6. More Wild and Crazy College Adventures
Irving Wesley Hall
University of California Riverside B.A. 1959 M.A. 1970
Herbie’s short arms churned the air like windmills. He danced around our classroom like a red headed elf high on caffeine. He was inspiring, hypnotic. It was September 1957. My first class at UCR. The scent of new mown lawn wafted through the open windows. The Riverside hills still revealed a few patches of green.
Herbie was recounting times and cultures from before we were born. He relished contrasting French sexual attitudes to the prudishness of England where “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was censored. We’d never think of calling him “Professor Herbert Lindenberger”. Upper classmen in those times often called their teachers by their first names.
UCR’s young, enthusiastic and spontaneous faculty. Just what I needed after Stanford University. Oh, I didn’t flunk out of there. Actually, I loved the first two years and did well, capped off by a sophomore philosophy class with the professor’s compelling final message that stuck with me to this day.
“Spend your life doing what interests you.”
Then my Junior year zapped me like an overdose of Pentothal. Three compulsory classes, introductions to Economics, Psychology and Sociology, in heavy textbooks written by the same professors who then recited them to hundreds of bored kids stuffed into the cavernous school auditorium and dutifully taking notes.
Sorry, Stanford, Irving is no longer interested!
Now I’d found myself in Southern California at a top-notch college with small classes, fascinating reading, and teachers who connected personally, even hosting us in their homes.
Bill Elton, who taught us Shakespeare, was in his late thirties. A wicked smile would animate his face in class when we stumbled across one of the Bard’s bawdy passages. Elizabethan English was raw. Bill thanked the French for that. If the Normans hadn’t conquered Saxon England in 1066 and forced proper Latin-based words on the primitive Saxons, “fuck” would be respectable and “coitus” would be dirty. “Shit” would be okay, “feces” could get you kicked out of school.
And that’s why Shakespeare’s Saxon and Norman English is so rich…and earthy. Can you tell me another school where I could have learned that about my native language in an undergraduate class!
The first few months I commuted to UCR from my folks’ home in Claremont. A high school classmate, also attending UCR, drove us the 50 miles round trip. I helped with gas. She’d been a cheerleader and I had a crush on her. One day I told her the Normans vs. Saxons story I’d learned from Bill Elton. She was intrigued but it didn’t help me score.
I realized it was time to live near campus. Allan Quist, another high school chum, and Glenn Lane, a fellow English undergrad, found a farmhouse on North Orange. It was surrounded by dairy pasture. I’d open the morning shades to an assemblage of cows staring at me and chewing their cuds.
Glenn drove a 1938 Buick town car. He’d become a vicious antisemite after a stint as an army cryptographer in post-war Germany. I later found out that the CIA recruited hundreds of Nazis, including Ukrainian mass murderers, after the war in its undercover work to undermine the Soviet Union.
Al had been a very close friend since kindergarten. After I transferred from Stanford to UCR, Al left USC to join me. He majored in geography and later taught college in Montana for many years.
He wanted to buy a litter of piglets to raise in the back yard of Fappington Farms and sell them. Glenn called our rental property “Fapping Farms” from the now forgotten Major Hoople comic strip. He called Al “Feeder Pig” and bought him denim overalls and a straw hat. My two housemates never bonded well. Al never pursued the livestock project.
However, the three of us agreed to try making Home Brew in the farmhouse’s old concrete basement. We bottled the first batch too soon and the bottle caps began to blow in the middle of the night. Like “Ghostbusters” we strapped ourselves inside old mattresses and rushed the bottles outdoors in metal buckets.
Every morning Al would walk down to the dairy for a quart of milk. We called the dairy owner “Farmer Brown”. The day the three of us left Fappington Farms, I asked our milk provider his name.
George Knox, another professor with a perpetual twinkle in his eye, taught Modern American Literature. OMG! How I yearned to become a novelist! He selected me and two other seniors to inaugurate the new English Honors Program and write a senior thesis.
Previous personal experiences I’ve written about elsewhere on the "We're Not in Kansas Anymore" site drew me to my topic, “Communism in the American Novel”. I was fascinated by Jack London’s 1906 warning about American fascism, “The Iron Heel.” Dos Passos’ epic ‘thirties “USA Trilogy” captured the role of radicals in the period, Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” told the story of an Oklahoma family driven from their farms in the “Dust Bowl” and exploited by California growers. A key character was a communist labor organizer.
Decades later I visited Riverside for a last nostalgic farewell. The dairy’s green pastures were now acres of dried weeds broken by dirt motorcycle paths and peppered with Woodchuck holes. Nothing was left of Farmer Brown’s dairy but weather-beaten timbers and rusty milk cans.
Of course, all the professors have passed, most recently, Herbie Lindenberger. I ran into him a number of years ago at a Stanford Reunion. By chance he left UCR to teach at the college I’d deserted. He claimed I was the smartest student he ever had. Of course, I returned the compliment. I only hoped he told other former students that. Too morale boosting not to share.
Allan died in a Montana nursing home while I was writing this memoir. We lost track of each other after UCR. The crazy stuff we did together for thirty years deserves its own Restless Rebel story.
The last time I saw Glenn he was driving his roadster drunk in Berkeley after I kicked him out of a party at our apartment without regrets or apologies. He’d been spewing venom at two Jewish comrades arrested with me in San Francisco on May 13, 1960 where we had shut down the anti-communist House Committee on Un-American Activities’ roadshow forever.
The Fappington Farm adventure was one of many inspired by my life-changing experiences at UCR. But not the last. After ten years of teaching, I returned to UCR for graduate work. Believe it or not, those years were even more exciting and life-changing, including helping shut down the campus to protest Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in 1970, a Poli Sci Department sponsored trip to Cuba and then being asked to represent grad students statewide to debate then California Governor Ronald Reagan in Sacramento after he imposed the first tuition on the University of California.
Oh, I also accepted my Master’s Degree in suit coat and tie, red undershorts, white spats and blue stockings to protest the war. I also shared a few of these stories on my other website.
OMG! How I loved UCR! It opened new worlds for me.