Sunday, February 27, 2011

More Characters: Ralph

MIT had its own collection of heads in the '60s and '70s. Most of them collected at Bexley, the last dorm that anyone mainstream wanted to be assigned to. But there were those for whom the allure of the place fit their profile, and they gravitated there - and eventually worked for thursday and avoided the Undegraduate Association and partied in the Bexley basement on Saturday nights while listening to One (which was a house band that played Grateful Dead covers and jam music). Some time in late 1977, thursday became mainstream, and so did Bexley - so it started to be cool for undergrads to come to the Bexley parties from places like MacGregor and Burton and McCormick.

Part of Bexley's counter-culture charm were the various hallucinogens that the residents would consume on occasion. But every dorm had at least one or two students who enjoyed a little cannabis here and there - and they could do without the counter-culture, thank you very much. Everyone - even the ROTC kids - had done a little something at least once in their time at college; if this stuff was supposed to be mind-altering, they were just as Republican after that one joint as before.

East Campus had a small group that would get themselves into a mind-altering haze and either play Mah-Jongg until morning - or play frisbee bowling, complete with plastic bowling pins, on a lazy Sunday afternoon during Independent Activities Period. Their best friend, at least as far as Stickles was concerned, was Ralph. Ralph was a Straight-A student majoring in (what else?) chemistry. And nothing else - sex, politics or sports - mattered to him but the Beatles and Firesign Theater, from whom he drew deep spiritual meaning with every inhalation. He was also just a little bit off the latch; gonzo, I think, was the word.
He also had a way of discovering things through experimentation.
To say he was a character probably did not do him justice. 
He was more than a phenomenon; he was that one odd monument in the town square that you brought all the tourists to see.
But time catches up with us all. Ralph graduated and so did everyone else, and each successive crop of frosh was more buttoned-down and boring than the seniors they replaced. Even the ROTC kids.

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