……. Lonely is the hunter who, thinking of his prey, leaves his true love’s warm embrace to face the cold winter day. Then, bypassing his greatest foe – a frozen cabin door, he sets out on his endless search, uncertain what he's searching for …….
I remember the first night Lori and I spent in this apartment. Married one week, we moved to Philadelphia, excited about the start of medical school, but nervous about living in a big city.
On our first night in this apartment, we slept on the wooden floor under a large sleeping bag. When I think back to that night, every sense in my body experiences a Pavlovian response.
I can still feel the two of us lying naked together under the sleeping bag, studying the August night through an open window as though we were seeing the moon and stars for the first time. I can still remember how her Imprevu perfume rode the summer breeze and how the taste of her kisses made me feel like I just inherited a candy store.
I can still hear Lori’s voice whispering to me, and four years later, the sounds are no less symphonic. Four years later, the memories are still vivid and exciting, but on the night before my graduation from medical school, I find myself without Lori and once again alone.
Life is truly a matter of perspective. On our first night in this apartment, looking through the window from a vantage point on the floor, I remember seeing only a clear August sky, countless stars that twinkled in synchrony with our heartbeats, and a Gleasonesque moon that seemed almost alive.
Tonight, from the vantage point of an empty bed, I can't see the stars or the moon. Looking down through my bedroom window, I can only see the emaciated rooftops of a North Philadelphia tenement.
Life is full of such incongruities, or as they say in North Philadelphia, "Some days, you're the pigeon, and some days, you're the windshield."
Tonight, I'm definitely the windshield.
Graduation day from medical school has been the light in my forest for as long as I can remember. I had such plans for the day. I saved $300, and planned to take Lori and my father to Le Bec Fin to celebrate. It would have been worth the $35 prix fixe just to see my father ask the waiter for a draft of Stegmaier beer, and watch him search for a salad bar in the fashionable French restaurant. It would have been worth the entire three-hundred bucks just to make Lori feel as though our dreams were finally coming true.
When I think of how long I’ve dreamed of graduating from medical school, I realize all the fireworks, parades, and revelry I once envisioned as integral and inseparable parts of my dream now seem unlikely. I’ve been a dreamer my entire life, and even though very few of my dreams have ever come true, having dreams has helped me get through many difficult times. In many ways, the ability to dream has been much more important in my life than the likelihood of any of my dreams ever embracing reality.
I’m sure others will hear cannons firing, whistles blowing, and brass bands playing tomorrow, but I think my own graduation from medical school will be a much quieter event. In fact, I anticipate a truly underwhelming May 25, 1978.
One of the highlights of graduation is supposed to be the special awards. I can picture the awards ceremony now.
"The Dr. Morris J. Fishnet Award is presented to that student who has demonstrated perspicacity in the physiological perspectives of the biochemical aspects of anatomy. This year's award is being presented to Dr. Morris J. Fishnet, IV by the two previous winners of the award, Dr. Morris J. Fishnet, II and Dr. Morris J. Fishnet, III."
"The Generic Drug Company Award is presented to that student who has demonstrated perspicuity in the endorsement and concomitant prescription of Generic Drug Company products. This year's award is being presented by the company’s representative, Roxanna Hardplace, to Dr. F. Hiawatha Richman."
There might even be an award for me.
"The Big Palooka Award is presented to that student whose mother ran away from home with a prizefighter. This year's award is presented to Dr. Peter Kaminski by the towel boy from Mickey’s Gym."
It's sad, but true. My mother actually ran away from home with a boxer when I was six years old. From what I can remember, my mother was a very beautiful, but equally frustrated, woman. Having spent her entire youth in New York City, it was difficult for her adjusting to life as the wife of a Polish immigrant in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
I remember how her eyes would light up when she heard people talking about New Year's Eve on Times Square or some new Broadway musical. Somehow, the smile in her eyes always seemed short-lived.
