College Days and College Men
Asher Christiansen taught American Government, an elegant little man in dark slacks and gray blazer, bushy eyebrows, moustache, smoking his pipe—half the class smoked too, and I came to associate intellectual seriousness with bad air—propounding his grand theme, that the Constitution was a natural force for civilization, its checks and balances serving to dampen the fires of inner-directed ideologues and bring them into a respectful relationship to their antagonists and attend to the serious business of government.
After class, some students formed another smaller class that followed Professor Christiansen out the door and stood in the alley behind Nicholson Hall for a few minutes, a gaggle of fifteen or twenty that dwindled as he headed down the Mall to his office in Ford Hall, arriving there with four or five of us still hanging on. I was a student in the last class he taught. In January I saw the front-page story in the Daily: Professor Christiansen had felt ill during lunch at the faculty club and went to a quiet room to lie down and died there of a heart attack.
The story said he grew up in Little Falls, graduated from the U, where he taught from on, with guest stints in Wales, Germany, and Argentina, where he lectured in Spanish. He was 57 years old, married, no children. Just us students. A nice clean break. I got a job working the 6 to 10 a. Nine hundred cars, and it filled up by so there you were with a couple hours of paid study time.
You learned to ignore your fellow attendant who liked to tell about students he had seen having sex in parked cars and you applied yourself to the U. Constitution and the separation of powers. I got a job at the student radio station, WMMR, in October and a tall good-looking guy named Barry Halper showed me how to piece together a newscast from the Associated Press teletype. They needed someone to do the newscast. He showed me how to switch on the microphone, read the VU meter, adjust the headphone volume, showed me the cough switch, and an hour later I sat down in a tiny room with green acoustic-tile walls at a table covered with green felt and switched on the mike and a red bulb lit up and I read the news under a gooseneck lamp, one eye on the big clock on the wall in front of my face.
I was nervous of course, but it was a delicious nervousness. I felt sequestered, safe in the studio, a little fortress. An egalitarian spirit prevailed at the U that truly was noble. There was no rank, no hazing, no freshman beanies, we were all in the same boat. You were Mr. Keillor to your professor and he was Mr. Brown to you. You looked him in the eye. That was his job. Yours was to pay attention.
Money was no social asset whatsoever and if you went around in expensive clothes you were regarded with pity or scorn. A few goofball freshmen showed up in brand new suits for fall classes and they stood out in the crowd as if they wore red rubber noses and fright wigs. Everybody from the President to the deans and the faculty had their home addresses and phone numbers listed in the University directory, and if you were brave enough, you could ring up Dean McDiarmid or Vice President Willey and tell him your troubles.
I did not but the phone numbers were there and I suppose somebody did. A wardrobe lady sat nearby, smoking, reading a newspaper. The dark-haired woman turned, facing me, her hands on hips, one leg extended, looking over her shoulder at her rump, her delicate bush and maroon nipples, like a painting, nude dancer studying herself. I was proud of him for drawing that huge crowd and performing so well. He eased his old body down the stairs, our grand paterfamilias, and mingled with us, chatted, answered a few questions—I remember clearly, nobody asked for his autograph—and then he climbed into a black Chrysler and was taken off to lunch with the faculty.
That was how it was at the U. The field was wide open. I hung around the Daily offices, free of the petty miseries of high school, that small fixed universe. The University was freedom. A friend of mine dropped out sophomore year and married his girlfriend and they bought a little yellow rambler in Coon Rapids, the down payment a gift from her parents.
He was a warehouse clerk and his wife got pregnant and woke up in a foul mood every morning and he went off to eight hours of an automaton job. What a waste of a perfectly good life. Women put their arms around you and cried that they loved you and wanted to make you happy and bwanngggg a trapdoor popped open and you dropped down the chute into a job you despised and a frazzled marriage in a crackerjack house with a mortgage as big as Montana—I intended to escape that. I sat in clouds of cigarette smoke in a classroom smelling of linseed-oiled floors and listened to James Wright lecture on Dickens and gazed at the lovely girls in horn-rim glasses.
For winter quarter, I got the 5 a. I was turning into a night owl, always up past midnight, and the alarm clock went off at 4 and I lay in the warm trench of my bed, reviewing my options, preferring sleep, longed for it, nodded off, which shocked me into wakefulness and I rolled out and drove to town through the snowy world and parked beside the parking lot shack and hiked to the far end of the lot, flashlight in hand, like a sheep shearer waiting for the herd to come piling through the gate.
