I went to a high school (Rich East, Park Forest, Il.) that didn't allow flapping shirt tails, much less swearing. So freshman orientation at SIU was a shock. One hip looking girl was sitting on the steps of the student center advising the new students,
"Like yeah gotta understand that the antiwar movement and drugs are two different hassles. Drugs are bullshit! I tried 'em and what a fu@%#$g. crock of sh^#! Go to your damn class and. avoid all those assh!%^&s...."
I found this to be refreshing. It seems that a prerequisite to attending, teaching, or working at SIU during the early 70's, was a proficiency in the obscene word.
But there were exceptions.
In Saluki Marooned, Catherine Mancini, the one girl who had captured Peter Federson's heart, thought the word "Damn" was blasphemous so she used "darn". This put a cramp in Peters' vocabulary when the two found themselves at the Carbondale Dairy Queen on a hot spring afternoon in 1971.
We stepped up to what would turn out to be one of the last outdoor Dairy Queens in the country. I ordered a vanilla cone rolled in crushed nuts, and Catherine ordered a chocolate cone with sprinkles, which she insisted on paying for. I took a tentative lick.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” I surged.
“Peter, what’s wrong?”
“This ice cream cone. It’s so damned good!”
“Peter, you shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain, especially over an ice cream cone.”
“Well, I mean…My gosh almighty, this is a darned good ice cream cone.”
“Cheese on rice!”
“Heavens to Betsy, these friggin’ nuts are fantastic.”
“…and even the gal-darned cone itself is scrumptious…”
“…this soft serve is flippin’ delicious…”
“You’re fast running out of substitute swear words.”
“This is the best mother loving ice cream cone I ever had.”
Catherine abruptly turned to me and said. “Peter Federson, you have got to be the craziest guy I’ve ever met!”
“Yah, but you’re crazier than I am.”
“And why is that…?”
“…because you’re with me.”
“I can’t argue with that.”
“And you’ll never meet anyone like me, as long as you live!” I proclaimed.
“No doubt. And when you do go—in about a hundred years or so—may you rest in pieces.”
Three SIU students had skirted the demonstration downtown, and were walking along the tracks in an attempt to get Catherine to her car parked beyond the overpass. 58-year-old Peter Federson, who looked all of 20, his roommate Harry Smykas, and the girl Pete really should have married, Catherine Mancini are just trying...to stay...out...of...trouble.
We walked up the tracks, single file. Up ahead and to the left, the haze and smoke were cast in a bluish glow by the mercury vapor lights, so that the campus was obscured.
“Man, I can’t see anything,” Harry said.
To our right—out of sight beyond a hill that sloped down to the tracks—were the BrushTowers and University Park. And stretching over the tracks and highway like a black rubber band was the pedestrian overpass.
“It looks pretty clear,” said Harry. “If we just walk along the tracks, we’ll be home free.”
“I don’t know, Harry, we can’t see through the hill, and I don’t want to be surprised by whatever might come over it,” said Catherine.
“Listen,” I said. “Just listen.”
We heard nothing but the buzz of cicadas and the humming of the air conditioning systems coming from the distant buildings.
“There’s nothing there,” Harry said. “Let’s go.”
“I don’t know,” said Catherine. “I don’t think this is a good idea, really I don’t. I….just….think…there might be trouble.”
Harry turned to me and asked, “What do you think?”
“It seems way too quiet.”
“I think the riot is over, man,” said Harry. “Let’s go up the tracks, and Catherine, we’ll have you in your car heading back to Murphysboro within 10 minutes…..guaranteed! I think we’re home free.”
Catherine looked as if we were by no means home free. But the closer we got to the overpass, the quieter it became, until all we could hear were the cicadas…which suddenly sounded louder.
“Wait a minute!” I said. “We don’t have cicadas this year!”
Suddenly, it sounded as if the cicadas had changed direction and were heading directly toward us at breakneck speed. Then came pops and hisses, followed by yells and the sound of pounding feet. Abruptly hundreds of running people broke out of the haze, turned south, and ran along the tracks toward us. We quickly turned around and ran along the tracks to the south again....
The 21st Century has not been kind to Peter Federson in Saluki Marooned. Everything is slipping: His trailer is delaminating, he's lost another miserable job, his former wife still nags, that girl he is attracted to in the grocery store thinks he's repulsive, he's depressed, in debt and sees a big zero for his future. Then he opens his mail and the 21st Century healthcare system drops on him like a piano:
"There was a bill from Harry Morton, M.D. Usually, I would not even have opened the bill, but a perverse desire for undesirable stimulation—the gremlins hate boredom—prompted me to tear open the envelope. The first thing I saw was the figure $4,579.92, the cost of a CAT scan I had undergone six months before.
My general practitioner had thought I needed a chest X-ray because of a chronic cough and had sent me to a cardiac specialist, who in turn remanded me to the CAT scanner because I had moderately high blood pressure, which was treated with an ACE inhibitor.
