Monday, February 27, 2017

High School and College years, another segment.

High School and College years, another segment.

kenneth ditkowsky

10:52 AM (19 hours ago)
Writing my memoirs is become addictive.  In doing so I am getting to know me.   I noticed that you indicated some interest so I'm sending you another rough draft installment.  

36 sec ago
Fwd: Another segment space.gif

When I met my wife one of the most striking things about her was the fact that I was comfortable with her.    I had had friends.  Yes, even though I had been dating for some time, had a quasi-steady girl friend, and had a more active than practical social life, my social life was always in a state of flux.   I sometime described it as being surrounded by people, maybe even being the center of attention, and feeling isolated and alone.   
I’ve used the word  “friend” many times in many contexts.    In my early years, friend meant someone who you could confide it and  a companion.    Like all adolescent contacts these relationships were volatile and mine were no exception.    A friend was a friend today, a sworn enemy ten minutes later, and a friend again in the flash of a smile.    Most people had secrets, but, I had none, at least in my own mind.  I thought I was an open book as everyone seemed to know my business even though I said nothing.    At least they were always offering advice that I never took.   
In my mind,  I did not have deep secrets and/or the fears some of my classmates harbored.      Most of the time the opportunity for such activities just did not occur.    For instance, I did not try out for the Industrial League baseball team I played on.   It just so happened that I wandered  onto  the scene when another player was needed and it just so happened that I had the skills that that my teammates were looking for:   I was alive and on the scene!     Indeed, after we all laughed at the “big joke” of my hitting an out of the park OUT on my first “at bat”.  Putting the baseball in Little Travers Bay, Michigan, was, to my chagrin, not at all the way to make a home run. At the next time up, I drove the ball right down the right field line and legged out a triple and on the first pitch to the next batter, I stole home.   
When I missed the annual meeting of the Crooked Lake yacht club ( while on summer vacation)  and was elected to be vice whatever-it -was, it was because of  tradition: miss an annual meeting and you are elected to some position.    My hated assignment was to supervise the committee boat, making rulings on disputes and set out the race course.     As a competitor first and a sportsman last,  I was upset that I was no longer racing. Instead, I found myself sitting on a hot committee boat with the “old folks” watching me.     Unlike any of the other “officers,” I uttered no word of complaint.  Indeed, I was never again elected to any office in the club again.    My colleagues  however, had the most challenging race courses that I could find for them.     It was a defeat for me if they could complete the course in any semblance of a reasonable time.    I studied the Geological Survey as if it was my Bible, to devise sailing race courses in which the winds were most likely to die down to zero miles per hour .
School for me was a challenge.   To my dismay, I was a terrible student. Failing to answer the question asked worked very well in my professional career, but when an instructor wanted to know x,  “x” was what he expected me to answer.     It was a painful lesson to learn that  if you tell him about Y, he lowers your grade.    It also appeared that teachers had a tendency to not feel kindly to students who express by body language or otherwise that their class is in some way boooring, sub-par, or otherwise a parody of the popular radio series "Our Miss Brooks".     Thus, while I passed my classes (until I got married), a good grade was an accident.   I was a bit accident prone in his situation and managed to maintain what was called a gentleman's C average.    
Some of my professors actually thought that I knew something.    This phenomenon  occurred more in law school than in the more elementary education process, but it did occur.   In High School, the conspiracy of  Fred Coe and myself  negatively cultivated one of our  teachers.    Fred obtained a book entitled  MATHEMATICAL ANOMALIES and also a bunch of Steven Potter books and we devoured them.    Steven Potter wrote many book on how to cheat at various sports, card games, etc. without violating the rules.    A targeted pompous ass  math teacher loved to write problems on the black board and ask us to solve them.    We decided to write a problem for him.    It was “The Proof for Two equals One”.      
