The envelope was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Troutman with a return address of the administration offices of the Pennsylvania State University. My mother tore open the envelope and read:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Troutman:
This is to inform you that your son, James, was recently involved in a drinking incident in his dormitory…
The letter went on in vague terms about how he was under the legal drinking age, alcoholic beverages were not allowed in the dormitories even for those who were of legal age, this behavior was not in keeping with the standards that the university expected of its students, etc., etc.
She waited until my father came home, and then they called me at the dormitory.
I was expecting and dreading the call.
One Week Earlier
It was during my third year at Penn State, probably during the second or winter term. Saturday night and my roommate Jeff had not gone home for the weekend. This was unusual, as he had a girlfriend at home, and he almost always went home to see her on weekends.
Ken, one of the fellows in the room next to ours had also remained in the dorm that weekend, also unusual for him. Ken was a born again Christian, very quiet, and not the sort of person who was apt to get into trouble.
I think it must have been Jeff who got the six-pack, easy enough to do, as there was no shortage of legal age upper class-men who were more than happy to supply adult beverages to those who wanted them.
I don’t really recall much about that evening, but sometime after about 10 PM, Ken found his way into our room, and the three of us started playing a friendly game of cards, probably Gin, but I’m not sure. Jeff still had most of his six-pack, and offered both Ken and me a beer. I accepted and I was surprised to see that Ken accepted as well. It was clearly not the first time Ken had had beer, because he was savoring the taste.
Anyway, that’s how the rest of the evening went. We played a quiet game of cards and finished off Jeff’s six-pack. I think Ken only had one beer, I had two, and Jeff had three altogether.
The game was wrapping up, it was probably close to midnight now, and both Ken and I had already discarded our empties; only Jeff was still working on his final beer, when the door opened and in walked Connie, our floor’s Resident Assistant or RA. (Connie was his nickname, short for Cornelius.)
He hadn’t knocked and we hadn’t locked the door. That’s just the way things were in the dorms in those days, and for all I know still are.
I could see by the look on Connie’s face that he deeply regretted barging in like that, and for a moment, I thought he was just going to let things slide. After all, none of us had gotten into any trouble before.
“I want each of you to write down what you were doing in here,” he said, turning very serious.
Jeff got up to find some paper and pens, and Connie stepped out of the room for a moment.
As Jeff handed the paper to Ken he whispered, “You were playing cards.” Jeff intended to take all the blame himself, and as the only beer can was sitting in front of him, that’s what the evidence showed. I didn’t think Connie was going to smell our breaths.
Jeff repeated that advice to me as he handed me the paper, and I wrote, “I was playing cards” as Connie walked back into the room.
And I was suddenly filled with an irrational rage at Connie and I knew I’d feel guilty if I let Jeff take all the blame, so I added, “after drinking beer.”
And that, boys and girls, was the drinking incident that was reported to my parents. I realize now that I should have done damage control by calling my parents before they received the letter and explaining to them exactly what happened, but live and learn.
I believe Ken followed Jeff’s advice and he got off with the lightest punishment; he just had to visit someone in the admin office and receive a verbal reprimand, I think.
I received a somewhat stronger verbal reprimand, and I think there was a notation made in my record, which would be expunged if I didn’t get into any more trouble. And of course, they sent the letter to my parents.
Jeff’s punishment was, I believe, just a tad more severe than mine because he was caught red-handed, but I no longer recall exactly what it was.
While I was extremely angry at Connie, and told him so in no uncertain terms, with hindsight I can see that he was in a difficult position. If he had done nothing, and word had gotten out that he had done nothing, it could have undermined his authority. Or at least that’s how he probably viewed it.