(Just ran into a Joan Didion quote that is apt for the series: “I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”)
MIT wasn’t quite an all-male school when I showed up in the fall of 1970, but it was close enough as makes no never mind. It is 50% female today, but the class of 1974 was 10% female―limited by the amount of housing available for women and by MIT’s policy that all frosh live on campus or in official MIT fraternities.
I was admitted to MIT Student House, a co-op for students on financial aid, located across the Charles in Boston’s Back Bay, along with most of the fraternities. I was part of the second co-ed class at the house. Given my limited exposure to females since grade school, it may come as no surprise that I fell in varying degrees of love/infatuation with every woman in the house, including one to whom I proposed marriage (our engagement lasted a year until I backed out) and another one I lived with for a year. The one who was a senior when I was a frosh roomed with me in an after-college apartment, and politely said “no” when I asked for more than roomie status.
In college, I had three sources of friends, Student House, the student newspaper (The Tech) and the radio station (WTBS, now WMBR). I have friends from each of those groups who are still in my life a half-century later. I didn’t drink much, or smoke much marijuana, but I was still invited to the occasional party of the grounds that I might liven it up. My best friends, a group which called itself the UGI (Usual Gang of Idiots, Mad Magazine’s designation, in its masthead, for contributors) insured that I learned how to dress myself without embarrassment to them, and how to drink too much. The first lessons stuck, not so much the second.
The UGI literally threw away my entire wardrobe, so I started dressing better, in clothes from Saks and Lord and Taylor. I had been wearing French cuff dress shirts since high school; from this point I wore nothing but.
A memorable moment: the seniors at the newspaper convinced the younger members of the board that it was a tradition you couldn’t be elected editor-in-chief if the staff had not seen you drunk. There was no such tradition (except in the sense that no previous editor drank as little as I did), but we fell for it, so a party was scheduled on Burton 5 for one week before the board election. I brought a liter of Dr. Pepper, which bartender and news editor Storm Kauffman combined with increasing amounts of vodka all night. I was as drunk as I’d ever been, and threw up outside the Phi Beta Epsilon house as I walked home to Student House. And a week later, I was elected editor.
I wasn’t a hale fellow well-met when I arrived, but I was by the time I left. I had perhaps a dozen dates in four years, most of them with women from Student House, two of whom I eventually lived with. I avoided the women from nearby campuses who, as we unkindly put it when they came to meet their dates at The Tech. “rented out their heads for hard vacuum experiments.”
I grew a beard in 1972, and except for a month in 1992, it has been on my face ever since.