On the fateful morning, our high school math genius entered his class room and found on his blackboard said proof!     The last line read “QED: 2=1”    Obviously, he knew that the proof had an error and he set out to find it.   After several days and watching the high school math geniuses (the other math teachers) slaving over the problem, we finally disclosed the error.   I was not humble about it and my grade suffered.      Many of the Steven Potter ploys actually worked and for the next 8 years I had a line of material that allowed me to be amused when I should have been agonizing about this or that academically.   
Anyone who knows me, is aware that I can be dense.      Harold C Urey, the Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry had the misfortune to tell that Administration of the  University of Chicago that he “wanted” to teach the bright young faces of a Freshman Chemistry class.    He inherited me along with a whole bunch of real students.     The big distinction between me and thee in my college years  was I took you at your face word.     Thus, when Dr. Urey invited us to come to see him if we did not understand anything,  I went to see him about the “gas laws.”       I arrived at his office which was in the Accelerator Building  - a building designed especially for Dr. Urey – so that he could go on with his research in Nuclear Chemistry and Physics.  I an introduced myself : “ Hi!   I’m one of Dr. Urey’s Chemistry Students and I have a Chemistry problem that I do not understand.”
With dispatch I was hurried into the office, Urey asked me what the problem was and spent the next three plus hours drilling the gas laws into my head.  All were based on PV equal NRT .    I was impressed.    This was like the POPE coming to Chicago to teach me my nightly prayer.    Needless to say, more than 60 years later I can still work 1974 versions of gas law problems.    In fact, in the Neprozatis case I matched swords with an expert witness successfully cross examining him into submission.  
Calvin Stilman, an academic refugee banished to the classroom found something I’d written on my comprehensive (annual) Social Science 1 examination to be interesting.  ( Mr. Stilman was one of President Roosevelt's  foreign policy advisers.)   I was wandering across campus a couple of days after the Comps (final examinations) and he ran almost a ¼ mile to sidle up to me to discuss an issue that I raised.    He grilled me as to the words I used and for more than hour we went back and forth until he said: “I see now!   I never thought of it that way” .    As he walked away I wondered how he knew what I had written.   After all I had a secret “examination number” which was assigned to me by a computer and my name did not appear on the examination booklet  (blue book).    What I should have wondered was how in the hell he read that chicken scratching that was reported to be my handwriting.     I do not remember what grade I was given in the course, however, during the balance of my career at the University, from time to time, Professor Stilman would seek me out to discuss topics that he forgot more about than I ever learned.
In the mandatory English class I did get my gentleman’s C.    My then “girl friend” found  similarities between her assignments and the papers that I justhad  completed.     She rewrote them in her handwriting and turned them in at her college.    She got an A using the very same papers word for word.    This all may have something to do with the fact that I possess a handwriting that is not discernible.   This singular event is my gold standard as to just how Procrustean is the university.       In Law School I got a bad grade on one of the comprehensive examinations.   The Dean happened to see the grade and asked the Professor about it ,  and to see the paper.    The paper was given to one of the secretaries to retype so he could read whatever it may had stated.   In the typed format it rated at the top of the class rather than the bottom.    The professor suggested that in the future I either print, or type.  
Social life at the University of Chicago to non-fraternity students was something approaching slim and none.     To my delight on day one at the University I was greeted by my high school friend Fred Coe.     He was contemplating joining ZBT.   Thus, Fred and I joined a fraternity. 