My father, on the other hand, never understood the lighter side of life. Born in Poland, he came to the United States a few years before the start of World War II. While still a teenager, he worked in Wilkes-Barre's anthracite coal mines to support an ailing father. When the war began, he was drafted into the Army and sent to the Philippines. Following the war, he returned to Wilkes-Barre where his entire family was buried in a small parish cemetery.
Not long after returning to Wilkes-Barre, my father renewed his acquaintance with Eddie Kuharcik. “Eddie the Shoemaker,” as he was known to everyone in the Heights section of town, was a Polish immigrant himself. A close friend of my grandfather, he was the one and only person who eagerly awaited my father's return from the war.
Up in years and starting to experience failing health, Eddie saw my father as heir apparent to the throne of Heights shoemaker. Eddie saw my father as the son he always wanted but never had. Because of this, he taught my father the shoe repair trade as a father would his own son.
Eddie did more than just teach my father how to repair shoes. He also helped my father become established as a well-liked and respected member of the Heights community and the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church. Going one step further, he invited his granddaughter to spend a few weeks in Wilkes-Barre for the sole purpose of meeting his young protégé.
Kuharcik was crafty, and he created and nurtured a romance between his granddaughter and my father. He charmed them both with his inimitable Old World style, and repeatedly told them they were meant for each other like a pair of shoes.
Six months after they met, my mother and father were married. As a wedding present, Eddie gave them the Market Street Shoe Repair Shop - lock, stock, and Shinola. Following the wedding, Eddie retired. He died two months later.
Although my parents, Stanley and Anastasia Kaminski, tried to make their marriage work, they lived in different worlds. My mother was a dreamer who yearned for the finer things in life. Conversely, my father only understood the principles of a strict work ethic.
If this disparity ultimately caused friction between my parents, they did a good job keeping it from me. In truth, they probably did a better job keeping it from each other.
My mother was an incredibly beautiful woman. Even as the wife of a poor shoemaker, she managed to always appear well-dressed and well-groomed. When she took me shopping, many different men would smile at her and go out of their way to talk with her. I often thought she went shopping just to attract attention, something she never seemed to receive from my father.
At that time in her life when my mother was starved for attention and affection, Sammy Catello appeared. Sammy "The Cat" Catello, as he was known professionally, was a boxer of sorts. He was the prototype neighborhood tough guy when Pancrazio “Penny” Fanucci talked him into leaving his factory job to become a professional boxer. Unknown to Sammy, this magnanimous gesture was little more than another of Penny Fanucci's many get-rich-quick schemes.
After Fanucci convinced Sammy that, even as an untested neophyte pugilist, he was about to do for boxing what sliced white bread did for the Stroehmann Bakery, Sammy was carefully guided through a few dozen professional fights, all of which he won with remarkable facility. In a very short period of time, Sammy amassed a professional record of twenty-five wins and no losses, with nineteen of his wins by knockout.
In truth, all of Sammy’s fights were thrown by his opponents for a modest financial honorarium, as well as the threat of losing any of a number of vital body parts if Catello lost. The beauty of the scheme was that Sammy, who lacked the intellectual wherewithal to think his way out of a hat, truly believed it was his right hook that was taking his opponents to the canvas rather than previous financial arrangements between Fanucci and Sammy’s opponents. Poor Sammy had no clue the rapid course of events that were supposedly leading him to a shot at the middleweight title represented just another payday for Fanucci.
With Sugar Ray Robinson’s first retirement, Sammy Catello’s name was added to the list of contenders for Robinson’s vacated middleweight title. With a near-future title shot clearly in sight, Sammy was scheduled to fight the fifth-ranked middleweight contender, “Lightning” Jack Richards, in the main event of a star-studded fight card at the fabled Saint Nicholas Arena in New York City. The bout, which was billed as, “The Battle of the Unbeatens,” pitted Catello against Richards, an older and more experienced boxer who was undefeated in twenty-nine professional fights, of which nine were by knockout.
