1966: The Haight to Notre Dame

Through August of 1966 I evolved from Catholic High School kid to the Trinity Alps to Haight Ashbury hippie. In September I devolved into Freshman at Notre Dame.

In my previous story, “1966: From High School to Haight Ashbury Hippie,” I hinted at what went wrong for me during that period. I was too young for free love and I feared drugs.

Once I’d moved in at the Haight, it took me just a few days to discover that there was a lot more love for generic people far away — the Vietnamese, the drafted soldiers, the vaguely downtrodden and oppressed — than there was for that actual human standing next to you.

And the “dance to your own music” idea came to mean “be different, but just like us, different the way we are.”
And the worst, for me, was the pressure over LSD. LSD scared the hell out of me. I’d seen two different people, at two different times, temporarily trapped in a bad-trip hell of their own making, in complete terror, unable to escape, forced to wait until the chemical in their brain wore off. But some of me people pressured me to drop acid myself. They promised glorious visions, truth, benightment. I said hell no. But the pressure continued, nonetheless.

So, I gave up. I called home. I said I wanted to come back. I’ll never forget the long pause, as the parents left me in a phone booth, while they considered. “Yes,” came the answer, finally. “Of course you can come home. But you’re not going to Pomona College if you do. You are going to Notre Dame instead.”

The parents were right. They did the right thing for me. Like the kid I was, I was mad at them, and I went to Notre Dame determined to hate it. I did hate it for most of my first year, except for football Saturdays, the classes, and a few friends. But then came Innsbruck the second year, and I met Vange the third year, and was married the fourth year. I’m proud of Notre Dame and glad for my parents’ decision.

I am also proud that in the 54 years since then, my politics haven’t changed. I still believe now in the ideals we held that summer.

A California Hippy at Notre Dame

The Notre Dame campus is gorgeous in Spring and Fall. It still is now, but even more so in 1966. The golden domed administration building looked out to the north over a shady park-like main quad. Looking south from the golden dome, just to the right, the gothic cathedral with its huge spire. And then Sorin Hall, the oldest dorm, with a broad porch with white post railings. Across the quad from Sorin, to the left from the main dome building, stood the old theater and student union. That section opened up onto the huge south quad, 100 yards wide and 600 or more yards long, from liberal arts building O’Shaughnessy Hall at its east end to the old student gym at its west end. Between them, the quad lined with old beige brick college style buildings, very few postwar practical. The hallowed football stadium stood just south of O’Shaughnessy. The then-almost-new 10-story library was just north of it, with another park-like quad between the library and the stadium. The campus ended at the stadium, so student parking took up most of the newer areas that are now full of more modern buildings that extended the campus to the south. Behind the golden dome, two lakes, and a narrow road passing between them — the walk to St. Mary’s College, where the girls were.

However, I went there determined to hate it. And that was easy.
The trip there helped me hate it. Temporarily stranded in O’Hare Airport in Chicago. With two big suitcases. Saved by a returning sophomore who identified us as would-be freshmen. He helped us two of us get a shuttle downtown and then the South Shore train into South Bend, and a taxi to campus.

The dorm helped me hate it. I was assigned to Dillon Hall, on the south quad. At least it was one of a few experimental dorms that mixed all four years together, instead of just a freshman dorm. I was glad for that. I got a very small room with just enough space for two bunk beds, two metal desks, and two metal “closets” with room for some hanging clothes and a couple of drawers. When my roommate asked me where I was from, he was not satisfied with “California.” So he asked “but from what kind of neighborhood?” I said suburban. So he asked, “no, but you know, Italian, Polish, Irish, what?” That was the first time I’d encountered that which-neighborhood mentality, which, I guessed, was common in New York. Joe the roommate was from a very Italian town on Long Island. He lived to play baseball. We entered a nine-month relationship best described as a truce. By the end of the year, after Joe didn’t make the baseball team and flunked out, the only thing we had in common was hating the place. We had a brief fist fight before the year ended. Joe won that, perhaps because I didn’t know it was happening until after it was over. One punch.

