Having come of age in the 70s, much of my childhood was informed by hippies. At that point they had merged into the mainstream and, thanks to their age and self-righteous vigor, hippies seized influence.
“Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company” were nothing but outlets for hippie propaganda, though they were harmless enough. And I appreciated the psychedelic imagery.
By the time the 80s rolled around the hippies had traded their idealism for a surly authoritarianism. In what was, at the time, the stupidest decision of my life, a friend talked me into attending “forensics camp” at Emory. Despite being only 15, I was convinced we’d be hitting the clubs in Atlanta, seeing concerts, hanging out with college students …
Never mind that we didn’t have a car, or fake ID’s. I was a naive lad.
Said friend never showed up at Emory. He went to Six Flags instead. I ended up rooming with Chuck, a veteran of three debate camps, as he was apt to remind. Hell, I wasn’t even on my high school’s debate team. I didn’t come for camp; I came for the parties.
Instead I was barked at by a woman in a floral mumu who led the first-day tutorial on flow charts. Tnen the Manson look-a-like who oversaw the forensics lab sent me to the library to look up all definitions of “the” — as in the article. He was very non-specific, and I suspected he was leading me along into some sort of demonic hippie brain teaser. Folding within minutes, I ended up perusing old copies of “People” magazine.
Later that day another of the bitter hippie instructors yelled at me because I wasn’t reviewing my “FQ.” Opening myself to ridicule, I asked, “What’s FQ?” Forensics Quarterly, she said with utter disdain
That night a series of pained shrieks rang through the hallways. The screaming easily overwhelmed the din of debate preparations (as there was no air conditioning in the dorm. It was July).
Some kid tried to kill himself. He failed. Chuck wasn’t impressed.
“Last year in Louisville the guy across the hall hanged himself.” According to Chuck, forensics-related suicide attempts were common.
By the third day I was calling home, broken and desperate for escape. We weren’t allowed to leave campus, and my parents refused to pick me up. Fortunately a girl I knew from high school cracked from the pressure, and her mother agreed to rescuse us from debate internment.
As we waited in the parking lot for what seemed like days, suitcases by our side, the hippie patrol started asking questions. “Don’t you know you’re blowing a great opportunity?” We cowered. They sneered. We cowered some more.
For perhaps the only time in my life, I was happy to return to Gainesville. It was a safe haven from the pissed off hippies who almost ruined my summer with flow charts and forensics-induced despair.