Thousands of Wilkes-Barre residents went to New York City to see the fight, with many of them betting large amounts of money on their new hometown hero. Penny Fanucci also made a large wager on the fight. Interestingly, Fanucci didn't place any bets on Sammy Catello. Instead, he bet a small fortune on Jack Richards. Unlike the vast majority of Catello’s fans, Fanucci had the distinct advantage of knowing just how good a fighter Sammy was - or wasn't.
The main event lasted only one round. It took Jack Richards just two minutes to change Sammy Catello from a contender to a bum, and in the process, make Penny Fanucci a richer man. Thousands of fans, who traveled on buses and trains to New York to cheer for Sammy Catello, found themselves returning to Wilkes-Barre with empty pockets and emptier dreams.
Of all the people whose lives had been changed by the fight, Sammy Catello seemed to have been affected the least. Following the fight, he started seeing things differently, and was easily convinced by Fanucci that losing could be more profitable than winning.
Sammy continued to fight professionally, winning an occasional bout, but throwing more fights than could be explained by the laws of probability. He quickly gained the reputation of having taken more dives than Jacques Cousteau.
Somehow, Sammy seemed unaffected by such notoriety. Growing richer with each consecutive fight, he saw Wilkes-Barre as his oyster. Sammy spent most of his free time flaunting his good fortune by driving through Wilkes-Barre in a red Cadillac convertible that had black cat insignias on each door. Even during thunderstorms and blizzards, Sammy drove his convertible with the top down as if to defy nature itself.
The image of the angry young man, with the jet black hair and red Cadillac convertible, appealed to many Wilkes-Barre women, including my mother. Through some quirk of fate, Sammy and my mother met, and wasted little time understanding and fulfilling each other's needs. Sammy needed a woman of culture who knew about the finer things in life, like Jack Dempsey's Restaurant and the Polo Grounds. My mother, on the other hand, needed a strong man who was willing to pay attention to her and able to make her feel alive.
One day, while Sammy and my mother were fulfilling each other's needs in a biblical sense, my father came home unexpectedly. My father, who was strong and built on the order of a middleweight contender himself, saw this religious experience unfolding, and considered it his religious duty to give Sammy the beating of his young life.
After my father was thoroughly convinced Sammy had sufficiently paid for taking liberties with my mother, he carried the erstwhile pugilist out of our East Market Street apartment, and poured what was left of him into the Cadillac.
My father then proceeded to escort my mother from our apartment. Walking her to the Cadillac, my father ordered her to leave with her boyfriend - and never look back.
Sammy and my mother drove away, and neither were ever seen again in Wilkes-Barre. Years later, it was rumored they were living in Las Vegas, where Sammy worked as a casino bouncer and my mother worked as a restaurant hostess.
I can still remember the day my father made me a motherless child, and Sammy Catello the second most famous fighter in Wilkes-Barre. As our first-grade class was being dismissed from Marymount Elementary School, I was surprised to see my father, rather than my mother, waiting for me in the school yard. On the way home, my father told me my mother left town and wouldn't be coming back.
When I arrived at our apartment, I frantically searched for my mother. Unable to find her, I became hysterical. Seeing the state I was in, my father tried to console me, but he was less successful with me than he had been with my mother.
After I finally stopped crying, my father decided to take me for a walk downtown and an early dinner at the Embassy Restaurant. I can still remember dinner there that night. It was a Friday in Lent, and my father ordered fish dinners for both of us. Even a great personal disaster was not sufficient reason for my father to deviate from the Lenten dietary restrictions of the Catholic Church. Regardless of the season or what was ordered for dinner, both of us were visibly affected by the events of the day. Consequently, neither of us ate much.
Sensing baked haddock alone would not be enough to compensate for my life's intractable disarray, my father took me to the Paramount Theater to see 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. What a way for a scared six-year-old who had just lost his mother to end the day – sea monsters, Captain Nemo, and Peter Lorre. To this day, I still don't know what the movie was about, and I doubt if my father does either.
From that day on, it seems as though I've spent my entire life searching for something. What I've been searching for hasn't always been clear, but my search has been exhaustive and lonely.
