College Life in Minnesota

Learning new skills: I entered Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1964. I learned that none of my Mississippi winter clothes were going to work at -30°, much less at -60°. I learned that it can feel like nice spring weather in February if it accidentally goes up as high as 10° above zero. For a study break one morning, I went outside in shirt sleeves and tossed a football around with some guys in the relatively warm air. It felt fine. I learned to use the space between the outer window and the inner window of my dorm room as a miniature deep freezer for my ice cream. And I learned it was not so easy to make A’s as it had been in high school.
Country boy meets city slickers up north: Being a Mississippi bred country boy in a high class northern college made me a genuine hick from the sticks. I was among a bunch of high toned, well-dressed city people, who asked me mock seriously if there was indoor plumbing and electric lights where I came from. But I didn’t care. It was like permanent Christmas for me. The cold, the five-foot deep snowdrifts, the ice-covered trees, and gorgeous girls everywhere kept me in a constant romantic frame of mind when I wasn’t frantically learning how to study. I learned that northern girls didn’t like having doors opened for them. It just made them suspicious! During my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, I also slowly learned that not all gorgeous girls are nice. I got my good taste in members of the opposite sex the same way everyone else did, through the school of hard knocks.
I slowly learned how to speak northern. They clip their vowels. They don’t say good morning; they say “gdmrng.” When the president of the college gave his welcoming address, he sounded like a machine gun to me. I understood about half of what he was saying. They said anything good was “neat.” And when they said yeah, they pronounced it “y ah” – which is from the German, Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian ja. They didn’t say “Are you going with me?” They said, simply, “Are you going with?”
I learned things that my mom had tried unsuccessfully to teach me. I learned that it is not a good idea to wash your dirty thick red floor rug in the same load as your nice white underwear. That is, unless you like undressing in the basketball locker room in permanently stained pink underwear where the other guys can see and be amazed. I also learned that I should have paid more attention when Mom was teaching me to iron my own clothes.
While there I learned, when you go ice fishing on weekends for Northern Pike, you had better bring working gloves. Northern Pike have teeth. You can see 30 or 40 feet down through the ice to the bait on your hook, and you can watch the pike back off and cock himself like a gun, then hit the bait in a blur. Well and good. But when you pull him to the surface through your hole in the ice, you better get the hook out as fast as you can and then throw him out on the ice before he tears your hand off. In the cold air, he freezes stiff in about a minute. I also learned that it is not a good idea to walk on an iced-over lake if the ice is less than a foot thick.
Dumb freshman pranks: I learned that if you smear peanut butter on someone’s lightbulb, after a while it begins to stink and they can’t figure out where it is coming from. I learned to lock my small one-person freshman dorm room if I didn’t want to find it filled to the ceiling with wads of newspaper. I learned that when the rest of the guys on your floor want you to come watch Star Trek in the rec room with them, they will resort to anything to get you to unlock your room – including shooting lighter fluid under your door and lighting it.
More silly college guy stuff: Dayton Hall, a guys’ dormitory, elected one guy of their own as a very special guy. The poor guy was from Canada and no one could figure him out, so they elected him Snow Queen. It was not a hate crime, either; they did it all in good fun. Another guy used to wait on his balcony overlooking the sidewalk outside the college fence. In the fall as junior high school came into session, he dressed in a yellow raincoat with a yellow raincoat hat even though it was not raining. He put his feet in a bucket of water and smoked a big cigar, and sat on the balcony about twenty feet up. As the junior high girls went by in their uniforms, he would cackle and say, “Hello, little girl. Would you like a cookie? Would you like a nice cookie, little girl?” Then he would give an evil laugh. Because this was a more innocent time, he got a big following among the seventh and eighth grade girls every afternoon. He would throw cookies to them, the idiot.
Now to the good stuff. Living off campus in my sophomore year made a lasting improvement in my prank learning curve. Four of us guys lived in a single room in a big house. The rent was reasonable when split four ways. Ross D. and another guy pulled a triple prank on one of our room mates. I was an innocent bystander, but was in on the jokes. Our highly esteemed victim room mate was named George. George was of German nationality, and Ross decided to break him in to the ancient American custom of a short-sheeted bed. Ross shorted George’s sheet. He put a tape recorder under the bed, which he turned on while George was brushing his teeth. When George tried to get in his bed, he found that the covers looked normal, except he could only get his toes into his bed about two feet. Then the sheet, which was folded, ended. Frustrated and angry, George began to curse. Fluently. Finally, Ross pulled out the tape player and played it back for George. Ross finally got George into a good humor before we turned out the lights, by promising to buy George’s lunch the next day in the campus cafeteria.
Next day Ross bought George a nice big expensive lunch. Ross knew that George liked to smoke a cigarette after meals. He had removed George’s cigarettes from his coat pocket in advance. When the meal was over, George couldn’t find his cigarettes so Ross offered him one of his. On about the fourth draw, the cigarette exploded with a very nice bang. George threw it down and yelled, “Son of a ….!” – but fortunately Ross threw his hand over George’s mouth in time to keep things suitable for a G audience. The entire cafeteria of several hundred students applauded and whistled and laughed. Ross didn’t know quite what to expect of George, but somehow George held it together. George wasn’t exactly sore; he did, however, become very wary of Ross.
The next day was day three. In line on the stairs at the cafeteria, George wouldn’t stand next to Ross. Ross managed not to show any particular emotion except pleasant acceptance. Suddenly, though, the girl which the 2,000+ student body had elected Snow Queen, i.e. most beautiful, left her spot in line, stepped down to where George stood, grabbed him, and bent him over backwards. She laid a kiss on him so profoundly that it seemed it would never end. She stood him up, totally stunned, and went back to her place in line. The entire line, most of whom had been there the day before for the exploding cigarette, howled with appreciation.
George raised his hands for quiet. There was a hush. “ROSS!” George shouted. “YOU ARE FORGIVEN.” The applause in the stairwell was deafening. The moral to the story, of course, is well known: not all college education occurs in class rooms!

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