The best part of my college experience was the community and fellowship I found at the Off-Campus Commuter Center. Being new on campus can be trying under the best of circumstances, but when you don’t even have the home base of a dorm or frat house? You need somewhere to call your Home Away from Home.
I attended Bowling Green State University, and because I only lived about 40 minutes away, I couldn't afford paying the extra money to live on-campus. I was paying my own way through school, so I had to be cost conscious. Room and board cost about as much as tuition.
I really had it pretty good as far as living at home. I never had a curfew, nor was I bumping heads with my parents. They let me come and go as I pleased, and in turn, I stayed out of trouble. Plus, there was The Barn! So I never had reason to flee the nest, seeking freedom from parental restraints, like so many of my peers. Every day, I ran the triangle of home to school to work and back again.
I found out about the Commuter Center during my freshman orientation trip. They pointed out all the benefits of the facility: the large common room, lockers, restrooms, comfy TV room, food machines, etc. But they really undersold the vibe.
The Commuter Center was originally “founded” by a non-traditional student named Hazel Smith. She was a 40-something who returned to school to get her degree in 1966, and found herself in the Student Union, surrounded every day by a gaggle of commuter students with nowhere else to go. School officials took notice and soon created a space in the basement of Moseley Hall for commuters like Hazel and “her kids” to call their own. Hazel became the Director of the facility and organization.
I started my freshman year in the fall of 1979 and graduated in May of 1983. (Yes, to my amazement, I got a four-year degree in four years! As I found out, that’s not a “given.”) So you can say I went to school in the “80s,” but the “80s” weren’t really The Eighties until the mid-80s. The early 80s were more like the 70s. And the 70s were really the 60s, only with uglier fashions.
What I found in the Commuter Center was a kind of outsider’s counter-culture. We had to fight for a place at the table against the Greeks and the Dorm Residents. On one hand, the Commuter Center had a governmental body, the Commuter Off-Campus Organization, or COCO. On the other hand, there was the “non-fraternity fraternity” known as Beta Mu Kappa (or BMK). Their sole purpose was to be a stick in the eye of the Greek system; messing with it from within.
I naturally gravitated to BMK right off the bat. I liked the upper-classmen and they seemed to be OK with me as well. In fact, one of the guys once told me that I wasn't nearly as irritating as most other freshmen!
BMK’s object was to produce chaos from within. To that end, they admitted both men and women. They had great officer titles, which were written right into their charter: The Grand Poobah (president), the Not-So-Grand Poobah (VP), the Scribe (secretary), the Embezzler (treasurer) and the President (every non-officer). The thing with the last one is that anyone in the group could legitimately refer to themselves as their Fraternity President on a future resume. Other positions included Quarter Master, Party Master, Thought Police, Bouncer, Jock Coordinator and Guru.
They considered frat guys to be nothing but “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant alcoholic business majors.” BMK members would join Greek games and contests, with the goal being to lose, or mock the event. They would play inter-mural basketball and refuse to shoot. They’d enter soapbox derby-type races with a dumpster on wheels. And by playing juuuust inside the rules, there was little the traditional Greeks could do about it.
Unfortunately for me, I juuuuust missed out on when they did all that stuff. By the time I got there, they had lost their charter and all they really did was throw hellacious off-campus parties. Now THAT was something I knew a good bit about… But they still talked a good game.
When I was a junior, I think, I was approached by one of the grad students, who handed me a letter imploring me to help him get the Old BMK up and running again, by agreeing to become Not-So-Grand Poobah. He said I was right for the job because I “transcended both eras of BMK: relating well to the Old Warhorses as well as the new freshmen.”
I was flattered by being bullshitted so heavily, but I turned him down. I would have had to do way too much stuff that was far out of my comfort zone, like going to weekly Greek Council meetings and such. Granted, I was trying to come out of my shell, but not quite that far out. I wouldn't have had any idea what I was doing.
But within the Commuter Center, I was way out of my shell, or at least further than I had ever been before. By my sophomore year, I was pursuing a communications degree and was working on the college radio station. So they tapped me to read the daily announcements over the PA system. (Naturally, I added jokes and stuff.) This also led to my hosting various charity events in the Center.
Every year we would hold a services auction to benefit the Special Olympics, called The Annual Lincoln’s Birthday Slave Sale. It was to my regret when political correctness started creeping in and they dropped the Lincoln’s Birthday reference for a year or two, before eventually calling it The Sell-a-Service Sale.
The deal was that people would volunteer a service, whether it was treating someone to dinner, carrying their books for them, checking their mailbox, offering proofreading or homework assistance, or whatever. An emcee would then auction off the service to the highest bidder. The fun came from the clues. The auctioneer would create the most lewd and suggestive clues to the service being provided, so the bidders never really knew what they were getting until there was a winner.
I guess I spent my freshman year being enough of a wise-ass that the next year, they asked me to be the auctioneer. Man, was that fun. I held the job for the next three years.
|This was my senior year, as I auctioned off a freshman. I was already losing my hair, but geez, I was so skinny…|
|It could be nerve-wracking for the service providers, not knowing if they were going to get any decent bids. But that year, we raised over $800 for Special Olympics.|
Another year, they held a Gong Show-style talent show, which I also emceed. I didn't exactly imitate Chuck Barris, but it did give me the chance to show off all my hats. I remember being bugged because I spent a great deal of time coming up with funny introductions for the celebrity judges (who were school officials), and then at the beginning of the show, Hazel beat me to it and introduced them all herself.
Not being one to waste anything… food, effort, or a joke, I introduced them again. I obviously hadn't yet learned when enough is enough and when to cut my losses.
Being able to perform in front of a friendly crowd really helped loosen me up. It was the one time in my life when I was game for anything. I wanted to be outrageous and unconventional. I wasn't used to being a performer, and between my Commuter Center activities and all the speech and acting classes, it got me used to speaking in front of people. The feeling of making a crowd laugh was the strongest drug I knew.
Granted, it didn't last long… I quickly drifted back to writing rather than performing, but I had a ball during my brief time in “the spotlight.” But whenever I was called on to make a speech or presentation, I had something to fall back on.
I’m going to come back to the Commuter Center in Thursday’s post. This one originally ran longer, and in an attempt to edit it some, I ended up making it longer still. So I decided to be kind and make this a multi-part post.
Come see me Thursday for the rest of the story.
But tell me now… what kind of crowd did YOU hang with in school?