In many ways, my life has been a chronic emotional safari. Freud would have probably interpreted my searching for so many things in life as my subconscious laboring to find my mother. This is probably true.
On a number of occasions in my childhood, I thought I had recognized my mother in church. In the middle of the Mass, I shouted my mother's name out loud, and ran through the church only to throw my arms around a surprised and embarrassed stranger.
The Bernardine Sisters, who taught at our parish elementary school, were all well aware of my life situation and very supportive. In their own way, most of them adopted me, and attempted to put to use an eclectic mixture of maternal skills. This was often difficult for many of them, and more often, difficult for me.
During the early years of elementary school, I was convinced a number of the older nuns were actually men who managed to evade the initial screening protocols of the sisterhood. Their coarse facial features, deep voices, and poorly-hidden mustaches made me truly leery of the gender of my first teachers. The dark and mysterious religious habits that concealed much of their faces and covered their entire bodies didn’t help matters either.
The prospect of being hugged, kissed, and mauled by some of the good sisters in their attempts to show me I was loved, proved to be a constant and ubiquitous source of untold anxiety. To say their love was unrequited greatly understates the case. I experienced a moment of uncommon relief on the day when I was finally able to accept the fact Sisters Mary Mark, Mary Luke, and Mary John were only well meaning, if hirsute, angels of mercy rather than oversights in the convent's screening process.
If the nuns became my surrogate mothers, so too did the women of East Market Street. In the 1950's, Wilkes-Barre’s East Market Street was an ethnic melting pot, much like the neighborhoods of an earlier New York City. Interspersed between apartment houses, small businesses, and food markets were a wide variety of ethnic bakeries, delicatessens, snack shops, pizzerias, and saloons.
Because of the shoe shop, my father was close to all of the other business owners. Rare was the day the other merchants wouldn't go out of their way to make sure I was well fed, well dressed, and well groomed.
By the time I was seven years old, I had become a connoisseur of fine food and a veritable authority on ethnic cuisine. I developed a sense of gastronomic confusion, however, because of my father's inability to creatively combine leftovers.
My father didn't believe in wasting a single morsel of food. Consequently, he would combine leftovers which resulted in such fare as Kielbasi Parmigiana, Pierogies Con Carne, and his renowned Sweet and Sour Gołąbki.
I was exposed to cooking that might not have qualified as haute cuisine. Nevertheless, I can't imagine having survived my precarious start in life anywhere other than East Market Street in Wilkes-Barre, and living with anyone other than Stanley Kaminski - shoemaker, boxing champ, and master chef of the Heights.
My father was the strong, silent type who didn't say much, but in whose presence, I felt safe and secure. He was a very religious man with the remarkable ability to survive the intolerable.
A firm believer in Divine Providence, he espoused the virtues of self-discipline and honesty. My father's life was filled with so many hardships that, in comparison, the lives of most other people his age seemed like fairy tales. Despite this, he accepted his plight in life, continued to work hard, and never complained.
In an age of many self-proclaimed war heroes and martyrs, my father never talked about his early youth in Poland, which left him with many physical and emotional scars, or his early days in the United States where he was forced to go down into the coal mines and trade his youth for a chronic cough, or World War II which left his body riddled with bullet wounds.
He never complained about the nickels and dimes he made as a shoemaker; the difficulties of being both a mother and father to his only son; or the loneliness only a young, virile man, who had been deserted in his prime, could possibly know. To everyone who knew him, my father was the iron-fisted, Polish "Rock of Gibraltar." I was the only one who ever heard the silence of our apartment broken in the middle of the night by my father crying.
My father was responsible for many of my interests in life, including Medicine. As a child, whenever I asked him what I should become when I grew up, he would always tell me to work hard and do something special with my life, like becoming a priest or a doctor. After a short pause, he would usually smile, put his hand on my shoulder, and remind me I could become anything I wanted - except a shoemaker.