 All work and no play makes Jack, Fred and Kenny dull boys.     I had never belonged to a fraternity before, however, I knew that the “Greeks” (as they were called) had the best food on campus,especially the Jewish fraternities such as ZBT.    In addition, every weekend was a party and the ZBT parties were by far the best.    Unfortunately, ZBT had a problem.   Our collective grade point average was a bit more than deficient.     For some delusional reason I was brought into the pledge class along with Fred to booster the grade point average.     Interestingly enough  the ‘brothers “ reasoned that Don Fisher living in Kenilworth and Ken Ditkowsky living in Sauganash could not be Jewish.    Wrong!    We not only fit in, but, we contributed to the Animal House nature of the place.   
Pledging was supposed to be a humbling experience.   The pledges were “forced labor.”    What the “brothers” did not know, but soon found out that asking either Fred or I to do anything was a formula for horrible things to happen.   Not only did I possess no mechanical skills, but I was a self acclaimed expert on everything.     I was ready to supervise any task.      This was not so bad, provided that no one paid any attention to my directions and kept me away from the actual work.   My friend  Fred also failed to exhibit any propensity for manual labor or handiwork.   Together we were a disaster waiting to happen. 
The University of Chicago exhibits a propensity for EQUALITY .    Equality does not equal ability or equal competence.   It means something entirely foreign as I did not have the skill to boil water or for that matter execute a one car funeral.     Thus, on one of the “fix up days”, all the pledges were assigned to various tasks to perform.   Someone assigned Fred and I to paint the upstairs bathroom.   We were told that every surface was to be painted forthwith – or else.    We did.   No surface was left unpainted!    
We got a bargain on paint at the hardware store – to exercise economy we picked a color that no one wanted and got a great discount.    We decided to brighten up the house and picked a psychedelic  color that made the walls stand out.    This substance we smeared on every surface except the inside of the bath tub.   This we painted with ****.     The “house manager” discovered our masterpiece shortly after we were finished  - but was too late!.    He expressed a bit of displeasure; however both of us towered over him.   With an express look of distain that he was not impressed with our artistic endeavors he made it a point to never getting around to assigning any other tasks to either of us.    It is a fact that we were never requested to engage in any home/property improvement again in any manner.    (It took our respective wives a while to learn a similar lesson).    Our collective talents obviously were more in the people skill area.
As every pledge had to contribute some social attribute to the fraternity, Fred and I livened up the dull environments of the Fraternity by demonstrating our social skills.      In fact, Fred became the Social Chairman and I his assistant.     As members of the social committee, it was not our job to address the fraternity grade point average; it was our job to make the parties fun.   No one designated who the parties were to be fun for!   
It was unfortunate that ZBT had the lowest scholastic average on campus and as usual we were on social probation.    This situation made some of the other Greeks think less of us.    This did not bother any of us, as  our parties were huge successes and many of the sororities at other schools wanted to have joint parties with us and made no secret of it.     Arranging joint parties with Sororities from Northwestern was ‘standing operating procedure’ (SOP); however, some of the Northwestern Fraternities expressed some distain.    Ditto for the “woman’s clubs” at the University.   They all unfortunately took offense to our associations and complained to the Administration.      Such was not helpful, but it did cause some of the brothers to actually bring dates to Fraternity parties rather than forage amongst the Sororities that we had joint parties.           
One of the key aspects of the social committee was to attempt to see that the male/female ratio was essentially equal at parties.     This meant that we explored the “Art Institute campus,” the Three Arts Club, a residence designed for young single females who were opting for parts in various productions etc in Chicago, etc.    The University Woman’s Clubs could not engender too much interest = as a group- for our parties as many of the campus females did not like ZBTs, claiming our parties lacked dignity, decorum, common sense and intellectualism.   In other words they thought that we were uncouth, spoiled rich kids with little if any respect for anything other than our own selves.   There was no self sacrifice at the Fraternity house.     Indeed,   Dignity in the ZBT house was a 'bad word."   The operative word was "FUN."       