The lot sloped down to the edge of the bluff and I looked down on Bohemian Flats, a ragtag village on the riverbank. Old frame houses that got flooded out every spring, where old Swedes and Bohunks lived a subsistence life in the middle of the Twin Cities. Smoke rose from their chimneys.
One of the other parking attendants said there was a whorehouse down there.
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The cars came in a rush, starting at Three ticket sellers stood in the street, and the flagman stood at the top of the lot and directed the flow to where I was conducting them into their spots, straight lines, double rows. No painted lines on the gravel, I did it all by eye. I had to direct each car with strong hand signals into its correct space, the Leonard Bernstein of the automobile, and discourage the tendency to freelance and veer off toward a more convenient place.
Every morning there were three or four pioneers who wanted to start their own rows. For the common good. To be direct. Exercise authority. No, sir. Not there. Over here. Right here. Your individualists and comedians would test the limits and if you gave them an inch, anarchy would ensue, cars going every which way like confused buffalo.
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Be firm. Make that bozo back up six inches. Straighten that line. Thank you. If you accept that variance, the line will buckle. If you do your job right, the lot fills to capacity in half an hour, you put up the full sign and huddle in the shack, the electric heater blazing away, and you take up with Natasha and Prince Andrei and War and Peace for Mr.
A cup of vending machine coffee and a cheese danish and off to class. In the winter, we packed into Williams Arena to cheer the hockey team against our deadly rival, the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota. Blood lust in the air. Our Gophers were all Minnesota boys and the Sioux were all Canucks, paid thugs, big bruisers, mercenaries, and when a Sioux got ridden into the boards, we cheered from the bottom of our hearts.
I dated a quiet girl, a church organist, and at hockey games she screeched and booed like a true peasant. I can still picture it in my mind, where I was sitting, where he sat, and I still feel my face getting warm. That spring the Mississippi River rose and there were urgent flood warnings on the radio. One afternoon I put on warm clothes and took the bus to St. Paul and crossed the Wabasha Bridge to the West Side where people were at work filling sandbags to bolster the dikes to save the low-lying houses.
It was foggy, and then it began to rain. An army of hundreds of volunteers hard at work, men and women, drawn up in assembly lines, holding the sacks and filling them and passing them in a chain to the dike. It got dark. Nobody left. The Red Cross brought around sandwiches and coffee. We rested and went back to work. Trucks brought in more sand and bags.
A couple of front loaders worked at anchoring the dikes with earthen banks. I worked until after midnight and lay down in the back of a truck under a tarp and slept until daybreak and got up stiff and cold and they brought us more sandwiches and coffee and I got back in the gang and worked until noon. I stayed because everyone else stayed. We had put so much into beating back the flood, and we kept working—shovel, fill, tie, and pass, shovel, fill, tie, and pass—and felt privileged to be there doing it. And got back up. I went home in the morning. I sat on the bed and cried.
Forget all the jabber and gossip, all the theoretical balderdash and horsefeathers, here is reality: the river rises up in its power and majesty, and the people rise up in theirs, and while one can do only so much, you must do that much, and we did. We saved several blocks of homes. Nobody thanked us. It was an experience. The University was a monument to the Jeffersonian faith in the power of learning and in the ability of all people to recognize and embrace excellence, a grand old American notion.
To offer Jussi Bjoerling and Arthur Rubinstein to year-old kids at prices they can afford is an astonishment. But that was the spirit of the Morrill Act of that granted to the states a tract of land in proportion to their population for the endowment of a state university to teach the classic curriculum as well as courses relating to agriculture and industry, open to qualified students regardless of financial means. I stuck around at WMMR and did the noon newscast for six months, five days a week, and then in May was told that the station had been off the air for at least that long.
Doggone it. I was having too much fun. Fortified with this, people started spouting off their big opinions about Kennedy and Hemingway and Ornette Coleman and some of us got into a contest to see who knew more dirty limericks. There was the one about the young man from Buckingham and the young man from St. Paul whose cock was exceedingly small and the Bishop of Chichester and the sailor named Tex who avoided premarital sex and the young woman of Edina and her vagina. The base of Purple Death was grape Kool-Aid, plus whatever the guests had brought.
