If I Could Go Back…

If I could go back in time and whisper in my younger self’s ear, what would I tell myself?

As wishes normally come in threes, I’ll confine myself to three things.

First of all, I’d really love if I had more photos of memorable moments in my life. What would I give for pictures of that Exchange Assembly that we did during our junior year? Or how about photos of my fellow cast and crew members in the LCTI’s production of Janus? Not to mention a pic of that wonderful stage set of a New York apartment that the crew put together. There are lots of moments and people that I’d like to have pictures to recall, but we didn’t have smart phones in those days. Also, for some of those things it would be great to have an audible record.

So the first thing I’d whisper in my younger self’s ear would be to always have a Kodak Instamatic as well as my tape recorder on hand to record anything and everything that might be memorable. And once video tape became available, to start using that.

I’m very glad that I have several boxes filled with old playbills, letters, college essays, and other things to remind me of former days, but I don’t think I ever set out to save those things. Or at least not originally. It was more like I just didn’t throw them away. I would toss them into a shoe box or whatever was handy with no particular thought as to saving them for my late youth when I might be writing blog posts about them. Plus, those letters are only the ones that were written to me; I don’t have copies of the letters that I wrote.

Now as it happens, I pretty much hated writing things out in longhand for anything longer than writing a check, and I had taken a typing course in high school, so I was a fair typist. Not a great one, but adequate. So nearly all the letters that I wrote were typed.

Thus, the second thing that I’d tell my younger self is to use carbon paper, so I’d have a record of what I wrote as well as what my correspondents wrote to me. Then when, say, Randy made a reference to the Incident with the Television, I’d be able to refer to my copy of my letter to see just exactly what he was talking about.

Randy s Letter postmarked 1968 02 09 excerpt

And what’s the third piece of advice I’d offer to young JT?

I think I’d tell him, or me, to take a comp sci course with my roommate Dave.

After all, I did have an interest in computers in those days, and if I had taken a course with Dave, it might have avoided the one major blowup that the two of us had. It came about late one night when I was trying to sleep and he was trying to figure out why his program wouldn’t run. I had been in a grouchy mood that day anyway, and when his light and his grumbling kept me awake, I let loose with some harsh words, and he came back by throwing some water at me, and I retaliated by throwing a full glass of water at his desk which ruined some important papers, and well, it just escalated from there.

We did patch things up the next day.

But the point is if we had been in the same computer class, perhaps I could have helped him with his programs.

More important, one of the major reasons that I didn’t do well in college is that I never had a goal. I was interested in a little bit of everything but not anything strongly enough to concentrate on it. Had I developed an interest in computers at that early age, perhaps my life might have developed very differently.

But would a course in Fortran (as I think that’s the language that Dave was working with) typed on 80 column computer cards run on a time sharing network at 2 AM have piqued my interest in computers?

80 column computer card

I guess we’ll never know.

But as it happens, I do dimly recall the Incident with the Television, and thanks to the postmark on Randy’s letter (February 9, 1968) I can roughly date it. 

In the dorms we had one TV set in a room on the first floor that was shared by all. Rarely did they watch anything that I wanted to see, and in any case it was a pain to trudge down there from the 10th floor to watch anything. So I convinced my parents to let me take the little black and white portable TV back to my dorm, much to my sister’s chagrin, as it had been her personal TV up to that time. I don’t know what her problem was. Without me in the house, she had the color TV in the living room all to herself, as my parents didn’t watch it very much;  she just didn’t have a tiny screen in her bedroom anymore. Some people are never satisfied. 

Anyway, TVs or other electronic equipment larger than radios or phonographs were not allowed in dorm rooms, so we wrapped the TV in a blanket to smuggle it into the dorm. For a day or two, our room was the most popular on the floor.

And then the memo came down from the administration.

They were cracking down on contraband, or whatever they were calling it. They were going to be inspecting all the rooms for unauthorized electronic equipment, i.e., TVs, and confiscating it.

Oh, no!

What to do?

As it happened, Ed Stutz, one of the fellows at the end of the hall, I’ve written about him and Tim before, well, his brother Fred had an apartment downtown in State College and he didn’t have a TV set, and Ed thought he’d be happy to guard the TV temporarily for me. So we wrapped the TV up in the blanket again and smuggled it out of the dorm and took it to Fred’s basement apartment, where Fred was only too happy to safeguard it.

I did eventually get it back, but I don’t know how long it may have been. I might have to read more of Randy’s letters to see if he alludes to it. I do know that I got it back in time to watch LBJ’s historic speech where he announced he would not seek nor would he accept the nomination for another term as president, because all the history majors, like Ed and his friend Frank, were hunched around the TV set to watch that one, and they stayed to hash it out for some time afterwards.

Leave a Reply