I tried to tell everyone that the cough was caused by the ace inhibitor, which I had stopped using. The cough had stopped, too. But my GP insisted that I needed the chest X-ray, and the cardiologist insisted that I also needed a CAT scan, even though the stress test electrocardiogram and the other tests all came out normal.
“You can’t put a price tag on your health,” the cardiologist admonished with a used car salesman’s smile.
“Relax, I just called your insurance company. They’re covering it!” the medical assistant told me.
My insurance paid $77.64.
The results? High blood pressure controlled by medication, which caused a $4,502.28 cough."
It would be only a few minutes before the weight of more miserable news piling on Peter's psyche would snap his nerves, prompting him to pull the plug out of the jug and wash down a hand full of pills.
And under a flaming maroon sky Peter found himself back at his alma mater...nearly forty years in the past, when CAT scanners did not yet exist, where there was no job to lose or wife to nag, and where he lived not in a trashy trailer, but in modern dormitory.
Now Peter's only concern was to pull grades and stay in school, marry the right girl and avoid the wrong one, and fight to escape the trailer trash future that he had already lived through. And chipping away at his resolve was a gremlin infested nervous system, which guaranteed that Peter Federson would have the adventure of a lifetime...again.
In the novel Saluki Marooned Marta, the hippie, is on a roll. She is fulminating about how Southern Illinois really is different. All Peter can do is hang on...
“Power, incredible power, has been released in this region from time to time. This power does something to the people who live here: blood feuds in Williamson County, and the spring riot season in Carbondale. There is some sort of raw energy here in Southern Illinois that lies latent for years, then–BOOM—an explosion in the New Orient Mine, or—BOOM—Old Main is torched, or—BOOM—the 1957 Murphysboro Tornado,or—BOOM—Williamson County attempts to secede from the union, or —BOOM—the Herrin Massacre of 1922.”
Radio and TV major Peter Federson feels like a little kid whenever he sits in Lawson Hall and tries to understand his algebra instructor. Fortunately Peter soon stumbles (literally) into SIU's oldest student, 78-year-old Herb Crowley, who wants to be the worlds most senior rookie engineer.
"Peter, I figure that if you’re smart enough to go on the radio and operate all of that equipment and talk at the same time, you’re smart enough to learn this stuff.” Herb stood up and put his hands on his hips. “And let’s hold that from here on out, you don’t tell me what you can’t do, but concentrate on what you can do. It will be much easier this way. I think you can understand the rules of algebra—in fact, you must understand them, or the equations will make no damned sense! So let’s start with learning the rules without the complex numbers, starting with the commutative rule.”
Herb looked at his old radio receiver, which was sitting on the nightstand.
“Using your Take a Music Break (on WSIU) as an example: If you played three Frank Sinatra records the first hour and five Frank Sinatra records the second hour, you’d come up with eight Frank Sinatra records total, right?”
“That would be too many Frank Sinatra records.”
“There can never be too many Frank Sinatra records,” said Herb, smirking.
I smiled. “Okay, eight records total.”
“But if you reversed it so that five records were played during the first hour and only three during the second hour, you’d still get the same number played for the show, right?”
“Let’s see, five plus three equals…uhhh…eight.”
“Oh, I bet you’re a handful over at the Radio and TV Department. But yes, it’s eight songs, and that’s the commutative rule. Let me borrow your pencil…”
I gave Herb my maroon mechanical pencil. He wrote:
X=Frank Sinatra Record, where: 3X+5X=5X+3X.
“See? It balances now, it will balance tomorrow, and it will balance forty years from now, because it will always balance. And that’s the magic of algebra. If I had a drum, I’d play a drum roll. Now let’s cover the next rule, the rule of symmetry.”
Peter, Catherine, and Harry stumbled into a riot, and an hour later, stumbled out of it and found themselves in the parking lot behind Schneider Tower. There sat the Munchie Wagon.
A smoky Coleman lantern lit-up the usually jovial face of Bill Statler, who was the Radio and TV Department advisor by day...and owner of the Munchie Wagon by night. But that night in May of 1971, Bill wasn't so jovial.
“Hell, I hope things simmer down. I’m tired of all this crap. Every spring it’s the same damned thing: a riot. They closed down the place last year, and burned down Old Main the year before. Now that was the saddest thing I ever saw in my life. Dr. Morris, the guy who built this damned place from a piss-ant teacher’s college into a major university, was running in and out of the burning building trying to save century-old files. A lot of SIU history went when Old Main burned.”
The student station manager.
"―And as for me, I don‘t need another pain in the ass. You know, being the student station manager is like sitting on a chair full of tacks. Newsmen who call news--noose,‘ boardmen who cue up tapes on the air, hammer-fisted students breaking needles on the tone arms…and then there‘s Fitzburger….God, how I hate bad radio!" Ronald (Ramjet) Stackhouse on the joys of being the student station manager of WSIU.