And I was glad to be alone. As U of M students we walked around with a fine chip on our shoulder toward eastern finishing schools like Yale and Harvard where children of privilege slept until noon after a night of inebriation, were brought cucumber sandwiches by a porter, sashayed off to their 3 p. Oxford and Cambridge were held in even greater contempt: dandruffy men quivering with borrowed sensibility drinking sherry and propounding fabulous foolishness with great certainty.
I envied cool people, good tennis players, opera singers, sandy-haired rich guys who looked princely even in ratty old clothes, all Frenchmen, men with lovely girlfriends, guitarists, but the U was the antidote to envy. In one smoky classroom after another, sitting elbow to elbow at little arm desks, you felt illuminated, there was a quickening almost like drunkenness, a feeling that you and the professor were conspiring in a noble enterprise that would last you to the end of your days. I learned how to plant myself in a library chair and open the books and take notes in a yellow legal pad.
Having a good ear for multiple-choice tests had gotten me through high school the correct answer, two-thirds of the time, was C but now I needed to actually do the work. I soldiered through and learned how to write profoundly at great speed late at night about books I barely understood. American universities have seen plenty of radicals and revolutionaries come and go over the years, and all of them put together were not nearly so revolutionary as a land-grant university itself on an ordinary weekday.
To give people with little money a chance to get the best education there is—that is true revolution. Forbes—whose standards are high—as birds sit scritching on the telephone wire and a fly buzzes at the window. That was the true spirit of the University, the spirit of professors who loved their work. That was the heart and soul of the place, not the athletic teams, not the architecture. The University was Mary Malcolm, a native of Worthington, who studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and came back to teach music theory for forty-three years.
She had perfect pitch and could write down on paper anything you could hum or plunk on the piano. It was Izaak M. Kolthoff, a Dutch chemist who guided Jewish scientists out of Germany in the Thirties and worked on the crucial war project of creating synthetic rubber and became a peacenik in the Fifties.
It was Bill Marchand who taught Shakespeare to kids majoring in animal husbandry and horticulture. It was Nils Hasselmo who came from Sweden to study the Swedish emigrants and got his doctorate and became chair of the Scandinavian Languages Department and eventually President of the U. And it was Margaret Forbes who could make you feel that a few lines of Horace held the key to everything noble. And if you start to feel ennobled, you lose interest in how you are perceived by other people.
You walk into the library and that Niagara of scholarship holds you in its sway, the deluge and glory of learning, and you begin to see where work and play become one. And imagine working at something you love. And that was how the University of Minnesota gave me my life. There was liquor involved but mostly it sprang from lack of self-consciousness.
Everybody knew each other except for us Americanos; there was nothing to hide. After the wedding, I saw men hugging other men, if you can believe such a thing. The father of the bride hugged the groom and squeezed him hard. I associate male hugging with pickpockets.
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My people shook hands. Several motorcycles in stages of repair, tractor parts, many gizmos and whatchamacallits around in no apparent order. Antique clocks and tools, implements, machine parts, tchotchkes, buckets of miscellaneous bolts and screws. Also a good deal of junk. All of this was attractive to me. And so when I came back to America and watched the Democratic debates, I was looking for a candidate who would open the door to feasting and dancing and hugging and the basic freedom of owning stuff for which there is no good explanation.
They all stayed behind their lecterns. And so I come, for the umpteenth time in my life, to realize how irrelevant politics is to happiness. As we descend into the presidential campaign, the very number reminding us to seek Clear Sharp Vision, let us agree that the importance of the presidency is greatly exaggerated. But the effect of Watergate on the lives of Americans was less than that of a solar eclipse. No president can make America great. God is the judge of greatness, and meanwhile the challenge is to educate children, do business, feed and doctor people, preserve farmland and wilderness, deal with the real world, look for the least worst outcome.
The guy who affected my life most was LBJ, whose Vietnam War obsessed me in my 20s and whose Medicare is a lovely benefit in my 70s. Then came the Ivy League Texan and the last of the Arkansas liberals and Dubya who tried so hard to be presidential and then our first Kenyan president and now this New Yawk showman who has the distinction of being the first man elected to the office by being an out-and-out jerk and mooning the media and giving the stinky finger to whoever irks him and yet what has he done other than offend most Americans?
