What's All This Then?
What's All This Then?
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Field-Tested by Doug Fort
in East Lansing, Michigan and Glenview, Illinois
Late spring 1972. My last quarter at Michigan State. I had that “end of the world” feeling. I'd been hiding in school to stay out of the Army. Now that was ending.
Getting whiffs of CS all over campus. The grenades the National Guard used expelled a powder which sat for days, emitting the gas when exposed to moisture. I was trying to pass enough math courses to actually graduate. But there were a lot of cheap quaaludes around. And beer.
In the midst of all the craziness, there was a tremendous intellectual ferment. New ideas were bubbling up. And old ideas which were new to me.
A friend of mine was taking this literature seminar. It sounded a lot more interesting than my math classes. They met in a local hangout called the ‘Best Steakhouse.’ I never saw anyone get a steak there, but you could get a pitcher of dark beer for a dollar.
So I would sit in on the seminar. They were analyzing the works of Lawrence Durrell. They mostly talked about The Black Book which is the sort of thing a lit crit seminar would get into. I would show up, literally frothing at the mouth from quaaludes and sit in the outer fringes. Somehow I got a taste.
Later, I was at my parent's place in Glenview, Illinois, waiting to leave for basic training and drinking as much as I could get away with. I picked up Justine at the library. I was hooked. I read them all before I left: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea.
I didn't care about Darley's pathetic love life. I was transported. Scobie, Pombal, Narouz, Pursewarden, and of course, the old Poet himself. I had never heard of Cavafy, I thought he was one of Durrell's creations.
My memories of that early summer, really the last of my extended childhood, are of Alexandria, not of Glenview Illinois.
Doug Fort is an aging software developer living in Arlington Virginia. The Army sent him there in 1973 and he never left. He reads a lot of history now, because it's weirder than fiction. His website can be seen here.