When I was seven years old, my father and I were invited to a wedding reception that was being held in a church hall near the General Hospital. After the reception, we walked home past the hospital, and my father instructed me to always say a special prayer for people who are sick. From that moment, I made it a regular practice to pray for the sick, and the more I prayed for them, the more I wanted to help them. Little did my father realize that a simple, well-intentioned request would inspire me to become a doctor.
My dream of becoming a doctor was further nurtured by another role model in my early life, our family physician, James Daniel Devine, M.D. Dr. Devine was the penultimate physician. He was a compassionate man with consummate skill and thought by many to be the finest doctor in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and never seemed to be too busy to see another patient. The local newspapers were always filled with stories and photos of Dr. Devine assisting a needy charity, attending an important social function, or earning further professional recognition as a physician.
His office was located in his beautiful home on prestigious Riverside Drive. Adjacent to his spacious home was a garage that could have easily been mistaken for a car dealership because of its size and contents. Contained in this fortress were Dr. Devine's cars, which included: a Chevy Corvette, Ford Thunderbird, Ferrari GT California Spyder, Cadillac DeVille convertible, Chrysler Imperial Limousine, Lincoln Continental, Mercedes-Benz 280 SE Coupe, Ford station wagon, 4-wheel drive Chevy Suburban, and three other foreign sports cars with names I didn’t recognize.
From his trappings, it was obvious Dr. Devine was the physician who provided medical care to the most affluent and influential members of the community. To his credit, he had the ability to render medical care to Wilkes-Barre’s rich and famous, but at the same time, make a humble shoemaker feel as though he was the Doctor's most important patient.
Dr. Devine was good at everything he did - and he knew it. Anything upon which he bestowed his imprimatur was destined for success. Barely five feet tall, he had a presidential haircut and wore expensive, impeccably tailored clothing. Despite his small stature, he commanded respect in a manner befitting John Wayne. In essence, when Dr. Devine shouted, bystanders jumped; when he spoke, other physicians took notes; and when he whispered, even E.F. Hutton listened.
My father respected Dr. Devine more than any other man I knew. He once threw a customer out of the shoe shop for calling Dr. Devine, "Jim Dandy," a play on Dr. Devine's name and flamboyant style of dress. If there was anyone who my father would have wanted his son to become, it would have been Dr. James Daniel Devine.
My father had only a rudimentary education in Poland and none to speak of in the United States. He was skilled in the three "R's," but only on a functional level. He viewed education as some treasure, and he dreamed of having his son richly adorned with the jewels of education. Consequently, he was a strict taskmaster who would not settle for anything less than excellence in my academic performance.
There were times in first grade when I wondered if my education would ever get off the ground. Our parish school was made up of students who were mainly of Polish descent. There weren’t many Smith's or Jones's in our school. Instead, there were students with surnames like Przybyszewski, Zwierzchlewski, Trzebiatowski, Moczydłowski, Brzechwa, and Jarmuszkiewicz. While first-graders across America had sufficient time in each school day to learn a variety of different subjects, our class seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time learning how to spell – especially our names.
James Niedzwiedzinski was one of the smartest students in our first-grade class. Trying to evoke a smile from the shy youngster, our teacher, Sister Mary Brygida, joked about the number of letters in James’s name and suggested his name would be easier to spell with fewer letters.
The next day, James brought in a note from his father:
“Dear Sister Mary Brygida,
“My son, James Niedzwiedzinski, told me you wanted his name shortened. I hereby give you my permission to shorten it to Jim Niedzwiedzinski.
“Thank you and God bless you.
“Wladislaw Zbigniew Niedzwiedzinski (his father)”
Not having the handicap of an unusually long name and having an early insight into my raison d'etre, I was able to do well academically. As I grew older, it became obvious I was patterning my own life after that of my father. I worked hard in school and just as hard after school in my father’s shoe shop where I swept the floor, took out the garbage, and shined shoes.
As I grew older, I was finally able to convince my father to teach me how to repair shoes, using the argument that the development of manual dexterity was important for a physician. Compared to other children my age, I always seemed to have more responsibilities and less free time, but I was usually too busy to think about the disparity.