Not that much. I impersonated intelligence long enough; time to be myself. I relish being anonymous and powerless in a place where I understand nothing. Nobody cares what I think about Whatsisname and Whatchamacallit. The waiter pours another glass of water. The wedding was beautiful, like in fables. A year-old stone chapel packed with friends and family, European, American, Asian. The ceremony in Portuguese, a resonant language. The four parents of the two stood facing them and held out their right hands and blessed them.
The priest nodded and the husband and wife kissed and the place erupted in cheers and whistles and a long ovation. We all hustled outside and as the couple came out, young men jumped up and grabbed the chains that hung from the bells and rang them loudly over the rooftops. The couple got into the back seat of a car festooned with ribbons and her brother drove them across the valley and through town, horn honking. There were speeches. We feasted on ham from a hog roasted whole on a spit and champagne and salad and fresh rolls and then the cake was cut and the band played a fast salsa tune and the bride and her dad danced and then all of us.
The dancing went on until five in the morning, or so I am told. There was a great deal of hugging, men hugging men, tight meaningful embraces. What I especially remember is the young woman in the wheelchair, unable to walk or talk, but she seemed aware.
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She was the daughter of the cantor at the church. All evening, she was surrounded by people, uncles, cousins, holding her hand, caressing her cheek, stroking her hair. She laughed at the music. In this insignificant village in this small country, people care about each other, though some have left for better jobs in France, and their love for the community is exemplified by their care for her: nobody should be left out, no matter if she speaks or not. It rained a little, which means good luck. I danced in the rain with my wife and I kissed the bride on both cheeks and told her I will remember that night for as long as I live.
And then I walked over and embraced her father who was wearing a sprig of mint over his ear. He was moved. This is one peril and another is the English language. The lamb died in a volcanic eruption. You gulp a glass of water, which spreads the toxins to your lower tract and now there is steam coming out of your shorts. Pure silliness that we colonists seem incapable of. I test her English. After that, she hopes to lose her job so as to be free again. I went to church, confessed the sins of my narrow old age and then I got to listen to her, laughing, poking at a salad, the other hand swooping around.
The world belongs to her generation, mine is off the hook. And beyond that, millennials have a sense of comedy, of the odd bounce that turns out beautifully. The one sitting across from me certainly does. She will retrain him or find a better model. Or maybe move to L. She dances in her seat as she talks. She has fewer regrets than the average cabbage. The true source of happiness is something hopeful whirring around in the future.
I imagine Mr. Trump standing at the curb inveighing against the Mexicans, looking left, and getting leveled by a delivery boy on a bike with a bag of containers of volcanic lava. I imagine Boris Johnson taking office and finding it to be a toilet. He presses Up and it becomes an elevator and takes him to an elevation of 20, feet. The air is thin.
There is a Down and an Out. He presses Down and it turns upside down. Monty Python could make a whole sketch of this. Note: Some of you may have heard rumors that U. Please know that at this moment, we are fully planning to keep Cuba on the itinerary, but that we have backup options as well. In the event that the itinerary changes, reservations will not be canceled or refunded. It was a long hard winter in Minnesota, and I am in a mood for warmth and pleasure next winter and that will be The 12 th Prairie Home Cruise, a one-week jaunt from Fort Lauderdale with stops at Jamaica, Cozumel, the Cayman Islands, and Key West, sailing March 18, All a person needs to get through the blizzards and darkness is a bright light on the horizon — a candle in the window — and so, next winter, I will dream of March 18, the flight to Fort Lauderdale, the surprise at seeing sunshine, green plants, people in shorts and T-shirts.
Rob Fisher and his piece Coffee Club Orchestra will perform for your dancing pleasure. The amazing jazz singer Nellie McKay is coming, a powerful pianist and ukulelist. Gospel will be represented by Jearlyn Steele. Robin and Linda Williams are on board. Talking about Lake Wobegon, coffee, rhubarb pie, reminiscing about early radio days. Doing poetry. Emceeing the story hours. Writing limericks for guests who win the limerick lottery.