Dillon Hall, Notre Dame

The weather helped me hate it. The first two weeks hot humid, clothes sticking to skin at every step. Of course, without air conditioning. Then gray, cold, hostile, with increasing hostility into long bleak winter months. The first snow felt like weekends, skiing, good times, something delightfully different. That lasted about 10 minutes. And the winter took from November through March, followed by a day or two of spring, and then straight to sweltering summer.

That Notre Dame was still all boys helped me hate it. The messaging said men, but we were boys. Six thousand of us vs. a thousand St. Mary’s girls. That fall there were several panty raids. I joined one of them. It started in the dorm with excited shouts, followed by hundreds of us walking the mile to St. Mary’s. We stood outside McCandless Hall laughing and shouting. The girls inside threw panties down. Like most of my classmates, I managed not a single date my freshman year. The girls, favored by a 6-1 ratio, reserved themselves for the junior and seniors.

And so, I did hate it. A lot. For all of my first year. It was a very long, dreary year. But the nonstop cloudiness of it came with three silver linings.

The huge silver lining was signing up for Innsbruck. It was almost pure chance too. I hadn’t had the benefit of orientation or even any interest in it. But when I lined up at registration day to choose classes, I saw a checkbox marked “Innsbruck program.” That was barely two years after the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. So, Austria, mountains, and skiing. I had no idea beyond the box there, but I figured “what the hell” and checked the box. That changed my life.

Also, it was a bit of a kick being “the hippie” at Notre Dame that first year. That, despite an obligatory haircut and losing the wannabe beard while still at home. “There’s a hippie in Dillon Hall.” It was fun to be noticed, and particularly for that reason. I was proud of it. I wasn’t quite the only one. There was another guy with long hair in one of the other dorms, a sophomore I think, a drama guy. But still, I liked the label.

The there was also football. At first, I was going to boycott football because it was against all I stood for. Clearly an offshoot of the military industrial complex and the realization of everything wrong with Notre Dame. But then came the first football Saturday, on a gorgeous late September day, rock bands playing in several spots on campus, excited people everywhere, lots of girls, a day so charged that it felt like sparks might fly everywhere and anywhere at any time. And I did manage, with great difficulty, to not join the crowds that headed for the sold-out stadium in time for a 1:30 kickoff. And that, despite the fact that my numbered season ticket, seating along with my dorm mates, came with tuition. I lingered outside for about an hour, envying the crowds inside, lured by the cheers I couldn’t help hearing. But I couldn’t stand it. By halftime I was there, taking my seat, while dormmates razzed me, as in “look, the hippie decided to join us.” Before I sat down I addressed my group, with something like “I’m still a hippy, but I have my priorities.”

After that I was at my seat for every minute of every other game that year, and I watched the away games on TV. The season ended with an historic game against Michigan State on Nov. 19. They were 10-0, we were 10-0. We had Terry Hanratty, Rocky Blier, Alan Paige, Pete Duranko, among others. They had Bubba Smith. The game ended in a 10-10 tie. It appears on most lists of the greatest football games every. I saw it on a huge black-and-white projected screen on the basketball court, which was blurry, but enough to watch. We all hated that revered coach Ara Parseghian coached for a tie when it we had the ball and 1:10 to go. We ended up sharing the national championship with Michigan State.

My second year at Notre Dame wasn’t at Notre Dame at all. It was in Innsbruck, Austria, and that only after six weeks in Salzburg, Austria. Definitely the best year of my life before falling in love, marriage and kids. And one of the best ever. That feeling a kid gets just before seeing what Santa Claus left on Christmas morning? I had it just about every day for a full year. I’d wake up, remember where I was, and just be overwhelmingly glad to be me, there, at that time. The glow and the wonder never left. The novelty never wore off. But that’s a different story.

I like to say “I failed as a hippy.”