Just as I learned to work and study hard at an early age, I also learned to play hard whenever the opportunity presented itself. Considering the unusual start I had in life, my childhood and adolescence were fairly normal. It took a while for me to learn how to deal with the smart remarks about my mother, but countless fights later, I finally learned how to deal with futility.
For some reason, Christmas and my birthday were particularly sad times for me. I wasn't bothered so much by the fact other kids were getting bicycles and toys my father couldn't afford to buy me, but I was bothered by the fact I never heard from my mother during these important times.
I often thought my mother might have sent me a card or letter that my father could have intercepted and destroyed. I also thought my mother might have tried to send a message to me through one of her old friends in the Heights, but realizing the respect everyone in the Heights had for my father, such thinking was little more than fantasy.
It wasn't always easy living with my father, but I always knew he had my best interests at heart. When I finally entered Marymount High School, I had a burning desire to try out for the basketball team. Even though I was tall and athletic, my father wouldn’t allow me to get involved in sports. He told me a student who wanted to become a doctor didn't have time to play games.
To be more accurate, my father should have told me a student who wanted to become a doctor and worked full-time in his father's shoe shop after school didn't have time to play games. I attended most of our high school's basketball games, but my heart was on the floor while the rest of me was in the bleachers.
Just as my athletic experiences in high school were of a vicarious nature, so too were many other extra-curricular activities that proved of interest to teenage boys, such as teenage girls. I was popular with the girls in school, but without time, money, or a car, the true importance of popularity was felt with uncommon impact.
The proms at Marymount had mandatory attendance for all juniors and seniors. Anyone who didn't have a date was provided one by Sister Mary Yenta, the matchmaker. Insofar as my father was unable to contravene any of my school’s mandatory attendance rules, I made my token appearances at every high school prom sans the intervention of Sister Yenta. In the grand scheme of things, however, my classmates who were about to enter the seminary or convent after high school, still made out better and more often than I did.
As my senior year in high school progressed, I grew excited about the prospect of attending college. I finally decided to attend King’s College, a Catholic men’s college in Wilkes-Barre. Because of my scholastic record and financial need, I received partial academic scholarships from King’s and the state of Pennsylvania that combined to pay my entire tuition. I worked out an agreement with my father whereby I would continue to live at home and receive money for clothes and incidentals by working in the shoe shop after classes. King’s had a good reputation as a pre-med school, and I viewed attending the college as my first big step toward obtaining my lifelong goal of becoming a physician.
Freud once said the multiphasic patterns of time influenced man in such a way as to revive old subconscious stimuli, both positive and negative, reinforcing neurotic tendencies in the process. Little did I realize that, upon entering King’s College in the fall of 1966, the hands of time were once again preparing to throw me a major league curve, not only proving Freud right but also making a seemingly obtainable objective like medical school extremely difficult to attain.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, American education took a giant step backward because of a historical conversation piece that was known as the Vietnam War. As the fighting in Vietnam escalated and more American lives were lost, going to college in a blue collar town like Wilkes-Barre met with mixed reviews and acceptance.
Historically, Wilkes-Barre was a patriotic town that proudly embraced the "My Country, Right or Wrong" philosophy. Wilkes-Barre residents had served honorably in each of our country's wars, and, understandably, the relatives of those who were organizing bombing raids on Vietnam viewed the war from a different perspective than the relatives of those who were organizing panty raids at colleges across the United States. Many of the former seemed to be more pre-occupied with the idea of able-bodied Americans going to college, rather than war, and less concerned with the fundamental question of whether or not the United States belonged in Vietnam in the first place. To be sure, there were many Wilkes-Barre residents who would attempt to make a neophyte collegian feel guilty about choosing books over grenades.
The Vietnam era was a particularly inopportune time to attend college. The luxury of learning for its own sake was subverted by the tension of the war and its effects on the college campus. With the escalation of the war, the tension it inspired transcended every conceivable boundary and penetrated every level of American society. Nowhere was this tension more prominent than on the college campus.