And singing with Heather and Christine, Robin and Linda. As Emily Dickinson wrote:. Wild nights — Wild nights! Were I with thee Wild nights at sea! With PHC! Off to Jamaica! Freely we go! Peel that banana! Winter, goodbye! Minnesota, New York! Back to top of page. As on previous cruises, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy music performances, lectures, and nature viewing in multiple locations. Dan Chouinard is a St. The Coffee Club Orchestra sprang into existence in the fall of when Garrison Keillor asked musical director Rob Fisher to put together a group for his radio show.
Chosen for their breadth of experience and their versatility, the Coffee Club musicians delighted public radio listeners with their rambunctious renditions. She also performs solo and with her sisters, Daniela and Nadia, as The DiGiallonardo Sisters, and her voice can be heard on commercial jingles for Aquafresh, Mr.
Clean, Playtex, and Febreze. He now tours the U. The St.
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An internationally recognized music director, conductor, and pianist, and a leading figure in musical theater, he has been a guest of every major orchestra in the country as conductor or pianist. Keillor at For his work on the Tony Award-winning Encores! Most of all, his music is great fun. She can sing dozens of operatic roles; she also performs pop songs, chamber music, oratorio, and show tunes. Wodehouse songs, both with pianist Dan Chouinard.
His discography includes more than albums, as well as several major movie soundtracks and hundreds of commercial jingles. He went on to play with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and bluegrass group A few years later, he was a fully established member of the APHC house band. I went into college expecting to sharpen my critical thinking skills. All my life, my parents had pushed the idea of critical thinking and taught me critical thinking skills. Man, was I disappointed.
Instead, college consisted of classes where I was told to obey the rules, follow the instructions, memorize this information, and regurgitate it on a test. Fundamentally, entrepreneurs do not follow instructions. Instead they take risks, devise creative solutions, think outside the box, and choose what rules to break. In other words, they think critically. Maybe some colleges are good at this, and I just lucked out.
Shaking your mind with crazy ideas can lead you closer to the one or two right ideas that could solve your problem. Critical thinking is all about an insane level of determination, scary amounts of creativity, and a persistent drive to solve the problem. College, for me, was detrimental to my critical thinking skills. The system drilled into me a method of thinking that went against critical thinking. My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to avoid college if at all possible, and develop your critical thinking skills as much as possible.
I started a marketing consulting agency in high school. It seemed logical to major in marketing when I got to college. I expected to gain more marketing knowledge that would advance my business. Unfortunately, 70 percent of the things my professors taught, I already knew. The other 30 percent was either wrong or outdated. I took a computer science class, which was mostly a computer lab. I expected to get some programming skills, but instead, we learned very basic computer skills and how to write a research paper in Microsoft Word!
My professors probably thought I was a bit of an arrogant prick. She got mad at me, and threw me out of the classroom! By this point, I was researching search engine algorithms. I took a few classes that had some group projects, speeches, and papers. But for the most part, the learning model was one of: 1 Memorize. And he was living large, drinking Michelob. He and a couple friends started a house painting business for the summer. Equal effort, higher margin.
See, shit like that never occurred to my tiny lizard brain back then. Man, they opened with "Echoes," for Chrissake. Maximize your earning power in short windows of time, guys. You won't have to give up once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The majority of your adult artistic tastes will be cemented in college. I don't know why this is, but it's true, especially with music. I went to school during the transition from hair metal to grunge. So I was there when both Guns 'n' Roses and Nirvana broke big. The other musical monoliths of my college years: the aforementioned Floyd, The Alarm, and Neil Young.
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They still dominate my playlists today. Later on, I found the blues and jam bands. Trust me, a very desirable breed of woman loves the Dead. And Kind of Blue is the greatest hangover record of all time. Chase as many internships and real jobs as possible. If you're not in need of some specific professional training like engineering, or medical and law school, I question the value of a college degree.
Classes don't teach you much that's of use in the real world. So as soon as you can, and as often as possible, get your ass into the real world of your chosen field. When it comes time to nail down a job after graduation, experience and networking are the only things that matter. That's just the way it is. The biggest steps I've taken in my career have come from referrals. And once in the door, my experience and skill kept me there. This is not a time for self-righteousness about being judged on your grades, or character, or potential. No one cares.
In fact, Not rejected. Well, it's a big world and you're not special, so be prepared for that. The real questions are: Do you have experience to do the job, will you fit into the staff culture, and can you help the company make money? Don't be cynical.