It takes a special kind of person to be a radical. I know. I had a ninety-minute career as one during my senior year of college.
It was a tough year for the protest-minded. The war had ended, the dormitories had gone co-ed, the homosexual students had been allowed to form a support group on campus -- there just wasn't much left to complain about. Why couldn't I have been in college during the sixties? was the lament of every cause-forsaken rebel. No one could figure out how it had happened, but all agreed that there was something truly sinister about a university administration that had so successfully idled the engines of discontent.
Worst of all, we were running out of time. Commencement was right around the corner. If someone didn't come up with a travesty to rectify within the next few weeks, we would find ourselves in the ignominious position of graduating without a single demonstration to record on our curricula vitae.
We had to work fast. Would-be radicals were summoned to an emergency meeting in the campus rathskeller. The six or seven of us who showed up had no doubt that we could solve all of the university's problems, if only we could find some. There had to be a problem. Something had to be wrong. Some scarcity, conflict, or calamity had to present itself for the correction of it to serve as our raison d'etre.
We ordered a pitcher of beer, some pretzels, and a pizza and sat down in the darkest and dingiest corner of the dark and dingy pub. The odds were against us from the start. Elton John's "Benny and the Jets" was blaring out of the jukebox, when Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" was what was needed to establish the proper mood. A rowdy group of football players were stacking beer cans at the table next to us. Bearded beatniks in berets scrawling manifestoes and declaiming free verse in solemn monotones were nowhere to be seen. A young couple at another table were unselfconsciously spooning. How could they indulge in romance when a revolution was being fomented?
Ah, but isn't that always the way? Our struggle against injustice would not be destined for acclaim. Our sacrifices would inevitably go unrewarded. We would persevere anyway. We would save our fellow students from themselves. Viva la huelga!!
The emergency meeting of the would-be radicals came to order. The floor was opened to nominations for a crisis around which to rally in righteous indignation. For the next ninety minutes we entertained proposals for the perfect problem.
"What about the library?" asked one eager revolutionary.
"It doesn't have nearly enough books."
"Yeah, the library," chimed in another. "It's totally inadequate!"
"Definitely an outrage," said a third.
There were murmurs of assent, and a wave of wrath went round the table. It was an awkward moment for me. As the son of the director of University Relations, I was in the unfortunate position of actually knowing something about the facilities available on campus.
"I guess the library could be improved," I ventured, "but it is one of the largest in the South."
-- Forget the library.
-- Yeah, it's not so bad.
-- Who cares about the library anyway? Nobody ever goes in there....
"The theatre department," someone suggested.
"It's a disgrace!"
"How can we put up with it?"
This wasn't going well, but what could I do? If I knew better, I had to say so, didn't I? "It's one of the best theatre departments in the country," I proffered. "At least, it's considered one of the best."
-- Yeah, maybe so.
-- I've liked all the course I've taken.
-- They do put on some great plays.
-- Okay, forget the theatre department....
And so it went for nearly ninety minutes -- one "scandalous" situation suggested after another, followed by an all-but unanimous agreement to jump on the bandwagon, followed in turn by my reluctant demurral. Then my dissent from the dissent became infectious, and the others began to get into the act. They too would object if they could find no fault in the subject of complaint.
Finally, it got to be too much for one fire-breathing female. She stood up from the table and pleaded frantically, "Let's stop talking and do something!"
The emergency meeting of the would-be radicals began to break up right about then, and the last I heard as I trudged off in profound disillusionment was a remark to this effect: "I'll tell you what's wrong with this school. The beer's too expensive. And another thing. Why are the pretzels always stale? Why can't they serve deep dish pizza? And what about...."