Students and teachers alike adopted the symbols of the hawk or the dove and used the classroom and any other conceivable forum to espouse their personal feelings on the war. The vast majority of students used emotion and association, rather than critical thinking, to adopt their own positions on the war.
On college campuses across the nation, the tension of the war seeped through the boundaries of tradition and ate away at the very structure of American education. College campuses served as shelters for draft-dodgers, and stages upon which anti-war fanatics would direct millions of college students in a production that wore the masks of comedy and tragedy - but all too often interchangeably.
At King’s, the war was taken seriously, but the consequences of such thought were not dramatized to the same degree as on the campuses of America’s larger colleges and universities. King’s College was too demure in its thinking to entertain concepts such as student riots.
One morning, as King’s College was preparing for one of its major events of the year - the annual Red Cross Blood Drive, the town’s local newspaper, The Wilkes-Barre Record, reported members of the Students for a Democratic Society had infiltrated the King’s College campus. Many of those reading the story immediately envisioned the S.D.S. fomenting a student riot at King’s.
Throughout the morning, the campus was filled with reporters who were literally waiting for a story to happen. When it became obvious the newspaper report had sounded a false alarm, and the only story on campus was the story of a campus that seldom had a story, the reporters returned to their newsrooms.
Later in the day when the blood drive was in full swing, someone telephoned the newspaper office and reported there was blood all over the King’s College auditorium. Within minutes, a large entourage of newspaper and television reporters, city police, and F.B.I. agents arrived at the King’s College auditorium only to witness a hundred college students donating blood.
To the reporters and policemen who responded to the call, the scene represented little more than another false alarm. To the students who worked hard at running the blood drive, the scene represented poetic justice. Such was the extent of social protest at King’s College.
Even though King’s was spared much of the campus dramatics associated with the Vietnam War, the effects of the war were still prominent. Just as the war had widened the generation gap, it also widened the gap between students and teachers.
As the war progressed, many students complained about the course work at King’s seeming to take on greater requirements, and the ever-present bell-shaped curve seeming to be manipulated in such a way as to yield lower grades. In all fairness, King’s was only one of many American colleges where students blamed greater degrees of academic difficulty on the war.
Freud probably would have explained this phenomenon as a protective mechanism whereby the faculty members took on a parental role, and because of an instinctive desire to protect those entrusted to their care, subconsciously imposed greater demands on the students and made their courses more difficult. This, of course, would allow students to justify being in college, rather than on a battlefield, and thereby obviate the potential for future neurosis.
Whatever the psychological interpretation, the bottom line was college students seemed to be working harder than ever before just to maintain passing grades and stay in college. Similarly, students had to work harder than expected to obtain higher-than-average grades in most courses.
To a student in the majority of college programs, such a trend didn't necessarily impose undue stress. To a student in a pre-med program who would be expected to achieve higher-than-average grades in each college course as a minimum requirement for medical school admission, however, such a trend was an imposing one with widespread implications.
College in the late 1960's had undergone an unparalleled metamorphosis from the age of the Whiffenpoofs where college men would drink beer and sing together about their common plight as "poor little sheep who had lost their way," to an age of uncommon competition where survival was the only luxury and fraternity was of utility only when it benefited an individual's goals. With my early life experiences as a frame of reference, I realized I needed fraternity. I realized I needed camaraderie. I realized I needed to be a Whiffenpoof.
Early in my college career, I became disenchanted with the difference between what I needed college to be and what college had actually become. Instead of camaraderie, I received mandates from college administrators who directed me to look at the students to the front, back, and both sides of me, and then realize two of those four students would not survive their first semester of college. Instead of harmonious renderings from a place called Mory’s. I received dire warnings from faculty members who predicted a mass exodus of students from the pre-med curriculum and eventual acceptance of only a few students into medical school.
Although I never witnessed any cheating on exams, pilfering of important reference books from the library, or other acts of dishonesty by students at King’s, I heard of such indiscretions by pre-med students at other colleges. I became disillusioned with the notion of students cheating their way into a profession that was supposed to have character as a pre-requisite.