or nothing worthwhile from it all. The law is facing reauthorization. But many commentators are condemning it as a costly failure -- and unconstitutional, to boot.

The law's stated goal is to have 100 percent of kids achieving government-defined "proficiency" in math and writing by 2014. Yes, just six years from now. Yes, 100 percent. Needless to say, there remains a good bit of catching up to do. (This reminds us of the demented 1998 goal of Newt Gingrich and numerous GOP House members of "a drug-free America by 2002," which was also introduced with loud trumpets and straight faces.)

Says Neal McCluskey of the libertarian Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom:

"Six years of No Child Left Behind, and what do we have to show for it? Stagnant reading achievement, slowed math improvements, declining academic performance versus competitor nations, and narrowed curricula, all for the bargain price of about $24 billion per year, or a 40 percent increase over fiscal year 2001.

"This pathetic return on our investment, of course, would be shocking were it not for another inconvenient truth: The federal government has been spending billions of dollars on education every year for over four decades, and it's never produced anything but academic stagnation and lighter taxpayer wallets. "Why? Because federal policy is primarily designed to do little more than let politicians show that they 'care,' and let the education establishment and its powerful lobbyists get as much money -- and as little accountability -- as possible.

"This year, Washington ought to give the entire country a present to celebrate NCLB's sixth birthday: the law's elimination, and the end of 40-plus years of expensive failure."

I haven't been writing much about my brother John, but that's because he's doing so well there is nothing to say! Connie wrote today:

Not too much to report from our place -- and that's a good thing! John is coming along as expected. He is eating and drinking well (though Guiness is not on the menu yet) and his blood tests show him to be right on track. He constantly fights the fatigue and he has to have the IV antiviral meds one more day. However, if everything keeps going well, the catheter will be pulled out in a week or so and he will be on oral antibiotics for several months.

When it comes to recovery from a life threatening illness, no news is good news.

Speaking of Jefferson Starship, here's a cool video from 1983.

The following is an exchange of correspondence between a customer and the Irish Railway Company:

Gentlemen, I have been riding your trains daily for the last two years, and the service on your line seems to be getting worse every day. I am tired of standing in the aisle all the time on a 14-mile trip. I think the transportation system is worse than that enjoyed by people 2,000 years ago. Yours truly, Patrick Finnegan

Dear Mr. Finnegan, We received your letter with reference to the shortcomings of our service and believe you are somewhat confused in your history. The only mode of transportation 2,000 years ago was by foot. Sincerely, Larnrod Eireann.

Gentlemen, I am in receipt of your letter, and I think you are the ones who are confused in your history. If you will refer to the Bible and the Book of David, 9th Chapter, you will find that Balaam rode to town on his ass. That, gentlemen, is something I have not been able to do on your train in the last two years! Yours truly, Patrick Finnegan.


Marilyn Vennell said...

My one memory of the arcade area is that I passed through it one day to get to the Student Union and someone grabbed my behind.

Just for the record, I raised quite a fuss.

Mike Dobbs said...

Tommy, when were you at UMass? I was there from 72-76. I had a great time in my commute-from-home-uptight-no drugs-booze-or-sex-kinda-way.

Tommy said...

Marilyn, how could you blame any man for not being able to control themselves in your presense?

Mike, you were gone by the time I got there, but all UMass people are brothers and sisters no matter when they attended.

Anonymous said...

Marilyn, I think that was me. Sorry, my bad! ;) My buds and I would do that to all the hot girls in The Pub on Friday nights in the mid 70's. Went on the streak through campus as well in UMass' attempt to break UNC's record number of naked runners in '77/'78.

Anonymous said...

Tommy. I enjoyed reading your article very much! Thank you.