We, in the fraternity,  had our geniuses like all campus institutions, but the one thing we all had in common was the ability to let our collective hair down.    A stuffed shirt at a ZBT party was the butt of everyone’s ire.   “If your feelings bruised easily, stay far away from our lair. “    Two of our members traveled down to Florida one weekend for an International Bridge Tourney which they won.   The prize was an enormous amount of money.    Robert Shapiro, one of the youngest members of the Fraternity had a PHD in Math and Physics along with a masters in Chemistry.   He possessed a contract with the Air Force and was assigned an entire building on campus to house a computer built by the government strictly for him.   (Bob was an exception to the rule). 

Beer at a ZBT party was always present even though not the beverage of choice.   We had our  special punch.   It  was more the beverage of choice.   Exactly what it contained was always a mystery.     The only thing that you could be assured of was if you did not imbibe in moderation you suffered a MICKEY FINN.     Thus, booze was usually not a problem.    

In an effort to garner good will on campus, a party was scheduled in which members and pledges were encouraged to bring U of C dates to the party.   This was a party planned by the pledges in honor of the active members of the fraternity.      It should be noted that at that point in time, both Fred and I were interested in what today is crudely called Eavesdropping.     Our parents thought it great fun to record the noises made a parties and at the end of the party playing it back.   Only loud mouths’ words could be disseminated but everyone upon hearing the words laughed and laughed.    This banal humor was not funny to us, and therefore we had to do better.   Thus,  we travelled to the downtown and discovered canned sounds in one of those shops that dotted lower State Street.  It was paradise for practical jokes and jokers.     Wild cheering could be found on one record – a comment “90% of the people in Pittsburgh have gas” could be garnered from another and THUS AND SO.      In addition, electronic microphones were sold that when placed in strategic places picked up conversations and other sounds that could be interesting.
We, the social committee, decided to record on long playing tape recorders, donated by Bell and Howell, all the dance music for the evening.      This meant for the four of five hours that that the party continued there would be continuous musical sounds.      A second sound track could be dubbed in that would provide amusement for us and be totally unexpected.   As Fred and I were still both pledges to the Fraternity, we targeted the unfortunate active member of the fraternity who was designated “pledge master” and one active member who had a nasty disposition toward us to be  the recipient of a bunch of practical jokes.      In retrospect the jokes were tasteless and crude.   
Amazingly with the format the entire party remained in relative good taste and everyone was having good time  - and then disaster struck!     It seems that we designed our only presentable bathroom for FEMALES ONLY.     Several of the ladies did not particularly like their dates and in the sanctuary of the ladies room dissected the gentleman.     Naturally the “bug” picked up every word : loud and clear!     Of course the ladies did not know that their conversation was broadcast to the background of the dance music, and evidently fireworks resulted .  Fred and I were no longer there: as I recall, I, my date, Fred, and his date decided to go downtown to Uno’s Pizzeria for pizza and our dates made the microphones disappear before leaving with us. The party  continued unabated with more than a few “hurt feelings.”    Nevertheless, the next day when we returned to the house, it was still standing.    
The University of Chicago was a school in which most of the students were serious and hard working.     Even I put in many hours of hard study and as time told, in later years, even in the hold of immaturity, I got my money’s worth.    The School made a profound impression on me.     One course in particular was most memorable.     It was Natural Science 2.     During the first 99% of the course we learned embryology in excruciating detail.    Half of the nomenclature used I could not pronounce much less spell.     With great effort I positioned myself to get my gentleman’s C, and even attended the last study session.  A teaching assistant reviewed the material in this session and quizzed us on some of the important concepts that we learned in the previous year and made certain that each of us had a sense of confidence.    As I left the classroom I was feeling pretty good.   The next day, saying  “good luck” on the comp, the instructor handed each of us a little booklet.    I shoved the document into my book bag and wandered toward my car.   Fred and I drove to school together, so I had a couple minutes to spare before undertaking the drive home and pulled out the pamphlet.
To my absolute horror, it appeared that the author of the pamphlet had done the very same procedures (experiments) that we studied all year, except, instead of using the exotic substances we studied, all he did was substitute plain old distilled water.      His results were identical to the carefully planned and prepared procedures.     I could not believe what I was reading!     It appeared that the University has a message to deliver and wanted it not to be overlooked.     The message was not: “EVERYTHING THAT DITKOWSKY KNOWS or thinks he knows is herewith revoked, changed and modified so that he has zero knowledge and comprehension.”   What the essence of the course was :  “It is very important that every project, experiment, or inquiry have a STANDARD.    Without an initial point of reference the project, experiment and or inquiry has no validity.     Put into political terms a poll has no validity unless there is a valid sample.    Thus, to obtain the proper points of reference the number of people has to be sufficient to reflect the variances in the population and the people asked have to be representative of the population.    Thus, testing the confidence of the electorate as to a particular candidate requires that the sample be properly balanced.  In scientific terms to measure purity of drinking water, the ‘standard’ is distilled water.    Distilled water that is not contaminated will have zero substances other than  chemically combined Hydrogen and Oxygen, that is, water.     Measuring contaminates against each other yields a poor result and an inaccurate result.”  Dispirited as I was, apparently I wrote enough in my blue book to show my parents my “Gentleman’s C” when the grade arrived.
A year later I met Judy.    She is and was the gold standard.    
Ken Ditkowsky Feb 25, 26 2017

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