(This is the second in a series chronicling my times at Lon Morris. I certainly won’t force you to read Part 1, but it does provide context.)
While I may not have been enrolled as Lon Morris student during the spring semester, I never really left the college. My world revolved around it and the withdrawal symptoms started almost immediately.
In order to get my fix, I would make the two hour drive from my house to the campus whenever I didn’t have class or have to work. I made trips to area churches where the Lon Morris Choir was performing, just so I could see my friends for fifteen to twenty minutes. I served as an unofficial recruiter for the school, taking local high school kids for campus visit days and giving them the “hard sell.”
On one campus visit weekend, the theatre department staged a production of West Side Story. Afterwards, we attended the cast party, an event that reinforced how much I missed the place and its people. Though I couldn’t define it, my heart was strangely warmed and I knew a special something existed deep within the marrow of the school. I could no longer reject its call to communion.
When I arrived home next day, I completed my application to transfer back to Lon Morris College.
My first night as a student back on campus, Michael and I sat outside our dorm talking to his roommate, Kregg, and a freshman named Brandon. The smoke from our cigarettes engulfed us, suspended in the air by the heavy humidity. Just as the heat threatened to surpass our nicotine cravings, a figure approached from the parking lot.
He was built like a NFL linebacker and dressed in starched Wranglers, boots, and a cowboy hat. A Marlboro red hung from his lips, as he pulled out a Zippo and took the first drag. While I can’t remember his exact words, I know they were spoken without the cigarette ever moving from his lips, and I believe they were something to the effect of, “what’s up bitches.” The reaction from Michael and Kregg was akin to the video footage of American girls going crazy the first time The Beatles came to the States. Then it hit me, this was Chino from their performance of West Side Story performance.
He extended his hand and told me his name was “P.O.”
“Poe, like the poet,” I asked.
“No, P.O., as in pissed off.”
He invited us to a party he was throwing at a local hotel. The liquor flowed freely all night, and by the end, we had polished off a case of Shiner and a fifth of Crown. Though there were others there that night, a special bond was forged between the four of us, especially between Kregg and me.
Later that week, Kregg came by and invited me to his friend Cheyenne’s apartment. Like Kregg, I first met Cheyenne at the end of my first semester working on the film project, but knew very little about him other than he drove a Saab we used in the making of the film.
The details of that night remain sketchy, but they led to my first collegiate “all-nighter.” We walked out of Chey’s house at 8:30 a.m. the next morning and made it back to campus in time to grab a cup of coffee and some bacon from the cafeteria before heading off to our 9 a.m. class.
Circle of Friends
One night early in the fall semester, Kregg and I decided to go to the movies. He suggested we call his friend Erin, one of the few students who lived off campus. I had never met her, but Kregg had a class with her and assured me she was “good people.” We immediately hit it off.
Depending on who you ask, we either saw John Carpenter’s Vampires or A Night at the Roxbury that night. To this day, I maintain I have never seen A Night at the Roxbury, but the film we saw that night is hardly relevant to this tale. What mattered was that our circle was now complete.We squeezed a lot of living into the next seven months, as this group would reconvene on a nightly basis. Along the way, we lost a few and gained a few, but the core remained the same and we owned the school.
I often tell people that I went to Lon Morris to go to college and to A&M to earn a degree. The word “college” implies certain things, many of which an outsider would not find. No one will ever confuse Lon Morris with Harvard or Yale, but we tapped into something magical buried deep within the institution that helped us realize “college” was more than dorms and classrooms.
Our college experience extended well beyond the Lon Morris Campus—down GHR and Six Pack Road, south down Highway 69 to Casa de Ford and the smoke filled haze of the Pitt Grill, and of course to 1912 Beaumont Street, into the warm loving embrace of Erin’s living room.
Erin’s house served as the sanctuary where we went to receive the sacraments of college, even those not sanctioned by the school. Some nights we gathered to study John Stuart Mill or to read Keats; other nights we sat around the living room, writing songs about classmates, then calling random students on campus to sing for them. On really special nights, we called our professors and got them involved in the fun.
Our circle consisted of some of the best, brightest, and most talented students at Lon Morris. We excelled in the classroom and out; however, there were those on campus that viewed Erin’s house as a den of iniquity, and those of us who frequented it as heathens in need of reform. Even so, we managed to forge friendships with many faculty members and administrators, alliances that would prove beneficial as the year progressed.
Indeed, these connections on campus and within the community separated our group from other campus cliques.
Kregg worked for a well-respected professor as part of the work study program. Cheyenne worked for a distinguished alum whose family had strong ties to the school. P.O. grew up in Cherokee County and had his finger on the pulse of the community. I worked for the admissions office, which allowed me to develop a rapport with several prominent members of the administration.
These connections, combined with our close friendships, enabled us to develop a unique appreciation for the school and inspired us to ensure that legacy lasted into perpetuity, no matter the cost.
Often, we heard our mentors speak of the financial hardships facing the college. According to them, the only thing that kept the school solvent were two trusts established by a couple of generous alums. There were whispers that the management of these funds had been left in the custody of an inept Board, an apathetic church, and a less than virtuous President. We knew something must change for the school to survive, but we felt powerless.
On a cold, dark February evening, after a day of fellowship and libations at Erin’s, we headed off to the Vivian and Bob Smith Gymnasium to catch a little basketball. We took our seats directly behind the bench of the visiting team and proceeded to root on our beloved Bearcats. Shortly before halftime, a member of our claque pointed out that the visiting team’s coach was a Pat Riley doppelganger, so in the second half, we let him have it, starting chants and cheers directed at his resemblance to the NBA legend.
Not only were we entertaining our fellow Bearcat fans, but we noticed several players on the visiting bench turn around and crack a smile at our good-natured heckling. Unfortunately, not all were pleased.
From across the gym, we saw the President motion to Lark, the elderly campus security guard, to have us removed from the game. Before we left, we turned to the stands, bowed, and walked out as we plotted our revenge.