Starving Student – Sounds very Dickensonian doesn’t it? Well, not quite starving but actually enjoying my current living arrangement. But wait, there’s more, as they used to say on TV. If you were around in 1957 You may remember the series about Rocky, the Flying Squirrel. Really, I kid you not. It was sort of quirky and popular with students at Syracuse University, where I attended. You can look it up. So, dial your WayBack machine to 1957 at the location of Syracuse University.
I am Bob. I used to live in Dannemora, NY, a prison town known as Siberia by prisoners and employees alike and went to a dinky school that had about 30 students in the senior class. This did turn out to be an advantage though. I REALLY wanted to get out of there and fortune favored me by my winning a competitive college scholarship by the State of NY. To my great surprise and delight I got a letter from Syracuse Admissions that that would not only accept me but match the NY award to cover full tuition for 4 years. the only requirement was to maintain a B- average. Piece of cake and a no brainer decision.
I began in 1954 and was soon enrolled in a 5 year dual degree program in both the Liberal Arts college as well as Engineering. I will receive my AB degree in the spring semester in 1958, and my engineering degree the following year. The photo above was taken for my yearbook photo and so you have a look at me way back then. The starving student bit was this: In 1957 the Student Infirmary was composed of three victorian style buildings connected by enclosed walkways. The first photo above is a recent one taken in the village of Owego, but the style is similar. As you faced the Infirmary on Waverley Ave (now Student Health Ceter) , the admitting section and offices was on the left. On the 3rd floor were three bedrooms. One held 2 medical school students who did workups and things like that. In another bedroom were myself and my old roommate Roy. We got the room free for doing some minor janitorial chores. Across from us was a similar room with two other students with similar responsibilities. So free tuition, free room, my parents helped with a meal allowance and I had whatever I could save for clothes and entertainment. It suited my personality and also those other 4 on the floor with us.
A fringe benefit was drug experimentation. Legal I mean, for science, not recreational. The assistant director of the health facility was involved with drug trials for, I believe, Norwich Pharmaceutical. They were making various initial trials of drugs. One of these involved testing the effect of a time release medicine. The trials did not involve any medication as such, just a marker to determine the release effectiveness of the product. The process involved a blood drug draw around 8 AM, then a least two more draws later in the day. These could easily be done between classes. I think all the trial subjects were students. For the above trial we were paid $10. To put this amount in perspective, a gallon of gas cost about 29 cents, about the same for a pack of cigarettes. So for $10, this could be used for gas for a week, as well as a dinner and movie date. No work and no taxes. We used to refer to this as “blood money”
One thing that I did have was a car, a 1948 Plymouth coupe. The car above is identical to my old one, but the photo is from a Google Images photos of a car show. The industry does not make that style any more, but this design was sort of a compact car in that there was a seat behind the front seat but with very little leg room, that would accommodate children, packages etc. Most of all the car provided mobility and privacy. I did not have a driver’s license, but Roy did. He had no car, so it worked out well between ourselves.
One more vital fact. Perhaps you can tell from the first image, there were lots of gables, corners and other attractive places for pigeons, particularly in the cold Syracuse winters. They pooped all over the place and were very noisy. We hated our little feathered neighbors. Really hated them. This will become important later.
In the fall of 1957 I was dating a girl that I had met in the summer. She worked as a waitress in an Adirondack resort, where I worked as a cook. She was extremely good looking, but in reality, we had very little in common. We parted ways shortly after the start of the spring semester in 1958. The truth was, even then, that I was glad this happened as there was no meaningful future for either of in this relationship.
The photo above is one of Marge prior to starting at S.U. Originally it was a slide that I scanned and did some minor restoration work on. I am really going somewhere other than relating nostalgia. Trust me. She signed up for a course in German and it happened that my roommate Roy was also taking the same course. They became attracted to each other and started dating. Marge had to take a science course to meet a core requirement for her degree, and chose Astronomy, which seemed like the easiest option. This met at night and one night Roy had a date with her after this class and asked if I would take him up to the observatory and then a drive down to Marshall Street, or some other place near us. Of course I said yes and the dialogue was approximately the following:
Roy: Hi Marge, I’d like you to meet my roommate Bob. He has volunteered to pick you up and drive us to Marshall St.
Marge: Hi Bob, Roy has mentioned you at times.
Me: Hi Marge, yeah Roy has mentioned you as well. Hope you have a nice time tonight.
So, that was that. Pretty forgettable perhaps. However, about the time that the girl that I had been seeing and I went different ways, so did Roy and Marge. Shortly after that, he and I were talking one evening and I asked him if he would object to me asking Marge out. His response was something like “Sure, I think you two would get along great together.” I called her the next day and asked her if she would like to go out for a coffee date sometime soon. She responded “Sure” and we settled on a time the next day or so to get together. She lived in a women’s dorm (remember those old days?) around the corner on Crouse Ave. so it was easy to get her and walk to one of the many restaurants around Marshall and Crouse. That worked well as a start and we agreed to do it again soon. We did, the rest is history, for us, but now, If you have got this far, don’t go away, this is just the start, but not on this post.