The first college I attempted to go to was the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. The reason I say “attempted” is because I never finished the first year before running out of money and running out of excuses for cutting class. All of this was my fault. I’d love to say I screwed it up because I was young and ill-prepared for college, but the simple reason is, I was stupid. My new-found freedom found me not responsible enough for new-found freedom. I thought everything was one big party back then and that’s what I did…party.
I partied half the night, thus making it difficult to go to class in the morning. Then since I couldn’t get to class on time, I partied all over again. There was very little I accomplished during that year except…I made some awesome friends.
Actually, I was friends with a couple of these people before college, but school just gave us a daily excuse to get together and drink beer. Somehow, they had less stupidity than I did and they actually attended classes and graduated, so I can’t even use them as an excuse as bad influences…for all I know, I brought them down to my level at times…I don’t know. All I do know is some of the best times in my life were with them in The Gasthaus.
The Gasthaus is a cellar bar in the Student Union Building at the college. Across from it was the bowling alley so I was doomed before I began. Back then, I liked to drink and I liked to bowl. What I liked the most, however, was the camaraderie we shared sitting in The Gasthaus. The music was always good, if not just weird at times. I remember enjoying anything from CSN&Y (we could sing to it), Amie by the Pure Prairie League (once again, the singing), and a particular Chicago song that fit perfectly on campus. The weirdness came with songs like Pop Muzik by a group called M. Just weird. The kind of song that burrows into your brain only to pop back up twenty years later in the middle of your sleep, that weird.
The people I hung out with were just plain fun. They were either funny or musically talented, or both. They were smart, artistic, humorous, tolerant, and just a blast to be with. I often didn’t want to leave, thus the afternoon classes were doomed. The way my mind was wired at the time, I probably learned more from sitting with them than I would’ve learned in class anyway. They would share writing, they would share music, and they would share knowledge. I felt like I was a member of the “Inkspots,” a group of writers at Oxford that included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and a few others…only we were drunk more often, I think.
One of the things we did that was so entertaining was pass around a sheet of paper that each of us would write or draw something on while carrying on an animated drunken conversation totally unrelated to whatever was on the sheet of paper. The paper would be filled with one-liners that fed off each other and created a unique environment of word-play that I cherished. One picture that I still remember to this day was a drawing of a shark on the surface with a human swimming up at them, kind of like “jaws” in reverse. The comedian of our group drew that one and I still laugh thinking about it.
Actually, now that I really think of it, we could’ve easily created a tv sitcom based on our times in The Gasthaus. Kind of a cross amongst “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “How I Met Your Mother,” as well as a spattering of “Up In Smoke.” Of course, our group was little more hippy-like and we drank more beer than Norm on “Cheers,” so we would’ve been a distinctive show of our own. Besides, throw in some of that Wisconsin accent and we’d have a hit.
The problem with most of the shows supposedly based in Wisconsin was the lack of an accent. “Happy Days” had almost no accent, Laverne and Shirley could’ve easily been portrayed as a neighborhood in the Bronx or Brooklyn, and That 70s Show (one of my favorites) also failed to produce a Wisconsin accent. We would be authentic.
FRIEND #1: Don’t you have class? (Asked while filling my beer glass).
ME: Yeah, but just one more beer won’t hurt.
FRIEND #2 (A half-hour later): Hey? Don’t you have class? (Asked while filling my beer glass again).
ME: Yeah, if I hurry I can make it to get the assignment.
FRIEND #3: (Another half-hour later): I think you missed class…
ME: I know, but it was my turn to buy the last pitcher of beer. What could I do?
Through the years, I moved away, joined the army, and lost touch with these awesome people. I do know that two of them were part of a psychedelic rock band (lots of mushroom art involved) and I bought their cd’s and loved them. If they read this, I want to point out one of my favorite songs is “Brown Cow.” It stays in my head in a good way. Another one of the group puts out some hilarious tweets that I read and enjoy…he was the comedian with the shark drawing…and his humor is still fully intact.
Many years later, thanks to the magic of Facebook, I was able to reach out and befriend three of them once again. Even though they haven’t seen me in decades, they are still the wonderful supportive people I remember…even more so because they’re no longer influenced by massive quantities of beer…I believe…